James Moffett: Selected Works

Curated by Jonathan M. Marine and Paul Rogers

James Porter MoffettIn their proposal for the republication of James Moffett's work, Jonathan M. Marine and Paul Rogers observe:

James Porter Moffett was a ground-breaking teacher, author, and theorist of language learning who had a profound impact on the fields of English education, composition, and educational psychology in the mid-to-late 20th century (Warnock). Moffett’s importance to the teaching of English can hardly be overestimated, and it requires comparisons to the role of Chomsky to the modern discipline of linguistics, Freud to modern thought about psychology, or Dewey to the field of education (Blau). Moffett’s teaching practice, his student-centered theory of instruction, and his account of language development in relationship to discourse types—most of it articulated in the late 1960s—remain powerfully influential today in the most advanced contemporary models for learning assessment, in shaping the writing curriculum of modern schools and college writing programs, and in what are widely regarded as best practices for the teaching of writing and the teaching of reading (or literature) across grade levels and across the curriculum. Moffett remains the only figure in Writing Studies and English education writ large to offer a fully developed learning theory for education (Paré) and all the language arts—a theory for practice focused first on learners, but then also on the intellectual structures and content of what is to be learned, all of it serving as the rationale for a principled methodology, field-tested and validated by a long history of praxis and research.

Marine and Rogers argue that “Moffett provided a conceptual framework or theory of pedagogical practice that for the first time based the entire English curriculum (including all assignments for writing) on principles that derive their authority not from mere tradition but from a well-informed modern understanding of the linguistic and cognitive development of learners, and an equally well-informed and empirically testable taxonomy of the kinds of writing that literate students and adults write and read throughout their lives.” In his career, Moffett wrote ten books and numerous articles and book chapters, all of which had a substantial impact on the field. Yet a great deal of his writings are out of print and are not available digitally. This lack of accessibility makes it unnecessarily difficult for teachers, graduate students, and scholars in English education and Writing Studies to make use of Moffett’s contributions. Working with Moffett’s estate and Southern Illinois University Press, they have obtained permission for the WAC Clearinghouse to digitize and republish the following books. Follow the links below to view the books in digital format.


Book CoverTeaching the Universe of Discourse

Considered one of the landmark books in the teaching of language arts, writing, and English Education, James Moffett's (1968) Teaching the Universe of Discourse revolutionized the teaching of English by pushing back against the skill-and-drill dogma of the mid-twentieth century and pushing forward a student-centered view language learning conceived of as a deeply social act in which learners developed through dialectic interaction with one another.... More

Book CoverStudent-Centered Language Arts, Grades K-12

Arguably the most comprehensive, practically detailed, and original book on English Education, the 4th edition of Student-Centered Language Arts (first published along with Teaching the Universe of Discourse in 1968) sets forth the rationale and practices for an individualized, interactive, and integrative language learning curriculum designed to work across grade levels and from early literacy through general reading and writing.... More

Book CoverDetecting Growth in Language

Published in 1992, Detecting Growth in Language presents James Moffett's attempt to offer an expanded and alternative perspective on the standardized testing which he spent the latter part of his career decrying. Using a “what-to-look-for” approach, Moffett describes growth in all aspects of language, from vocabulary and sentence structure to compositional form and types of discourse.... More

Book CoverComing on Center: English Education in Evolution

Comprised of twelve chapters drawn from speeches and published work from 1970 to 1980, Coming on Center: English Education in Evolution attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice, past and future, student and society, and in doing so to help educators think more effectively about the teaching of language which Moffett believed played a vital role in our sense of self, culture, and society.... More

Book CoverHarmonic Learning: Keynoting School Reform

In presenting an individualized, integrative, and project-centered form of learning in lieu of subject organized curriculums, Harmonic Learning: Keynoting School Reform advances a vision of a curriculum that is based on the inherent resonances of life and learning, or what Moffett calls “harmonics.” Taking his holistic thinking to a new level to make the case for the interconnection between education and society, Moffett inseparably links school and societal reform (in ways that include ethical, moral, and spiritual issues) in order to argue for the binding together of the intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects of life.... More

Book CoverStorm in the Mountains: A Case Study of Censorship, Conflict, and Consciousness

Speaking to some of the most urgent issues we are facing in education today, Storm in the Mountains (recipient of the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English in 1992) recounts the aftermath of one of the most prolonged, intense, and violent textbook protests in American history. The protests were a response to Moffett’s comprehensive language learning program, Interaction: A Student-Centered Language Arts and Reading Program (1973), which he developed after garnering widespread acclaim for his early publications, including Teaching the Universe of Discourse (1968).... More

Contact Information:

Jonathan M. Marine: jmarine@gmu.edu
Paul Rogers: paulrogers@writing.ucsb.edu

Landmark Publications in Writing Studies

Series Editor: Mike Palmquist, Colorado State University


Blau, Sheridan. “Theory for practice: James Moffett's Seminal Contribution to Composition.” Composition's Roots in English Education, edited by P. Lambert Stock, Boynton, 2011, pp. 81-104.

Paré, Anthony. “Discourse and Social Action: Moffett and the New Rhetoric.” Changing English, vol. 17, no. 3, 2010, pp. 241-250.

Warnock, J. “James Moffett.” Twentieth Century Rhetorics and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources, edited by M. G. Moran & M. Ballif, Greenwood Press, 2000, pp. 258–265.