Monday, October 24, 2005

What every writing teacher should know

I'm reading A Short History of Writing Instruction. This post concerns mainly Halloran's section. I took history of writing and structure of the English language before, but I don't know if we ever discussed this.

1) Writing tools affect how we compose. Halloran explains that "old-style writing tools necessitated a two stage composing process" (p. 170). The writer invented and did all of his thinking in his head before he attempted to write down the words. He needed to get the words right the first time. It's interesting that our thinking hasn't changed much, although their thinking was a necessity. Even now with computer technology and good pencils, students follow this two stage process. Haven't you heard people say, "Oh, I do all of my writing in my head."

2) The teaching of writing was subordinate to the teaching of speech, or oracy. Writing had to be understand by readers rather than listeners (p. 173), so physical elements of writing had to be introduced to mirror this oratorical elements--thus, we have sentences, paragraphs, outlines, and structures in general. And don't forget diagramming sentences, folks brought to us in 1875 by Reed and Kellogg in Graded Lessons in English. I was totally on Halloran's team in this article. He mentions that this book was published through the 20s and used for decades afterward--even today. "[T]he Reed and Kellogg system failed to preserve the natural order of words in the sentence, but it nonetheless represented an advance in the effort to understand the structure of discourse at the sentence level, and an important response to the shift from an oratorical to a literary and professional culture" (p. 173). I don't understand that last part.

Kellogg had another book that did not include sentence diagramming, which was too elementary for upper high school and college, and Halloran explains that this book has sentence-combining exercises. Hmmm. I like that idea. But isn't it funny that the sentence diagramming is what has stayed in our consciousness.

Child, a Harvard professor, believed that composition needed to focus on literary study. He disliked rhetoric. And English studies became Harvardized. "The discipline of English became primarily the study of literary texts, not in Stewart's catholic sense of 'includ[ing] everything from a seventh grader's paragraph on fishing, to a graduate student's term paper on Chaucer's Pardoner, to Moby Dick, but int he narrow sense of classics understood to be fundamentally different from anything the student might write" (p. 176). This pushed rhetoric to the side, and writing becomes a way to test reading and conventions become more important than composing.

No comments: