“50 Years of Research on Writing: What Have We Learned?”

Found this video tonight. It’s neat to see Peter Elbow in the flesh (heheh, as opposed to the spirit? ;-)).

Three of the world’s leading scholars in the field of writing instruction and research examine the state of knowledge in the field and its relevance to questions about teaching and learning writing at all levels of education Series: “Voices” [11/2006] [Humanities] [Show ID: 12014]

Fortunately, 95% of what they say, I already knew (yay :-)) but it does serve as a good overview of composition studies. Peter Elbow, Charles Bazerman, and George Hillocks go over what we think we know and how we know it, about the teaching of writing. It was recorded July 20, 2006 at UCSB.

My rough notes:

Peter Elbow: We should exploit human voice/speaking in teaching writing. … A change in identity – “I’m a writer” – helps students write better.

Fact: Writing takes place through time. Different mentality, different foci at different times. Can be sloppy and open-minded, not critical, not rigorous… then the reverse, very rigorous. The dimension of time, then, seems very crucial. Multiple mentalities while you go through the process of writing something.

AUDIENCE. A person’s sense of audience has a big effect on language production. Easy to write if we have a safe audience. But we can also take time to not think about audience, espe if a hard audience.
Students write best if they write for a variety of audiences… judging audience, non-judging, peers, teachers… published, not published. Worst – when the piece only goes to the teacher. Teacher becomes not person, but judge. Need low, medium and high stakes writing

18:59 Charles Bazerman, Prof of Education, UCSB. Research that is more empirical… The learning of writing… is a craft and an art invovling lots of local decision, inventivness, getting people’s attention, saying something germane, often some kind of novel to get people involved. Germaneness is always important. And that involves local judgments and judgments filtered through the wrirter’s consciousness at that time. You’ve got to decide, in your head. SO that kind of performance always is going to escape any generalizable or evidentiary bec it is a human judgemnt.
Psychological issues – will be knowable many only in practice.
Teachers – lots of local judgements, evaluations of interactions, what should I say at this moment?, what is the right assigment for this class at this point?
23:45 All this knowing cannot be reducible to generalizations. Even if you could get some of this in books, there’s a lot that involves human contact and human mentoring.
26:00 Writing is a kind of self-creating reality. And that is self-fulfilling. One can develop a certain path, but there are other paths, too.
27:00 Writing is historical. Speech is coincident with being human.
30:30 Assessment is something we know far too much about. :)
31:40 Medical impacts of writing. Blood pressures go down, that kind of thing. Somehow, writing can have something to with immune system (that’s hypothesis).

33:35 George Hillocks
There’s a lot we know that doesn’t get used. A lot of beliefs, a lot of lore. There’s a heavy concern with grammar, organization, but very little concern with the content. We do know that when students attend to developing the content of the writing and to do learning the strategies for doing that, the writing improves by most judgments, and it improves more than in other kind of foci for instruction (YES!).

36:50 Most students do not write specifically. They write in generalities. Not concrete. Problem, how to get them to be more concrete. The next thing is to get them to do that without them getting frustrated. “Be more specific,” he’d mark in margins. They didn’t know what I meant to be more specific. SO need an activity to show them how to be more specific.

Example of his kids looking at details of seashells. Uses a helmet shell. He pumped them for metaphor. They could see it as an ear, a shark’s mouth, etc. Everyone’s working from a common cultural experience. There many different images they could derive from this shell. They were using figurative language, even though he didn’t tell them about figurative language. “What does that sound like?” “How would you describe it?” “Tell me about what it sounds like that’s not it.”

45:00 A lot of the LORE doesn’t work. 1) Traditional school grammar. Grammar was associated in the middle ages with magical properties. “glamour” is related to “grammar”. To glamour is to cast a spell.
80% of 300 teachers had grammar as a secondary focus. Grammar wasn’t first, but it wasn’t far away. We have evidence that almost anything else is better in helping kids improve their writing.
They have to know how to puncutate, but they don’t have to know how to parse sentences.

48:20 Sheridan Blau’s summary
52:00 Composition research has had little impact on teaching [I think he means k-12].

55:00 Peter Elbow.
Dewey said you do not learn by experience unless you reflect on experience.


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