Composition Pedagogy

            My composition pedagogy is perhaps best named a Collaborative/Espressivist/Process pedagogy blending aspects of all three into something new and different. The theorists who most influence my take are Rebecca Moore Howard’s chapter on “Collaborative Pedagogy” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, and from the Norton Book of Composition Studies: John Clifford’s “The Subject in Discourse,” Ken Macrorie’s “from Telling Writing,” Gordon Rohman and Albert Wlecke’s “from Pre-Writing: The Construction and Application of Models for Concept Formation in Writing,” and Nancy Sommers’ “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” Each of these works has contributed a different aspect of the composition pedagogy that I’ve been forming over the course of my graduate instruction.

            The founding principle behind my ideology is Clifford’s “The Subject in Discourse.” His discussion of the University as ISA and the need for professors to teach students to navigate the requirements of the ISA while maintaining some degree of resistance is crucial to my position. I believe that the most fundamental aspect of my job as a First Year Composition instructor is to teach my students how to use academic discourse to their advantage rather than having academic discourse use them. It is my job not to teach them how to write in general – they already know how to do that to some extent – but to teach them how to access this alternate form of discourse and code switch between the two.

I believe it is students’ inability to access academic English which leads to the “Engfish” discussed by Ken Macrorie in “from Telling Writing.” I fully expect my classes to be a mixture of basic and more competent writers, both of whom will have their own brands of Engfish for me to have to stamp out. I do believe in the expressivist and self-actualist brands of composition theory which argue for writing as an expression of the true self and, as Macrorie makes clear, most composition students are so wrapped up in trying to give the instructor what they think the instructor wants that they lose their sense of self in the writing and turn to bland pretentiousness. I intend to employ Macrorie’s free writing strategies in my classes by devoting class time regularly for free writing journals.

These free writing exercises I hope will also help overcome the first hurdle I see in developing students’ skills in academic writing – developing and organizing their thoughts. In this respect I turn to Gordon Rohman and Albert Wlecke’s discussion of the subject in “from Pre-Writing: The Construction and Application of Models for Concept Formation in Writing.” As Rohman and Wlecke note it is not necessarily a students’ language skills that prevent them from succeeding in FYC classes but rather difficulty in forming concepts – both topics on which to write and the bridges between concepts and ideas. The ability to move fluently from one concept to another is a very crucial aspect of academic discourse and strengthening these skills will assist not only in coming up with writing concepts but in basic structural skills within their essays.

The second major hurdle I see for students is in the revision stage of the writing process. When I read Nancy Sommers’ article “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” I had a huge “ah ha!” moment. I clearly recognized the strategies of student writers in past incarnations of myself as a writer and the strategies of experienced writers in my current graduate student writing process. I had never before really thought about my revision strategies but as I read Sommers’ article all those little ways that my conceptualization of writing has changed in the last ten years suddenly made sense. I really wish that somebody had sat me down and made me read this back in community college; it would have saved me a lot of frustration! I not only plan to incorporate Sommers’ strategies into my course but intend to have my students read excerpts from the essay itself. I believe that all writing needs careful revision as words rarely flow from brain to keyboard in perfect fluency and that the best writing is carefully honed after, rather than before, it hits the page.

Throughout their high school careers my students will have been taught many of these skills, but I don’t believe that the most effective teaching strategies are being used in secondary education these days. Skills won’t stick until students have truly internalized them and I believe that the best way for students to do so is through collaboration as discussed by Rebecca Moore Howard in “Collaborative Pedagogy” from A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. I believe that students get more out of open class discussion than they do from being lectured at. Similarly, I think that learning to critique each others’ writing through peer review may be more effective than just reading my comments on their papers.

Individual students learn differently and have different needs. As an instructor it is my job to find ways to satisfy as many different learning styles as I can which is part of the reason for my blended approach. Some students need the structure of a process based approach while others function better within the more creative flow of an expressivist approach. I firmly believe that all students benefit from collaboration. Based on these theorists and the rest of my research into composition pedagogies I see my job as a First Year Composition instructor to be as follows:

  1. Find ways in which students can access academic discourse and put it to work for them rather than having the discourse use them.
  2. Find ways to develop students’ fluency in academic discourse without having them resort to writing in Engfish.
  3. Find ways to strengthen students’ network of thought connections to assist in concept formation.
  4. Teach students effective practices for honing their ideas and revising their writing once those concepts have been put down on the page.
  5. Foster a collaborative learning environment for students to work with each other toward their mutual understanding and advancement.

Works Referenced:

  • Clifford, John. “The Subject in Discourse.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton. 2009. 861-873. Print.
  • Macrorie, Ken. “from Telling Writing.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton. 2009. 297-313. Print.
  • Moore Howard, Rebecca. “Collaborative Pedagogy.” A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2001. 54-70. Print.
  • Rohman, Gordon and Albert Wlecke. “from Pre-Writing: The Construction and Application of Models for Concept Formation in Writing.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton. 2009. 216-227. Print.
  • Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton. 2009. 323-332. Print.