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).

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