Legacies, Gateways, and the Future of Literacy Studies (Featured Session)

This feature session had a panel including Harvey Graff, Morris Young, Deborah Brandt, and several respondents. I’m just going to report a few of Deborah Brandt’s comments about “deep writing,” since they were so startling and unexpected (to me) and have me pondering about how they pertain to basic writers.

Brandt began by raising a point about a recent book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which argues that the Internet is destroying our ability to read deeply. Brandt problematized the assumption that “bad” (technology-driven, surfing-style) reading leads to bad, shallow writing. Writing and reading are not mirror processes. Recent brain research shows that reading and writing fire up different parts of the brain. Writing is recursive and associative, not linear. Writing is interactive with an audience, and it engages deep memory and deep cognitive processes.

Historically, there were many readers, but few writers. Now we are entering a stage of “deep writing.” Now we write among other people who write. We’re learning to write from other people who write, instead of learning to write from authors. We write alongside other people who are writing.

Brandt shared quotes from recent literacy interviews in which respondents shared how they read in order to find what they needed for what they are writing. Reading serves writing. Writing is both a means and end in the economy. People are under pressure to produce writing – and they look around for material by reading in that surfing-style way. Reading is happening to support the writing, and the role of reader is subservient to the role of writer.

So, I’m thinking about what this means for teaching basic writers. I realize that a lot of the pedagogies we’re excited about are ones in which our students are engaged, hands on, talking to each other about their writing – in essence, learning to write among and alongside others, as Brandt described. Hmmm.

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