In prior work in the intermediate grades, we had repeatedly seen
students experiencing difficulty in understanding their textbooks and
blaming themselves for not understanding the material. Our observations
came from a series of studies, conducted in fifth to eighth grades,
in which we probed students' interactions with textbook passages and
interviewed students to trace their understandings of social studies
topics they had studied in school, chiefly through reading textbooks.
Bestowed with a baton
(at once sturdy and delicate), the teacher-reader can be seen as a sensitive
interpreter of text, filtering as well as animating the range of sensibilities
that are reflected in the reading of a single composition. As
fanciful as the orchestral image may be, the fact is that two to three
decades of writing research focusing on the teacher as reader and
responder to students' writing, as well as the evolving theories of
writer-reader relationships that have both shaped and reflected this research, invite our serious consideration of this image as a metaphor
for reading students' work and directing the social interchanges that
may shape it, even though the old image may linger.
The research on response has identified three key communicative
problems. First, teachers' interpretations of students' texts are often
problematic. These interpretations are based on students' texts that
may not communicate well. They are often grounded in knowledge,
beliefs, and values that students do not share, and they are produced
through reading practices that are often less than optimal. Second,
teachers' responses to students' texts often do not communicate effectively
to students what the teacher believes they have done well, what
they have done poorly, how the text might be revised, or, for that matter,
what they have done at all. Third, teachers' responses appear to be
problematic because their negative focus and tone convey too effectively
to many students that their writing is bad—a message that seems
to discourage rather than encourage further engagement and growth
in writing ability.
In this chapter, I will argue that the nature of the writing task and
the kinds of learning from text that writing may foster are keys to
understanding the importance of writing in academic learning, making
writing an important tool as well as a "central skill" in the secondary
school curriculum. Perhaps more important, I will argue that, when any
school reform agenda asks teachers to select writing activities to promote
learning, attention must go to the diverse nature of the cultural
and institutional contexts that complicate a writing-to-learn agenda.
The teacher's role is to provide further
information and analysis, typically through lectures, and to promulgate
assignments. Students are expected to work independently on
What happens in the middle? I address this question in this chapter,
not because an enormous amount of research is available (it is
not), but because the question is important for theory and practice,
and because tools developed for other purposes bear on the issues.
Discussions of writing about literature inevitably raise questions
about the ultimate purpose or value of such writing. In this chapter, I
argue for the value of a dialogic approach to writing about literature.
This dialogic approach goes beyond much of traditional formalistic
analysis of character, setting, plot, and theme.
In this chapter
I consider the genre and practice of critique not only in English
studies but in other areas of study, where responding to other writers'
texts is also a part of the educational process.
This chapter centers on one fairly recent development: the adoption
of a constructivist orientation toward communication, which portrays
reading and writing as the building of meaning from and for
This article explores the tensions surrounding multicultural literature for children and traditional literary values and considers the challenges posed for those concerned with the creation, production, distribution, and consumption of children’s literature.
Using historical and contemporary perspectives, the paper argues that reading is a malleable social practice with identifiable moral and ideological consequences
Several studies of reform-oriented literacy instruction have examined
how teachers and students constructed a classroom community of
learners and, further, how such communities positively influence the
teaching and learning of literacy among elementary and middle school
immigrant Latino and other ethnically diverse students. Additional
studies have inquired into the nature of teaching and learning in specific
classrooms, the role of interaction in literacy instruction, the role
of ethnicity in classroom interaction, and the kinds of activities, classroom
settings, and assistance that help to create reflective teachers and
effective practice) Ultimately, these studies were concerned with how
communities of effective practice are created for both teachers and
This chapter describes Success for All, a program designed to
ensure the reading success of all students in high-poverty schools. The
program and the research done to support it are discussed in light of
the question, "What would it take to create on a broad scale schools
and classrooms in which all children can read?"
The essays which make up Section One of this volume draw our
attention to teachers who appear in the works of Plato, John Dewey,
Charles Dickens, and Charlotte Brontë. Each of the teachers studied
here differs dramatically from the others, as does their creator's view
of education. And so, these essays arouse in us a succession of queries,
worries, puzzlements, and perspectives on the subject of teaching. We
find ourselves wondering about such things as the nature of the ideal
teacher, the effects of teachers upon students, and the consequences of
teaching for the teachers themselves. The power of these essays to
provoke our thought derives in part from the fact that they take
moving portrayals of educators as their subjects.
Dickens creates mythic characters, representations so large,
familiar, and memorable as to alter the way we perceive our
institutions and cultural experience. Because of the continuous
popularity of his novels and the peculiar strength of his portrayal of
teachers and teaching, schooling is one such institution shaped in our
imaginations by the influence of his work. I shall examine this
portrayal in order to account for the nature and strength of its
influence, a negative one, as I will show, which has armed the
detractors of teachers and teaching in our society with some of their
most damaging images and notions about schooling.
The basis for my presentation will be two literary masterpieces:
Charlotte Brontë's Villette and Mrs. Gaskell's biography of its author,
The Life of Charlotte Brontë. Villette is Charlotte Brontë's last, most
mature work, and its heroine, Lucy Snowe, is a barely veiled portrait
of the author. Based on Mrs. Gaskell's Life, my prelude follows
Charlotte Brontë almost to the boat that takes her to a girl's school in
Belgium which is the place of action in Villette. Here Lucy Snowe, a
waif, starts out as nursery governess and progresses to becoming a
teacher, dreaming of a school of her own. My epilogue returns to the
author's life. Gathering up the events of her middle years, I will trace
the twists of fate that yielded us Villette. And I will try to determine
just why it is that Mrs. Gaskell calls Charlotte Brontë a woman of
extraordinary genius and noble virtue.
