“How Andrew Pudewa Teaches Writing” and other matters

Andrew Pudewa and I have had so much fun doing writing workshops together that we are at it again.

On January 18, we’ll be in St. Augustine, Fl.
On January 19, Berean Academy is hosting us in Lutz (near Tampa)
On January 20, The Calssical School is hosting us in Orlando.

Andrew Pudewa will be leading a high school essay intensive at Evangelical Free Church in Ft. Myers on Thursday, and I’ll be going to Lakeland to meet with my old friends at The Geneva Classical Academy in Lakeland.

Then we get back together again on January 22, when Evangelical Free Church Will be hosting us in Fort Myers.
We end our grand tour of FL on January 23, when First Christian Church will host us in Boca Raton.

I hope you can make it. I have learned a ton traveling around with Andrew.

He opens the workshop with a talk on The Four Language Arts, which lays out something so essential I find I need to hear it and be frequently reminded of it.

Everything arises from and revolves around and depends on our ability to use language.  That ability grows when we practice four language arts:

  • listening!
  • reading
  • speaking
  • writing

That sets the stage. Then Andrew Major hands it off to Andrew Minor (me) and I explore the five paths to writing greatness and the distinctives of classical rhetoric.

In the latter, I explain the three universal problems of writing and how to solve them using the tools that Aristotle and the great classical educators mastered.

You can probably see that each session is a bit more specific than the last. 

This is when Andrew Major presents his natural approach to Developing the Essayist, in which he explains a very effective strategy for moving children, one step at a time, from simply reporting facts to supporting an opinion of their own.

Then we address the major headache of all writing teachers: Assessment!

How should it be done? What does our mode of assessment mean? How can we asses students’ work without distracting or demoralizing them?

When we were in TX in November, Andrew and I spent more time discussing this while driving from city to city than any other matter. I know I grew in my understanding through the discussion, and we intend to pass on the fruit of our learning through these FL workshops.

We close by addressing some common teaching problems and offering counsel on where to go next.

Specifically we address the frequently asked question, “How do IEW and LTW work together?”

If you are in Florida, please come – and please invite your friends and enemies to come. We guarantee that you will leave the workshop refreshed and inspired AND better able to teach writing AND better understanding writing.

For information or to register, please visit the CiRCE website at www.circeinstitute.org and/or the IEW website HERE. (Scroll down to the nearest city and click for details).

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Two Andrews On Writing and Teaching Writing

I just finished a four city tour with Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing and what a trip it was!

We divided up six talks between us as follows:

  1. Andrew P talked about the four arts of language: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. This laid the foundation for the day.
  2. Then I talked about the five paths to writing greatness:
    1. The linguistic
    2. The literary
    3. The critical
    4. The theoretical
    5. The practical
  3. Then I discussed the three canons of classical composition and, briefly, how classical compostion went out with the rejection of the Christian classical tradition at the end of the 19th century.
  4. Andrew P talked about the four stages to lead a student from report writing to essay writing (Developing the essayist: A natural approach)
    1. Reports (facts) about animals, states, and countries
    2. Reports about people, things, and events, selecting topics based on your opionions
    3. Thesis on literature, using topics selected to support the thesis
    4. Strategic persuasive essay about an issue that matters
  5. Andrew and I discussed assessment. This talk was the one in which I learned the most over our four days and by the time we got to Dallas (echoes of Glenn Campbell?) we had combined and permutated our ideas into something really useful.
  6. Panel discussion, different in each location and always fascinating.

Keep your eyes open because the Dallas presentation was videotaped by the IEW folks and I anticipate it being available in the not too distant future.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am to Andrew Pudewa for mentoring me and bringing me into his orbit. What a fine and good man.

Thank you Andrew.

    The Five Paths To Writing Excellence

    Careful observation over my lifetime has confirmed that there are five paths to writing excellence, neglect of any one of which will undermine any writer’s potential. I’m reflecting on a possible sixth.

    • The Theoretical path
    • The Practical path
    • The Critical path
    • The Literary Path
    • The Linguistic Path

    I suspect that many of my readers have a visceral reaction to the inclusion of the theoretical path, so I’d better say a word or two about it.

