Notes taken by Nada Salem Abisamra
from "The Contemporary Writing Curriculum"
Huff & Kline - 1987
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The journal can serve as an excellent vehicle for the type of "languaging"
that promotes cognitive development.
Cognitive development: the ability to process information at increasingly complex levels of abstraction.
How does journal writing foster cognitive growth?
Before we can answer this question, we need to understand how cognitive development takes place in writing.
Model of cognitive development as it takes place in writing:
Britton and 4 other British scholars (1975) spent 5 years studying the development of writing abilities in children from age 11 through 18. They concluded that " the language by which children will govern their lives will require mental abilities that will best be developed by writing" (p. 201).
To determine what kind of writing would promote cognitive development, they found it necessary to distinguish the FUNCTIONS of language from the MODES and GENRES in which it manifests itself.
Regular exercise of each of those functions serves as a vehicle for cognitive growth.
Cognitive development proceeds out of a global interaction of all three functions of language; all those basic functions need to be encouraged and continually fostered in every writer. However, Britton et al (1975) conclude that the expressive function is PRIMARY in two respects:
Moffett (1968) characterizes the move from the expressive to the transactional in the following terms:
Expressive writing is not necessarily private in the sense that it deals with the merely personal events of the writer's life; it can also deal with half-conceptualized questions of values, attitudes toward social issues, political opinions... Aesthetic responses often emerge for the first time in the implicit.
The need to write expressively is lifelong.
This primary role of expressive writing in cognitive development has radical implications for the role of the journal.
Expressive writing with its lack of concern for a public audience cannot be evaluated by the same standards by which we judge transactional writing.
If we are to foster the development of the expressive function (which
Britton et al and Moffett tell us is a primary stimulus for cognitive growth)
we must provide regular opportunities for expressive writing in a format
that encourages and rewards it (Emig, 1971).
Without ongoing practice in the expressive function, a composition course may actually retard cognitive development rather than promote it.
Expressive writing is the matrix/foundation for the development and elaboration of all of the functions of language.
Expressive Nonstop Writing:
Expressive/nonstop writing (or "free writing," according to Macrorie, 1968) is one of the most profitable journal exercises for the immature writer. The term "nonstop" is used literally. If students get stuck for words, they simply write the last phrase or sentence over and over until the thoughts begin to flow again.
Although nonstop/free writing has been criticized for its lack of focus on conventions and accuracy, it is an effective way to teach writing skills for three main reasons:
It is important to stress that in the nonstop exercise the student is not expected to be concerned with the mechanics of good writing or the conventions or rules of standard usage.
The appropriate time to focus on coherence and correctness is AFTER students have succeeded in getting their thoughts down on paper.
According to Hilgers' (1980) empirical study, the students who engaged in focused free writing before drafting wrote significantly better essays than those who employed rational heuristics.
Nonstop Writing and the Search for a Subject:
Criticism: expressive nonstop writing has a tendency to degenerate into a cathartic outpouring of personal opinion and experience; it is undisciplined, unproductive, and non cumulative in terms of writing skills. It lacks focus.
Answer => Finding, engaging, and limiting a subject is a complex
cognitive skill; lack of focus is an endemic problem in student writing.
Students are loaded with information that has not been meaningfully classified
and subordinated into some coherent frame of reference related to their
own lives. So, teachers need to structure the writing in advance. The students
need to be provided a stimulus designed to bring a variety of latent societal
contradictions rudely into their consciousness. These "stimulus units"
consist of stories and poems from anthologies, songs, cartoons, advertisements,
and art work that portray differing beliefs or role models. These are organized
into sets of 2 or more contradictory views on the same issue.
Hence, expressive writing in response to carefully constructed and significant stimuli (that represent for the students societal contradictions) fosters the elaboration of expressive writing into transactional writing.
Journal Feedback Terms for Expressive Nonstop Writing:
How is nonstop/free writing assessed?
Although students intuitively recognize quality writing (Pirsig, 1974), they cannot learn to produce quality writing unless they have learned to assess their writing.
