Just want to add my praise and appreciation for Susan's wonderful
article. It is beautifully done -- strong, eloquent, and to the point.
Thanks again Susan!
Quoting Margaret Procter <[log in to unmask]>:
> This is great -- I look forward to circulating it to others at U of T,
> starting with colleagues in writing centres and writing programs as a
> much-needed spring tonic.
> Just one more suggestion: Susan should list her 3M Fellowship in her
> signature line. That will remind people of the excellent article
> about/by her published at the time of the award, and will strengthen
> the idea that writing studies are worthy of respect.
> Many thanks once again, Susan!
> Margaret Procter, Ph.D.
> University of Toronto Coordinator, Writing Support
> Room 173, 15 King's College Circle
> Toronto ON M5S 3H7
> 416 978-8109; FAX 416 971-2027
> [log in to unmask]
> 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
>> listed below. 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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