Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blog: Donald M. Murray's "Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product"

Donald M. Murray’s “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product” is both powerful and insightful; it is also a philosophy of teaching that should be common sense but is not common practice. Murray begins his argument that teaching composition should focus on the process of writing and not the final product by mentioning a common flaw shared by teachers of English: “Our critical skills are honed by examining literature, which is finished writing”. It is uncommon that we study the process by which these authors created their works. Therefore, when we later become teachers, we tend to focus on our students’ final products as well.

Murray suggests that it is much more beneficial to teach unfished writing. That is, the three stages of the writing process: prewriting, writing, and rewriting. He then addresses the question, How should I motivate my students during the writing process? His response: Shut Up! Students do not learn to write by talking about it, Murray writes. They learn by doing it! It is important that the teacher remembers their role. You are not there to initiate or motivate; you, as the teacher, are simply there to read and receive, to listen and respond.

This practice of teaching process has many implications for the composition curriculum, and Murray describes ten. Included in these implications are ideas such as there are no absolutes and that all writing is experimental. All that the teacher is required to do is be respectful and respond to the student. Students should be allowed to find their own subjects and use their own language.  Murray suggests that “we are coaches, encouragers, developers, creators of environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves”.

A note on the article mentions that the paper was presented at a conference in 1972. Why then, I wonder, has the philosophy of teaching composition not adapted to teaching process. In my experience, I have only had very few teachers who have focused on process. I think that it is still too common a practice to focus on a final product and to expect students to mirror one’s own writing style. I wonder if this is because we, as teachers, are still learning to teach by examining the product, as Murray notes.

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