Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction

Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction

Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction

Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction


To a degree unknown in practically any other discipline, the pedagogical space afforded composition is the institutional engine that makes possible all other theoretical and research efforts in the field of rhetoric and writing. But composition has recently come under attack from many within the field as fundamentally misguided. Some of these critics have been labelled "New Abolitionists" for their insistence that compulsory first-year writing should be abandoned. Not limiting itself to first-year writing courses, this book extends and modifies calls for abolition by taking a closer look at current theoretical and empirical understandings of what contributors call "general writing skills instruction" (GWSI): the curriculum which an overwhelming majority of writing instructors is paid to teach, that practically every composition textbook is written to support, and the instruction for which English departments are given resources to deliver. The vulnerability of GWSI is hardly a secret among writing professionals and its intellectual fragility has been felt for years and manifested in several ways:
• in persistently low status of composition as a study both within and outside of English departments;
• in professional journal articles and conference presentations that are growing both in theoretical sophistication and irrelevance to the composition classroom; and
• in the rhetoric and writing field's ever-increasing attention to nontraditional sites of writing behavior. But, to date, there has been relatively little concerted discussion within the writing field that focuses specifically on the fundamentally awkward relationship of writing theory and writing instruction. This volume is the first to explicitly focus on the gap in the theory and practice that has emerged as a result of the field's growing professionalization. The essays anthologized offer critiques of GWSI in light of the discipline's growing understanding of the contexts for writing and their rhetorical nature. Writing from a wide range of cognitivist, critical-theoretical, historical, linguistic and philosophical perspectives, contributors call into serious question basic tenets of contemporary writing instruction and provide a forum for articulating a sort of zeitgeist that seems to permeate many writing conferences, but which has, until recently, not found a voice or a name.


Jolseph Petraglia Georgia Instihite of Technology

The introduction-to-academic-anthology is a fairly staid genre. Its predictable purpose is to introduce the theme of the collection and suggest how each chapter provides coverage of that theme. in addition to serving those important functions here, however, I would like to draw the reader's attention to what I think of as the especially polemic value of this anthology, for although each of the chapters has the typical research aim of illuminating a theoretical framework, genre, context, or process, the volume also aims to be provocative. Taken together, these chapters are meant to focus our attention on the weak relationship of writing research and theory to writing instruction, or perhaps more accurately, to a particular framework for writing instruction: something that might be labeled general writing skills instruction (GWSI).

Defining the object of inquiry

Although the acronym is freshly minted, gwsi is undoubtedly familiar to everyone who has taught writing, for practically every contemporary approach to writing instruction from current-traditionalism and expressivism to "cognitivist" and "constructionist" curricula has, at its core, the idea that writing is a set of rhetorical skins that can be mastered through formal instruction. These skills include the general ability to develop and organize ideas, use techniques for inventing topics worthy of investigation, adapt one's purpose to an audience, and anticipate reader response. Conversely, although gwsi encompasses much of what we call composition . . .

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