Revolution Lullabye

April 10, 2009

Murray, Learning by Teaching

Murray, Donald M. Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1982.

This collection of Donald Murray’s articles and essays (published and unpublished between 1968 and 1982) describe both how he understands the process of writing and the process of teaching. An advocate and founder of the expressivist movement, he believes that writing is a process in which a writer moves between the stages of prewriting (rehearsing), writing (drafting), and rewriting (revision) recursively, in no one set fashion. His pedagogy is marked by frequent, informal individual conferences with students, where students are treated as writers and come to his office to discuss their essays, which are not assignments but rather pieces imagined and created by them. Murray, a professional writer, sees his role as a listener and a coach, helping students see where their draft might take them next, never looking at writing as a finished product (expect perhaps on the deadline, the end of the term, when it will be graded.) He is interested in the scientific studies of the writing process (Perl, Sommers, Emig), but his argument and theory lays in the theory he developed by reflecting on his own work as a writer, reading about the writing processes of published writers, and observing how his students function as writers. In his theory, he names four forces of the writing process: collecting, connecting, reading, and writing, four forces that are always trying to be in a balance between discovery and clarification.

Quotable Quotes

“Listening is, after all, an aggressive act” – it places a large onus on the student because by listening you are validating them as a thinker, a writer, an intellectual (170)

“Papers are examined to see what other choices the writer might make” (17)

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, not for the paper we call literature by giving it a grade, but for the search for truth in whcih he is engaged. We must listen carefully for those words that may reveal a truth, that may reveal a voice. We must respect our student for his potential truth and for his potential voice. We are coaches, encouragers, developers, creators of environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves” (16)

“The writer is an individual who uses language to discover meaning in experience and communicate it” (9)

“Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action” (15)

Notable Notes

5 writer experiences every student should have: the experiences of seeing (practicing perception), form (creating order), publishing (deadlines and made public), communication (reaching an audience), and failure

teachers need to write too, with their students- teach through modeling

“The Politics of Respect” – it is crucial that we 1. respect students’ intelligence and ability as writers 2. respect composition teachers by providing them with control of curriculum and professional development 3. respect the director of Freshman Comp by recognition of his administration as counting for tenure and giving him the authority he needs to run a successful program as a professional and 4. have respect from other disciplines for knowing how to teach writing – this respect comes from the first three.

revision as opportunity, not punishment

texts of course – student’s own writing, never-ending revision, student’s own forms and languages, stress that discovery of meaning is the goal of writing – you learn through writing

teacher shouldn’t talk much at all

write titles, not labels; write leads, not introductions

the self is a legitimate audience

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