Wednesday, December 2, 2009

98% Questions

What does a discipline generally agree on? Almost every field has some knowledge that almost all of the members of the community, no matter their differences, find fundamental. Liberal economist Alan Blinder wrote this great book where he talked about the several principles (growth from free trade, damage from rent controls) that almost every economist, liberal or conservative, tend to agree on. The National Center for Science Education has compiled a list of scientists named "Steve" who believe in evolution (the idea being that people named Steve are a minority of the total population). Essentially every Renaissance scholar believes that Shakespeare really did write Shakespeare, even calling the controversy a "non-issue." So what are the great points of expert aggregation for composition studies?

I don't know. No one's done much reproduced, incontrovertible research. But what do we, as practitioners and occasional researchers, generally agree on? I'd love to be able to do a survey at the Conference on College Composition Communication this spring, if I could get IRB-approval (to say nothing of C's approval). Here are the statements I'd like to get a Likert-scale reading on (stacked, of course, because I suspect I'd be able to get a 98% on "agree," "strongly agree," and "very strongly agree"):

1. Creating multiple drafts of assignments improves writing.
2. Peer-review is an effective learning exercise.
3. Direct grammar drills are ineffective for making students better writers.
4. Straight "talk-and-chalk" lectures should not be the only form of writing instruction.
5. Students should be taught to write for discourse communities.
6. Requiring students to reflect on their writing experience improves writing.
7. Collaborative assignments improve student writing.
8. Short, frequent in-class writing (ie, "prompts") improve student writing.
9. Marginal or end-of-paper comments are more effective teaching tools than just assigning a letter or number grade.
10. Pre-writing activities (eg: brainstorming, discussion, lists, clustering, etc.) result in better writing.
11. Students need to write many pages of polished writing to improve: at least 10 pages a semester.
12. Students write better when they read examples of good writing.
13. Students who learn to write well in one genre do not necessarily write well in others.
14. Students need to learn "bottom-up": they must first learn to write sentence before they can write paragraph, paragraphs before pages, etc. [I actually think this will be 90% disagree, but I didn't want it to be an easy survey.]
15. An important element of good writing is good content.
16. Students need more positive responses to their writing than negative to improve.
17. Teachers should show students how writing skills apply lives outside of the class.
18. Writing can be taught.
19. Writing develops critical thinking skills.
20. Composition classes should teach more skills than writing (eg: speech, visual rhetoric, etc.)
21. Plagiarism is morally wrong.

Any other suggestions?


mlh said...

Here's another one I thought up:

22. While there can be differences among readers, grading writing can be objective.

Cathryn said...

Love the list! My brain is too fried from grading 6th grade research papers (contradiction in terms?) to come up with more. Great stuff.

xister said...

23. "Xister likes brownies." is a fact and not an opinion.

Actually according to every English teacher I've ever had, this statement is false... but they are all wrong.

mlh said...

Actually, according to Campbell, the 18th century inventor of modern rhetoric, it's a fact (at least, a type of knowledge--intuititve knowledge). It a different kind of knowledge, but it's knowledge. Untenetable claim, but can still be true. Your English teachers were wrong.

Day said...

Thank you for this. . I will be using it to try and improve my writing. :)