In 1982, Maxine Hairston noted a paradigm shift from a "current-traditional," product-centered approach to a "process-oriented" pedagogy in the field of writing instruction. One of the first breaks from the product-centered pedagogy was among writing instructors such as Peter Elbow, Ken McCrorie, Donald Murray, and Donald Stewart, who attempted various methods of helping students to open up or express themselves more freely. It was thought that by increasing fluidity and decreasing pressure of "punishment" for "bad" writing, students would feel better about themselves and their writing, and therefore produce more eloquent prose. Meditating before writing, listening to music or surrounding oneself with the beauty of nature while writing, "freewriting," journaling, and other forms of expression became commonplace activities in the college writing course. The goal was to produce an "honest" piece of writing that expressed the innermost thoughts of the writer. The roots of this "expressionist" movement can be traced to the 19th century Romantic notion of an "inner self" which needed to be expressed (Berlin 76). Thoughts and "snippets" from these freewritings and journal entries then became seeds which could be used to plant what would eventually grow into a piece of prose, usually in the form of a formal essay.
Another school of thought, which Faigley, Berlin, and others call the "cognitivists," was more interested in the processes that went on in the mind before and during the writing process. Researchers such as Linda Flower and John Hayes (a psychologist), Janet Emig, and Sondra Perl attempted to "scientifically" investigate the writing process. They observed students as they wrote, taking notes, tape-recording the students' "thoughts" as they wrote, and interviewing them before, during, and after the "act" of writing. From this school of thought developed an elaborate model of prewriting, writing, and revising, and the claim that there was indeed a definable "process" that more or less all writers go through when they compose. Critics of this school argued, though, that the research was conducted in artificial settings, and thus was skewed before it was even analyzed; that all people don't go through the same process; and that writing, rather than being a linear, step-by-step process, was instead a "discursive" process in that most writers revised as they wrote, invented and revised and discovered at various points along the way, and then wrote again while they revised. Many researchers, including Andrea Lunsford, Lisa Ede, Joseph Williams, as well as Flower, eventually endorsed a socio-cognitive hybrid model of the writing process (Berlin 186).
Other researchers, taking cues from philosophical and literary movements such as deconstruction, poststructuralism, marxism, and postmodernism, claim that writing is not an individual, "self-expressive" act at all, and certainly isn't a linear process, but, as Karen Burke Lefevre states, is a "social act." It is always and already a a social act before it even begins. Bruffee calls it "collaborative," Faigley calls it "social," Berlin calls it "social epistemic," but what ties all of these theorists together is the notion that there really is no "self" to express in the first place--everything we write (and therefore are) is a product of our environment, our social strata, the dominant ideology we live under, the political structure, etc. Even the language that we use, Bakhtin says, is already filled with prior meanings, since "the language we use is half someone else’s" (293). Fulkerson calls this approach a "rhetorical" view of the writing process, one which considers the reader more than the writer and dictates the content in light of the social context.
How does all this change our view of the writing process, what does it mean for the way we teach writing, and where do electronic writing environments fit into this picture? In reaction to what they see as the potential for computers to be used to perpetuate current-traditional teaching methods, Barker and Kemp tell us that we instead need a computer-supported "postmodern pedagogy" which emphasizes a "sensitive" approach to writing and helps students not only to write better, but to negotiate, grow more tolerant to opposing viewpoints, and to become active participants and makers of meaning in discourse communities. Lanham suggests that electronic communication technologies help students to learn more rapidly the discourse of their chosen profession, because instructors can ". . . introduce our students to the scholarly conversation sooner than we do now, and in more realistic and effective ways (22). Butler and Kinneavey compare this rehearsal to a "jam session" in which, just like musicians, unseasoned writers "jam" with more skilled writers and learn from them as they "play" (401). Cooper and Selfe claim that writing and learning in virtual environments helps students, especially those on the margins of society such as the poor and/or under-represented minorities, to "resist" the traditional authority and power structures that have kept them marginalized in the first place (389). And the more politically-oriented Faigley and Berlin would have students use writing as a way of overcoming the evils of capitalism, prejudice, and homophobia, and create what they see as a more harmonious, well-balanced society. As has been discussed in Sections III and IV, analysis of the gatsby-l listserv has shown that many of the claims of these researchers have proved, if not entirely accurate, at least feasible.
