Annotated Bibliographies for Fall 2003
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Stiler, Gary M. and Thomas Philleo. "Blogging and Blogspots: An Alternative Format for Encouraging Reflective Practice Among Preservice Teachers.” Education 123:4 (2003): 789-797.
In this paper, Stiler and Philleo discuss their uses of online journals to solicit more “reflective” writing from their preservice Education students. Comparisons are made between the different types of journaling available to students, and the variety of responses received depending on the medium, which in this case is the journaling site, Blogger. Stiler and Philleo discuss the definition of “reflective” and how it is a necessary trait for teachers that can be improved with consistent, non-evaluative journal-writing. They provide a history of their methods, and also a brief history on Blogger. Finally, they discuss the outcome of the study and include data obtained from assessment surveys which show that in general, students produced a greater quality and quantity of reflective writing in an online format.
I found this study interesting because it deals directly with some of the concepts we’ve fooled around with in class, specifically the idea of “private” journal writing being much easier to do than assigned academic writing. The authors created the “ideal” environment, as described in the study of the processes of seven-year-old children, by not assigning specific topics, which, I believe, freed the students and perhaps gave them greater access to their own reflections. Also, the study indicated that students were more inclined to journal in a more technologically advanced format. This also touches on our conversation regarding the difference between writing in longhand and “typing” one’s ideas directly into a computer. Are students training to be teachers inherently more techno-savvy? Or are more college-age students in general becoming more comfortable with the process of combining composition with mechanical typing?
The authors also acknowledge that journal writing can be “a difficult and painful process” and I find their methods of trying to ameliorate some of the frustration inherent in the composition process both refreshing and telling. I do not, nor does anyone I know well personally, keep an online blog, but I often read the diaries and websites of complete strangers simply to be exposed to some really fresh, original writing. I think the authors have capitalized on a growing trend among college students and have, in a way, combined the academic and personal voices Koundakijan refers to in her piece on peer tutoring. I would need a deeper analysis of the individual processes of the students (perhaps samples from the journal entries themselves?) than Stiler and Philleo provide in order to see if this theory proves true, but I feel safe in the assumption that students generally employed a more casual voice in the online entries than say, a formal paper.
This article was helpful as a future tutor in that it gave me yet another way to think about student writing and the variety of forms it takes. The actual data could have been stronger, but the overall thesis they prove is a compelling one that says much about how the medium affects students’ response to assignments involving creativity and reflection.—Caitlin Corrigan, 9/16/03
Day, Susan X. “Make It Uglier. Make It Hurt.
Make It Real,” in Creativity Research Journal. Iowa State
University, Vol.14, No.1, 127-136, 2002. Available from ERIC using EbscoHost. 9/16/03.
In this article, Susan X Day at first tries to uncover the mystery of writer’s block by interviewing four very different creative writers at separate times. Although this article covers many issues on creative writing and not academic writing, two of the interviewees were English Professors. All four subjects claim to have led solitary, socially isolated lives and were drawn to writing because they viewed themselves as odd. They believe writing brought them identity, as Day summarizes the scholar Erikson, “our identity consists of an inner sense of ourselves that provide continuity over time and situation. The identity is formed through resolution of several life crisis…It seemed to me that my creative writers solved the crises of their childhoods and adolescences in similar ways…” (130).What was also common among all four was that they rarely, if ever, had writer’s block. As one subject stated, “If I don’t like this road, I get on another road” (129). Another subject agreed, adding, “…I don’t believe you cannot write, I believe you cannot write well…”(130). The article went on to describe the other various creative aspects of these creative writers that would distinguish them from the general public/crowd.
Day’s search for the reason of writer’s block ceases once she begins to understand the identities of her subjects. She realized that through their “differences” they sharpened their creative sides until their identities could no longer stand without their individual creativities. These innovations, in turn, helped them to become writers. This gave them a certain air of confidence, as Day mentions, “all four brought up conflicts with other people… as elements of their worst episodes as creative writers. Conflicts within themselves, such as those I believe lead to writer’s block, were not spontaneously mentioned as problems” (129). This leads to an interesting question: How similar is creative writing to academic writing, and if very, then can the solutions that helped these writers help writers who must also get their voice, idea, thought, etc. on paper?
To try to answer this, I will start with an imperative statement that Day made in relation to all of our struggles with writing: “As infants and toddlers, every noise we make is greeted with happiness, approval, and love; the more closely we approximate words, the more thrilled adults are with us, lightheartedly confident that our errors will disappear with time and practice. On the other hand, most people learn to write from teachers who are clearly less than thrilled with flawed, faltering efforts and who sprinkle our trials with corrections. The experience, for many, drains the joy from the writing process, making it a chore” (128). One major difference between creative and academic writing is that there is always going to be someone reading your work. But even in creative writing (from my own experiences) the idea of an audience usually looms around one’s head. As Day focuses in on why people continue writing from such discouraging experiences, I’d like to take a different approach from her question. My question is, why discourage heavily flawed writing? Since I don’t know of any sayings that would emphasize my point, I will make one up: Castles are built on collapsed huts. Whoever built the hut recognized the need for a home and structured the basis of it. Maybe it didn’t survive natural disasters or wars, but it still begun something. To tie this in with writing, specifically tutoring writing, shouldn’t tutors encourage the “builder” to keep building? Not by pointing out what made their work collapse or saying “This is really poor writing, start over again,” but by telling them to add to what he or she has, to emphasize more structural development, since they already have the blueprint down. I think that in creative writing, the advantage is that you are your own tutor, your own encourager, and this essentially leads to the elimination of writer’s block because you cannot block your own flow of inspiration. But if the same concept is applied to academic writing, wouldn’t this unconditional encouraging also lead to the expansion of new ideas and possibly the organization of them?--Hanna Badalov, 9/16/03
Williamson, Judith, "Engaging Resistant Writers Through Zines in the Classroom," Rhetnet: A Cyberjournal for Rhetoric and Writing, October 1994. Available online at: http://www.missouri.edu/~rhetnet/judyw_zines.html. 8/23/04
This article addresses a problem many high school English students face—lack of motivation—and discusses the possibilities of bringing zines into the classroom. A zine is an inexpensively published mini-magazine. Estimates now are that there are some 20,000 zines being published in the United States, with topics ranging from music to animal rights, from science fiction to feminism. Williamson suggests that while many students are discouraged by an impersonal English department at school, the process of zine-making elicits “enthusiasm and attention to detail,” as well as group “support and encouragement,” since zine-making is almost always a collaborative process. Williamson surveyed teachers and students, finding that the majority of teachers expressed opposition to the idea of bringing zines into the classroom, while most students expressed interest. This discrepancy is partially due to the controversial and “shocking” nature that is characteristic of many zines. One teacher surveyed did bring zine-writing into her classroom, but discussed with her students the “realities of writing in different settings”: That is, one needs to censor oneself somewhat rigidly in the public school setting. While Williamson does not deny the existence of obstacles, she concludes that zines should be given some consideration in the classroom because they (1) raise social awareness, (2) allow virtually all determined writers to be published, and (3) lead the way toward deeper cultural students in innumerable areas.
I think everyone, especially young adults, are fascinated by the idea of the zine. Whether it has its place in the high school classroom I am not sure. The high school system of our day is obsolete, and sixteen year-olds are too old to be held within the confines of your typical public high school—the structure is too dehumanizing. To make a class project of zine-writing is like seeing a middle-aged businessman with multiple body piercings. There is too much dissonance. I agree with Williamson that zine-writing is a great way for young adults to express their creativity and learn more about the world, but once you make it a class project, I think it loses a lot of its appeal. Zines are about independence, making a personal statement. It has to be intrinsically motivated. In the classroom setting a zine loses its life-force and becomes just another project that has to be completed for class.--Sara Tripp, 9/18/03
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Pocket Books, New York: 2000.
In Stephen King’s memoir to the craft of writing, he explores a plethora of experiences and lessons that depict this craft as a lifelong experience. Contrary to many essays that explain the cognitive processes involved in writing, King sees writing as a continuous passion that does not merely exist between the outline and the final draft. On Writing consists of three chapters divided by personal experience, writing tools, and actual edited pages from his manuscripts. This annotated bibliography focuses on the second chapter entitled, “Toolbox.” “To write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so that you can carry it with you” (114, King). In this toolbox, exist the fundamentals of writing: vocabulary, grammar, and sentence/paragraph structure. King stresses the importance of utilizing only the tools you have acquired via learning experience and usage. For example, using elaborate words and grammar structures that are not familiar to the writer make for poor prose and may blur the intentional message of the author. One must also know how to cater the use of each tool in regard to the assignment at hand. The very pattern and structure of paragraphs and sentences can be molded to clearly express both academic and informal writing. Through his experience as a student, teacher, and writer, King gives a multi-faceted explanation on the practice of writing. Having been on both sides of the tutor/tutee spectrum he offers a unique perspective in regards to writing. His methods of writing are nothing to be dissected and conformed to a simple flow chart. A talk show host once asked King, “How do you write?” His response was, “One word at a time” (156, King). King’s most important theoretical assumption is that great text takes control of the writer. He doesn’t believe in outlines, brainstorms, or note cards. Once a writer has developed the necessary tools, any such preparatory planning becomes obsolete. Science fiction writer, Alfred Bester once said, “The book is the boss” (159, King). Perhaps that is why explaining the actual writing process is such a thorny task to perform.
