I've been cheating; I pulled all the postings in this strand into one readable file and printed
it. I've also put it on the Web site, if you want to cheat too . . . it's at:
There've been a number of things I wanted to respond to, but which zipped right past before I
could formulate a response, and I hope I'll find a chance to raise some of those issues, but
what I want most immediately to do is to go right back to the question Roger raised at the
> I'm wondering about whether or not or to what extent this
> depends on the student's perception of the task --
> phenomenalism ("a thing as it appears to and is constructed
> by the mind" Random House Dictionary). This is what Russ is
> saying -- maybe -- that the situation must be perceived by
> the writer as demanding or desiring a response.
This gets us away from the distraction of whether the words "real" or "authentic" are
appropriate, and takes us to what I think is the heart of the matter. And I want to raise three
ancillary questions, ones that have been bothering me for some time.
1. Can we make a principled distinction between "a response" and a reaction -- in the sense
that there's a distinction between what I might do when someone said, "produce a sentence with
a nominative absolute in it" and what I might do when someone said "wait a minute, I don't know
what you mean by 'nominative absolute'?" I'm trying to find a way to phrase the way in which
the discourse produced in the two cases is likely to be radically different.
2. Assuming there's a dramatic difference between (a) perceiving a situation as desiring a
response and (b) seeing that an assignment to produce an example of discourse has been given,
is it reasonable to think that a student could, _in the context of a formal course_, ever see a
situation as the first and not the second? And by "see" I mean there something more than
"accept as a true statement"; I mean treat the situation as one in which an actual interlocutor
asked a genuine question, or one the student perceived as genuine.
3. To what extent is it reasonable to imagine what students need to learn to do _as students_
is to put themselves, or allow themselves to be put, in a position where although no one has
actually asked a genuine question, they can imagine the situation as one in which someone has?
In other words, to engage fully in what is finally ("really") at best a simulation?
My bottom line seems to be this hypothesis: participating in rhetorical transactions which are
(or are seen to be) "real" in just this narrow sense is the strongest possible support for
learning how to participate in such transactions. All the evidence from oral language
development suggests that it's by using language to get important stuff done -- like getting
fed or changed or hugged -- that children learn to use language in the remarkable ways we all
use it. All the evidence from early childhood literacy suggests that it's by seeing that
written language serves immediate felt purposes (like knowing which is the toothpaste or
getting _Goodnight Moon_ read again) that produces literacy development.
All the research from studies of workplace writing suggests that when learning happens in
workplaces it usually happens according to that model: Odell & Goswami's insurance executives
learned the sophisticated rhetorical strategies they were deploying from the situations around
them, and it seems pretty clear something like that is going on throughout _Worlds Apart_. As
Anne Hungerford pointed out during the discussion that Sunday morning, workplaces aren't always
such great learning environments, but but they do have one thing we normally don't offer our
students -- or I don't see that we do: situations which are "perceived by the writer as
demanding or desiring a response."
(My own suspicion is that Patrick's paraphrase of Roberta is right: "we need to get out of the
way, not front and centre, not the primary audience, and then at least, writers will attend to
finding, discovering, what it is they want to say, what matters and what is realizable given
constraints of time and other commitments. It is in such contexts that we learn whatever we
learn as writers.")
St. Thomas University
To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to