Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2009

Tobin and Newkirk, Taking Stock

Tobin, Lad and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1994.

This collection comes from a 1992 conference, “The Writing Process: Prospect and Retrospect,” held at UNH and designed both to look at the process movement’s past and where it might go in the future. In his introduction to the edited collection, Tobin predicts that the writing process movement will change in the 90s due to three factors: the influence of gender, race, class, and culture on the teaching and theorizing about writing; the effect of new technologies on the teaching and theorizing of writing (PCs, online teaching, popular media); and the effect of research on teacher and reader response. These three trends will expand the scope of the process movement beyond the individual expressivist writer, giving larger social and political context to writing. The book has five sections: Reading the Writing Process Movement, Teaching the Writing Process, Institutionalizing the Writing Process, Deconstructing the Writing Process, and Narrating the Writing Process.

Quotable Quotes & Notable Notes

Lisa Ede “Reading the Writing Process.” 31-43

The writing process movement should stop being labeled “good” or “bad” – it was a rhetorically situated movement, created due a particular time and place (the literacy crisis of the 1970s led to the theory if we understand how students write we can teach them better and composition asserting itself as a discipline.) The problem is that all that research was oversimplified into a “process” that was only taught in one course; the British theories of growth and education were ignored as process was mechanized and the diversity of students was eliminated. Process is actually a conglomerate of lots of contradictory pedagogies and methods: freewriting, formal heuristics, sentence combining, protocol analysis, case studies, and theory. Ede argues that the field must look at writing beyond the classroom, especially those kinds of workplace writing that don’t follow our idea of process; abandon the individual writer focus and look at collaboration; and question our models and metaphors in our research. The focus, she argues, needs to be on doing what needs to be done in regards to teaching and understanding writing – not focusing on being a discipline.

James Marshall, “Of What Skill Does Writing Really Consist?” 45-55

“In our youth as a movement we were rebels, or tried to be. We did inhale. We self-consciously set ourselves up as outsiders, and then we gloried in it” (48).

“The one serious mistake we could make, I think, would be to maintain the rhetorical and political positions that we took in our youth. They worked then; I don’t think they can work today. We are facing a different set of problems, and we are working now from the center and not from the margins.” (54)

Three things to do:

  1. deal with our authority and our disciplinary place in the academy – no longer rebels. We’re established.
  2. search for theoretical roots in education and the progressive movement to have models and understand what we do.
  3. open up larger contexts and sites to study and teach writing.

Thomas Newkirk “The Politics of Intimacy.” 115-131.

Looks at how Barrett Wendell’s English 12 course at Harvard was not a course in what we think as current-traditional rhetoric. Rather, Wendell tried to open up relations with his students, talk with them as emerging writers, read student writing aloud in class as models, encouraged critique of the course, and gave them choices for topics. His curriculum, though, was doomed because it never received institutional support and was defeated by a heavy, impossible teaching load that made current-traditional pedagogy the only viable way to teach.

Mary Minock. “The Bad Marriage: A Revisionist View of James Britton’s Expressive-Writing Hypothesis in American Practice.” 153-175.

James Britton argued that expressive writing will naturally lead to other forms of writing over time, as a student grows and matures through years of schooling. American writing educators took that hypothesis and combined it with the American ideal of linear progress. What results is a one-semester course in writing that tries to bring college students from expressive writing to academic argument in fifteen short weeks. When this fails (as it often does, because the important quotient of time is left out), students and teachers alike feel like failures. Writing teachers need to stop trying to formalize and speed up the process of learning how to write: a student might do well on one paper and bomb the next, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t growing and learning. Instead of using expressive writing as an end to itself(which the British do), we use it as a means to an end, an end of academic discourse.

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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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