    First word: the use of the word “theoretical” to describe something impractical arises from inattentiveness. If a person says, for example, that something is fine in theory but not useful in practice, he has placed his intellect outside of his mind. He has spoken nothingness.

    If something does not work, it is a bad theory.

    Second word: Theory is a Greek word that means “to behold or contemplate.” Theory arises, not from the whims of the theorist or from his predilections, but from the act of contemplation. When a person contemplates, he attends to something, he looks at it, he beholds it.

    The object of his contemplation is the source of his theory.

    Writing theory arises from watching what people do when they write. Of course, the writer also watches himself write. Then the theorist starts asking bigger questions, like

    • Why are some people better at this than others?
    • What does it mean to be better?
    • Why do they do things that way?
    • What habits lead to good writing?
    • What experiences?
    • What studies?
    • What beliefs?
    • Why am I such a lousy writer?
    • How can I make the good writers depend on me and thus make a parasitic living off them.

    From those questions asked by a careful writer arises a discussion that leads to profound theories and amazing insights into the depths of the human soul. The reason for that is at least two-fold: first, our language-faculty is perhaps the most mysterious and revealing power we human beings possess, and second, nothing is excluded from what we write about.

    Third point: theory differs from practice in that it excludes nothing from its view. The practical writer has a specific goal in mind and wants to accomplish that goal. In this, he is honorable and just, and I don’t know of any higher praise you can bestow on a man.

    However, the theorist is looking at the whole nature and purpose of writing. So he has no choice but to look beyond the immediate and practical needs.

    So when we talk about the theoretical approach to writing, we are referring to questions that a master writer needs to answer. Questions like these:

    • What is writing?
    • What kind of thing is writing?
    • What are the kinds of writing?
    • Which of those kinds am I working on right now?
    • How is this kind of writing similar to and different from other kinds of writing?
    • What is the purose of writing and its various kinds?
    • How do writing  and its various kinds relate to other human activities?
    • What is the relationship between writing and the natural, moral, philosophical, and theological sciences?
    • How have people written in various ages and why did they writer that way?
    • What were the powers and potentialities of that type of writing?
    • What is the history of writing and why did/does it develop as it does/did?

    Does all of this really matter to the writer?

    Only if he wants to know what he’s doing and why. Only if he wants to attain greatness.

    One thing I’ve noticed about all the great writers about whom we know anything is that they understood at an extraordinarily high level the art they were practicing.

    A new movement in literature always arises from a new paradigm or a new theory.

    For example, why did the middle ages not produce any novels and why does the 21st century have such generally low regard for poetry? Or, in fact, does it?

    And here, perhaps, is the crucial point for those who want to remain practical (like me): When you are walking the practical path to writing, why do you believe that certain practices, lessons, or tools will make you a better writer and others will interfere?

    For example, why don’t modern writing programs teach invention, even though it was considered the main part of rhetoric for such a long, long time.

    Is it because there theories have driven a wedge between writing and rhetoric that conflicts with the nature of things?

    Is it because the quasi-Romantic theorists separated creativity from discipline?

    Is it because people hold to a popular notion that writng just happens, that the genius is the power of writing? (Perhaps you can see the contradiction between that and the other popular notion that all teaching should be practical).

    Writing is a craft. That is my theory. Therefore, it must be taught practically. And it must also be taught theoretically.

    When I’m with Andrew Pudewa next week in San Antonio, Bryan, Houston, and Dallas I’ll be developing these thoughts further. The Houston workshop is full, but I understand seats remain for the other three. Bryan is pretty close to Houston.

    Pudewa and Kern on Writing!

    Update:

    Nancy tells me that some seats remain available for this writing workshop on July 22. If you have hesitated to sign up, now’s the time! Don’t delay.

    I know I think too highly of myself, but I also know that I can’t think too highly of 1. what I have learned from my superiors and 2. Andrew Pudewa.

    Therefore, I am convinced that this is the writing event of the year in classical circles. Let me know if you know of something better.

