When my reading in Bloglines doesn’t spark any ideas for a post, I have taken to clicking on the “writing” tag on the WordPress site. Today, after a couple false starts, I came across a post by someone I was totally unfamiliar with, Patrick Higgins, at Chalkdust101. In this post Higgins links to an article by Bradley Hammer about writing and thinking and thinking about writing.
Talking about high school students entering college, he says:
Often they’re shocked to discover that effective academic writing is more complex than adherence to grammatical rules.
…“standards-driven” high school writing is hindering student interest. Without real opportunities for students to publish their writing, they will assess that they write not for meaning, intellectual discovery, communication or understanding, but rather in obligatory, outdated, punitive and procedural ways to obtain grades. Consequently, as students spend their years of education consumed with standardized tests, they learn to write — and think — in ways that fail to offer rich and critical contexts for learning.
Writing courses that remain wedded to the genre and methods of the past merely limit students’ ability to imagine their work as real. The traditional argumentative essay does not force students to engage critically with complex reasoning “about” an issue, but rather merely instructs them on how to argue “for” or “against” it.
The article was filled with a lot that I need to go back and read again. I know it got me thinking about how I am teaching writing. And it feeds into my concern about how I would use blogs with my students. No, actually, that isn’t true. It helps me see possibilities for using blogs that I hadn’t really seen before.
And back to Higgins’ post, he invited Hammer to talk to the English department where he is about writing. He reports on Hammer’s comments:
Most of his work, he stated, is deconstructing what the students come in with. For example, he stated that 15 years ago, it was common for students to arrive at the college campus with very poor argumentative skills: weak ability to write strong theses, very little support for arguments in their writing. Now, they all arrive knowing how to “do the essay.” Formulaic, straightforward positions, support at all the appropriate turns, and of course, an adherence to the five-paragraph format. His work is to get them away from “doing the essay,” to caring about the essay.
His work is about teaching students to deconstruct their own biases in their writing so that when confronted with a traditional topic (he used abortion in our our conversation as an example) the students would begin to generate questions about the factors that define the topic rather than automatically deciding which side of the argument to sit on. For the students in his writing class, it’s not about whether or not you can convince someone of something, but rather that you get an understanding of yourself through an issue presented to you.
As someone who cares about writing and teaches writing, there is a lot for me to think about there. I will write about it more after I have had more time to think about my own situation in light of those words.
I’ve added Chalkdust101 to my Bloglines account, so you can expect to read more from Higgins here in the future.