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Published by Cody Reimer

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Published by: Cody Reimer on Feb 24, 2012
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Composition researchers and theorists [have been
conducting research]to
expand upon their under-
standing of, what writers do, behaviorally and cogni-tively, as they compose
All this usually high-quality research and theory can besummarized by saying that informed teachers are
nowconsidering writing as
complex act including a
widerange of stages or sequences, most of which do not followone upon the other in linear fashion. The traditionalpedagogical assumptions are rapidly becomingsuspect: one cannot teach writing by ... having studentslearn skills one by one as if they could be expected tomagically coalesce at some final examination; nor canone expect students to learn to write
when writing istaught totally as product, as words on
a page to becorrected ... ;nor can one teach writing as if it were notintrinsically related to a student's habits
of perceiving,thinking, and expressing (Joseph
Comprone, "Kenneth Burke and the Teaching of Writ
ing, CCC [Dec.1978], 336).
Composition, today,
a field of great growth and flux. As JosephComprone's opening words suggest, composition research has come a greatdistance in a few years, breaking through a number of conceptual barriersto our profession's understanding of the writing process. Because of these breakthroughs, many teachers now recognize in
adequacies inproduct-centered, linear approaches to writing. But at
the same time,advances in composition theory have left some members of ourprofession behind, still clinging to what are rapidly becom
ing discreditedapproaches to writing instruction.Comprone does not mention these teachers directly, but he hints
that they exist. For when he writes that
teachers are now
considering writing as a complex act including a wide range of stages orsequences, most of which do not follow one upon the other in linearfashion," Comprone implies that there also are
teacherswho consider writing to be something else. Richard VanDeWeghe ismore blunt:Despite nearly a century of empirical research in com-position, most writing teachers and many directors of writing programs either ignore the findings or do noteven know they exist. Teachers continue to teach,directors to direct, and writing programs tochange-with little or no attention given to the wealth of information readily available in composition re-search ("Research in Composition and the Design of Writing Programs,"
 ADE Bulletin
[May 1979], 28).
Textbooks, too, can lag behind research, so that they offer teachers andstudents overly simple linear and product-bound views of thewriting process. This sort of criticism has been leveled by many schol
ars,including James Britton and others in
(London: Macmillan, 1975, for example, 3-4),
Richard E. Young in "Paradigms and Problems: Needed Research inRhetorical Invention"
(Research on Composing:Points of Departure,
Charles Cooper and Lee Odell, Urbana: NCTE, 1978, especially 31-34). AsMike Rose puts it in "Sophisticated, Ineffective Books-The Dis-mantling of Process in Composition Texts":Though our own experience, interviews with creativewriters, and a burgeoning composition process literatureall attest to the highly complex, non-neatly sequentialnature of the composing process, textbooks continue tobegin with "Chapter 1: Generating Ideas" and movethrough a sequence of chapters that ends with "Revising." Though most of these texts admit thatwriting doesn't always proceed in this orderly afashion, their overall structure stands as a more potentstatement than scattered caveats. Their structure ex-presses an ultra-rational spirit more appropriate toanalytic logic than to composing (CCC [
Feb. 1981],
Critics of the gap between sound theory and classroom practice oftenblame the problem on ignorance of current research. Sometimes theyblame writing teachers' skepticism toward theoretical matters; forexample. Nancy I. Sommers feels that many teachers are "dependenton whatever partial or invalid ideas the marketplace supplies," becausethey "have remained defiantly anti-theory" ("The Need forTheory inComposition Research," CCC [Feb. 79], 46). Still other critics blame thegap between theory and practice on the way people confuse the writingprocess with the completed, written product; witness Mike Rose'sreference to "an ultra-rational spirit more appropriate to analytic logic thanto composing," and Richard Young's attack on the current-traditionalrhetoric, with its "emphasis on the composed product rather than thecomposing process"
But as I have read journal articles, listened toconvention papers, and talked with college and high school writingteachers, I have come to sense that these is a more important cause of the gap between theory and classroom in writing.Rather than being misled by ignorance, skepticism, or confusionabout the complex nature of writing, many teachers adopt an over-simplified idea of writing by following the line of reasoning JeanetteHarris illustrates in an article for beginning composition teachers. Thewriting process, Harris states, "is usually described as consisting of three stages: prewriting, writing, and rewriting. While
we know that thistripartitedivisionisagrossoversimplification
of what is obviouslyan enormously complicated process,
itservesasaconvenien pedagogicalconvention"
("A Process-Oriented Approach to BasicWriting Instruction,"
[Spring81],13, emphasis
added). The main intent of composition research, of course, is todescribe "the enormously complicated process" of writing. But writingteachers and text authors, no matter how much they may try to keep upwith developments in composition research, also respond to pedagog
icalmotives. They need to help students understand and use the
writingprocess. And so they may oversimplify, for instance, teach the "stages"of pre-writing, writing, and re-writing, in order to provide instruction