    July 22, 2009

    Andrew Pudewa and Andrew Kern On Writing

    Visit our web site for information (look on the right side).

    What is Writing

    I love literature and history and ideas and letters and even blogs. I love the flow of information and narrative and personality that writing enables. Plus, I teach and practice writing.

    Consequently, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes for good writing, and that leads me, in turn, to wonder about just what writing is. What is its nature?

    How, after all, can I asses a student’s writing if I dont’ know what it is? How can I strive to perfect my own writing if I don’t understand what writing is?

    I suppose there is a practical element that can be accomplished perfectly fine without knowing the nature of writing. For example, if I learn grammar I’ll be able to write better.

    However, if I don’t have a higher reason for learning grammar than that it usually helps, then grammar itself loses its place. In time, it degenerates into a question of usage and loses its soul.

    And that, in turn, undercuts the writing of the generation that doesn’t learn grammar after its own nature.

    So I want to know, not only how to deal with immediate practical problems as they arise, not only techniques of writing. I want to know its nature. That way I’ll be able to sniff out techniques myself.

    Even more, I’ll be less likely to miss crucial skills or elements related to writing. Maybe what follows will sufficiently illustrate this point.

    This is true of any art or skill. If I get into its soul and essence, I get it. I know what needs to be done almost intuitively. But if I am governed by techniques and can’t see their relation to the nature of the art, I’ll always be bound to the techniques, unable to discern the propriety and fittingness of their use.

    So let me propose a definition for writing, awkward sounding at first, but an attempt to be both precise and exhaustive:

    Writing is the overflow of the soul into a pattern of words encoded in visual symbols (letters or hierogliphs) for the purpose of communication.

    If you consider this definition closely, you’ll discover three general elements, each of which must be attended to for a writer to achieve true excellence.

    First, the writer needs a soul that is overflowing. Second, he needs to be able to use words well to contain that overflow of the soul. Third, he needs to use those words to communicate with others.

    Most writing programs, maybe all of them, necessarily focus on the second, technical, side of writing. They assume the prerequisites of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well they ought. They add to these necessary foundations the structure of an essay, a novel, a story, etc. and provide advice on how to fill out the parts of the text.

    Then they teach style, usually providing somewhat random tips that the writer or even most writers find helpful when looking for the apt expression.

    You can usually find communication, the third element, included under the technical, when a program teaches the writer to attend to his audience. For that reason, I simplify by combining the second and third elements into one, which I call the craft of writing.

    However, if I believe a person can learn to write merely by focusing on the technical craft of writing, I am mistaken. And I’m probably mistaken because I was so focused on the practical side of teaching or learning writing that I didn’t attend to the nature of writing itself.

    I failed to recognize that writing is the “overlow of the soul.”

    And that means the soul needs to be filled to overflowing. Perhaps it seems ironic, but this part of teaching writing really isn’t very difficult. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not what I would call difficult.

    The root of great writing, it seems to me, is the same as the root of the sciences and every other art. How to name it?

    Wonder, perhaps? Reverence? Awe? Respect?

    In any case, I refer to the quality of soul that underlies attentive perception, the sine qua non of all human excellence.

    So how do we fill the soul to overflowing? By establishing and building on this wonder, reverence, awe, and respect that is woven into human nature.

    First, through experience. People need to breathe the air, watch the sun go down, watch the stars move, hear the horse whinny, stare at the cow’s eyes, fall in love, laugh at bad jokes, feel embarrassment over their family (parents and children!), step on a worm, flip over their bicycle handlebars when they’re hot-dogging it, worry about losing someone or something they love, feel grass and sand and the tar that melts on the road on a hot summer day while they run to the swimming hole, work endless hours at tedious unrewarding labor, get mugged on the El Train in Chicago, grieve over lost loves, and all the other things that make up the wonder of life.

    But we all have experience. The writer needs to be trained to pay attention to it.

    He also needs to see what others have said about it and how they’ve said it, especially those who are particularly perceptive. Here we encounter the need for reading, but not just any reading.

    As a rule, writer’s need to avoid jejune, puerile, pedantic, or incompetent writing. They need to read good and great literature, which is literature that expresses a great idea well, a skill that arises from close attention to experience and to the technical skills of writing.

