John is asking a very interesting question.
From the point of view of most of the research literature on writing,
lecturing about writing is an inefficient way to assist students. it
doesn't promote interaction; it doesn't support collaboration; it doesn't
assist in the development of all four modes of using language--writing,
speaking, listening and reading; and it often leads to a pretty "arid' way
of dealing with language. Lecturing about writing is sort of like
lecturing about swimming.
However, I am in a situation where I have to lecture about writing.
So what follows is not a defence for lecturing about writing, but an
explanation as to why this practice exists and what I am trying to mitigate
the most serious problems I see in this practice.
1. I think this practice exists especially in Canada as we often lack the
infrastructure for a fully developed workshop approach. for example, I
teach in program where grad students assume responsibility for the 2 hour
workshop that is part of the course. but they often come in with no
training in teaching and no background in the teaching of writing. In
effect, the lecture and the 2 hour meeting that I hold with them every week
are both designed to teach them how to teach and the kind of approach that I
want them to adopt. I would love to work in program that required grad
students to take a course in teaching writing prior to actually becoming
involved in teaching--but that's not about to happen soon.
2. In my university, because TA's are involved, the course can lack ethos
without the instructor being seen to have a leading role. I hate this fact
of life--but for a dramatic example of this situation--check on Bourdieu's
account of the lecture and his insight that students crave the lecture
experieince and see it as the essence of the university experience.
How to mitigate?
Turn the lecture itself into as much a workshop as possible--ie lots of
Move the lecture into a web site and gradually wean the students from
the lecture to the website--a dream at present, I know.
Sorry gotta run--workshop time with my TA's.
From: John B. Killoran <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Date: February 14, 2000 4:41 PM
Subject: 1st-year writing programme assessment
>What is your assessment of a writing programme offering not one but two
>terms of lecture-hall-based, introductory-level, general writing
>Here's the situation: Two years ago, Brock University created two separate
>one-term courses -- Introduction to Writing and Academic Writing -- which
>students are offered in succession. The English department here is very
>interested in keeping grammar prominent in the first course; the first is a
>prerequisite for the second. Neither are compulsory for Brock students,
>though that will change for students in at least one department.
>On the positive side, both courses offer students two hours of small
>seminars per week, lead by experienced TAs who have advanced degrees in
>literature. On the not-so-positive side, there is a one-hour lecture per
>week to an audience that, next year, may be as high as 200. Is such a
>situation reasonably within the range of acceptable Canadian practices?
>I know this list has had a go both at the lecture-hall teaching of writing
>and at the conflation of writing with grammar. However, I also know there
>are some one-term lecture-hall courses in Canada that do not have the
>benefit of two seminar-hours per week with mature, experienced TAs. And,
>of course, two terms of writing is presumably better than one.
>The English department here is facing program review in 2000-2001, and
>writing is a new undertaking at Brock. How would you evaluate this? I
>would be pleased to pass on your responses to our department chair.
>All the best,
>/// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// ///
>John B. Killoran, PhD
>Dept. of English Language and Literature
>St. Catharines, Ontario
>L2S 3A1 Canada
>(905) 688-5550 ext.3886
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