I should, as usual, be doing other things. But my mind is on teaching right now–and writing about and doing teaching. I had the pleasure of a long skype conversation with Rich Haswell this afternoon; we were reviewing many of our common ideas about teaching writing in the process of excavating the history of holistic assessment. At the end, I was thinking about how much I regret that Rich has retired–one of the people who seriously knows productive ways of teaching writing, who understands that writing in the classroom (and this was one of Moffett’s points) should as closely as possible resemble how those of us who are writers write. I have written before that as writers, we write to communicate, we circulate texts the way we circulate conversations, real people having real things to say to people who matter. Moffett has theorized the move outward from the self to friends, to acquaintances, to an anonymous audience writers have been internalize by interpreting it through the people the writers know.
Real writing is so different from the bulk of school writing, which I have called writing as performance, students writing to follow a teachers’ formula in response to a task with some description of criteria for success set down. I realize that in every speech act, there is some degree of performance. But as performance takes over, writers lose authenticity and voice. And performance for an extrinsic motivation is simply generally painful to read. That’s the essence of school writing, as opposed to real writing.
When we create in the classroom conditions that will impel students to want to write, to share their thoughts with each other, to write and write back, we are close to the conditions of real writing. And I believe that we learn more about an activity by doing it in real as opposed to fake time.
When students are allowed to write naturally (yes, I hear my critics), they will maintain and develop the positive attitudes toward writing with which they first began to scribble.
Here’s my hypothesis: if we promote a positive attitude toward writing & toward themselves as writers, we will be helping writers face uncomfortable writing situations. Students with a positive attitude will probably procrastinate less, will feel more at ease, and consequently perform (in those performance-laden situations) better. And the opposite is very likely true–negative attitude leads to increased procrastination. So what are we doing when we create negative attitudes toward writing?
It seems to me that any teacher could discover a way to assess whether she has promoted a positive or negative attitude toward writing. That should be easy. And if negative, figure out what she is doing to make students feel that way.
Just a side note on voice–we were talking about voice in class the other day: what if one of the functions of school (and writing classes in particular) is to take away students’ voices? For evidence, we might look at the link between voicelessness and the bulk of school writing.
[If you can think of any research that has investigated the relationship between attitude toward writing and the ability to negotiate unfamiliar writing situations (this relationship could be generalized), please leave in a comment.]