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
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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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