Friday, October 30, 2015

Weekly Response: Murray's "Teach the Motivating Force of Revision"

Donald Murray is at it again. He is asking professors to teach students the joy and adventure of revising. He wants students to find new ideas and interests through their writing. They should move through meaning to discover what they truly want to say.

I get the point of his article, but it seems like it would work so much better in a creative writing setting than in my FYW classes. Also, freshmen definitely think that any required revision means they did a poor job on the first draft. It's a punishment, or at best a request for editing "mistakes."

Murray talks about Larson and his research with invention and pre-writing. In class, our search for research topics was almost Larsonesque. We worked for over a week refining our research questions. I asked the students to write down what they wanted to research. I got a lot of one-word answers like "Nike" or "FIFA." We worked as a class, in groups, and in pairs, writing out what we wanted to research, drawing back curtains and peeking under rugs. Some students started with a one-word topic and wrote pages of brainstorming to determine a quality research question. I was very impressed with their focus and the process they used to arrive at their questions. One student, Alex, didn't know how to get further than a topic, and jumped from topic to topic. He accomplished little in class and emailed me later.

Alex: Good afternoon, would it be okay if for my essay I write about the gay right's movement? 

Me: Yes, that would be a great topic! Please go through the same process we used in class to determine keywords and research questions. You need to make an inquiry and answer a question, not simply explain the movement. Please email me your brainstorming, keywords, and research questions. If you need help or direction with that, email me back.

Alex: Keywords: -Gay Rights-Movement-History-Social Equality
I'm having trouble coming up with a research question though. For brainstorming, should I send what I had written down in class trying to figure out what topic to research?

Me: No, I want you to go further with it.  Remember, I don't want a book report about the gay rights movement. I want you to come up with a question regarding the movement that you will have to do research about to find out the answer. I could brainstorm some questions of mine:  Is the movement the only one of its kind or are there other similar ones in other countries? Has the gay rights movement in the US accomplished its original mission now that gay marriage is approved? Has the gay rights movement made more progress with mens gay rights? With womens? Anyway, do you see where I'm going with this? I want you to come up with a question that you don't know the answer to, and can't answer with a quick and simple Google search, so that you will have to investigate.

Alex: Ooooooh okay yea I got it now, thank you!

Alex: Question:Compared to other social equality movements, what are problems unique to the gay rights movement?

Following this exchange, his written brainstorming was rich and his research proposal was one of the best in class. I think this is what Murray means by revision. Reenvision your ideas and see where they take you. Murray talks about internal revision. That's revising the idea of what you want to say. That's what Alex did. Then Murray talks about external revision. That's looking at your writing and seeing if you said it they way you hoped. We will work on that once the first drafts are in.

He goes on to talk about writing teachers and says they should be writers. I like his analogy of art teachers who aren't artists and music teachers who don't play instruments. I thought all writing teachers were (at least amateur) writers, but I guess not if it has to be addressed here. Come to think of it, most of our FYW profs are lit people, Ph.D's in poetry and Victorian Lit. That's not very useful....Just because someone wrote lots of papers for lit classes over the years doesn't mean they are necessarily writers.  Murray warns against the scholars who bring rules and criticism. Oh, I think I know lots of those. 

Instructors should write along with the class (Laura Lopez) to participate and model for the students. Good idea. I have wanted to participate in all my assignments so far, but I haven't had the time to develop syllabi, Moodle pages, handle grading, juggle more than one campus, etc, and do the write-alongs. It's been a goal, and I will get to it. Shooting for fall 2016.  No, wait, I'll be writing my thesis if all goes well. Spring 2016, then. Sigh....see? 

We used to do write-alongs on the board at Essex, an entire 5 paragraph essay on all the boards in the room. Students would help with topic sentences and supporting details, and we'd write the whole essay as a class and then review and edit. The students loved to "catch" me in "mistakes" on the first draft. I'd say, "It's not a mistake because I'm not done yet!" 

While Murray has not been my favorite guy, and I still think his ideas are better geared towards creative writing, I see lots of value in them. Maybe I like him a little better after this article. I like the internal and external revision concept. Maybe I will discuss it in class. No reason not to share the concept with the students. We've worked on internal revision struggling with our research questions and proposal documents. Now we need to draft a paper and use external revision to see if we said what we wanted to say. I don't think Murray means it to be linear in the way I'm using it, but this is how I see its application in my class.

Reading back over this post before I hit publish....Murray isn't as weird as he first seemed.

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