Academic journal article Composition Studies

Of Pre- and Post-Process: Reviews and Ruminations

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Of Pre- and Post-Process: Reviews and Ruminations

Article excerpt

Allison, Libby, Lizbeth Bryant, and Maureen Hourigan, eds. Grading in the Post-Process Classroom: From Theory to Practice. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1997.

Barnes, Donna, Katherine Morgan, and Karen Weinhold, eds. Writing Process Revisited: Sharing Our Stories. Urbana: NCTE, 1997.

Kent, Thomas, ed. Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing-Process Paradigm. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999.

Perl, Sondra, ed. Landmark Essays on Writing Process. Davis, CA: Hermagoras P, 1994.

Tobin, Lad, and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the '90s. Portsmouth: Boynton/ Cook, 1994.

In composition courses we do not really teach our captive charges to write better-we merely expect them to.

Francis Christensen, 1963

Everyone teaches the process of writing, but everyone does not teach the same process. The test of one's competence as a composition instructor ... resides in being able to recognize and justify the version of the process being taught. "

Jim Berlin, 1982

For compositionists who are in professional middle age or younger, "writing is a process" is an aphorism without impact. As Elizabeth Ervin explains in her contribution to Post-Process Theory, "by the time I attended my first 4C's in 1990, composition's epistemological break from a product orientation for the most part was complete and taken for granted" (Clifford and Ervin 182). Joe Harris says, "that writing is a process ... strikes me as a claim that is true, banal, and of a real if limited use" (57). And Joe Petraglia writes that "we now have the theoretical and empirical sophistication to consider the mantra `writing is a process' as the right answer to a really boring question" (53). But to those of us with longer career memories, the earliest books and articles on process were professional lightning bolts, offering brief but stunning glimpses of otherwise dark terrain: "process seemed a pedagogical breakthrough" (Clifford 180).

I took first-year composition at a compass-point state university in the Midwest in the early sixties. It wasn't a bad program; with full profs as teachers, I read a lot and learned a lot. But it was decidedly a preprocess program. I want to describe it because I suspect many readers of this journal have never experienced a genuinely "product"-centered composition class.

In the fall quarter, we had an anthology of readings, a handbook of grammar, and the 21 edition of McCrimmon's Writing with a Purpose. We wrote at least five papers. One assigned topic was "My First Day at School." Another was "any philosophical issue." A third was a limited research paper about some historic person, who we were to argue was or was not "great" based on several readings in the anthology. Dr. Staton would assign the topic orally, and we would have about a week to write. Then he marked the paper, put a grade on it, and a brief comment. Mostly I got C's and B's, but he liked my "great man" paper on Lenin: "You can write with precision I am glad to see." What that implied about my previous papers was pretty clear. The most memorable experience was the day Dr. Staton read one of my papers aloud for class criticism-after it was graded of course. It had one serious problem, as the class quickly pointed out, and one virtue that Dr. Staton pointed out. That day I learned (moreor-less) to avoid the problem and to repeat the virtue. We had a final exam that consisted of reading Mencken's "Homo Boobians" from the anthology and making an outline of it.

Let's notice what was "missing" from that course that any able composition teacher today expects. First, there was nothing about prewriting. Although the final exam involved an outline, I don't recall that we were directed to outline our papers, and certainly we did not turn in either an outline or any prior drafts with the manuscript. There was never any small-group work. And there was no revision after Staton read the paper, not even required correction of the errors. …

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