Teaching Composition as a Social Process

By Bruce McComiskey | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

MY CAREER AS A WRITING TEACHER BEGAN IN THE EARLY 1980s, when I was an undergraduate teaching assistant in the composition program at Illinois State University, and since that time I have been a card carrying …well, everything. At first, I was intoxicated by the expressivist fervor for individuality and creativity, reading Donald Murray and Peter Elbow on busses home from college and, later, grad school. Yet at times I was uncomfortable in the classroom, lacking concrete strategies to help my students solve important rhetorical problems. Soon after this, and partly the result of a “quest” for something more, I began to read the Carnegie Mellon cognitivists, Linda Flower and John Hayes, and I found that certain aspects of the writing process could in fact be identified and taught. But their cognitive process model began to look too much like a computer model, with input, output, and (micro)processing in the middle. So I still felt uncomfortable in the classroom. During my graduate studies at Purdue University in the late 1980s and early 1990s, though, I encountered James Berlin.

You might think the story continues like this: “… and I discovered the error of my ways.” But it doesn’t continue that way, or at least not that simply. Jim Berlin had a tremendous impact on my career. I found new energy in the social theories we applied to composition in his graduate classes, yet I missed the pragmatic power I used to feel from teaching the writing process. A lot of the essays we read then, ones that elaborated social theories of composition, and many that I study now, use what I call the read-this-essay-and-do-what-theauthor-did method of writing instruction: read Roland Barthes’s essay

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