Friday, November 27, 2015

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley

Who is this Jane Schaffer and why does she want to create a group of clones who can write ONLY as her approach dictates? I recognize and sympathize with the difficulties many students face as they begin writing more demanding, involved papers. More importantly, I feel the frustration of both the students---struggling to produce something effective on paper—and teachers as they begin the arduous task of placing a grade on that student’s product. While the teacher tries to write what they believe are encouraging comments, they may be shooting down what the student believed was their masterpiece! To instead, have a neat little packet which anyone can follow in easy-to-use steps, sounds like a life-saver and might very well be just that—initially. However, I agree wholeheartedly with Wiley’s contentions that once ALL students have the basic “formula’ down pat, many will have no idea how to progress (or digress) from this concrete set of writing rules. Because they have never had to experiment with their own process: brainstorming, finding their voice, organizing thoughts in their very individual style for the audience (the teacher) to appreciate and offer suggestions on, there can be no growth or understanding of how they-the writer--can improve. Without this experimentation with process—and often failure—the ability to move forward is simply not there. 

For some, the skills needed to complete their required writing projects might be enough. Those students might benefit by the implementation of Schaffer’s program as a tool to get them started in the right direction. Students who have a more creative desire to write individualistically might be able to progress beyond the simple formula and feel encouraged to do so. Other students who are comfortable only with following this step-by-step plan, might be challenged to go further, but will rely on the process they are comfortable with. Writing should be something all people can enjoy and feel confident about, particularly if they are referencing personal experience. Schaffer’s inclusion of instructions for that in her packet is unsettling to me, and Wiley is on point about a student’s dependency on her program. It stunts the growth of each writer’s process of discovery—of self and of their unique style. How can one develop or hear their voice if they are writing through the voice of formulaic steps, carefully adjusted to serve the masses? And without the voice, their growth as writers, and as people, never even begins so their desire and awareness of an audience (other than the teacher who assigned the paper) is nonexistent. The lovely intangibles each emerging writer embraces are reduced to following a rule book for structure and content thus putting an end to the joy of writing something where one hears their voice and actually likes it! No more creativity, no magic on paper. Better to follow Wiley’s suggestion and utilize this for young writers, to give them a solid base, and then say goodbye to Jane Schaffer forever!

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