Sunday, July 11, 2010

research on writing

I have been reading some interesting stuff lately about common practices and beliefs in teaching writing in our public schools, and some of the research kind of irks me a bit.

I'm hoping that we are moving into a trend away from all this "holistic" and "natural process" stuff that I really believe has gotten our kids into a heck of a lot of trouble with literacy in the past 30 years or so.

Here's something I came across: One of the principle foundational ideas supporting current practices in writing instruction was expressed by researcher Janet Emig in 1971. Emig studied what professional writers and students in school actually did when they wrote -- the "process" of writing. She emphasized the notion that ideas were more important than correctness. Her study showed (and let me tell you how much I disagree with this) that writers who concentrate on technique when drafting initial copy, do so at the expense of their creative ideas and their writing will suffer as a result.

I think this is kind of interesting in a couple ways. First, it clearly has a lot to do with the nothing-is-wrong-so-feel-good-about-yourself misguided philosophy underlying so much of public education in America in the last several decades.

Second, I just don't buy it. Emig said that "good writers" disregarded notions of accurate technique and correctness, and what she and her followers prescribed became the process that all writers should employ.

Well, that's not how I do it. In my world, ideas, creativity, and technical correctness do not compete for preeminence in the process, and none of those elements are inferior in their necessity. That will mess you up every time.