George Jardine (from Glasgow) was centuries ahead of his contemporaries. In his book Outlines of Philosophical Education published in 1818, he wrote, "[The teacher] must be satisfied with overlooking, at first some of these faults, and neglecting no opportunity of encouraging the student to do better." He continues to warn teachers against focusing on errors because the student's "...alienation and aversion to study would probably be the immediate consequence" (366). In an extremely structured world where blanket pedagogies ruled, Jardine suggested ignoring the system and looking at the individual student. Mind blowing. It only took us until the 1960s to discover the merit of his philosophy.
If you want to kill a relationship, sit there and tell the person how many things are wrong with her or him.
Chapter 8: “Production: Slow and Swift”
From this chapter, two things stand out: 1. Plasticity (211) and 2. Trust and writerly activities (223-224).
I liked his analogy of plasticity and the struggling writer. I do not agree, however, that a person cannot change. It may take someone who does not have an innate ability to write a heck of a lot more work than one who does, but they can be good writers, too. I looked up the definition of the word; in science, it goes beyond the plastic arts where things are 'easily shaped or molded.' The scientific definition, which takes out the word 'easily,' befits the beginning writer more so than the arts:
Plasticity, in physics and engineering: plasticity is the propensity of a material to undergo permanent deformation under load
Neuroplasticity, in neuroscience: how entire brain structures, and the brain itself, can change from experience
Synaptic plasticity: the property of a neuron or synapse to change its internal parameters in response to its history
Phenotypic plasticity, in biology: describes the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment
As opposed to math and other ‘hard’ subjects where students learn formulas and facts, writing requires a lot of trust. It requires trust in oneself and trust in others who will read your writings. Students need, as Haswell writes, "...writing exercises that would increase their trust in their ability to carry off midsentence improvisations" (223).
I never considered the inability to compose or begin an essay is due to needing a complete sentence before putting pencil / pen to paper. Anytime I model writing, it is choppy and ugly and word by word. From now on, when I model writing, I will verbalize, "Let's do this word by word." That seems to be less committal, less prone to mistake. I bet my beginning writers will like this.
Chapter 9: “The Sentence: Studio and Free”
Poor syntax. It is so benign and so intimidating to non-English majors. Regardless of the students' majors, older, mature writers have older, mature thoughts. Consequently, they have a lot more to say / to write. Saying that presents a binary relationship of mature / immature and good / bad writing. I don't know that this is true; maybe I need to separate personality from style. Can you? "Writers make conscious decisions about their sentencing" (231). A more developed consciousness = A more developed sentence? Haswell states, "Teachers can expect student ideas for sentences to be in developmental advance of their syntax. This follows an old pattern of language acquisition, where a comprehension typically precedes execution" (247). A-ha! The mature idea can be there, but the mature execution needs help. Haswell explains that the professionals "...advanced largely in a 'progressive' or left-to-right way, rarely thinking backward to use an idea they had not earlier. And they advanced largely in chunks--phrase by phrase or clause by clause" (242). I agree with Dr. Haswell that form and content need to be taught hand in hand.
Chapter 10: “Organization: Closed and Progressive”
The organization of a paragraph, to some, is equivalent to the organization of an essay. IF students can organize their sentences well in a paragraph, then they can organize an essay. In order to not use the word hate, I will state that I passionately dislike the five paragraph essay; they are the training wheels of writing that should be unscrewed before students get upper middle school (7th or 8th grade). I dislike, but not with less conviction, word counts and page constraints. Any and every time I assign a writing assignment, these are the questions I receive: How many pages? How many words? How many paragraphs? As many as it takes you. Some of you will give me one page and some will give me four. Quality over quantity.
It is the trust issue again. Students want to feel the training wheels because they don't trust their own ideas. If I tell them I want thirty sentences, they'll write with more ease than if I hand them a blank paper and say, "Just write."
I had no idea the number of organizational patterns there are. When looking at the table on page 254, I use these patters, I just don't, rather didn't, have the names of the patterns in my umwelt. I love "...the tactic of chaining" (261). Genius. Regretfully, I have been teaching the unchained pattern where one idea leads to another, as opposed to chaining which allows the writer to "...keep adding parts without losing the logical thread" (263). These little nuggets take writing from a science to an art. This is not an easy task at the beginning level. Teachers have to look at the individual, as Jardine suggested almost 200 years ago, and analyze the individual's style and strengths to determine which path they should take. Our jobs would be easier if the class sizes were smaller, but that is an entirely different subject.
