I feel like a basic writer right now, just trying to define what basic writing is! However, based on the video "A Conversation with Mike Rose." PBS. I learned about the types of people who usually end up in basic writing. I think by defining (or attempting to define) these writers as a group helps to define the idea itself. Basic writing courses are most often composed of students that have never been told they are good writers. This is almost a quote from Mike Rose himself. Therefore, on the surface, basic writing is the application of composition and grammar fundamentals to students who "aren't good writers". This makes, to me, the most obvious definition of basic writing. It's teaching the basics to those who haven't yet learned.
There is also a more broad, vague definition that comes to mind. This is more difficult to define. I think back to Janelle and Ian, the GTA's that visitied our class and how they had a very difficult time coming up with a definition of basic writing. In their attempts to define this, I heard them say things like these students need more individualized attention. These students need more personal guidance. This other definition, then, must be about more than sentence structure. It's about trying to have these students approach writing in a new or different way than before. I believe that basic writing involves more encouraging of students to apply personal life into writing while at the same time trying to teach how to use language. I believe basic writers are writers who are not convinced that they can use language. Not only do they not know to how to use language to make a formal essay or research paper, but to convey a personal idea, like a story or personal narrative.
Basic writing then, is writing that obviously contains more errors than the upper levels of writing. But it is also coming from writers who have not been taught, or convinced, that they can construct words, sentences and phrases into something meaningful for themselves.