English 281A

When I signed up for this class, I thought I was doing it to fulfill my comp. credit with something a little more interesting than a first-year composition course. Little did I realize it would revolutionize my thinking about writing!

The premise of the class was that it is impossible to teach people to write, to prepare students to write well in every situation. At least, that is the contention of English teachers like Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle, who published our textbook, Writing About Writing. Instead of teaching people how to write, they teach them to understand the process of writing, so that they can teach themselves. Thus, their course is an introduction to Writing Studies.

Writing Studies is a relatively new field, still lacking a major, but it is important because, like any human activity, writing is worthy of study, and by writing I mean not merely the product, but the process itself. Writing Studies is practical because, like piano or singing, writing well requires proper technique, and proper technique requires proper understanding. It is also necessary to address the failures of English courses to accomplish their unrealistic goals of making students able to write "academic discourse." "Academic discourse" consists of many different genres, and research has shown that students do not usually transfer skills learned in one genre to another genre.

The goal of this course is to teach awareness of genre and many other aspects of writing, so that students can better understand and learn various writing genres they encounter, and improve as writers. At the same time, we practice writing skills through our own Writing Studies research projects.

My project analyzed the effects of writing reading responses on students’ memory of their reading. I will post it here sometime.

One of the articles I read for research that is not in the presentation is “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” by Linda Flower and John Hayes. It is brilliant! It explains how the process of writing consisted of hierarchically ordered or nested processes, which are organized in terms of hierarchically ordered and continually evolving goals. In essence, it is like a computer program with various subroutines, or a piece of music with recurring themes continually recombined in new ways, but never in a set pattern, because they are directed by an intelligence.

Art of a Mathematician