Overview of Expressivist Pedagogy
by Laura Salinas (Dr. Susan Garza’s graduate seminar, Spring 2007, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi)
First of all, what is expressivism? Expressivist theory, initiated in the 1960’s, is a reaction to traditional methodologies, popularized by such compositionists as Peter Elbow, among others. It is a theory for teaching writing that teaches students that writing is to focus on the writer as one who has personal and sole access to his/her own truth and encourages writing that expresses the writer’s individuality and thinking. The focus of instruction is on the student and her personal growth.
In The Classroom
Personal narratives and observations provide students with a way in to the writing process. The teacher teaches prewriting techniques such as freewriting, mapping, clustering, and the use of journals.
Peer response groups privilege the writer’s voice over the group’s collective voice. Students share ideas that they have written in their journals with the rest of the class or group during class discussions. Before peer review, students may write what they think works in their paper and which parts they still struggle with. Then they can share with other students who review their paper so that the reviewer has an idea of what parts of the paper to focus on in order to make beneficial comments. In writing groups, students see themselves as writers and contributors.
Students own the writing. All concerns, whether individual, social, or political, must originate in personal experience and be documented by the student, using her own rhetoric of understanding.
Teaches use dialogue to communicate with students by asking probing questions. The teacher uses a questioning method that is more directive and goal-focused, or more open-ended, so as to enable the writer to find her own ideas about a topic. This is an attempt to get the student to dig deeper into an idea and to consider the implications of what they think. Teachers are reflective in that they know what students are thinking, through discussions and dialoguing (such as in dialogue journals). Teachers understand how students perceive what is being done in class.
To focus on the individual voice and experience of the student, assign activities such as the memoir, the autobiographical sketch, and blogs on topics that relate to the individual as well as to her community. Students are involved in daily journal writings on personal thoughts and feelings.
Provide students with a structure in which they can determine for themselves what’s essential about the practice of writing by using Workshop that emphasizes predictable activities, goal setting and portfolio evaluation.
Ongoing activities to promote student understanding of the role of writing in their lives: Promoting writerly behaviors: Regular writing, reading, and discussion of writing Promote reflection on the personal significance of writerly behaviors.
Why assign such tasks?
Because they encourage the development of the student’s voice.
Process of Discovery
Writing is seen as a discovery through language. It is assumed that students already have embedded in them what they want to say, through discovery and observation. It is the teacher’s job to teach students how to generate those words for themselves, and to foster their ability to make their own judgments or evaluation of their own writing. Students write regularly and frequently, at least three time a week, about their writing— about where they are in completing a high-stakes assignment. Low-stakes writing (see marist.edu website below for link to Elbow’s definition of high/low stakes writing) occurs often as a way for students to monitor their thinking processes through writing about them. For more, see Assessmentbelow.
How to help students discover their ideas
Encourage them to freewrite and manipulate words and ideas. They may form writing groups and learn to trust their imaginations.
Journals can be used to initiate student-led discussions. Journals improve fluency and are a good way to begin writing assignments.
Teachers make it a point for students to understand their responses to papers, either by writing comments, or providing verbal ones. Teachers respond thoroughly to short assignments to where the students are at that point in time on that particular writing project. Assessment takes the form of a conversation between teacher and students. The student has identified in her “cover letter” what she wants the teacher to assess. Often, portfolios are used to give formal grades. Rubrics and checklist are provided for the students, but it is the job of the student to assess herself in meeting the demands of the criteria. The rubrics and checklists may likely change with each new writing assessment or task. Students approach the results of assessment as more than a grade. They learn to see assessment as a measure of how well they are drafting, editing, composing overall. Are they saying what they want to say? See Laura Rotter’s work (cited below) for portfolio assessment methods such as color coding, rubrics, and peer assessment.
They are a good way to encourage students to look at how they have grown throughout the course. Students may choose what work to include, what work they want comments on. They become a visual of the students themselves. In the portfolio, the student can see what they knew then and now, their personal understandings of themselves as writers. According to Edward Wolfe (1996), in his Student Reflection in Portfolio Assessment, “Portfolios can be used to assess how well students work on long-term projects, collaborate with others, develop a piece of work over time, and reflect on their own learning.”
Brooke, R., et al (1994). Small groups in writing workshops: Invitations to a writer’s life. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. This is a 211 page source of guidelines for introducing students to the life of a writer.
Fishman, S. M. (1995). Community in the expressivist classroom: Juggling liberal and communitarian visions. College English, 57 (1), 62–81. This article examines the relationships among teachers and students in an expressivist classroom environment.
Urbanski, C. D. (2006). Using the workshop approach in the high school English classroom: Modeling effective writing, reading, and thinking strategies for student success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. This is a 170 page source on using the workshop approach in a high school setting. It includes writing assignments using freewriting; daybooks, and a section on portfolios.
Olson, C. B. (Ed.) (1997). Practical ideas for teaching writing as a process at the high school and college levels. Sacramento: California Department of Education.
Rooter, L., & Huser, C. A. (1995). Techniques for assessing process writing. Resources in Education. Report.