New to Writing about Writing (WAW Standing Group Newcomers Breakout)

Newcomers to the WAW standing group meeting at 4C’s 16 met separately to chat about some Writing about Writing concepts and pedagogical strategies.

We were a diverse group of seven, six from across the United States and one from Japan (that’s me!), and varying in our experiences with and expertise in Writing about Writing. I participated in the meeting as a newcomer in its truest sense, wanting to find out more about WAW while discovering that the basic principles of WAW resonated deeply with my beliefs and practices. Below are the notes from the meeting, and I invite everyone to use the comments space to make better meaning out of how I captured the discussion and to point out things that I might have missed.

We began by discussing how TFT (Teaching for Transfer) relates to WAW. Some of us were concerned that some scholars saw teaching for transfer and writing about writing as “mutually excusive”. Here are some points raised by the group in response:

  • Teaching how to learn to write for writing tasks beyond first year and advanced writing courses is one of the basic goals of WAW.
  • It may be useful to consider WAW as inductive and TFT as deductive learning. Inductive learning takes place within WAW approach because students learn how to write by engaging with content that deals explicitly with the “how to write” subject matter. But, once students internalise this “how to”, they can teach themselves how to write for any particular writing situation by reading primary texts in a given genre and discovering deductively the strategies specific to that context of writing.
  • Understanding the metaphors in Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is an example of how inductive learning takes place.

We also shared some instructional strategies, prompted by questions from the group:

  • How would you teach technical writing through WAW?

–>Gather work by technical writers and build a discourse community.

  • How would you facilitate the learning of style as opposed to structure?

–>Prompt students to identify what the text is accomplishing and what moves are being made. For example, after reading a text, students identify a certain number of stylistic moves and give each one a name of their choosing.

–>Gather student writing corpus responding to a simple writing prompt (e.g. writing an email to professor regarding an anticipated absence) and analyze various stylistic moves.

–>Facilitate “reading like a writer” by providing guidance around reading primarily for style.

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