Writing instructors have long since realized the benefits of electronic word processors, such as cutting and pasting, ease of revision, and spelling and grammar aids. The ability of students to move an entire paragraph to a different section of an essay or to add a word or even several sentences without having to retype the entire document has enabled process theories of writing to manifest themselves in ways never dreamed possible only a few short years ago. Writing instructors and peer tutors can now suggest both global and local revisions without putting an undue burden on the student writer, and writers can now feel more confident in exploring various organizational strategies, while resting secure in the knowledge that multiple versions of drafts can be saved, and that any changes they make can be undone with a few mouse clicks if necessary. In a recent message to the Alliance for Computers and Writing listserv, Donna Reiss, an instructor from a community college in the southeast with extensive experience teaching in the computer-mediated classroom, shared her thoughts on some of the ways she has found the computer-mediated classroom enhances the writing process:
developed more opportunities for students to write and collaborate.
Students regularly write as their method of sharing texts, ideas, and
information, using collaborative software (including e-mail and Web
forums). They all participate as writers and scholars this way--no hiding a
geology book behind their English book or sleeping with their eyes open.
They all write for publication, and the electronic classroom makes it
possible to edit, revise, and publish within the timeframe of a week or a
semester. They write papers and e-mail them to everybody or a small group, or they post them on the Web. (acw-l, 3-4-99)
For the students enrolled in courses using computer-mediated communication devices such as the gatsby-l listserv, other factors appear to enhance their ability to understand, internalize, develop, and enhance the writing process, including
In order to demonstrate these effects, the "evolution" of two student essays, along with peer critiques of those essays, will be traced and analyzed. The first to be discussed will be "The Voracious Fitzgerald's Concomitant: Ambivilance" by Sir Edward, which changed significantly between his first rough draft and the final copy; the second will be "What is Read into The Great Gatsby?" by Irene, who relied less on guidance from student peer critiques and more on one-on-one intereaction with me before presenting a draft to the rest of the class.
The first essay to be discussed is Sir Edward’s "The Voracious Fitzgerald's Concomitant: Ambivilance," which, as one might surmise by the title as well as the content and style of Sir Edward’s previous messages to the gatsby-l, served at once to dazzle, confound, and confuse his classmates. A gentle, soft-spoken cabinet maker in "real" life, Sir Edward took on the personna of a haughty, self-righteous intellectual with a vocabulary to match when he "spoke" in the virtual world. To his credit, in the three semesters since he began taking online courses with me, he had toned down his pomposity somewhat, and was getting better at modifying his discourse to meet the needs of his target audience, the members of gatsby-l, most of whom were first- or second-year community college students. Numerous rebukes and messages to the effect of "What the heck did you just say?" from his classmates, as well as gentle reminders from me, especially during his first semester when it seemed as if he had just stepped out of 17th century England or perhaps a Dungeons and Dragons MUD room, had taught him that if his rhetorical strategies were to be effective, and if any of his classmates were going to even bother to read his messages, he would have to write more clearly. Nonetheless, in his formal essay he still struggled with this tendency, which Balester refers to as "hyperfluency": This use of discourse "disrupts. It violates discourse conventions; it unintentionally parodies prestige lanugage; it casts a negative light on its producer; and it often violates the Ciceronian virtue of appropriateness" (Balester 82).
For example, one section of Sir Edward’s original rough draft, sent to gatsby-l for peer review on 2-29-96, reads as follows:
Sorry that I am so late in the game of giving critiques. Your paper,
what I could understand of it was pretty good. I feel that you have a
good paper. I feel that it may be a bit too wordy and the reason that
not too many people respond is that it is not on their level. It tends
to be a little hard to understand. I found myself having to look into a
dictionary to understand it. But overall, for a paper that was a bit
over my head, it was good! (Sun, 24 Mar 1996)
Another student, Irene, also directed comments to Sir Edward regarding his writing style:
Not all of the students were so awestruck, however. Cassie, who had risen to the opportunity to "duel" with Sir Edward on various issues in the listserv discussion, sent an extremely detailed critique of his original rough draft, claiming that she was "up for the challenge." In her critique, Cassie begins by listing a brief outline of the contents of each paragraph of Sir Edward’s essay. She then goes into more detail, as in this section of her message:
you've read about, and state in the beginning what your opinion is, and support that opinion throughout your paper. (Thu, 7 Mar 1996)
I was trying to mimic the ploy that I think Fitzgerald uses, in that I was
standing back, as Nick, and observing the field of critics, keeping my own judgements to a minimun, except for the final rhetorical question " could this be Fitzgerald's caveat?" I mean for the answer to be a given, that is, that I think that indeed this is the caveat of Fitzgerald--that he is warning us not to become like Nick in the sophisticated arrogance and rationalized and false self-righteousness that he typifies, in Fitzgerald's purpose, of the advancing sort of American evolving in the 20th century, the sort of coming American self-image that would be "preying" on the likes of Gatsby, the essence of voracious life and risk.
