Advanced 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. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner