Writing Theory and Practice 2015-11-30 16:50:00

These two articles honestly had me at a standstill about what to say and all I could think about was the discussions in my classes. I think some of my classmates would agree with the argument Mark Wiley makes in “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist)” while at the same time there would be students like me who find the argument interesting but honestly never really thought about it the way the author discussed. Some statements did stand out to me though. For example, the statement Connors and Lunsford make that “teachers do not have to spend a lot of time writing terminal comments to justify a grade, which is often the purpose of our teacherly remarks on student work” (qtd. in Wiley 63). This quotation goes against what I thought responses were for or the goal of responses, and I feel like it goes against some of our previous readings. Continuing, I also felt some type of way about the quote “the method imposes—a simple solution for sequencing a writing curriculum, but one based on what’s easy for teachers and not necessarily what’s best for students” (Wiley 63). I think both of these quotes just make some teachers look really bad and demonstrate how some teachers fail to focus on what’s more important. I think this article does a great job convincing their audience or just making them think in general about their viewpoint or their position on the topic discussed.

Furthermore, “Why the ‘Research Paper’ Isn’t Working” by Barbara Fister made me think about a comment made in my writing center class by my professor Dr. Kathryn L Inskeep. One class period we were talking about citation styles and she said, “Why should anyone listen to what you have to say if you can’t follow the rules?” I never really thought about it that way, but my professor made a great point. We further discussed in class how a lot the rules we have to follow are to “prepare us.” I think it is interesting that Mark Wiley’s article makes you question whether you were truly prepared.

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My summary/ responses for my presentation pieces tomorrow:


Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working by Barbara Fister

Fister opens with the topic of collegiate subject juggling—how students are expected to switch between the individualized dialects of different subjects with ease and promptness (depending on their class schedules). Teachers try to instill English-based skills (writing skills) and overall skills students can use to navigate college; however, there are still teachers (especially the mandatory comp teachers) are out of touch with students. They pick topics, sources and formats that are irrelevant to the student, which causes them not to disassociate from the assignment. Fister brings up a point about citing and sourcing—the meticulous process of creating a works cited page detracts from the information that source provides and the ideas that information might instill in students. Essentially that we’re killing intellectual discussion and creativity for the sake of correctness and procedure. Instead it is suggested that citation correctness should be taught at the end of academia, when students will begin writing actual research papers (what Fister calls “truly academic”) and integrating more meaningful sources. The issue with sourcing for research papers is that students are often unable to grasp the material in the first place, let alone summarize, use and cite it while trying to make it fit in with their own work. The research paper is smothering students with rules, when in “extracurricular writing” they excel due to the elimination of restrictions. The hardest part of research writing is interpreting and understanding the information. Fister ends with the suggestion that the research paper is an ineffective teaching tool and should be replaced with a more interactive system. She states that picking a topic of interest and developing skills from there is more likely to result in better researchers (as opposed to just better research papers).

This piece was interesting, and I felt that most of it was agreeable. Especially the section about the works cited pages. One section, in particular, stood out to me: “The first year “research paper” has always sent a mixed message. You’re supposed to be original, but must quote someone else to back up every point you make - while in constant fear that you’ll be accused of stealing from them.” This is so very true, at least for me. I am neurotic about my citations, completely paranoid that even the smallest mis-citation will result in my expulsion. I have always carried that fear with me. So this section I really enjoyed. Having that dear acknowledged, and for once not belittled, was nice. Also, is the idea of not being able to integrate your own ideas. That, to me is very sad and unfortunately very true. It’s as if administrators or even professors can’t conceive that students could know anything about a topic without sitting down to research it.

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley

Wiley begins by stating that high school teachers are often at a loss as far as writing goes. Many schools are underfunded, understaffed and (generally) the teachers are undereducated in effective ways to teach writing.  The formulaic writing system (namely, the 5 paragraph essay, form what I understand) has become a crutch for teachers instead of a tool. The expectations placed on teachers to instruct an overabundance of students, while simultaneously squeezing in standardized test practice, essentially forces teachers into a corner where they have no other choice but to follow this formula, without any hope of deviation. However, Wiley argues that it is not the formula that is the problem, but the dependency (“pedagogical blindness”) that teachers have on it. The formula is good in that it is easy to understand and easy to teach, but there is no explanation outside of the initial lesson, and so students begin to think that the formula is an unbreakable law. Instead of the standard formula, Wiley discusses the Jane Schaffer Approach, which is significantly more detailed. Teachers like this method because it is easy to implement, ensures school-wide consistency, expedites the grading process and facilitates student-teacher communication. Furthermore, the mandatory commentary sentences help students differentiate between facts and their own ideas and how discussing facts after presenting them increases the strength of the overall paper. The biggest advantage to Schaffer’s system is that writing as a process becomes more manageable and therefore “accessible to everyone.” Criticism includes “uninformed writers” thinking this is what writing “really is” and formulaic dependency. Also is the issue of genre variety, which the Schaffer method overlooks and oversimplifies as far as writing tasks go. Wiley concludes with the use of formulaic writing in moderation and with consideration to genre.

