Evaluating Writing Reviews Teaching Writing

The High School/College Writing Classroom Disconnect by John Warner

John Warner’s assessment of the disconnect between high school and college writing classrooms is surprisingly more critical of college professors.  In fact, Warner argues that professors are responsible for connecting college writing assignments to the outside world.  In addressing primary and secondary teachers, he acknowledges that they have good goals in teaching their students restricting writing rules, but he would instead have them, along with all writing teachers, help their students focus on the rhetorical audience and purpose.

One instance of such rules is those used by Leilen Shelton to teach middle school students to avoid boring, “dead” words in favor of lively ones.  Yet, as Warner points out, these students often believe using fancier words found in the thesaurus will make them sound smarter to the teacher, who is the audience for their writing.  Instead, Warner would have students aim at audiences beyond their teacher and to believe that they already are writers.  As writers, they must make many choices, such as the choice of words, to fit the audience and purpose of their writing.  But only if the teacher facilitates a real audience and purpose will students be able to make these moves as writer.  And those writerly choices will set student writers free, Warner writes.  

When Warner first meets new college writing students, he tells them “that there are no rules anymore because they never existed in the first place, but there are guidelines and goals, and that the rules are to be rewritten each time they sit down to write.”  He asks students to consider the choices an author makes, choices grounded in the audience and purpose of each writing situation.  Then he leads them through guided readings where they consider the power of an author’s word choice.  For instance, he compares the use of “flesh” versus “skin” in David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” essay, and explores with students how that one word choice affects the author’s message and its effect on readers. It’s not that one word is right and the other wrong; instead, Wallace chose “flesh” because it fit his purpose and desired effect on the audience.  

Warner gives college writing professors the responsibility to make it clear that writing is a series of choices the writer makes.  He also calls upon them to collaborate with primary and secondary teachers to present a unified picture of writing: writing as a series of choices.  If writing is taught rhetorically, guided by audience and purpose, in all classrooms and disciplines, students will be given the freedom to pursue excellent writing in every genre.

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