I've been experimenting with sort of not teaching my composition students how to write. For some reason, I decided that I wanted to test out the assumption that I was actually doing something.
I was scared, a little, that I might discover that they might not need me. Or worse, I was slightly nervous that my students' customer service upbringing might cause them to demand that I "teach them" something, meaning that I would talk for a while and they would take notes and then they would write a paper the way I said to write a paper and then they would get a good grade. Voila, teaching.
I have, over the last few years, taken some classes for fun or enrichment: pottery, breadmaking, photography, photopolymer letterpress plate making. And you know what? I didn't learn in this traditional "be told what to do and then do it" way. Instead these teachers sort of said, "Here's what you need to look out for. Here's where people go wrong. You need to just dive in and do this for a while and make mistakes and critique your own performances and experiment and play a little."
Then, you know what happened? I dove in (sometimes waded) and after a little time, I got okay.
I got okay. Not great, just okay, which causes me to realize that maybe getting okay is all that's going to happen at this point for those people who take two semesters of writing classes. How long did it take me to become a good writer?
Well, until today. And that's been a long time. But it might also take until tomorrow.
So what I've done with my own teaching is this: I've backed off. I've given assignments and deadlines. I've answered questions and made them read things they wouldn't have chosen to read on their own. I make them write and I don't let them revise things I've already graded (how is that a professional writing practice?).
Instead I make them take their time and work methodically. I don't talk about rhetoric or any of it. I just let them write. And you know what? I can't sense that they are any worse for my not teaching. In fact, I think they're a little better, which is to say, "I think it's working."
What am I supposed to do with that information?