Academic journal article Reader

Promoting Reading Centered Writing Assignments

Academic journal article Reader

Promoting Reading Centered Writing Assignments

Article excerpt

Most definitions of college-level writing put reading at the center, emphasizing that interaction with others' ideas-ideas taken in, recomposed, talked back to through reading-is the hallmark of academic writing. As Doug Brent asserts, "Neither teachers nor theoreticians have ever seriously doubted that reading and writing are intimately connected" (xi). And yet despite this belief, in many first-year writing courses, including many of the courses in the writing program I direct, writing assignments are not reading-centered. They may appear so on the surface because reading is assigned and writing is produced, but, on closer examination, the reading and the writing are not "intimately connected." Instead, as David Jolliffe outlines in his review article "Learning to Read as Continuing Education," reading is assigned but the writing assignments that follow do not require close, critical reading. He classifies these reading-uncentered assignments in three categories: springboard assignments in which students write about their own experiences and opinions using the reading as a prompt, imitation assignments in which the reading serves as a model of a pattern of writing, and summary assignments in which students use the texts they have read as evidence to support a position they have already identified (477).

Much of the thinking about the interconnection of reading and writing was published in the 80's, but composition still needs the insights that were generated then by Anthony Petrosky, Charles Bazerman, Mariolina Salvatori, and others. In reading-centered writing assignments, as Petrosky describes the process, the reading assignment "teaches us how to think" about the issue at hand and "begs us to speak our minds about what we have read" asking us "to substantiate our interpretations and opinions-our readings-with evidence" in the accompanying writing assignment (21). While the fairly standard practice of beginning a writing project with assigned readings looks like an indication of an assignment in which students develop ideas about the text they have read as they compose their writing, often this is not the case. As Bazerman argues in "A Relationship Between Reading and Writing: The Conversational Model," the danger of not using reading-centered assignments is that "[w]hen we ask student to write purely from their selves, we may tap only those prior conversations that they are still engaged in and so limit the extent and variety of their thinking and writing" (661). If we want to give students opportunities to think beyond what they already know, we need to give them assignments that ask them to use what they have read to extend their thinking.

In this paper, I want to touch on three problems that help to explain why some composition instructors shy away from reading-centered assignments, then suggest some remedies for these problems at the writing program level, and finally discuss the problems raised by the remedies. I am speaking from my experience as the writing program director at a small, private college with no graduate program in English, a program in which writing instructors, adjuncts and faculty, choose their own textbooks and plan their own courses. These conditions constitute a considerable constraint on my ability to influence other writing instructors' teaching practices.

The first problem working against reading-centered assignments is the big one, students' reluctance to read. We are all familiar with the current distress over students' lack of reading experience and ability, and the particular distress of college instructor over their students' lack of experience as critical readers of difficult texts. While I think that this distress is somewhat overblown-and that Jolliffe and Harl's recent College English article, focusing on students' existing competencies as readers, is a useful corrective-it underscores the importance of putting reading at the center of writing assignments and, at the same time, suggests one reason that instructors may be hesitant to do so. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.