Sunday, April 18, 2004

Flower, et al., 1987, "Strategies of Revision"

 Flower, Linda, et al. "Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 191-228.

Big Idea
Over two years, five contributing researchers sought to refine the key intellectual actions in revision. The study dealt with both student-written texts and expert-written texts; it's an example of collaborative analysis and the challenges of collaborative writing. The project seeks refinement in the terms we use to describe the revision process, setting out with special investment in "detection" and "diagnosis." It also works from a confluence of theories toward revision. Specifically, the endnote acknowledges theory's promise of tentative knowing (Dewey's "experimental ways"). Their work affirms the complex, various interplays of revision toward the fulfillment of a textual need. And, although the textual need is often defined by the teacher, the essay-project promises the value in enabling "novice" student-writers to detect, diagnose and strategically affect textual needs emerging from their own knowledge and intention. 

Terms of Import
experts/novices - the essay-project uses these terms loosely to characterize those who are proficient with the detection-diagnosis-strategic revision sequence in relationship to those who are less adept at negotiating the phases of the sequence.
knowledge/intention - this is elaborated at length; it seems to impart a tension between what we know about our writing and what it does, and what we intend for our writing to do. Often (always?) the two are wedged apart to various degrees. We don't always know what our writing does (in the full sense of its potential to move readers, compel assent, and so on). 
nested processes - revision is necessarily reflexive. The work of revision engulfs small 
mental text - the writer's sense of the text's meaning distinct from the syntax expressed in writing (This is a tricky concept. I'm not sure how to understand the mental text as narrow, confined and rigid in the same sense that I think of words on the page. The "mental text" makes sense to me only when I consider it a _near_ copy of the written text. Accordingly, I doubt how fully the "mental text" exists before the written text. Only after the written text takes shape does the "mental text" take its echoic, sometimes distorted shape--the dusty film that prevents us from reading our own writing with the same discernment we are able to employ when reading a text that is not our own.)
three major gates - detection, diagnosis, strategies of revision
detection - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence, but I can't tell what it is.
diagnosis - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is.
strategies of revision - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is, and here's how I intend to fix it. The three major gates and several other commonplaces in composition are narrowed and subtly differentiated in this essay-project. 

Monday Morning
     As I read this essay, I felt pedagogically shrimpy. I don't give sufficient time or attention to revision, to carefully reworking texts, to settling the terms we use to talk about the "progress" of the text toward some projected rhetorical need. At times, I wondered whether revision of this deeply engaged, patient sort is possible in a writing classroom. It seems more intimate--the kind of interaction that is better done in the writing center, maybe. 
     The source-rich ensemble of research here and the two-dimensional diagrams depicting embedded processes in revision don't seem particularly useful to basic writers. I can see the value in this study for teachers of writing; it might be enough to model the subtle stages, to point out examples of detection, diagnosis and strategic revision. I liked the idea that revision should be introduced as "re-seeing" the ways we think rather than retooling the surface errors in the words on the page. This invokes a theory of revision as "re-cognition," too. 
     The essay left me with the feeling that we could invent an entire course on revision. It's represented as an incredibly complex process, and I have doubts about whether I'm well prepared to teach revision differently than I've practiced it, which means I need to practice it more, think about my own revision habits. 
     I also thought about the relationship between revision and weblogs. Charlie Lowe briefly mentioned the usefulness of returning to previous entries, of re-reading our own weblogs critically, of teasing out our terms and improving the coherence of a set of connections. But, among the weblogs I check out regularly, few offer examples of revision. Or is it just invisible? Frequently, I see clusters of internal links to previous entries as a kind of incremental, pooled essay. 
     Revising, in "Detection, Diagnosis," is aimed at a seamless text and rhetorical mastery--its antithesis: messiness. There's plenty left off here: 38 pages assembled over two years (of weekly meetings), making use of 61 sources, an eventual book. A lot left off.

Should we imagine revision as a way of returning to our writing for reasons other than satisfying a textual need? Might revision include reaffirmation or remembrance? How much time might we imagine between the drafts? Is there always a lapse? What happens to the mental text during the lapse? How much time is optimal? Who are the experts and who are the novices? Are these roles always distinguished by formal training? Must the problem be named for the text's "need" to be met? Who benefits most from the naming of the problem? To what extent should naming the problem and proposing the need be shared with the class in a forum for group learning about revision? With the student-writer? Via written comments? In conference sessions? Does it matter how it's shared? 

Passages Passages
"One revises only when the text needs to be better" (193).

"If a given performance in revision depends on a dynamic interplay of knowledge and intentions, how can we model the process of an effective reviser? [...] One approach to this problem is to step back and describe or model the basic thinking processes which underlies revision itself then to look within that process for those places where experts and novices make different decisions or handle the process itself differently" (195). 

"Our model of Evaluation, then, describes a generative process built on the principle of a progressive enlargement of the goals and constraints one entertains" (199). 

