Nazarbayev - "Nightingale Cannot Do Without Woods"
Yesterday we finished our third day of “Virtual Classroom” with Language Center teachers doing keyword searches on the electronic databases provided by our university library. Five questions were part of the Treasure Hunt about known authors from our university and about nine people e-mailed their answers to me. The quickest was Olga and as winner she received the latest edition of the Turabian style book. The consolation prize of an MLA style book went to Claudia who found the article on SpringerLink of an administrator who had an article published in a physics journal in December of 2000.
We ended our “Teacher-Researcher Workshop” with a panel discussion with three professors from our university, one in Public Administration, the second from Political Science and the third from Economics. Each helpfully contributed something to over 40 Kazakhstani teachers. The first talked about writing being the “Queen of Rhetoric” or communication, it involves all the thinking skills. This public administration professor felt fortunate to have had a very good writing teacher in his undergraduate class which helped him in his subsequent classes and even now in his publishing articles.
Our second panelist from a political science perspective has great empathy for what we do as writing teachers for first year students. He advised to stick with ONE style of writing research papers. At the very least let the students know there are as many formatting styles as there are journals. It seems that most of the professors on campus prefer Chicago or Turabian with footnoting or endnotes and NOT the APA style we have enforced on our fledgling first year writing students. He also stated that American high school students have an edge over our Kazakhstani students because they have already been exposed to research papers. Unfortunately, our students don’t have that writing background when they enter our western-style university. He recommended that we prepare the students in the first year on how NOT to plagiarize so that the upper division courses don’t have to focus on that but devote more time on the conceptual ideas of each students’ paper.
Our third panelist from economics stated that “Writing is Thinking and Thinking is Writing.” Being a writing teacher is a difficult position to fulfill all those expectations. He knows that in the U.S. it is the most arduous for administrators to fill writing courses with qualified teachers. With all other teaching assignments, such as speaking, listening or grammar, the teacher conducts the class and leaves whereas the writing teacher conducts the class with the same contact hours but also has hours and hours of correcting papers afterwards. No one wants to invest that kind of time into a course and be paid the same amount of money, unless they are convinced it is for the betterment of their students. Clearly writing teachers in the western universities are not IN IT FOR THE MONEY!!!
One Kazakh teacher, during the Q&A time, lamented on how to make writing seem less like punishment to the students. She claimed there are so many rules on writing a research paper and felt there is so much pressure and tension to get all the rules correct. Her students wailed they did not want to take another semester of a writing course as has been suggested. Yet another teacher responded that her students were very enthusiastic about writing because of all the options available with the research databases and other Internet cites that help make it easier and more enjoyable. In a group of 40 teachers, there is a vast array of skills, experience, level of curiosity and time commitment involved with the teaching of writing.
My last comment to all who were gathered yesterday is that we have to guide and suggest topics with our students that are of interest to them. I believe we need to hover over them from the very start when they are experimenting with thesis statements. Especially do young students need help with English synonyms for keyword searches once they start looking for journals on the electronic databases. Bottom line for us as teachers, we need to help the students in the PROCESS of writing from first draft, second draft to final version in order to have good papers to read. If we are enjoying the process and discovering along with them, the students will ultimately enjoy writing too.
Therefore, I would recommend that the Kazakhstani students have a required three semesters of writing at our university instead of only one semester so that they can discover their own voice. Most all western universities have two semesters of writing courses for their incoming freshmen students. I strongly suggest first semester would be very informal writing with narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast essays, topics the students would really enjoy writing about. The second semester would be more discursive, cause and effect, argument and problem and solution. Finally, the third semester would be the most formal writing with a research paper, fully preparing them for other coursework that expects written essays. Instead we are expecting our first year learners, who do not have English as their first language and have NO writing experience in high school, to immediately write like an academic in a short 15 week course!!! That is definitely a recipe for disaster and no wonder some of the students end up hating writing and feel desperate enough to plagiarize even though there are red flags all over the syllabus to NOT plagiarize!!!
One final thought I’ll end with a Kazakh proverb, “Nightingale cannot do without woods, man cannot do without Motherland.” The country of Kazakhstan will fall behind in achieving its goal of being one of the top 50 countries by 2011 if corners are cut in the most supreme of communication —writing! If the Kazakhstani students are not given a voice, as the nightingale has such a lovely voice, they will not be able to articulate to the rest of the world what a great country Kazakhstan
To be a global player, President Nazarbayev realizes and knows that computer technology and learning to write in English is one of the ways to success. Why else has President Nazarbayev written so many books in English? I believe Nazarbayev, as a true leader, is that nightingale singing for the good of his country. Will other Kazakhstani writing teachers follow him?