Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wiley's “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist)”

Both readings this week offer insight into what is not working for the writing curriculum and offer advice on how to move forward. In Mark Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist)”, the author opens by noting that the desperate situations in urban schools—too many teachers are poorly prepared to teach writing while others are defeated by the less than desirable classroom conditions—are ripe for teaching writing as a formula. Formulaic writing is attractive. It is easy to teach, easy to learn, and produces prompt results in raising standardized test score. But, Wiley argues, it is not what students need.

Wiley focuses on one formula: the Jane Schaffer Approach to Teaching Writing. Schaffer advocates the four paragraph essay and provides an exact formula to achieve success. Each of the body paragraphs should contain eight sentences and be structured as follows:

Topic sentence

Concrete detail #1

Commentary #1a

   ” #1b

Concrete detail#2

Commentary #2a


Concluding sentence


Wiley offers criticism of this formulaic method. He notes that it “sends the wrong message to students and uninformed teachers about what writing really is”. Students need to learn to make choices about genre, content, structure, organization, and style in order to grow as writers. As writers, they must ask themselves, what is my intention, my desired effect, and who is my intended audience? Formulaic writing is stifling; it discourages ongoing exploration and experimentation. Students don’t get the opportunity to engage in the “rich chaotic mess from which true insight can emerge”. Furthermore, this method creates a codependency for struggling students.

Wiley concludes by offering advice on how to move forward and away from teaching formulaic writing. Because writing tasks vary, so should writing strategies. Wiley notes that a strategy is different from a formula because it is adaptable. It is more beneficial to teach the Jane Schaffer Approach as one strategy. For example, it is a strategy that would work well for a timed writing task. Most importantly, teachers should not become dependent on teaching formulaic writing because then students become dependent on that single strategy.




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