Revolution Lullabye

January 4, 2013

The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement

“The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 179-208.

This symposium in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of WPA includes six short essays written in response to the editors’ question, “Shouldn’t the Outcomes Statement include [other work]?”  The editors offer the symposium in light of Ed White’s WPA-L comment, “The Outcomes Statement must remain a living document to stay relevant” (179).

CWPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition

Beaufort, Anne. “The Matters of Key Knowledge Domains and the Transfer of Learning in the Outcomes Statement.” 180-187.

Beaufort argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement could be improved with the inclusion of two key issues in writing studies. First, she argues that the field’s research on the nature of writing expertise (what separates novice from expert writers) could help make more distinct, measurable outcomes.  She also argues that the Outcomes Statement should articulate the goal of writing transfer – how students transfer the skills and knowledge they learn in first-year composition to other writing situations.  She offers five new knowledge domains around which to organize the outcomes: subject matter knowledge; genre knowledge; writing process knowledge; discourse community knowledge; rhetorical knowledge.  Casting the categories as sets of knowledge, Beaufort argues, would make it easier for teachers and administrators to identify gaps in student writing performance (182). She contends that some parts of the Outcomes Statement are too far-reaching and inappropriate for all first-year writers; she states, “Imagine the Outcomes Statement as a lean, elegant (as in precise, concise, clear) document that both notice and expert writing teachers could readily translate into five or six learning outcomes tailored to some degree for any given writing course” (185).

Barbara Little Liu, “Genre Knowledge, Reading, and Faculty Development.” 187-191.

Liu argues that the current CWPA Outcomes Statement assumes a level of disciplinary training and commitment to teaching writing that is not shared by all first-year composition teachers. She suggests that the CWPA offer more professional development for first-year writing instructors, including publishing professional anthologies, promoting professional development, and supporting the publication of more FYC textbooks that focus on rhetorical/genre-based reading, the kind of reading students must do in first-year composition in order to transfer writing skills and knowledge to other rhetorical situations. The Outcomes Statement, Liu argues, should emphasize this kind of reading as much as writing.

“Rhetorical/genre-based reading helps students understand that texts are written by actual people and that rhetorical situations (including genre conventions) affect how readl writers construct their texts. As students learn to parse a text in ways that reconstruct the rhetorical situation and the writer’s rhetorical strategies, they begin to see how they can learn from the strategic choices of other writers to more effectively address the various and new rhetorical situations they will encounter after leaving FYC” (189).

Deborah Mutnick, “Reading to Write and the Economy of Attention.” 191-194.

Mutnick argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement should be revised to place more attention on the need to teach reading.  Using the results of a reading assessment test performed at her institution (which stated that first-year students were reading on a 9th-grade reading level), Mutnick questions the universal writing requirement at American universities, asking why reading, which is so fundamental to successful writing, is not similarily mandated. Mutnick also argues that the reading practices students develop on the Web work against the kind of close, critical reading they need to do with academic texts (she uses an example of the decoding kind of reading students do in archival research.) Mutnick suggests that the Outcomes Statement specifically address teaching students how to read, select, and evaluate information from the Web.

“Archival research is vertical, slow, deliberate, puzzling, deep, and focused – think preservation, slow cooking, Internet Sabbaths. Reading on the Web is horizontal, fast, accidental, immediate, and shallow. While these characteristics are not exclusive to either domain, the multi-channeled environment of the Web marks the shift from a scarcity of information to a scarcity of attention, requiring us to develop new strategies for sorting out and valuing massive, often contradictory amounts of knowledge that close, deep, slow reading epitomized by archival research helps balance” (194).

Cynthia R. Haller, “Reading Matters: Thoughts on Revising the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” 195-200.

Haller argues that the CWPA privileges writing over reading, and points out that more balanced understanding of reading and writing (that reading does not happen always before writing, that they are ‘a complementary process’ (195) would help first-year composition courses refocus their attention to both rhetorical reception and rhetorical production. Both reading and writing, Haller contends, lead to rhetorical meaning-making. Haller suggests that composition teachers adopt the sense that is implied in the verb “grappling” when teaching students to work with and read texts: by grappling, there is a sense of two-way communication, not a one-way direction of meaning from the text to the student.  She also calls for more research on how students read to help shape writing curriculum (she specifically cites the Citation Project.)

“As Norgaard points out, an appreciation for how human knowledge is organized, stored, disseminated, and accessed can prevent students from viewing their own rhetorical production as isolated from other texts” (199).

“‘Grappling’ captures the recalcitrance of texts. Texts are not simply effete collections of symbols, but have consequences, especially as they are taken up in various contexts of use” (198).