Overall, I liked this method. I especially liked the condition that 11th graders should be taught to move away from the formula. I, too, would probably become bored by this format, had it been taught to me. I was interested in the “fear” that students would lose the motivation to shape their own papers; however, I am included to disagree with this fear. For one, writing isn’t for everyone; for students who won’t need writing as much or for those who cannot shape a paper at all, this one, very reliable method will really help them (“accessible to everyone”). For another, I feel it is a teacher’s job to help with this; if the formula is capped at 10th grade, then students should learn in their upper-classes about individualization (which combats the criticism that uninformed writers will not know what “writing really is”). Finally, I don’t think students can effectively shape their own papers if they don’t have a basic understanding of what an essay “shape” looks like. As far as the “next” step goes, the only thing left to do is to teach deviations: paragraphs that only have one concrete idea that needs more than two commentary sentences, one commentary sentence that has the strength of two, mixing up the order of concrete and commentary sentences. Wondering “what’s next?” shows that teachers are again formulaic writing as a crutch instead of a springboard. I agree that, in comparison to the flexibility of traditional essays, Schaffer essays are extremely limited; however, context is too influential to discard through comparisons. The phrase “real writers” and “real writing” is belittling to those writers who are in the process of learning. This essay is talking about students in high school, not collegiates about to graduate. All writers began with the basics and the basics as of right now are (primarily) grammar lessons and the 5-paragraph essay that is helpful to a degree, but still immensely vague. This is a good structured system that students can easily model that won’t stunt their developing skills or style. And that’s not even mentioning how hard it really is to teach students citation analysis. As a tutor, I can say this is an especially difficult concept to teach someone. Most beginning level writers don’t understand why they need to talk about a source/quote when it’s already been put in their paper. So the mandatory 3 commentary sentences can really help them fine-tune this ability. Which they will really need in college, where they will be expected to write more than just two sentences about a source. Not to mention “commentary” can be anything, and therefore is less limiting than the criticism would allow. 

Blog # 10 – Wiley and Fister

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley & Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working by Barbara Fister

In The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley, we are presented with a method that seems very similar to the five paragraph essay. Wiley starts his essay by presenting Schaffer’s four-paragraph essay idea. This method seems easy to follow and easy to understand. By using this method, it seems like the student could follow each step and they could be able to write their essays without a problem.

I agree that Schaffer’s method to writing an essay can become a godsend for those students who don’t know how to go about putting an essay together. This method can help them develop their ideas and can make them feel better about writing. Often, students feel frustrated when they don’t know how to write their essays. I’ve seen many classmates frustrated about their ideas, the structure of their essays, or whether or not they are following the assignment’s guidelines. And when they look at the rubric, they often wonder how are they supposed to write everything the rubric will be evaluating or in which order are they supposed to write it. As I read about Schaffer’s method, it seemed like this could really help those students who are struggling to write their essays.

Wiley’s essay also says that this method should be used by students in the ninth and tenth grade and that by the eleventh grade they should be able to develop their essays on their own. This seems to be a good way of helping students not become dependable on this method and having them actually learn the steps so that they can use it in the future. This way, they could also be more prepare to do college level work for when the time comes. This method makes me think about the writing process as a whole. We could learn about it step by step but later we learn that the process changes for every piece of writing we are creating. Schaffer’s method could be a good base for students who are struggling but it is necessary for those students to learn to not depend on this method.

Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working by Barbara Fister talks about the topic of writing a research paper. I knew by the title of this essay, that an explanation about why the research paper isn’t working was going to be presented in the essay. I found very interesting what Fister had to say. “We should abandon the traditional research paper” she said in her essay. That sentence really got me thinking. What would happen if we break tradition? Would it be really bad to do that? or actually beneficial for the students? I don’t know if I have the answer to that but Fister says not to call the research paper that but rather to “turn it into a presentation, an informational brochure, or a Wikipedia article.” These are all different ideas and different it’s often scary. It’s not what we know or what we are used to. But perhaps it could actually teach the students more than having them feel frustrated about writing the traditional research paper. I think that it’s important to have students learn how to right the traditional research paper but I like Fister’s idea of bringing in something new to the table. 

Laura’s Writing Theory & Practice Blog 2015-11-30 01:14:00

Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working, Barbara Fister

In her brief article, Fister makes a case for “abandoning the traditional research paper,” based primarily on her experience as a college librarian.  The major problem Fister has with the research paper, as it exists today, is its over-emphasis on citing sources which, she claims, stifles the opportunity for students to infuse original thinking into their “research.”  It’s hard to argue with Fister’s reasoning.  Her sentiments can best be summed up with one paragraph from her essay as follows:

“The first year “research paper” has always sent a mixed message. You’re supposed to be original, but must quote someone else to back up every point you make - while in constant fear that you’ll be accused of stealing from them.The obscure rules of citing sources only exacerbates the confusion and focuses attention on mechanics.”

