Theory and Practice of Teaching Composition

Chances are if you get an advanced degree in English, you will teach writing.

Chances are if you teach writing, you will face one of your greatest challenges.

Chances are if you take a semester-long course in the theory and practice of teaching writing, you will face the challenge successfully.

Or so the theory goes. This course is, for many, the only chance you will have to read, discuss, meditate upon, and write about the issues, histories, problems and promises of the field of composition. Beyond this course may lie the excitement of actual teaching—perhaps many many years of it—but with only occasional opportunities to spend your time and energy articulating your approach, your theories, your practices and methods to others in such a sustained manner as a 16-week course can. If you choose the specialized area of composition as your focus as a graduate student, you will have other opportunities for study, within and beyond our curriculum at Manoa.

This course, then, attempts to both deepen and broaden your understanding of the work of teaching writing as it may affect your teaching now and for years to come. You can consider it as an introduction to a new field, a refresher in case you have had such a course before, or as the latest version of the ways we can look at the complex matter of teaching writing. I hope we can support all of these considerations and have a valuable time with our subject matter and with your particular goals and the goals that the field has set out for itself —and, of course, for the goals that you may argue the field should set out for itself.

You will read theory, some of it millennia old, some it less than a year old, examine ancient and new practices, and discuss and write about these theories as they are transmuted into practices in the classroom. In all you will write three papers of the research variety, present at least twice to the class, and be evaluated on these activities along with the more prosaic factors of attendance, promptness, level of participation in the classroom.

Our two texts, from which we start, will be:

  • James Murphy”s edited A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Modern America (2nd edition, Routledge, 2001)
  • and Victor Villanueva”s Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader (2nd edition, NCTE, 2003)

we will supplement these with other texts appropriate to our interests as they arise in the class.

My hope is that this challenge of teaching writing will become also one of your greatest pleasures, and a source of repeated achievement, as you move forward in your careers in English Studies.