I have trouble remembering the way writing was taught when I was in school. Teachers gave assignments and we tried to satisfy them. At the due date, we handed in the papers; later, the teacher handed them back with the grammatical errors marked and a letter grade penciled in at the end. The better teachers wrote some comments below the grade. By the time we saw these papers, the class had moved on to something else, so few of us paid much attention to anything besides the grade. That had been recorded in the grade book: the assignment was over.
All that seemed very natural at the time, though now—looking back on it as a teacher of writing—I find it to be rather odd. Why did my teachers seem to look on writing assignments more as tests than as opportunities to learn something? Why was I left so much on my own, cudgeling my brain for things to write about? And why was I never (not until my dissertation!) asked to rewrite anything? Although I had good English teachers in high school, I have to conclude that teaching writing was not their greatest strength.
Nowadays, when I look around at English teachers whom I admire, I see something quite different going on. They are teaching another way, looking on students as real writers, alert to students' purposes and needs. There are essential differences between this “process approach” and what my teachers did. For one, the teacher does not so much assign topics as construct occasions for writing. This may seem nebulous, more a question of attitude than method, but that is