The most important part of writing: crafting the thesis statement (part 1)

CS LewisSpend a great chunk of your time working and re-working your thesis statement. This is the most important part of your paper. All the rest of the paper proves your thesis. If you don’t have a good thesis, you can’t have a good paper. When a teacher reads a stellar thesis, she expects to give an “A.” Only if the rest of the paper is sadly disappointing will she lower that expectation. If you have a weak thesis, the teacher already has a “B” or “C” in mind. Rarely will you be able to “pull up” your paper to an “A” because your start is so bad.

Not all sentences are equal. The thesis stands above every other sentence in supreme importance. That’s why it deserves so much more attention than the other sentences.

When you craft your thesis statement, make sure it:

  1. states an opinion that is original (maybe even controversial).
  2. is beautifully expressed.
  3. uses the perfect words (not just big words to show off).
  4. is not boring.
  5. takes a side, doesn’t just cover the opposing views (especially in English class; other classes like history can survey existing positions only).
  6. tries for shorter and golden rather than long and academic (contrary to popular conception, convoluted writing is not by any means better. Just ask Hemingway about that.)

When I grade papers, I want thesis statements to be exciting. I totally agree with C.S. Lewis that most people don’t like to have to read essays. They prefer to read/hear stories. So if you don’t excite me with a though-provoking thesis statement, I’m hunkering down for a miserable affair.

Read part 2 here.

Improving your teaching: One thing helped me

improving your teachingI went back to school. I had good and bad professors. I was treated unfairly and humiliated sometimes. Being on the other side of the teacher’s desk helped revolutionize my teaching.

I would listen to students. I would legitimate their struggles, not scoff at them and dismiss them. I would be clearer with my instructions and assignments. I would be less dictatorial.

Every teacher should, at some point, go back for some more education — not just to get the latest and greatest theories. No, the purpose is to be the receiving end of someone else’s teaching, to feel the sting of the ogre prof. That will make you swear to never be like that. And your students will appreciate it.

Probably all of us teachers swear by what were doing: “Nobody teaches better than me.” But when we get into a class and change our perspective (to that of a student’s), then we can reflect about what we do. We see it through other eyes. Maybe some teaching technique we confidently use, really isn’t so good after all. Sitting among the classmates helps that.

Encourage class questions

humiliating studentEncourage class questions by discouraging making fun of any question. Old adage: The only dumb question is the one that you didn’t ask.

I can still remember the sting of embarrassment: You don’t get it??? The teacher was running a dynamic of repeating a code pattern until students figured it out by themselves. I was the last one. He kept doing it. Kids were rolling their eyes at me. They were groaning. They were taunting me. The teacher had let the activity go to far. It was no longer a turning-on-the-light moment. It was now humiliation.

Since then, I have been keenly aware of students embarrassing their fellows over (what they think are) dumb questions. Education should not be scary. If it is, quite a number will drop out cursing school. Learning needs to be fun, not embarrassing — just because I’m slower than X classmate.

There are teachers who beam with joy over their best student. They wish all their students were like him. They think that their best student is the true reflection of their teaching. They allow others to fall by the wayside because they are a poor reflection. Don’t be like that. Don’t let your pride get wrapped up in one good student. Search for every student to “get it” at whatever pace he can. You’ll find unmotivated students suddenly motivated if you simply have the patience to help them learn. Once they learn, they discover the joy of learning. From then on, it will be easy sailing.

Motivating the unmotivated

books' powerAs a child, I lived in a dreamworld of books. Narnia transported me beyond the wardrope. James took me on his journey with the giant peach. I visited other countries, continents and even planets. Books were a marvel to me.

Now I marvel to see that kids don’t read. Their dreamworld is their smartphone.

Technology has put learning at kids’ fingertips — and they don’t want to learn!

Recently, I am having the kids read Hamlet, and some fall asleep in class!

The negative side in me worries we are heading back to the Dark Ages. The positive side in me is trying to strike the fire in the cold world of anti-learning of today.