All posts by Jessica Taylor

Cynthia L. Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing”

In Cynthia L. Selfe’s own words, her article, “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing” is meant to “offer some perspective about the way in which U.S. composition studies has subsumed, remediated, and rediscovered aurality during the past 150 years”. Yet the story is admittedly far from complete, and our profession continues to show a clear preference to words communicated through written form. Yet Selfe makes it clear that she is not against the value that we place on writing. However, she does “want to argue that teachers of composition need to pay attention to, and come to value, the multiple ways in which students compose and communicate meaning, the exciting hybrid, multimodal texts they create- in both nondigital and digital environments - to meet their own needs in a changing world”.  


These different compositional modalities offer additional forms of expression that Selfe feels are necessary and extremely beneficial in the turbulent world that we live in. Using other forms of composing, such as aurality, has not been something that I have spent much time thinking about in the past, so this article was interesting to read. I liked hearing Selfe’s argument and opinion concerning this issue.

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.




Respose to Straub’s "The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of ‘Directive’ and ‘Facilitative’ Commentary"

In “The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of ‘Directive’ and ‘Facilitative’ Commentary,” Author Richard Straub discusses facilitative and directive teacher commentary in response to students’ writing and how some types of commentary assume more control than others.

To begin, Straub mentions two pioneering articles written in 1982 by Sommers, and Brannon and Knowblach. These authors urged teachers to be careful about the amount of control that we exert over students when commenting on their papers. Yet, as Straub points out, many questions still remain in terms of distinguishing facilitative and directive commentary. For one, how much should we try to help students develop their attitudes toward writing versus how much do we allow students to find their own way? The categorization of these two types of comments is sometimes very vague. What types of comments can be considered directive or facilitative?

Furthermore, Straub askes, how do different comments exert control? Is there even a way to offer guidance without assuming control?

First, Straub points out, directive commentary is easy to distinguish because it is highly critical and focuses on what is wrong and what needs to be changed. As for a method for analyzing comments, Straub suggests looking at their focuses and modes. Facilitative comments focus on global concerns and often make suggestions that deal with the student’s writing process.

Also, “the extent to which a teacher assumes control over student writing is also determined to a great extent by the way he frames his comments—by the mode of commentary he employs”.  Straus notes that comments framed as corrections assume greater control than those framed as advice or inquiries. An example is provided which demonstrates how directive commentary can be made more facilitative. It is important that the student be given direction, yet not told exactly how writing “should look”. Therefore, a comment can be made about revising an opening paragraph, but that revision is still left to the student.

Ultimately, Straus’s study, as well as this article, go against the idea that comments can either be facilitative and helpful, or directive an ineffective. Straus proves that comments can be both, not either/or. He notes that the best commenting styles play on our strengths as teachers and highlight our goals for the classroom.

Harris and Silva’s,“Tutoring ESL Students” and ESL students and the Writing Center

It is sometimes difficult to explain the complexities of the English language to a native English speaker, let alone someone who is learning English as a second language. I am taking a course in Writing Center Theory and Practice, and we just recently covered this topic. It was very interesting and enlightening to see how one’s culture shapes their writing. Muriel Harris and Tony Silva hint at that idea in “Tutoring ESL Students” when they briefly discuss the idea that people of different cultures compose differently. In WCT&P, we discussed these differences in more depth. One’s culture can determine the structure and word choice that they choose for composition. For example, when composing essays we learn to typically state the thesis in the first paragraph and then use supporting evidence in each of the paragraphs that follow. In another culture, one may learn that the essay should end with a thesis and that the entire essay should work toward getting to that main point.

We also discussed how certain assignments might make ESL students uncomfortable; an ESL student may not know the right way to approach a certain assignment. For Instance, in some countries it is not acceptable to critique the government or to speak against people in government positions. So if an ESL student were asked to write an argument paper and discuss such a topic, they may not be comfortable or know how to approach the topic.

