Revolution Lullabye

October 1, 2006

Britton Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 10:25 pm

Isn’t it funny that Britton is from Britain? I looked specifically at Chapters 3, 11, and the appendici.

Britton, James N., et al. The Development of Writing Abilities (11-18). London: MacMillan, 1975.

In his study, Britton looked at 2122 pieces of writing by 500 pupils (ages 11-18) from 85 classes in 65 schools in England. He, along with his team of fellow researches and teachers, classified the writing through two categories: the sense of audience and the overall function of the piece. He found that 92% of the writing fell into two out of ten “sense of audience” categories: pupil-to-examiner and teacher-to-learner. Also, the majority of the writing fell to in the “reader-as-participant” category, as opposed to the “reader-as-spectator” category. From these two major findings, Britton claims that the emphasis of schools on testing inhibits students from developing expressive writing and writing for a larger public audience.

Quotes/Things of Interest:

Britton’s inquiry is aimed to “provide a map of the uses of the written language.” As he states, there has not been any exhaustive work on how writers develop. We know what adult, professional writers do, and we have studied the writing of small children. But what lies in the gulf? (53)

Britton points out that upon receiving a task, a student must either “make the task his own,” turn it into something else that he is involved and interested in, or “remain uninvolved” and just go through the motions, writing without engaging thinking. I wonder how many students slide by in school by doing that…how many WRT 105ers on that “Mind the Gap” essay? (54)

I think the binary scales that the team came up with while reading through the 2000+ scripts are useful beginning categories to looking at writing:

  • generalizing upon experience/particularizing an experience
  • presenting a view/exploring to arrive at a view
  • writer’s persona close to self/persona remote from self
  • interpreting experience shared by writer and reader/relating experience not shared by reader (55)

 “Writing for public audience develops out of writing in a teaching rather than a testing situation” (192)

“In effect, development in spectator-role writing is from the earliest stages a move in the direction of a public audience” (193)

Can you tell I’m interested in public audiences? 

Britton explains the difference between the two types of teacher/student relationship: open (learner-teacher) and closed (pupil-examiner): “the closed view sees teaching as instruction, while the open view sees learning as exploration and discovery.” (194)

“Curricular aims did not include the fostering of writing that reflects independent thinking; rather, attention was directed towards classificatory writing which reflects information in the form in which both teacher and textbook traditionally present it.” (197)

“What the sample as we find it suggests is the surprising degree to which learning situations in different subjects, with different syllabuses, and with the whole background of potentially different roads from experience into words and back to experience – the degree to which such learning situations (to judge by the writing) grow more and more like each other, more and more concentrated on one use of the written word.” (198)

A Couple of Thoughts

  • How has the influx of APs and national exam distorted the tasks of writing to reflect on those “pupil to examiner” and non-expressive writings even more?
  • How has technology affected the writing of students (Britton claims it might decrease the need for writing – I argue the opposite)
  • Britton says he is going to linguistically analyze the different function categories of writing. Did he? What did he find?

Peace out!


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