My goal is to design a sequential curriculum for the second half of a ten-month elective course which will include first college board review (four months) and then an advanced writing workshop (six months). Both parts of the course will contain an emphasis on thinking and reasoning—as a basis for good test-taking and as the basis for effective writing.
The College Board Review component will include explanations of the strategies of test-taking and of the reasoning processes involved in taking the Scholastic Aptitude and English Achievement Tests, extensive drills and exercises done individually and in groups, and many small group and whole class discussions about correct answers and processes involved in determining correct answers. The curriculum will consist of a review of roots, prefixes, and suffixes, a review of parts of speech as indicated by suffixes, a review of synonyms and antonyms, a study of the skills involved in analyzing literature, and a study of how to identify errors of usage and structure in prose material. I will also review the strategy for answering analogy questions (
determining the given relationship—e.g. by turning the relationship into a sentence—and
attempting to match it) and the possible types of relationship in such questions (e.g. part to whole, worker to tool, normal amount to surplus, etc.). I will also review the thinking and locating skills involved in answering reading comprehension questions (e.g. finding the main idea, finding details, finding inferences, determining the meaning of a work from context, etc.).
The Writing Workshop component will be based on the assumption that the students understand the concept of a paragraph and can write a passable paragraph with a minimum number of errors in usage, structure, and mechanics. This component will be designed to have students write every day in class and almost every day at home, to give them considerable experience in actual writing. It will include work on descriptive, narrative, and expository prose, including analytic essays on various types of literature, and some work on the writing of poetry, short stories, humor, and satire. It will emphasize throughout the goals of specificity and of supporting ideas with details, facts, reasons, or observations.
Evaluation of the course and of the growth of the students in the course will be based on pre- and post-tests. These tests will include College Board questions on vocabulary, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, the analysis of literature, identification of errors, and rewriting a poorly-written prose passage; tests of reading level including vocabulary and comprehension; and samples of paragraphs and essays written by the students.
In analyzing methods of teaching composition, one writer (Miles Myers in
Magazine) discusses five methods, each with its own tradition in research and practice and each with its own special strengths and weaknesses for particular students.
The models approach is based on the theory that skill can be developed through imitation. Its emphasis on paragraphs dictated to and written down by students seems to me more suitable for teaching writing on the beginning to intermediate level than on the intermediate to advanced level. However, I feel the paraphrasing and precis-writing skills emphasized in this approach would be useful skills for the students in this workshop to acquire.
The sentence-combining approach has its roots in linguistics and emphasizes sentence structure. I will be using this approach as a small part of the workshop as a way to introduce students to thinking about structure and style in sentences. I will be using exercises from Strong’s
A Composing Book
, in which students combine four to six given kernels into a sentence and compare their results with each other. I will also be using exercises from
Composition: Models and Exercises II
The Writer’s Handbook
and the explanations in these books of coordinating (compounding) and subordinating (embedding).
The relationships approach involves a sequence which moves from narration to exposition and is based on the assumption that gaining maturity in writing involves the writer’s moving from a close audience and a personal subject to a more distant audience and a more abstract type of writing. This process seems useful to keep in mind in designing a series of sequential assignments for the workshop.
The “theory-of-the-world” approach assumes that students need a theory of the world in order to write effectively. I would say, more simply, that students need to take an attitude toward their subjects. In teaching students how to begin to write, a teacher must show them ways to select a subject, focus on their audience and their purpose for writing, and determine their attitude toward their subject before they begin writing.
The steps approach to teaching composition requires a workshop or laboratory format and focuses on the process of writing, including prewriting techniques such as brainstorming and journal entry writing, composing a series of drafts, and editing, criticizing, and rewriting. This seems to me the most useful approach because it emphasizes the process more than the product and because it puts much of the responsibility on the students themselves. It exposes them to a process which can be used for any kind of writing and which can be adapted to other tasks as well. Included below is Koch’s and Brazil’s overview of the stages of the process.
(See Appendix A).
I have used this approach in teaching a small number of students (five to ten) in an Independent Study Writing Seminar, and I want to revise and expand my approach in that situation to devise an approach, a sequence, and a curriculum suited to a larger classroom/workshop situation.