Here is my blog for WCT&P:

  English is a complex language, and I think that as native speakers, we take that for granted. In “Come Again”, Jessie Reeder asks her audience to imagine taking a challenging graduate program in a second language. This is the reality for ESL grad students. Reeder writes, “They are swimming upstream through ceaseless waves of partially-legible information”. As tutors in the Writing Center, “we give them a chance to slow down the flood for a moment”.  Tutors have the opportunity to not only help these students grow as writers, but to help them to build their confidence as students.

                But first, as tutors we must understand how to help ESL students, and we must acknowledge the difficulties that they face as students. Doug Enders approaches this topic (as well as a possible solution) in “The Idea Check”. Enders notes that although it is not ideal for any student to focus primarily on corrections and to bring in papers late in the writing process, this is especially problematic for ESL students. These students often feel extra pressure to produce correct work.

                The article details a procedure run by the Shenandoah University ESL program and the Writing Center. The program “requires all ESL students to make Writing Center visits an integral part of their process for each writing assignment”. At the first appointment, the student reviews his ideas with the tutor, and the tutor assists with organization and clarification. At the second meeting, a first draft is reviewed with global issues given the priority. The conclusions of the study of the implementation of this procedure show that the Idea Check program appears to have positively changed the way that ESL students use the Writing Center.

Writing Centers are a great resource for helping ESL students because teachers may not have the time to dedicate to continuous one-on-one conferencing with each student. Harris and Silva also discuss ways that tutors and teachers can help ESL student writers. One of their most important points is that “there is a tendency to think about ESL students as if they’re all alike when obviously they’re not”. So each student should be treated as an individual.

When peer tutoring, all errors should not be given the same priority. The authors note that when looking at first drafts by ESL students, sometimes the differences in writing style or the types of errors that the student makes might be overwhelming; the tutor may not know where to start. The first step is to acknowledge what the writer has done well. Moving forward, global errors that affect the reader’s understanding should be given priority. Reading aloud is not always an effective proofreading method for ESL students, Silva and Harris note, because some students are not proficient enough in English to “edit by ear”.

One of the most important things that I learned about tutoring/teaching ESL students is that one must understand that these students are trying to learn a whole new language at the same time that they are learning to be effective writers. One of the best things that a teacher/tutor can do is to help these students succeed in the long run by preparing them to not only succeed in college, but to also be successful in their future careers. In order to do that, we must resist the urge to over-correct or to do the writing for them by simply supplying students with better vocabulary choices and corrected grammar.

First Draft of Project

This is the first draft of my project. I would like to use one of the digital tools to link to very short interviews of some of the people in my life. I will be asking, "What defines a writer?" and "Am I a writer? Why/why not?"
                                                         That Writing Moment
                                                          That Writing Journey



When do you become a writer?

At what point can you call yourself a writer?

Am I a writer?

Is it what’s inside that defines me as a writer? Does my mind work in a certain way that places me in this role? Or is it the output? Do I need to produce something tangible? What specifically do I need to produce to earn the coveted title of writer?

Is there a word count requirement? A certain format to follow?

Should I be published before I call myself a writer?

Do I need to wait for a HarperCollins or a Random house to start breaking down my door? Will it count if I publish myself?

Was I a writer back in 1996, when I was just a ten year old girl writing her first chapter book in her little-girl bedroom?

Does someone need to read my work in order for it to count? If so, how many readers do I need? Specifically.

Who gets to judge my writing? Teachers? Mom? Husband? Best Friend Who Hates Reading? Dog?

We all know that business about the tree falling in the woods and blah, blah blah…  Well if I write, but no one ever reads it, was I ever a writer at all?

What if I never finish writing that novel (or that other one)?

Worse yet, what if I publish that novel (or that other one) to great success, but can never write anything of value ever again? What if I am the Right Said Fred of writing?

Do I need to be a serious writer? There are 56 people following a Vampire Diaries fan fiction that I started in 2012 (and never intend to finish); it has been viewed over 7,000 times. Am I a writer yet?

Do I need to earn more than reviews to be a real writer? If so, does that coveted title get handed over along with the first reader’s dollar, or do I need to earn a certain amount before I’m deserving of such a title?

