English 297      The Teaching of Writing

Professor Janice Neuleib
Stv. 406    Office Hours TR 10 am and by Appt.
438-7858 jneuleib@ilstu.edu


Teaching writing resembles teaching music or sports far more than it resembles teaching literature or history.  When you teach writing, you coach writers, helping them to do better what they already do reasonably well.  All of us are fairly articulate in our native languages, and writing gives us a chance to play with our abilities to be articulate in ways that develop virtuoso skills.  We donít have to "learn" to write the way that we have to learn to play the piano or the tuba because the native linguistic abilities are already there for us, and they have been developed throughout our early school and play years.  A junior or senior high school student already has considerable skill in manipulating language.  The problem for the junior or senior high school studentsí teachers is to find ways to help students sculpt and polish language into new and more interesting patterns.  Students will find new ways to practice, maybe even developing their own "bands" or groups of writers that will feed and nourish one another.  They may even decide to write together, producing new and blended scripts.  Your job as a teacher of writing will be to discover the level of skills that they have, to help them develop new vistas, and to get out of the way when they have new and creative things to do and say.  The work for this course is meant to help you achieve those ends.

In this course we will read Nancie Atwellís In the Middle, but we wonít just read the book; we will also follow many of Atwellís practices so that we can experience the teaching of writing in the ways that she demonstrates.  Atwell stresses that teaching writing means writing with students and writing what students like to write.  Itís not enough to tell students how to write; in fact, telling them how to write is probably the surest way to suggest that they dislike writing.  We all learn best from those we admire and identify with.  Thus if we want our students to like writing, we must write along with them as we would play along with a music student or dance along with a dance student.  Writing "with" is more important than marking papers or teaching language usage or demonstrating knowledge of writing experts.  Good writing teachers write.  The time you spend now and in your high school writing classes writing with your students will define how good a teacher of writing you will become.  Atwell demonstrates the excitement of rushing into a writing classroom with something she has written to read along with her studentsí as they read their writing.  Your enthusiasm when you enjoy writing with your students will give them the experience of being writers, not just students in a writing class.

Atwell gives us the lived experience of a teacher who writes.  To understand how the profession learned to appreciate teachers like Atwell, we will read essays in Victor Villanuevaís Cross Talk.  We will talk about the essays in light of our own writing practices and use our conversations to build the writing activities for this course.  The essays in Cross Talk will be rich resources for more study in composing theory.

During this course, we will produce four major pieces of writing.  These will be gathered together into a teaching portfolio that you will continue to expand as long as you teach.  These four pieces of writing will include
1. An analytical text on the nature of teaching writing, including an analysis of student texts and reflection on observed writing experiences,
2. A "creative" text that is heavily peer influenced (you will develop your own writing groups),
3. A technical text that reflects on writing with computers (this can be a hypertext activity; Iím a novice, but Iím willing to learn with you),
4. A reflective text on yourself as a writer and a teacher of writing (documented and researched).  We could refer to this assignment as teacher research, but letís wait and see how it develops for you.

We will spend the first three weeks of the class reading Atwell and working on drafts of the analytical text on teaching writing.
The next two weeks we will cover essays from Villanueva, especially essays that deal with issues of student access and issues of language barriers.  We will revise and refine the essay on student writing.
During the sixth week of the class, we will form writersí groups and begin to write creative texts, while reflecting on the nature of creative and expository writing.  These groups will continue to function for the rest of the semester, with ongoing work proceeding on the creative texts throughout the rest of the semester.
The seventh and eighth week of the class will be spent working on computers and writing.  We will read essays in Cross Talk that address issues of technology and writing.  We will also go to the NCTE Web site and discuss the NCTE standards for writing, noting especially the importance of technology to those standards.
The ninth through the twelfth weeks we will spend reflecting on the teaching of writing, reading further essays in Cross Talk, and researching other relevant materials on the teaching of writing.  We will begin to draft the reflective essay at this point.  This reflective essay will be documented with sources that have contributed to the conclusions and theoretical perspectives on writing that have grown for you during the course.
The thirteenth through the fifteenth week of the course will be spent writing on the four works that will make up the portfolio.  We will also negotiate the contents of the papers, perhaps changing their content or even their purpose in light of the discoveries we have made during the semester.  The portfolios are due during the exam period for the course.

Writing assignments will be due on several dates.  I will ask for drafts of each of the four major works as we proceed through the semester.  You can usually count on my asking for a piece of writing every two weeks, but I will often begin class with short writing activities, and I will ask you to turn in these writings either at the end of class or along with the longer writing assignments.  Turning in copy may include e-mail as long as you stay within the time limitsthat I set.  I have fairly simple standards for turning in papers.  If  I get them when I ask for them, you get them back right away.  If  I donít get them when I ask for them, they could get lost on my agenda.  Itís just a good idea to work with my schedule.  The purpose of the writing assignments is that you will develop the core of a teaching-writing portfolio, so I will work with you throughout the semester as you progress with work for the portfolio.  You will turn in paper copy and instructor folder copy of the portfolio.