I selected King’s memoir because it touches on many subjects that are pertinent to the theory of composition and education in a way that is exciting to the reader. I found his theories and explanations to be refreshing and real in comparison to the pedantic preaching of Linda Flower and John R. Hayes. I believe that fellow 221 students will enjoy King’s vivid and enlightening speculation on the craft of writing. There are so many misconceptions about writing and its process. By reading On Writing, one can see that the writing process is an ongoing task that is not exempt from frustration. Many people have the idea that some people are simply more gifted than others and writing for them is simple and easy. It was helpful to discover that it took King three years to write this book. It is simply amazing what one can do without a deadline. I was so amazed to learn that Stephen King goes through just as much frustration and self-loathing that we, as students do in our writing process. Discouraged with what he deemed to be utter trash, Stephen King discarded his first novel. His wife, Tabitha sent his “trash” to a publisher and they were thrilled to sign a book deal for Carrie.
Besides offering rays of hope for aspiring writers and struggling students, King answers many questions pertinent to the tutoring process. How do we write? According to King, we start out with our foundation of knowledge and mix in a little heart and imagination. Stylistic imitation is bound to occur through one’s writing whether it is known to the psyche or not. Whatever influences a writer may have, it remains important to create original ideas. King states, ”You can write whatever you damn well want. Anything at all…as long as you tell the truth” (158, King). This bit of advice might prove useful in a setting where the question of plagiarism is brought to the table. In light of tutoring, I think this would be an excellent book for tutees to read. It would certainly help their struggle to know that even best selling authors still work at crafting their writing skills. Some tutees may wrongly assume that writing should be a worry-free task that anyone can complete without guidance.
By enforcing the concept of tools, we as tutors can help students to become better writers. As Gilmartin states in “Working at the Drop-in Center”, “Try to view tutoring as helping people to write better, not just improve on one paper; make sure people don’t consider you an expert- only someone who has learned the tools and can help people to use them” (21, Podis and Podis). Both King and Gilmartin accurately describe writing processes from their own experience. However, Flower and Hayes declare “people’s after-the-fact, introspective analysis of what they did while writing is notoriously inaccurate and likely to be influenced by their notions of what they should have done” (368). I disagree with their assumption, as King’s “introspective analysis” is a great learning opportunity for aspiring writers and teachers. Such analysis provides the reader with a chance to experience the writing process through King’s eyes. I am astonished that Flower and Hayes can see any shred of validity in their research due to the fact that their research subjects did not even write! The conclusions they drew from their research was based on what the participants verbalized, as if they were writing. In accord with Hanna Badalov’s online posting, I also abhor the esoteric verse in which A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing was composed. They attempt to explain the writing theory in verbose sentences that would make William Strunk cringe with aversion. Although Stephen King has done no actual “research”, he has been a student, tutor, teacher, and editor of the written word. I strongly agree with Alice G. Brand’s somewhat responsive essay to A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing entitled “The Why of Cognition: Emotion and the Writing Process”. In concurrence with King’s theories, Brand states that logic itself is not “the normal mode of human thought” (155). I like the theory that the writing process itself has as much life as writers do. The theory that the writing process is an intricate twelve-step program that we must all drag ourselves through can dishearten the passion of a journalist, essayist, novelist, poet, etc. Seeing one’s entire life as a giant learning experience seems to be a little more comforting. As long as one has the strength to tote around his/her toolbox, the possibilities are endless.--Dory Hoffman, 9/16/03
Graves, Richard L. "What I learned from Verle Barnes: The Exploratory Self in Writing." Rhetoric and Composition. Ed. Richard L. Graves. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann, 1990. 132-136.
Richard L. Graves begins his essay by captivating the reader with a short story that helps to remind him, as a teacher, of an important lesson that is so basic it is often overlooked; that is, in order to teach students how to write well they must begin writing of topics which inspire them (132-135). Graves tells his students that a " ‘good subject is like a jewel buried in the bottom of the sea…you must dive deep, hold your breath , scrape away all the sand and mud and debris, take the jewel in your fingers, and bring it to the surface’ " (134). In other words, he wants his classroom to be a place of personal exploration and discovery where the student is " ‘possessed’ " by his or her deepest self or as Graves put it, the student’s " ‘creative energy’ " (134). He claims that this path of discovery cannot be taught using an English textbook; it is a moment of inspiration that goes beyond time and space and cannot be broken into sections and chapters (134-135).
Furthermore, the only way to cultivate this personal discovery process is to create a classroom of structured freedom where the student’s writing will not be limited by his or her fear of mistakes and grammar rules, and the student will have "freedom to create" (135). Only once the student has found his or her inspiration and has come to understand what it means to love and be dedicated and involved in the writing process, it then becomes possible to introduce the tedious rules of grammar and editing (135-136).
Graves focuses on the importance of inspiration which is often overlooked in the development of writers, most especially young ones. Personal exultation, identity, and discovery in writing is excluded by many teachers in the course of teaching composition and grammar. However, Graves neglects to clarify if his essay pertains only to individual creative exploratory writing or if it is applicable to objective research writing which ultimately comprises a large portion of a student’s writing.
As a prospective writing tutor this distinction is important, because more often than not, students will need help with research papers about which they may not be excited. However, I think that it is implied in Graves’ essay that once a student becomes an inspired writer, it is easier to teach basic rules of composition which aid the formation of a solid paper. The question then is, how does one generate excitement, the force that will make the paper come alive, when a student is writing in an area of personal disinterest. Lastly, Graves’ restates that inspiration is a crucial component of teaching composition, although it would have been more helpful if he had offered the reader a few suggestions as to how to create a learning environment open to freedom and creative energy. Shana Lowenbraun 9/16/03
Skorczewski, Dawn. “Everybody Has Their Own Ideas: Responding to Cliché in Student
Writing.” College Composition and Communication 52 (2000): 220-239.
Skorczewski’s article focuses on the idea of cliché in student writing, why the cliché is used, and how a professor can respond it. Skorczewski herself is an English professor, and bases her article on a series of papers written by her students in regards to identity, and how it presents itself in literature. When reading these papers, she’s struck by the number of students who spend the majority of their text writing well-constructed, critical analysis, and then wrap up the paper with one of several recurring clichés, some of which even contradict the point the student initially set out to prove.
Skorczewski believes that the use of the cliché serves as an escape of sorts for the student. She believes that the students feel like the cliché represents the “world that makes sense,” while the academic and critical writing represents the foreign world of the university. The cliché is the student’s attempt to express his or her own voice, while the rest of the paper is simply what the student believes the professor wants to hear. Skorczewski believes the student to be trapped between two worlds, struggling with internal and external audiences, including the culture and social group the student belongs to outside the classroom.
Furthermore, she seems to suggest that the way in which a professor reacts to cliché is a similar retreat. She feels that critical writing is to professors as clichés are to students. She encourages professors not to blindly reject clichés in student writing, but to encourage students to think about what these clichés say about them, as well as about what the way you interpret them says about you.
I don’t know if Skorczewski’s point is entirely clear. She seems to be justifying the cliché as a product of lack of voice in novice writers. Her point about the cliché serving as a revelation about the nature of a student’s belief system seems a little far-fetched, and her insistence that professors think about the way in which they interpret clichés in their students’ work seems like she’s just stretching the point. I’d accuse Skorczewski of making one of the biggest clichés in academia – trying to make something that’s simply wrong into something of great genius.—Brendan Bailey, 9/16/03
Porter, Kevin. “Review of Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing Process Paradigm, Thomas Kent, ed. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999).” JAC 20:2 (2002). Available at http://jac.gsu.edu/jac/20.3/Reviews/3.htm
Kevin J. Porter reviews information by Thomas Kent on Post-Process Theory in relation to previous empirical models. By the end of this essay, I realized that it was an annotated bibliography in itself. Porter boils down a fairly lengthy book into a more concise version. The basic thesis of the essay proposes that we all recognize writing as a process, and must now move on to research “post-process” theories. These post-process theories do not outright condemn the empirical process theories of the past. They do, however, seek to use those former theories as a foundation of further development. The post-process theory has three tenants. “Post-process theorists hold that the writing act is public, thoroughly hermeneutic, and always situated, therefore cannot be reduced to a generalizable process” (2). In this context, “hermeneutic” describes the theory that writing cannot be governed by universal rules. The Flower-Hayes model is mentioned repeatedly in reference to generalizing the process. The model is not seen as a how-to instruction manual for writing, but as a resource for developing pedagogical strategies. The general idea of the essay, and thus, Kent’s book, is that we are now in a state of social post-process theory that branches from the old empirical ways of the past. Supporting evidence arises from researching Kent’s theories that are based on empirical models such as Flower and Hayes. Other research touches on a collection of essays that reflects on the history of the writing process movement, the role of empirical research, and suggestions for improving the current situation. Many sources are referenced and explored to aptly defend the theories of the author. Ideas are present from such authors as: Gary Olson, Patricia Bizzell, and Peter Elbow.
The title itself caught my attention. Questions had been raised in class as to whether or not there have been theories developed since the days of empirical, cognitive research. I was also engrossed by the idea that one cannot become a better writer by simply adhering to a cognitive model. Instead, one must integrate the strong points of each theory, and use them for building blocks towards a new approach altogether. This is an idea that Shana and I eventually came to after two hours of collaboration. We were all set to believe we had embarked upon a new idea, when of course someone has already written two hundred plus pages on that very notion. I really liked how Porter raised questions for himself, and then proceeded to answer them. He seemed very aware of his audience, in that he omitted such phraseology that often dominates writing process theory. In each argument, he took both stances and supported each view appropriately.
