Writing & Pedagogy, Vol 2, No 1 (2010)

Chained and Confused: Teacher Perceptions of Formulaic Writing

Amy A. Lannin, Roy F. Fox
Issued Date: 11 Jul 2010


This study focuses on how teachers enrolled in a graduate level, online English Education course perceived formulaic or thesis-driven student writing, commonly associated with the traditional “five-paragraph essay.” One goal of this course, “Writing, Reading, and Teaching Creative Nonfiction,” was to engage teachers in reflecting about the uses of this “new” genre in their own classrooms. Living in several states, the participants included one science teacher, four Special Education teachers, and ten middle and secondary Language Arts teachers. We analyzed 12 separate prompts posted to the discussion board over a six-week period. Also, participants were required to post one “thread” into each discussion board, with follow-up comments to threads from at least two other participants. Approximately 75 out of a total of 800 coded comments dealt with formulaic writing. The following patterns of participants’ perceptions emerged from these comments: (1) student benefits of formulaic writing; (2) a hierarchical sequence for teaching writing; (3) obligations to teach formulaic writing; (4) resistance to formulaic writing; (5) the constraints of formulaic writing on students; and (6) the constraints of formulaic writing on teachers. Based on this study, we recommend that teachers engage in writing themselves which includes risk taking, modeling writing and significant revision for their students, and sharing models of writing; ensure that their students write in many forms and genres, including, but not limited to, the five-paragraph essay; develop realistic views of the expectations and obligations they face daily; and internalize effective writing practices. In the process of exploring the genre of creative nonfiction, teachers also had to grapple with old debates, as almost all of this study’s participants changed their views, discovering that the chains they had felt actually were not as tight as they had originally believed.

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DOI: 10.1558/wap.v2i1.39


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