Impact of the 1966 Seminar

(Written and compiled by Dr. Christiane Donahue, August 2015.)

Impact at the Time

The seminar occurred in the broader context of a perceived crisis in U.S. schools, slipping standards, and the allure of external funding.

It resulted in several highly influential publications between 1966 and 1968, including: Teaching the Universe of Discourse (James Moffett); Growth Through English (John Dixon); The Uses of English (Herb Muller)

It moved the focus of the field from a “transmission of content” and skills-driven model of curriculum sequencing, in force in the U.S., to a growth model as proposed most notably by participants James Britton and John Dixon.

It provided “renewed attention to Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of literature, [and] a shift in attention from learning product to learning process” (Smagorinsky 2001).

It created the ground for new attention to composition and composition studies through this new attention to process, growth, development, and student-centered learning.

It set down lines of inquiry we continue to pursue today:

  • The role of technology: A paper on technological advancement made claims about sweeping changes driven by technological advancements and their place in English.
  • The attention to process: Writing pedagogy began to focus on student writers creating a text, rather than the resulting text. The British influence in writing studies helped to foster an environment that sought to understand how writers write, not just what they write.
  • The interaction between speech and writing: Speech was presented as tightly linked to constructing meaning and to writing (“The Spoken Word and the Integrity of English Instruction,” Study Group Paper 1).
  • The shifting nature of “standard English.”

The seminar was roundly criticized in the Harvard Educational Review by one of the participants, Wayne O’Neil (at Harvard at the time, now at MIT), probably because it resisted the Harvard perspectives of the time.

Impact over Time

The seminar cemented the establishment of a scholarly field dedicated to understanding, researching, and teaching writing in higher education, the field of Composition and Rhetoric; the focus on personal growth and expressive writing controlled the field for quite some time afterwards, while the focus on writing as a process has remained one of the single most important elements of writing instruction today.

It inspired the writing across the curriculum (WAC) and writing in the disciplines movements in the U.S.

It created the ground for a key shift in the 1970s and 80s, another important movement, from understanding meaning as existing independent of writing to understanding meaning as socially constructed through writing.