I think the class would be interested in reading Porter’s essay because it is enlightening, yet accessible. It is also a great example of an annotated bibliography. Porter makes suggestions on how he might improve the text he explored. This piece takes a unique angle to answer the question of how we write. According to Porter, we can only partially describe the writing process because it is an intimate procedure that differs among cultures and classes of people. Out of all the readings we have digested, Porter’s essay seems to be mostly in accord with Faigley’s Competing Theories of Process. All in all, Porter’s view seems to be social, as he interprets both cognitive and expressive views throughout history. I really like that he does not label new theories as rejecting old ones, but merely surpassing them. Although he mentions Peter Elbow briefly, he negates the idea of ignoring one’s audience. In fact, the style of writing that Porter adapts seems almost overly conscious of an audience. His question and answer style is reminiscence of an actual discussion, which I think works well in this instance.—Dory Hoffman, 9/24/03
Sherwood, Steve. “Censoring Students, Censoring Ourselves: Constraining Conversations in the Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal. 20 (1999): 51-60.
Sherwood’s article is concerned with the boundaries of the tutor’s responsibility when it comes to reviewing student writing in the writing center. Does a tutor have the right to encourage students to censor themselves? Does a tutor have a responsibility to protect a student from the consequences of their words? He frames these questions in an anecdote from his own experience as a tutor regarding a male student’s paper that was extremely sexist. Sherwood admits that allowing the student to hand in such a paper would undoubtedly result in a poor grade and a hostile reaction from the student’s female professor and largely female classmates, but is hesitant to encourage the student to censor his paper in fear of violating his first amendment rights. Sherwood believes that self-censorship is often in a student’s best interest, but at the same time sees the contradiction in encouraging students to self-censor in an academic environment that preaches freedom of expression and opinion. If the writing center’s job is to help students make their papers acceptable by their professors, how does one advise a student who is so committed to an idea that they willingly risk disapproval?
Sherwood raises more questions than he’s willing to answer, but reminds writing center tutors that the priority should always be putting the student’s best interests above your own personal beliefs or ideas. The best advice he gives is to always remind students that academic writing is about learning and testing new ideas, not simply venting your opinions. More importantly, in the case of a student who is risking offending someone, encourage the student to consider all sides of his opinion, and how his opinion might affect others. Is this effect one that the student desires? If not, the tutor now has a responsibility to coach the student to creating the desired effect.
Sherwood’s article is an extremely interesting essay from the perspective of the tutor faced with disagreeable material. Putting your own opinions aside in favor of the student’s best interest is easier said than done, and an important part of being a writing center tutor. Elizabeth Schambelan (see Podis and Podis, Working With Student Writers, pp193-198) gives an interesting perspective from the other side of the table, writing from the student’s side about trying to find one’s own voice without simply writing to please your audience. It’s the kind of opinion she’s expressing which Sherwood is responding directly to, wondering how much authority the writing center tutor has to quiet down this voice. He’s created a thought-provoking article which merits further exploration. His mere nine pages seems only to touch on the issue at hand, but he’s managed to create an interesting spring-board for future writing, as well as an intriguing piece for anyone interested in first amendment rights, censorship on college campuses, or tutor/student relationships.–Brendan Bailey, 9/24/03
Graves, Donald H. "Trust the Shadows." The Reading Teacher, Vol. 45, No. 1, Sep. 1991 Available online from ERIC via EbscoHost. 9/24/03
My search for commonalities between creative and academic writing continues. In this article, Graves, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, researches the learning and writing processes of children (age 7) to better understand writing processes in general. At first he brings up the differences between the writings of girls and boys, much like what Emig did. That is, he points out the territories that the genders tend to write about. His results were similar to Emig's: "...of 120 pieces written by girls, only eight fell in the territory beyond home and school..." (p.18). But Graves extends his research to other issues concerning the writing process; he finds more information on the revision process, specifically children who were "interactive revisers": "...one revised in her head, another went through an enormous number of drafts, while another made changes through dialogues with other children" (p.20). He also explores things like "off-task thinking," which is writing every day even when there is no particular task. He writes, "daily composing cuts across all genres and other types of problem solving... there is as much similarity in the thinking and writng of research problems as in composing of a poem. The deliberate discipline of daily writing and off-task thinking regarding the same questions -- What does this mean? What are the data? How do I write this? -- are essential to all problem-solving acts" (p.20).
In short, Graves identifies scientific elements in writing, especially creative writing (collecting data, comparing results, etc.). The process of writing for him is actually moving away from the abstract which, I think, is a safe haven from the "shadows," and discovering new ideas while writes: "When I put words on paper, the images were clarified still further" (p.23). As his example, he writes a poem to discover something new about the car crash he witnesses, something that his mind didn't quite develop at the time of the crash, and then he rewrites the poem by cutting it in half and bringing in only the most significant lines. This would have been a difficult task for him earlier in his writing life because he, possibly like many writers, not only avoided daily writing and letting in new discoveries as he wrote, but he avoided the difficult task of deleting what he thought, at the time, was vital to the poems and other pieces of writing. Although making the piece shorter and clearer seems to be the better way of writing, it is just as important to write the long, expanded version because then you can pull out the best parts and use them in the next draft. Graves, it seems, thinks highly of writing draft after draft. At the time when he discovered the importance of revision, he came up with a few more factors, including daily writing, that can help in the writing process: "...a sense of play in the composing, and, above all, sustaining thought well beyond the actual composing on the page" (p.24). By "play," I think he meant sorting out the the most crucial parts of the piece and putting them in the new one. Now, to connect this to academic writing. Many of Graves' elements in the revision process can be directed towards writing academic papers. Maybe daily writing can help when it's time to sit down and really write. . Also, the brave task of dropping the lines that may have been good at one time in order to improve the final paper is important. It must get easier once it becomes a habit. And, of course, thinking about the paper even when it's not in front of you. Making the time for "disengagement and reflection" can be tough, but it might pay off as it did for Graves when he eventually trusted the shadows and stopped trying to "fit [his] responses into the preconceived slots required by [his] teachers" (p.23). This relates to caring about your topic, so if a tutor can help the tutee really care about his or her papers and the papers to come, then maybe a lot more effort will be put into writing and rewriting and rewriting it. - Hanna Badalov 9/26/03
Walker, Christine. "Difficult Clients and Tutor Dependency: Helping Overly Dependent Clients Become More Independent Writers." In The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice. Eds. Robert W. Barnett, and Jacob S. Blumner. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001.
Kristine Walker begins to outline the problems that writing center tutors have with overly dependant writing clients, and offers her own suggestions based on her experience as well as theories and concrete plans of action adapted from other researchers in this field. She offers solutions and attempts to redefine misconceptions about the writing center that may contribute to the problem of encouraging the dependency of tutees. She begins her essay with a short and frustrating anecdote of a tutee, Darren, who came to the writing center seeking help on an "F" paper that was riddled with bad grammar and "faulty organization" (316). It became apparent that he wanted Walker to revise the paper for him, as he could not come up with any ideas on his own, passed over her suggestions, and consistently asked for "specific ways" to revise (Walker 317).
Walker explains that the problem of overly dependant tutees cannot be solved with the current terminology used of "independent and dependent" clients (317). Dave Healy writes that the use of words such as independent and dependent hark back to the abolished and harmful theory of the "clinic/hospital metaphors" used in referring to the tutee and tutor relationship. This metaphor implies that the tutor is going to heal the tutee of his or her bad writing, but the good writers are well and do not need a writing center. This view contradicts one of the fundamental theories in writing; writers need writers. Furthermore, the writing center’s job is to nourish, advise (not solve), and promote collaboration (Walker 317-318).
Walker then commences to offer various practical suggestions that may help to minimize the current problems facing tutors. First, she claims that it is accepted that the writing tutor’s job is not to do the client’s work. One way to avoid this is to have the tutees give most of the information as opposed to the tutor possibly by having the tutees fill out a "Writing Assignment Worksheet" as suggested by James Upton (Walker 318). The worksheet would involve the students talking (in writing) and thinking about their assignment before they start the main composition. This would lead to greater clarification of the topic and assignment as well as improving critical thinking. The worksheet need not always come prior to writing an essay; it can also be helpful for revising. Walker states that tutors should go over the worksheet with tutees before they begin filling it out, and she also believes that this worksheet should be a requirement in all writing centers (318-319).
In addition, tutors need to be well versed in the process of verification, making sure that everything written in the worksheet is true, as well as being aware that students may rush through the worksheet so that they can have their work done for them by the tutor. Some tutees may need the tutors to explain to them certain aspects of the worksheet. For instance, what is an audience? (319)
A crucial part of the tutoring process is encouragement. Many tutees suffer from a lack of confidence in their writing which in turn inhibits their development, especially in area where they may be more than capable. Furthermore, Edward Vavra claims that much of what may need to be done in a writing center is editing grammar. However, editing should not be dealt with until the main components of the paper are completed such as, organization and content. He also offers many helpful ideas of how to correct grammar without doing for the student and simultaneously teaching them to recognize their mistakes (Walker 319-321).
