The month of August has brought a number of transitions, not the least of which is that I begin teaching at CMU next week. There are two courses that I will be doing this fall; one is a writing methods course for K-8 pre-service teachers and the other an intermediate composition course. More on composition next week, but for now I thought that I would post some of my thinking about writing methods as I created my syllabus.
I must say that sections of this intro to the course are taken from my department chair, Marcy Taylor’s syllabus, but I have added a few things. I forgot how much a syllabus can, in a sense, be a teaching philosophy of sorts, and I really enjoyed crafting this introductory part of the document. In my next post (and once I have the assignment refined a little more), I will post what I plan to call the “Educational Contexts Multigenre Research Project.” For now, here are some of my thoughts on writing and teaching writing, as represented in my syllabusÂ for this fall’s class.
In â€œThe Neglected â€˜Râ€™: The Need for a Writing Revolution,â€ the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges begin their report by claiming that
Writing is how students connect the dots in their knowledge. Although many models of effective ways to teach writing exist, both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years. (2003, p. 6)
Given this national context, we will explore models of teaching writing while attempting to understand why and how writing is being â€œshortchangedâ€ in our schools. A complex task, teaching writing requires that we understand why and how people choose to write, what methods are appropriate in certain situations, how social-cultural and cognitive factors play into individual writing processes, and the effects of newer technologies and multiple literacies on what constitutes â€œgoodâ€ writing instruction.
Good writing instruction requires more than following a textbook. A trusted scholar and practitioner, Lucy Calkins offers a vision for what it means to be a teacher of writing:
If our teaching is to be an art, we must draw from all we know, feel and believe in order to create something beautiful.Â To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential.Â It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art but the selection, balance and design of those ideas. (1994, p. 3)
Thus, this course is designed to help you make wise decisions about the â€œselection, balance and designâ€ of writing in your elementary-level classrooms. Think of it as a workshop; the emphasis will be on creating and critiquing ideas about writing pedagogy through a hands-on approach. It is designed to focus on five basic areas of preparation:Â your own writing; reading and discussion; working with children in the classroom; creating teaching materials; and written reflection on the first four.
Methods courses can never be only about â€œmethodsâ€ or lesson planning alone. Many students expect to get a â€œbag of tricksâ€ or â€œset of strategiesâ€ from the class that they can simply take and use directly as lessons in their classrooms. This is reasonable. Because you are anxious to get out and have your own classroom, I can understand why you may be impatient with what you see as theory or â€œbusy work.â€ My goal is that you come to realize is that â€œtheoryâ€ is all you have with which to filter the events of the classroom; you wonâ€™t know what to do completely until you get there. Think of this class as offering a theory, an approach, to writing instruction, one that will define writing and literacy in a broad manner.
For that definition, we turn to Anstey and Bull who offer us a vision of what literacy pedagogy, when deeply and critically theorized, can look like:
[L]iteracy pedagogy must teach students to be flexible, tolerant of different viewpoints, and able to problem solve, analyse situations, and work strategically. They must be able to identify the knowledge and resources they have and combine and recombine them to suit the particular purpose and context. Consequently, school classrooms and teachersâ€™ pedagogy must encourage, model, and reflect these sorts of behaviours. The content and pedagogy of literacy programs must reflect the literate practices of local to global communities and equip students for change. Educators cannot hope to teach students all they need to know, as this will change constantly. But teachers can equip their students with the knowledge, skills, strategies, and attitudes that will enable them to meet new situations and cope with them. (2006, p. 18)
No small task, indeed. Learning how to teach writing may involve unlearning how you were taught writing. It may challenge your conceptions of what a â€œgoodâ€ writer is and should be able to do. Thus, the focus of this course will be on practicing the strategies of a writing workshop approach as filtered through the multiple lenses of curriculum and pedagogy, practice and theory. This applies to both traditional written texts (e.g., stories, essays, and poems) and those composed with newer technologies and in multiple media (e.g., hypertexts, audio, video, and other multimedia).
One of the most fundamental tenets that scholars in our field argue is that teachers of writing need also to be writers. It is my goal as your teacher to help you become both a better writer and teacher of writing in different genres, for different purposes, and across various audiences. By the end of the course, you will believe the mantra, â€œI am a writer.â€
- Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
- Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.
- National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges. (2003). The Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution. Available: www.writingcommission.org/prod_downloads/writingcom/neglectedr.pdf