The Sentence: Studio and Free

Authors mentioned: Rose. Hayes and Davies. Yngve. Fischer, Hand and Russell.

Random quotes of interest: “Many teachers even questioned sentence combining as putting the formal cart before the rhetorical horse, and focused instead on the invention of ideas and the appeals of argument” (230)-Sounds like Robb.

“The message the competent workplace writers send teachers is to return to the sentence”(231)


The idea of “ ‘sentence depth,’ or roughly the amount of delay a sentence forces on readers in bringing its words to fulfilled grammatical sense” (Yngve in Haswell), illustrates that a writer’s use/understanding of sentences is partially based on age. This is yet another way that process is connected to a factor outside of individual control. “This growth[ in sentence improvement], however, depends on familiarity with the task and willingness to use the capacity” (232). Haswell’s notation of this point ties back to what Rose discusses when he reflects on his experience with his youngest basic writing students. These students were judged to be basic writers, one even classified as aphasiac, but by allowing them to write within their own areas of interest, Rose witnessed an exceptional increase in writing skill.

In their maturation, writers begin to internalize their writing habits, and regard them as instinctive; “Maturing writers intuit what discourse analysis has just begun to affirm and explain: that long sentences tend to be easier to comprehend that short ones” (235). This observation illustrates that certain habits associated with “good” writing stem from the writing itself, not the imposed restrictions that structure the writing.

In his discussion of modifiers, Haswell points out that “…free modification, especially at the end of sentences, is almost obligatory for mature writing” (237). This illustrates an evolution from the typical use of free modification (FM) by early writers, to a more concise practice that has become associated with developed writers. By proxy, it also points out that alternative uses of FM would be categorized as developmental. This is no real grammatical law, but an observation that has become expectation.

Another of Haswell’s observations is that mature writers “…produce not only more outstandingly long sentences but more emphatically brief ones too”(243). This opens a whole new realm of complications for basic writers because they are now trapped within a middle ground that is either too much or not enough. This can be connected to (Who’s) observation that in order to learn new skills, a writer, in practice, will experience a relapse as they struggle to acquire the new knowledge.

“Just as old syntactic maneuvers have been ‘hard-wired’ or otherwise learned to excess…at first new ones will be exaggerated as well” (247). This use of excess is a “visual” representation of the internal struggle a student undergoes in order to acquire a new skill. This lapse is understandable because for each new addition or subtraction from the student’s required skill set, a shift is required that is felt throughout their entire writing process. Haswell’s example of “…the student notion that sentences are self-contained atoms whose internal rules have no bearing on surrounding sentences” (244) is an appropriate one. The change in popular recognition of the legitimacy of “the sentence” causes a dramatic shift in process because the sentence can be viewed as one of the most basic, functioning increments of communication. When something this close to the point of origin fluctuates in any way, the ripples will affect the entire writing process.

Haswell’s final observation that “Form and expression travel step in step, one aiding the other” (247) is one that makes sense with my own personal experience as both student and teacher. You cannot avoid discussing form because to only focus on expression removes the backbone that gives structure to each individual expression. The choice of form itself is also an act of expression even though it may be limited by outside expectations. To focus solely on form is an unreachable expectation that ignores the necessity of personal expression through communication (both written and otherwise) and is equally as impossible.


ed's response

What I found interesting in last part of this book is that despite the transformative leanings, Haswell at times states that teachers still must use a nomothetic approach to assess sentences and essays. This goes against the idiographic idea inherent in the transformative style. Sometimes there must be a sense of when to apply a certain amount of assessment on a student’s writing. I say sometimes because depending on the students’ writing skills, there may be a need to assess a penalty. This idea goes against the transformative style. The nomothetic approach is needed to help the writer develop better writing skills. In this case, the nomothetic approach actually enhances the transformation of the student’s writing skills. A student becomes more able to express his idiographic nature in a more concise and clear manner in sentence and essay form. With that in mind however, instructors must remember they have a responsibility to allow the students to push the parameters of constructs. Instructors must also keep from pushing form or shape instead of allowing the students to form and shape their idiographic selves.

This is what happens: A student who uses text speak in his first writing samples may not be graded harshly. Using a smattering of corrections throughout the first few weeks may be a more wise use of assessment authority than slamming the student with many corrections on his first sample. An instructor may want to begin by saying to read aloud what he has written. This is what Haswell implores with his diagnostic approach to assessment. It is a more forward looking approach that allows a student growth over a period of time rather than in one semester. Haswell states, “It is the idiographic power of individual diagnosis that corrects curricular mismatches” (333). There may be students who are not up to the skill level the course requires. The instructor may wish to employ more of a placement assessment on the student and give them an F or may ask for the student to be moved to a lower level class and be rid of the student. On the other hand, the instructor can employ the diagnostic approach to assessing and work with the student individually to infuse growth into the student’s writing.

There are certain parameters of assessing that can be elasticized to accommodate the wide range of writing skills in a classroom. But can this actually be accomplished? It will take a certain kind of instructor wishing to accommodate this individual diagnostic approach to assessment. Writing assessment becomes subjective and qualitative and this infuses the transformative theory of teaching writing. This is the idea that this book carries. Students with various individual. academic, and socioeconomic backgrounds have a wide variance of writing skills. The accommodation and invitation ideas of Shaughnessy’s 1970’s and Rose’s 1980’s are still swimming around the heads of many instructors, researchers, and theorists providing a milieu of approaches that are needed to facilitate student’s writing skills. Our minds must remain open.

end of ed's response