Revolution Lullabye

May 26, 2011

Fleming, Becoming Rhetorical

Fleming, David.   “Becoming rhetorical: An education in the topics.”   In Bahri, Deepika; Joseph Petraglia (Eds.), The realms of rhetoric: Inquiries into the prospects for rhetoric education. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Fleming shows, through an investigation of the topics (topoi), how there is true rhetorical knowledge and how that knowledge can push students to develop in discursive ability. He calls for scholars and teachers of rhetoric to turn back to the heart of rhetoric, which depends upon a multiyear curriculum where students have the opportunity to develop, naturally and deeply, as rhetoricians influenced by ethics and virtue towards civic, responsible ends. He warns against rudimentary definitions of rhetoric  – “checklists” of terms and ideas divorced from a larger ethical base – and also all-encompassing theories of rhetoric that, in their largeness, make rhetoric also meaningless. The goal of rhetoric, Fleming argues, is not so much to transmit a certain kind of knowledge but to develop a certain kind of person, an ethical, productive, civically-minded, knowledgable leader. That development depends on practice, imitation, exercises, and repetition.

Topics depend on understanding the commonplaces of a particular culture – what that culture values, what opinions are generally accepted, the “endoxa”  of a community, what allows people to meet together on the same ground.

Rhetorical education, Fleming argues, can’t hope that students will absorb a rhetorical sensibility through mere exposure to many different disciplines and ways of knowing, the foundation of liberal arts education. Rather, rhetorical education needs to help students develop a rhetorical self-consciousness, flexible but still concrete in vocabulary and purpose, “an art that, once learned, confers on students a genuine practical and ethical ability” (105).

Fleming, with this goal in mind, proposes a richer, teachable theory of the topics that includes five broad categories of rhetorical knowledge: 1. circumstantial knowledge; 2. verbal formulae, 3. common sense; 4. models of textual development; and 5. logical norms.

Notes and Quotes

“The topics we organize this way shuold be infinitely malleable, capable of being adapted and used in multiple ways in different situations. What I am after, in other words, is a theory that can accomodate diverse kinds of resources, one that is focused on situated practice in particular communities, and one that sees the words and things of those communities as practically plastic in the hands of its speakers, hearers, writers, and readers” (104).

rhetoric can’t be taught in one course – it needs to be infused into an entire curriculum

“Where classical rhetoric took a remarkably precise language and dedicated it to an ambitious political-ethical project, the new rhetoric takes a highly elastic vocabulary and puts it to rather trivial ends” (93).

topics: “an ancient set of pedagogical resources designed to help speakers and writers invent arguments for public debate” (94): “My appraoch will be to see the topics as a species of political knowledge that, through theory and practice, can be made part of the student’s very character” (94)

“Rhetoric is at once overburdened and underburdeded with content” (94) – the challenge is to find a place between particularilty and generality (95)

the topics are commonplaces – places to go to discover arguments, a set of heuristics to help invention

connection between Toulmin’s warrants and Aristotle’s topics.

modern rhetorical theory has taken out the content and context of the original topics in order to create a more universal form of rhetoric.

Problem: “A theory of argument situated at the intersection of politics [specificity] and logic [generality] will always elude us; the best we can do is choose one path or the other and stick to it, hoping that our students, at least, will learn to merge the two in their practical lives” (103)

need something more substantial than the rhetorical triangle

Fleming’s theory of topics:

  • circumstantial knowledge – context, history, people, places, familiarity
  • verbal formulae – discursive resources and languages of the community, through wide reading and listening
  • common sense – values, truths, preferences that exist in that community
  • modes of textual development – the structures of everyday arguments in the community, patterns, modes, things that direct and shape thought in that community
  • logical norms – the norms that authorize arguments, warrants, inference

The problem of the paper cycle in typical freshman composition classes: (110)

  1. they are too long for close work but too short to do real work: “they are neither the kind of discursive chunk that constitutes an utterance, a move in written or spoken discourse, nor the kind of project that results from weeks, months, or even years of active engagement with real intellectual or practical problems.
  2. they aren’t sequenced developmentally, to build off each other
  3. students work on them too slowly, tediously drafting over and over again

Draws on the ideas of the New London Group: inquiry into a specific text or situation, recursive thinking and writing. Gives example of Brown vs Board of Education  sourcebook


Greene and Orr, First-year College Students Writing across the Disciplines

Greene, Stuart and Amy J. Orr.  “First-year college students writing across the disciplines.”  In Blurring boundaries: Developing writers, researchers and teachers: A tribute to William L. Smith.  O’Neill, Peggy (ed.) Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2007. 123-156.

