Teaching Writing: A Guide to the Writing Zone

A manifesto (by Stephen Turner and me) . . .

Principles

(1) Reflexivity: What a student already “knows” is a matter of cultural literacy, a certain tacit knowledge of codes and conventions that constitutes a student’s sense of self and place. This reflexivity is base material for the “content” of writing and serves as the basis for “voicing” or finding oneself in the public space of writing. The sense of place includes the site of learning, a classroom consciousness we make part of our teaching.

(2) Ignorance: A student’s sense of place suggests an experience, or affective knowledge, that the teacher cannot fully know or encompass within the horizon of their knowledge or discipline. This suggests a relative ignorance on the part of the teacher of the real abundance and diversity of the classroom. The teacher, however, has had an experience students have not yet had—that of learning writing. This we try to pass on.

(3) Abundance: The abundance of knowledge and experience in the classroom, which is more than the teachers can know, exceeds the existing parameters, or limits, of our discipline. In our teaching, we are concerned to account for the classroom we face in all its diversity. The consciousness we thereby generate, for students a consciousness first of all of their own voice, moves them from cultural to critical literacy.

Method

(1) Parataxis: Critical thinking and writing involves the matching, or parataxis (Gk. “juxtaposition”), of the experiences of teachers and students, in which collaboration the classroom becomes a third space, outside the ordinary experience of either. It generates reflection in the eyes of others about self and place—about how we are placed—and our shared culture.

(2) Deformance: The classroom is a place of performance: a theatre of instruction. The practice of deformance—in the form of non-normative reading, writing and texts—makes students aware that the classroom is a site of power, knowledge and diversity. We therefore encourage students to attend to their writing situation, rather than addressing them in a way that obscures it.

(3) Erratology: We remain convinced of the importance of grammar, but unconvinced that teaching grammar as such immediately improves students’ writing. Students are therefore given licence to make mistakes and learn rules in and through their breaking. This is erratology: error as a generative principle of writing production, rather than a constraint upon it.

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