Friday, September 23, 2005

On a lighter note

I'm exploring Donald Murray like I said in my earlier post. I'm supposed to be taking notes, but before I started I tried to frame Murray and Elbow into some larger questions. We talked about Elbow last week and one day later I received an email from a former colleague telling me about an interaction that she had with a colleague who said that she "didn't believe in Elbow because she was a social constructivist." I don't see how those two things have much to do with one another. Elbow is talking about writing and social constructivism is a belief about how knowledge is constructed. Maybe that is too simplistic, so please correct me.

But this comment bothered my colleague and it made me go right back to my notes from the previous day. People misunderstand Elbow. He espouses writing before planning. Get the words out without censoring yourself in the early stages. What is wrong with that? Why are those statements so bothersome? The Elbow-haters seem to take this small part of Elbow and take it to mean that he is a proponent of unorganized writing and that he only values expressive writing. I believe he means that writing "quick and dirty" and writing about topics that are meaningful to the writer is a place to start.

Murray's implication number 10 (1982) seems to agree: "The student finds his own subject. It is not the job of the teacher to legislate the student's truth" (p. 16). The same teacher I mentioned above also said that since she was a social constructivist that she needed to give students prompts and tell them what to write. In my mind, that seems to go against social constructivism which would be a teacher and student co-constructing--similar to what Murray explains about the teacher's job in the classroom: "In the writing process approach, the teacher and the student face the task of making meaning together" (p. 26). Now that sounds like social construction.

Another comment I hear when Elbow and freewriting is mentioned being used in a classroom is "what if students won't write?" I promise that has never happened. Elbow mentioned in one of his essays in Everyone Can Write that if a student didn't write that he used to make him and then he changed his thinking and he left him or her alone as long as they didn't disrupt other people's writing. When I would tell people that 99% of the time students wrote, I could tell they didn't believe me. But now, I can site Murray: "Nine hundred and ninety-nine students out of a thousand will write on demand. But if one doesn't write, not to worry. Writing is contagious. It is almost impossible to resist the desire to write in your own voice, of your own concerns, when you are part of a supportive writing community." Amen, brother.

In my mind, before I started reading Murray, I tried to write down some questions about both of them and what I know about each of them. Who is Murray? Did he come up with "the writing process." What does he say that revolutionized writing instruction? Why do people hate Elbow? Why don't they hate Murray? How have they affected writing instruction?

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