Chapter 11: “Remediality: Bottom and Top”
With inclusion, students are not farmed out to remedial classes at the secondary level. All abilities are sitting side by side in one classroom. (There are teenagers who do not know the entire alphabet; they are, of course, not included. They are in remedial classes for all subjects which are so 'dumbed down,' they prefer sitting in ISS. But, again, this is another subject.) Remediation is a tricky monster. It is competence versus incompetence, mature versus immature, and most accurately, competitive versus noncompetitive.
I teach both standard and PreAP? English 2. The biggest difference I have seen between my Standard English students and my PreAP? students is "...a devotion to the pursuit of ideas, and a fondness for the play of verbal wit" (278). We discussed in class last week the idea that learning should be painful, not torturous, but uneasy. I shared that my philosophy is that "The learning happens in the struggle." My students have this memorized now. They will approach me with a question and I give them 'the' look and they say out loud, "The learning happens in the struggle." It's cute, but what it does, is it requires them to search for the solution instead of asking me. I know the answer, but the more I give them the answers, the less they learn. With my honor's students, they thrive in the struggle. They get mad at the activity. They get mad at me. They get mad at themselves. Then they conquer the problem. My standard students never move beyond the first two. It is the 7th week of school, and they are just now beginning to see that I mean what I say. They have had their hands held for so long; it is refreshing to them to have someone who believes in their abilities. They are asking questions and trying to get mad at themselves for not being able to figure something out. Before Christmas, they will more autonomous in solving their woes. Haswell writes, "I cannot think of any more difficult task of a teacher than to find ways to block this retreat and still improve the writing of these students" (279). Oh, how right he is.
Chapter 12: “Sequencing: Two Interpretive Tales”
This chapter is very interesting. Whether it is warranted or not, I tend to place the hard subjects as best being served by the instrumental perspective. "... [T]he instrumental perspective will set it by default...it assumes a ready-made body of knowledge or repertoire of skills..." (291) whereas the developmental "...directs its gaze more at the worker than at the instrument..." and "...assumes that both matter and student have been and will keep changing..." (294). Obviously, I am not a math or science teacher, but I remember studying those subjects. I remembered and appreciated the objectivity of the lessons. It is incredbily black and white and easy to plug and play. With the softer subjects where opinion and subjectivity play a major role in instruction and interpretation, teachers need to follow the developmental perspective. Writing teachers cannot ignore the lifework of a student. We are asking them to share not just regurgitate formulas and facts. We are asking for a part of them, of their past and their present lives.
Chapter 13: “A Curriculum”
Oh, woe is me; if changing a curriculum were so easy...
Towards the beginning of the school year, I teach my students about the 'Curve of Forgetting.' Essentially, the lesson discusses how short and long term memory operates. The more the brain sees or hears something, the higher in importance the brain stores the information. If you take notes today and in a week, let alone a year, I ask you to recall that information, think of all the things that your brain has seen in those short seven days. This discussion will be so suppressed by other information, the students may be able to recall 2-3% of the converstaion. When I ask the students about prior knowledge that I know they have been presented in the past and they cannot recall it, it is because they have forgotten it. It is the unlearning Haswell discusses: "A different kind of unlearning...occur[s] after--and probably just after---the exiting students close the door on the course" (317). "...a common reaction to the legend of deterioration is to make students take again the course that apparently didn't take" (319). Another common reaction is to accuse last year's teacher / instructor for not doing a good job. Our curriculum would be better suited to meet the individual student's needs; how realistic is it when the individual teacher is dealing with so many students' varying interests and abilities?
Chapter 14: “A Diagnosis”
Just like remediation, grading is a tricky monster of an extremely personal nature. I have seen heated debates to drag out fights over grading. Teachers are offended if their grading system gets questioned. I like most from this chapter, Dr. Haswell's explanation of "What is true diagnosis? ... [It] focuses not on an ungrounded instrument of 'subject area' but on an individual student. And it does not restrict its gaze to the student of past accomplishments but looks through that to the learner the present student will become when engaged with new writing tasks" (336). Unfortunately, "[e]ducators must make do with what they have" (346), and what they have is overload. It would be fabulous and fantastic if I could take each essay my students compose and analyze each one individually for pattern and style and remember how they have improved or regressed compared to the essay before. It would be great!
”Re-Action: A Consolatory Tale”
"The teacher's consolation is not in knowing that one can pass on what one has learned. Nor is it in knowing that students will carry on. It is in knowing that students and teachers carry each other on" (354). The day I stop learning from my students will be the day I quit. I learn something from them about myself and about them and about our world everyday.