Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writing: What We Really Need

We need a book for folks who've never had any training in teaching writing to help them teach writing.

We all sort of know this, that a lot of people who get PhDs in English never took a composition class and never had any training in teaching composition.  As a group, we tended to be the folks who figured out writing more or less pretty early and found it fairly easy, and cruised through the writing part of college.  We also probably loved reading (a likely contributor to the ease with which we picked up writing).

And so, we're exactly the wrong people to teach writing on some level.  We don't struggle with writing the way a lot of students do, and we haven't had to work through steps to getting writing projects done.  We probably struggled with the dissertation, but that's a different thing than struggling with a three page paper on whether you support campus efforts to stop using cafeteria trays.

If there were a book on teaching writing for folks who are suddenly teaching writing in college, what would it look like?  (Is there such a book already?)

Audience:  for English and related fields: grad students, faculty members, others?  What about people who might be getting involved in writing across the discipline or writing within the discipline?

Background stuff, short and positioned, on the current thoughts on "correctness" and writing.  Also, something about how non-linear writing development is, and how utterly crappily we all write when we're using writing to learn difficult, complex, new stuff.

Assignment strategies, specifically for writing assigments that will work well for a college writing class, including research type assignments, and also a variety of writing assignments for writing in and across disciplines.

Grading strategies, omg, there must be a better way than what I've done and it must not involve a machine.

Pre-writing, both strategies and a why do this section: freewriting, listing, bubble-mapping (call them what you will), summarizing.

Teaching critical reading skills, I can't even begin to list this stuff this morning.

Teaching research skills

Proofreading strategies

Should the book include syllabus writing strategies?  Building skills stuff?  What else?


  1. What I would really like to see is a section about teaching remedial writing (and yes, I know that's not the officially sanctioned euphemism du jour), especially to students whose reading skills are also weak. This class seems to have become my responsibility for the indefinite future, and after two years I STILL haven't a clue what I'm doing.

  2. Speaking as a historian, there's a lot of call for such skill-building. My interest would be less in teaching research skills (since those vary wildly across even related disciplines) and more on the strategies and other skill-building. Short, sweet segments that can be mined and applied individually would be awesome!

  3. This sounds like an awesome idea. Since so few of us actually have rhet/comp degrees, but have to teach writing, it would be nice to have a source about what does or doesn't work. I don't know of such a source, but maybe that's because I'm not a rhet/comp person??

  4. Oh, a brief review of current debates/ theories in comp. This can be about the contextual nature of writing skills (as you said, when we're learning something we write really badly), to things like process writing, and whatever else. That would allow those of us from outside the field to at least understand that there are debates, and that there are choices.

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  6. I'm in a STEM discipline, but in the UK there are no required comp courses - they're all supposed to be able to write on leaving high school. So I would love a book like this...

  7. Indeed! I've been teaching writing for many, many years now, but I still struggle with what works and why. And I think you're right that part of our problem is that we haven't had the same kind of trouble writing as our students have, so it's sometimes difficult to understand why they don't understand that something does or doesn't work. I have the same difficulty teaching reading comprehension, actually. One-on-one conferences remain my best strategy, but that's not practical for teachers with more students.

  8. Hjortshoi and Gottshalk's The Elements of Teaching Writing (which Bedford will send you for free) covers some of these issues. I just ordered copies for a workshop I"m doing in May--after which I can say more about how it seems to go over with faculty in other disciplines.

  9. Thanks, all, and especially, Susan. I was talking to our local expert, and she showed me three books, one of which is the Bedford. It looks excellent, and I've requested a desk copy.