Walker suggests that a good way to encourage tutor and tutee collaboration is by have the tutor first read the paper and then fill out an evaluation sheet, although it should not take the place of discussion. The sheet provides concrete suggestions, the tutee can fill out some sections, or they can completes sections in their words as the session progresses. The evaluation sheet can also help mitigate overdependency among tutees. Lastly, it may be necessary to write up a list of the writing center’s philosophy and have prospective tutees read or sign it before their session. Walker also provides two helpful samples of the Writing Assignment Worksheet and the Reader Evaluation Sheet (319-321).
I found this essay to be very helpful especially since it did not only deal with the theoretical issues of tutoring in a writing center, but it also offered practical solutions. In fact, I have only a few very small issues with the essay. I disagree with Walker that the Writing Assignment Worksheet should be mandatory, and I think that the essay would have benefited by offering more alternative ways to develop collaboration. Plus, she did not effectively explain how the Reader Evaluation Worksheet would promote collaboration.—Shana Lowenbraun, 9/24/03
Harris, Judith. “Re-Writing the Subject: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Creative Writing and Composition Pedagogy.” College English. 64.2 (Nov. 2001) 175-205.
Harris explores the connection, or rather lack thereof, between creative writing and composition praxis in the college classroom. She claims that colleges “have segregated writing courses according to perceptions about writing products (expository, technical, cultural studies, creative writing), rather than considering writing subjects—meaning the students who generate, or produce, writing.” (180). Harris’ paper is also a call to integrate psychoanalytic methods of teaching and responding to writing to allow writing to fulfill a role of self-exploration and well as self-expression: “Writing is a process of finding out what is already, on some level, known, but it can also be a means of creating an identity.” (183).
I found much of what Harris had to say very interesting, but I can’t say I agreed with all of it. I felt that there were two different themes running through this article that, while they didn’t necessarily oppose one another, perhaps were not meant to be so intertwined. The notion that a composition classroom can be just as “creative” as a fiction or poetry class is a sentiment that I can agree with, and I certainly see the merit in incorporating personal experience into the subject matter to make writing come alive for students. My own 105 professor did just that, and it definitely engaged me more than an assigned essay on a “secondary” subject would have. However, when Harris begins to discuss (and endorse) the practices of the creative writing classroom and its similarity to a therapy session, I become a little wary.
I have heard of writing workshops in which student writing is all highly personal, sometimes barely “fiction” at all, and the atmosphere is extremely emotionally charged. My experience at Goucher had been just the opposite—we’ve always focused on literary elements and assumed that the author is never the narrator unless clearly indicated, as in the case of an ars poetica, for example. I have never been in a class like the one Harris describes here: “In creative writing and personal writing courses, “opening up” to material in the unconscious is often an explicit goal. Creative writing teachers actually use exercises to help students get in touch with, or revel to themselves, symbols and associations they would otherwise withhold or keep repressed.” (182). I feel our professors leave us to discover our own methods of accessing the unconscious, and if the writing process really is “the human subject in the process of its becoming itself more fully”(181), then isn’t that how it should be?
I appreciated Harris’ exploration of how creativity is often ignored in academia, but I’m just not sure where the pages and pages endorsing psychoanalysis in the classroom fit in. Perhaps this discourse would be more effectively applied in classrooms with severely emotionally disturbed writers, or people already undergoing therapy. Otherwise, I’d much rather let art be art (and not some “sublimated urge”) and focus instead on making basic composition more lively and personal.—Caitlin Corrigan, 9/30/04
Lu, Min-zhan. "Writing as Repositioning." Journal of Education. 172:1 (1990). 18. Academic
Search Premier. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 8 September 2003.
[I hope this article isn't too dated, but I was intrigued by Min-zhan Lu and this article is sill pertinent and seemed the most interesting of the accessibles. Also in defense, it was written three years after "From Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle" which we read in Perl last week. ;)]
In this article Lu further expands the argument she makes at the end of "Writing as Struggle", that students should be taught to negotiate the conflicting discourses they experience rather than drowning themselves in a single hegemonic compositional voice. Lu argues that by recognizing and examining the “friction points” between the clamoring range of academic and other cultural discourses, students will become critical thinkers who will contest the dominant and privileged discourse within its own language and challenge the very notion of a monolithic discourse. It is important to note that though Lu does not say this outright, by discourse she refers to both the style, grammar, and structure that are supposed to encompass “good writing”, and the content, concerns, positions, and perspectives of that writing. Lu then, argues that students should critically “reposition” themselves in relation to competing discourses every time they sit down to write.
Lu explains that her theory is alien to many because of the prevalent belief that competent academic writing occurs within single discourse and vision, so that students then sacrifice varying style and perspective in order to attain proficiency. (This is interesting to me right now stylistically as well as content-wise as I help students with their papers and struggle with their grasp of academic language, etc. How much does such phraseology and structuring really matter? In fact, does my own mastery (?) of academic discourse threaten my ability to think new thoughts?)
For Lu, teaching students to examine such “cultural dissonance” will produce thinkers who rather then compartmentalizing, will navigate the relatedness of their experiences to their entire “personal and social existence” and view themselves as beings who can impact a larger context. Lu explains that “instead of merely getting the student to imagine how a college student thinks and writes, we ask the student to explore how a college student whose life precedes and extends beyond his academic life might think and write” (n.p.).
I was impressed with Lu’s conclusion as she recognized the complexities and pitfalls of her exciting “vision of writers writing at sites of conflict, at borders which divide academic and other discourses but which are contested and constructed anew each time one writes” (n.p.). Lu acknowledges that it will be challenging to implement such an educational style and ends her article with the question: “how we can acknowledge dissonance in and between discourses without finally treating such dissonance as either a problem to be eliminated or a harmonious polyphony to be accepted but rather as a means to problematize the dominance of the hegemonic” (n.p.).
I was intrigued by this article as, though to a lesser degree, I too had a secondary school education where I was very aware of competing discourses and would “shut off” one section of my consciousness in order to function within either of them. (This included, at its most extreme, a full-length play I composed and performed in as a senior in high school celebrating something I didn’t believe in at all.) I always felt like I was bartering my soul of authenticity, because even though— to a certain extent— I tried to moderate my writing, I was always acutely aware of the words and thoughts I had to sacrifice. I wonder now what my secular English teachers thought about this phenomenon, and what it meant for them as they navigated teaching in such a school. For them, expanding an awareness of the notion of discourse discord was out of the question. Did they feel like they were able to enable their students’ critical thinking, or did they somehow justify its forfeit?
I also want to comment on Lu’s basic premise that contesting a single, monolithic discourse, whatever it may be, is always an essential activity. About six years ago I went to several performances of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, an avant-garde theatre company based in Vermont. One of the shows I saw was the Circus of the Seven Basic Needs, and for a long while I remember being very perplexed by the fact that one of the seven basic needs was “insurrection against the existing order”. In my mind at that time I understood that to refer to some type of political insurrection, and I thought that of course revolution is good if a government should be overthrown, but that in many cases such a guiding principle would be absolutely ridiculous. It wasn’t till later that I understood that it really was about defeating any pre-existing social discourse that is by its very nature limiting and delimiting.--Miriam Ani, 9/30/03
Schoen, Sharon Faith & Schoen, Alexis Ann. “Action Research in the Classroom: Assisting a Linguistically Different Learner with Special Needs.” Teaching Exceptional Children. Jan/Feb 2003. Available from ERIC via EbscoHost. 9/30/03
In this article, Schoen and Schoen progressively help a 10-year old boy, a Korean immigrant, who has a learning disability and has trouble in school. Andy has two disadvantages, that is, not only is English not his native language, but he has great difficulty in learning as well. He, like many other non-native Americans, takes ESL (English as a Second Language). He is pulled out of his class for half an hour each day for this program. He is a sensitive child who doesn’t like to show his weakness and jokes around with his classmates instead of answering questions. His major problem is that “he is able to understand the events or facts that are being taught, but he cannot use written language to express what he is thinking” (17). “His most pressing needs related to reading and writing” (19). What Schoen & Schoen seem to do effectively is connect vocabulary words to their objects so that Andy can see what he is trying to say. They do a number of other activities including “Identification of classroom-related words and use of articles of speech,” “Modeling appropriate language,” “Playing games,” and (my personal favorite) “Composing interactive journals” (19). This proves to help Andy because by the end of the study his test scores go up significantly and he has a much easier time communicating with his teachers without throwing tantrums of frustration as he did before.
In a sense, he has the opposite problem of unskilled writers. While unskilled writers are concerned with spelling and sentence structure, and repeatedly go back into their texts to fix surface problems, Andy ignores, or cannot comprehend, his lexical errors, he just concentrates on what he is trying to express. This might be what separates a learning disabled student from an unskilled writer. Though Andy struggles to convey his meaning through his words, he does this unsuccessfully as well. But as the Schoens demonstrate, his syntax seems to imitate Korean writing. For example, the Korean basic structure of a sentence is subject-object-verb. This would explain why Andy wrote,
“ ‘Kirsten out of her gym bag she pok the hos…’ (Kirsten out of her gym bag she poked a hole…)” (17). In addition to this difference, the Korean language does not use “a,” “an,” and “the.” “There are also not any words that show masculinity or femininity. Using plurals is not required. There is no agreement between predicates and the subject of the sentence” (17). So Andy has many obstacles to overcome. It is hard enough to teach a student a set of rules if the student has trouble learning them, but it is even harder to teach the learning disabled student to dismiss the rules that he has taken so much time to learn and replace them with a new set.
