On Writing Workshop, Cognitive Overload, and Creative Writing
“The cause for my wrath is not new or single,” wrote Lou LaBrant in 1931, targeting how too often the project method engaged students in activities other than literacy.
This sharp critique by LaBrant has always resonated with me because even though I am now a teacher educator and have been a teacher for well over thirty years, I have always balked at pedagogy, instructional practices of any kind but especially those driven by technocratic zeal.
As one example, literature circles as an instructional structure represents the essential problems confronted by LaBrant about 86 years ago: the instructional practice itself requires time to teach students how to do the practice properly, and thus, “doing literature circles” becomes a goal unto itself and as a consequence subsumes and/or replaces the authentic literacy goals it claims to seek.
Further, many instructional practices border on being gimmicky because they are constructed in such a way to facilitate that anyone (regardless of expertise and experience) can implement them in the role of “teacher.”
For a while now, I have been contemplating the tension within teaching writing (composition) between those who teach writing as teachers and those who teach writing as writers.
I certainly default to the latter, and am drawn often to John Warner‘s public examinations of his teaching of writing (see below) because he also teaches writing as a writer.
Warner’s pieces about grading contracts and de-grading his first-year writing course have come when I am beginning my English/ELA methods seminar and wading into how my candidate must navigate ways to seek authentic practices in the context of the real world of teaching that often models for her teaching writing as a teacher, as a technocrat.
Here, then, I want to pull together a few concepts that I think are at their core related to LaBrant’s “wrath” and my rejecting of technocratic instruction—writing workshop, cognitive overload, and creative writing.