What Can You Say Beside AWK?

*What Can You Say Beside AWK?

By Donald Murray
California English Journal c.1973

When I saw the title of this article, I had to read it because AWK was my favorite thing to put on students’ papers when I taught freshman English at NC A&T and Norfolk State. I did it because I didn’t know what else to write at the time when I read sentences that didn’t make any sense. Over---years later and with a lot of studying, I like to think I respond to student writing better today. But, there is always more to learn.

In this article, Murray gives advice on how to develop a writing program that supports writers. Below are 3 things that stuck with me. I wonder if teachers agree with Murray.

Here are two of the four assumptions Murray says “The responsive, listening teacher builds his program on”:

1. “He defers grades until the end of the term…..Writers are not graded on their early drafts. If they were, most authors would flunk.”

2. “He teaches individuals….He does not give class assignments, because writing is an individual act and assignments rob the student of essential experience in finding his own subject, audience, and form.”

The other assumptions are respecting the student’s potential and seeing writing as a process, not a product.

Here is one of the elements a teacher should be on the look out for in student writing:

3. Subject--“The student is an authority on many subjects….And the teacher should make no judgment of which subject is worthy of the writer’s attention. All subjects are, for the student must write from his own knowing and his own caring.” (I struggle with this when my son wants to write about spaceships or put Napoleon Dynamite in his stories.)

The other elements are honesty, structure, and tone.

This was actually adapted from a speech Murray gave at a California Association of Teachers of English meeting that was later published. If you’d like a copy of the article, please e-mail me at kaavoniahinton@hotmail.com.