If I write a blog, will real writer’s scoff at me? Will they let me join their club?

What if I write a thesis, but can’t string together a few lines of dialogue? What if I produce narrative after narrative but can’t remember what a haiku is?

What if I’m published posthumously? Was I a writer in life?

What if, after I’m famous and very much dead, my husband finds those horrifyingly, humorously embarrassing poems that I wrote when I was eight and publishes those too? Should I leave a note in my will to burn those poems and never let them see the light of day?

Is there a specific moment when you become a writer? Is it the first time that you write in your diary,  or that time that you wrote your first chapter book at age ten in your little-girl bedroom, or when you penned all of those horrifyingly, humorously embarrassing poems, or when you wrote fan fiction or a blog post or a narrative, or when you got an A in that composition class, or finished that novel (or that other one), or got an agent and then a publisher, or when you first saw one of your novels on a bookstore shelf or in the library or on Amazon, or was it when you finally remembered what a haiku is and actually tried your best (and failed) to write one?

Is this the point that I can call myself a writer?

Murray and Sommers: Revision

English teachers “do not appreciate the importance or the excitement of revision”, argues Donald M. Murray in “Teach the Motivating Force of Revision”. Murray points out that rewriting is frequently used as a punishment and sends the message: you didn’t get it right the first time. But do writers ever get it right the first time? Murray doesn’t think so. Meaning is discovered through revision, through rewriting and rewriting.

            Murray goes on to say that process-centered writing curriculum provides the opportunity for students to experience that discovery. Rewriting becomes exciting when students discover that revision is not about conforming to rules or exercises.  However, he stresses that teachers must also experience discovery along with their students. “The single most dramatic change that can be made,” Murray notes, “is for the teacher to write with the students”.  Writing is a challenge that should be shared by teacher and student.   

            In Nancy Sommers’s “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers”, the author begins by critiquing a theory of writing that “makes revision both superfluous and redundant”, in which revision is no more than an afterthought.  Sommers details a three year study that she conducted to examine the revision process of the two writing groups mentioned in the title. Through the study, Sommers redefines revision as “a sequence of changes in a composition—changes which are initiated by cues and occur continually throughout the writing of a work”.

            Sommers begins by noting that student writers did not seem comfortable with the word revision. Instead, they used terms like “reviewing” or “redoing” to define the process. When revising, these writers asked themselves if they could find better words to use or simply look for repetition in their work. They did not use revision as a way to modify or develop their ideas—they simply polished.

            The revision strategies for the experienced writers were very different. They defined revision as “rewriting”. Actual reconstruction was taking place during the process, and they felt the need to deconstruct their work and put it back together in a way that strengthened the meaning. They also examined their work for readability. They used revision as a process to discover meaning. Sommers concludes by noting that the student writers failed to share this sense of writing as discovery. The experienced writers had this sense “that writing is a repeated process of beginning over again, starting out new” and should “create dissonance”.


            As far as the title for the writing process, my only concern is that we find a title or theme that works for everyone because I think that most of us have either already started something or have a concrete idea of what we would like to contribute. I don’t have anything new to add, but I liked Tobey’s  “The writing Connection” or “That Moment in Writing”, and I liked Laura’s “Writing Matters”.


Response to Bean’s "Writing Comments on Students’ Papers"

For the most part, I found myself responding well to John C. Bean’s “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers” which begins: “Perhaps nothing involves us so directly in the messiness of teaching writing as our attempts to comment on our students’ essays”.  Bean’s article is certainly readable and his ideas were easy to follow. He articulates how easy it is, as a teacher, to forget that there is a person behind each essay that is being read (sometimes ripped apart for errors) and graded.  It’s also easy to forget, that as a writer, a strong feeling of vulnerability usually accompanies allowing someone to read your work—especially if that person is in a position to judge you. Bean advises teachers to be more mindful of the comments that they write on students papers because the worst comments can insult and even dehumanize a student.

I laughed out loud at some of the interviewed students’ responses to marginal comments. When a teacher wrote “Be more specific”, one response was “You be more specific”. Another student responded to the comment, “You haven’t really thought this through” with “How do you know what I thought?” It’s funny because when you really think about it, how illogical are these comments! How do you know what the student was thinking? (You don’t!)

The conclusions of the study, which Bean quoted, showed that negative comments “stifle further attempts at writing”. So how can we help students? Bean writes that it helps to point out what the writer is doing well. However, you can’t fabricate anything. The comments are only helpful if they are “truthful, and they must be very specific”. Bean goes on to note that current brain research stresses the correlation between emotions and learning. Fear, anxiety, and anger are learning blockers. Teachers should strive to build their students’ hope and confidence.

One way to improve the quality of comments is to use “mitigating” comments which frame criticism in a positive way. Bean gives two examples of end comments; I immediately responded positively to the mitigated comment. Therefore, it did not surprise me to learn that Smith’s study showed that students preferred mitigated comments as well. Bean writes, “To improve our techniques for commenting on our students’ papers, then, we need to remember our purpose, which is not to point out everything wrong with the paper but to facilitate improvement”. He proposes that teachers play two roles: at the drafting stage, teachers should be coaches. It is not until a student turns in a final draft that a teacher’s role shifts to that of a judge. Therefore, comments should guide revision, and comments should not appear until a late stage rough draft is produced. Commenting too early can interfere with creation of a good draft. Another alternative to commenting on late stage drafts is to allow for rewrites of final drafts.

Bean asserts that commenting in this way (to prompt revision) helps to change a teacher’s view as reader. He says, “You begin seeing yourself as responding to rather than correcting a set of papers”. I can see that reflected in the examples of marginal comments that Bean provides. Many of his comments are questions rather than statements. It conveys this idea of being a coach because it gives the sense that a conversation is taking place between the reader and the writer.

I also agree with Bean’s idea that in a rough draft, you don’t need to comment on everything and can limit your comments to a few things that the writer needs to work on. Teachers should read “for ideas rather than for errors”. Bean advises that you should coach through higher level concerns and then, after a good, successful draft is produced, for lower level concerns like sentence level errors such as spelling and grammar. I think that this is a great idea that benefits both students and teachers. If there are global issues, why bother correcting spelling errors?

Bean only lost me when he got to the section that explained his policy on “minimal marking” of sentence level errors. He says that it is most beneficial when students are told there are errors but must find and correct them themselves. Bean writes, “How high I raise the grade depends on how successful the student is in reducing the number of sentence errors”. Here, a teacher either puts a certain number of checkmarks to indicate how many errors are in a certain sentence, or the teacher simply states that there are errors somewhere in the paper. This is much too vague! And, it’s not helpful! I don’t agree with this policy at all. It seems like a waste of time for a student who will most likely end up scouring their paper for errors and second guessing every detail of their writing. I think that pointing out the error creates a learning experience. Furthermore, this policy assumes that all of the students are at the same level of understanding when it comes to style and mechanics. It’s just not likely that this is true…

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this article and I think that I took away some great ideas. I think this will really influence how I respond to students’ papers in the future.

Regarding the digital tools, I think that some of these are really great, and I look forward to using them in the future. However, I don’t know that any that I looked at would benefit this project. I like the idea of using Wix as a home for our collaborative project. I have an idea for my personal contribution, but I’m still working out the details.

Response to Elbow and Voice

Peter Elbow mentions a few goals that he hopes his essay “Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries” achieves. He hopes that the information that he provides will help his audience embrace contraries and step outside of either/or thinking. He asserts that readings can be read in two ways: through the lens of voice and also reading them through the lens of “text” or not-voice”. Elbow writes that by accepting both/and into our methodology it allows us to adopt contrary stances toward voice.

Elbow begins the essay by mentioning that while the 1960’s saw a boom in the idea of getting voice into writing and then was immediately followed by critiques about voice in writing, not much has been said about the topic lately. He writes, “I see a kind of stalemate about voice in writing”.

                Interestingly, Elbow notes that most writing used to occur in the classroom and at work, but now that the internet is a staple, this is no longer true. Writers are not only writing for a judging authority anymore; they are writing for strangers now.