This approach would be a process-conference one in which students would work individually, in pairs, or in groups, depending on their preferences and on the particular assignment. They would approach each assignment by selecting a topic; brainstorming words, details, and ideas; focusing on a particular audience, a purpose for writing, and an attitude toward their subject; gathering other necessary information; organizing their material; and writing a series of drafts. The students would be guided through this process by the teacher through a series of brief conferences held formally or informally as needed during the process. The goal would be for the students to become more and more independent, gradually learning to guide themselves through the process and increasingly using the teacher more as a resource and less as a guide.
In this approach, the students begin with what they know and want to say, while the teacher’s task is to help the students determine what they know and what they want to find out. The teacher facilitates this exploration at first by suggesting a process for beginning and by raising the kinds of questions one needs to ask oneself in order to begin. Such questions might include: What are some sensory details you can list about that place (or experience)? What are some attitudes you could take toward that subject? What would be the most forceful order for those points? Later, the teacher raises questions which help the writer begin to evaluate his/her own work. These might include: Which sentence is the most clear? Which sentence has the most specific details? Which image is the most appropriate for the writer’s audience and purpose? Throughout the process, the teacher facilitates this self-improvement by teaching specific skills as they are needed, for example, the use of quotation marks when the students are writing dialogue. The ultimate goal is for the students to learn to ask and answer the necessary questions independently.
There are three specific advantages to using the workshop or laboratory format. The students are partly responsible for designing and evaluating their own process and for finding the processes which work best for them in specific situations (e.g. whether to focus more on voice, audience, or argument). By working closely with the teacher and with other students during the writing process, the students are more aware of an audience and of the need to communicate their ideas clearly to that audience. Also, the teacher can play a variety of facilitating roles, including listener, questioner, recorder, editor, etc.
The students, in addition to working individually and having conferences with the teacher, will be encouraged from the beginning of the class to use each other as sources of ideas, suggestions, and criticisms—to function for each other as listeners, questioners, critics, and editors. The peer pairs and small groups will provide an audience other than the teacher and feedback for student ideas from more than one person.
In the sequence of skills and assignments outlined below, work in pairs and in groups will be introduced at the beginning in informal ways, and help will be provided by the group mainly on prewriting. After the first week or two, the small group work will be expanded to include providing help on writing and rewriting, and seminars will be introduced, involving part or all of the class, in which students will read their writing to each other and share ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s writing.
It is, of course, important to establish an atmosphere of trust and of mutual help in the workshop if these pairs, groups, and seminars are to be fruitful. I agree with Thom Hawkins, who points out that when students work together on a specific task within a structured situation, they are usually able to be supportive of each other as well as critical.
Included below is a suggested pattern for a small-group or seminar response procedure from Hawkins’ book and a form he uses to have group members evaluate their groups (See Appendix B and C).
At the end of the course, when students have become more independent and comfortable working with groups, each student will choose a genre (probably short story, poetry, or humor) and work, with a group of other students who have chosen the same genre, for three weeks on a major individual project. The students would already have done work on that genre, having read examples of writing in that genre, having analyzed and evaluated the examples in discussions, and having written analysis and critiques of the pieces they have read. Now they will be writing, with the help of their group, work of their own in the same genre. For example, they would already have read, raised questions about, and discussed some poetry written by published poets and by student writers and have evaluated and criticized various poems. They would have written analysis of poems in which they discussed how a poet achieved a certain effect or why certain words or images were more effective than others. Now they will do as much more reading, discussing, and analyzing as they feel they need to, and will also write poems of their own.
As part of their work in the course, students will constantly be evaluating their own work, and they will be allowed to rewrite as much as they want to or have time to. One part of their grade each marking period will be a grade on a given number of papers (perhaps five) that they have chosen from their folders, polished and rewritten as much as possible, and handed in to be graded. Included below are two evaluation forms suggested by Laque and Sherwood which could be adapted and used by students to evaluate their own and others’ work in writing as well as in discussions (See Appendix D and E).
The sequence of skills and assignments which follows can be modified to meet the needs of specific classes and/or individuals.