What is in a formula (…when it comes to writing)?

A heartfelt thanks to both Susan and Dylan, who delivered very insightful presentations this week, despite the technical difficulties with the “smart” screen system.  -I have a meeting planned 30 minutes before our next class with the tech services people so that we can continue to troubleshoot this difficulty with the seminar projector as well as the sound system.  Hopefully, that will head off any further problems or delays.

Thinking about formula

Susan first walked us through the Wiley article “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist).”  She also had us consider different kinds of strategies to use in our own writing classrooms by having us read High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing by Peter Elbow.   Wiley ultimately points out the pros and cons of the formulaic nature of Schaffer’s pedagogy (the multi-paragraph essay).  It was interesting to read all of your blog posts because you had very strong feelings about this writing approach – there were both strong “pro” arguments and strong “con” arguments expressed.  Susan ultimately suggests that teachers should use the formula approach as a “strategy”, but not a “formula” per se.   “To develop as writers, students must develop a repertoire of strategies for dealing effectively with various writing tasks presented to them in different situations. They must also learn to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, and style; and they must learn to hone their judgments about the effects of the choices they make as writers.”  Teachers (and school districts) can build “formula” strategies for students, but from there, they should also decide what more there is to do once students have a framework for the multi-paragraph academic essay.   And as we discussed, the Schaeffer method won’t work in all contexts/situations, and it shouldn’t.  Once students have learned this strategy (or concurrently as they are learning it) they should move forward, outward, and onward to genres, audience, critical thinking, and exploration of their own writing.  Think of bike riding – the formula-approach is like training wheels that can eventually come off.  Sometimes this kind of “formula approach” really works in onboarding reluctant writers, giving them just enough confidence to get them “in the game”.  And that is a remarkable outcome, in and of itself.

Thinking about Syntax

After our break (and more technical disruption…grrrrr…) we heard from Dylan, whose thoughtful presentation on The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert Connor delved into new territory encompassing the science of language (or linguistics), and a deeper dive into the significance of syntax in writing.  This article examined the sentence-based pedagogies that arose in composition during the 1960s and 1970s, the “generative rhetoric” of Francis Christensen, “imitation exercises”, and sentence-combining.  Dylan shared this bit of composition studies history, revealing that these three pedagogies have been completely elided within contemporary writing studies.  The usefulness of these sentence-based and syntax-based approaches was never disproved.  Yet, a growing wave of anti-formalism and anti-empiricism within composition studies after 1980 doomed them to the margins of the field (a place in which these methodologies – in all honesty – remain today). The result of this erasure of sentence pedagogies is a culture of writing instruction that has very little to do with, or to say about, the sentence (outside of a purely grammatical discourse).  I am so glad that Dylan selected this article for us to grapple with because I think it is rather telling when it comes to understanding the trends and influences of the field overall.  I also find it a revealing historical turn, considering the newfound interest in generativity and combinatorial creativity.  This new resurgence of interest has come from the marriage of machine computation (the computer) with writing (ie. algorithmic writing, machine writing, and the relatively new fields of generative fiction and generative poetry).   If you are curious, this is something we will explore more this coming Fall in my Electronic Literature course.

What is next?

The next theme for us to consider together is Voice in Writing and we will have two presenters to cover this important topic.

Kendra has selected:

Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries by Peter Elbow

Karel has selected:

Brannon, Lil and C.H. Knoblauch. “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response.” College Composition and Communication. 33.2 (1982), 157-166.

National Writing Project. (2018). Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum. Available at https://cewac.nwp.org/.

Your “to-do” list:

  1. Read each of the above articles from both Kendra & Karel.
  2. Post your Blog #8 which should be a reflection on Voice in Writing stemming from the above readings.

Next week in class, Kendra & Karel will present the synthesis of their selected material in the first half of class.  In the second part of class, we will kick-start your final project collaboration work through some discussion and some free writing.

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Dr. Zamora