I rather enjoyed reading Mina Shaughnessy's chapter on expectations of teaching basic writing and expectations of basic writing students (275-94). That segment made me feel fairly hopeful about what effective teaching can do to help basic writing students, but cautious about being too hopeful. Some of her words I found to be ever so true and very important for all writing students and teacher and writers in general to remember is that "Few people, even among the most accomplished of writers, can comfortably say that they have finished learning to write(Shaughnessy 275)." This is so vital for people of lesser writing skills, like basic writing students, but also even for fantastic writers. After all, some of the most published and highly acclaimed writers still frequently attend writing workshops. Many of these talented writers do this not just to teach the other writers attending, but to also learn from their fellow writers. Of course keeping this in mind does make judging people's writing skills not something people should do very hastily, which Shaughnessy brings (276).
Though speaking of judging writing, it is easy to see the improvement a semester of instruction had given to some of the students whose papers she provides in the book (Shaughnessy 277-82). The one that truly struck me was on page 278 in Errors and Expectations. It is hard to believe this is the same student, let alone in the same semester when reading the two examples of writings. Not only is the grammar and syntax much improved, but also the "voice" of the writer seems on another person on another level. It is wonderful to think that if you teach to the best of your ability this might occur. Of course you have to remember there is no guarantee, but there is still that hopeful possibility you could help a dedicated student to that extent.
I also am very glad that Shaughnessy provides a bit of a basic syllabus, which could help you to teach a student to reach such achievement in improvement in writing (289). Even if your first year of students do not make such bounds, at least you may avoid similar results as David Bartholomae's first year teaching writing (Bartholomae 172). Naturally, a teacher has to be willing to be flexible even with such a simple syllabus. A teacher must be willing to adjust to help the class with their particular problems.
Bartholomae, David. "The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Landmark Essays. 18. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras P, 2001. 171-84.
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.