A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers

I have a Masters in English Literature, so I should really be teaching a class on my favorite books in African-American or Southwestern Lit.  But I don’t teach classes in literature; I teach developmental writing — two very different subjects of study.

So, I am in the process of learning how to teach writing in the most effective way (it’s harder than you think).  This is why I’ve just finished A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers by Erika Lindemann.

This book covers theory (creating a paradigm for how and why to teach writing); practical methods for teaching every aspect of writing; and a history of rhetoric, linguistics, cognition, and the “composition” class, which was extremely illuminating.  Did you know that the ubiquitous (and in my opinion limiting) five-paragraph essay comes from a strange transformation of Aristotle’s four and Cicero’s six views on how to structure on argument?

I learned much from this book — mostly that I’m not structuring my class in the best way.  I focus too much on errors and not enough on improving an individual writer’s strengths.

I only teach one class in addition to my full-time job, so I, fortunately, can afford to experiment.  Next semester, I will try to implement some of what I’ve learned, especially the idea of writing more in class, structuring assignments step-by-step, focusing less on errors and more on different and effective ways to create sentences. I might not even use a textbook — simply show the students writing from professionals in magazines and books and also previous student writing in my class.

As a new-to-teaching-writing instructor, I’d recommend this book to anyone who teaches writing, particularly at the college level, but also to experienced teachers who have always taught in one way (grammar drills – which research has shown to be an ineffective way of teaching students how to use grammar correctly in writing).  Perhaps it’s time for a change.

Wish me luck as I design a new course for next semester!

I’m hoping to read Errors and Expectations by Mina Shaughnessy next, but I have to wait to buy new books in April.  I already used up my book budget this month!

Do any of you writing teachers have recommendations for other books I could read to make me a better writing teacher?

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