Blog Post

Write? Learn to write? Write to learn? Learn? What does this all mean?

In the first chapter of his influential text, Write to Learn, Donald Murray (2002) asserted, “All writers are self-taught. Your instructor can help, your classmates can help, this book can help, but you still have to write to learn to write” (p. 1). Writing, however, is not a solitary act. Murray (2002) explains that a writer must work within a community of writers to gain support, feedback, and advice. Also, one must write to an audience. And one must write and rewrite in order to perfect a text; that is, writing is a process, not a product. The ideas of writing process, peer feedback, and audience are all central to how we teach college composition today. However, college students still struggle with this thing we call Academic Literacy. But why?

That’s where I come in. I have over ten years of experience teaching college level writing courses to university students, community college students, and English language learners. After all these years of watching students struggle to write texts in an academic voice for an academic audience, I have come to the conclusion that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Therefore, I have chosen to examine the problem through a new lens.

I come to the HASTAC Scholar community as a second year PhD student at Indiana University. I arrived in Bloomington, Indiana last October with my daughter and pek-a-poo (dog) to pursue a doctoral degree in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education. A year later, I have acquired a pound puppy, ten fish, and a second major: Learning Sciences. A wise man at Indiana University, Dr. Dan Hickey, heard my questions and encouraged me to try to answer them using Learning Sciences.

I have a diversified education background. I hold a BA in Psychology and English and an MA in English: Rhetoric and Composition from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I also hold an MA in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education from Indiana University. I obtained this degree without ever having stepped foot in Indiana – that is, I got it by taking all my courses online.

As you can see, I have a lot of schooling behind me and a lot of schooling ahead of me. I know I’m on the right track to answering some of my questions about how students obtain the literacy skills they need to be part of the Academic Community. Currently I am exploring a new application of reflective writing in a persuasive writing course. I am also exploring the use of networked peer review in an expository writing course. Soon you’ll be able to watch my progress by visiting my Working Examples on – stay tuned!

Well, I’m approaching 500 words, which is pretty long for an online blog. So, why don’t I just open the forum for your questions?

Warm regards,




1 comment

I, too, have taught developmental and freshman composition for nearly 30 years and I agree with your assessment: what we have been taught is not working.

I fundamentally believe that we have to acknowledge the paradox of writing: on one hand, writing (whether hand-writing or word-processing) is letters, words, and sentences buidling UP to a total "piece." On the other hand, successful writing MUST start from the "top down": who is my audience, what is my purpose, what is the voice I am seeking?

Yet, our traditional structure does NOT teach this latter approach and our "traditional" method of assessing does not teach this approach--certainly not in public school instruction (I know because I have 5 daughters who have gone thru public schools in North Carolina and I have seen the feedback).

Also, English teachers (ET's as I often refer to them) spend too much time of superficial skills and not enough time on the metacognitive skills. If you want a wonderful post-modern example of this superficial assessment, see this video, The Lonely Island Performs "Semicolon" with Alanis Morissette:

Please watch and reflect as you move through your career and keep your faith in changes you want to make. . .