Monday, May 31, 2010
Newkirk Chapters 1 & 7
Standardization and standards seem so linguistically close that one shades into the other. It may be that there is something aesthetically pleasing in uniform action-the pleasure of watching a drill team, for example. Yet standardization only leads to sameness, not necessarily quality, and rarely to excellence. This book, then, will challenge a growing trend in education that requires teachers to work in preestablished (invariably "research-based") systems that sharply limit their capacity to make decisions about curriculum and students. Schools are not factories; students are not products. (page 9-10)
The history of writing instruction in this country is really a history of writinglike activities (particularly spelling, grammar instruction) taking the place of writing itself.
A related force that works against writing (and to some extent reading) is commodification- the tendency to think of education in terms of products and materials. Schools don't develop programs or create them- they purchase them. From the standpoint of marketability, writing instruction is a poor bet. If, as Donald Murray argued, the main texts in writing classes are the ones students are producing, the only real market is for blank paper. One might argue that these skills materials and workbooks teach the "building blocks" for writing, but too often these building blocks simply substitute for actual writing, displacing it altogether for students in lower tracks (one prominent researcher estimated that some disadvantaged students may write no more than five hundred words of actual writing in a year).
As James Moffett notes, one tactic used by producers of materials is mystification- the implied argument that writing is so technical a subject, so tangled with complex alignments to standards and research, so intricate in its sequence of skills development, so integrated with lessons in punctuation/grammar/genres, so dependent on complex assessments, that no single teacher could possibly construct his or her own system. A teacher would feel naked indeed to presume to teach writing without the support of these systems. (page 137-139)
What writing curriculum materials impact your writing instruction? What are your thoughts on the "mystification" of writing and how you were taught to write or teach writing to others?