Revolution Lullabye

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.

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January 23, 2009

Shaughnessy, “Diving In”

Shaughnessy, Mina P. “Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook, 3rd ed. 321-326.

Citing that it is the teachers of basic writing, not the students, who need to change in order to succeed in the academy, Shaughnessy outlines four stages teachers of basic writing progress through in learning about basic writers and accepting the challenge of teaching them. The four stages, as Shaughnessy describes them, are Guarding the Tower (exclusionary policies and attitudes); Converting the Natives (trying old pedagogical techniques to help a few students who seem promising); Sounding the Depths (confronting the contradictions in the expectations of students’ many discourse communities); and finally, Diving In (committing to study and change teaching practices to answer the challenges of the new student populations.)

Quotable Quotes

“Are they aware, for example, after years of right/wrong testing, after the ACTs and the GEDs and the OATs, after straining to memorize what they read but never learning to doubt it, after “psyching out” answers rather than discovering them, are they aware that the rules have changed and that the rewards now go to those who can sustain a play of mind upon ideas – teasing out the contradictions and ambiguities and frailities of statements?” (324)

“The greatest barrier to our work with [basic writing students] is our ignorance of them and the very subject we have contracted to teach” (325)

“Diving in is simply deciding that teaching them to write well is not only suitable but challenging work for those who would be teachers and scholars in a democracy” (326)

“By underestimating the sophistication of our students and by ignoring the complexity of the tasks we set before them, we have failed to locate in precise ways where to begin and what follows what” (325).

Notable Notes

medical terminology used to describe basic writers

put onus on teachers, not students, to find the solutions.

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