I love it! Can we print it in the next Inkshed Newsletter, too?
Susan Drain wrote:
>Thanks to everyone. If it weren't the end of term, I could write a
>small dissertation on the challenges and pleasures of writing about
>writing with a bunch of writing people. But it's the end of term, and
>that's probably 'nuff said.
>Here is the latest attempt to write a coherent intelligent and
>confessedly incomplete response to the UA piece. It incorporates some
>but not all of the wiki editings, and some of the comments I've received
>publicly and privately through the list serv. I am grateful for every
>bit of advice and the generosity with which it was offered. The last
>paragraphs are new, and I have accepted the suggestion that I sign it as
>myself but "on behalf of and in collaboration with members of..."
>I have asked UA about a deadline for such a response. I haven't had an
>answer yet, but I'm guessing it will be "soon."
>So please take a look, make sure that there's nothing there to embarrass
>us, and let me know as soon as you can. I'm also posting it to the
>Those of us in the field of Writing Studies are delighted to find a
>positive response to the question “Who cares about writing, anyway?”
>(University Affairs, April 2008) We are more used to complaints about
>our students’ deficiencies, and faint hopes that someone somewhere (the
>schools? the writing centre? the English department? divine
>intervention?) will rid the university of the plague of error, the
>distraction of disorganization, the scourge of non-standard usage, oh,
>and while we’re at it, could we solve the problem of plagiarism, too?
>So it’s a pleasure to read Sunny Marche on the need for commitment to
>writing in our universities, and not only because his writing has energy
>and style. (Love the anaphora in the first paragraph! Great use of
>rhetorical questions. Excellent personal details to make the
>generalizations vivid.) There’s also so much with which we concur.
> • Writing matters for most professions.
> • Writing matters even in a digital age.
> • Writing is not an all-or-nothing mysterious gift – it
>can be taught and it can be learned.
> • University faculty are all writers.
>But University faculty are not all scholars of Writing Studies. And
>just as we wouldn’t dream of teaching marketing, even though we know
>something about marketing because we are consumers, so we in Writing
>Studies would like to clarify some points in Sunny Marche’s piece.
>These clarifications will help make our ongoing conversations with
>colleagues like Sunny more productive.
>“Writing” is an inadequate label for the complex of processes that we
>understand. The one word is used to include everything from recognizing
>the first glimmer of an idea, through the hard slog of researching and
>assembling evidence and drafting to the shaping that we call revision
>and the fine-tuning we call editing. It’s not one thing, it’s not a
>simple thing, and it’s not a mere adjunct to other disciplines. A
>discipline is defined, after all, not by its subject matter alone, but
>by the characteristic processes of both thinking and writing by which
>knowledge is constructed and communicated in that field. So hurrah for
>marketing professors who care about how writing is used in the study of
>marketing, and for math professors, who see that writing can be used to
>solve problems, even those usually expressed in symbols.
>That brings us to our second point of clarification. If we agree (and
>we do) that writing needs practice and that writing matters in every
>discipline, then we agree that writing across the curriculum is a good
>way to ensure that students do get writing practice and do see that
>writing matters in all their courses. That doesn’t mean that writing
>for the purposes of evaluation must be assigned across the curriculum:
>no, writing must be used to serve the purposes of learning across the
>curriculum. When we encourage writing across the curriculum, we also
>encourage critical thinking and knowledge sharing. Among the best
>practices of writing across the curriculum are the use of journals and
>reflection pieces, on-line discussions or in-class responses, to give
>practice in uncovering and articulating ideas. “How do our students
>know what they think till they see what they say?” And they are less
>likely to be thinking if their only writing in a course is taking
>lecture notes – and even less if they are downloading webnotes or
>A related clarification has to do with writing in the disciplines as
>opposed to writing across the curriculum. Writing differs from
>discipline to discipline, because writing is so connected to thinking.
>Sociology handles evidence differently from, say, history, and in every
>discipline various writing genres and conventions have been developed to
>suit the intellectual needs of the discipline. These are some of the
>issues that writing scholars concern themselves with – both to theorize
>what they mean for knowledge production itself, and to address their
>pedagogical implications. This scholarship makes us well suited to and
>very interested in collaborating with historians and sociologists, both
>expert and novice, to apply our findings. It is also how we know that
>requiring a “writing” course – whether it’s first-year comp or English
>1000 or a designated writing intensive course – does not fully meet the
>needs of students who are expected to become expert practitioners in
>their disciplines. Sociologists and historians (and marketing profs and
>chemists and...) do know how writing works in their disciplines. They
>also know how long it took for them to learn how to do it. The
>commitment to writing therefore needs to be not only across the
>curriculum but also in the disciplines.
>But English is my second language, one sociologist says. And I don’t do
>grammar, says the historian. Well, says the writing scholar, paying
>attention solely to surface correctness is not what we mean when we say
>writing needs to be learned in the discipline as part of the discipline.
> Explicit knowledge of grammar, we know, does not readily translate into
>effective writing. In fact, what are often called “grammar problems”
>are the symptoms, not the cause, of ineffective writing. And when
>students understand what they are supposed to be doing intellectually
>when they’re writing – how the discourse works and sounds – many of the
>surface problems disappear.
>Finally, we have to agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Marche’s view that
>greater support and training is desirable for the TAs upon whom the
>burden of dealing with “the writing problem” is often placed. Teaching
>and learning centres increasingly offer training courses for TAs;
>building on the scholarship of Writing Studies would strengthen those
>courses. Even the TAs in physics, statistics and finance (who, Dr.
>Marche fears, might not be motivated to provide help on the writing
>front) would come to understand that “providing help on the writing
>front” really means teaching the discipline. In fact, all faculty could
>benefit from greater support for and more dialogue with one another
>about teaching and learning to write. And the scholarship is there.
>Though their work and expertise is too often unrecognized or housed on
>the institutional periphery, in writing centres, extra-departmental
>programs, and the like, there are on every campus members of one or
>other of the Canadian professional organizations in Writing Studies
>Thanks, Dr. Marche. Let’s talk some more.
>Susan Drain is Writing Co-ordinator in the Department of English at
>Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax. She wrote this piece on behalf
>of and in collaboration with members of the following professional
>associations for Writing Studies in Canada.
>CASLL Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning
>CATTW/ACPRTS Canadian Association of Teachers of Technical
>Writing/Association canadienne des professeurs de rédaction technique et
>CSSR/SCER Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric/Société canadienne
>pour l’étude de la rhétorique
>CWCA/ACCR Canadian Writing Centres Association/Association canadienne
>des centres de rédaction
>Susan Drain, PhD
>Department of English
>Mount Saint Vincent University
>Halifax, NS Canada B3M 2J6
>902 457 6220
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