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Teaching With Student Texts

Essays Toward an Informed Practice

Joseph Harris

Publication Year: 2010

Harris, Miles and Paine ask:  What happens when the texts that students write become the focus of a writing course? In response, a distinguished group of scholar/teachers suggests that teaching with students texts is not simply a classroom technique, but a way of working with writing that defines composition as a field.

In Teaching with Student Texts, authors discuss ways of revaluing student writing as intellectual work, of circulating student texts in the classroom and beyond, and of changing our classroom practices by bringing student writings to the table. Together, these essays articulate a variety of ways that student texts can take a central place in classroom work and can, in the process, redefine the ways our field talks about writing.

Published by: Utah State University Press

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This project began with a problem we three editors faced as mentors of new writing teachers: How could we help them use student texts in the writing classroom? But this initial vision soon evolved into something much larger, more interesting, and more useful—a book that we hope will inform the practice of any teacher who teaches with student texts. (It has certainly informed ours.) ...

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pp. 1-6

“It changes everything.” That’s how a new teacher described what happened when he started to work in class with the texts his students were writing. We began this project out of the desire to share that epiphany - to show how experienced teachers work with student texts in the writing classroom and why that practice can be so transformative. We imagined a collection of essays that, as we put it in our call for proposals, would describe ...

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I. Valuing Student Texts

The four essays in this first section examine the ways the value of students’ texts is established, or (more often) is simply allotted with little deliberation or reflection. They also describe ways students and teachers can participate in and critique the process of valuing, thus moving this usually unexamined process toward something like an “informed” practice for both students and teachers. ...

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1. Re-Valuing Student Writing

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pp. 9-23

There is now a well-established tradition of complaint about student writing in composition. I refer here not to the much longer-standing tradition of complaint that students today can’t write, or write poorly, and/or don’t write as well as they used to. That tradition, a robust one, continues apace, part of a larger tendency to displace onto literacy what are, in fact, social anxieties - what John Trimbur has argued is a “discourse of crisis” (1991). ...

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2. Revealing Our Values: Reading Student Texts with Colleagues in High School and College

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pp. 24-34

Scholars in composition and writing studies are demonstrating a growing interest in how students transfer what they learn about writing from one educational setting to another. Recent longitudinal studies examine the degree to which students apply knowledge and skills from first-year composition classes to their upper-level, discipline-based courses (Beaufort 2007; Bergmann and Zepernick 2007; Sommers 2008; Wardle 2007). ...

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3. "What Do We Want in This Paper?" Generating Criteria Collectively

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pp. 35-45

When students are asked to read and discuss each others’ drafts in progress or review and revise their own drafts, they often work in a rhetorical vacuum, not really knowing what makes a successful response and guessing at whatever (often implicit or unexplained) criteria the instructor will use to judge their papers. Even when students use revision prompts or guides, or descriptive criteria against which they are supposed to judge ...

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4. Teaching the Rhetoric of Writing Assessment

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pp. 46-57

As writing teachers, all of us want our students to be able to assess their own writing in order to respond effectively to future contexts and form reflective and critical practices. Many of us have also heard a familiar refrain from students, often after we have evaluated or responded to their writing: “Just tell me what you want me to do,” they beg us. These are assessment problems that Peter Elbow attempts to solve by arguing that we do “less ranking and more evaluation,” (1999, 176); however, too much evaluation ...

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II. Circulating Student Texts

The essays in the second section of our book discuss the ways student texts circulate in classrooms, in publications, and in textbooks. In the first piece in this section, “Ethics, Student Writers, and the Use of Student Texts,” Paul Anderson and Heidi McKee investigate the ethical dimensions of teaching with student texts and offer advice to teachers on how to ethically and responsibly circulate those texts in the classroom. ...

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5. Ethics, Student Writers, and the Use of Student Texts to Teach

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pp. 60-77

While their contexts, pedagogies, and theoretical approaches differ widely, most instructors who use student texts in their teaching share an acute awareness that the benefits of this practice are accompanied by potential harms. By sharing student texts inside or outside the classroom, these instructors recognize students as authors whose work is worthy of study and vest authority in their words and expertise. But this practice ...

