Summary of Introduction:
In the introduction of this research report sponsored by the NCTE Committee on Research, Janet Emig explains the catalyst for this case study–up until that point, 1971, a coherent and consistent understanding of the composing process was virtually absent. Inspired by the 1965 “Research in Written Composition,” which identified the need for a case study to investigate the “factors affecting the learning of composition,” Emig conducted a case study of eight twelfth graders of above average and average ability to record an account of their writing behaviors. In four sessions each, autobiographies of their writing experiences and verbal accounts of their composing process were taken. According to Emig, four hypostheses were formulated from this study:
1. 12th graders enage in 2 modes of writing: reflective (a longer mode that focuses on writer’s thoughts and feelings about his or her experience) and extensive (a shorter mode that focuses upon writer’s conveying a message or a communication to other)
2. Differences between 2 modes are evident in attempts to compose aloud
3. An implied or explicit set of principles governs selection and arrangements of components–lexical, syntactic, rhetorical, and imagaic
4. extensive writing is school-sponsored; reflective is self-sponsored.
The long term suggestions Emig identifies that grew out of the data collected during this case study are:
1. change way composition is taught in American secondary schools.
2. train and retrain composition teachers, encouraging teachers to compose both reflective and extensive texts.
At end of introduction, Emig admits case study has limitations–small and skewed sample, difficult and somewhat artificial, verbal composure of texts by participants, failure to correlate data with outside “objective” measures of writing ability. However, she also emphasizes value of study:
1. represents unique effort to use case studies for discovering student’s writing abilities
2. new kinds of data about writing process were elicited
3. focused on writers rather than writing product.
In the final line, Emig expresses hope through this work and others like it, learning and teaching of composition may “someday attain the status of science as well as art.”
Summary of Chapter 1:
In Chapter 1 of Emig’s book, she presents the kinds of data that had been collected concerning established writers before her case study, points out the weaknesses of each study in describing how writers behavor or act during the composing process, and neglect to answer many of the major and interesting questions about students as writers such as:
How does one’s community affect student writing? How can pre-writing be characterized?
What governs lexical, syntactic, and rhetorical choices writers make? How do out of school and inschool writing differ and how? Etc.
Sources of Data and Their Limitations which Emig explores throughout chapter:
1. Accounts by and about Established Writers:
Emig claims these accounts focus on the various modes writers write in and the description writers give about their working methods and attitudes when writing in these modes. Emig claims descriptions are unhelpful because descriptions of working modes are idiosyncratic, and the retrospective nature of the descriptions lead to innacuracy of exact accounts. Also, Emig points out, most of these modes were imaginative works that had received some acclaim and therefore, many writers are unwilling to disclose their actual methods of writing. Laslty, Emig points out these descriptions focus on feelings and difficulties writers experience rather than the writing act itself.
2. Dialogue between Writer and Attuned Respondent:
These dialogues, which often occur between writer and highly skilled respondent, focus on imaginative works in progress, specifically formal problems specific to a text, technical criticism of each other’s texts, and evolving theories of rhythm and versification. Therefore, these dialogues are unhelpful in discerning the composing process because they focus on only a part of text or process rather than the whole process.
3. Analyses by others of Evolutions of Certain Pieces of Writing:
These analyses focus on different moments of evolution in certain pieces. Emig explains that because the analyses are coming from an outside perspective, much discrepency exists between the analyst’s descriptions at the original writer’s. Emig does point out, however, that using a writer’s notebook and drafts of sources of information about the writing process are good ideas. Analyses of writing styles have also been produced in past, but Emig claims no generalizations about these style have been created so no dilineation of the writing process and thus no consistent characteristics across writers has been created. Again focus has been on product rather than writing act.
4. Rhetoric and Composition Texts and Handbooks:
In these texts and handbooks, which give students dicta and directives about how to speak and write, no evidence is provided to prove the dicta and directives lead to more successful writing. Rather, mechanical descriptions of the composing process have been conveyed without consideration of writer’s feelings about subject matter and how those feelings may influence the writing process.
a. Theoretical studies of creative process–
Emig’s cites Graham Wallas’s creative process, which involves preperation, incubation, illumination, and verification and the Malcolm Cowley’s theory that composition occurs in four stages–germ of story, conscious meditation, first draft, final revision. From these and other descriptions of the creative process, Emig points out that proccesses of creation exist–an important discovery–even though none appear to be exactly the same.
b. Empirical Researh About Adolescent Writing:
Emig points out most of this research focuses on product rather than act, but does highlight Tovatt-Miller’s and Rohman and Wiecke’s studies which clearly identifies three basic writing stages: pre-writing, writing, and rewriting. Yet, Emig claims both these studies focus on writing instruction rather than writing behavior.
