Saturday, February 14, 2009

Maybe If I Beg for Mercy

"Please stop writing in second person voice, " I sobbed. "I beg of you. Please."

Okay, maybe that's too dramatic, but I'm currently waist deep in essay grading, and that's what I feel like saying to my students. Why is writing in second person voice such a pervasive habit for students? It's like writing kudzu...If I see a little in the introduction and start pulling, I'll find the instances of "you" have branched out and grabbed hold of the entire essay.

I give a mini-lesson on pronouns. I share with them the school of thought that second person voice is too bossy for academic writing, that it can irritate a reader like a wagging finger that begs to be slapped away. I openly confess that I will be using second person when I direct them on how to improve their writing, trying to clarify that giving directions is its rightful place in language.

Students nod. Students earn 100% on the quiz. Students continue to write with second person in their argumentative essays. "You really need to read this website." "You shouldn't let your pets on people's lawns." And my personal favorite, a sentence that uses third person voice merely as an address to set up the second person voice: "Parents, you shouldn't let your kids watch too much television." After grading a dozen or so directives, my head buzzes with regressed adolescent thoughts of rebellion.

I realize writing in second person voice might not be the writing error of greatest concern. I, too, am grateful for paragraphs without fragments. As I sit here in the trenches this weekend, however, the essays that reproach me for habits I may or may not have make me grit my teeth. I'll circle the instances of "you" and ask students to rewrite. They will do so, almost always successfully once it has been pointed out. How to prevent the problem in the first place, however, remains a teaching challenge for me.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh dear! You can not imagine how right you are. You see that is the usual kind of writing you can expect when your kids feel that you must be addressed. You always see the use of "you" in persuasive speeches; afterall your audience is you and you are the one who can alter your behavior.
It could be worse..... "Me, I try not to use "you"!
I think I'll circle all those "yous" again; or perhaps I'll have them read this.