Interpretive Communities Making Use of Readings and Misreadings in the Literature Classroom and Elsewhere
CHRISTOPHER C. WEAVER
For many of us who teach composition, one of our most important goals is to encourage students to treat their own writing with the same respect and interpretive weight we would expect them to give literary texts. We attempt to meet this goal through a workshop approach, organizing classroom activities in a way which shifts the focus from the instructor's comments to small groups of students sharing and responding to each other's work. A crucial aspect of the writing workshop is that these groups are less evaluative than interpretive. That is to say, their function is to explore how a piece of writing works rather than to judge how well it fits a predetermined set of criteria. Response groups, then, are not merely extensions of the instructor—students making educated guesses about whether or not each other's writing would meet with the instructor's approval. When they work well, response groups presume the merit of a piece of writing. In other words, students in a writing workshop are encouraged to treat each other's work as students in a literature class would treat canonical texts: as writing worthy of examination, discussion, and even disagreement rather than as exercises which fall short or close to the mark the instructor has set for them.
Obviously, one of the goals of a writing workshop is to nurture self-confidence and to encourage self-discovery. This approach to teaching writing is often criticized for being too “warm and fuzzy”—for valuing students' self-esteem over their ability to make critical judgments. These critics—mostly administrators and other faculty, but increasingly legislators and editorial writers as well—complain that students new to the academic community should first be required to prove they can recognize and