I confess that while reading this piece, I was thinking quite a lot about my English 120 classes and attributing Shaughnessy’s arguments and discussions to my own students, which put me in a bit of a strange place. Aren’t English 120 students supposed to be a step above “remedial” writers? Shouldn’t they already be able to understand some of the things Shaughnessy’s essay discusses? Perhaps times have changed so much that it is no longer possible to draw such a fine line between remedial/basic writers and the simply “unskilled writers” our process readings have discussed. Or perhaps the problem I faced while reading this essay is mine and mine alone, becoming too hung up on labels rather than accepting that basic writing can be applied to all classrooms, particularly freshman writing classrooms.
Nevertheless, I tend to read essays, as I’m sure many of us do, with a sense of practicality: how can this help me in a practical sense? Why am I reading this? What can I gain from this essay that can help me in my teaching or my studies? In this sense, Shaunessy’s four-stage scale serving as a metaphor for the teacher’s perceived place in a basic writing classroom seems incredibly useful. Putting the responsibility on the instructor’s shoulders, rather than insisting that the students must learn (on their own, somehow, almost magically), gives the instructor much more ownership of their teaching, and of what the students end up learning by the conclusion of a course. On a personal level, being able to own my teaching makes me feel a bit more in control, which I appreciate.
The stages of Shaunessy’s scale have returned us to a somewhat linear model, although this model is of writing instruction–or of the various stages of thinking a basic writing instructor goes through–rather than of writing itself. These stages definitely seem unique to writing instruction as opposed to other kinds of instruction. When teaching theory, an instructor can often see students understanding the material at various stages and, I would argue, more often than when teaching writing. Teaching writing is about teaching a craft, and a relatively abstract one at that (abstract, at least, to our students), whereas teaching theory is about teaching more concrete ideas and ways of thinking.
Question 1: On pg. 295, Shaunessy mentions that “we lack models for the maturation of the writing skill among young, native-born adults…” at the time of writing this particular essay. What models now exist, if any? Do those models differ from basic writing instruction today?
Question 2: While Shaunessy’s essay posits a model for how basic writing instructors think, how useful is it in actually helping us teach basic writers? Is it only useful in that it helps us understand the thinking of writing instructors, or can it actually be applied practically?