Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Turns out, a lot.
Theory grounds our work with emerging writers. It forms our foundational understanding about what it means to be a writer, what it means to write. Theory informs our practice, and not the other way around. Theory is the framework which helps practictioners understand the bias, perspective, and underpinnings of why we do what we do. Theory informs our practice because when we begin to recognize the set of principles and systems that connect what we see happening in our writing, as teachers we are then able to use these theories to explain and predict what is happening. In terms of best practices, understanding historical theories of rhetoric and composition then also help teachers theorize themselves. By taking into account our perspectives, that is to say our philosophical and pedagogical views that guide our approaches to teaching rhetoric and composition, we are better able to engage with emerging writers when and how they need support. Theory informs our approach, our classroom writing activities, and the action happening every day in our writing classrooms.
But when I first walked into the classroom over ten years ago, I did not have solid grasp on theories of rhetoric and composition. Over time, through the National Writing Project, I was introduced to the works of Donald Graves and Thomas Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins. These teachers and writers have identified theories of teaching composition in the secondary school setting, which for them has been informed by the larger tradition of composition and rhetorical studies. Their work helped me reflect and redefine what and how I was teaching young writers.
However, having read the work of these teachers and composition theorists, I realize now that I still did not have a full grasp of their theoretical underpinnings. Now, after an intense semster studying process and post-process theories of composition, I more clearly see the implications of my lack of understanding of the significant role theory plays in the teaching of writing. This was highlighted for me in a simple activity we completed in class not all that long ago.
So what is the importance of theory to a writing teacher? Everything!