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Perspectives on Writing and the teaching of Writing

Patricia Bizzell asks the ultimate question: “What do we need to know about writing?” Well, how can we answer that when things are constantly changing, especially the students. Their thinking and writing skills need remediation as well as, I think, their attitudes. Many students have the attitude that school isn’t important which is probably where their lack of skills starts. These are the duller are less mature students that I think Bizzell talks about in her paper. They are the students that she says teachers push along and hope that by seeing and being around better models will help with their developmental path. Many students tend to stray away from writing because their basic skills are lacking and feel they can’t move forward if they don’t have the basics or think they’re not good at something. The issue that comes along with teaching students to write is the fact that we have to teach them to think too. Now these students have two things going against them along with their everyday lives. Inner-directed vs. outer-directed theorists argue about whether or not fundamentals can or cannot be taught. Personally, I think that everyone is different and some can be taught things that others can’t be taught.
Writer vs. academic. I’ve never really thought about what I’ve read in college or why, I just always did it because it was assigned to me. But why did I read those novels, articles, poems, etc.? As an academic, those readings were “key texts”: good published writing, important works of cultural or literary significance; strong and important works. (Elbow, 73).” But in order to see yourself as a writer you should be producing your own text. So where’s the middle, can we both writers and academics? Elbow argues that readers are such because writers write for or to them and who would the writer be if it wasn’t for them. Yet, who would writers be if there weren’t any readers and what’s the point of writing if not for readers?
Many people write differently. Some write a whole paper before ever looking back while others reread every paragraph. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. Sondra Perl asks the question how we know when to right and replies that we use our felt sense. We feel when we are ready to write because we can feel it, use our experiences, and are knowledgeable about a topic. The question of right or wrong is something that many of us probably questions as undergraduates in our first year classes. “What does the professor want us to do?” and “he’s not clear about his expectations” are things I questioned a lot. Many of those questions can be answered based on who the audience is, what we’re writing about, and why we are writing something.
Can rhetoric be taught? Booth says no and I think I agree with him because the examples he gives of the 2:00pm class going better than 1:00pm class has happened to me. You get to kind of see what you did wrong the first time and fix it for the second class. I don’t have the years of experience and practice yet that I need. A part of Booth’s paper really angered me because on page 142 he talks about a student he had and a paper he wrote. Booth says that he doesn’t care to read this student’s paper and the student knows that Booth is his only audience therefore the paper does have a rhetorical purpose. The statement Booth makes about not wanting to read the paper bothers be greatly. Why are you in this field? Why did you assign the paper in the first place if you don’t want to read them?

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4 Responses

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  1. Victoria Fontana says

    According to Bizzell, outer-directed theorists claim that fundamental structures of thought and language cannot be taught. Superficially, may students seem to fit this description. They could be the difficult students who are finding it impossible to adjust in school. I find it unfair to accept this theory. It is too easy to judge a student’s assumed inability. Once this occurs, a student can be largely ignored for the rest of their school career. I wonder if some students have acquired the necessary mental-processes but don’t know how to tap into them. The inner-directed theorists believe that students can be guided to activate those mental-processes. I prefer this theory because it gives teachers hope.

    • johnjparente says

      To Rachel’s question of why Booth is in the field:
      On the first page of the assigned reading, Booth gives an example of his student who wrote an exposition that was hardly worth reading but resounded and dazzled with passion and conviction in a critique he gave. That student had a talent for arguing/proving points. He found his audience and voice in the same triumphant moment. Booth, having learned from the experience, recounted it for millions of readers (to our benefit). I would say he is in the field for the right reasons.

      That student whose paper Booth did not want to read has a chance to grow. In fact, he or she is “constantly changing” as you argued in your opening lines. I find that a better or more appropriate assignment (closer to their levels) helps students find audience and tone.

      • Safaarah Williamson says

        I agree that we must give students assignments that challenge them on many different levels. As educators, we must acknowledge that although our students may not have adequate writing skills,we are there to help them develop. Booth does not truly believe that rhetoric cannot be taught. He notes that it is not an easy task to present to students; however, it can be done successfully. In order to teach rhetoric successfully, the educator must make sure that he or she is not giving the students assignments that are meaningless and therefore do not allow the students to be engaged with the audience, answer a critical question, and thus develop a voice. The fact that Booth is speaking of a graduate level student when he addresses writing deficiencies illustrates that lack of effective writing skills is a very significant issue that must be addressed. He presents these stories about various students and their writing experiences, so that we can compare our experiences as educators and writers and come up with possible solutions by analyzing best practices.

  2. Safaarah Williamson says

    I agree that we must give students assignments that challenge them on many different levels. As educators, we must acknowledge that although our students may not have adequate writing skills, we are there to help them develop. Booth does not truly believe that rhetoric cannot be taught. He notes that it is not an easy task to present to students; however, it can be done successfully. In order to teach rhetoric successfully, the educator must make sure that he or she is not giving the students assignments that are meaningless and therefore do not allow the students to be engaged with the audience, answer a critical question, and thus develop a voice.

    The fact that Booth is speaking of a graduate level student when he addresses writing deficiencies illustrates that lack of effective writing skills is a very significant issue that must be addressed. He presents these stories about various students and their writing experiences, so that we can compare our experiences as educators and writers and come up with possible solutions by analyzing best practices.