Top Ten Quotes to Remember When Teaching Writing

Teaching writing can be as difficult as learning to write. Fortunately, there is plenty of insight and research to help teachers achieve their goal. This Top Ten list highlights the best quotes gathered from Peter Elbow's "Teaching Thinking by Teaching Writing," Janet Emig's "Writing as a Mode of Learning," and Art Young's "Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum."
This list is a non-votable list and the content of the list reflects the opinion of its author.

The Top Ten

1 "If you don't want to take home and read fifty summaries of chapter 10 of the physics textbook or seventy-five essays on the War of the Roses, then don't assign it in the first place."

Young, 32
Often, students are given writing assignments as busywork. As much as the students do not want to complete it, teachers may not want to grade it. It is essential to assign only writing prompts that both students and teachers look forward to.

2 "If you want to get people to be remarkably insightful... 'Don't do any careful thinking yet, just write three or four stories or incidents that come to mind in connection with that question and then do some exploratory freewriting.'"

Elbow, 37
In is common for teachers to tell students to think carefully about what they are going to write about and begin an outline. However, Elbow suggests that it is best to just begin with what comes to mind first, and the rest will come later.

3 "Thinking carefully means trying to think about thinking while also thinking about something else--and it often leads people to foolishness."

Elbow, 37
The reason students should begin the writing process with mindless writing is because when they begin to think carefully, they think too much and may end up writing things they do not believe in or understand.

4 "Writing is originating and creating a unique verbal construct that is graphically recorded. Reading is creating or re-creating but not originating a verbal construct that is graphically recorded"

Emig, 123
The ability to read properly does not equate the ability to write properly. Each requires it's own kind of practice.

5 "WAC assumes that teachers, not curriculum and assessment, are the center of the educational process and the key to educational reform."

Young, 3
Because of standards and predetermined lesson plans, it can be difficult for teachers to teach. It is the job of educators to use their agency and create the changes necessary to do what is best for the students.

6 "First order thinking is intuitive and creative and does not strive for conscious direction or control"
7 "Second order thinking is conscious, directed, controlled thinking."
8 "In first order thinking we do not reflect on what we are doing and hence we are more likely to be steered by our assumptions, unconscious prejudices, and unexamined points of view."

Elbow, 38
While it is important to begin our writing process with first order thinking, it is equally important to follow it with second order thinking.

9 "Outlines are more helpful while revising than at the start of the writing process because finally there's something rich and interesting to outline."

Elbow, 38
Outlines are second order thinking; it is best to precede outlining with first order thinking.

10 "My agenda for the beginning of a semester is always to enforce generating and brainstorming and the deferral of criticism in order to build students'...

"My agenda for the beginning of a semester is always to enforce generating and brainstorming and the deferral of criticism in order to build students' confidence and show them that they can quickly learn to come up with a great quantity of words and ideas." Elbow, 40
When students experience the value of first order thinking and creativity they will look forward to writing assignments.