Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS)
LRS is an approach to writing instruction
that proceeds from
several core principles:
• Readers come to any text with a fairly predictable set of questions
and expectations. (These expectations vary somewhat according to the
community or discipline: literary critics v. behavioral psychologists
v. political scientists.)
• Effective writing anticipates and responds to these predictable questions
• In order to produce effective writing, good writers employ a fairly
predictable set of routines in order to plan, draft, revise, and edit.
• Students who come to understand readerly expectations and writerly
routines produce more persuasive arguments more efficiently.
• Most students already have good intuitions about what readers want
and what writers do: our job is to help them articulate and define
those intuitions, so that they can more consciously control their writing.
• Our teaching begins with intuition then proceeds to the principle.
• Students learn routines best by "over-learning" them;
that is, by practicing until the routines are internalized and
students can produce them with minimal effort. Because reading and writing are
complicated tasks, it's best to break them down into manageable pieces,
or sub-routines, for students.
• Once students are comfortable with the routine, they can learn and
practice techniques for manipulating their writing to produce a range
A Brief History of the Little Red Schoolhouse
The Little Red Schoolhouse began at the University of Chicago in 1980,
as a lecture series offered to the university community at large by
Joe Williams, Greg Colomb, Frank Kinahan, and Peter Blaney. In 1981,
Kinahan, Williams, and fifteen graduate student "lectors" offered
the first formal class based on the Little Red Schoolhouse. Through
the '80s, the class continued to be the centerpiece of Chicago's Writing
Programs, joined at times by Pete Wetherbee and Wayne Booth and by
growing number of graduate students. The University of Chicago now
fields several variants of the Schoolhouse, and most of the writing
at the university is informed by Schoolhouse principles and conducted
by Schoolhouse lectors. In 1986, the Schoolhouse was brought to Duke
University by George Gopen, and it now informs much of that university's
writing instruction. In 1987, Greg Colomb brought the Schoolhouse to
the Georgia Institute of Technology, adding technically-focused variants
of the program.
The Schoolhouse is now the basis of a variety of WAC
programs located in specific departments, an effort headed by Jeff
Donnell and Amanda Gable. In 1988, the Schoolhouse became the writing
for the Law Center of the University of Southern California under the
guidance of Don Freeman. In 1991 Greg Colomb brought the Schoolhouse
to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where it reshaped
the academic and professional writing program. Most recently, Greg
Colomb and Jon D'Errico have begun a similar transformation in
the writing program
at the University of Virginia. Throughout this period, the Schoolhouse
has been brought to new institutions and adapted to local circumstances
by graduates in all disciplines from the University of Chicago, Duke
University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Virginia,
as well as Brittain Fellows from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Since 1989, the Schoolhouse has been freely distributed as word processing
files to be adopted and adapted at other institutions. We look forward
to the variants and revisions that emerge from that distribution.
The original Little Red Schoolhouse syllabus was created in 1981 by
Joe Williams and Greg Colomb. Over the next five years, it went through
revision and development by Williams and Colomb, with contributions
primarily by Frank Kinahan and Larry McEnerney but also by Wayne Booth,
Camilleri, Jon D'Errico, Leigh Gordon, and a host of graduate students
from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois. Since
the mid-eighties, the number of Schoolhouse variants has grown substantially,
with versions adapted to different institutions and focused on business,
the law, general technical writing, mechanical engineering, chemical
engineering, and others.