Sunday, January 23, 2011

Moving Away From Prescriptive Towards Descriptive Writing Pedagogy

Katie Wood Ray reminds us:

Through experiences looking at many different texts in inquiry with children, we came to realize that there was a difference between describing good writing and prescribing good writing. When we really engaged in describing good writing, we found ourselves talking about how it all works quite differently than we did when we only prescribed good writing, far away from the beautiful texts those prescriptions were meant to help create. And of course we had to face the fact that many of the things we had been taught about good writing simply were not true. As we looked and described what we saw, we were rewriting our own understandings about how good writing happens.

Over time, as we really looked at writing, we found that there was nothing to fear. Good writers don't pursue their craft with a reckless abandon. Instead, they have come to realize that language is there to be used, in any manner possible, to make meaning. Human beings invented language. Its use is not a fixed, rule-bound principle of the universe that existed before us or outside of us. Its use is an exchange between human beings, and because of that, it is alive and changing and growing, and it is never static, never one thing or one way you can put your finger on. To learn to write from writers you will have to make peace with understanding language in use, rather than language in principle.

For this week's blog response please post a piece of text (a sentence, a couple of sentences or a paragraph) that you've read recently that strikes you as "good" writing that is NOT from our assigned articles (could be from an online blog post, newspaper article, people magazine article, advertisement etc.)

1. Describe in the best words you have what you think the author is doing (language patterns you see).
2. Describe why the author is doing it.
3. Why the writing itself resonates with you.

Do your best (and it will be hard) to NOT GET HUNG UP OR STRESSED OUT about needing to know the correct terminology, literary devices or parts-of-speech knowledge for everything you love about the way the language is constructed together. Just go with the best words you have to describe the writing at hand.