Revolution Lullabye

January 3, 2013

Simpson, The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support

Simpson, Steve. “The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support: Building a Cross-Campus Graduate Writing Initiative.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 95-118. Print.

Simpson explains that graduate writing instruction is a growing area of need in American universities, and he argues that writing programs should take the lead in addressing this need.  Graduate students at American universities, especially those students in the sciences and engineering, are under more pressure to publish before graduation, and there are more and more international graduate students who need better writing support aimed at NNES (non-native English speakers.)

Simpson describes a graduate writing initiative he helped establish in 2010-2011 at New Mexico Tech through, in part, a Title V grant.  The initiative at NMT showcases Simpson’s claim that the “problem” of graduate student writing is systemic and requires a systemic answer – the burden cannot fall solely on individual departments, a writing center, or a writing program.  The writing initiative at NMT involved cross-campus partnerships to create linked writing/communication courses with individual departments, a course specifically designed for NNES, and a week-long dissertation “boot camp.”

Simpson argues that WPAs and writing studies scholars should look at scholarship in higher education, second language writing, and at work done internationally (especially in Australia and Canada) to help develop sustainable solutions to meeting graduate student writing needs.

Notable Notes

systemic solutions don’t have to be huge: Simpson draws on Donella Meadows to explain how through identifying “leverage points” in a system, change can happen through a ripple effect (104).

Graduate student education is different than undergraduate education, and graduate student writing needs are also different: graduate education more heavily relies on mentors (so writing help needs to not compete with that mentor-mentee relationship), graduate education is more solitary (but writing help should encourage graduate students to seek each other out for peer writing and support groups), graduate education is more individualized (so writing help needs to be flexible, available when graduate students want and need it.) (101-102)

the audience for graduate students (especially STEM) is increasingly the field, with the pressure to publish.  Writing is no longer a heuristic for learning – it is the path to publication and a job.  (99)

Graduate student writing education is an institutional problem – one shared by all (103).

Quotable Quotes

nice “hot potato” metaphor: “At many universities, graduate writing support is a hot potato passed between university departments and advisors, writing centers, ESL departments, and writing programs” (97).

“Frankly, any university department or entity – including writing programs and writing centers – would have difficulty shouldering the weight of graduate writing support independently. Thus, this dilemma’s solution lies in cross-campus partnerships involving writing programs, writing centers, and ESL and other university writing departments” (97).

“The problem of graduate writing is a systemic problem in need of a systems-based solution” (104).

“Graduate writing initiatives have the potential both to build our writing programs and to enrich the research in our field considerably” (113).

Ryan, Thinking Ecologically

Ryan, Katherine J. “Thinking Ecologically: Rhetorical Ecological Feminist Agency and Writing Program Administration.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 74-94.

Ryan argues against the “rootlessness” mentality of academics and, in contrast, defines a counter-position, rhetorical ecological feminist agency, and explains how it can help WPAs theorize their work.  Rhetorical ecological feminist agency is grounded and takes into consideration the various relationships and patterns that consistute a place.  Ryan describes how rhetorical ecological feminist agency could have helped her negotiate a new first-year writing placement procedure at her new institution, how it can help connect often-transplanted new WPAs to the people and places at their new home institution, and how she used rhetorical ecological feminist agency to redesign the first-year writing program at her Montana institution so that it helped both students at teachers investigate sustainability and the ecological issues of the place they lived in.

Notable Notes

draws on various feminist and environmental/ecological theorists: Christopher Preston (Grounding Knowledge, how place helps create knowledge); Lorraine Code (Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Thinking, situated citizens concerned with the ethics and politics of interconnected relationships); Chris Cuomo (moral agency)

GenAdmin:Theorizing WPA Identities in the Twenty-First Century

Quotable Quotes

Definition: “In brief, a rhetorical ecological feminist agency is socially constructed, ecologically located and enacted, ethically responsible, rhetorically directed, and pragmatically oriented. It values experiential knowledge alongside disciplinary knowledge and recognizes that place and situation constitute knowledge” (80).

“A rhetorical ecological feminist agency calls for a shift in perspective from an autonomous and linear approach to implementing a task with a deadline to negotiating the best version of a policy implementation possible at the time, knowing it can be adapted over time as we learn more about the local implications of the policy” (85).

“A rhetorical ecological feminism helps WPAs value and build connections to a new life place and campus colleagues as well as link local to global issues” (87).

“If we ask students to interrogate the issues of place, ecology, and sustainability in their composition courses, so too can we ask ourselves, as WPAs, where these issues surface in writing program administration.” (92).

Flourishing: “A WPA ethics of flourishing includes three interrelated dimensions: committing to hope, enacting epistemic responsibility, and seeking eudaimonia or the ‘good life'” (79).

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.

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