Friday, January 07, 2011

I have often wondered why the composition research of the past doesn't seem to have filtered down to the public school teachers. Now I wonder whether current students would reveal the effects of test-prep teaching (which, in English classes, means formulaic five-paragraph essays or school-only paragraphs with cardboard topic sentences). What if someone recreated work of, say, Janet Emig or Sondra Perl, and asked kids what they are thinking about as they compose? Someone has probably done this, but did they try to tie their findings to the testing movement that began in the nineties? And what are some other important studies that are (or could be) replicated?

Another way to look at change: What would happen if we conducted the same kinds of interviews with established writers on the web, the way they did in some of that earlier work? What would people like Seth Godin and younger Huffington Post bloggers tell us about their writing, their composing habits? Would anyone be interested in the way they think about their writing, which they compose for an internet audience of RSS feeds? What are the composing processes of tweeters like? Is there a "Process" now that is different from the "Process" then, the process that produced "process pedagogy," which then produced workshop, etc.? Or has process stayed the same (a recursive dialogue with self) while some other details of composition and thinking have changed?

Is there a difference between children who write for tests and test prep and children who are instead engaged in authentic writing, multi-mode/multi-media composition, etc.? I'm thinking of the students in classrooms taught by John Spencer, Joe Bower, some other Canadien classrooms where the test pressure isn't as ubiquitous. I'm thinking of younger children, third and fourth, maybe fifth and sixth graders, before (at least in New York State) testing expands to fill the classroom? Alas, I'm not sure that hasn't happened yet.

What happens when children who are used to test prep are put in a situation where testing hasn't taken over and the teacher is using writing workshop and some dialogic methods? How long does it take for children to adjust? I know that I had to get students in the groove when they came to my classroom after sixth and seventh grade with very little writing experience, all of it graded, little of it personal or meaningful. It was getting worse (students were more noticeably and more vocally uncomfortable) in the years right before I took my leave. I had to reassure, "hold hands," ease them into it more. It would be difficult to study unless I am in a classroom myself, working with real children who have to take the test in May, in which case there would be administrators hanging over me, asking me about test-related objectives. That whole nightmare, all over again. I would probably have to pay children to come to some sort of writing workshop in July. Not exactly authentic. Or I would have to go to a state which has rejected NCLB money. Are there any states not getting on board?

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