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6. Reframing Student Writing in Writing Studies Composition Classes

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pp. 78-87

In this chapter, we hope to extend and develop the discussion, initiated in part by Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle, of a writing studies approach to first-year writing (FYW). As Downs and Wardle suggest in their 2007 article, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ ...

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7. Students Write to Students about Writing

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pp. 88-95

Writing tends to improve when students internalize effective habits, and such internalization is more likely to happen when students are positioned as student-scholars or “experts” who can teach others about writing. At the same time, students are often likely to trust ideas about writing when these ideas come from their peers, especially when peer writing instruction avoids didacticism in favor of a friendly, somewhat ... informal tone. One way to simultaneously take advantage of both these principles

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8. The Low-Stakes, Risk-Friendly Message-Board Text

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pp. 96-107

In this chapter I focus on using one digital learning tool, message boards, to help us reconceive how students create and disseminate texts in our courses. We can use message-board texts as a significant component of our courses, building them into our syllabi as many low-stakes, informal opportunities for students to take intellectual risks and develop their writing. The message board is a versatile, easy-to-use technology - all learning management systems (LMS) have some type of message-board application ...

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9. Product as Process: Teaching Publication to Students

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pp. 108-117

Teachers in our discipline talk a good game about publication. Painfully aware of what Peter Elbow calls the “damagingly restricted, teacher- and evaluation-haunted context” of the classroom (2002, 2), we ask our students to think beyond the grade, to define a purpose, a persona, and an audience with someone - anyone - other than us in mind. At many of our institutions, we can point our students toward accessible audiences. Here’s our contest for first-year writers, we say, or our journal of first-year writing.

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10. Students’ Texts beyond the Classroom: Young Scholars in Writing’s Challenges to College Writing Instruction

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pp. 118-128

The student texts that center a writing course should include not only those written by students in that course but also those circulated texts that other students have written in other times and places. In this volume, McDonnell and Jefferson describe using student texts from first-year composition courses in a publishing course, and here we examine “closing the loop” by bringing published, scholarly student writing into FYC. ...

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11. The Figure of the Student in Composition Textbooks

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pp. 129-141

In this essay, we examine the ways in which students and student writing are represented and positioned within composition textbooks and consider the pedagogical, theoretical, and ethical implications of such practices. Let us state at the outset that our process of textbook selection was rather haphazard (no “canon” of textbooks exists, and perhaps that is a good thing). We looked at textbooks on our shelves and those on the shelves of our colleagues. ...

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III. Changing Classroom Practices

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pp. 142-144

The essays in this final section of our book show how bringing student texts to the table can invigorate the kinds of work that go on in writing courses. The first several pieces describe specific strategies for working with and talking about student texts. In “Workshop and Seminar,” Joseph Harris distinguishes between two classroom formats. ...

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12. Workshop and Seminar

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pp. 145-153

Fall 2008. Towards the middle of the semester. I am sitting with a group of four students in a coffee shop on the Duke campus. (I had cancelled our regular full class session so we could meet instead in small groups.) Each of the four students had written a first full draft of an essay and posted it to the course web site the day before. All of them had then read and commented on those drafts. Each student thus came to our meeting with four ...

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13. What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Workshops? Charting the First Five Weeks of a First-Year Writing Course

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pp. 154-162

The writing workshop, one of the most ubiquitous techniques in college writing courses, has lately received some bad press. Lynn Freed argues against the tyranny of workshops in “Doing Time: My Years in the Creative-Writing Gulag,” in the July 2005 Harper’s. In a reprisal of the old blind-leading-the-blind argument, she claims untalented writers learn nothing from talking to each other and that trying to teach them is torturous, apparently equivalent to human rights abuses. ...

