Composition Aesthetics and the Writer's Colony
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The Evolution of Knowledge and Composition
|Our seminar discussions and the
textbook theorists consistently sought the best intervention or pedagogical
method for teaching college-level composition. For me, the issues of product
versus process and nature versus art depend on our assessment of student
skills. Earlier in the quarter, I attempted to synthesize class material
into a development-model showing student achievements and abilities.
|I have developed a six stage framework,
expanding the concepts of "knowledge telling" and "knowledge
transforming" as defined by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia in The
Psychology of Written Composition (1987). The additional categories
of knowledge lacking, knowledge avoiding, knowledge structuring,
and knowledge surpassing serve as assessment tools, allowing us to unify
the diverse theories of contemporary composition scholars by showing at
which stage they should be applied. I've delineated the categories below:
Knowledge Lacking refers
to students with restricted language ability, possibly because of learning
disabilities, English as a Second Language issues, impoverished backgrounds,
or inadequate high school instruction. This category was suggested by Shelly
Reid of Austin College over the e-mail list of the Graduate Student Caucus
of the MLA. Patricia Nelson Limerick uses the phrase "phantoms" to describe
"the radically disengaged, those staying resolutely on the academic periphery"
(268). One-on-one instruction and basic grammar must be emphasized in order
for these students to improve their rudimentary skills.
Knowledge Avoiding refers to basic writers who resent freshman
composition classes, write empty sentences to fill space, and lack confidence
due to low grades in high school. I'm reminded of Richard Lanham's 1974
condemnation: "When I started teaching ten years ago, freshman writing
was incorrect and misspelled. Now it is mindless" (3). Classes should focus
on the creative generation of ideas, freewriting, journaling, and personal
narratives to spark interest and stir creative juices.
Knowledge Telling refers to basic writers who scribble whatever
thoughts related to their vague thesis come to mind - without
order, organization, or discrimination. These students probably learned
the five-paragraph essay form in high school, but use this structure in
a superficial fashion. At this stage, basic grammar and classical rhetoric
are emphasized as students practice the four forms of discourse: argumentation,
exposition, description, and narration.
Knowledge Structuring refers to competent students who have
mastered traditional essay structures and who consistently write solid
sentences. These essays may rely too heavily on secondary sources, lack
originality, and fail to show larger implications. Such students are ready
to break free from organizational formalism. The remainder of this paper
explore methods for moving students from structured to transformative writing.
Knowledge Transforming refers to inventive essays written
with emotional commitment, powerful voice, and lovely syntax. The creative
writer expresses original thoughts with personality and intelligence. Writing
for more than grades, these students experiment fearlessly and aim for
literary nonfiction rather than standard academic formats. Students at
this point have enough confidence that sublime models will not cause them
to despair, but rather serve as inspiration.
Knowledge Surpassing refers to the best academic and professional
essays. This unforgettable and quotable prose uses persuasion to change
our lives and hearts.
|Although I believe any committed, trained writer can transform
through language, surpassing requires genius. Outside the
scope of most universities, these students blossom through mentorship with
established writers although they develop mostly through self-study. This
level of writing approaches Longinus' theory of the sublime, moving readers
"not to persuasion but to ecstasy" and bringing "force sovereign and irresistible
to bear upon every hearer" (56).
|Of related interest, this development models parallels an approach
to revision. In the pre-draft stage, the writer sits in silence and contemplates
the topic. The first draft focuses on pushing past avoidance blocks to
simply put words on paper. In the second draft, the writer tells everything
that comes to mind, an expansion of brainstorming into full sentences.
The third draft requires a logical structure; the fourth concentrates on
insight and originality. By the fifth draft, the writer attends to
beauty, aesthetics, and drama.