The poetics of writing instruction

As Gordon Taylor pointed out in several seminal articles on our discipline, language and academic skills practitioners are faced with a dilemma. Dealing solely with the form, or structure of a student’s text, leaving questions of content (and presumably, the student’s understanding of that content) to subject or discipline lecturers, the language and learning adviser risks only scratching the surface, of seeing the symptom but not the cause of a student’s difficulties. Similarly, the content specialist who does not have an insight into the discursive element of the student’s work may know when a piece of writing is inadequate, but may be unable to help the student progress or develop. That is to say, a sharp division between form and content cannot be maintained and exclusive focus on grammar may be of limited help to the learner. The task for the language and academic skills adviser is to find a balance between form and content, without assuming the role of discipline expert, or ignoring the influence of language (grammar or discourse). The paper reviews previous discussions of the philosophical foundations of writing and academic skills instruction (Taylor’s, in particular) and considers the potential value of an approach based in poetics. As opposed to a hermeneutic response, which considers only what a text means, or a formal approach, which might look at grammar or rhetoric, poetics considers how a text is made, and thus offers insight into a student’s writing process.

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Johnson, Andrew
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Critiquing and reflecting: LAS profession and Practice. Non-refereed Proceedings from the National Biennial Conference, ANU, Canberra.
Milnes, Stephen
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