Sunday, April 26, 2009

Writing Expanding with the 21st Century

I am reading Maja Wilson's Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment. I started it to be in the English Companion ning's book group, but I have to say I was completely outclassed by the nine pages of comments written the very first two days. Realizing I couldn't possibly keep up with that (in case we ever wondered if we English teachers can write, the answer is "yes" and "yes, a lot!"), I have been reading along at my own pace and have stumbled across two ideas that have me thinking not about rubrics but about how my students' worlds are changing.

"The disconnect between the writing we honor in our own literary lives and the writing we encourage from students is illustrated by our approach to teaching research and expository writing versus the research and expository writing we actually read" (38).

I think I now understand comments my seniors made when they were writing their academic articles. I reworked this assignment because I wanted to make this research paper more authentic to link to the collaborative ning work the students did to build up to the writing. As the due date drew near, I asked my students how the writing was going (something I do if only to see how many work on their final revisions before the last night!), and more than one student said some version of, "This is harder to write than I thought it would be." I then worried about how their final papers would turn out, but that turned out to be an unfounded fear. Then I read Wilson's words above. Now I wonder if maybe I achieved my goal with this paper even more than I had hoped. I structured this paper around the research-based writing scholars do who are debating Shakespeare. I tried to say every day in class, "You are joining the conversation," so my students would see that what they had to say was valuable. We looked closely at academic journal articles to see HOW they are written. In the end, maybe they found this hard because it was not a traditional research paper -- instead, maybe they really felt like they had something to say and they wanted to say it well. I know in the end that their articles were indeed something I would choose to read.

"Literature has broadened because the events of the last century could not be contained by the old forms; new ideas, conflicts, and discoveries have forced new vehicles for expression" (39).

This then makes me ponder how I can revamp other writing assignments to be writing my students and I want to read. We have a very strong writing curriculum at my school, and we as a department think often about how to make writing meaningful for our students. Wilson's words crystallize for me how the collaborative and open world of the web can help us to help our students write writing we and they want to read even more.


  1. Robert Scholes' Textual Power has some excellent analysis of the differences between what we consume and produce in the English classroom.

  2. I can so relate to your feelings about the ning book club. I dropped out after the first week as well-after reading the discussion that went on! I knew I was in over my head. (BTW-I'm still in the process of reading the book.)
    Your reflection on what we ask students to write and what we value is right on target. I applaud your effort to make your students' writing experiences authentic and something others want to read. I am continually amazed by the power of the 'world wide web.' Your students are lucky to have such a reflective teacher-always looking for ways to improve your craft.

  3. I think it's more a question of, is the writing the education system wants the writing that people actually want to read?

  4. Phillip,
    I agree, and I think about it a lot with my English classes. I know the writing the AP exam wants is not the most readable, so I hope the other writing we do in AP can be different. I also wonder about writing for other classes, particularly for history. I feel like history "academic" writing is as separate from what we really want to read as English AP exam writing can be. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Mary,
    So glad I am not alone! Jim Burke has created a wonderful thing with the ning, and the book club seemed to have a growth cycle like kudzu :) Thanks for your kind comments too.