John Levine’s “Writing Dialogue in the College Composition Classroom”

As I was looking for something on Adrienne Rich on revision to apply to my Anne Sexton paper, I found this: John Levine’s “Writing Dialogue in the College Composition Classroom”

I like this idea — having students write actual dialogues between writers/scholars as a way of helping them learn to enter academic conversations. Levine here describes what he tells his students:

“Please get out a piece of paper. . . . I want you to imagine that you are the moderator of a panel discussion on revision (`re-vision’). The distinguished members of your panel include Adrienne Rich, Paul Auster, and John Edgar Wideman. Construct an imagined dialogue among the four `voices’ (the three essayists plus you) on the topic of writing as `re-vision.'”

I explain that I want them to format the dialogue as though it were a script. They are to write the panelist’s name, followed by a colon, followed by his or her words. I put a model up on the blackboard.

Rich: Xxxxx xxx . . .

Auster: Xxxxx xxx . . .

Wideman: Xxxxx xxx . . .

You (Your Name): Xxxxx xxx . . .

. . . and so on . . .

Levine gives some examples of student-written dialogues as well as some of their evaluations of how the exercise worked for them. Not a magic bullet (nothing is), but definitely a good way to help students enter academic conversations.

And I like this “you’re a moderator” analogy for dialogue, for entering conversations. Seems like it would work pretty well — kind of like the “you’re a lawyer” analogy for writing arguments that I’ve often used with students during writing center sessions.

P.S. Levine’s article is part of the National Writing Project’s “30 Ideas For Teaching Writing” which is available for download. (Read later)


One thought on “John Levine’s “Writing Dialogue in the College Composition Classroom”

  1. What I really like about this is that writing dialogue supports the “entering the conversation” concept we teach – they say and they say and I say. Asking students to write dialogue also makes them find suitable quotes to position in the interaction. Sometimes students can create a hypothetical conversation – imagine what Mike Rose would say to Amy Tan – he would tell her – – -. If students can do this, they can then imagine juxtaposing positions. If we can get students to write at least 2 rounds of back and forth, we can help break through the usual pattern of – teacher says – student replies – teacher says – a different student replies – with no student-student conversation, just one to one. An exercise like this can also help students understand why they need to introduce their speakers and might alleviate the bad “drop quote” habit. So we would see:

    Mike Rose, currently a UCLA professor, describes his experience in Voc Ed program in a Catholic high school, says: “We were just treading water, floating to the bar that is set” (page#).

    Amy Tan, author of Joy Luck Club, replies: “In my high school, teachers assumed that I, like all the Chinese students, would excel in science and therefore I should not waste my time with English.”

    Rose would agree about how students must dull themselves to survive, and reply: “That’s just twisting the knife in the grey matter.”

    Stephen Jay Gould, author of “Women’s Brains,” thinks these assumptions of women’s lack of intelligence hinders their education, saying, “these sorts of measurements are injurious and irrelevant.” Gould would invite Maria Montessori, Italian educator and founder of the famous and popular Montessori Schools, to speak. Montessori would say: “Women are in fact more intelligent than men.”

    As for me, I would agree with Tan, Rose, Gould, and Montessori because my experience shows that female students excel in all areas of study.

    etc – etc – etc.

    Let’s make an assignment like this for the new TA’s to use in WR 121!

    Thanks, Laura! And good luck finishing the Sexton paper.

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