Speaking seemed to be the easiest for Andy. Is this not true of other students who have extreme difficulties in writing? This means that teachers must build a much stronger bridge between thinking and skillfully expressing on paper. It is obvious that for some students, teachers have to teach with greater efforts. What I really think worked well for Andy will probably work with all students that have learning disabilities and/or are foreign to the English language. Positive reinforcement on the part of teacher or tutor can help, just as Andy’s teachers and fellow students encouraged him. Another effective strategy is the application of interactions and interrelations. Connecting new vocabulary to old, connecting cultures and their ways of communicating, and “composing interactive journals” may be the ways to get students interested in learning, or at least get their attention. Even Schoen & Schoen pointed out that in the future teachers may need to get the class involved in activities in which they can share cultural backgrounds so that students will feel more involved in their classes, hence, the work they produce. This can be directly applied to college students. This does not mean they have to share their backgrounds or beliefs with their class, but their beliefs and experiences can help them influence what they write. – Hanna Badalov 10/19/03
Donald A. McAndrew, “That Isn’t What We Did in High School- Big Changes in the Teaching of Writing,” in The Subject is Writing: Essays by Teachers and Students, Ed. Wendy Bishop, (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton-Cook, 2003).
The Subject is Writing is a collection of essays by teachers and students regarding writing processes, styles, and motives for writing. Donald McAndrew’s piece focuses on the transition in style and environment between high school English and college English classes. He is a writing professor for undergraduates and teachers. He begins by asking his students to evaluate the differences by atmosphere, writing assignments, response and revision, and outcomes/improvements. The change in atmosphere is positively accepted by the students. They find the interaction and discussion within the group creates a sense of comfort that was lacking in their lecture-based high school courses. It is this sharing of ideas and relaxed environment that allows them to express themselves more freely. The writing assignments differ because the students are allowed to choose their own topics and focus on the development of ideas, instead of grammar and syntax. Students give very positive feedback about the new technique of response and revision. They find that they produce better papers when they are able to approach the instructor at any point in the process to discuss problems or possible topics. Students also feel they have improved as writers after collaborating on writing assignments. The tail end of McAndrew’s essay describes the three writing theories that he bases his class on: social constructionists, participationists, and socio-psycholinguists. “To know something, to have knowledge, means to participate in its making, constructing through language, reading, writing, and talking to others who are also participating in making knowledge” (95). The aforementioned quote sums up the ideals of the three theories in their application to the classroom experience.
This piece attracted me initially because it was in the section entitled “To the Writer-Writing Classrooms and Writing Processes”. It is interesting to consider the transition between writing instruction between high school and college. So much of how we write in college is based upon our experiences in high school. This raises questions such as: Is it really learning if the writer cannot choose his own thesis and style-or is it wrote memorization and regurgitation of facts? Does the actual writing environment have effects on the type of writing that is produced? What are the benefits of peer evaluation versus receiving one grade from the teacher with little explanation as to the rubric used to grade the writing? I think the class would be interested in this piece and others in the book because they focus on the new paradigms of teaching and how students are responding to them. I think it can help answer questions about how we write and perhaps why we write a certain way. Because long-term memory is an important part of the writing process, our high school experience plays a more prominent role than some may think. The only suggestion I have for this piece is to include some of the sources McAndrew uses to construct his knowledge of the three theories. It sounds like he may have read some of the same texts we read in class, so it would be interesting to see where he gets his information.
The theory that students produce better writing when they are participationists is reminiscent of McCarthy’s “A Stranger in Strange Lands: A College Student Writing Across the Curriculum”. In many high school courses, writing is considered a small part of the English class, and is seldom applied to the rest of the courses. In McCarthy’s experiment, Dave had trouble in his poetry class because there was considerably less participation and peer feedback than in his science classes. In McAndrew’s class, students are encouraged to read each other’s work and discuss issues freely in the class. This social construction of ideas leads the students to engage themselves in the writing process with more depth and individual thought. Because students are allowed to question theories and concepts, they feel that they have a certain ownership to their ideas. Based on Brendan’s comments in class, I feel that he would enjoy this essay. He described his shock in the transition between his formal high school and Goucher. The discussion-based classes seemed scary at first, because he was not accustomed to such free thinking in his high school. As an aspiring teacher, I also think he would enjoy reading the students’ positive feedback as to what they think makes a great class. The teaching methods used by McCarthy seem to be evident in Barbara Roswell’s academic writing classes and Arnie Sanders’ classes. The idea that a student’s peers and teachers are available for discussion seems to be very beneficial to the writing process itself.—Dory Hoffman, 10/20/03
Johnson, Barbara. "Writing." Critical Terms for Literary Study. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1990: 39-49.
In this essay, Johnson discusses the complexity of language in regards to literary analysis. More specifically, she looks at the term "writing" and what it means to write, what writing represents, and how the act of writing itself is worthy of study and critique, "An essay about writing, therefore, is an unclosable loop: it is an attempt to comprehend that which it is comprehended by" (39). She focuses in on the "theoretical revolution" of 1967 France which produced significant reflection on writing (writing about writing) that still influences the academy today.
Admittedly, this article strays somewhat from the more theory-based, composition-focused models we've been studying both in class and in our annotations. I was initially drawn to this essay by the quotation in the first paragraph, and was compelled to read more about what someone had to say about the writing process from a literary standpoint. Basically, the English major in me picked this essay as a break from the concrete, albeit interesting world of educational theory. I did however, find significant parallels between what Johnson discusses and what we've done in class. She talks a lot about Derrida, Barthes and Saussure; French writers and theorists whose work acknowledges the tensions between language and meaning, words and ideas, speech and the written word. Derrida, who Johnson identifies as the "most important French theorist of writing," explores this last tension, that of speech and writing. His discourse reminds me of some of our discussions fueled by the theories of Vygotsky and experiences of the Oberlin writing tutors; it explores the difference between speech and writing and the relative "value" of each in society: "even when a text tries to privilege speech as immediacy, it cannot completely eliminate the fact that speech, like writing, is based on a [difference] between signifier [word] and signified [meaning]" (43). Basically, this means that speech does not "beam meaning from one mind to another," instead, it too involves the subjective processing of both speaker and listener, similar to the processing that happens in the mind of writer and reader.
Whew, okay. So. Even though this essay deals more directly with how writing and perceptions of writing processes affect literary studies, it still helped me to clarify what I feel is some of the theoretical groundwork for the ideas we discuss in class. We have talked about "academic" English being a foreign language that students need to learn to negotiate--what is that if not a demonstration of how a sign (word) can share the same signifier (phonetic/written symbol) for an entire community, and yet a very different signified intent (meaning) depending on context (academic, informal, paper for professor A, posting for professor B, etc.)? Also, I think it's good to look at how other disciplines within the grand branch of "English" look at composition, since, as Johnson states near the end of the essay, "the story of the role and nature of writing in Western culture is still in the process of being written" (48). Superficially, composition and literary analysis have little to do with one another (as we saw in the disparity of grades Dave received in Composition and Poetry in McCarthy's article), however they both seek to untangle the complexities that arise whenever words are strung together to create meaning. In addition, the French "revolutionaries" believed writing to be an inherently political act, one that both constructed as well as expressed meaning. For composition students, I feel that an awareness of how writing creates meaning is important in understanding how different modes of composition reflect different discourse communities, and how they can alter or shape their own voice to either assimilate or challenge the status quo.—Caitlin Corrigan, 10/20/03
Sydow, Debbie L. “Composition Theory: Taking It Apart and Putting It Back Together
Again.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College
Composition and Communication, March 16-19, 1994. Nashville, TN. ERIC. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 8 October 2003.
Sydow’s article seemed intriguing—dealing with the murky intersection between thought, language and writing in a pertinent forum specifically regarding the present teaching of composition. Unfortunately, she does not define her terms or have a persuasive or compelling argument. The central premise of the article is that is that the “theory of social constructivism has long served as Composition’s theoretical center of gravity” (1). Sydow challenges this dominance as not being inclusive of all the components of the writing process through arguments that deal with aspects of cognitive and expressionist theory. This premise seems strange as in “Competing Theories of Process” (1986) Faigley characterizes social constructivism as a fairly recent and undefined view. Sydow’s version seems to conflict with the Faigley article; it seems strange that in only eight years social constructivism went from very new, to being “long” held as the foundation for composition theory. In fact, Sydow never proves that social constructivism is indeed “ Composition’s theoretical center of gravity”.
Sydow defines social constructivism as knowledge gained through a series of paradigm shifts, generally realized by more than one person (therefore all knowledge is socially constructed), with the central tenet that language is inseparable from thought. Sydow never defines language however, and a working definition of what she intends by the term is integral to her argument. The way Sydow refutes social constructivism through the cognitive dimension is to argue that language is not integral to thought. She first uses a Brand study exploring the ways in which emotions influence cognition. This seems strange as emotional affect is not a process exterior to language; we understand our emotions in terms of language. Sydow then writes that “since emotions are a significant factor affecting cognitive processes…any model of writing that assumes a purely logical, rational thought process is incomplete, at best” (3). This is a bizarre refutation, at best. Why would language be easily equated with “rational thought processes” without any explanation?
