Tobey’s Writing Theory Thoughts 2015-09-27 23:22:00

Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
Richard Fulkerson

Fulkerson ends his piece with a quote by Scott McLemee that states that, "the field of composition studies is on the verge of what undoubtedly will come to be known as the new theory wars." This pretty much sums up Fulkerson's piece. He explains throughout, that the field has become "less unified" over the decades. There is a division in the goals of how to help students to become better writers. He goes on to address the three current axiologies  that are at the forefront: critical/cultural studies, expressivism, and procedural rhetoric. As he breaks down each, he examines them based on four questions he feels must be fully answered. The results of the four questions determine if a course can come to fruition based on the philosophy. The questions deal with axiology, process, pedagogy, and epistemology. 

He begins analyzing critical/cultural studies which are theme based approaches. Within this classroom, students are given theme based readings that deal with topics of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. They are to analyze readings and create writing pieces that empower or liberate them from societal injustices. As I was reading this, two things came to my that were confirmed later in the text. First, this approach is much more suited for social sciences as it is a content based approach to writing. The second is that it doesn't feel quite like a writing class. There does not seem to be writing instruction happening. Fulkerson goes on to explain that students often end up feeling confused about the grading and expectations within this type of course. 

The next approach he discusses is the expressivist approach. This approach allows for self exploration. Writings take place in the form of journaling, freewriting, and reflective writing. Writing with voice is an important aspect of this classroom. However, a main concern seems to the teacher's role or decision making. Nothing seems to be "set in stone." There is no specific way to teach expressive writing. This feels to me like there are worthwhile pieces to this approach. Freewriting and journaling are needed for writing students  in order to gain voice and practice techniques. However, there sounds as if there needs to be more structure within this classroom. Voice and expressing one's feelings are valuable, but there are other types of writing that need to be incorporated.

Finally, Fulkerson discusses procedural rhetoric as an approach to the writing classroom. Rhetorical approaches seem to favor the WPA's minimal standards for first year college writing courses which Fulkerson feels aligns more with 1970s/1980s tradition. Some emerging factors from this classroom is that the teacher is seen as a coach, writing skills and techniques are taught and practiced, and different types of writings are taught.  Within this approach it feels as though writing instruction is taking place. There is a structure and an understanding of outcomes. 

Fulkerson ends his piece with conclusions and implications. He lists seven points as to where the conversation leaves us; basically with a lot to talk about. When we finished discussing the Lauer piece in our last class one of the questions that was raised was where will writing theory be in ___ years. This piece shows us that there is a movement happening. There also feels like a divide. I personally feel like there is value in all three of the approaches he discussed. I wonder if the conversation can look and see a way of combining the best qualities of each approach and creating one universal writing classroom. Just an idea.

Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century by Richard Fulkerson

I thought it was interesting how Fulkerson opens up his article by revealing that he is not trained in the field, but felt it was necessary to address the current theories that according to him have changed composition. “Frustration drives me to try to make personal sense of composition studies, a discipline for which I was not trained into which I have been inexorably drawn.”  Throughout the article I felt like his tone was a bit discouraged and it even seemed like he was calling nonsense to all the current changes in writing. He emphasized that in CCS the courses are not aimed at improving writing and are not necessarily needed in an English department. Fulkerson also asserted that CCS courses seemed “inappropriate because reading, analyzing, and discussing the texts upon which the course rests are unlikely to leave room for any actual teaching and writing.” Overall, I think Fulkerson seems to present the idea that the current theories and practices are not much useful to composition studies and that the current instructors put in place to teach composition may not be qualified to do so because they are not improving writing.
At the end of the article I was a bit  surprised because instead of providing a solution liked I had hope he would he instead gave a dooming prognosis and that is “the field composition studies is on verge of what undoubtedly will come to be known as the “the new theory wars.”

Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product by Donald M. Murray

Donald Murray begins this article by describing the contradiction of the English teacher. “Fully trained in autopsy, we go out and are assigned to teach our students to write, to make language alive.” He further revealed his true sentiments by describing the frustration that both students and teachers feel because despite this “repetitive autopsy” the product doesn’t improve. Instead the blame falls on the student who is then passed along to the next teacher who more often than none is trained in the same manner. Murray asserted that “no matter how careful our criticisms, they do not help the student since when we teach composition we are not teaching a product, we are teaching a process.” He also offered advice on the process that we should teach and that is the process of discovery through language and the first step of that is by “placing the opportunity for discovery into the student’s hands.”
Murray further advised English teachers not to tell students what to say and how to say it when giving an assignment instead “we have to be quiet, listen, and respond because we are not the initiator or motivator we are the reader, the recipient.” Murray also emphasize that we must respect our students for their potential truth and potential voice. And again reminded the English teachers of their roles.
I actually enjoyed reading this article. I would say more so than the Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Century.”  Murray seems like an interesting writer. His emphasis on “discovery” and his focus on the inner reality of the writer makes me think of him as an expressionist. Although, his implications would be impractical in today’s classrooms, in many ways I agree with him. Too often students are not awarded the opportunity to explore and discover the process of writing for themselves.  Instead of creating first then critiquing it’s the other way around. Structure in writing is very important, however it’s not a unique concept that has no possibility of being applied or discovered if not taught. Murray defined the teachers as “coaches, encouragers, and developers.” I thought that was a great statement because in a way that’s what they should be. Rather be the critics, writing teachers should create the proper environment so students can experience the writing process as well as their own truths. And I also found it very interesting how a person like Murray who probably was taught and trained in traditional composition given the time period of his article has developed such a contrary view on writing? 


If read out of context, Teach Writing as a Process Not Product,  by Donald Murray has the potential to be mistaken as an out-of-touch, sort of “Well, duh!” essay about the process-based pedagogical underpinnings of current composition theory.  However, after one considers the time in which it was written (1972), it becomes quite the opposite indeed- a revolutionary and ground-breaking take on the (then) long-standing tradition of teaching writing as a product, rather than a process.  In this relatively short but passionate essay, Murray clearly outlines the reasons why teaching writing as a product does not work, and specifically details the way in which it should be employed in the classroom (prewriting 85%, writing 1%, revising 14%).  He defines the teacher’s role as more of a facilitator, rather than instructor, whose job it is to create “environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves.”  Murray closes the piece with a list of implications for the composition curriculum. The sheer clarity, directness and brevity of Murray’s article could be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the state of composition studies then, as compared to now, particularly when juxtaposed with the bulky and complex issues presented in the Fulkerson article.
Richard Fulkerson’s Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century was written just over 30 years after the Murray essay.  The, this article gives us a comprehensive analysis of the past and current state of the discipline, with particular regard to the dominant axiological views and, in-turn, the major pedagogical approaches currently employed. The article begins with a side-by-side comparison of two collections of essays outlining the major theories on teaching writing, one written in 1980, and the other in 2001.  Not coincidentally, Don Murray’s Writing as a Process opens the first volume as chapter one, thus setting the tone for the collection.  Murray’s piece seems to mark the significant and seemingly permanent shift from product to process-based instruction in composition studies.  
In addition to acknowledging the many similarities between the two collections, Fulkerson highlights a major difference as being the addition of four chapters rooted in critical/cultural studies (CCS).  This, he states, represents the major new areas of scholarly interest in the discipline.  A large part of the essay is spent discussing some of the main axiological views and their current approaches to college-level writing instruction.  These are loosely categorized as the following (1) Social Theories & Critical/Cultural Studies (CCS), (2) Expressivist Composition, and (3) Rhetorical Approach (discourse analysis, argumentation and genre-based).  A good deal of his discussion is centered around the Social and CCS approaches, as they are the newest additions to composition studies.  Fulkerson does a good job of detailing the specifics of each approach’s instructional practices and he is quick to point out the potential shortcomings and contradictions of each, too.  
A perfect read for a writing studies student, Composition at the Turn of the 21st Century gives us an up-to-date look at the current pedagogical approaches/conflicting views and offers us a chance to reflect upon our own practices.  As a relatively new writing studies student, I have had a subtle “sense” that there is a shift towards CCS practices looming in our discipline.  While this may primarily due to the fact that my Writing Research course professor was a “social constructivist” through and through, I still wonder what impact this shift will have on writing instruction.  At this stage in my development as an educator and composition studies student, I tend to align my own practices slightly more with the Rhetorical approaches.  I worry about the practical implementation of such changes as they relate to curriculum development.  
After reading these two articles, I am left with a feeling I often get after reading many other writing studies essays: it is an exciting time to be a composition studies student.  While some may, perhaps, feel a bit of frustration or lack of security from the fact that their chosen area of study is in a constant state of flux, I, on the contrary, am surged with a sense of purpose and drive.  We are all, in a sense pioneers, assisting with the development of a new era.  To me, writing is both an art and a science and there is no one style nor formula which can produce the perfect piece.  

Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century” and Murray’s "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product"

            My first impression of this piece: Fulkerson is frustrated with the lack of development and numerous disagreements about teaching composition to students. He observes correctly how the field—relatively new in relation to other genres of English studies—seemed to stop its progress with the advent of the millennium. The reasons for this untimely halt are related to new branches that have entered this field and with their emergence an alteration of the original goals. In 1990 Fulkerson felt optimistic and uplifted by the surge of advances in this “field” of study. “Good Writing” was considered language; ”Rhetorically effective for audience and situation.” The areas of conflict were expected—assignments, grading, readings, and teacher response but the goal was shared by all involved; the means to success were simply in transition.
            Fulkerson blames the addition of CCS—critical/ cultural studies—for creating new problems for the teacher. He also feels expressionism is taking over and finds the result is causing the rhetorical approach to split into three parts. By comparing two volumes on the subject, one published in 1980 at a highpoint of this trend and the other in 2001 when it is seemingly in conflict, he emphasizes the addition of too many new areas which create more confusion to this fairly new concept of teaching. It seems the simplicity of being able to write freely--within a loose framework--is complicated with each new addition to this writing landscape; the time factor is simply too rapid for these new ideas to become accepted norms. He poses four questions which represent a solid base on which to “erect a course” and it is a rather intriguing grid for any willing party to attempt to complete—he does not. I agree that cultural studies is the forerunner throughout the field with the feminist approach trailing close behind. And, of course, postcolonial gets an honorable mention as well. These approaches were not as commonly employed in a classroom setting in 1980 or before but are now considered a standard. I can only guess that in 2001 when Fulkerson was researching, revisiting, and writing about the rhetorical movement’s progress, this transition within the field was taking a firm hold.
            One key point of any writing is interpretation and how each new group of student-writers approach any or all topics assigned or suggested. Many topics are far afield of what we may consider “English” but in order to confidently interpret and/ or analyze, one needs to be capable of expressing their thoughts. Often, a juxtaposition or argument to emphasize and clarify one’s position can be the deciding factor for their target audience. I can, however, see why Fulkerson feels CCS courses work against the idea of teaching college-level writing. He puts it succinctly: “Reading, analyzing, and discussing the texts upon which the course rests are unlikely to leave room for any actual teaching of writing.” This is seemingly an unavoidable evil in a classroom setting. People usually learn to write by wanting to express some belief, ideal, or point of contention in their own way. Much of anyone’s writing is a form of “modeling” because, in truth, as children we wrote simply because we wanted to; it was new and we could use our own voice in diaries, journals, letters, and poems. All of that personal writing was ours and written for the sense of pleasure, and accomplishment it provided. In a classroom, it is more prudent to have a basic game plan or standard set by the teacher so everyone knows what is expected—writing must conform to certain limits (length, deadlines, framework) but not a repression of creativity or imagination. Fulkerson mentions the possibility of indoctrination which can be problematic in some situations. Teachers as well as students will have their opinions and should feel free to share; discretion, good judgment and respect must always be upheld on both sides of the learning process so as not to inhibit anyone’s creative flow.          
Being such a theatre enthusiast, I especially liked his section on the great Socratean writing tradition as I feel that has always been my personal impetus to write. “Knowing thyself” is often the result of writing down the turmoil I cannot yet voice. Once on paper, I can both find my voice and listen to others more sincerely. As Fulkerson admits, his essay is composed in the tradition of 1970’s composition which he calls” procedural rhetoric.” I too tend to write in a similar fashion, unintentionally trying to honor the classical issues: pathos, ethos, and logos. His reference to the WPA statement reinforces my naivety on the numerous changes that have taken place in the art of teaching writing; the thesis statement was never such a focal point in my earlier years as a student (probably pre-WPA). Writing for an audience was always understood, even as a fledgling student-writer. The need for argumentation makes sense as only through argument can conflict be resolved, leading to the desired denouement; conflicts create tension and are of interest---problems and solutions are the stuff of life and what we love to write-(and read)-about. Fulkerson also discusses a genre approach which utilizes a modernized version of classical Greek stasis theory; this seems rather limiting. After following all his points, both the benefits and deficits of this genre, he states, “The pedagogy is essentially the classical one of imitation.”  
This brings us back to how we began to write as young students, and how Aristotle set down the template in his Poetics. Fulkerson admits there is an internal controversy over the goal of teaching writing in college and what its intended outcomes should be.  His analysis seems quite thorough and his passion very real. The unification of the 1980’s seems disrupted as new ideas become apparent and vital; but that actually creates more material and conflicts to write about.

