Cultural differences – writing processes

At a recent discussion about writing in the classroom, a Chinese colleague of mine asked if she could draw a diagram on the board. She drew this:


She explained that the first diagram was of how Western kids are taught to write. They have a topic/goal/main idea in mind and they write directly towards that with support and evidence. From the outset, you know the topic of the essay and you pretty much know where it is going.

The second is of how Chinese kids are taught to write. They start big. Maybe with the weather, their feelings or a descriptive passage. Their writing evolves from here and it is not until the final paragraph or sentence that you actually know the topic or opinion of the writer.

Different, huh?

And the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I can see this around me here in China.

At school, changes are made to our curriculum with the end goal in mind, but no adjustments are made regarding the day-to-day teaching process.

When you ask a bank clerk ‘why’ he has to photocopy your paperwork for the nth time, you get an answer that goes around the point, but doesn’t actually reach the actual reason.

When I used to teach writing for IELTS and Toefl exams, I had so much trouble getting the students to construct a logical, step-by-step essay, let alone a paragraph. But clearly, I was fighting something that was ingrained from primary school.

It really does seem to relinquish the control from the students and shift it back into the system. The analysis step seems to be missing from the writing process, in a country that prides itself on creating mathematically-superior kiddies!

Alternatively, regarding medicine, the Western approach is very direct and you will be prescribed a pill that directly targets the problem that you have. The Chinese approach treats the big picture, your whole system, which will consequently and indirectly treat your medical issue. 

So, perhaps there is an upside to be found?

These are just my observations, and I would absolutely love to have any comments from others who have similar observations, or even better, someone who has been a student in both systems!


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