Revolution Lullabye

October 4, 2013

Gere et al, Local Assessment: Using Genre Analysis to Validate Directed Self-Placement

Gere, Anne Ruggles, et al. “Local Assessment: Using Genre Analysis to Validate Directed Self-Placement.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 605-633.

Gere et al describe the revised Directed Self-Placement (DSP) system used by the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, arguing that the locally-developed and administered assessment achieves validity based on a study of placement essay that uses rhetorical move analysis and corpus-based text analysis.

The study of students’ placement essays shows that there are key textual and rhetorical differences between the essays written by students who self-selected into the FYW program instead of the credit-bearing PREP preparatory program. By coding the introductory paragraphs of the placement essays, the researchers determined both what constituted a “prototypical” introduction to an academic essay that articulated an argumentative stance in response to a text and what rhetorical and linguistic strategies are used by undergraduate FYW writers (as opposed to those writers less prepared for “college-level” writing.)

This study shows the benefits of using research and methodologies from linguistics in order to develop and evaluate local writing assessments. This essay also helps articulate more precisely what it means to say that undergraduate students are “good college writers” or have “rhetorical knowledge,” a goal stated in the Frameworks for Success in Postsecondary Writing document. In the end, this study also demonstrates what good local assessment looks like: a dynamic feedback loop that impacts instruction and a writing program’s definition of good writing.


Notable Notes

good argumentative writing has a “critical distance” that can be gleaned from the rhetorical and linguistic moves the student writer makes (623)

the revision of the DSP program in 2009 based on ten years of data (1998-2008). Their revision was based on three areas of research: research on writing prompts/assignments (resulted in giving students a reading and a specific prompt to create an academic argument, with explanations of what that means); research on rhetorical genre studies (influenced b Carolyn R. Miller’s ideas of genre as social action – genre not as fixed form but flexible and purposeful); text analysis methods used by ESP/linguistics, including corpus-based text analysis.)

attention to the “meso-level rhetorical actions” and the “micro-level linguistic resources” students bring to their writing (612).

three regularly occurring moves in text-based argument introductions: 1. establishing a background (not always there, so non-prototypical); 2. reviewing the article (either a Review-Summary or a Review-Evaluation); and 3. taking a stand (616). Gives examples from the student placement essays of these three rhetorical moves (617-619).

Used a software program (AntConc) to identify linguistic moves:

  1. “References to and citations from the source text
  2. Code glosses (e.g., in other words; in fact)
  3. Evidentials of deduction (e.g. therefore)
  4. Reporting verbs focused on processes of argumentation (e.g. argues, claims, asserts)
  5. Contrastive connectors (e.g. However, nevertheless) and denials (it is not...)
  6. Specific hedging devices associated with academic registers (e.g., perhaps, likely)…
  7. Self mentions (e.g. I and my), personalized stances (e.g. I agree)
  8. Boosters (e.g. clearly, certainly)”

FYW writers used more of #1-6 than PREP writers; FYW writers were less likely to use #7 and #8 (619-620)

PREP writers more likely to use “says, believes, thinks”; FYW writers more likely to use “argues, discusses, claims, asserts” (620) – reporting verbs

Sample coded FYW and PREP introduction in the appendix

tables of frequencies of certain linguistic features/moves (620-622).

push for genre-based pedagogies, teaching students to use genres as “guideposts” that help them solve rhetorical problems (625).


Quotable Quotes

“What our methods have helped us to do, however, is to tease out several linguistic features that, in this context, help to differentiate between students who are more and less at ease with projecting a novice academic stance” (623).

“By ‘meso-level rhetorical actions’ we mean the collections of communicative purposes in smaller sections of a text – larger than the sentence – that together construct the text’s overall pragmatic value as a message” (612).

“Often underconceptualized by those who create them, assignments play a significant role in students’ ability to perform well on a given writing task and therefore merit special attention in assessment” (610).

“Writing an evidence-based argument in response to a prompt like this requires not just arguing for one’s own opinion, but also identifying important propositions in the reading and then summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, and arguing for or against these propositions for using textual and other sources of evidence. Constructing such an argument also requires control of the necessary discursive resources for building an effective argumentative stance” (615).

“stance-taking” (615).



April 8, 2009

Shaughnessy, Errors and Expectations

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Basic writers are not unintelligent; rather, their writing is riddled with errors because they are confused about the basic structure and patterns of sentences and academic prose. Shaughnessy defends her focus on the errors of basic writers by arguing that in order to teach basic writers, teachers must understand what the range of basic writing errors are, why students might be making them (shuttling between two different codes, second language issues, unfamiliarity with written English tenses, structures, and punctuation), and how teachers might help their students write better through addressing these errors (assignments and in-class exercises.) Shaughnessy’s drive is to demystify the common errors basic writers make (punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, syntax) so they can move towards expressing their complex ideas and thoughts in equally as complex and intelligent prose. Shaughnessy does not prescribe a curriculum or program, arguing that each basic writing program must be created for the context of the students’, teachers’, and institutional expectations and circumstances.

Quotable Quotes

Errors “are unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader” (12) Teachers shouldn’t ignore error or argue for theoretical conceptions of the relativity of error (diversity of linguistic structure) in a basic writing classroom because that type of approach dismisses two important points. First, students are hyperconcerned about error and want to know about it and fix their errors. Second, errors force a reader to extend more effort to understand the writer, an effort that not all readers make and thus results in a loss of communication.

