would trade one problem for another. If the change were made on the basis of independent clauses, the result would be choppy, at best, as we see in the altered version of the Rita Brown sentence:
This morning Rita Brown was chewing gum. The teacher caught her. She didn't get in trouble.
The effect is a Dick-and-Jane style that becomes virtually unreadable after a paragraph or two.
Christensen ( 1967) observed that really good writers, professionals who make a living at writing, do not write short sentences. They write long ones, short ones, and some in between. Students, he noted, usually have little trouble with the last two categories, but they have serious difficulty with long sentences because the tendency is to engage in compounding with and and subordinating with because until the sentence approaches gibberish. An important task of the writing teacher, in his view, is to help students master long sentences that truly reflect maturity in writing. The key, according to Christensen, lies in short independent clauses that have modifying constructions attached to them, usually following the clause. Sentence 12 illustrates this principle:
12. The misconceptions have existed for decades, being passed from teachers to students, year after year.
The independent clause in Sentence 12 is The misconceptions have existed for decades, and it is followed by two modifying constructions: being passed from teachers to students and year after year.
Several studies have found a relation between overall writing quality in student essays and sentences that fit the pattern of short independent clauses followed by modifiers. These findings suggest that when working with students at the sentence level, teachers should not ask for shorter sentences, but for longer ones with short independent clauses.
The attitudes teachers bring to the classroom and the things they tell students have long-lasting effects on their lives. Students seem particularly susceptible to attitudes and assumptions about writing and writing ability. Teachers' attitudes and assumptions become students' attitudes and assumptions. Given the importance of writing, not only to students' education but also to their work and place in society, teachers do them a terrible disservice if they perpetuate the misconceptions that prevent a clear understanding of what writing is about. One of the more difficult problems a teacher can face is the student who has come to believe that he or she cannot write and, moreover, cannot learn to write. Too often