I seemed to have reached the point in that early semester chaos when it is helpful to ground myself once more and review what I believe is important to remember as a writing teacher. Sometimes my goals get lost in the administrivia.
Most important, as countless research studies have established, writing is not one skill, and certainly not a basic skill, but rather a complex set of skills that vary according to task. As a complex set of skills, rather than one simple skill, writing cannot be taught. That's right, I don't believe in transfer -- at least not when writing instruction is based on skill acquisition. I do believe transfer can, and does, happen when writing instruction moves beyond basic skill acquisition. If I'm not teaching basic writing skills then what am I teaching?
I strive to teach my students that writing is context-specific. The specific audience and the specific task create the boundaries and goals for each piece of writing. This is why writing cannot be taught and why transfer fails. I cannot simply work my way down a checklist every semester and churn out competent writers. As soon as they leave my classroom they will write in such a wide variety of contexts that I cannot hope to prepare them for all possibilities. What I can do is help them develop an understanding of how genre and audience drive writers in their work so they can adapt and learn to work within those new contexts as they are encountered. Learning how to sift out the needs and conventions of each new discourse community they join will help my students become successful writers.
However, there is one more essential task that faces me as a writing instructor -- I have to make my students agents of their own change. I have to help my students not only believe that they can write but that they can guide their own destiny as writers. I can create and deliver the most amazing writing class ever, but if my students are not ready to accept the challenge and do not believe they can meet it then no change -- or very little change -- will take place. My experience working with writers outside and inside academia as well as my own research has reinforced this belief time and time again. This is the driving force behind my focus on writing self-efficacy in my research.