Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Desert Island Discourse" by Elbow and Clarke

Desert Island Discourse: The Benefits of Ignoring Audience” by Elbow and Clarke (in The Journal Book)

In this article, Elbow and Clarke suggest that writers ignore audience, not altogether, but especially during the beginning stages of writing. They write that many famous authors never write specifically for the audience; they write for themselves. They write that focusing on audience can inhibit writing. They use the example of Joe. Joe wrote pieces for the teacher that were stilted and boring, but his journal writing was filled with voice. He explained to the teacher that she was only allowed to “overhear” what he wrote in his journal. When he ignored her and wrote in his journal, his writing was so much better.

They make two claims: “ignoring writing may lead to poor or ineffective writing at first, yet lead to better writing in the end . . . .” The second claim is that “ignoring audience can lead immediately to better writing” (p. 46).

Elbow writes that this idea of focusing on audience stems for Piaget, who writes that students move from egocentric to social. Elbow writes that students ability to reflect and turn off audience awareness is a higher skill, just as writing for an audience is.

What he espouses is the importance of “private writing.”

Why is he so controversial? It may be because he gives students or writers credit for knowing something. I think many teachers probably know a student like Joe.

This is an article that was also in our MWP packet. It could be an article that could start a good conversation on public versus private writing. The discussion of Piaget versus Vygotsky is interesting because it shows how our thinking about writing instruction is founded in psychology. He shows in this article that the Piagetian philosophy forces teachers to want children to “decenter” and move away from egocentrism. Elbow says egocentrism in writing, or ignoring audience, can immediately lead to better writing. I agree.

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