I make decisions about the methods to be employed in any writing class based on the specific needs of the institution and the assessed needs of the students. Based on experience, I can make an assumption that the more “developmental” a course is, the more “teacher centered” that class may have to be. In other words, in a pre-essay class that focuses on grammar and mechanics, there is apt to be more quantitative testing of skills, more intervention by the teacher, a more authoritative presence. (These are, nonetheless, very much “hands on” classes. Students do a lot of work in them. Perhaps all I mean here is that in developmental courses there is simply more “content” to get through, and more content equals more teacher, in my experience.) As a student’s skill set strengthens, writing assignments may call more on my discipline’s growing body of knowledge of the discursive elements of writing. Things like audience and genre, mode and purpose may come to dominate class discussion and be the things that provide the parameters of assignments. If there can indeed be space created in a classroom by a less present teacher, then what ought to fill that space is the students themselves, often in collaboration. In advanced writing classes, students should be working together through all stages of the writing process – invention through revision. I believe students should always work together, at whatever level, but the more advanced the learner becomes, the more I hope to cede decision making and control to the student.
Assessment of student learning should follow a trajectory that might already be apparent from what I have written above. That trajectory moves, as the student progresses, from quantitative assessment of skills and rules through more qualitative, holistic assessment of written discourse and the thinking and synthesizing that lay behind it. This is a broad trajectory; there should always be writing happening at all levels (such as practicing basic paragraph and essay structures at the developmental level), and there may always be more content to impart (such as learning MLA and APA styles in a research writing class). But as a learner progresses, I believe that the skills they should be learning are less amenable to quantitative assessment. In advanced writing classes student assessment of learning and of the course have more of a part to play.
Kenneth Bruffee has said that it’s not so much what you teach as how you teach it. Students need to see themselves as knowledge makers and not simply knowledge consumers. We need more people with the confident awareness that the world is theirs to make, not just receive. Having said at the outset that I serve the student and the school, I want to say finally that there is one more “stakeholder” whose needs I hope to serve. I teach so that we may have a healthy, egalitarian, engaged, free, and democratic society. Without that, there is nothing.