You might be saying, "well, then SAY SO, and in the beginning like good thesis papers are supposed to be." Well, as I said, my technique may not fly with our professor, though it did for Fitzgerald. I may need to chance that my standing back from the action of the paper won't be caught...but you got it, I know Larry will...but it may not be allowed...maybe I should asked him directly.
Somehow, though, I believe, as does The Bopper, that Larry is very open to innovation and creativity--even free thinking and form--so long as a diligence and attentive participation are fullbodied. (Sun, 10 Mar 1996)
Coming through the veil, you've certainly helped improve my work,
Irene was one of those students who had a very hard time with the concept of reader-response criticism. Since she was enrolled in the on-campus version of the course, I had a lot of personal interaction with her throughout the semester in addition to the online conversations. In the beginning of the course, she was frequently annoyed with me because, despite her repeated requests, I refused to tell the class "what the story meant." She had been so ingrained in the proscenium-based, passive learning model that she found it very difficult to express opinions on her own due to the fear of being "wrong." Ironically, her fight against a reader-response style of criticism eventually drew her toward it with such power that her final research paper was an examination of how various readers, depending on their own background and experience, approached and interpreted The Great Gatsby. It took a while for Irene to come around to this interest in reader-response criticism, though. In an e-mail dated 02-21-96, prompted by my request for a brief description of the students’ research paper topics, Irene expressed her intent to write a paper based on biographical criticism:
Yes, much of Fitzgerald's own experiences, lifestyle, social circle, etc.
does show up in the novel. You might start by checking out some of the
biographical information on Fitzgerald which is on the Web and in books and journals in the LRC. There has also been quite a bit of discussion about this on the Gatsby-l list, so you can probably find some really good quotes in the list archives.
After you've done some searching you'll probably want to narrow your topic down to, say, a certain character's traits being derived from someone Gatsby knew, or maybe how some of his personal views on politics or a particular social issue found their way into Narrator Nick or one of the other characters in the novel . . .
Irene was not the first student to approach me with this dilemma, though, and although I always offered students the option of switching courses, I always encouraged them to stay, and gave them a brief sales pitch on the benefits of learning computer skills in addition to the normal course objectives of learning to analyze fiction, poetry and drama; most students, as Irene did, opted to stay with the course, and almost without exception, thanked me for talking them into "sticking with it" at the end of the semester after they realized how much they learned. It wasn’t always easy, though as the following message attests:
I have gotten some of my responses to others back and I'm not sure what I am doing wrong. Also, there are several prompt responses and responses to others that I have not signed my name to (at the time, I didn't know that I had to, I thought my name would automatically be on the response.) I'm sorry. I am learning, but this is totally new to me. I've read all of the stories and I could tell you everything about them if this were a regular class, but I'm slow at this e-mail thing. Bare with me, but let me know before withdrawl day whether or not I am failing! I am trying, but I am really starting to love Chemistry more than I thought possible!
*No more messages today, I promise!
When it came time to begin writing the research paper, Irene worked with me almost sentence-by-sentence during the initial stages of her rough draft, and through her America Online account she sent me several e-mails and "Instant Messages" (one-to-one private synchronous chat, a feature of America Online now also available through Netscape Navigator) in which she worked out the details of her "rough draft" before actually sending it to the group for comment.
After several office visits, phone calls, instant messages, and e-mails, Irene eventually began to narrow down her ideas for her paper; by this point she had abandoned the biographical criticism idea and had begun her move toward exploring reader-response theory. During one of her office visits, I had mentioned Stanley Fish’s article "Is There a Text in This Class?" but was unable to find the anthology it was printed in at the time of our conversation. I eventually found it just before I left on a two-week vacation/conference trip, but did not have an opportunity to pass it on to Irene before I left. In the following message, she begins to form the basis of what would become the thesis of her essay:
Please tell me what the date of your "chopped" message was and I will
check for it. Also, I found the book with the article by Stanley Fish. It
is called The Ten Great Critical Statements and it is sitting on the chair next to my computer in my office. If Jamey or Patty (student assistants) are there ask them or if the guy across the hall (Roger Jay) is in, his key will fit my door. Just print this message and show it to him and he'll probably open the door for you.