Sydow adds to this language/ thought refutation through an argument that views thinking in images as a precursor to verbal cognition (Sadoski). Her proof of this is that before composition begins, writers use their imagination to create a general audience. (The argument being that imagination does not rely on language.) It seems to me that there are very few instances when thinking without language is possible, especially in a medium that utilizes language as its mode of communication! Certainly there are situations when this is not true, for example a dancer listening to music and visualizing choreography, but even this dancer is integrally tied to the words she knows for each step. Language is the medium through which we relate to the world, we have created a system of understanding through language, and it is impossible for us to think outside that linguistic system. Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges calls language the “prison-house of being” for this very reason!
Sydow’s final cognitive argument is that “non-verbal meaning making takes place all the time” (3). She uses a Witte study to explain that “non-verbal, visual symbols facilitate meaning,” using examples like “drawing a picture of bananas on a store list to remind shoppers to purchase them, to the intricate symbols used by engineers” (3). Graphic representations such as these are indeed language, even if they are not oral language. In Mythologies, Roland Barthes writes, “Pictures become a kind of writing as soon as they are meaningful” (110). In Literary Theory (1996) Terry Eagleton articulates the concept that language is inseparable from thought and meaning-making:
I still need to use signs when I look into my mind or search my soul, and
this means that I will never experience any ‘full communion’ with myself. It is not that I can have a pure, unblemished meaning, intention or experience which then gets distorted and refracted by the flawed medium of language: because language is the very air I breathe, I can never have a pure, unblemished meaning or experience at all. (112-3)
Sydow next challenges social constructivism through a brief expressionist argument, that social constructivism privileges interactional epistemology over subjectivistic and positivistic epistemologies, and therefore does not account for all aspects of composition. This is a better argument though, again, Sydow does not adequately define her terms or the theorists she borrows from (an oversight that disturbed me throughout the entire paper). I understand that she delivered this paper at a conference where this could have been viewed as less necessary, but it seems to me that it is always essential to define one’s terms.
The article ends stating that social constructivism needs to become more inclusive or will eventually be replaced by a more inclusive theory of composition, or will eventually represent one of many aspects of the “multi-planal realities in the field of composition” (6). Sydow is writing for a very laudable purpose, one theory of composition is certainly insufficient. There is no theory of everything. Every theory is somehow incomplete. It’s a pity, however, that she couldn’t make a better argument.--Miriam Ani, 10/20/03
Booth, Wayne C. “The Ethics of Teaching Literature.” College English. 61.1 (1998): 41-55.
Booth’s article is a broad philosophical piece about what the goal of teaching literature should be. He seeks to justify the teaching of literature as an important part of the moral and ethical development of the student – the great teacher of literature will use study of literature to create students who are capable of abstract and critical thought about the world they live in. Booth claims that although in the last century of literary criticism much has changed in terms of theory, both postmodern theorists (whom he calls “pomos”) and traditionalists (called “trads”) still have the same concerns for the importance of teaching ethics through reading of literature. Booth cites the failure of modern English education to be a total lack of emphasis on the lessons the material can teach, and too much importance placed on the “facts” of the reading. As an example, he cites the recent educational emphasis placed on nationwide exams as an assessment. He believes too many teachers are merely forcing their students to memorize rote lists of grammar do’s and don’ts, and teaching literature in a style like “new criticism,” where the work’s importance in your own life is irrelevant, and only the text itself should be the object of study. Booth believes these types of teachers are thinking about it backwards – teach the student, not the material. Challenging a student to find the relevance of the literature in their own life will encourage them to read more, to become excited by the possibility of critical thought and ethical decisions. In terms of grammar, Booth believes that the best way to teach it is to teach literature, not rules. Literature gets students excited about writing, and teaching students to think critically and ethically about literature will force them to think critically and ethically about their own writing. He offers steps in making your own classroom more like the one he envisions: he suggests kinds of texts that should be covered, how they should be taught in response to one another, and talks about how teaching one text in direct ethical contrast to another forces students to find their own ethical values in response.
Booth has perhaps unwittingly placed himself in a group of educational reformers known as the “critical theorists” (see Critical Education in the New Information Age as a type of manifesto by these writers). Just as Booth tells us to teach the student, not the material, the critical theorists tell us to teach the world, not the word. They, like Booth, believe that the goal of education is not to fill a student’s mind with facts, but to produce a student who can use their education to find their own identity, and think critically about the world they are a part of. The type of rules teaching that Booth rejects is what the critical theorists refer to as “poisonous pedagogy,” a form of educational brainwashing that produces students who thoughtlessly accept the ideas that are forced upon them by the world.
Both Booth and the critical theorists make excellent points, and Booth’s article is largely successful in relating the importance of teaching literature as a key to a student’s personal and ethical development. The article (and the writings of critical theorists in general) should be of extreme interest to anyone, like myself, interested in why it is so important that we teach literature in schools. Booth’s done a good job in a short article summing up his ideas on the topic, and I’d be more than interested in reading his book, The Company We Keep, (which he rather blatantly advertises throughout the piece) for further information.—Brendan Bailey, 10/20/03
Bell, Madison Smartt. “Unconscious Mind.” Narrative Design: A Writer’s Guide to Structure. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997: 3-22.
“Unconscious Mind” is an essay following the preface to Bell’s text concerning narrative design. Relying on his experience as a teacher of creative workshops and writer, he discusses some interesting theories regarding the mind’s awareness of the writing process. He states that “consciousness is a great inhibitor” when it comes to the writing process (11). According to Bell, the two hemispheres of the brain can actually work against each other. The left hemisphere, which generates language-related capabilities, can actually inhibit creative processes in the right hemisphere of the brain. The notion of audience comes into play whereas the writer’s conscious fears and anxieties regarding the audience’s acceptance of the work, may actually work against the creative, free-flowing parts of the brain. He attributes some cases of writer’s block to this conscious trepidation. He states that in order to shut out any inhibitors to the process and create coherent, plausible prose, one must attain a level of “psychological privacy”. He also states that writing is unique because you have nothing to play with but your mind. Problems with the writing process may be attributed to the absence of any type of “warm-up” exercise that might preempt the actual activity of writing.
This piece attracted me because it questioned the plausibility of being able to teach writing. Although it dealt with creative writing, I think that the question can be related to academic writing as well. Students can be given lessons regarding grammar, syntax, and whatever else, but will that have any real effect on their writing? Is it possible to transform a series of theories and facts to exceptional writing? How much of what we know, actually inhibits us from writing? I found some of his theories, such as hypnosis as a way of attaining psychological privacy, very interesting. It strayed far from my expectations in that I didn’t expect it to be so psychologically and spiritually based. It is interesting to consider that our brains may be working against us. I think it can help answer some questions related to writing process because it admits that writing is an actual biological occurrence that goes beyond simple cognitive processes. In relation to the writing center, if offers helpful techniques in relaxing a writer in order to proceed sans great amounts of frustration. It suggests that writing isn’t supposed to be a simple process and it is natural to feel frustration and confusion.
I found connections in the initial part of the essay with Howey’s “No Answers: Interrogating ‘Truth’ in Writing.” She begins her essay with, “Some say that creative writing-or any writing-cannot be taught” (117). Howey states that teachers should not necessarily preach, but assist students to reach their own theories as to how to write. Bell states that the teaching of writing in itself is a paradox because creativity and the rendering of ideas should be innate. According to Bell, there should be a balance of collective discussion and pedagogical structure. Howey writes of the importance of dialogue, which is a vital part of how Bell and other new paradigm teachers conduct their classes. The shared theory of the two seems to be that students/tutees must be given direction, but it is the students that generate the most powerful knowledge attainable.—Dory Hoffman, 10/28/03
Ackerman, David B. "Synthesize Traditional and Progressive Education for Today's Students."
Education Digest. 68: 7 (March 2003). 4. Academic Search Premier. Julia Rogers Library,
Goucher College. 3 November 2003.
In this article David Ackerman demonstrates that the traditionalist and progressivist poles of contemporary educational theory are not necessarily that polarized at all. Like many educational theorists who recognize the overlapping and amenable notions of the two sides, he proposes a “powerful, synergistic” synthesis that would revitalize our flailing educational system with “hybrid vigor” (n.p.). Ackerman’s understanding that these “points of view long at war can be recognized as essentially complementary” deconstructs the radical opposition of the traditionalist and progressivist sides (n.p). To Ackerman, and other such mediating theorists, “these two traditions represent the best we know about teaching and learning”; the best educational practice, therefore, will create “a double-barreled set of foundational principles” that coalesce the insights of both camps (n.p.).
In order to create such a synthesis, Ackerman points out that the first measure that needs to be taken is for theorists on both sides “to resist the temptation to claim the high ground by simply caricaturing the other side” (n.p.). This simple step will effect an immediate destabilization of the ‘definitive’ schism and reveal the coinciding ‘between’ of the two poles. Then, in the spirit of truce, we can create a school system that will consist of two tablets in a “new educational ‘ten commandments’” (n.p.). For the traditionalist tablet, Ackerman suggests that we engrave such principles as:
(1) teaching that of the “deepest value”, the texts which contain “the best which has been thought of and said in the world”
(2) teaching with rigor
(3) adhering to high standards of excellence
(4) choosing the most time-effective method of instruction, and
(5) providing a strong disciplinary based foundation, even though disciplines are partial (n.p.).
