Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2009

Harris, A Teaching Subject

Harris, Joseph. A Teaching Subject: Composition Since 1966. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Harris traces the history of the teaching of writing and how the teaching of writing was talked about through five key terms: growth, voice, process, error, and community. His account begins with the 1966 Dartmouth Conference, and it relies on published articles, books, and textbooks in the field for historical evidence, debates over the terms,¬†and trends. He does not present an argument for composition as a theoretical field of inquiry; rather, he sees composition’s inherent ties to education and the classroom as important and needing to be asserted and validated. He traces the process movement through the 1960s and 1970s, and then uses community as the key term to organize his history about the social and political turn in composition. The last chapter is a reprint of his CCC article “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing,” in which he problematizes the term, saying that it posits an ideal, homongenous, warm and happy view of a community. Instead, Harris argues that we need to move even beyond contact zones – which give people fixed cultural identies and affinities – to recognizing the multiple identites and voices that writers and students negotiate at all times.

Notable Notes

Dartmouth Conference: British (K-12) interested in growth and teaching; Americans (university) were interested in professionalization of the field, research, becoming recognized academics

two different ideas of voice: that of the individual writer, emerging from inside (expressivist movement, Elbow, Murray) v. voices that are outside the writer that the writer must learn to orchestrate and control (Barthes, Bakhtin, Derrida, Bartholomae, influenced by Theodore Baird at Amherst)

goal of composition, process: critical thinking, habits of mind, arete (virtues necessary for democracy)


January 26, 2009

Bartholomae, “The Study of Error”

Bartholomae, David. “The Study of Error.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 338-352.

Instead of dismissing the writing of basic writers as illogical and/or meaningless, Bartholomae argues for using the linguistic strategy of error analysis (often used by second language learners research) to learn the patterns of langauge use that basic writers rely on to think and compose so that composition teachers can track their progress and know better how to help them with their writing. Error analysis isn’t a perfect fit for composition, however, because it was intended for speaking exercises, and many basic writers’ errors come from the actual physical work of writing, the performance of composition rather than the conceptualization of arguments and ideas. However, the technique, which involves students reading back and consciously correcting their own prose, has three positive outcomes for composition instructors: it can help diagnose the problems a student writer is having, it can teach students a method for reading and self-correcting their errors, and it can help teachers see how their students, over the course of a semester, are growing and developing as academic writers.

Quotable Quotes

“We need to refine our teaching to take into account the high percentage of error in written composition that is rooted in the difficultly of performance rather than in problems of general linguistic competence” (349).

Errors that come from the “physical and conceptual demands of writing” and “the requirements of manipulating the print code” (351).

Errors are “stylistic features, information about this writer and this language” (342).

“When a basic writer violates our expectations, however, there is a tendancy to dismiss the text as non-writing, as meaningless or imperfect writing” (339).

“We have read, rather, as policemen, examiners, gate-keepers” (339)

We need to “treat the language of basic writing as language and assume, as we do when writers violate our expectations in more conventional ways, that the unconventional features in the writing are evidence of intention and that they are, therefore, meaningful, then we can chart systematic choices, individual strategies, and characteristic processes of thought” (340)

Notable Notes

All language use is idiosyncratic. The distance between a text and the accepted convention is just greater with a basic writer.

interlanguage/ intermediate system

have a writer read his own text to see what the maning is.

problem with error analysis: people learn correct written English not just aurally, but also visually. Also, the difficulty of intention: written error analysis asks for interpretation and analysis of the reason behind the error. The analyst has to first interpret the text, not just describe what’s there.

Rose, “Remedial Writing Courses”

Rose, Mike. “Remedial Writing Courses: A Critique and a Proposal.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 353-369.

Mike Rose points out five problems of the typical remedial writing course and suggests how basic writing courses can be changed to better serve the students in them. First, they are self-contained courses, not connected to larger writing contexts students will encounter at the university. Second, they rely on assignments based on simple, unmotivating topics that don’t produce academic prose. Third, they are not grounded in the writing process, rather focusing almost exclusively on error avoidance. Fourth, they do not expand their scope to include reading and thinking heuristics in conjunction with writing assignments. Finally, they stay in the realm of personal writing, never challenging students to write academic prose. Instead of this model of a remedial writing course, teachers need to give students real discourse patterns to write with and in, grounded in meaningful context. Those patterns should be taught as strategies, not structures, and be sequenced to build to more and more complex writing situations and assignments.

Quotable Quotes

We need to start “conceiving of composition as a highly complex thinking/learning/reading/writing skill that demands holistic, not neatly segmented and encapsulated, pedagogies” (362).

“The reflexive, exploratory possibilities of engaging in academic (vs. personal) topics are not exploited, and instruction in more complex patterns of discourse is delayed or soft-pedaled” (362).

“The nature of our programs is nearly synchronized with the narror reality created for them by our institutions” (369).

Notable Notes

reflexive writing tied to Emig

Blog at