subconscious pedagogy

Okay, I had this dream a couple weeks ago. But get this: I dreamt that I was teaching WR121 (first-year writing) and I required the students to write their whole papers with only one sentence pattern. That’s right: every sentence was to have the same sentence pattern. I even felt happy about it, as if it was working really well, making their papers stronger, at least at the sentence level. What pattern was it? It was just independent clause, participial phrase leading into dependent clause — e.g., “The students loved their writing class, praising their instructor every day for her wonderful sentence rules.” But, like I said, during the dream, I felt as if I had made this pedagogical breakthrough, as if this idea was going to revolutionize the teaching of sentence skills.

I don’t know why! I think I had been thinking about students sticking to simple subject-predicate sentences to avoid writing a “wrong” sentence or a wrongly-punctuated sentence. And somehow I thought that if I made them write every sentence with a participle, it would magically teach them to vary their sentences. Amazing — mandate one pattern in order to teach variety. Leave it to my subconscious to think that up!

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2 thoughts on “subconscious pedagogy

  1. Wow, this is a fascinating dream. It’s interesting that many think that students stick to simple sentences in order to avoid writing a “wrong” sentence. I think this might be true of many writers, but the vast majority, in my experience, go ahead and try very complicated sentences and write clumsy, complicated sentences where meaning gets lost. My favorite of these always involve a “being as” phrase that could instead be “because” or “since” or something else.

    Anyway, fascinating dream. I wonder what this assignment would look like if actually done, though. I’d never assign it, but the results would at least be interesting to know.

    Then again, my instruction is probably worst at the sentence level.

  2. Hi, Michael. It is kind of a fascinating dream, isn’t it. I’m sure, as I start teaching WR 121 next fall, I’ll start to dream about it even more (though maybe not as curiously).

    I know what you mean about a lot (maybe a majority) of students boldly trying out complicated sentences (and ending up with more confusion than clarity). I’m sure that “being as” reflects their thinking that that phrase somehow sounds more academic than “because” or “since” does (an example of the Inventing the University thing).

    I saw a lot of the other phenomenon, though, when I worked at YVCC — a lot of Gen 1.5 students who were so so conscious of not being comfortable with English grammar or punctuation that they stuck with the only sentence pattern they were sure of.

    Anyway, yeah, I agree! Maybe this assignment actually might be something to consider, maybe as a short assignment — ask them to write a paragraph with one sentence pattern. I should try it myself and see how it feels, what it makes me aware of, etc.

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