Nonstop writing cannot be judged by the same standards applied to finished products. A response system is needed to encourage critical awareness and give students feedback about the basic writing skills involved in composing prose. This system can tackle the following three basic writing skills that are above the syntactic level and necessary to writing competent prose:
- limiting and defining a subject
- establishing a thesis
- supporting generalizations with specific details, examples, or evidence.
Here are a few journal feedback responses that cover those skills and are derived from film making; these terms are easily grasped by students and are designed to point out the particular skills that need to be practiced and errors to be avoided the next time the students write, not to evaluate/grade what was written.
Responses to what the students are failing to do:
Responses to students' successes:
Using these feedback terms to respond to journal and nonstop writing not only promotes fluency but provides a risk-free environment for the practice and mastery of essential writing skills.
Director's Voice Vs. Editor's Voice
Consistent use of these feedback terms in the writing classroom enables students, as they themselves report, to internalize "a director's voice" as they write, listen to their own authentic voices and attempt to record the progression of their thoughts; they hear this "director's voice" urging them to "roll the camera back" or "set the scene." When this happens, students have become self-directed writers.
As for the students' editorial voice that prompts them to edit their writing for correctness, it is appropriate in the final stages of revision, when they get ready to make the manuscript public.
Resolving the Dichotomy between Expressive and Transactional Writing:
There is a tendency among teachers to reinforce the notion that expressive
writing is freeing, creative, and fun, and that transactional writing is
stultifying/useless and tedious.
Theoretically, expressive writing (story telling, descriptions of personal experiences) and transactional writing (logical exposition, definition, persuasion) are equally creative modes of writing.
Writing nonstop in response to well-chosen stimuli can serve to bridge the gap between expressive and transactional writing. If the stimulus represents a societal contradiction with considerable intensity, there is a natural tendency for students to begin to elaborate the expressive response into a transactional response.
Follow-up exercise designed to teach students how to transmute the
expressive response into a transactional statement:
1- students write a ten-minute nonstop in response to a particular stimulus
2- students are given a five-minute break to "shake out" their hands and count the number of words they have written (this number increases by 20 to 30 % after 2 to 3 weeks of writing nonstop: increase in scribal fluency).
3- students are asked to read back over their nonstops and identify one idea that they are willing to elaborate into a transactional statement.
4- students spend 15 minutes to develop this idea for a public audience.
=> In this exercise, the expressive nonstop serves as a predrafting exercise for a transactional statement.
The journal serves 3 purposes + 1:
1- It promotes the practice of basic writing skills
2- It is the primary vehicle for fostering the expressive function (in the larger context of cognitive development)
3- It bridges the dichotomy between writing for the self and writing for others, encouraging the elaboration of expressive writing into equally authentic transactional statements.
+ 1- It can serve as the primary vehicle for the development of the writer's voice.
The journal is to the composing curriculum as predrafting is to the polished essay: ESSENTIAL.
Chapter 2: Integrating the Journal into the Composing Curriculum
Limitations of present process curricula:
1- The overwhelming preponderance of the major writing assignments are informative and persuasive, which encourages the split between "creative" writing and "school" writing, between private experience and public voice.
2- Although the predrafting, drafting, and revision model of the composing process presented in class may allow for or even require writing that ranges from the spontaneous to the carefully crafted or revised, the majority of this writing tends to be subordinated to composing a final informative or persuasive product that has been worked and reworked time and again in a highly conscious, if not self-conscious manner. => In the context of such a curriculum, it is easy to lose sight of the writer's need to write spontaneously, intuitively, and repeatedly in many styles, modes, and genres without concern for external evaluations of quality and correctness (Faigley, Miller, Meyer, & Witte, 1981).
How to integrate the use of skill-building journal into a contemporary process curriculum?
I- The development of the writer's voice:
The journal can serve as the primary vehicle inside the composing curriculum for the development of the writer's voice (Moffett and James Britton).
What is an authentic voice?
