Peter Elbow’s “Thoughts on the Teacherless Writing Class” offers a “teacherless” approach to teaching writing. It is developed from his own experience as a writing teacher who encountered difficulties in responding to student writing. He discovered that instead of commenting and focusing on where the writing departs from his model of good writing, he should concentrate more on transmitting his “experience” of it. Elbow claims that this approach would encourage students to write more because it creates two important conditions for writing. First, it allows students to see what reactions their writing elicit from readers. Second, it lessens students’ anxiety of being evaluated and hence gives them more freedom to explore. Elbow goes on to raise questions about teachers as real readers. The teacherless class, he argues, resembles the communication between writers and readers in the real world more than the teacher-centered one. Elbow also challenges the linear approach of teaching writing by asserting that “the most appropriate path for learning to write is not to try to break up the skill into its ideal progression of components which can be learned one at a time.” Instead, teaching writing is about how “to set up some situation in which the learner can persevere in working at the whole skill in its global complexity.” In this regard, he sees students’ grammatical competence as something that comes later as their writing becomes more fluent.
I sympathize with Elbow in the way he seems to deconstruct the deconstructionists like Bartholomae, who ends up accepting authority in his teaching approach. Elbow tries to make writing a personal experience between the writer and his/her readers by getting rid of the authority in the classroom. It makes the classroom an idyllic place where everybody comes to write and get responses. However, it would help if he also talks about another side of “the real world” in which evaluation and grading are also an issue.