Friday, April 6, 2007

Is It Just a Matter of Teaching Variety?

My response to TW seemed too long for a comment. To my last post (regarding the possibility that the 110 syllabus encourages "poetic writing"), TW comments:

While this might cause some confusion regarding expectations--that's a big part of learning to write. So in a way, by providing them assignments with very different purposes, audiences, and/or expectations you are preparing them for real-life academic writing experiences where one professor might assign--oh, I don't know--a blog writing assignment and then a book review. They need to understandt that what is acceptable in one context is not necessarily going to fly in another.

Certainly--the assignments in English 110 are apparently designed to prepare students to have to write completely different kinds of papers--textual analysis vs. position paper vs. research paper--making sure the students can see the different purposes of the assignments. Despite different purposes, those are all academic (transactional) writing--and although blogging is less formal (more expressive), it doesn't usually go towards the literary (poetic).

My assumption was that "poetic" writing is generally reserved for creative writing classes--not exactly what 110 is designed to prepare students for. So I want to teach my students different modes, but I wonder if those should be mostly of the transactional sort. I should admit, however, that I recall doing four creative writing projects in my college career, and I didn't take any creative writing classes (Feminist Theory, Global Futures, Prose Fiction, and Senior Seminar). We don't see much creative writing in the writing center, either, but I think that has partly to do with students being less comfortable getting help on "creative" assignments.

It seemed to me, at least when I wrote the last post, that the memoir is easy to teach in such a way that makes it a different kind of writing than anything else they'll have to do--variety is good and all, but I don't teach my students how to write sermons or screenplays because my job is to prepare them for "academic writing." I do think, however, that the memoir can be taught as a more "transactional" piece, but that it may take some effort to do so. I guess I'm still not sure how important that effort might be.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Are We Encouraging "Poetic Writing"?

Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk tackles the tough question of whether (and how) to incorporate personal writing in an academic writing course in "Personal and Academic Writing: Revisiting the Debate." As Dr. Cadle mentioned in class, Missouri State tends to incorporate some personal writing but not let it be the focus of the course. My class begins the semester with a memoir and incorporates reflections on the subjective research process in their I-search, although this semester I'm trying out letting them choose to write a formally objective research paper instead. Even the memoir isn't totally personal, though, because it is thesis-driven, about a life-changing event in the writer's life.

Mlynarczyk's use of James Britton is helpful here to distinguish between different kinds of writing. Britton divides writing into poetic, expressive, and transactional (Mlynarczyk 6). Expressive writing is the most natural, self-centered writing, and because it is so natural, we try to tap into these abilities before asking students to totally take on academic discourse. Transactional is communicative and includes academic writing--this is what we're training students to write for the rest of college. But we still value the poetic, or literary, writing. Unless our students are writing majors, they won't be doing a lot of poetic writing, but we like to read it. It is very tempting to grade the memoir as a piece of literary writing, to see it primarily as a story, or a work intended more for entertainment than information or persuasion. This probably isn't totally wrong, but might we be leading our students down one path, only to expect them to go in a different direction for the rest of the semester? Mlynarczyk notes that Peter Elbow says that choosing between personal and academic writing makes him "feel as though [he is] trying to walk toward two different mountains" (qtd. in Mlynarczyk 11). By assigning the memoir first, which utilizes expressive writing but often veers toward poetic, are we pointing our students toward a mountain that we won't let them approach? Perhaps Mlynarczyk's approach of assiging journal entries (you know, like these blog things we're doing) is a better approach, because it utilizes expressive writing to transactional ends without the temptation of poetic writing.

Works Cited

Mlynarczyk, Rebecca Williams. "Personal and Academic Writing: Revisiting the Debate." Journal of Basic Writing 25.1 (2006): 4-25. Communication & Mass Media Complete. 27 Feb. 2007. <>.