Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Curriculum and Affect: A Participatory Developmental Writing Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Curriculum and Affect: A Participatory Developmental Writing Approach

Article excerpt

Developmental writing programs have traditionally offered instruction "from the ground up" by asking students to master what are often seen as smaller, more manageable units of writing, such as the sentence, before moving on to tackle longer, more involved writing projects. Rationale for this gradualist approach has rested on the significant assumption that students will be less frustrated and make better progress if they first learn the "building blocks" of writing and then make use of them in writing courses that ask for more complex pieces of writing. Although specific approaches to writing instruction are best considered within local contexts, there is now a fairly well-established history of success in teaching developmental writing within a demanding, supportive, writing-intensive environment that asks developmental students to jump right in to conversations about literacy and how literacy issues such as correctness can play a part in shaping society (Bartholomae, 1985; Rodby & Fox, 2000; Rose, 1983). At the University of Minnesota General College we have come to call our approach to developmental writing-which incorporates critical thinking about literacy itself and a high level of student participation-- a curriculum of "literacy work."

However, when it comes to teaching freshmen and students marked as at-risk, one of the major concerns with such an approach is whether, and how, students develop as writers within courses that at first glance look like they could actually intimidate students into slowing down their learning or even quitting altogether (Delpit, 1995; Hairston, 1992). This article seeks to clarify how a curriculum informed by contemporary writing theory can serve developmental students. Specifically, we first explain the theory and then the practice of our literacy work approach to developmental writing. We follow this discussion with student assessments of their learning in order to highlight important outcomes of our participatory developmental writing program.

Theoretical Foundations

The writing courses at the General College, a developmental unit of a large, research university in the midwest, are grounded in a theoretical understanding of writing as a social practice (Brodkey, 1987; Fox, 1990; Coleman, 1995; Horner, 2000; Horner & Lu, 1999). This view emphasizes the ways in which writing is not really a single, stable, empirically definable, set of skills but is actually a wide variety of practices through which individuals are shaped by and shape society. Writing is social, then, in the sense that definitions of good writing constrain communication at the same time as they enable individuals to communicate. We use the term "literacy work" to name both the process and the outcomes of navigating these constraints and possibilities. Literacy simultaneously works on people by encouraging writers to conform to an accepted set of parameters and is put to work by people to influence peers and society and to shape expectations of language. From our theoretical perspective, learning writing means learning to participate consciously and reflectively in literacy work.

As a theory of writing instruction, literacy work brings together the insights of process theories of learning writing with social theories of knowledge as well as teachers' experiences of what works (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996; Olson, 2002). From process theory we learn that writing is not so much a correct version of words on a page; it is rather all of the overlapping practices of working alone and with others to get words and ideas down on paper and then reflect on them, perhaps share them, rethink them, revise them, try them out on audiences, assess the communication, and so forth. From a process perspective, contrary to what many students have been led to think by past experiences, literacy is not something that one has. It is things that people do. Recognizing this, process theory focuses on the doing of literacy, from reading assignments to generating ideas, talking with friends, drafting, and revising. …

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.