Vygotsky in "Thought and Language" (1934-1962) describes a move in the child's acquisition of language from exterior speech to inner speech and back to exterior speech.
Functional definition of voice: every individual's voice is derived from an internalized complex of experience of all orders. The exterior voice of the mature individual is derived from an ongoing, focused interior conversation about the subject at hand.
When a child is learning to converse (at the age of 3 or 4) => exterior speech is the dominant vehicle of development As children mature => inner speech; the child is beginning to construct interrelated chains of thought that would be difficult, time-consuming, and even impossible to vocalize (we can think faster than we talk). Later => exterior speech without prior thought, half-consciously articulated fragments of a private language, which is derived from a monitored, censored, and edited complex of inner speech.
For the writer struggling to articulate a complex problem for an audience,
the rehearsal of inner speech is essential.
The text produced by a competent writer is the tip of an iceberg, a visible product of numerous complex interior dialogues about the nature of the subject.
The concept of the journal as the primary vehicle inside the composing curriculum for the development of the student's voice is derived directly from the work of Moffett and James Britton.
A series of daily journal entries in which the form but not the
content is prescribed. This same sequence is repeated week after week throughout
a course, with occasional modifications.
What is critical is the concept => assignments that demand the exercise of all of the functions of the student's voice in modes and genres appropriate to the development of their writing abilities.
=> the formal constraints of the assignments force the students to voice their lives in a variety of functions, modes, and genres.
(Ladder of increasingly complex abstraction)
Day 1: Interior dialogue (egocentric speech)
Day 2: Vocal dialogue (socialized speech- recording what is happening- PLAYS)
Day 3: Correspondence, personal journal, autobiography, memoir (reporting the narrative of what happened- FICTION)
Day 4: Biography, chronicle, history (generalizing, exposition of what happens- ESSAY)
Day 5: Science, metaphysics (what will, may happen)
(Poetry = any day)
Certain types of journal exercises that are needed: (middle school to early college)
Before constructing specific journal assignments, teachers need to DEFINE the particular developmental needs of their students. They need to take into account 3 variables:
- Monday: listen to tape while reading transcript then write
a 10-minute expressive nonstop in response. You are the primary audience.
- Tuesday: select an idea or image from Monday's journal and spend 10 minutes developing your idea, refining it, or changing the perspective from which you originally viewed it. Try to explain things so completely that someone you have never met could understand exactly what you are talking about => external audience.
- Wednesday: spend 5-10 minutes meditating upon an object, scene, person, or event. Then write a description of your meditation. Don't tell us about it, recreate it, bring it alive by allowing your reader to see, hear, feel, taste, and touch what you experienced. Sequence of meditation/descriptions to follow: 1-object, 2-scene, 3-person, 4-event. After completing the sequence, repeat it but draw your subjects from your memories of the past.
After your initial writing of your meditation/description, set it aside for 1 day then revise it, type it, and hand it in the following Monday of each week.
- Thursday: write a significant letter in which you need to communicate feelings, ideas, or information to someone important to you. This letter needs to be written to a real important audience.
BEFORE you write your letter, you are required to define in 3 to 4 sentences:
Your journal entries must be more than just words that fill a page!
Identify each entry with:
- week of the term
- day of the week
Revised journal entries:
Each week you are to take Wednesday's meditation and revise it. Type your revision, paying particular attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar conventions. Turn it in the following Monday.
The aforementioned journal assignments teach students to:
- Monday: observation/description: observing/remembering an object/scene/person/event,
then writing a carefully crafted description for sharing.
- Tuesday: 10 minute expressive nonstop in response to a news article of your choice/interest. Include the article in
- Wednesday: less than 17 words long: compose a slogan suitable for a T-shirt or a bumper sticker OR write a haiku** (17 syllable poem) => word-play that makes a statement or captures a moment.
- Thursday: transactional response to Tuesday's nonstop. Define your audience.
- Friday: either a rethink or a free entry. Try shifting perspectives in your rethink (different angle).
