English 833: Theories of Composition — Major Composition Theories

Why is theory important for teaching composition?

  • Grounding pedagogy on a particular theory gives us scholarly support for the teaching approach we take
  • If a teacher does not clearly define the theory on which their pedagogy is grounded, then their teaching can lead to value-mode confusion
  • Un-theorized pedagogy can put teaching methods at odds with assessment practices; theorizing teaching helps make evaluation more meaningful and useful
  • See Richard Fulkerson
  • See James Berlin

Philosophies of Composition (Fulkerson)

Emphasizes the writer

Writing’s effect on the reader

Pathos (emotion)/ethos (ethical standing) /logos (logic)

Writing grounded in reality (requires research/good writing=good thinking)

Writing is based on traits within the work/language/correctness

Pedagogical Theories (Berlin)

reality can be known and communicated through language; the word signifies the thing—language and meaning are one/deduction

emphasizes induction and the use of the scientific method/genuis; teaches the modes of expression (exposition, description, narration, and argumentation—plus poetry/oratory); verifiable truth

Reality is in flux/language is not fixed; it’s fluid

New Rhetoricians
Invention (creative thought about the topic)/arrangement (logic of the argument)/style (use of language)


How does writing function?

  • Transactional
  • Expressive
  • Poetic

Additional Theories

  • Cognitive Theory
  • Social Constructionism
  • Post-Process Theory
  • Collaborative Learning Theory
  • Cultural Studies Theory
  • Critical Pedagogy
  • Feminist Pedagogy
  • Second Language Writing Theory
  • Language Theory
  • Basic Writing Pedagogy
  • Digital Literacies/Tech Pedagogy/Technology Theory
  • Service Learning
  • Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)/Writing in the Disciplines (WID)
  • Disability Studies
  • Comic Book Pedagogy
  • Literary Theory

Important Composition Scholars

  • Composition Founders
    • This project provides background information about a number of the most important Composition Studies scholars
    • The project is quite useful although it is still underdevelopment