Monday, August 30, 2010

Composition theories as identified by James Berlin, second 2 of 4


  • In this model, which has its roots in Plato and arose as a reaction to the positivist/current traditionalist model, truth is always in flux. Truth arises from the individual's interaction with the world. The writers task is personal; the writer uses language to convey their own individual truth. Because this model views writing as a personal expression, pedagogical approaches place emphasize critical thinking to generate exploration and discovery.

New Rhetoric

  • In this model, also referred to as Epistemic Rhetoric, truth is ever-changing. Truth evolves from the interaction of opposing elements. The writer's task is to use language, necessary for the expression of truth, to create truth. Pedagogical approaches emphasize the interaction of the writer, language, reality, and the audience. Critical thinking is valued in this process as it is necessary to analyze both the opposing elements of an idea and o perform the synthesis of writer, reality, language, and audience.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Composition theories as identified by James Berlin, first 2 of 4

Neo-Aristotelian/ClassicistBerlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 765-777.

  • In this model, rarely used in current composition classrooms, truth is believed to exist independent of the observer and cab known only trough the senses. Truth is not certain; therefore, the student is not engaged in a quest for individual truth, but rather truth as it can be proven through rational method. As a result, the pedagogical emphasis is on logic and the development of ideas with little emphasis on the analysis or critical thinking of the writer.


  • In this model, popular up until the early 1980's, truth is discovered through induction alone. Truth is created by the interplay of sensory impressions and the interpretation of those impressions. The writers task is to shape thought for the reader. Therefore, pedagogical approach is one that focuses on arrangement and style. As invention, either that of thought or design, is not specifically desired, the analysis or critical thought of the student is not emphasized.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Critical thinking in the composition classroom

This is a follow up on earlier composition theory posts in which I summarized and discussed the Lindemann v Tate debate over whether or not literature should or should not be used in the college composition classroom.

One of the key discussion points of Lindemann's statements is that there is no single, widely accepted concept of what a college composition, specifically the freshman composition, course should accomplish. Neither Tate nor the others who followed in the discussion on the use of literature in the composition classroom address her question, what is a composition course meant to do? Consequently, that point is not sufficiently explored in the conversation about whether or not literature belongs in the composition classroom. This absence is a flaw in the discussion, one that could have been corrected had Lindemann's question been addressed.

Although the purpose of and philosophy behind college composition courses was not explored fully in the literature discussion of the 1990's, it was addressed by other academics. James Berlin, in his well-known article, "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories" outlines what have come to be accepted as the four main pedagogical theories of composition instruction and their corresponding models.

As part of outlining the four theories, he states:

The differences in these teaching approaches [is] located in diverging definitions of the composing process itself--that is, in the way the elements that make up the process--writer, reality, audience, and language--are envisioned. Pedagogical theories in writing courses are grounded in rhetorical theories, and rhetorical theories do not differ in the simple undue emphasis of writer or audience or reality or language or some combination of these. Rhetorical theories differ from each other in the way writer, reality, audience, and language are conceived--both as separate units and in the way the units relate to each other. In the case of distinct pedagogical approaches, these four elements are likewise defined and related so as to describe a different composing process, which is to say a different worlds with different rules about what can be known, how it can be known, and how it can be communicated.(Berlin, p765-66)

At the heart of his analysis of pedagogical theories is the question, Where is truth found? It is here, with this question, that the need or desire for critical thinking on the part of the student writer can be assessed.

Berlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 765-777.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The first part of July I spent in Boston at the residency week of my MFA program. The second part of July I spent in Orlando at the Romance Writers of America annual conference. Literary then commercial. What's the difference?

Here's what I've come up with so far.
  • Literary authors, when asked "What do you write?" don't always have a short, handy answer. They might even blink at you and say, "Fiction."
  • Commercial authors, when asked, "What do you write?" will respond with something concise: "Short contemporary romance under 75,000 words" or "YA steampunk with romantic elements."
It makes sense that commercial writers are more in tune with exactly what they are writing and what they are going to do with it.
  • Literary authors ask, "What is the dramatic question?"
  • Commercial authors ask, "What is my hook?"

After much stewing, I have come to conclude that both questions are the same. Plot is plot. Characters are characters. Nobody needs me to remind them of how many books that are currently considered classics started out (were originally published) as commercial works.
  • Literary events have readings. The author reads from their work and books are for sale afterward.
  • Commercial events have signings. Readers buy the book and take it home and read it themself.

This is a difference. No getting around it. Do I like hearing authors read? Sure. But sometimes I really would just have the book to cuddle up with. Just me. And the story. No author there to remind me they wrote it.