Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Writerly Rules for Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Writerly Rules for Teachers

Article excerpt

34. Kuiper, N. A., L. J. Olinger, and R. A. Martin. "Dysfunctional Attitudes, Stress, and Negative Emotions." Cognitive Therapy and Research, 12 (1988), 533-47.

35. Kurfiss, J. G. Critical Thinking. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1988.

36. Langer, E. J. Mindfulness. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1989.

37. London, M. "Relationships between Career Motivation, Empowerment, and Support for Career Development." Journal of Occupational and Organizational Development, 66 (1993), 55-69. My premise derives from a couple of disheartening observations: There is little evidence that traditional faculty development programs improve teaching in lasting ways [59]. And, faculty development has no unifying themes or theories [40]. So, we might do better to look to an area like writing for direction. Writing offers more incentives for improvement than does teaching. And, writing attracts more systematic theory, research, and treatment than has teaching.

In this article I show how the most fundamental principles of professorial writing can be applied to teaching. To do this, I summarize much of what I have learned in twenty years of research and practice with writers and teachers. Initially, I derived rules about what worked to help writers find fluency and satisfaction [12, 13]. More recently, I tested those canons on colleagues working with me as writers and then as teachers [14]. The same basic precepts proved equally effective for both kinds of development.

Each of these "writerly rules" [45] has its justifications. First, each is a habit or attitude that distinguishes exemplary newcomers to the professoriate (new hires who find quick success as scholarly writers and as teachers [7, 8]). Second, each writerly rule reflects a practice proven effective for export (for example, "Let other people do some of the work"). That is, these principles most readily and reliably transfer from exemplars to new faculty who otherwise do not make quick starts as teachers or writers. And third, these writerly admonitions show the clearest links to research and practice in the field of composition [13, 24].

A first glance suggests what makes writerly rules different from the advice commonly given professors. These rules are more about the efficiencies and economies of writing than about usual questions of content or form. Writerly rules are more about how, than what, to write. When professors learn to work with a sense of ease and audience, the more complicated sorts of things that we commonly encourage them to try (for example, teaching writing across the curriculum) come more readily, more durably [39].

In everyday practice, these rules settle into six categories of application. The first two stages, about finding motivation and imagination, involve colleagues in faculty development well in advance of usual starting points for programs. Both are about waiting, patiently but actively, and about beginning before feeling ready. The middle stages confront the two developmental issues that make faculty most squeamish, regular schedules for working and self-control. Both are about calming and constancy, about getting more from less. The final two categories, about audience and resilience, extend developmental activities beyond customary practice. They encourage the exteriorization of moving away from isolation and the efficiency of solving the right problems.

The rules that emerge from these six categories offer new hope for professors who make or maintain little progress as teachers and writers. The writerly rules also provide a new theoretical perspective on teaching improvement, one that might unite our views of teaching improvement with established research in composition study and its unlikely ally, psychotherapy. Successes at teaching resemble successes in writing and everyday living.

Motivation: The First General Step

Reliable success at writing begins with finding motivation. …

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