“The popular catchprhase ‘critical reading, writing, and thinking’ suggest that meaning-making is a one-way, cognitive action performed on an object; by contrast, the word ‘grappling’ captures the two-way, absorbed engagement we (and we hope our students) experience when reading texts” (198).

Martha Marinara, “Engaging Queerness and Contact Zones, Reimagining Writing Difference.” 200-204.

Marinara argues that the CWPA statement, with its list of outcomes, falls short of a full, true notion of literacy practices and diversity of teaching and learning.  She uses queer theory to reject the notion that rhetorical concepts or writing conventions are neutral – she points out that queerness rejects stability and questions how power, community, and language intersect and give privileges.  Marinara also critiques the idea of the writing classroom as a “contact zone;” she contends that Pratt’s theory has been appropriated and has turned the writing classroom into a space of tolerance, but not one of diversity.

“Contact zones were appropriated by an uncritical, liberal multiculturalist movement and became apolitical, a safe kind of melting pot, a chicken soup for the classroom” (203).

“What the list [the outcomes] does not do and needs to do is quesiton how the process of teaching and learning – the wicked problem of our teaching practices – supports and maintains the role of difference as a definition, rather than a critical process that promotes a fuller notion of literacy” (204).

William P. Banks, “Queering Outcomes: Hacking the Source Code of the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition.” 205-208.

Banks suggests that truly “queering” the Outcomes Statement would involve not just adding new outcomes or tweaking the outcomes to specifically address how rhetorics are cultural, situated practices but instead, “queering” the outcomes would mean complicating and enriching the theoretical principles from which the outcomes emerge. Banks contends that the Outcomes Statement, as printed, is based on a set of disciplinary values that are static, or that are not universally held by writing teachers, or that are incomplete. He suggests remixing the Outcomes Statement in some interactive (digital?) form so that it can be a dynamic, living document, one that shows the links from the outcomes to emerging research in the many subfields and subspecialities of the discipline.

“So where does this change belong? I think it’s in the foundations, the idological and theoretical underpinnings of the OS document, what’s hidden in the framing paragraphs, and by how what’s hidden becomes visible” (206).

Valentino, Serving Those Who Have Served

Valentino, Marilyn J. “Serving Those Who Have Served: Preparing for Student Veterans in our Writing Programs, Classes, and Writing Centers.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 164-178.

This article, which is from the author’s 2012 CWPA address, explains several strategies writing teachers and writing program administrators can take in order to accommodate the specific needs of veterans in their classrooms and writing programs.  Valentino cites the increase of student veterans (and children and parents of veterans) at American colleges and universities. She stresses the diversity of the veteran population, she argues that writing teachers and WPAs need to be prepared to help veterans make a successful transition into college life. Some of her suggestions include resisting “profiling” student veterans, giving student veterans the option to talk or write about their war experiences (or not), being attune to other civilian students’ attitudes or comments to student veterans, and making assignment and classroom expectations clear from the get-go.  Her article also provides some helpful statistics about student veteran demographics.

Matsuda, Let’s Face It

Matsuda, Paul. “Let’s Face It: Language Issues and the Writing Program Administrator.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 141-163. Print.

Matsuda argues that writing program administrators need to establish clear policy statements for grammar teaching and grading in light of reseach that shows the complexity of second language acquisition.  Matsuda contends that it is unfair to assume language homogenity in the writing classroom – the idea that all students come to the writing classroom with the same linguistic resources – especially in light of the increasing international student population in American universities. Futhermore, Matsuda uses scholarship from second language writing and linguistics to show that even with written grammar feedback on student writing, improvement in a student’s grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awarenss may not take place or may take place very slowly.  Therefore, using the principle of instructional alignment (where outcomes, instructional methods, and assessment strategies align), Matsuda argues that second language writers should not be marked down for their grammatical errors, since it is often impossible for teachers to teach students grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awareness in just a single semester.

Matsuda points to the field’s turn away from language issues as one of the reasons why writing teachers are so confounded with second language writing issues.  He also suggests the adoption of pedagogical grammar, and encourages WPAs and writing teachers to learn methods of pedagogical grammar (which is grounded in applied linguistics) in order to help raise students’ metalinguistic awareness.

Notable Notes

nice overview of scholarship in comp/rhet that argues for and against attention to grammar and language issues (147-154)

uses the WPA Outcomes Statement to show that although attention to style and grammar is part of first-year writing outcomes, the extent to which students master style or grammar or the weight placed on style and grammar is not specificied in the outcomes. (145)

writing teachers need to provide grammar feedback – it will not guarantee learning, but it will faciliate it (not giving feedback won’t.)

