I'm not so sure that "monitor[ing] what someone else wants" in the sense of fulfilling a
writing assignment is all that similar to "considering audience." But leaving that aside, I
certainly agree with this:
> I don't believe we can pull ourselves out of the "centre" of
> the writing exercise so long as 1. we are assigning it, and 2.
> we are evaluating.
But I suspect Rob's making a different point about it than I'd make. I think if we don't find
a way to create writing situations in which (1.) and (2.) don't happen, we're stuck trying to
teach writing in the worst of all possible writing situations for education, the one that least
> What I think most of us ask for is that kind of engagement or
> urgency that Roberta noted.
I don't think the way to get it is to ask for it, though. This is true:
> The more senior the student, that is the more deeply "in" the
> student is to the discourse the more likely they are to both
> accept the dominant discourse AND to reshape it.
But the students who are "senior" and "in" _got there somehow_. I almost never encounter
students who are "in" in that sense. How do I help them _get_ in? How can I help them learn
> that they can shape a discourse community with their writing
> and thinking?
My central concern in this discussion -- indeed, for much of my career as a teacher -- has been
this question: how can I create a situation in which more students learn that writing can do
this sort of thing? Writing has never done that for them, and no writing they've ever done has
been capable of actually having that effect. This may take us back to a rephrasing of Roger's
original question about "the student's perception of the task."
My students arrive in my classes with the firm understanding that academic writing is display
text. It doesn't "shape a discourse community"; it follows the rules invoved in monitoring
what someone else wants. When it actually does engage the student (and I _do_ have students
who are engaged by writing term papers), it does it without having any actual audience: the
"audience" is a fiction (yes, the audience is always a fiction) the writer is able to create.
But the overwhelming majority of my students can't create that audience / reader (as Anthony
pointed out years ago, it's not "those folks out there in chairs": it's an active dialogic
partner), or create really disfuctional ones. When we, as writers, decide what's "new" and
what's "given," what needs to be foregrounded and what can be assumed, what language is
appropriate and what not, we do that with reference to a rich construct of reader. I'm doing
it now: I left in the little joke about "the audience is always a fiction" because I expected
that most inkshedders would get the allusion to Ong and wouldn't either find it
incomprehensible or take it as a snobbish sort of putdown, as would most of my students).
Someone writing an assignment doesn't have that rich context, and if she can't make it up her
writing will have that unmistakable, amateurish, clumsy feel that we all know so well. How can
one learn to make it up?
St. Thomas University
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