The ERWC Steering Committee met on 10/16/15 at the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Among many issues that were discussed was the language of the ERWC Arc. There were two main points of contention:
- Is “selecting” the right word for the stage of the process that is between reading and writing, what the ERWC template calls “Connecting Reading to Writing”?
- Does the arc misrepresent what is a recursive and complex process as a linear, stage-driven one?
We had an extended conversation about the word “selecting.” This is a crucial turning point in the student’s relationship with the texts and many different things are going on. It is a Janus-like doorway that swings both ways, looking backward and forward. We tried many words–engaging, framing, connecting, taking a stance, aligning, joining the conversation, positioning (selecting is part of positioning), composing meaning through reading and composing meaning through writing, formulating, aligning, reconsidering, and answering. We considered for a moment adding a seventh term, but because one of our considerations is to create metcognitive terms that students can transfer to other situations, we decided that six terms is already a lot.
We finally decided on “responding.” It is general enough to contain the other processes, and it captures the backward and forward gaze of the moment. “Selecting” was too narrow. You can download a revised version of the “ERWC Arc” Handout.
Here is an image of what it looks like. The .pdf version in the link above looks better.
The second issue was about the linear nature of the model. Here we need to think about the purpose of the representation. Back in the early days of composing process research, a four-stage model–pre-writing, composing, revising, and proofreading–was proposed. Protocol analysis quickly determined that the actual writing process was recursive, that writers did not simply complete one stage and move on to the next. A difficulty in composing might send the writer back to some kind of pre-writing activity, and revising might lead to further composing. The four-stage model was abandoned as simplistic and naive. However, if I am talking to engineers about teaching writing, the four-stage model makes a lot of sense to them. If I then point out that in reality the process is more complex, they just nod. Of course it is. Everything is recursive.
The concept of the arc came out of teacher comments and observations that we did as part of our i3 study. Teachers were not finishing the modules. They were spending too much time on the reading and running out of time for the writing. We are not proposing the arc as an accurate cognitive model for designing research. It is more about the design of modules. As with any simplification, it has its limitations, but as a tool for delivering a quick understanding of ERWC practices, I think it works well.
The arc is also for students. It shows them that there is more to a writing assignment than reading a text and summarizing it. “Responding” encompasses the complex process of having a dialogue with a text and joining the conversation. I think it is a good choice.