Fister’s solutions to this dilemma include changing the research paper into a brochure or Wikipedia article, engaging students in research based on personal interest, close reading scholarly material as a class and waiting until junior or senior year before expecting students to create a meaningful research report.   While I fully understand her point-of-view and respect her opinion, I’d like to play devil’s advocate and argue the flip side of  this coin.

In fifth grade, two of my four units of writing are research-based units.  The first is the “informational-research report” and the second is the “research-based argument essay.”  I would imagine that the students Fister has encountered were not exposed to this type of writing in 5th and 6th grade.  In fact, I’m not sure how many elementary/middle school students across the country are exposed to such writing instruction.  Considering the recent move to the Common Core standards, I find these unit invaluable to the students. We focus on paraphrasing and create a bibliography as a class during the first paper and students are expected to prepare their own list of sources for paper number two.  They are taught a variety of ways to include direct quotes and “give credit” to their sources.  All of this work with sources will better enable college freshmen to tackle the research paper the way it was intended.  My view then, is not delaying the research paper but, rather, starting it earlier.  Much earlier.  

Perhaps the most convincing part of my experience with teaching these units comes from the lessons themselves.   (I did not make these up, I only teach and modify the curriculum my district has provided.)  The Writer’s Workshop curriculum aims to get students doing the “thinking” that Fister spoke about in her article.   This is an enormous challenge for me.   I am not certain all of my students actually “get” the message, but some do- and do it well.  The others..well, at least they understand that there is more to writing a paper than just finding facts and spitting them back to the teacher with some quotes.  I think college students would benefit from some of these concrete lessons.  I know I would have.

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need To Resist)
by: Mark Wiley

I was excited to read this article because over the past 9 years I have used many different formulas in my writing instruction.   In fact, the Jane Schaffer method Wiley uses as an example looks eerily similar to the “boxes and bullets” structure I use to teach the literary essay.  

Here’s a beauty I used to teach paragraph structure in third grade…..lol

The first three pages or so of Wiley’s article highlight the positive aspects of Schaffer’s method, while maintaining a subtle yet looming “but...”  I could hardly wait to hear what his negative list would include (other than the obvious students-will-not-be-able-to-write-without-it argument).  I briefly doubted whether or not the arguments would ever come- after hearing things like “the students improved dramatically” and “teachers loved the ease..”

And then they came.

Formulaic writing…..
  • sends the wrong message
  • limits students from developing a repertoire of strategies
  • limits students from learning how to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, etc.
  • limits students from thinking about their audience
  • stifles ongoing exploration
  • limits students from discovering new insights through the writing process
  • forces premature closure on complicate interpretative issues
  • limits students from exploring their ideas, reactions and interpretations

OK, so Wiley let this particular curriculum “have it.”  However, I tend to think formulaic writing gets a bad rap.  Wiley states, “To be fair, there is nothing in Schaffers curriculum guide to preclude teachers from encouraging exploration.  Yet the teachers who would be attracted to the guide are typically those who don’t know how to encourage such exploration.”  This statement was presumptuous, at the very least.  Possibly offensive.  Teachers are under pressure to increase test scores and it sounds like this strategy will do just that.   Wiley goes on to say, “ By solely using the formulaic approach to writing, the real winners will be the students who always win anyway.”  Here, it sounds as though this approach can’t hurt those students who will eventually move on from the structure.  However, in the paragraph prior, he admits that struggling writers need “a simple format to follow so that they can achieve some immediate success in their academic writing.”  He does not offer any alternate concrete solutions to reaching these “struggling writers.”  Teacher are left with a difficult decision- one that is much more complicated than can be discussed here.  I (like Wiley, perhaps??) advocate for the use of both formulaic writing and THINKING.   Furthermore, in light of our recent discussions surrounding standardized testing and assessments, I’m not entirely confident that a student who veered from the formulaic approach would perform as well as a student who adhered to the formula.  

I don’t think formulaic writing is so much of an all-or-nothing question as Wiley thinks.  I think having it as an option or- at the very least- an exemplar essay is necessary.  Kind of like one of those- you have to know the “rules” to “break the rules” conundrum we explored in our grammar discussions.
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One last pondering…

Here, writing is looked at as more of an art rather than a science, no?  Something messy and chaotic….  not like the neatness of a science- imagine:  solve this math problem without a formula....Last week I did one of those “wine and design” classes.  I was told exactly what to do step-by-step….each piece we created that night came out amazingly different and expressive.  It made me wonder….were any of us really painting that night??? Is formulaic writing really writing at all??...