investing in writing and revision?

Phyllis Ryder (pryder@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU)
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 11:30:03 -0700

On Fri, 16 Aug 1996, Eric Crump wrote:
> > So, How DO you find these "real" writing assignments...
> I don't. Students do. All I do is insist that they have permission to write
> about something they care about. I don't screen topics (though I do advise. I
> bring up questions about who they hope to affect with their writing, about
> what relevance the topic has & to whom, etc.). Real writing projects aren't
> hard to find. In fact, once you open up possible writing topics to the Rest
> of the World, the big challenge is choosing among too many choices. I've had
> students who want to do *everything* all at once.

In our program at the U of Az we ask students to choose topics that are
meaningful to them and can be debated. Often we get great papers of real
interest to the students: ie a welfare mom writing to the campus
community to convince them that she does deserve the federal money she
gets that allows her to come to the U. But most often, I think, students
hear "an issue that can be debated" and they pick the common topics--gun
control, abortion, why frats are good things, affirmative action--and
while they have SOME interest, they aren't really spurred on in their
writing. We ask them to write a first paper explaining their personal
experience with the topic as a way to develop that incentive, but often
I think they aren't REALLY convinced that they will learn much from the
essay writing/research. We have them write to "real" audiences--ie
letters to companies, administrators, etc.--but even so, students often
just do it because they're required to take fy comp and therefore they
have to write an essay or three. How to break through that?

Also, your discussion of students referring to each other's papers
reminds me of a writing project developed at the UA by Sandra Florence.
She calls it the "Communiversity" and has been given grant money to run
it. She gathers people from the university and the community to work in
writing groups. They each write an essay on a given topic. Then they
exchange essays with X people. From each colleagues' essay they are
required to take something--a quote, an image, a writing style--and
incorporate it into their revision along with an end page explaining what
they "took" from their peers and why. This kind of exchange continues
until all students have incorporated something from everyone else's
essay--so there are many revisions. All are bound together at the end of
the semester. I have adapted this as an essay in my Advanced Comp
classes and found it a great way to make students feel they had a real
audience in each other and to make revision feel "real" because they now
had to think about these other positions. The essays really develop and
change and grow. Students are interested to see what others "took" from
them-- a great lesson in their own rhetorical effectiveness. Sandra has
talked about her project at CCCC. It's
really spectacular (and that's not even talking about the extraordinary
value of combining members of the university community--teachers,
students--and members of the Tucson community!)