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What I've learned about comp theory during my year here. 1. It is a theory (well, several theories really).

I just taught writing like you teach anything else. You just do it. You show them the structures, forms, and rules and let them write. Check that. You try to get them to write. Now I realize, it's little wonder why they hated to write. 2. Teach the writer, not the writing. Batteries included. Individual assembly required. 3. The students generate the text for the class. Don't waste your money on a textbook teaching students how to write. Get them to write. Buy one copy for yourself, if you must, and borrow things from it. But the students' writing is the text for the course. They need to realize the importance their own work carries. They don't see this if they spend the majority of their time reading essays from a book. Student-produced writing should be the focus of the class. 4. Use a diagnostic essay at the beginning of the class. Give students a prompt and let them write. You can use this essay to gauge their progress throughout the class. You can make copies of it, comment on one copy and return it. Save the other copy and give it to them at the end of the class so they can see how far they have come. You may even choose to give them the same prompt or a similar one to really illustrate how far they have come. Of course, some may just try to reformulate what they originally did. I like this idea because it seems to me that it allows students to see their growth as writers first hand. Their growth is solely measured by the scores or grades they have been given. 5. Write every day. Studying grammar, style, and structure is not the most important detail. Writing is. Let them write. The more they write, the better they will get. 6. They get better without you. If students write every day, they will get better, even without the teacher. Practice makes perfect, right. 7. Focus on what they do well. There is a belief that if you focus on what a student is doing correctly, as opposed to focusing on what they do poorly, then they will do more of what they do well. Soon by the sheer act of writing and realizing they can do something well in their writing, the things they do poorly will diminish. 8. Process writing is important. Process writing is simply when students tell the story of what actually happened when they were writing with as much honesty and detail as possible. I like this concept and used it often. I was completely unfamiliar with this idea, even though I did it in my own writing. It works with

the concept of 'metacognition' (thinking about how you think). This allows students to analyze and interpret their writing and what happens when they write. Maybe they can pick up ways to improve their writing through this. For example, maybe a student is given a prompt and writes for ten minutes. She only gets half a page because she has constantly been going back and revising as she was writing. After the initial prompt, she is told to do a 'process journal entry' on her response to that prompt. Immediately, she realizes how little she has and how concerned she is with revising. This may lead her to see the importance of writing first and revising later. At the very least, she may become conscious of what she does when she writes. 9. Writing is a process. Okay, so I knew this all along, but it is a major component of the writing program as I saw it. The texts, discussions, and handouts all agreed: give students ample opportunity for prewriting, writing, and rewriting for their papers. I cannot stress to you enough how you will encounter high school students who will not comprehend that writing is a process. They have heard it, but they don't believe it. They cling to the myth of the single, perfect first draft. This means that if they think hard, take their time, spell and punctuate correctly, they only have to write the thing once. Avoid that. To them revision or rewriting is punishment. I try to show them that writing isn't a neat and exact science. It is dirty and messy. Sometimes in order to say what you really mean, you have to write two drafts of crap, or at least a couple paragraphs. 10. Writing is a recursive process. Writing isn't simply a neat linear process comprised of "okay, I will prewrite to get some ideas, now I'll begin a rough draft, now I'll write another draft, and finally I will revise my final draft." Quite often I start in the middle of the writing process. Sometimes I get stuck and need to go back to a do some pre-writing. Then I jump ahead and do some revision. Then I'm back in the middle of the process writing again. Then I stop and decide to not only revise, but change the entire structure of my essay around. Writing is often a tug-of-war process -- back and forth and forth and forth and back again. Students need to know this and that it is okay. Teaching writing like this isn't neat and you can't neatly evaluate it at the end of the class and you can't chart your progress toward preparing for the state test, but, I believe, you are showing them how real writers write. 11. Teach grammar in context. If student-produced writing is the center of your class, this is easy. When you hear or read a paper that has a striking adjective clause in it, stop the class and have a brief mini (as mini as you can make it) lesson on adjective clauses. Show students how they work in their own writing. Too often I have concocted grand examples of someone else's adjective clauses. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Students don't care about anyone else's writing. Show them how and why this particular adjective clause worked. Then show them how to identify them. Have them scour their papers for them. Have them shout them out. If they don't have any, tell them "well this is what they do and how to use them if you want." Then get back to reading their papers and writing. 12. Free writing is powerful.