Quotable Quotes

“The key is to focus on the development of linguistic resources rather than to focus on deficits” (156). Punishing students for errors can backfire when students avoid complex constructions on purpose.

“As a rule of thumb, the proportion of grammar grades should not exceed the proportion of grammar instruction provided that can guarantee student learning. If, for some reason, the program or the institution deems it important and necessary to assess students based on the myth of linguistic homogeneity – that is, to demand that all students meet the standards that can be expected only of life-long users of the dominant variety of English – then reasonable provisions need to be made to accomodate those who do not fit the profile, including second language writers and users of non-dominant varieties of English” (157).

“If grammar feedback does not guarantee learning, is it fair to hold students accountable? If we take the principle of instructional alignment seriously, the answer would have to be negative, and we need to stop punishing students for what they do not bring with them” (155).

Adler-Kassner, The Companies We Keep

Adler-Kassner, Linda. “The Companies We Keep or The Companies We Would Like to Keep: Strategies and Tactics in Challenging Times.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 119-140.

In this article, based off of the author’s 2012 CWPA conference keynote address, Adler-Kassner calls on WPAs and writing studies scholars to be more proactive in the national conversations about what “college preparation” means (specifically what it means in terms of writing) and how that can and should be assessed.  WPAs need to articulate what it is that writing studies does (why the content of writing studies matters) and offer curricular and assessment strategies based on those basic writing studies principles.

Adler-Kassner points out that the conversations are already happening, and she describes five corporate organizations who are central in the drafting of education legislation and the construction and assessment of the Common Core State Standards.  These organizations are more powerful politically and financially than NCTE, MLA, and CWPA.  However, Adler-Kassner contends that this fact is not a reason why WPAs should give up. Rather, this is the time – while the Common Core is in its initial implementation – that WPAs need to work with K-12 educators to take ownership of writing curriculum and assessment.

Adler-Kassner points to the specific outcomes outlined by the DQP (the Degree Qualification Profile, developed by Lumina) to show that writing is cast as merely a skill – students are asked to produce forms of writing.  If writing is only seen as a tool, Adler-Kassner argues, then the discipline of writing studies is erased.  Adler-Kassner argues that WPAs need to emphasize the disciplinarity of writing studies in all writing classes, especially first-year writing classes, teaching students and other stakeholders the value of the central inquiries of the field.

Notable Notes

5 organizations that Adler-Kassner describes:

  • ALEC (American Legislative Executive Council)
  • VSA (Voluntary System of Accountability)
  • Lumina Foundation
  • DQP (Degree Qualification Profile)
  • Common Core State Standards

shift in the purpose of education to “college and career readiness,” a readiness achieved through emphasis of liberal-arts like skills (writing, communication, critical thinking.)  The ultimate purpose of 21st century education, as seen through these national discussions, is economic competition for employment (127-128).  Uses David Larabee’s analyses of public and higher education.

Her major three suggestions:

  1. “no vampires” – make writing courses focused on writing
  2. define what we think is college readiness (through documents like the Framework)
  3. build alliances with K-12 educators, even if we’re not thrilled with the standards they now must work with.

Quotable Quotes

Definition of writing studies:  “Writing Studies focuses on three things: 1. The roles that writers and writing perform in particular contexts; 2. The values reflected in writing and in those roles, and 3. The implications extending from relationships between roles, writing, and values” (131).

“This is because from a content-vacant, skills-oriented perspective, our discipline of Writing Studies is erased. Until we develop and act from principles about the meaning of what composition and writing studies is as a discipline, and then link what happens in composition courses – which exist within our discipline – to those principles, we are at the mercy of the companies seeking to keep our company. And to me, that’s a problem” (130).

“No vampires policy” – “Writing classes, especially first year classes, must absolutely and always be grounded in Writing Studies, must always be about the study of writing” (132).

“The key is to frame the study of writing wtihin the larger principle: that writing classes focus on the study of writing within particular contexts, the values reflected in that writing, and the implications of relationships between writing and values. Not vampires” (134).

“We must build alliances with colleagues who are immersed in efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards in Writing, especially K-12 colleagues, no matter how problematic we find those standards to be” (135). – if we don’t, there’s no chance of our voice being heard.  That’s the price we pay.

“I’ll begin, then, by updating the narrative that I’ve contended extends from documents like the Spellings Report. This narrative says that the purpose of postsecondary education is to prepare students for participation in the 21st century economy, but that faculty aren’t doing a good job with this preparation because we don’t understand what’s necessary for success.

“As I’ve said, answers to two key questions – what is meant by ‘preparation?’ And how should ‘how well’ be indicated? – are critical, because the responses provided to these questiosn will shape curriculum (and assessments)” (120).

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