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The Most Important Development in the Last Five Years for High School Teachers of Composition

Ann E. Berthoff

Teachers are discovering that time and energy devoted to thinking up ‘'things to write about” could be better spent in considering with their students the kind of process composing is. This collaborative learning is also a model for the teacher-researcher so that when new ways of thinking about the composing process really catch on, a lot else is bound to change as well, including the way teachers think of themselves.

Teachers gain confidence in their ability to think about thinking—which of course is what thinking about composing comes to—when they have the guidance of a method, a way of assuring that practice and theory can correct one another. In classrooms all over the country, teachers who have studied such research methods with Dixie Goswami at the Bread Loaf School of English are experimenting with ways of teaching their stu­dents to look at what they are writing, to reflect on meanings they are making, and to learn how meanings make further meanings possible. Stu­dents and teachers alike, by recording in a special way their responses to the natural world, to what they read, to themselves and one another, are discovering that journals need not be limited to personal or “expressive” writing but that they can be used to record that inner dialogue which is thought.

On one side of an open notebook, writers take notes, copy texts, record observations; on the fac­ing page, they respond to those responses, taking notes on their notes and commenting on their comments, observing their observations and think­ing about their thinking. The dialogue journal— also called a dialectical or double-entry notebook— is familiar to artists and scientists: it encourages both accuracy and speculation; it helps develop the habits of reflection which constitute critical inquiry and creative thinking. It is a way of writing which can start in kindergarten with the teacher as scribe and continue through graduate school into the professions and the workplace.

The composing process is not like sorting the laundry or plowing a field; it cannot be repre­sented by a step or stage model, such as pre­writing, writing, rewriting, because it is not linear. In composing we are always returning to GO and starting out again to face old dilemmas and new hazards, as well as opportunities. I have suggested the sheep dog as a model of this recursive character of composing; the notebook I’ve described helps students put the sheep dog to work. And this double-entry notebook is helping teachers become reflective writers and thereby more imaginative, freed at last from the compul­sion to find an assignment to follow the one on how to tie-dye tee-shirts or on what to do about skunks under the porch.

Double-entry notebooks can teach everybody the value and usefulness of looking—and looking again.

Ann E. Berthoff teaches at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

20 English Journal

Copyright © 1984 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.

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DMU Timestamp: July 29, 2014 21:38

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