This section deals with the way texts of various kinds are used and
might be used in classrooms. It extends the notion of texts to include
not only conventional written materials but also physical objects, such
as paintings and sculpture, as well as the kind of information
transmitted by computers and video cassettes. It is addressed to both
practitioners and researchers but the emphasis throughout is on
practice. By revealing gaps in our knowledge it points the way to
My thesis is that the self-presentations of the lives of
exemplary or especially typical Americans, carefully considered, can
serve as models or instruments in educating the reader for democratic
citizenship by (a) promoting understanding of our civic principles and
practices, (b) cultivating social consciousness and civic self-consciousness,
and (c) fostering public-spiritedness.
If we value literature as a unique way of knowing and if we wish
our students power to respond to literary texts above the level of
greeting card verse, then we need to ask some hard questions about the
nature and effect of instruction in literature. To contribute to that
process, the remainder of this paper will examine what appears to be
a standard pattern of instruction in literature and an alternative to it.
In arguing for these points, I will be offering answers to
several questions concerning the ways texts teach, including these:
How can fiction teach? What are the pedagogical possibilities of
fiction? What sorts of lessons can be taught? How can a work of
fiction teach us contradictory lessons, as when different characters
express contradictory viewpoints? How are the lessons of fiction, or
literature more generally, different from more usual sorts of lessons?
In answering these questions, I will be utilizing Dostoyevsky's great
text to illustrate claims concerning successful fictional texts more
generally—claims concerning the sorts of lessons they teach and the
way in which those lessons are taught.
The process of learning to teach is comparable to learning to write because the fundamental activities in which teachers take part are in many ways like the activities of writers. Implications for teacher education are discussed, especially with regard to the trend to establish a scientific knowledge base for teaching.
The verbalized thinking of two sixth grade children while reading is analyzed using schema theory. An outline of a critical thinking theory is given and contrasted with schema theory. Conclusions for reading theoreticians are discussed.
is immediately addressed to those involved with issues in education
but who are not located within the community of writing teachers and researchers: legislators, supervisors, principals, researchers from other
disciplines, parents (we would hope), concerned citizens generally.
The authors were given the task of taking an issue or area of
instruction that they knew well, something of immediate concern to
the profession, and of representing it to those on the outside. I hope
those readers will come to this book, look (at least first) at the big
puzzling picture, and ask, "What manner of men and women are
The ideological, or philosophical, assumptions behind composition
will concern me in this essay. It is necessary that I write somewhat
abstractly, although I do not wish to ignore some practical implications
that follow from such a concern. I trust that the essays in the
rest of this volume will adequately survey available techniques of
teaching composition. In discussing the justifications that might
support such techniques, however, I would like to begin with a
reminder that these justifications are not of recent origin. They are not
responses to any recent "literary crisis," but echo the earliest attempts
to reason about human knowledge and its relation to the written
word. I want to begin, therefore, with a sketch of some ancient
responses to the question "Why write?" These responses raise issues
that are never resolved once and for all but require rethinking by
When the editors of this Yearbook asked me to write a chapter on
current models of composition pedagogy, an image came immediately
to mind. I would portray the dominant model as King Kong standing
on the Empire State Building. Like the beast who swats biplanes away
as if they were flies, this model remains impervious to the challenges
of other approaches, dispatching them with the brutish power born of
preeminence. Or so I thought before I began looking more closely at
discussions of what goes on in the majority of composition classes
today. First there was the problem of what to call this dominant
model. In discussions of research, classes employing experimental
procedures are usually contrasted with the "traditional" class, and
names for these traditional classes include "formalist," "discipline-centered,"
Composition scholars agree that the composing process exists or,
rather, that there is a complex of activities out of which all writing
emerges. We cannot specify one composing process as invariably
successful. Current research in the field is beginning to draw a detailed
picture of these composing processes.
Studies of the composing process seek to discover the kinds of
knowledge writers use as they write. Studies of instruction examine
how writers best learn particular kinds of knowledge and how and to
what extent that knowledge affects writing. This essay will examine
four major types of knowledge that appear to be important in composing.
In this chapter, I will
address the success of process approaches against three criteria: (a)
How widely have they been adopted? (b) When adopted, how
successfully are they implemented? and (c) When implemented, do
they lead to noticeable improvement in students' writing? I will
evaluate process-oriented instruction against each of these criteria in
turn and will find it seriously wanting on two of the three counts.
My sense is that learning to write and writing to learn are both
going on at the same time in classrooms where teachers are focusing
on writers who are also learners. Learners need time, choice, and
response. I do not think teachers need to choose between learning to
write or writing to learn. A productive classroom in any subject
should provide opportunities for the student to wonder, to pose
questions, to pursue possible answers, to discuss with others, to come
to some conclusions—all in writing and all in an attempt to come to a
greater understanding of what they are trying to learn.
In this chapter, I will describe three program changes
which seem necessary if secondary writing courses are to begin to
provide the instruction necessary for the new standards of literacy.
First, I will describe three teaching approaches that successful writing
teachers use, approaches which appear to be validated by research
findings and which take secondary writing instruction beyond words,
phrases, and sentences, and beyond the narrow tradition of "assign it,
correct it, return it."
In this essay I would like to sketch some of the more prominent
moments in the coming of age progress, not so much to describe the "state of the
art" in composition, though that too will be part of my project, as to
document the renovation of the estate in which that "art," if it can in
fact be called one, is currently practiced.