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Borrowing Tools from the Workshop; Using Creative Writing Pedagogy to Teach Composition

Borrowing Tools from the Workshop; Using Creative Writing Pedagogy to Teach Composition

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Published by: Phillybrarian on May 12, 2008
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04/12/2011

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Peter LehuEng 688Dr. Moneyhun28 May 2003Borrowing Tools from the Workshop;Using Creative Writing Pedagogy to Teach CompositionAs pedagogical trends in composition studies shift from output-based to revision-based,from linear to recursive, and from focusing on ranking to focusing on evaluating, the fieldstrays further and further away from its classic form. In the past twenty years the philosophy behind teaching students to write has been revolutionized. However, thestructure of most freshman composition classrooms has not kept up with these changes.Peter Elbow and other modern-day writing pedagogy experts have taught us that learningto write is an organic, social process that is mastered only through practice and revision.The composition class is not structured in a way that optimizes this process; rather, itconforms with the traditional structure of a classroom, recognizable to kindergartenstudents and college professors alike. The instructor is the focus of the classroom whilethe students watch, listen, and occasionally contribute. Meanwhile, down the hall fromthe composition class, in an often smaller, windowless room, a different type of classformat, the workshop, is successfully being used to turn students into better writers.Components of the creative writing workshop encourage creative freedom and foster asocial environment, both which encourage and incubate students' writing ability. Thesecomponents, including centering the class around students’ writing rather than on published essays from a reader, implementing an open discussion format, reservinggrading until the end of the term, and scheduling in-class readings or presentations of 
 
students’ work, should be fitted to the composition class to make it a more appealing, andtherefore, more effective writing environment.This is not to argue that creative writing workshops should replace composition classeswhich serve a critical role in preparing students to write at a college level. SUNYBinghamton, my alma mater, does not require that students take a freshman compositioncourse. Rather, the university demands that they take any one of a group of select coursesdemarcated with a “W” (including creative writing workshops) from fields that span theuniversity. Students can fulfill their writing requirement by writing history papers,science labs, or short stories. While students in a “W” course probably tend to be moreenthusiastic about their specialized writing assignments, this is an ineffective compositionteaching method because the focus is taken off of the writing process. There is noinstructor in these specialized courses trained to encourage revision or say "Do you seehow writing that essay helped you and your audience to understand the Magna Carta?" Inthe same way, creative writing workshops should never be substitutes for compositionclasses. Creativity is a major part of expository writing but there are structural aspects of composition studies that are beyond the scope of creative writing.That said, workshop formats have much to offer composition studies. Robert Brookeutilizes and advocates the writing workshop because it facilitates what he calls "identitynegotiation" in the classroom. He describes learning as the way of defining one's futureroles in relation to knowledge and social environment (11). Students want to learn from acomposition class their roles in terms of how their writing ability positions them in their academic and future professional spheres. In a workshop, students are best able tonegotiate their roles as writers and members of an academic community because their 
 
roles as "students" are obscured. Brooke goes as far as to suggest that allowing studentsto negotiate their identities as writers is more important than teaching them the writing process. He writes, "Learning about writing becomes important when it operates withinindividuals' ongoing negotiations" (5). While it seems contrary to the definition of acomposition class to put any goals above teaching writing, Brooke correctly regardsidentity negotiation as an omnipresent activity in the classroom as well as in society.Students come to class with a sense of identity. For many, the role of "student," isoppressive to that identity. That the students are relegated to an inferior social stratumdeprives the classroom experience of much of their voice and enthusiasm. They do notrecognize the activities that they participate in in class as related to the negotiations of their identities. Their writing assignments are not viewed as social acts but as rhetoricalhoops they must jump through in order to walk out the classroom door with a passinggrade that enables them to succeed in the social, “real” world. In the workshop classesthat Brooke observes, the freedom of open discussion, not just in small groups but as amember of a community that includes the instructor, allowed students to negotiate their roles as writers and individuals with something to say. Students in workshops realize theycan disagree with what a fellow student or even the instructor says. They assume theidentity of the defender of a stance or the expert on a subject. Their personal opinions andexperiences which become the basis of the classroom discussion attain the level of significance of those expressed in the published essays in their textbook. Thus, studentsregard their writing as something worth working on to improve.The genres of creative writing and composition overlap to a great degree. In
Writing With Power 
, Peter Elbow bases his writing instruction on a central thesis: writing requires both

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