Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist)”

Both readings this week offer insight into what is not working for the writing curriculum and offer advice on how to move forward. In Mark Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist)”, the author opens by noting that the desperate situations in urban schools—too many teachers are poorly prepared to teach writing while others are defeated by the less than desirable classroom conditions—are ripe for teaching writing as a formula. Formulaic writing is attractive. It is easy to teach, easy to learn, and produces prompt results in raising standardized test score. But, Wiley argues, it is not what students need.

Wiley focuses on one formula: the Jane Schaffer Approach to Teaching Writing. Schaffer advocates the four paragraph essay and provides an exact formula to achieve success. Each of the body paragraphs should contain eight sentences and be structured as follows:

Topic sentence

Concrete detail #1

Commentary #1a

   ” #1b

Concrete detail#2

Commentary #2a


Concluding sentence


Wiley offers criticism of this formulaic method. He notes that it “sends the wrong message to students and uninformed teachers about what writing really is”. Students need to learn to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, and style in order to grow as writers. As writers, they must ask themselves, what is my intention, my desired effect, and who is my intended audience? Formulaic writing is stifling; it discourages ongoing exploration and experimentation. Students don’t get the opportunity to engage in the “rich chaotic mess from which true insight can emerge”. Furthermore, this method creates a codependency for struggling students.

Wiley concludes by offering advice on how to move forward and away from teaching formulaic writing. Because writing tasks vary, so should writing strategies. Wiley notes that a strategy is different from a formula because it is adaptable. It is more beneficial to teach the Jane Schaffer Approach as one strategy. For example, it is a strategy that would work well for a timed writing task. Most importantly, teachers should not become dependent on teaching formulaic writing because then students become dependent on that single strategy.




Why the Research Paper is Not Working (Fister) & The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (Wiley)

I thought this was an interesting article because Barbara Fister touches on some important issues college students including my self are facing. For example I am in the process of completing a thesis proposal right now for my final graduate course and I feel restricted in so many ways. For one, the citation aspect is so stressed. We not only have to use APA style, but we are restricted in how it is use. If we are to implement this style we have to use strategies from one particular author. So that means despite the many free APA style recommendations and sources online written by so many experts we still have to purchase an APA book. I mean…isn’t APA or for that matter all citations supposed to be universal? There shouldn’t be one particular author or guidelines to follow. This thesis is also restricted creatively. I feel like I have to conform to a certain style, pace, and even topic. For example my thesis has to be written in the third person perspective and it can’t be personal.  I just don’t get the point of all of this? All of these guidelines and restrictions do not make me a better writer, in fact it confuses and limits me as a writer and observer and basically it doesn’t teach me anything. Since I have been in college talking about, practicing, and writing research I haven’t learned one thing yet. You know, I think the real problem behind all of this is how research is interpreted by some professors. With the issue of citation, I think it’s an important aspect to any research because it legitimize the student’s work, give credit where credit is due, and allows the reader to find the sources themselves, but I don’t think that citation is taught properly. A subject such as citation that carries so much weight in the research world is usually thrown at students rather then taught and developed over time. Well, at least that how it was in my case. The subject of college research is one that needs to be evaluated and reconsider because it is too tedious and restricted. There need to be a better way in how to go about academic writing. I applaud Barbara Fister for talking about this and even more so, I applaud her for her realistic suggestions. 

Great article! While reading it I couldn’t help to think where was this article when the class was duking it out over the memorable five-paragraph essay. This article would have definitely given us food for thought. Although I never heard of the Jane Schaffer Method I have to say I like some aspect of this method. In fact I didn’t know that such method existed, if I did I wouldn’t have waste so much time creating my own step by step writing formula for my ELL students. I think the Schaffer method definitely would work on struggling and ELL writers. I know because I had used and created something similar for my own students and I saw first hand the positive effects it had on some of my ELL students. Some students especially new comer not only lack the language for writing, but they lack the mechanics and structure to start the writing process.  Most times they don’t have that skill in their first language as well. In most cases you can’t really blame them because writing is considered one of the last skill an ELL student learns. But like I’ve said I’ve seen some positivity in step-by-step writing formulas. With such skills writing is definitely demystify and consistency is developed and students know what to do with a blank paper in front of them. But I also think that her method is a bit exaggerated. In one part of the article the author talks about having student check their writing for proper concrete details and commentary by counting words, sentence, and paragraph to meet that 1:2 ratio. For me I think that’s a little excessive. A writing formula should have a balance to it and students should be able to advance beyond it and also should not use it as a crutch for everything writing. I agree with James Collins when he said that, “when writing is taught as a formula, teachers are providing students only ‘declarative knowledge’ about writing.” He defines declarative knowledge as information about writing facts. Collins argues that aside from learning "declarative knowledge,” such as introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions, topic sentences supporting details and so on, students should also be taught two other kinds of knowledge: procedural and conditional. Procedural knowledge answers the question of how to accomplish a given task, and conditional knowledge answers the question of when to make a particular choice. Like I have mentioned before I like formula writing especially for struggling and ELL writers because it gives a foundation to work from. I myself have used and created them, however I don’t think it should be use for to long of a period, I also don’t think formulas should be restricted or should be followed to a tee because writing varies and students need to develop several strategies in identifying and dealing with variances in writing.