Tuesday, September 29, 2009

McDonald, James C. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for College Writing Teachers.

McDonald, James C. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for College Writing Teachers. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.

Regard this collection of essays as a “greatest hits” of composition studies. Though essentially aimed at an instructor of the traditional college composition course, the book can prove useful to anyone using writing in the classroom. You will find the book easy to dip into since it is helpfully arranged into the sections of general theories and perspectives; audience and peer groups; composing and revising; critical thinking and reading in writing; computers; argumentation; form and style; grammar; and designing, responding to, and evaluating writing assignments. Below, I will note some highlights that we might find particularly useful at Ursuline. First of all, you will recognize a familiar name as our Vice President of Academic Affairs, JoAnne Podis, along with Leonard Podis, wrote “Improving Our Responses to Student Writing: A Process-Oriented Approach,” which offers advice on how to best respond to student writing. Another useful selection is “Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively.” In it, Margaret Kantz explains how an unclear description of an assignment caused students to use a familiar genre of writing (narration) even though it didn’t fit the assignment. This reminds us to make our expectations as explicit as possible so as to avoid some common frustrations for both us and students (190-91). Essays by Betty Bamberg and Richard Lanham both offer some advice on how to teach students to revise more effectively. Unfortunately, if they revise at all, most students will revise only superficial surface errors such as a misspelling unless taught otherwise. As a result of such bad student habits as turning in first drafts as final drafts, occasionally instructors will complain about student writing, and often the complaint will include the claim that students need to be taught grammar more formally (usually by someone other than the one complaining, of course). Alas, as Patrick Hartwell points out in “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar,” research into the matter has determined that teaching grammar formally and having students do grammatical exercises has limited if any value for improving their writing. Instead, Hartwell recommends that writers read their writing aloud and note where their speaking corrects their writing and that instructors simply point out any remaining errors with minimal marking (334). The remainder of formal errors will only be avoided as the writer develops more expertise in that type of writing, and develops metalinguistic and rhetorical awareness (334-36). In fact, Peter Elbow, in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment,” claims that a more effective way of improving student writing than punishing them for formal errors is to point out instead what the writer has done well and encourage her or him to do more of it (408). He writes that “reward produces learning more effectively than punishment” (408). Though not all the selections will be applicable to those of us teaching at Ursuline, the book contains enough useful advice that it is a good resource to consult for improving student writing. It is available through OhioLINK.

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