Friday, November 27, 2015

Weekly Response: Wiley's "The Popularity of Formulaic Writing"

Wiley has some good points. I understand that she is not happy with the formulaic nature of Schaffer's pedagogy in her program that teaches the multi paragraph essay. She suggests, per Collins, that teachers should use the formula as a strategy, not a formula per se. I would hope that teachers could use the formula, but add more to it, so it isn't exactly a recipe.
"To develop as writers, students must develop a repertoire of strategies for dealing effectively with various writing tasks presented to them in different situations. They must also learn to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, and style; and they must learn to hone their judgments about the effects of the choices they make as writers." Yes, but using Schaffer's program doesn't precluded teaching situational writing also.
Schaffer's program is a nine-week curriculum. It would be used as only a part of class, and other genres and strategies would be used before, after, and in conjunction with this method. A class meets all year, not just 9 weeks. To teach in the classrooms that Wiley mentions, poorly administered, overcrowded, and disadvantaged, this formula can be a lifeline to students who don't know where to start. Just because Schaffer doesn't offer a "what to do next" in her program doesn't invalidate the program. Teachers and districts can certainly figure out that there is more to do once students have a framework for a multi paragraph essay. She says, "To be fair, there is nothing in Schaffer's curriculum guide to preclude teachers from encouraging exploration." Exactly. If teachers are using the program as a crutch and don't know how to teach nor inspire their students to reach for more, I don't think that is a weakness of Schaffer's program. Further, Wiley makes the claim, "Yet the teachers who would be attracted to the guide are typically those who don't know how to encourage such exploration." If we are talking about poor teachers here, I don't know why that reflects on Schaffer's program. Poor teachers will do a poor job with or without Schaffer's program. The program should not be evaluated based on how the worst teachers will use it. Rather, will the worst teachers' students benefit more with or without the structured program? I bet "with" is the right answer. Also, after discussing the disadvantaged school systems and the unprepared students, why would the teacher, poor or expert, be to blame if he/she finds a method that can help students succeed at writing tasks and gain confidence in their abilities?

Wiley finds flaws with using the Schaffer system:
However, this strategy won't necessarily be helpful in other situations, such as when students must submit an autobiographical essay with their college applications. The formulaic approach would make their writing sound mechanical and simpleminded. It is also less helpful in situations where reflective, speculative, or argumentative writing is called for. Here writers might need to develop longer chains of reasoning through which they explain their positions on an issue, why something occurred, or why they took a specific action.
I agree with Wiley. The strategy won't work in other situations. It shouldn't. It is a strategy for writing multi paragraph essays about literature. Once the students have learned that strategy, or concurrently as they are learning it, they should move forward, outward, and onward to genres, audience, critical thinking, and exploration of their own writing.

As in Fister's article, Wiley trashes a practice because it doesn't provide enough expertise; it doesn't succeed in teaching students to become writers. There are so many ways to write, and so many different expectations, that no one method is going to teach writing for all occasions. Donald Murray might spend a year with a student who would become a great writer of stories and narratives. What would that student do when faced with a multi paragraph academic essay in response to literature? There is nothing wrong with using formulas, strategies, and methods that contradict each other. It helps the writer experience different styles and expectations, just like "real-life" writing. Further, I think many of these scholars think that every student should end by loving writing and being an exploring, expressive, and enthusiastic writer. I don't think that expectation is realistic. As great as my science teachers were, I will never have an interest, passion, or curiosity for science. I did need enough basic knowledge to pass science classes, though. Often, it is useful to give struggling students tools for success.  Students who have passion for writing will certainly move beyond the formulas and strategies when given the opportunity. Because the formula curriculum lasts only 9 weeks, there is plenty of time to give them that opportunity, to encourage students to develop as writers.

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