I Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing

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I Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing by Karen Surman Paley Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press, 2001. xvi, 236 pp, Paper. $25.00USD. ISBN 0809323516.

Karen Surman Paley in I Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing gives composition teachers a deeper look into how writing about personal experiences can be helpful in developing students' voices because many of the personal experiences have shaped who the students are as people. The author deconstructs some of the criticism of expressivist writing, a type of writing she feels is a necessary part of college composition classes. She also attempts to "...unravel a taxonomy of composition... that posits a binary between pedagogies that valorize the expression of the personal and those that emphasize the social." (173).

The bulk of I Writing consists of ethnographic studies of two classrooms at Boston College where Paley teaches. The first, taught by Helena, an African American doctoral student, is a decidedly expressivist classroom. Through specific examples of students in Helena's class, Paley shows how writing about a personal experience can provide growth to student writing. For example, one student writes an essay about her father's alcoholism and is able to make a lot of progress with her writing by working through a paper of such personal significance. She also demonstrates how expressivist classrooms defy the stereotype of being overly concerned with personal issues by presenting a case study of a student who begins the semester writing only about personal issues but then later uses the insight gained from writing about these issues to focus on the larger topic of homelessness. In addition, she deals with some of the major criticism of expressivist writing by showing how Helena deals with a student who reveals an extremely personal situation in one of her essays. …