Vol. 6. No. 2 R-9 September 2002
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Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

Eds. Geraldine DeLuca, Len Fox, Mark-Ameen Johnson and Myra Kogen (2002)
Pp. xvi + 488
ISBN: 0-8058-3861-9 (paper)
Price: US$46.00

DeLuca, Fox, Johnson, and Kogen have brought together engaging articles on teaching writing, becoming a writer, responding to writing, and other issues affecting the lives and work of those teaching writing. Each of these four sections consists of a general introduction by the editors and seven individual articles that include short bibliographies and discussion questions. A handy index completes the book. Dialogue on Writing is intended to be used as a textbook in courses on theories or methods of teaching college writing, but it may also be invaluable for the professional development of instructors of composition. While the anthology does not offer sure-fire solutions to all of the difficulties surrounding writing, it is full of food for thought. In fact, it even is downright therapeutic at times.

Due to the variety of subject matter and striking diversity of the authors and their perspectives, it is impossible to comment on all of the individual contributions. Most of the selections in the first two sections explain various approaches to student-centered, personalized writing. For example, in "Pedagogy of the Distressed," Jane Tompkins outlines a teaching method to reduce her course preparations and burnout, while increasing student participation and variety in the classroom: let the students do the teaching. In this scenario, the instructor meets with the discussion leaders outside the classroom, guiding them through the teaching process. They are then responsible for introducing the material in class to their peers. I appreciate not only the practical pieces of advice such as this one but also the candid remarks and confessions that the writers make in most of the articles. In Tompkin's case, she explains her struggle to get past her own guilt of not doing all the teaching herself. As a result, I decided I was able to do so too and reaped the benefits both in the classroom and on a personal level.

Furthermore, the editors are to be praised for selecting nearly jargon-free and inspiring essays ranging from four previously unpublished essays to those have become "classics" in the field of writing, such as Peter Elbow's "The Process of Writing--Growing." Elbow's encouraging prose should be read in every basic composition course. Here an excerpt on editing: "Every word omitted keeps another reader with you. Every word retained saps strength from the others. Think of throwing away not as negative--not as crumpling up sheets of paper in helplessness and rage--but as a positive, creative generative act" (p.155). In a word: breathtaking. Sure masterpieces such as this one can be tracked down elsewhere, but many instructors may not have found it on their own, especially if they didn't know what to look for or if they, like some EFL instructors I know, do not have access to well-stocked libraries. I stumbled across enough rewarding material to say this anthology is worth its hefty price. Besides it save instructors the hassle of putting together their own packet of information for classes on teaching writing. [-1-]

A number of the entries discuss the challenges of incorporating cultural contexts and multiculturalism into teaching and writing. While viewed from the perspective of African Americans, Vietnam veterans, and others, diversity is seen as an opportunity not as a handicap or a "problem" for the writing classroom. Thus, those interested in how diversity affects the teaching of writing will especially want to consult the a number of the articles in sections one and two.

Section three contains articles on responding to writing in a way that considers individual needs and fosters critical-thinking skills, enabling students to find not only their own mistakes, but also point of view. Of all the sections this one provides the most practical teaching tips. The contributors take up the issue of grammar in the writing classroom and grading procedures. Especially noteworthy in this section is Richard Miller's contribution entitled, "Fault Lines in the Contact Zone," in which he tackles the question of dealing with morally questionable writing.

The final section is a potpourri of various topics ranging from the unfair working conditions and salaries for post-secondary teachers of writers to the impact of technology on writing. Take Vivian Zamel's enlightening essay entitled "Strangers in Academia: The Experiences of Faculty and ESL Students Across the Curriculum," for example. Zamel outlines the difficulty ESL students have to show their knowledge of English, as the classroom material and testing procedures tend to highlight their deficiencies in English.

If there is one thing to criticize in this excellent anthology, it is the choice to include a previously-published article from 1998 on "new technology" in which among other things writing software is discussed--four years represents a long time in the computer age. At the very least, this essay should have been updated. In addition, I missed a discussion on plagiarism especially in the articles on technology but also in the anthology as well. Plagiarism is an ever-increasing problem in light of the cut-and-paste function in Internet browsers and web sites that sell seminar papers to other students. These minor criticisms aside, I would recommend Dialogue on Writing to those looking for a fresh approach, new ideas, or challenges. This versatile anthology would surely make interesting reading and spark a lively discussion in upper-level teacher-training courses on writing.

Sabrina Voelz
Universitaet Lueneburg, Germany

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