Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Peer Unresponse

I am increasingly using this blog as a place where I can document my thoughts about teaching writing--and the ways in which it is taught.

I am writing books about (mis)teaching writing--and using some of what I have written here as frames for what I write. But perhaps more importantly, I use others emails/thought to me as a way for me to rethink how we might more productively teach writing. One of my friends has been thinking carefully about peer response structure.


I’m writing a book, part of which will refer to peer response issues. I want to collect what my students have written about what they learn by unfocused peer response. These comments come in their portfolios—not really a response to a question, but they have remarked about what they learn by reading how others have written and then using those “other” essays to reframe what they have written or what they might have written.

I haven’t fully theorized this, but I have an idea. Constructed peer response (I’m culpable here) might to the students seem forced (duh). The real learning occurs not from what others say about what you have written but from your reading what others have written and using their texts as a mirror that reflects on your writing.

Maybe you see through others how you are seen. I haven’t figured this out, but here’s a try: the paradigm of peer response, while working in some situations, might be forced in our traditional peer response strategies (I think I wrote an article about this in about 1975). Maybe we’re forcing a professional paradigm onto non-professional rhetorical situations. At any rate, I have collected student comments on what they have learned simply by reading how others have written; that’s different than learning from others telling you how you should write.

Friday, August 19, 2016

I haven’t been posting for a while—interrupted by a trip to California (best state in the Union)—and some life redirection as a consequence of professional conflicts—how’s that for a teaser?
A friend included me in a post on her blog about a course she is trying to reimagine (it could use some re-imagining), so I took some time out from my personal life reconstruction to write the following reply:
Hi,  ****. Thanks so much for the nod to my blog. I appreciate what you're doing in your course: Style in the Personal Essay. I'm going to make a couple of comments that may or may not be very helpful--I'm thinking as I'm writing.

One: over on the right hand side of my blog is a book my students wrote: Writing Ourselves into Each Others' Lives. I have had subsequent classes read from that book--the response is always good. Look at the chapter on Voice; or Kaitlyn's essay at the end of the book; Hope's; there are several others that students love to read and link back to their own writing. In sum, I almost always have students read other students rather than anything published. By reading what other students have written, they get ideas about their own writing.

I don't want to make this too long. I would think more about the reasons for having them write a certain kind of essay, i.e., in a specific genre--even something as amorphous as the personal essay. My take: students don't need to learn how to do this or that; what they need are good experiences in writing (I get criticized this claim), but what the hell--you want them to be writing what they will enjoy writing and reading--I mean reading and responding to what others have written. There are no end of topics that students will automatically start writing about (when they know they are writing primarily for their classmates (and the teacher--who is NOT grading but is reading as the other students are reading).

Leading to another topic: we can perhaps move away from thinking that students need to produce completed pieces-- X number of essays. I have lately moved away from revision--kind of letting students revise on their own. When they know that the primary readers are the other students, they automatically revise. Automatic revision was one of the first things we learned about in the Bay Writing Project—nods of gratitude to Jim Grey & Miles Myers.

When students are writing like this, there is all sorts of room to have some in between sessions on ways in which they can improve their styles, and little structural problems that most students seem to make. 

I also like to have students read "Correctness" by Joe Williams (in early editions of Style). Then we can have interesting discussions about what's right: He don't know how to tie his shoes backwards-- or-- He doesn't know how to tie his shoes backwards (and of course what "right" means--leading to Bill Clinton's famous remark: that depends on what "is" is-- for a little humor). Then we can have discussions about whether the comma goes inside or outside the quote marks and whether it matters and why some people think it might and why others don't give a shit.

(personal admission: I had to think about whether I could write "shit"). Talk about cultural imbrication--including a reference to something we all do!

We need to think about all the writing they do as writing. That includes the responses they make to each other (and the responses to the responses). What I'm getting at here: the flow, the continuous flow of writing--as is happening right now, me with you. That's writing.
I wrote my response to **** without looking at the course description for Style in the Personal Essay.  After looking at it, I wrote the following:

I just looked at the course description: looks as if people threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Notable that nothing is in there that aligns with attitude toward writing, the experience of writing. It's almost as if we're teaching students how to write nothing to no one--but pretend that it's something to someone. Really awful course description. 

I'm going to add my final impression: it seems as if much of what rhet/comp people do (and have historically done) is directed outward--proving to outside stakeholders that we're responsible educators and in the process eliding what we know as writers and writing teachers (or maybe forgetting what we once knew).  In sum, I think we need to direct our pedagogy back to the students, helping them with their writing and experience of writing and imagine outside stakeholders as tertiary at best.

Postscript: I hadn't looked too carefully (typical me) at that picture. One needs to add the act of writing, which doubles the transition from the old me to the new me--this at least is true in expressive/reflective genres.