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Sunday, September 30, 2012


That's my first reaction to reading How Self-Expression Damaged My Students.

The author's premise is both disingenuous and absurd. He thinks (and thus taught) that process writing is ONLY expressivist. His whole argument, then, is like saying "running" can't be taught because he modeled sprinting to his students but they didn't get faster. I guess nobody every told him that running can serve other ends besides sprinting.

mply put, process/expressivist (call it what you will) is a MEANS for young writers to explore their thoughts and ideas. but...BUT (!!!) it doesn't follow that those thoughts and ideas MUST be channeled into narrative or fiction or "the day the kittens were born" or a poetry chapbook called "Me."

I feel embarrassed to be the one stating the patently OBVIOUS . . . but, well, why didn't the teacher use his writer's workshop as a "test kitchen" for students to develop ideas for expository writing that actually exists in the real world: reviews, proposals, evaluations, "how-to's," blog posts, newsletters, public speeches, analysis and interpretation of current events, executive summaries, advertisements, letters of request, calls to action, request for information, etc.? (These genres, with a bit of trial and error, can be spiraled up or down to different grade levels.)

The author tries to blame everyone but himself. He blames the "process method" for its failed approach . . . and he blames the students for failing to learn how to magically polish their prose (absent any instruction). Perhaps all of this could have been solved if the teacher didn't ONLY focus on exploratory writing. Perhaps he could have done what most writing teachers do, which is this:

1. let the students explore, create, and discover.
2. then help them establish an authentic audience and purpose for their raw material.
3. then (after they've edited and revised and work-shopped) model proofreading.

CODA: did ya notice how the author never gives ANY direct examples (or specifics showing) that his students didn't learn to write? He just goes into the cargo cult metaphor. I found that very, very weird. Can someone show me one single sentence in the article where he actually addresses (concretely, specifically) what aspects of the students' writings he found unsuccessful . . . and why?

In other words, if I were to talk about an approach (a writing theory/model) I tried in my classroom and how it didn't work, I would do this:

Discuss the approach. 
Discuss its rationale.
Show what we did (artifacts).

Analyze the artifact's quality (good, bad, rhetorical, etc.).
Generalize how the approach did or did not influence the quality of the artifacts.

Instead, here's the approach the author used.

Discuss the approach.
Discuss it rationale.
Make a metaphor.
Generalize about writing instruction.

And this guy wonders why he failed as a writing teacher.

*Framing device.