In Donald M. Murray’s “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product” many of the very ideals Fulkerson promotes are clearly exposed in their infancy. Written in 1972 (when I was in seventh grade) this was an open, encouraging approach to writing which seems very familiar to me. Many of these principles were employed by my teachers in seventh through eighth grade  and were visited again as a high-school senior in accelerated English (probably the forerunner to AP courses). Although we did not try peer review, we did work in small groups and were required to keep a daily journal. Finding our own subject was alowed for certain projects, and we were free to create at our own pace as long as the finished product was ready by the deadline (Implication No. 7). There were rules to follow to a certain extent, but if the product was done well,  thought through, and geared to a target auudience, it was acceptable and graded accordingly. This stimulated, for me, a desire to write and express myself—it was a great motivator. And Murray was completely correct in saying that, “what works one time may not another”(Implication No. 10). His assertion that these practices could be uccessfully incorporated into an English  class  are proven correct and they truly did create an environment of  viewing writing as a process—much like any other creative journey.                      

Weekly Response: Donald M. Murray’s "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product"

     I would find it incredibly difficult to argue against the idea that writing should be taught as a process. As pointed out by Donald M. Murray, the educator has gone through the proper training necessary to produce finished writing. The students are still learning, and should therefore not be expected to do the same. While it would be optimal for all ten of the implications set forth by Murray to be present in a classroom, the climate of today's educational system makes that impractical to the point of being impossible. By examining some of the implications mentioned in the article, I'd like to explore why with anecdotal evidence.

Implication 2- The student finds his own subject. 
     While the students are entirely capable of expanding on an idea and doing an incredible job, they are not always successful when left to choose their own. The possibility always exists that the student may choose a topic that sounds interesting to him at first, but ultimately leads nowhere. If this happens often enough, the student questions the teacher about potential topics until the topic ends up being assigned anyway.

     Another possibility thats exists is the topic that is chosen is not considered rigorous enough. With what might seem to be the most simple topic, a struggling student might be firing on all cylinders and knocking it out of the park. While those in the classroom may be aware of the learning that is occurring, an outsider (i.e. an administrator) might deem it inappropriate, irregardless of how much that student may be growing. I have seen too often the sacrifice of individual students for the sake of standardization.

Implication 4- The student should write all necessary drafts.
     This implication is tremendously effective when focusing on depth and not breadth. Unfortunately current curriculum looks to cover as much material as possible. Students who want to write another draft of a paper would simply be falling behind. This is unfortunate because the student would undoubtedly gain more out of perfecting one paper than doing slightly well on many.

     Murray also states that each draft should be "counted as equal to a new paper." This can pose problems to the majority of districts that now use computer based systems to run their schools. My district, for example, uses Infinite Campus. We record attendance and assignments in the web-based program, which is great for allowing parents to check on student performance through a parent portal. The system does not allow for assignments to be individually tailored to each student, so recording each new draft for whomever decides to do it would be a record keeping nightmare.

Implication 9- The students are individuals who must explore the process in their own way.
     In this closely-monitored standardized climate, allowing a student to work at his own pace would not go over too well. Setting SGO's would be impossible with so many students moving at so many different speeds. With some classes hitting as many as thirty-two students, during a five period day some teachers could see 160 unique kids.  I would think a situation such as this would lead to both teacher burnout, and also ineffective instruction.


                I would not like to leave the reader with the impression that I don't agree with Murray, in fact I do. I believe that he was writing for not only different students, but also for a different educational climate. To give each student a tailored, hands-on approach to becoming a writer would definitely generate better writing skills in our students. Unfortunately, with how teachers are being evaluated and the pressure that is coming down on them from their own administrations, such an approach is too impractical to put into practice.