    Children who will grow up to right need their souls filled with fairy tales and fables, folk tales and legends, myths and stories, so that their imaginations are filled and refined and overflowing with stories that become part of their mental furniture, objects of comparison, the blood that flows through their soul’s arteries. Above all they need Bible stories.

    They also need to worship God and revere his creation. They need to learn to love form through dance, gymnastics, music, and all the other arts that so vividly and undeniably rely on their forms.

    And they need to translate, for translation merges the technical and the – what did we call this other side? It’s certainly not the theoretical. Theory/practice is not a sufficient binary to grasph this. Something tanscends both, something transformative and formative, something the theory can’t grasp and enables the practice, something essential.

    Perhaps that first word is our clue. Perhaps it’s the transcendent and the practical that we need to attend to.

    I however, cannot transcend the clock, so I must stop. I hope to write more on the technical side and on translation. Over time, I hope to develop this whole entry.

    Let me add one more word. Andrew Pudewa provoked this entry. We met about two weeks ago to plan a writing workshop, and the discussion led to reflections on all these matters. The outcome of that discussion was an event.

    On July 22, Andrew Pudewa and I are co-presenting a writing workshop in Concord, NC. If you are attending the CiRCE conference, you can come a day early to participate. If not, you are more than welcome to the writing workshop itself!

    For details, please request a flyer at naubitz at circeinstitute.org (removed @ for security reasons) visit our web site (www.circeinstitute.org), which will post information shortly, call us at 704 786-9684, or visit the web site for the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

    This is a new development, so you might want to wait a few days (say, until June 8) before you become impatient with our web sites!

    Don’t forget

    The early conference registration ends tomorrow. Here’s a taste of some of what you dont’ want to miss:

    • Vigen Guroian: The office of childhood
    • VG: The Liturgy of Creation: The Melody of Faith
    • Martin Cothran: The Nature of Nature
    • MC: Education: Agrarian or industrial
    • Karen Kern: The Nature of the Moral Imagination and how to cultivate it
    • James Daniels: The Nature of the Liberal Arts and how to teach them
    • JD: The Implications of the Incarnation on Teaching
    • Andrew Pudewa: Teaching Boys and Other Kids who would rather be making forts (what the neurosciences are revealing about the nature of boys and girls and how to teach them)
    • AP: Nature Deficit Disorder
    • John Hodges: The Effect of Naturalism on the arts (whatever happened to beauty?)
    • Leah Lutz: The Nature of Thought: How to simplify and unify your teaching with the mimetic mode
    • LL: The Canons of Rhetoric; the backbone of the Language arts

    In addition, I’ll be opening with a talk that sets the table for the other speakers, but the thought that has been invigorating me and causing me to realize how important this theme of nature is arises from the person of Christ the Logos, the glory of learning. Our Lord really can be the unifying principle of all things because He brings together in one person two natures: the Divine and the Human.

    And that means we need to think hard about what human nature is.

    Can we transcend it? If we can, then we can transcend God, because God, in Christ, is a man. Not gonna happen!

    Is it evil? How can it be if Christ has taken it on. The crucial distinction lies in the difference between a state of nature and the essential nature. We are in a sinful state, but our human nature is essentially good. Long after sin has been completely washed away, “when we’ve been there 10,000 years/bright shining as the sun,” we’ll be nothing but humans who “participate in the Divine Nature.”

    This mind-numbing doctrine is brought to you straight from the pages of the New Testament, or I’d never dare say a word of it.

    I sincerely hope you can attend this conference. Every day I’m more convinced of its importance.

    And don’t forget Marcus and Laura Berquist – winner’s of the Paideia Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Classical Education!!

    Register by 4/30 and you’ll save something like $15/person while ensuring a seat (they are filling up pretty quickly now that the school year is winding down, though I’m pretty sure you don’t have to panic yet).

    Out of Africa

    My good friend Andrew Pudewa has just returned from Africa, where he kept a blog of his adventures. Here’s a link for you to keep up with him (a little late).