Monday, May 4, 2009

More Process Writing (I’m Writing to Learn)

I'm still stuck on the writing process question: does the changing nature of text alter the writing process, or does it merely alter how we teach the writing process. Today I grabbed a copy of Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools (by National Writing Project and Carl Nagin) from the bookshelf at work. The following three excerpts (quoted directly from the book) stood out for me.

Excerpt One
The writing process is anything a writer does from the time the idea came until the piece is completed or abandoned. There is no particular order. So it's not effective to teach writing process in a lock-step, rigid manner.
- Donald Graves

Excerpt Two
Most research today supports the view that writing is recursive, that it does not proceed linearly but instead cycles and recycles through subprocesses that can be described this way:

  1. Planning (generating ideas, setting goals and organizing)
  2. Translating (turning plans into written language)
  3. Reviewing (evaluating and revising)

Excerpt Three

A mark of the writing process movement was that it grappled with the messiness of composing itself. Many writers don't know their subject well until they've written a draft. . . As author Tracy Kidder has said, "I write because I don't know what I really think about anything until I get it down on paper."

Perhaps the writing process hasn't changed with technology, but the way we teach it should. I'm flooded with a wave of ideas for modeling the writing process, for explicitly showing how ideas evolve and focus narrows with each piece or revision. As that focus becomes a clearer, language and word choice change. . . I still wonder about what needs to be at the heart of a writing assignment for this process to be authentic?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rethinking the Writing Process

When I talk with English teachers about how they teach the writing process, they outline various methods of brainstorming and planning and then share samples of graphic organizers. Students are expected to create first drafts (often written by hand, but sometimes typed) and final drafts typed with corrections and improvements. Most English teachers in our school board require students to submit all of their process work with the final product and the process work is assessed as part of the assignment (included on the rubric).

But I don’t write this way. Why would I expect my students to?

I think it is because I can’t imagine or understand the alternative.

When I was in university (the first time) I used the ‘traditional’ writing process, because I didn’t grow up writing on a computer. I was taught how to plan and draft and when I completed that process I booked time in the school’s computer lab. Upon my return to university 6 years later, I typed everything on my PC, but I still had to print copies so I could revise and edit. I couldn’t read my errors on the screen. Now, writing just seems ‘to happen’ on my laptop. I know I am using a process, but it seems fluid and keeps pace with my thoughts. I revise. I move text around, but I don’t think of this as happening in stages or steps. My writing process has changed with technology. As the nature of text has changed, so has the nature of writing.

I’m honestly struggling to envision the teaching of this new writing process.

My questions are:

1. What does your writing process look like?

2. Is it the same as it was ten years ago?

3. What does this mean for English teachers who teach students the writing process?

4. How might we teach this explicitly?

5. How might we model it?