"A text is simply one instantiation of the writer's meaning; a plan represents that meaning in another, less elaborated, less constrained form (Flowers and Hayes, "Images"). Revision operates on meaning in all its forms. The experiences writers in this study were particularly adept at working with the larger, more abstract units of plans and gists" (202).

"To sum up, detecting problems in a text--even achieving that initial sense of dissonance--calls on two non-trivial constructive processes: representing a "text" through reading (or memory), and representing one's intentions. And both are affected by the writer's willingness to entertain dissonance itself (Young, "Rhetoric")" [For how long?] (203). 

"The only way to enter the REVISE process is to go through Diagnose first. This is because REVISE is, by definition, a process that depends on the new information generated in a diagnosis, whereas REWRITE, like original text production, does not." (216).

"The power of diagnosis is not based on knowing the technical vocabulary of a college handbook--one can be innocent of grammar and recognize an agreement problem, and one can have never heard of "squinting modifiers" or undisturbed middles" and still recognize the pattern, diagnose its logic, and know what to do. On the other hand, one premise of education is that having a language helps you see and think about what you see (Freedman, "Review"). The question is how much of what do we need to teach writers?" (222).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at April 18, 2004 10:34 PM to Reading Notes

I always find Flower fascinating. Background: I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon (transferred after three semesters to a community college) in 1987, and took the writing program course that I assume Flower designed. Also took her early collaborator John Hayes's "Introduction to Cognitive Processes" Psych 101 course, where Hayes made it very clear he was as much of an anti-Skinnerian as anyone can possibly be. CMU was *huge* on "process" then, in every field. Thing is, if you check her early stuff, "process" for Flower and Hayes means that there are discrete and isolable processes in the brain which do various and sundry specific tasks. That's why there's all that distinction above about what goes on when, and I suspect that's also why there was such confusion and argument over the term "process" in its early days: cognitive process theorists like Flower and Hayes wanted to say that there are these separable and identifiable individual mental processes, which led to people asking presenters at conferences, "Can you tell me what each step of the writing process is, and in what order I should teach them to my students?" whereas Donald Murray, Walker Gibson, Janet Emig, and other early writing process theorists contended that "process" was the opposite of "product" and that we ought to pay attention to students' sloppy and irreducible actions while they composed. Not quite the same thing. The latter model gave rise to Peter Elbow's loosey-gooseyism (I say this as someone who admires Peter very much), whereas the earlier -- well, I think it's still with us, in the belief that there are single and isolable workable pedagogical practices. But Linda Flower, it seems to me, has long since left Hayes behind for a more poststructural perspective.

Posted by: Mike at April 19, 2004 11:31 PM

Ahh, first time I've learned that Mike spent some of his education at a community college.

I'm often struck about how interpretations of various scholars can be affected by when you encountered their work and what you had read before. I first heard Flowers and Hayes in a featured presentation at CCCC in the late 70's, after I'd done a lot of reading on comp theory for an NEH seminar done by Ross Winterowd at USC.

But I'd already been well grounded in cognitive psychology through my psycholinguistics reading between 1969-1975.

Another example was reading Mina Shaughnessy's "Errors and Expectations." I'd been trained in ESL error analysis methods starting in 1961, so her methodology struck me as derivative, but clever to apply to basic writers. I loved E & E, but I never saw Shaughnessy as being as seminal as the New York folks did (and still do).

One use of academic blogs might be to encourage one another to explain the context in which we read the authors who most influence our thinking.

Posted by: John at April 20, 2004 7:47 PM

Yet again, you're helping me see an angle I hadn't considered. Your comments, Mike, have me thinking about the vast variance in process composition. My MA program was heavy on throwing off linear orderliness so that we could emphasize the recursive interplay of "stages." I was more than a little troubled by this line from the Flower etal. essay (which refers to Bridwell's "Revision"): "Poor writers made little use of this time, making 96% of their changes as they were writing one draft or the other" (192). And it's troubling, I suppose, because I see my own habits--where drafting and revision often mix together (which is which?)--characterized as the tendencies of a novice writer (don't tell my students!). That said, I also see a value in stepping back, letting the dust settle, putting writing aside for a bit to return to it after a passage of time.

I see this weblog working in just the way you've described it, John. It's very much about revealing (to myself and to/with others) and kind of intellectual formation, discoveries, shifts in thinking and so on. And I'm intrigued (to the extent that I'm even muddling through a few related ideas for the blog SIG) by the notion that *weblogs are remodeling mentorship in composition.* Weblogs abandon some of the formality of in-house mentorship, but they enable collegial cross-talk and idea exchange across institutions, across disciplines--perhaps in ways that listservs (!) and other media have never quite made possible. I don't know how to compare it to the kind of personal, one on one guidance with faculty because it's been a few years since I enjoyed that sort of relationship. These few entries on the Braddocks so far have felt like a fair amount of work, but I'm enjoying the ways they're opening up conversations about how we all think (differently) about these things. I'm learning a whole lot more than I guessed I would.

Posted by: Derek at April 23, 2004 10:16 PM