I hate to bother you on vacation (I hope you are having a good time in
Maine) but, I am starting to freak out about this research paper. As
you can tell, I haven't even sent in my rough draft yet. I have started
to write it, but when it comes time to prove my thesis, which is
something like "Certainly, reader-response criticism is evident in The
Great Gatsby due to the many different viewpoints of students, critics,
authors and professors" This is not exactly what I have written, but I
don't have it with me. Anyway, I don't know what kind of examples to
use to prove this point. I thought that it would be simple to prove,
but many of the ideas about the book, especially from authors and
critics seem to be similar and have a strong back up when making their
points about the book. Like, "of course this is what you should get out
of the novel, and here is my evidence to back it up." Should I compare
things like "What does The Great Gatsby say about the American Dream,"
and bring in what the students have written about that? How many
different examples should I use? This is where I am lost. I would send
you what I have written so far ( which is only a page) but I don't have
it with me. If you have time to respond this week, then I can send it
later, if not, then I will do the best I can with it. I know this
message is kind of confusing, sorry if it isn't clear to you. I'm kinda
frustrated right now.
P.S. Thank you for finding the book, I will try to get by the school
tomorrow to pick it up if they will let me. I will also look for the
date of my chopped message and get back to you.
After a volley of several messages more back and forth, Irene sent me the following version of her rough draft:
Date: 96-03-12 11:43:10 EST
Larry- This is all I have so far:
Whenever any text is being read, it is not only up to the writer to create and complete the story being told, but also up to the reader of the text as well. This is a common theory amoung reader-response critics. Reader-response criticism is the "form of criticism focusing on the relationship between the text and the reader with emphasis on the ways which the reader participates in the text"(Tatarka). In The Great Gatsby, reader-responce criticism seems to be evident due to a number of different responses given in discussions, essays, critics and other writings on different aspects of The Great Gatsby.
Clearly, the reader plays an important role in both interpreting and creating The Great Gatsby.
While a reader can certainly interpret a literary work and derive meaning from it, there is by no means only one, single "correct" interpretation of it. Although the meaning of a work is interpreted by the reader, it is the joint effort of the author and the reader to create the meaning of a literary work. Every reader brings his or her past into a text when reading and interpreting it by use of their social, historical and cultural aspects (Tatarka). A work can also "supply the social, political, class and gender attitudes of the writer" (Interpreting Literature). Together, this is what creates a text.
In The Great Gatsby, there were several different views and interpretations of various aspects of the book. This is to name only a few. Three aspects of the novel that were discussed by various individuals; including students, critics, authors and professors were: The relationship between Fitzgerald and the characters of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, what Fitzgerald is saying about the American Dream, and the character of Jay Gatsby himself. (NARROW THESE TOPICS)
This is where I am stuck. I'm not sure which aspects of the novel to
discuss. Also, the documentation is just stuck in there, I know it isn't
correct. After thinking about this though, I am going to try to see how
my other topoic might work out. What do you think?
Here is a very rough draft. I've already sent it to the list for
criticism. I know I need to do a lot to it, but I just wanted to get
started writing something down. Please, give me any advice you can on
it. I don't know if the punctuation is correct or not. I think I need
to use more examples also, I just need to look for some more. I still
may put some interview quotes in if I need to. I don't have a
conclusion yet and I'm not sure if the last paragraph belongs in the
paper or not. Anyway, Please respond to my e-mail here at the school if
you can, and I will Check it on Wednesday.
Date: 96-03-13 01:19:37 EST
Thanks for the input. I think I am a little more clear now, but let me get this straight; I can just use one topic of the novel and do a comparison between two or more people? Can I use myself also, or does it have to be other people? So, for example, I could use someone like Kristina Parker(I don't know how old she is, but I think she is probably 18-20, do you know?,) and then I thought I would use a 43 year old male with children. Is this a good age and social gap? So, now I would compare their versions of the story, or just a specific aspect of the story? Anyway, I have some of the archives copied, so I will go ahead and look for some things.
By the way, do you know how to print out only certain segments from a particular archive, or can this even be done?
Also, how many sources do we need for our paper?
