A Jump Start and Road Map for Student Writers
For every class I conduct, it is composing—the act of discovering, constructing, and shaping meaning—that gives life and form to what my students and I do.
—Sondra Perl 1
As a writing teacher, I agree with Sondra Perl. Teaching students to compose is our business, and giving life and form to the act of discovering, constructing and shaping meaning is what teaching writing is all about. Therefore, any strategy—no matter how unusual or unsuitable it might appear on the surface—that helps me to help my students compose effective papers is a pedagogical tactic worth sharing with my colleagues.
Critical theories, which have been traditionally regarded as ways of thinking about and examining texts and, more to the point, as ways of talking and writing analytically about such texts, seem, at first glance, to be just such an out-of-place strategy. Recently, however, a number of scholars have begun to study possible pedagogical links between the structuring of prevailing theories and the cognitive processes involved in the acts of reading and writing. For example, at the annual American Reading Forum in 1993, James B. King presented a case study describing the results of his use of specific critical theories to help students analyze texts in a masters'-level reading course designed for high school teachers. 2 Earlier, in 1989, Richard W. Paul's report, “Two Conflicting Theories of Knowledge, Learning, and Literacy: The Didactic and the Critical, ” explored in part the relationship between knowledge and thinking and suggested connections between critical thinking skills and the