After describing these three major sources of data, Emig points out the disagreements, which lead to their unreliability. For instance, in comparing accounts of how writer’s write to textbook instructions on the matter, disagreements revolve around the steps a good writer takes in composing processes, the exact components in the writing process, the procession of steps a writer takes when composing, and the lack of data to prove that some steps taken in the writing process actually lead to better writing.
Despite this conflicting data, Emig concludes by pointing out that some useful methodological or theoretical models for her inquiry did arise in her literature review. Namely, interviewing, questions about pre-writing, and theories of creativity. Most importantly, Emig explains, the four stage description of the writing process, dilineated by Helmhotz, Wallas, and Cowley, serves as the center of dilineation of the writiing process in her study.
Emig ends introduction by expressing her hope that composition will “attain the status of science as well as art”–a hope in her eyes which is a fear in mine. I understand the great value of the cognitive investigation of the writing process, and I do not intend to undermine the shift of focus from the writing product to the student act of composing. This shift still has obvious and important lasting applications and implications and can be credited for the instruction of composition turning away from current traditional models to a more productive practice that helps students more clearly understand the acts good writers perform in the pre-writing, drafting, and revising stages of writing. However, when I think of science, I just can’t help but think of equations and formulas and tiny rabbits bleeding from their eyeballs in the name of medical progress.
I wonder sometimes if we don’t use our students in the name of instructional progress much like those poor rabbits. Just the other day, for example, I tried a new heuristic in my WRT 105 class, which was designed to help students better understand how to synthesize sources to build an argument during the drafting process. I spent the entire class implementing this new experiment and, to my dissapointment, the students seemed utterly confused at the end of class. We all have frustrating experiences like this one; I know I am not alone. And I know ultimately that using the classroom as a labratory for creating new instructional formulas is beneficial in the long run for our field as a whole. I just can’t help but wonder sometimes, however, if using WRT 105 classrooms as the laboratories of our field has detrimental consequences on our students, research, and pedagogy.
If we are depending on our WRT 105 classrooms or the equivalent at other schools to drive our pedagogy, are we really doing a disservice to our students and our discipline? Are we limiting our investigations of how writers write to a space that is filled by mostly by the most privileged in our country? What implications does the classroom as laboratory have on the instutionalized oppression that Eileen speaks of in her last blog?
Emig’s case study is based on six white students, one black, and one Chinese-American from a variety of secondary schools in terms of ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic status. Six of these students were selected by the chairman of the English departments at the students highschools who deemed them “good writers.” Two girls and a boy were selected as NCTE Achievment Award winners, and two others were characterized as students as “interested in writing but not particularly able.”
What would Royster and Williams say about this demographic? Should we be concerned that the majority of students were white? That no other ethnicities beside black Americans and Chinese-Americans were represented? What consequences does this lack of representation have on the validity of the study and the long term implications of the study? What would we discover about the writing process if we conducted a study from a more well rounded demographic about writing processes in a number of different genres in a number of different rhetorical situations?
Another obvious question is what does a “good writer” mean? What were the English Chairmans basing their assessment on when they deemed those particular students “good writers”? Why did the two students who were lableled “not particularly good writers” labeled as such? Why are “bad” writers not included in this study? Would it have been helpful to compare the acts of “good” and “bad” writers?
These are just some of the questions that come to my mind and will stick with me as I read the rest of the book.
I also am particularly interested in Graham Wallas’ four stage process. The incubation stage is often glossed over in composition courses in part because of time constraints. But I agree with Wallas that the incubation time is a very important stage because it seems to be the time when epiphanies come, whether it is in the middle of the night, the middle of a shower, or the middle of a conservation or reading about a topic alltogether different. As Emig also points out, more time in incubation allows writer to choose subject matter that is “more cognitively or psychically complex.” More so, writers often spend more time in contemplation than planning. Therefore, I cannot help but wonder how our students writing would change/differ if they had time on their side. Even though most real life situations don’t permit us the time to fully explore a topic before and during writing, would it be beneficial to use and discuss the benefits of time. In relation to this issue, I think a good question to ask for students to freewrite to before they turn in a final paper is: Do you feel this paper is finished? why or why not? What would you have done if you had more time? Why? What would have been the result have been if you did have more time?
Also, Wallas’ stages make me wonder how limiting the “prewriting,” “drafting,” “revising,” and “post-drafting” labels can be. How might our pedagogy be different if we rethought these writing stages? Are these stages the same in all genres anyway????
Emig’s study challenges us to think through some of these issues…..