September 09, 2012

Teaching Tip #3

Most writing teachers are familiar with the Process Approach to Writing.  This particular pedagogy holds that the act of writing (all writing) is a creative "process."  Gone is the expectation that an instructor assigns a writing assignment one day and two weeks later receives a group of perfect essays without any intervention or collaboration from the discourse community of fellow classmates, Writing Center staff, and instructor.  In short, the idea is that the writing classroom is one in which students are perfecting a craft and "learning to write."  

As sound as this pedagogy may be, many instructors toss it aside for the old "one shot" model of writing and teaching writing.  Even though all writing is predicated on some type of process or set of processes, sometimes we still lead our students to believe that they (novice writers) should engage in this process alone.  Furthermore, they should just close their eyes, hope for the best, and submit their perfect essays by the due date.

Well, we know how this story usually ends.  If we don't truly teach The Process Approach, the vast majority of the grades on the first essay fall in the dreaded "C-" or "D" range.  We then bury our heads in the sand and hope that the next essays are better.

So why do writing instructors talk about the Process Approach but don't teach the Process Approach?  As with everything, we believe that we are cutting corners and saving time.  There are, however, hidden benefits to using the Process Approach that may appear on the surface to add extra work to our already over extended loads.  But in the end, the benefits far out way any presumed extra work.

Benefit #1 On the surface, it may seem as if you are reading/grading more, but you're actually grading the same essay multiple times.  The first draft gets the thorough close reading.  While any subsequent drafts of the same essay would include that first draft, all of its critiques and suggested improvements.  So by the time you read the final draft of this essay, you're simply scanning for the necessary changes.  You can now read this essay in a continuous stream focusing on content rather than form.

Benefit #2 Make the weight of the first draft low enough so that the novice writer isn't terribly penalized for a "crappy first draft."  But make the weight high enough so that the lazy student who neglects to submit a draft will have his/her laziness penalized sufficiently.

Benefit #3 Students actually learn to write.  Imagine that?  The Process Approach generally achieves its end.  If students cooperate, and the instructor scaffolds the writing assignments in the course effectively, students will become better writers by the end of the course than they were at the beginning.

And isn't that why we teach writing in the first place?