Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Part III
Responding to Writing

The first moment of truth for most writing teachers comes when our students hand in assignment number one. Whether we have been very explicit in our directions or have encouraged students to follow their own instincts, whether we have hovered over their paragraphs and drafts or set them loose to find their own way, our relationship to them is about to be challenged by the way we now read and comment on their work. Something that may have seemed like a good idea to us in the early stages may suddenly solidify into a paragraph we hate. Or we may find ourselves disappointed and annoyed that our suggestions have not been taken. So what do we say? Will the heretofore happy students feel misunderstood, misled, betrayed? How will we steer their writing in a direction that seems fruitful to us? How can we be sure our judgment is sound?

Cy Knoblauch and Lil Brannon's “Responding to Texts: Facilitating Revision in the Writing Workshop” highlights the ambiguities and hazards of our attempts to respond helpfully to students' writing. We think we're giving them an opportunity to write from their own hearts and minds and that, although we may have guidelines for the assignment, the world of language is theirs to explore. But students do not usually share this sense of freedom. Although the impulse for writing may never be completely disconnected from audience, in the freshman writing class particularly, students' power to make their own choices and get away with them are often severely abbreviated by the teacher's correcting pen. They know they are writing for us. So the work is “interested, ” as Carroll would say. Most of the time, they're trying to give us what we want.

And what, after all, do we want?

Whether we specify or not, we have an expectation. There is what Knoblauch and Brannon call an “ideal text” lurking somewhere in our heads. But is our ideal text the same as someone else's? (Think of the reviewers who panned the classics we love; think of the great works we still

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