Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?

Oct 8, 2016 by

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Students understand why Barbie is sexist, but they can’t make their case in a coherent essay

By Joseph R. Teller –

My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it.

In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want to read. And as anyone who keeps up with trends in higher education knows, such efforts largely fail.

For a while now, compositionists have been enamored of a pedagogical orthodoxy that assumes the following:

  • Composition courses must focus on process, not just product.
  • Students should compose essays that tackle complex issues rather than imitate rhetorical modes (as in the much-maligned “current-traditional” pedagogy of years past).
  • Writing and reading instruction should be combined in the same course.

After years of experimenting with those three principles, here’s what I’ve learned: They rarely work.

First, a simple truth: Students do not revise. This cuts to the very heart of how most of us teach composition. It is an a priori assumption that a composition course must emphasize revision: Writers learn to make rhetorical decisions based on their audience, and that means the arduous process of “substantial revision.”

Source: Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong? – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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