This week’s reading by Janice M. Lauer discusses how researchers realized that the rhetorical model offers a better way to teach and learn writing. To do this, it focuses on how these researchers have, since the 1960s, continued to work hard to grow the field and keep offering up new and more informed theories that could make everyone a stellar writer. But Lauer recognizes the fact that 21st century students are not always experiencing the benefits of that research: “[The EDNA model] persists even though scholars…have exposed the inadequacy of this model and despite the fact that scholars…have developed more rhetorically based and relevant conceptions of genre” (20). If a deeper understanding of the best way to teach writing has been available for decades, why hasn’t it informed instruction in every writing classroom? In the reading, Lauer points to the teachers as the reason.
Teachers are, according to Lauer, unwilling to change, even if change is in the best interest of the students. She mentions that teachers continue to use the EDNA model in their classrooms despite its having been “theoretically repudiated” (Lauer 10). Although she states that “the reasons for this intransigence are multiple,” the majority of her reasons fault teachers (Lauer 10). She suggests that teachers’ education has not left them prepared for the task, stating that “a huge percentage of composition teachers are unfamiliar with the…work on modes and genres because they have not been educated in the field of rhetoric and composition” (Lauer 10). She also lays the blame on teachers for refusing to leave their comfort zones, choosing instead to continue implementing “theoretically repudiated” “modes of discourse” (Lauer 10). Lauer makes it appear as though the researchers she holds in such high regard have offered up their valuable findings to teachers who have not implemented them because they neither engage in professional development nor show a regard for what’s best for their students, preferring to “remain comfortable” (10).
Successful research, though, however enlightening, does not necessarily consider practical application. The studies to which Lauer refers in this chapter are just that–studies. Studies, by their very nature, implement controls, minimize variables, and cannot address every last item that might influence the teaching and learning that goes on in a classroom. Teachers’ lessons are not governed by theory alone, but must survive the scrutiny of supervisors, administrators, and their school boards. Teachers must consider the quality and availability of their materials, the need for differentiation, and the time constraints both for crafting the lesson and delivering it, among many other things. Even the most intelligent, creative, motivated, and open-minded teacher can find it challenging to implement these theories in a school structure that was not designed to accommodate them.
Lauer mentions that the decades of work in rhetoric and composition have “contributed to our understanding of written discourse and its teaching, opening hitherto unexplored aspects, building on previous work, critiquing or qualifying it, and sometimes challenging its underlying claims and arguments” (24). Her focus is on how researchers have increased their own understanding, found new aspects for themselves to explore, and spent time revisiting their own work–none of these accomplishments involves seeking real-life solutions that will make the school structure a more inhabitable space for the theories that have been developed. The most impressive theory won’t do any good if it is never implemented. I humbly submit that the researchers mentioned here should dig much deeper to find out why their theories have not been more widely adopted; the real work is not simply identifying that a change is needed, but figuring out how to effect that change.
Lauer, Janice M. “Rhetoric and Composition.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s), edited by Bruce McComisky, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006, 106-136.