The progressivist commandments would include:
(1) teaching students as whole people and thinking subjects
(2) treating each student as an individual and not forcing a single unified standard
(3) nurturing understanding rather than treating the mind of the student as an empty “receptacle”
(4) respecting what students bring to the text, and
(5) and honoring the student’s “search for holistic knowledge” with a recognition of the limitation of discipline-based learning (n.p.).
There are a number of strange things about these ten principles. For example many of them have the same undealt with problems of the original theories: how do you decide what is of "deepest value"? why must the good books still be "internalized"!?! even within a time-effectiveness model how do you choose between breadth and depth? Additionally, many of the principles of the progressivist tablet are simply restated and do not propose a new concept!
Overall, however, Ackerman’s article has a nice theoretical basis, rejecting the one system approach and arguing that “the philosophical form of an outstanding school is akin to the double helix of DNA; both the progressive and the traditionalist strands intertwine, reinforcing and amplifying one another” (n.p.). Yet ironically, this theory erects its own Thou Shalt stone dragon, and as it attempts to avoid uncompromising polarization, creates its own unyielding system. The notion of “engraving tablets” to devise a “decalogue” of “ten commandments” which would serve as “foundational principles” simply creates a theory that cements yet another inflexible structure of educational practices.--Miriam Ani, 11/3/03
Alexander, Joy. "Orality and Modern Culture: ‘Listening’ in the English Classroom." Changing English: Studies in Reading & Culture 7.2 (2000): 167. Academic Search Premier (Ebsco). October 31, 2003.
In this article, Joy Alexander explains the pros and cons of modern society’s approach to literature and writing. She starts her essay with an interesting anecdote about a child’s interpretation of a line from Robert Frost’s poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," in which the line read "but I have promises to keep." The young girl describes the frightening aspect of this line. After asking groups of adults about which line in the poem a child would be most scared of, no one guessed the right one. This, as Alexander explains, is proof that there are different interpretations of texts between children and adults. Children have not been exposed to so much reading as adults and so they delve into many deep interpretations that are not only based on certain words that would be synonymous to "frightening." In the above example, the little girl interpreted the line as a reminder of obligations of physical promises instead of just verbal promises.
Joy Alexander explores the past’s methods of reading literary works, including the oral and epic traditions, and moves on to talk about modern reading, including the computerized quick readings or, as Alexander calls it, "a new manner of reading which relies on impression and is linear, and hence perhaps also to some degree anti-logic" (5). She writes about the "pressures and possibilities in people’s capacity to listen" (2), in other words, their attention spans; the formation of the book as an "object" as opposed to the oral presentations in the past as "persons," which, in a way, is a contemporary dehumanization of literature; but she also explores the new closeness to the reading that the reader experiences, stating Walter J. Ong’s idea that "the present orality is post-typographical, incorporating an individualized self-consciousness developed with the aid of writing and print and possessed of more reflectiveness, historical sense, and organized puposefulness than was possible in pre-literate oral cultures…" (5). This last idea is advocating the merge of both oral (aloud) readings of texts and silent reading of them.
Alexander’s essay is an examination of the attention spent on literature and other school-based texts. In addition, she tries to define "literacy" based on the era in which the student or reader is judged. She quotes Ong heavily and states his thoughts on the impatience of modern readers, and she adds that there is a lot of pressure on the human mind to absorb technology’s fast paced sending of information and so this "communication technology" overwhelms "the human capacity for brooding, ruminative, interior listening…" (5). So this limited attention span is to be blamed on society rather than the individual. Although Alexander mentions that the book replaced "discourse/hearing/persons" with "observation/sight/objects,"(3) she also talks about the interaction of both. She writes that a lot of literature was written for the purpose of being heard as well as read silently, not only for comprehensive efforts, that is, to read literature in two different ways, but also for "the ability to hear the tone of voice" (3).
Applying this to tutoring, it is important to not only read the source of the topic that the student is writing about carefully and in as many ways offered to the student, but to read what has been written by the student with just as much attention. What I have also learned from this article is to slow down and take in one bit of information at a time when doing research. This cam also be applied to tutoring, in that every aspect of the work being examined should be looked at individually first, and then as a whole.—Hanna Badalov, 11/1/03
Gregory, Marshall. “The Many-Headed Hydra of Theory vs. The Unifying Mission of Teaching.” College English. 59.1 (1997): 41-58
Gregory’s article is a reaction to what he perceives to be the “chaotic” nature of the modern English classroom. He sees English departments as lost in disciplinary confusion, straying from the unifying mission of producing intelligent and self-aware students. Gregory embraces the common cliché that teachers can change the world. He rejects the perception of the English professor as an “observer” of the world, insisting that their influence is far-reaching and powerful, spread through the students they teach. He argues for a type of universalist reading of literature: literature is instructive about how life can be lived and gives students an opportunity to find their own identities through the lives of others. Reading encourages students to “go out” of themselves, and experience a wider world away from their egocentric self. He believes that imagination, not intellect, is the primary “engine of human change.”
The antagonist of the literature classroom for Gregory is postmodern literary theory. Postmodernism is based on the idea that there are no universal truths – everything is merely a construction, and the meaning of a text is entirely subjective. Gregory believes postmodernism has created a sense of distrust towards literature. Students are taught to view literature as a source of social decay or social oppression – taught to think about why a text is “bad” rather than “good.” Postmodernism is built upon the idea of creating a “resisting” reader, an idea that Gregory rejects in an English classroom. How can a student “go out” and explore new experiences and new feelings through literature if they enter every work with a sense of skepticism towards it? How can a student look for universal truth in writing if postmodern theorists are telling them there is no universal truth? The teaching of literature should, above all else, be a labor of love – love for the student you hope to teach truths about themselves and their world, and love for the world itself (as seen through literature) despite its imperfections. Gregory heralds Chaucer as the perfect model. Chaucer sees his world, sees its evils, expresses them in his work, but embraces them anyway. Chaucer is the perfect reader.
Gregory concludes his article by summarizing the 6 contributions towards student development that English as a discipline has made. In a sense, he outlines what the finished product of a good education in English Literature should be like. It produces students who are knowledgeable about themselves as well as the overall human condition. They understand that in many places in many different times, humans have faced the same problems they face today. They are questioning of the world they are a part of, able to deliberate moral and ethical issues. They understand the power of language as both a form of art, and a form of important discourse about the nature of being human. And they are able to “go out” and immerse themselves in imagination, which Gregory believes is main cause of human growth and change.
Gregory is attempting to affirm the importance English literature studies. Claiming that teaching literature can “change the world” by producing better self-aware and intelligent students is the kind of stuff English teachers need to hear. He’s rejecting modern literary theory in favor of the more traditional belief about why the study of literature is so important. He’s elevated the level of the English department to the most important part of a student’s personal and moral development, making teaching seem as if it’s the most noble profession of all. It’s a breath of fresh air and a burst of inspiration for a student like myself who’s about to become an English teacher.—Brendan Bailey, 11/3/03
Chandler-Olcott, Kelly and Donna Mahar. “Adolescents’ anime-inspired “fanfictions”: An exploration of Multiliteracies. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 46: 7 (April 2003): 556-66.
In this article, the authors examine the non-school related creative writing of two middle-school students as a means of understanding how literacy can be achieved through a variety of ways, through “multiliteracies.” This term, coined by a group of composition scholars studying the shifting definition of literacy and composition, serves as a framework in their study of the students' composition of "fanfic" or "fanfiction" which is "a text form described by Jenkins (1992) as the "raiding" of mass culture by fans who use media texts as the starting point for their own writing." (n.p.). The students wrote these fanfic pieces based on characters from anime (Japanese animation). The researchers spent time observing and interviewing the students, researching their context/inspiration and annotating the students' pieces. They determined that the students were producing high-quality, sophisticated work that demonstrated a familiarity with three "multiliterate" concepts: multimodality, intertextuality, and hybridity.
I was interested in this article because it explores some of the ideas I'm hoping to pursue in my research--the difference between public (academic) and private (creative/personal) writing, the use of new technologies in composition, and composition as a legitimate personal pursuit/pastime. It was refreshing also to read an article that didn't solely focus on undergraduate academic writing, and I appreciated their call to "understand how "unsanctioned" literary practices may provide adolescents, especially those who are marginalized, with ways of "constructing and maintaining thought, identity, and social position" (n.p.). The authors were also intrigued by the fanfics because they explicitly "acknowledged composition as a social process", simply due to their dependence on an external "text" and the frequency with which the girls shared their work with others in the discourse community. This made me think about many of the conversations we've had in class about writing as a public act, writing in the context of a community, etc., etc. Their social process completely leaves out school however, and the students demonstrated a clear divide in how they viewed their perosnal writing and the "essay part of [their] writing." Both students said that "their personal writing was more important to them and in higher quantity than the work they completed for class." This is a sentiment I think seen throughout the semester, from the interviews with the seven-year olds to our own feelings expressed in class.
By taking a closer look at what this outside writing included however, the researchers found that the work students produce outside of class can be just as developed, if not more so, than assigned essays, papers, etc. and that incorporating these texts might be another tool of assesment, at least in the begining of a class: "We wonder what might happen if teachers invited students to bring in examples of...personal writing at the begining of the school year and promised, as part of that invitation, not to grade those pieces but rather to examine them...as a way to get to know learners better." Why, English 221, of course!—Caitlin Corrigan, 11/4/03
Shumway, David R. “Graff and the Left.” Pedagogy. 3: 2 (Spring 2003). 259. Project
Muse. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 3 November 2003.