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14. Texts to Be Worked on and Worked with: Encouraging Students to See Their Writing as Theoretical

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pp. 163-170

This essay will discuss a workshop I conduct with first-year writing students to encourage them to think of their ideas and their writing as theoretical. My impetus for getting students to appreciate the theoretical value of their work relates to my belief that first-year composition courses should provoke students to examine what it means to think like, read like, write like - to in fact be - an intellectual and participate in real intellectual debates, both within and beyond the classroom. ...

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15. Writing to Learn, Reading to Teach: Student Texts in the Pedagogy Seminar

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pp. 171-180

As the essays in this collection make clear, there are many ways to work with student texts in a writing course. But unless the course is structured to feature each student’s work in rotation, the teacher must make choices about which student texts should be brought into the class at any given moment. Such decisions are informed by the course objectives, requirements of current and upcoming assignments, and evidence of student learning. ...

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16. The Writer/Text Connection: Understanding Writers' Relationships to their Writing

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pp. 181-189

Contributing to this collection of essays on the importance of student texts as pedagogical tools places me in an uncomfortable position. I’ve spent my entire teaching career as a director and tutor in a writing center, and as such, I have tried never to consider the text as a sufficient pedagogical tool in itself. In my tutorials with student writers, and when training new tutors, I’ve emphasized the connection, the intertwining, of student and text - the combination so tightly bound together that we can’t consider one without the other. ...

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17. Learning from Coauthoring: Composing Texts Together in the Composition Classroom

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pp. 190-199

Since our first coauthored paper in graduate school, we have written articles, chapters, a book, conference presentations, and edited a journal together. In addition, each of our dissertations studied coauthors. Collaboration is central to our pedagogies, and in a collaborative classroom, students are continuously learning from their own and their peers’ texts. ...

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18. Inquiry, Collaboration, and Reflection in the Student (Text)-Centered Multimodal Writing Course

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pp. 200-209

To teach with student texts is to acknowledge that students are savvy and experienced enough to collaboratively shape and enact productive classrooms. It seems only natural that these same students recognize what scholars in our field have been arguing for more than a decade: that “what counts as a text and what constitutes reading and writing are changing” (Hull and Nelson 2005, 224)....

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19. Workshopping to Practice Scientific Terms

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pp. 210-219

Over the years, it became apparent that our students in Scientific Inquiry: Environmental Sciences-Honors 2700C (for nonscience majors) were having a great deal of difficulty critiquing the content of popular scientific articles in various magazines and newspapers. Scientific Inquiry is a required core class at St. John’s University, a private Catholic university with approximately 14,000 undergraduate students. Students were generally not able to identify scientific concepts and terminology within a wide range of articles. ...

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20. Bringing Outside Texts In and Inside Texts Out

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pp. 220-228

Reading a text not just for what it says but for how it responds to the challenges of a particular rhetorical situation is a powerful ability to have and not an easy one to acquire. It is the core of what I try to help my students toward through my teaching. This statement sounds obvious and straightforward. But as I reflect on the fifteen-plus years I have taught writing, I realize my growth as a teacher has centered around my increasing understanding of the gap between how I perceive model texts and how my students perceive ...

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21. Embracing Uncertainty: The Kairos of Teaching with Student Texts

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pp. 229-242

With new technologies making it easier to get student texts into the undergraduate writing classroom, student writing is making an appearance not just as an occasional example, but as the ongoing focus of instruction. As the essays in this volume demonstrate, students’ own writing can now serve in a variety of ways as the classroom text. Yet the centrality of student writing offers fresh challenges even to the veteran teacher, to say nothing of the risks it presents to those new to the classroom. ...

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Afterword: Notes toward an Informed Practice

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pp. 243-255

We have written these notes to help readers, especially those who are new to teaching writing or new to teaching with student texts, use the essays collected here to guide them toward their own “informed practices.” The twenty-one chapters in Teaching with Student Texts constitute more than a repertoire of “classroom moves” (as we put it in the introduction)— more than “a selection of various kinds of shoes” (as Aristotle put it more than 2300 years ago). ...


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pp. 256-263


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pp. 264-267


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pp. 268-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780874217865
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874217858

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Teachers -- In-service training.
  • Report writing -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Evaluation.
  • Teaching.
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