National Writing Project

TR 27. Translating Context into Action

By: John Ackerman
Publication: National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Technical Report
Date: May 1989

Summary: This report describes the initial reading strategies nearly every freshman in Ackerman's study used. From this point, students then had to construct a solution path that may or may not have used this initial approach.



As we watched our students write, we noticed what we thought were traces of our students' history as readers and writers in school as they first represented the reading-to-write assignment to themselves. For many students, "schooling" created a bind between the habits and assumptions they brought to the immediate rhetorical situation and their efforts to re-represent the assignment, to take their writing a step beyond the "commonplaces and readily available utterances" they first thought were expected or acceptable.

This bind is partly why freshman writers and the teaching of reading and writing fascinate us. Freshman writers are both experts and novices: they bring years of practice with academic discourse, bound up in the habits and assumptions exhibited in our classrooms. They are novices in that they have less practice with the assignments and expectations common to the university setting: an act of publishing a paper for a teacher in freshman composition (or history or psychology) is as much a reliance on these habits and assumptions as is the acquisition of new rhetorical or linguistic skis. As Bartholomae points out, freshman writers falsely assume, often with the very best intentions, that commonplaces such as the five-paragraph theme will be read and accepted by a knowledgeable audience composed of readers who have long since distanced themselves from such conventions.

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