In this well-crafted article David Shumway explains and refutes the left’s criticism of Graff’s proposal to “teach the conflicts” in literature studies. I appreciate that Shumway begins his article by recognizing that “left” is a tricky designation that can apply to several very different ideologies. The left that Shumway discusses in this context, however, is the progressive/ cultural leftists, particularly in the vein of critical educator Henry A. Giroux.
Giroux objects to Graff’s approach, as he believes it conflicts with his goals of political education. Political education as defined by Giroux, “means teaching students to take risks, challenge those with power, honor critical traditions, and be reflexive about how authority is used in the classroom” (qtd. in 259). Giroux accuses Graff of instead “‘politicizing’ education: dogmatic, authoritarian teaching that emphasizes methodology and objectivity” (260), and objects to “teach the conflicts” particularly on two counts. First, Giroux condemns Graff for ignoring the goal of “student empowerment” as conflicts are “presented to the students rather than generated by them,” and second, he criticizes Graff for preventing the teacher from presenting his or her own opinion from the perspective of a “particular political project” (259-60). This criticism, however, is clearly based on a misunderstanding of Graff’s methodology, and Shumway refutes, “teaching the conflicts is an excellent method for teaching students to challenge those with power, to honor critical traditions, and to be reflexive about how authority is used in the classroom” (262). To address the specific complaints, in the article “Conflict Clarifies” Graff writes that “teaching the conflicts is a travesty if it fails to involve students as active participants, or even fails to invite them to question and redefine the agenda of the debates” (273) and Shumway explains that a teacher can certainly take a particular point of view, as long as it is recognized that it is one point of view among many— “Graff wants to make use of opposing points of view to make the significance of having a perspective clear to students” (261). (As an aside- I found it amusing that Shumway points out that these two objections of the left can actually be seen as contradicting each other—“They advocate an empowerment or student-centered pedagogy even as they consider it the teacher’s role to advocate his or her own politics” (261). )
Shumway goes on to explain that Graff and Giroux do disagree about the primary objectives of education. Giroux envisions the university as an entirely political institution and “wants to bring about radical social transformation” (261). Graff, on the other hand, “sees the academy as a space defined by its devotion to knowledge, where skepticism—rather than certainty—is the indispensable attitude” and hopes simply involve students in intellectual debate (261). Graff’s vision is the necessary first step for Giroux’s transformation, however! Shumway points out that a “teach the conflicts” approach “move[s] students away from the assumption of an absolutist epistemology” (262). Therefore Shumway concludes that Graff’s approach “has much to recommend it to the ‘cultural left,’ those who favor ‘an inclusive and controversial academy’” (262).
Overall, however, Shumway views “teach the conflicts” as a good method but does not believe it can solve all our educational difficulties. Shumway writes that “Solving these problems requires taking positions on the conflicts Graff wants us to teach,” but since he does not elaborate on what he believes the educational problems are, it is impossible for me to reply.
I was tantalized by a brief and unexplained two-sentence remark about Stanley Fish’s contention with “teach the conflicts”. Shumway notes that Fish is actually to the right of Graff but that he believes that “teaching the conflicts actually suppresses conflict. Fish contains that staging a conflict contains it by the implicit invocation of some higher principle that both sides share” (260). The works cited lists this information as coming from a 1996 Fish article entitled "Them We Burn: Violence and Conviction in the English Department" (160-73) from the book English As a Discipline; or, Is There a Plot in This Play? ed. James C. Raymond, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. I would be interested to read this article as it seems to me that conflicts would not be tamed simply because the guiding principle is to embrace conflict. Conflict is good does not mean that you embrace both sides, or lose conviction in the debate. Thinking about it, however, I think that this comment relates to Min-zhan Lu’s remark at the end of the article “Writing as Repositioning”. Lu asks the question, “how we can acknowledge dissonance in and between discourses without finally treating such dissonance as either a problem to be eliminated or a harmonious polyphony to be accepted but rather as a means to problematize the dominance of the hegemonic” (n.p.). I don’t have any answers.--Miriam Ani, 11/4/03
In his article, "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product," Donald Murray claims that teachers more often than not, are trained in analyzing a finished product: Shakespeare, Pope, Eliot…When their students hand in an paper, the writing is clearly not up to par; it is not literature. The teachers then subject their students to all forms of criticism, some of it brilliant, some of it stupid, and some of it kind. However, the students are not benefiting from this criticism and dread it. They know that their writing is not a piece of publishable literature; what they need is to be encouraged to engage in the process of discovery through writing. They need to learn how to write and come to realize their own personal truths in the process. "We should teach unfinished writing, and glory in its unfinishedness" (Murray 4).
Murray claims that teaching writing as a process can be integrated into the classroom curriculum as soon as the students have a basic understanding of how to write and why they should write. Then, a teacher can teach writing in "three stages: prewriting, writing, and rewriting" (Murray 4). Writers spend different amounts of time in each stage, and it is not a "lock-step process" (Murray 4).
Prewriting is the stage of writing and thinking that occurs before the first draft. This stage should take up to 85% of the writing process. It is essentially a time when the writers think about the world around them, a message or an issue that they would like to explore, and then deliberate about how to convey their thoughts. Following prewriting, the writers/students have to make a commitment through official writing. It is at this point that the writers realize how much they know and how much more they have to research or think through. Finally, the last stage is rewriting which is a "reconsideration of subject, form, and audience. It is researching, rethinking, redesigning, rewriting—and finally, line by-line editing" (Murray 4).
In order for these three stages in writing to happen successfully, teachers need to create an environment where they are the encouragers. They should not be the "initiator or the motivator; [the teachers] are the reader, the recipient" (Murray 5). Murray lists several ways of how a classroom that teaches writing as a process and not a product would operate: There would be no textbooks or other pieces of writing, such as piece of literature that students would have to read or study before they begin composing. The only texts in the class would be the students’ own writing, and the students would learn from each other’s writing. "The student finds his own subject. It is not the job of the teacher to legislate the student’s truth. It is the responsibility of the student to explore his own world with his own language, to discover his own meaning" (Murray 5). The students should be allowed to use their own language. The teacher should permit as many drafts as it is necessary for the students to complete a final comprehensive draft where they feel that they understand their subject. Each draft should hold as much weight in grades as the final draft, thereby emphasizing the process as opposed to the product.
A product such as creative writing or a business letter should not be oriented within the goal of the writing assignment. The students should be allowed to use whatever mode of writing that would most appropriate to help them discover and communicate their message. Although the students are engaging in an experimental process they must finally deal with the mechanics of writing, such as grammar, after they have gone through the early stages of writing and discovery. It is crucial for students to know that there should be nothing that interrupts the flow or possible meaning intended by what they have written. The students’ time should be not be pressured and yet, they need a deadline. "Papers are examined to see what other choices the writer might make…[The students’] papers are always unfinished until the end of the marking period" (Murray 6). Essentially they have the whole term to revise if students need too.
I think the word that would best encapsulate Murray’s idealist essay is…fluffy. He paints a romantic picture where students are sincerely searching for truth without hindering limitations; they are discovering themselves through writing. At first, it seems as if he is going to present practical ways to implement such a classroom only to be disappointed with his vague suggestions.
He begins with the unmentioned premise that students desire to find their truth and are aware enough of their environment that they would yearn to question or search it. I have found that very often this is not the case. Students are bored and disillusioned. Faced with the freedom that Murray wants to give students in their writing, they would very likely exploit it. So what is the answer to this dilemma, how do we inspire students and help them sustain their inspiration? I do not know. But having students bad or undeveloped writing be the only "text" taught in the classroom would definitely not motivate them, nor will it provide good examples of what beautiful or academic writing is. A piece of great literature (and what that is exactly is under much debate) can open students eyes, and make them aware that there are alternative perspectives. Furthermore, a good text accompanied with interesting discussion can take the students into another world, the world of language. Once they have the seen the beauty and the possibilities that this world offers they may be finally, inspired to write.
After reading this article I am left with more questions than the answers Murray intended to give. What is wrong with a teacher as a motivator? What is the difference between a motivator and an encourager? How is it possible for students to write as many drafts as necessary if they ultimately have a deadline? If the students have an extended deadline will they really use that time to think and work out their paper, or will most of them save all the work to do in hurry before deadlines and become pressured anyway? Exactly what does Murray mean by letting the students use their own language?
Although writing can be a great tool used to help students learn how to think and discover themselves with freedom, would it not be beneficial to eventually learn some official/academic modes of writing? Maybe if students are required to compose a piece of creative or academic writing they will discover something about themselves that they had never known before and may find that they like this new mode of writing. It is very important for students to learn how to have personal freedom within a structure and know how to retain their voice through this foreign or intimidating process.
Lastly, Murray writes that there are three stages to writing: prewriting, writing, and rewriting. He notes that writing is not a "rigid lock-step process." He intimates that students may engage in each stage differently. However, he still views the process of writing as one that is linear; he simplifies the process and limits it. If a teacher wants to teach writing as a "process" it is crucial for that teacher to be aware that the stages do not necessarily happen in Murray’s simple order. For example, some students may do minimal to no prewriting before they begin their first draft. Prewriting may have to come later for these students and might occur several times throughout the different stages of the process. Although I have done nothing but criticize Murray, his essay is not a complete failure. He does have a great title.--Shana Lowenbraun, 11/4/03