Her book wants to cultivate “a readiness to look at these problems in a way that does not ignore the linguistic sophistication of the students nor yet underestimate the complexity of the task they face as tehy set about learning to write for college” (13).

“Far from being eleventh-hour learners, these students appear in many ways to be beginning their lives anew.” (291)

“College both beckons and threatens them, offering to teach them useful ways of thinking and talking about the world, promising even to improve the quality of their lives, but threatening at the same time to take from them their distinctive ways of interpreting the world, to assimilate them into the culture of academia without acknowledging their experience as outsiders” (292)

Notable Notes

Basic writing pedagogy must be taken up seriously as an area of scholarship, study

Context – early 1970s open admissions, City College (CUNY system), no guide for how to teach these students who had never before been in college, instructors just see a “chaos of error”

Data – hundreds of placement essays from entering students at City College 1970-1974

confusion and unawareness lays at the heart of the issue. Students need explicit instruction, need to be shown the patterns and structures, templates of writing sentences and academic prose passages.

need to fix errors without disrespecting the culture and language backgrounds of the students

Chapters: handwriting and punctuation; syntax; common errors; spelling; vocabulary; beyond the sentence; expectations

problem – does not adequately address linguistic differences, boils things down to looking at the errors in the student text without looking outside the actual paper, the larger history and social context

lots of pattern-practice, sentence-combining, learn how to express abstract thoughts and longer arguments

February 19, 2009

Mortensen and Kirsch, On Authority in the Study of Writing

Mortensen, Peter and Gisa E. Kirsch. “On Authority in the Study of Writing.” CCC 44.4 (Dec 1993) 556-572.

Reimagining authority as informed by an “ethic of care” creates a new, more dialogic form of authority than the authoritarian, autonomous model of authority that divorces authority from a contextual, material reality. Mortensen and Kirsch use a feminist framework to conceive of their alternate authority, showing how authority established through dialogue, connectedness, and collaboration in context can transform how we teach students about the kinds of authority they might construct in their writing and the kinds of authority they might encounter and enact. Mortensen and Kirsch do not reject a notion of authority, pointing out that sometimes, it serves both the teacher and the student for the teacher to take a more authoritative stance in the classroom, arguing that exercising authority (when that authority is informed by an ethics of care – a responsibility to your obligations as a teacher) is not coercion. Ultimately, Mortensen and Kirsch hope to open up ways to compose academic arguements without resorting to traditional automonous, partriarchal authority, allowing for academic discourse that is more collaborative, dialogic, and exploratory.

Quotable Quotes

“Unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous…care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain” (565).

We need to “shape what authority does rather than simply attempting to alter what it is.” (566).

Notable Notes

breaks down two views of authority: that you gain it through assimiliation to the standards and conventions of a discourse community; that it is inherently bad, uncritical, and repressive

authority as gendered

there is no independent, autonomous authority. It is always in context.

autonomous authority even surfaces in process pedagogy – the writer’s voice is introspective and autonomous. Even with the social turn – authority was foundational, part of the community, something to assimilate to, not constantly negotiated and emerging.

Giroux Schooling

February 3, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, Burton, A Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, eds. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2002.

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

January 27, 2009

Downs and Wardle, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions”

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC 58.4 (June 2007) 552-585.

The authors argue for transforming the required first-year course, usually taught as a introduction to the skills necessary to write “academic discourse” into a course that introduces students to writing studies as a field, using their own courses at University of Dayton and Utah Valley State College as examples. The generalized first-year course stands in contradiction to many of the established, researched theories in rhetoric and composition: that all writing is content and context-driven, that writing is an area of research and study, that writing is a complex activity that requires more than good luck and “transferable” basic skills, and that experts in writing are needed to teach writing. Such a shift in the curriculum of the first-year course allows for better transitioning to WAC initiatives (because writing, from the very beginning, is grounded in content and context), gives the newly developing majors a cornerstone foundation course, and improves the position of writing at the university from a service discipline to one that is recognized by students and faculty as a field with valuable, relevant, and important research and theoretical knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“Writing studies has ignored the implications of this research and theory and continued to assure its publics (faculty, administrators, parents, industry) that FYC can do what nonspecialists have always assumed it can: teach, in one or two early courses, “college writing” as a set of basic, fundamental skills that will apply in other college courses and in business and public spheres after college. In making these unsupportable assurances to stakeholders, our field reinforces cultural misconceptions of writing instead of attempting to educate students and publics out of these misconceptions” (1) page numbers are from printed online version

“Students leave the course with increased awareness of writing studies as a discipline, as well as a new outlook on writing as a researchable activity rather than a mysterious talent” (7).

“By employing nonspecialists to teach a specialized body of knowledge, we undermine our own claims as to that specialization and make our detractors’ argument in favor of general writing skills for them. As Debra Dew demonstrates, constructing curricula that require specialization goes a long way toward professionalizing the writing instruction workforce” (21).

Notable Notes

what the first-year course is reflects the whole discipline. Making it more rigorous and centering it on the field of rhet and comp will improve the status of rhet/comp.

category mistake – Gilbert Ryle – academic writing as one category of writing when it really cannot be defined as an umbrella term

problems/consequences of the shift: no textbook that teaches first-year writing in this way, huge labor force that needs to be trained, the research takes a long time and student work won’t be as clean or neat, high schools don’t prepare students for the field, so there’s a huge learning curve that needs to happen, content and expecatation-wise

courses that follow the intro to writing studies model use readings drawn from the research of the field of rhetoric and composition, allows students to explore their own writing practices in juxtaposition, and asks them to do research on writing.

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