Revolution Lullabye

May 24, 2011

Downs and Wardle, Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.'” CCC 58.4 (June 2007): 552-584.

Downs and Wardle argue for revising first-year writing curriculum so that the course becomes an introduction to writing studies, where students explore writing studies as a content-filled discipline that questions ideas and practices of reading, writing, and literacy. Part of the reason both first-year writing and the field of rhetoric and composition have such low status in the academy is that they are both perceived to be content-less; making the first-year course about the research and theories of writing studies helps improve the status of both the first-year course and the discipline. Downs and Wardle explain the “writing about writing” first-year courses that they taught at University of Utah, Utah Valley State College (both Downs) and University of Dayton (Wardle.)

Notes and Quotes

Students in these courses learn that writing is conventional and context-driven (559). They also become more self-aware writers and understand that academic writing is a conversation.

Challenges: finding appropriate material, having students learn skills that will be useful in other courses, professional development needed for part-time and full-time faculty in order to teach this course

Instead of learning how to write, students in an “Introduction to Writing Studies” course learn about writing, and what they learn changes how they think about writing and how they write.

“It seeks instead to improve students’ understanding of writing, rhetoric, language, and literacy in a course that is topically oriented to reading and writing as scholarly inquiry and en couraging more realistic understandings of writing.” (553).  

make first-year writing like other first-year introductory courses

there is a powerful misconception that first-year writing can give students transferrable general writing skills (554). Writing is far more diverse and complex than that.

In a writing about writing course, students read research about writing, conduct their own writing research, write ethnographies about writing, locate writing issues that interest them, write reviews of existing literature – they are seen as gateways to WAC and WID programs

Readings about problems in the composing process (drafting, revision, reading for purpose, critical reading) and research-based, data-driven studies. Examples of readings include Berkenkotter, Huckin, Sommers, Perl, Flower and Hayes, Elbow, Murray, Swales, Dawkins, Kantz, Lakoff and Johnson, Gee

Assign reflections on the readings, literacy narratives for students to discover what they know about their own writing

Sample student-generated research questions:

Do college freshmen and seniors use rhetorical strategies at all or in similar ways? * How useful is Microsoft Word’s grammar checker? * What makes a classic literary work a “classic”? * What makes an effective business plan?* How does music (or lighting, or other environmental factors) affect writing and revision? * How do literacy activities vary at high- and low-income day cares? * What kinds of writing will a social work major encounter in his career? * Is writing taught in medical school? Should it be, and if so, how?

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