Thanks a bunch,
Irene was also thinking about technical issues, such as how to print out a particular message from the web-based e-mail archives (I had copied all the messages from the gatsby-l listserv and posted them on web pages so the students could browse through them and search for ideas, review conversations, or search for quotations for their research papers). The practice of quoting one’s peers in an academic essay is a common activity for professionals in their respective discourse communities, and I encouraged--actually, required--the students to incorporate quotes from their classmates in their research papers for a number of reasons: 1) to give them practice in this "real-life" professional activity, 2) to help underscore the validity of their opinions, since I have often found that students, even at this level, can come up with some fresh and brilliant insights worthy of or at least equal to some of the insights published in academic journals by Ph.D. holding critics, and 3) to help students whose statements were quoted to realize that they, too, have a voice that is worth listening to.
Fortunately, Irene included the text of my response with her next message, since my comments to her were also deleted from my America Online sent mail folder:
Date: 96-03-13 09:44:21 EST
On Tue, Mar 12, 1996 6:59 PM EDT you write:
You are trying to show that reader-response criticism is evident in the novel--what you should be doing is looking at the various ways different people (readers) have responded to the novel. Then you can prove the point of reader-response theorists, which is that each reader "reads" his or her own experiences, prejudices, etc. into the novel, and therefore each reader is, in fact a "co-author" of the work, since he or she creates the experience of the novel differently.
Does that make sense?
Anyway, so what you want to do now is find something we were discussing
on Gatsby-L--let's say Tom and Daisy's relationship (just as an example--I
could have mentioned dozens of other topics). Look through some of the
comments that were made, and, since you have met at least some of the participants,
look at how one person (a 20-yr. old single male, for example) described
their relationship as opposed to how someone else (a 35-year old married
female, for example) described it. They both read the same novel, right?
They both read the same words, right? Why then do they have different versions
of the story? This is where the reader-response theory comes in.
I've thought about what you said, but this is where I'm still confused: If I only write on one specific aspect (ex. Tom and Daisy's relationship,) how can I get enough info to fill up a six page report? It seems like I will only be able to find a couple of comments on any aspect. Can I compare just what two different people thought of the novel and list their individual views, instead of comparing the same aspects between them. Also, instead of using someone off of the archives, can I use myself somehow. I can get more info. out of myself than I could using someone else. I could compare what I thought of the novel and different aspects in it, so I would have the viewpoint of a 22 year old female, and then I could still do the 43 year old male. So, I don't know if this would work or not, I just thought I would see. If I didn't necessarily compare the same aspect between the two different readers, that would still prove reader-responce criticism because it would mean that one person got something out of the book that maybe another person never thought of.
Anyway, I would like to know what you think.
Date: 96-03-15 00:52:20 EST
You write (sometime Thursday):
>Stop worrying so much--relax, have a glass of wine, watch a Sylvester >Stallone movie (just kidding).
>You've probably already written enough e-mail messages to take up 6 >pages!
OK! (I tend to freak out when it comes to research papers.)
>Who is the 43-year old male? There are a few who would come close--I >know it's not me, though--I'm not that old!
I told you that I was going to have my boyfriend read the novel, and that's the 43-year old male.(Yes, I know he's a little older than me!) So, he won't be on the archives, but I thought I would just interview him on what he thought of the book.
Ok, I won't bug you anymore! I think I'll skip the wine and the Stallone movie though (he's not my "type"--not that that makes any difference-my boyfriend wasn't my "type" either!)
Have a lovely vacation!
As has been demonstrated by the above samples taken from the writing of Sir Edward and Irene, writing and learning about writing in a virtual environment can be just as effective, and possibly more effective, than writing and learning about writing in a traditional classroom setting. As opportunities for collaboration are increased due to the lack of time constraints and the accessibility to the written words of their classmates, students tend write more, share more, and learn more from each other by what Hawisher and Selfe refer to as "peer teaching" (387). And more importantly, especially for students such as Irene who require a greater degree of "handholding" than most, the virtual learning environment provides a "safety zone" where they can feel free to try out their ideas and communicate with their instructor with a frequency and intimacy that is not possible in a traditional setting.
It is no accident that writing instructors who recognize the importance of process theories of writing have flocked to networked computer labs and the internet. The ability to manifest process theories of writing in the electronic environment has energized and reinvigorated students and instructors alike. We must, of course, keep in mind Hawisher and Selfe’s observation that computers in themselves "do not automatically create ideal learning situations" (386). This study makes clear, however, that process-oriented pedagogy, combined with computer-assisted collaborative invention and revision can help students not only improve their final "product," but will help them to think about and internalize invention and revision strategies so they will not only produce an acceptable piece of writing, but also understand how they did it so they will be able to do it again in the future.