This is another big concept that I was introduced to. Free writing is a pre-writing exercise that is quite powerful. In my opinion, it beats the hell out of brainstorming or charting or outlining. Those things get students thinking, but they seem to be pulling the thoughts of out the air. Free writing encourages students to write their thinking down, as opposed to reformulating their thinking as a cluster or chart. In my class I want students to think via writing. It might be the only chance they get. Thus, we free write. I tell them to write non-stop for anywhere from 5-10 minutes. This is very odd to them at first. I give them non-erasable pens, so they can't go back and edit. I tell them to write whatever comes to their minds, even if it is gibberish. I rarely get gibberish though. I was surprised at what came out of their writing. For instance, one of my students was free writing in her dorm room. She began describing her surrounding and what was going on down the hall. She then began to describe how her neighbor always paraded around with care packages that her parents sent her. Pretty soon the student was writing about how she was battling homesickness and how big of an adjustment college was. We later talked about where she could go with this in a paper. She ended up writing about a rite of passage in her life (leaving adolescents behind and moving into the adult world). Not bad for a 5 minute free writing session. 13. There are three levels of revision. Well according to Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff there are. I like this idea because it causes students to see that revision is not just going back and checking for spelling or altering a few words here and there. The first level is "reseeing or rethinking: changing the bones." Here the writer looks the change their essay or paper in a major way. Maybe their essay doesn't make the original point they wanted. Maybe they have to change the purpose of their paper. Maybe their opinion has changed and they want to change their stance in their paper. The second level is called "reworking or reshaping: changing the muscle." Here the writer is satisfied with what they have said, but not how they have said it. This may cause them to look again at their audience. Maybe they can another example to appeal to a specific audience that the initial draft neglects. Maybe there is a piece in the paper that is redundant for the reader and can be cut. The final level is "copyediting or proofreading: changing the skin." This is simply what most writers do the hour or night before they turn their final draft in. I guess instinctively I have always done these three levels of revision when writing, but now I am more conscious of what and why I do them. 14. Writing is a collaborative activity. Another concept that was stressed in lectures, discussions, and texts. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that student collaborate on papers and essays. Rather it focuses on the idea that writing is not a solitary act because writing is a form of communication, which is never a solitary act. Too often the writing classrooms that I have been a part of have students isolated from one another and writing alone at their desks. I like this idea because it puts an onus (a very dangerous word to misspell if you're not careful. That would make for an interesting typo) on creating a writing community in the classroom. Students collaborate or share how they wrote their papers. They discuss their writing rituals. They talk about what worked for them and what didn't and why. They read each other's work in peer groups and offer feed back. They can peer edit each others papers as well. Hopefully collaboration replaces competition in the classroom. Plus, the more readers a paper has, the better. This helps replace the notion that the teacher is the sole audience for a student's paper.

15. Inquiry needs to be put on an equal footing with demonstration. This is the biggest enlightenment that happened for me. I used to teach my students to churn out the thesis/support form (which is part of the demonstration process) while I relegated the inquiry process to brainstorming. This is backwards. How can a student propose to be an expert on an issue and demonstrate their understanding of it when they haven't yet come to that understanding? That is where the inquiry process comes in. Allow students to achieve a personal connection with their subject. Then let them choose to demonstrate some aspect of it if they must. 16. Put the personal essay on the same level as the thesis/support essay. Students will have to write a thesis/support essay. Fine. Show them how. It really isn't that difficult. But they also need to know how to write a personal essay. 17. The best writing teachers are writers themselves. I would have disputed this a year ago. I didn't write much (I am a teacher. Who has time to write?), but I could show my students how to write. Wrong. I showed them how to not write. I would have used the argument that great coaches necessarily might not have been the best players, if they were players at all. Then I thought about this: all the great coaches I ever had said this, "I would still play if I could." It doesn't matter if they were the greatest players. The love for the game was in their eyes and permeated everything they taught me. The same is true for writing teachers. You might not be Hemingway or Chaucer or Christensen, but if you love to write, the students will see that and it will matter to them. From my experience, writing teachers who don't write themselves tend to be too clinical about writing. I think this is because they don't practice what they preach. I think the big danger here is that they stop seeing themselves as a fellow writer or guru and they become a pedant. 18. There is no right way to do anything. If you think a theory or method is perfect, think again. Maybe it was part of my uprbringing in the thesis/support form, but I would get hooked on a theory or method and think that it was the best way to do something and stick to that method. Wrong. For any theory or method out there, there are two or three other theories that contradict it or flat out rip it to shreds. This is why keeping "alive" in the field via reading and writing is important to teachers.