Supporting Students

Brannon and Knoblauch’s article, On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response makes the claim that student writers need to be given the same authority that published authors receive. My interpretation of this thesis is that students need to feel validated and encouraged. I agree that support of student-writers is essential to their success and the improvement of their writing skills. For example, during the revision process, teachers should be in the role of the coach, providing positive feedback in addition to constructive criticism as we discussed last week. The authors also argue that the role of the teacher is to “serve as a sounding-board enabling the writer to see confusions in the text and to encourage the writer to explore alternatives” (162). Such a supportive, not critical relationship allows students to more fully express themselves, instead of writing to appease the teacher. When the final evaluation comes, then teachers can play the role of the judge.

While their thesis of allowing students to have more control over their writing is valid, this argument rests on one key aspect of teaching in the classroom that Brannon and Knoblauch assume is not true - the lack of student choice. On the contrary, many teachers already do give students choice in what they write about. For example, they argue that “the writer wants to talk about how she got her first job while the teacher wants an exercise in comparison and contrast” (158). The later assignment does not sound like a writing prompt that I have seen in English Language Arts classrooms. In addition, the ELA teachers that I know do allow students to select their own topics and do serve as support. Our very own colleague, MaryKate showed us an example of student voice last week. She brought in a research paper where her student chose the Salem Witch Trials as a subject. Allowing students options and choice is considered best practice in education today because it fosters more intrinsic motivation to write. Brannon and Knoblauch’s article disregards the good work that many teachers are already engaged in. As a current teacher, I am personally offended that Brannon and Knoblauch’s work does not present an accurate portrayal of these teachers. Published in 1982, this article is no longer a valid representation of the state of teaching writing today in 2016. 

In previous weeks, our readings have usually tied in nicely together. However, this week, our second article, Richard Fulkerson’s Composition at the Turn of the 21st Century did not extend the ideas presented by Brannon and Knoblauch. Instead, Fulkerson provided an overview of the state of college composition theory. As a middle school teacher, this article is not particularly relevant to my day-to-day classroom teaching of writing. However, the questions Fulkerson raises about college writing could also be applied to English Language arts courses in the K-12 public education system. For instance, his first question, “What makes writing ‘good’?” (657) is a question public school teachers hope to answer with their students, regardless of their age. His third question, “How does one teach college students effectively?” (658) can also be applied to middle or high school students. These two questions are not only at the center of college composition courses but also of English Language Arts courses. The varying answers to these questions divide departments. Every Fall at the start of the new school year, I witness teachers blaming other teachers for students who they deem are “unprepared.” The underlying issue is that teachers hold different philosophies of education and follow different approaches. Not only does this create tension among educators but it ultimately hurts the students who are forced to learn how to adapt to new teacher expectations each September. Educators could best serve their students by becoming a more unified field.