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).

 

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January 7, 2013

Gere, Review Essay: Making Our Brains

Gere, Anne Ruggles. “Review Essay: Making Our Brains.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 214-219.

Review of three texts:

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2012. Print.

Malabou, Catherine. What Should We Do with Our Brain? Trans Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham UP, 2008. Print.

Gere reviews three recently published books, targeted to both scholarly and popular audiences, that address the relationship between the development and functioning of the brain and emerging digital technologies.  All three texts Gere reviews rest on the assumption that the brain is plastic, not hardwired: that the brain can adapt and transform to meet shifting environmental circumstances, like the widespread adoption and use of digital tools.

Gere argues that WPAs and those in writing studies need to pay attention to this research because emerging cognitive research has implications for teaching, learning, and the assessment of writing (like machine-scored tests.)  She also contends that digital technologies don’t have to have a negative effect on teaching and learning, a claim made by many popular and scholarly texts recently published.  Instead, Gere points out (through the arguments made especially by Davidson) that WPAs and writing teachers can help students manage digital tools positively – that current cognitive research suggests that people can take a proactive, conscious approach in remaking and transforming how they think and process information.

Notable Notes

technogenesis – N. Katherine Hayles – “the idea that humans and machines are co-evolving.” (215) That evolution is happening even more rapidly with digital tools.

building “cognitive reserves” – Cathy N. Davidson – “neural pathways developed by learning” which can be used to build new pathways if the brain is injured (216).

Quotable Quotes

“Most of the books published by the popular press frame the relationship between brain plasticity and digital technologies in negative terms, and together they can serve as a caution against seeing digital technologies as the solution to any number of teaching and learning challenges” (217).

“Plasticity is sometimes erroneously equated with flexibilty, but it is important to maintain a distinctiion between the two because flexibility connotes acquiescence and adaptation while plasticity – in its developmental, modulational, and reparative manifestations – refers to transformative ability. In Malabou’s view, we need to become more self-conscious about our own roles in ‘making’ our brains, and in recognizing their transformative capacities. Sounds like an agenda for WPAs” (218).

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