Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom

By Barbara M. Sitko; Ann M. Penrose | Go to book overview
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At the beginning of a sequence of assignments, for example, teachers might choose a text for revision that is controversial in subject matter and fails to represent its audience clearly. Teachers could ask students to collect feedback from readers who differ in culture, background, or experience. It may be useful to assign students to work in teams. For example, one team might study how readers construct meaning when they are favorably disposed toward the topic while another team might study readers who are negative. Another team might study the response of experts on the subject matter while another might analyze the responses of a lay audience. Students who collect their own "inside stories" are in a more informed position to hypothesize about the textual features that cue responses from particular audiences. Each team could revise for an audience and then share their revisions and their rationales for textual changes in a presentation to the class. The idea is to create an educational environment that allows students to begin to form their own theories about literate practices and about how readers construct texts.

Another parallel activity for teachers who have access to computers involves having the classroom create a "readers' responses database." Each group could type into a computer file the readers' responses they collect. Then, the teacher can organize the computer files to highlight the differences in readers' responses to the text, either at the sentence, paragraph, or global level. Each student could then use the print-out of the computer file to guide revision of specific text features. Students may discover, for example, that one group of readers respond most specifically to poorly expressed arguments. Students working on revising for that audience might be prompted to focus their revision on the text's argument. Alternatively, another group of readers might call for elaboration. Students revising for that audience might be encouraged to work on building persuasive examples. By using the feedback they collect in this way, students can compare alternative social constructions of the same text and make reader-driven revisions.

Since the 1970s, our understanding of revision has increased and we have changed our definition of its processes and products. Revision is now seen as a recursive activity that calls on representing, evaluating, and modifying text. We now focus not merely on the number of changes writers make to a draft, but on whether the revisions help them in realizing their goals for the reader. But even with the progress that has been made in redefining revision, we are just beginning to turn research into action in the classroom.


Bartlett E. J. ( 1982). "Learning to revise: Some component processes". In M. Nystrand (Ed.), What writers know: The language, process, and the structure of written discourse (pp. 345-363). New York: Academic Press.

Berkenkotter C. ( 1981). "Understanding a writer's awareness of audience". College Composition and Communication, 32, 388-399.

Berkenkotter C. ( 1983). "Decisions and revisions: The planning strategies of a published writer". College Composition and Communication, 34, 156-169.


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Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom


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