Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading for writing and thinking for speaking

When I read this chapter from Joining the Literacy Club by Smith entitled 'Reading like a Writer,' the first thing I thought was that the rhetorical structure of the chapter is quite different from what I am used to. To me it felt like I was following the thinking of the author as I read it. In other words, it was more like I was thinking with the writer going through the same thinking process. This flow feels more natural to me--I guess it is closer to Turkish rhetorical pattern. In American academic writing that I'm mostly exposed to, however, it feels more like the author tells me 'Here, See? This is what I came up with, this is what I think, and here is why.' So it feels more like the author shares with me the product of his/her thinking not the process. Needless to say, the latter feels unnatural to me. Well, as you can probably tell from the way I write in my blog. I like to share the journey not the photograph I take at the destination. Of course, I guess it is true that people do not care about the storms on your way but if you could make it safely to the harbor ^_^ But to me the story of the journey is much more interesting and informative. For one, it gives me a chance to learn from others' mistakes. You can rarely see any researcher admitting that something went wrong along the way or they had to change their research questions. Sometimes when I read some articles I want to say 'Hey you might be cool and all but you are not interesting at all' That's why I feel happy when I read someone who explains why s/he got interested in the subject, or admits that s/he had to make some adjustment because of this or that reason. Anyway, that's just me. Luckily for me, I do not have to pretend to be cool when I write for this blog. Writing formal papers is a whole different story, a challenge, a learning experience still.
Anyway, back to the chapter. Here are a couple of quotes I found stimulating.
"The question becomes the enigma of how such expanses of knowledge get into the heads of readers so that they become writers themselves. The answer cannot be that all this specialized knowledge is learned by rote through innumerable deliberate formal analyses, by sitting down with texts and making extensive notes, or submitting endless data and examples to memory. What is learned is too complicated and subtle, and there is too much of it. There is not enough time. Instead it must be that the learning takes place without deliberate effort, even without awareness. We learn to write without suspecting that we are learning or what we learn. Everything points to the necessity of learning to write from what we read, as we read. That is the trick to be explained." (p. 20)
Well, I'm not sure what to think of this exactly. There are some parts that I agree and some parts that I do not agree. For one thing, I would ask if it is really about getting knowledge into the head. On the other hand, I agree that reading is an important factor for writing. I would say if there is such a disconnect between how we naturally learn and how we teach in schools perhaps we have to rethink formal education. However, I agree that we learn many different things when we learn, not only what the teacher thinks s/he teaches us. You see I do not know what to think of this excerpt. To me, it kind of sounds like a reincarnation of universal grammar on the one hand, and common sense on the other. I do not think I have been so ambivalent about a couple of sentences.  
"We are not that kind of person, and the vicarious engagement does not take place. The consequence of not being a member of the club is dramatic, for children and for adults. We do not learn. In effect, the brain learns not to learn; it shuts down its own sensitivity. Exclusion from any club of learners is a condition difficult to reverse, whether we impose it upon ourselves or have it imposed upon us." (p. 23)
Again, I agree with the argument that membership is an important motivation for learning. However, I'm not quite sure if we can shut down ourselves like this. To me, it seems that learning is continuous, of course this perceived continuity might be an illusion. Anyway, I still think this is a quote that makes you stop for a moment and think. I like it, even if I don't fully agree with it.
"learning occurs only when we perceive ourselves as members of the club. We can and often do read simply like a reader, for whatever purpose we are reading. But to learn to write we must read like a writer." (p. 25)
Well, this is pretty much the main claim of the chapter. It reminded me of Dan Slobin's thinking for speaking concept. Hmm, something to think about.

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