                Elbow goes on to discuss reasons for (and reasons for not) attending voice in texts. He says, “This conflict about voice in our field echoes a much older conflict about the self in language”. As far as his reasons for attending, he notes that voice can be described in terms of style and that can be very helpful to students. Also, readers may enjoy and connect to the writing more because they feel like they can relate to it and, it can feel less intimidating.

                His arguments for not attending include the notion that ignoring voice is necessary for good reading because students improve their ability to analyze. Also, avoidance of voice can be a powerful tool. Elbow notes that sometimes writers don’t want to have their presence felt by the reader.

                I feel that this article gave me a much better understanding of the argument. And in terms of the final project, I missed the last class, but I got an idea of what was discussed by some of my classmates. So far, I like the direction that this revised idea is heading toward.

Blog 2: A Response to Sommers and Yancey

Sommers and "Responding to Student Writing":

In “Responding to Student Writing”, Nancy Sommers addresses the issue of teacher’s comments on student’s writing. She mentions that comments are the most used but least understood method for response. The purpose of comments is to motivate a student to revise their work or do something different for the next assignment, yet Sommers feels that vague or confusing comments do not lead to the constructive criticism that a student needs in order to improve.    

Sommers conducted a year-long study that led to two interesting findings concerning teacher’s comments on student’s papers. The first is that commentary can take attention away from a student’s purpose in writing and turn the attention toward the teacher’s purpose in commenting. This means that when a student reads comments and prepares to revise a paper, they oftentimes make changes that the teacher wants, not changes that they, as the writer, deem necessary.

Next, Sommers looks at how commentary can become confusing to a student. Sometimes interlinear comments and marginal comments are contradictory. A student is being told to edit and develop new material at the same time.

Sommers’s second finding is that most comments are not text specific and can be interchangeable. Here is where we see such comments as: “think about your audience”, “avoid the passive”, and “be clear”. These are no more than generalities and abstract demands; there is no specific advice or strategies being offered to the student. In this case, revision becomes a guessing game.

The challenge then, Sommers writes, is to give reason for revision; show the student his or her potential for development; be specific. She goes on to mention that the problem most likely arises due to poor training. Teachers, for the most part, are not trained in response to students during teacher-training and writing workshops. According to Sommers, “The problem is that most of us as teachers of writing have been trained to read and interpret literary texts for meaning, but, unfortunately, we have not been trained to act upon the same set of assumptions in reading student texts as we follow in reading literary texts”. Therefore, when reading a student’s work, we read with a bias and that bias determines how we comprehend what is being read. Changes must be made in the way that teachers are trained and the way that teachers comment on student work. To not make such changes would be doing a disservice to teachers and students alike.


Yancey “On Reflection”:

In “On Reflection”, Yancey focuses her interest on reflection as “a means of going beyond the text to include a sense of the ongoing conversations that text enters into”. She calls for a using student talk differently so that students can participate as agents of their own learning.

After reading the article, this is what I learned about reflection:

·         It is self-assessment which is oriented to the gap between intention and accomplishment.

·         It entails projection or goal setting.

·         Reflection, according to Yancey is “the process by which we know what we have accomplished and by which we articulate accomplishment” and, it is also “the product of those processes.

·         Its purpose is to provide insight.

·         Reflection provides a means of bringing practice and theory together.

·         It is habitual and learned.

·         Reflection requires both kinds of thinking: scientific and spontaneous.

·         Language is critical for reflection.

·         Finding the “problem” is a key feature and is also the first critical step.

·         Reflection is a social process, but is also an individual one.

·         Reflection is rhetorical: “by reflecting on our work, we theorize our own practices” and we come to know, understand, and improve our work.

·         It is both a process and a product.

·         Reflection is “not only aside the drafts, but within them”.


On the Final Project:

I missed class last week, but after looking over the collaborative notes I feel that I would be most interested in working on the writer’s handbook. I agree that it might be better to write for teachers. I also think that I would prefer to have an analog version.