English 521:
Composition Theory and Pedagogy

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Questions About Writing and Writing Instruction

Here are some of the questions we generated during our first class meeting regarding the teaching of writing:

  • How do we overcome students' trepidation about writing?

  • What role does "analytical thought" play in the writing of a piece of expository prose? What role does cognition play in writing?

  • How can we ensure that students understand the writing assignments we give them?

  • What is that "deeply personal something" in writing and how can we teach it? Can we teach it? Does it exist?

  • What is the relationship between writing and the self?

  • How do we balance the "technical" with the "creative" in writing instruction? What is the "technical" in writing? The "creative"?

  • Is it even possible to teach writing? Is it possible to teach writing so that there is a discernible change (improvement) in students' writing and/or writing ability? What constitutes "improvement" in writing ability?

  • How do we assess writing? What is "good" writing?

  • What is "clarity" in writing? What is "style" in writing? What is "voice"? What is "substance"? What is the relationship between "style" and "substance" in writing?

  • What role does a writer's command of the language play in writing?

  • What is "originality" in writing?

  • What are the connections between reading and writing in writing instruction?

  • What is the relationship between "society" and writing? That is, what role do social and cultural factors play in teaching writing?

  • What role do institutional and political factors play in writing instruction?

  • What is the relationship between school-sponsored writing and writing in non-school settings?

  • How does theory influence our understanding of writing and writing instruction?

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of our conversation during our first class, but it reflects many of the important and complex questions and issues which have preoccuppied educators devoted to teaching writing and around which the field of Composition Studies has organized itself. We will, no doubt, wrestle with these and similar questions throughout the semester.

It might be useful to refer back to this page periodically as the semester progresses to see how your inquiry into teaching writing might lead to tentative answers to these questions and to new questions that will energize your own teaching and writing.