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This collection of Donald Murray’s articles and essays (published and unpublished between 1968 and 1982) describe both how he understands the process of writing and the process of teaching.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


February 3, 2009

Phelps, The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs: Catalyst, Laboratory, and Pattern for Change.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Richard Bullock and John Trimbur. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1991. 155-170.

Instead of focusing on what the relationship between rhet/comp and literature can be in an English department, Phelps takes a step back, widens the scope, and discusses what a independent writing program can do for the institution as a whole. Higher education is going through a multifacted crisis (the devaluing of teaching and undergraduate education due to the focus on research, the absence of community due to specialization, and the employment of under-paid, under-trained part-time and graduate teachers), but the theoretical foundations of a writing program makes it a prime candidate for a site of institutional change: the field of composition highly values quality pedagogy and undergraduate education; a writing program serves the whole institution and therefore must reach out across disciplines; and the large, diverse cohort of teachers allows for the construction of professional communities. Writing programs must confront several challenges to be viable. In addition to negotiating the local political and institutional constraints of each university, writing programs have unique budget, space, technology, labor, tenure, evaluation, and structural needs that must be administratively met in order for the writing program to be viable.

Quotable Quotes

“The most important contribution I think writing programs can make, though, with respect to higher education at large, is to exemplify the struggle to foster community in the face of the prevailing mood of skepticism, critique of all cultural institutions and their traditions, radical individualism, and loss of fellowship that troubles our colleges and universities” (167) – through community building and¬†professional development of professors, part-time, grad students, undergraduates

“With luck, and propitious local circumstances, this situational fit enables writing programs to become a positive force for change by enacting their own logic: operating experimentally and hypothetically; nuturing a fragile sense of community in talk, text, and collaborative work; and seeking interdependencies where they can find them.” (168)

“the concrete practices of community” (167)

Notable Notes

rhetorical concept of kairos Рfitting into the historical and situational context Рby having writing programs lead institutional change (168) 

the field of rhetoric/composition as a model, a logic for writing programs to develop and follow

get out of the trap of quibbling over departmental structure

use Syracuse as a model

Ernest Boyer (Carnegie Foundation) – higher ed reform that Phelps bases her argument for writing programs on

Themes of the disciplines that work for institutional change:

  1. writing helps students become active learners and meaning-makers
  2. common literacy strategies adapted for diverse rhetorical situations
  3. collaborative work
  4. communicate patiently through hands-on talk and text – create a community (163)

Challenges 164-166

Writing program acts as collaborator and as a catalyst, an experimenter, for change.

January 30, 2009

Bridges, Training the New Teacher of College Composition

Bridges, Charles W. Training the New Teacher of College Composition. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1986.

The training of TAs and beginning composition instructors happens at almost every college and university (especially those with MA and PhD programs), but it is rarely discussed across institutions or theorized about in the field’s journal. This collection brings together essays by rhetoricians and writing directors to answer two questions: how do you, at your institution, train beginning teachers, and what advice do you give new teachers about the teaching of writing. The essays, some by well-known members of the field, run the gamut from discussing how new teachers should be taught through the writing process they will teach their students to specific suggestions for grading, making assignments, and managing a classroom. I’ll include the table of contents with some notes for reference:

Richard Gebhardt “Unifying Diversity in the Training of Writing Teachers” – tremendous diversity in who these beginning teachers are and what content can form a teacher-training course and the composition course. A “responsible training course in composition” sees the students as writers, showing them how to teach others to be writers through the writing process. The writing process should form the foundation of composition instruction. Lots of valuable references to comp articles.

Charles Bridges “The Basics and the New Teacher in College Composition” – teach teachers that writing isn’t just a basic skill but a valuable “way of knowing, of discovering, of experiencing.” Student-centered, writing-intensive curriculum/

William Irmscher “TA Training: A Period of Discovery” – the importance of a stability in a writing program through a director who is grounded in and is interested in the research and practice of the teaching of writing. Give TAs independence over their own teaching

RIchard VanDeWeghe “Linking Pedagogy to Purpose for Teaching Assistants in Basic Writing”

Nancy Comley “The Teaching Seminar: Writing Isn’t Just Rhetoric” – the training course should look beyond composition (because not all TAs are studying comp/rhet) to show how writing can be incorporated in all different disciplines

Don Cox “Fear and Loathing in the Classroom: Teaching Technical Writing for the First Time”

O. Jane Allen “The Literature Major as Teacher of Technical Writing: A Bibliographical Orientation”

John Ruskiewicz “The Great Commandment” – don’t lecture away the class; the focus should be on writing, have the students write

Mary Jane Schenck “Writing Right Off: Strategies for Invention” – journals, freewrite, heuristics, small groups

Ronald Lunsford “Planning for Spontaneity in the Writing Classroom and a Passel of Other Paradoxes” – importance of the teacher’s role in planning and implementing group workshopping sessions

Richard Larson “Making Assignments, Judging Writing, and Annotating Papers: Some Suggestions”

Maxine Hairston “On Not Being a Composition Slave” – argues against the model of the good comp teacher as marking up all papers and holding non-stop conferences. It’s a huge, draining workload and a cognitive overload for students, putting too much emphasis on correction. Teachers should only mark up a paper on the 2nd read, teach students how to revise, have students work on papers in class, do peer editing.

Christopher Burnham “Portfolio Evaluation: Room to Breathe and Grow”

Timothy Donovan, Patricia Sprouse, Patricia Williams “How TAs Teach Themselves”

Quotable Quotes

Teacher training needs to be “an important and rewarded part of a given department’s activities” (viii)

There needs to be more communication so theories and methods can be developed or else “teacher training will remain a hit-or-miss process that departments assign to lower-ranking faculty members and then ignore” (viii) – in isolation

January 29, 2009

Newkirk, To Compose

Newkirk, Thomas. To Compose: Teaching Writing in High School and College. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1990.

This, an expanded edition, contains essays by both compositionists and teacher-practicioners (high school and college) about teaching the writing process. It focuses on seeing students as writers and working as teachers to give them latitude to work as writers do, experimenting with style, finding entry points for starting to write, using journals to practice and learn knowledge, and developing their own critical lens through which they can revisit and revise their own writing.

Here’s an overview of the sections and the notable (to me) essays in each one:

1. Prologue: Arthur Daigon, comparing the writing process to current-traditionalist model of writing instruction (product-based)

2. Getting Started
2 essays about writers and their own individual writing process, emphasizing trusting your own instincts (Stafford and Cormier)
Donald Murray – the forces that help a writer get started: finding more information, caring more about the subject, having a audience waiting, and having a deadline
Sondra Perl – the recursive nature of writing, how writers negotiate through the forces of retrospection and projection, moving by felt-sense between the two

3. Responding
Donald Murray – the teacher’s job is to help students devleop the “other self,” teaching them how to critically analyze and understand their writing from outside themselves. We model this through our own writing and by responding to students in conferences, in class, and in discussions.
Linda Flower – the importance of writer-based prose at the beginning of the writing process, allowing an intimate personal connection to the writing and opportunities for invention and conscious thinking about writing. The shift then must happen to reader-based prose, as writers must concern themselves with how their writing is received and understood by the audience.

4. Writing and Literature – four essays about using writing as a driving force in teaching literature, making the learning of literature not just about reading texts.

5. WAC
Bryant Fillion – Canadian school survey that showed skills like reading and listening are emphasized over productive activities like speaking and writing in classrooms, the need for a shift to using language for productive ends – learning through writing across the curriculum
Toby Fulwiler – how student journals can be used across the curriculum as a commonplace notebook for students to gather and mine ideas for both personal and academic growth.

6. Style and Grammar
Tom Romano – a unit about teaching students to explictily break “Grammar A” (referencing Winston Weathers) rules and encourage the conscious development of style through innovation and experimentation.

January 28, 2009

Griffin, Teaching Writing in All Disciplines

Griffin, C. Williams, ed. Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1982.

This edited collection centers around the early writing-across-the-curriculum movement in composition and serves as a guide to teachers as to how they might implement writing-for-learning assignments and initiatives in their own classrooms and in their institutions. The collection contains a balance of more practically-oriented pieces (about how different assignments can help students learn math by writing about it, how teachers can respond to all the writing they’re now asking their students to do, and what kinds of mixed reactions teachers and students give to WAC initiatives) and more theoretical essays, like Fulwiler’s “Writing: An Act of Cognition,” which argues that since language makes meaning, we need to ask our students to use and produce writing in order to understand and learn, not just to communicate what they already know. One of the last essays of the collection, by Maimon, likens the WAC movement as a move back to ancient rhetorical training, a grounding in rhetoric that was required for students going into all fields.

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