can understand and directions they can follow.As an example of what I mean, consider some statements from MinaShaughnessy's
(NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977).Shaughnessy explains that "the beginning writer does not know how writersbehave," and so he or she "usually perceives writing as a single act, agamble with words, rather than a deliberate process whereby meaningis crafted stage by stage." Indeed, Shaughnessy goes on, "beginningwriters often blame themselves for having to revise or correct sentencesor for taking a long time to get started or even for not being able to start atall-problems only too familiar to the professional writer as well."Shaughnessy adds that "teachers themselves promote this narrow andinhibiting view of perfection by ignoring all stages of 
the writing process except the last
and by confronting studentswith models of good writing by well-known writers without evermentioning the messy process that leads to clarity." And Shaughnessyurges that such practices should be changed: that "the compositioncourse should be the place where the writer not only writes but experi-ences in a conscious, orderly way the stages of the composing processitself" (79-81).Until that final sentence, Shaughnessy's words reflect what we mightagree is the properly complex nature of writing. But then we get to thestudents' perceiving
stages of the composing process" in "a
way." Since there is no single, orderly writing process (indeed, Shaughnessy's point in the previous paragraph is that stu-
dents must be helped to see that writing is less orderly and
straightforward than they think it is), it seems as if the pedagogical
motive to help students understand is beginning to cause
Shaughnessy problems. And soon she is promoting a linear, three-stage version of what she calls "steps in the composing process": "Getting the thought," "Getting the thought down," and "Readying thestatement for other eyes" (81-82). As a scholar, that
Shaughnessy recognized that composition is complex, chaotic, messy; butas a teacher of writing she faced the need to simplify complexity into aform useful to students.
This problem, I think, is one that you can see operating in most texts
onyour bookshelf and most lesson outlines in your files. Mike Rose writesabout it in "Sophisticated, Ineffective Books": "text authors are forced toreduce the multiplicity of composing options to a manageable number, andconvert multidirectional possibilities to a set of rules or patterns ordiagrams or lists"
Douglas Park discusses the problem from adifferent perspective in "Theories and Expectations." Put simply, theoryand classroom practice are different things. Theory, Park writes, "seeks tocreate analytic maps and models of all that takes place in writing.Pedagogy seeks to stimulate, to liberate, to exercise the powers of synthesis and creation" (CE [Sept. 1979], 51).Classroom practice may be very different from composition theory,butthey really cannot be separated without doing great harm to com-position teaching. "Without the perspective that theory provides," AnnE. Berthoff writes, "there is no way of maintaining a genuinelycritical attitude towards assignments and courses. Without theory,practice can become cut and dried.
.. " ("
Method: Metaphors, Models, andMaxims,"
[Montclair NJ: Boynton/Cook,1981], 3). Similarly, Douglas Park feels that classroom practice "mustdraw on the analytic understanding provided by theory. Without the
sophistication, wisdom, humility that the analytic understanding can
create, pedagogy can go, and has gone, terribly astray"
To avoid suchmisdirected classroom practice, writing teachers and researchers need tofind ways to make texts and teaching approaches do justice to thecomplexity of writing.Trying to do this, of course, means confronting some very difficultquestions. Lisa Ede poses some of these in "The Composing Process:What We Know/What We Tell Our Students":How can we teach a complex process without over-simplifying? What is the difference between simplify-ing and oversimplifying? How do we teach whatseems to be a non-linear, recursive, hierarchically or-dered process within the very linear time constraintsof the number of minutes in a classroom period, thenumber of sessions in a term?
(FreshmanEnglish News,
[Spring 1980],-18).
And to those questions, I would add this one. How can wemediate between the dynamic complexity of the writing process and theunderstanding, prior writing experiences, and motivations of Studentsin introductory writing courses?Clearly, I could not answer all those questions in this article, even if I thoughtthat I had all the answers. But I would like to suggest one way to helpstudents of limited writing experience develop a usable sense of, the writingprocess. This approach is to clarify the terms we use when
we think aboutwriting and when we talk with students about writing
so that we emphasize that the complex cognitive and physical behaviors of the
writing process
are different from the
motives or intentions
that guide people as they work on a writing project.To be more specific, I would like to suggest that terms like "pre-writing," "writing," and "re-writing" do not indicate separate stages in thewriting process, though they may be useful ways to refer to
consciousintentions a person has at various stages in a writing project.
Actually, Ithink those terms are inherently flawed (since they seem to dividesomething called "writing" from other things, fore and aft, that are notwriting) (see Richard Gebhardt, "The Writing Process: Core of the WritingProgram,"
[Spring 1980], 19-22),
and I preferto use the terms "generating and focusing," "drafting," and "revising."But, whatever specific terms we use in our teaching, we should try tokeep in mind that linear designations of "stages" or "steps" or "phasesrefer to the motives or intentions of writers as they

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