Always Teaching Writing

mimmoore
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Here at UNG, I am always teaching writing: first-year composition/corequisite, ESOL pedagogy, introduction to linguistics, an intermediate and advanced grammar sequence, and applied linguistics for language instructors.  As my colleagues in composition and rhetoric know—and as Elizabeth Wardle has argued forcefully—“there is no such thing as writing in general.”  Consider the following course project in my sophomore-level grammar class, often an English major’s first encounter with a disciplinary style that is fundamentally different from the expectations of high school, FYC, or literature survey courses.  

What’s the assignment?  Students pick a sentence containing a syntactic or lexical structure deemed incorrect—or at least contested—according to some grammar or usage guides.  Students then identify the issue, describe the structure, research it in dictionaries and style guides, and ultimately collect data from media sources, corpus databases, and tools such as the Google N-gram viewer.  From this data, they make an argument concerning the usage and status of the structure. 

I ask students to complete five checkpoints as the project develops.  By the third checkpoint, most students realize how different this paper will be from previous academic assignments.  Some of them panic.

Most of these students are English majors who have strong sense of their own style and confidence about writing in familiar forms—arguments and literary analyses.   They have not, however, written extensively about language, nor have they worked with the types of sources required for this paper, much less primary data sources. 

So, while we are learning about grammar, we are also learning how to write like grammarians—or linguists.  In addition to checkpoints, I require peer review sessions with our writing fellows, the writing center, or our supplemental peer instructor.   I ask students to submit final drafts with annotations to show how they incorporated feedback from peers, and I also ask them to reflect on my feedback and submit a response. I urge them to think about how they have grown not only in their understanding of syntactic concepts but also writing concepts—and what they will take with them going forward.

We use the following handout as students begin drafting their papers.  On the left side are concepts that are common to all writing situations—and despite the novelty of this assignment, students do have experience from which to draw.  On the right side are specific realizations of these concepts in the context of writing about grammar. 

But we can also use this sheet to consider other assignments they will encounter—and to think about how to adapt their writing to fit new contexts.  We are always teaching writing, indeed.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.