Schenbach and Greenleaf highlight to classroom studies in “Fostering Adolescents’ Engaged Academic Literacy.” In a history course, the teacher’s “monitoring of the students’ reading as they think aloud with partners to surface and solve comprehension problems is strategic. She is helping students build a repertoire of strategies for this kind of rigorous work with text, punctuating students’ sustained work with metacognitive conversations (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, & Hurwitz, 1999) and discussions of the text” (109). At the same time they are learning history, and they know it.

I love to teach writing but sometimes I wish I could teach a different subject, like maybe history. I’m sure it’s not any easier. It just seems less murky. I don’t really even get to teach literature. I teach writing. That is my charge. Sure, I can use a short story as a prompt for writing, but if I spend too much time talking about the story versus writing, one of my students looks at me like, “Hey, this ain’t no lit class. Are we going to be tested on this story next week?”

I am tired of trying to justify to my students why we “talk” about material other than “the act of writing” in a writing class. If we talk about an essay in the book and look at the author’s strategies, it seems grounded enough for them. But I often feel like when we talk about a topic, any topic, as an example to work together to develop an outline, or maybe an introductory paragraph strategy, they think we are “off topic” because we aren’t talking about writing.

Yet, as far back as Plato, the dialectic is the means to discovering truths or maybe even “the truth” about a topic. Right? What are we supposed to do? Write about writing? Sometimes I am tempted to give that assignment (writing about writing) to the student who doesn’t see the point of discussing the topic or “content” of an essay to at least some extent. Instead, what seems to work most of the time is to shift gears and ask the student what is his or her topic for the next assignment and have a group discussion on that topic.  And just like a bad date, we love to talk about ourselves. Before they know it, as a group we have helped the student consider points he or she hadn’t even thought of previously, and the student is taking notes that will help develop their essay later.

But do they even see how they are learning and developing as writers by talking about (insert topic here)?