When you write a paper, it’s like when you are the leader of the pack

Certain habits and methods of constructing an essay are fairly common when one works with basic writers. As I was reading the Bartholomae article. I found myself “sorting” the students into the classes that they would take in the CSU system. I didn’t realize that I was doing it at first; therefore, I am a bit surprised at how much I have internalized that system.

I always tried to find a rationale for the basic writers’ habits in order to best address the pieces that they had not learned yet. I understand the bewilderment of students on how to enter the academic discourse. Graff’s They Say, I Say (template phrase and sentence system—like Bartholomae mentions (541) is (for me) very helpful in my freshman comp level classes, but the lower level writers needed more scaffolding or templates like the four- or ten- sentence rhetorical précis. However, one thing that I never got is why all the “yous?” I feel like I am having a massive lightbulb moment after reading that Batholomae says that the use of “you” is another way for students to evoke authority. Now, I have to figure out what to do with that piece.

Question(s): Bartholomae concentrates on timed placement essays and what they reveal about basic writers, and the use of commonplaces seems to be standard within timed placement essays. What can replace timed essays as placement devices? I have to add a caveat to this question: students who have gone through NCLB systems and passed the standardized tests generally will place themselves at college level reading and writing when they have not learned the skill set needed in college. How can self-directed placement work without the students being aware of the needed skills?

Question: What do you all think of template use in the classroom? Does it create goobledegook sentences or help students enter Burke’s dialogue?


3 thoughts on “When you write a paper, it’s like when you are the leader of the pack

    • I was thinking about a few things from Bartholomae’s article and the ways that writers respond to the timed essay prompts.

      First, I wanted to reference the use of “you” as a way of creating ethos when a student is writing a timed essay and the immediacy of when she or he has to write that paper.

      For the second half, I was thinking about the use of commonplaces in students’ timed writing and how students sometimes use those as “a set of ‘precalculated’ explanations that are readily available to organize and interpret experience” (526). So many of the timed writing prompts seem to use quotes about education as a key to success or in reference to a personal experience that built leadership skills or provoked positive change. I used the first phrase that came to my mind about an authority figure to both refer to those style of prompts and how these essays are used to place students.


  1. I, too, had a major lightbulb moment in the discussion of “you” as a way to “evoke authority.” I always had written that off as students wanting to write more informally and that this shift was a sign of carelessness in writing.

    Templates: Students, especially students who are just learning the conventions of a discourse community, need a concrete starting place. I have found templates to be excellent starters as students often struggle with how to begin. Exemplars can also be a type of template for students.

    Something that I keep coming back to is the idea of students needing to read more. As they read more, especially within the genre(s) they need to write, they will absorb more of the style–and see the possibilities with the genre(s). The students come to have working “templates” within their brains that they do not even realize they have.


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