- Saturday & Sunday: optional. You can write anything you choose.
Revised journal entries:
Each week you are to choose one entry from your journal and revise it until you are satisfied that it is a finished piece. (Wednesday's entries are not appropriate here).
**Haiku = unrhymed poem, short description of the natural world,
evokes feelings, what is happening here now, 17 syllables:
- 5 syllables in line 1
- 7 syllables in line 2
- 5 syllables in line 3
The weekly sequence of journal assignments is designed to provide
exercise for all the functions of the student's voice in a rich divergence
of modes and genres.
=> helps the development of an increasingly sophisticated "authentic voice."
- 2 major columns
- each column has a small sentence-level revision margin for minor revisions of syntax and vocabulary
- right-hand column = for initial drafting / nonstop writing
- left-hand column = for notes, predrafting, problem-solving drafting
Journal Sections: (use posterboard dividers to separate the sections)
- section 1 = for daily journal entries (biggest section)
- section 2 = for special journal entries written in class or assigned as predrafting activities for major writing assignments
- section 3 = for the actual drafting of major writing assignments.
How to check students' completion of assigned journal entries?
- Completing all journal assignments is graded.
- All journal entries are written in a notebook reserved solely for that purpose.
- The journal notebook is divided into 3 sections.
- At the front of the journal notebook: a checkoff sheet that identifies all assigned journal entries. Students are responsible for checking off each assignment when it is completed. Every week, beginning of first class meeting, students exchange journals randomly + each student turns in a half-sheet that reports on the status of their classmate's journal. Missing assignments are itemized and each report is signed.
How could time be scheduled to respond to students' journals?
Weeks 1 & 2: each student selects 2 journal entries to be read aloud to a classmate. Using the journal feedback terms, the listener responds orally to the 1st piece and briefly in writing to the second.
Week 3: students turn in their journals, having identified 4 pieces they would like the teacher to read. The teacher responds in writing to 2.
The Journal as SIGNIFICANT REHEARSAL!
The role of the journal within the composing curriculum:
1- place for regular production of nongraded writing => essential for developing fluency
2- the journal feedback terms promote the acquisition of basic writing skills
3- vehicle for the development of the expressive function: primary stimulus to cognitive growth in all functions of language
4- writing transactionally in response to expressive journal entries provides a crucial bridge between expressive and transactional functions
5- daily journal assignments foster the development of students' voices in a variety of functions, modes, genres
6- the journal format asks the students to practice the basics of the composing process daily and to transfer that process into major assignments.
For young writer, the rehearsal provided by the journal in terms of form and content is essential.
In composition classes, the ongoing rehearsal of the journal is integrated into the larger context of the composing curriculum in immediately practical terms. Students are required to derive at least half of the subjects for their major writing assignments from the journal. When students choose subjects from their journals, they are asked as the first step of their composing process to read back through their journals, cross-reference the entries, and identify related entries that constitute a focus of concern.
The assigned daily journal entries promote the writer's foregrounding of issues, ideas, and conflicts that represent true concerns.
The cross-referencing of the students'own writing embodies a significant rehearsal of one of the most difficult cognitive steps of the composing process: finding/discovering an authentic subject.
Given the fact that students have written in their journals frommultiple perspectives and in a variety of modes and genres, the journal serves as significant predrafting for the papers they will eventually write. In fact, we find that when students derive their subjects from their journals, almost 80% of them write adequate papers. when students derive their subjects from other sources, only about 50% write adequate papers.
There is no replacement for the journal within the composing curriculum. It serves as an ongoing rehearsal of skills and ideas that interact to ignite the composing process, turning it into an act of discovery.
Journal = interaction between student and experience.
Journal = introspective descriptions/ commentaries on experience.
Journal = self-exploration
Journal = commentaries on significant experiences + elaborated descriptions of events and the emotions that accompanied them.
Page created on January 2, 2006
Last updated on January 10, 2006
Copyright © 2006 Nada AbiSamra
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