Students do more argumentative writing in their first-year composition class than in other classes across the disciplines or in their major, where the focus of their writing is to synthesize extant knowledge in the field in order to gain mastery of the material. However, the first year composition’s class emphasis on the disciplinary nature of writing – that writing serves different functions and looks differently in different discourse communities – helps students negotiate later writing assignments. Greene and Orr conducted a four-year longitudinal study of 30 students, collecting their texts, assignments, instructors’ written comments, and interviews with both the students and the instructors in order to investigate the connections between the work they did in their composition classes and the work they did writing in other disciplinary courses. The purpose of their study was to investigate what challenges students face when meeting the shifting demands of writing across the disciplines and also what the critical features are of successful college writers.

Notes and Quotes

Collected 689 student papers as part of the study. They were coded and categorized into four groups: narrative, explanation, argument, interpretative. The claims were categorized into interpretative or evaluative.

June 11, 2009

Wysocki, The Multiple Media of Texts

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “The Multiple Media of Texts: How Onscreen and Paper Texts Incorporate Words, Images, and Other Media.” In What Writing Does and How It Does It. Eds. Bazerman and Prior. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. 123-161.

Wysocki’s chapter addresses students and has three main parts: first, she lays out her basic argument for the visual, rhetorical nature of all texts, printed and onscreen; second, she introduces elements of visual texts that students can identify (typography, shapes, pictures, video, animation, and sound) and gives an outline about how a student might analyze a visual text; and third, she uses extended examples of visual textual analyses to argue that composing with images and visual features shouldn’t just anticipate and provide for easy audience reading. Rather, the visual nature and elements of onscreen and paper texts should be used rhetorically and deliberately to make points and challenge readers to consider the cultural and historical frameworks through which they read and interpret texts.

Quotable Quotes

move from making user-friendly, predictable texts that serve the audience’s purpose to “making visual and interactive compositions that ask audiences to question, first, how they came to have their expectations, and, then, the limitations and constraints of those expectations” (157).

learning to compose visually is “learning to observe well” (159).

Notable Notes

analysis: identify elements, name their relationships, and then expand to consider how those relationships and element connect to larger contexts and arguements

basic points: 1. all texts are visual in nature 2. a text’s visual nature gives a clue to its genre 3. a text’s visual components perform important rhetorical and persuasive work 4. cultural attitudes to visual elements change over time 5. choices in visual presentation have to be seen through cultural frameworks 6. composing a text means making deliberate choices for how to shape the page or screen to direct the audience. (123-126)

move from analyzing what’s on the page or screen to asking how that elicts readers’ responses, the cultural frames through which readers respond, why some texts are more accessible than others, the politics and economics of text production and circulation – who we are and who we will become

June 1, 2009

DeSana, Preventing Plagiarism

DeSana, Laura Hennessey. Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2007.

DeSana, a high school English teacher and part-time writing instructor at NYU, argues that students need to learn how to do original, subjective, interested research, not just retell what their sources say. She relies on an literature-based writing assignment sequence that begins with freewriting responses to a primary source, then analyzing and adding secondary sources. Her goal is for students to be the dominant voice in their thesis-driven researched arguments, controlling their source use with effective quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. She believes that this kind of assignment sequence, coupled with a range of plagiarism-proof topics that dissuade students from relying on online cheat sources and recycled papers, will teach students to respect the research process and not plagiarize. She has a two-part definition of plagiarism: source of language plagiarism and source of information plagiarism, both equally important to address and curtail through the proper use of citation systems and explicit instruction in paraphrase. She gives teachers seven tools and steps for identifying plagiarism in their students’ papers, often positioning the students as savvy, lethargic, potential cheats who try to pull one over on the teacher because of their Internet expertise.

Quotable Quotes

“For those of us who are vigilant, we will enter the library as dectectives on the trail of a more intelligent theif” (97), on the importance of checking print-based sources in libraries (like secondary sources, CliffsNotes) for student plagiarism attempts

“Individuality self-destructs in endless mirroring” (111), doesn’t see much good in imitation

“We must begin to teach them how to exert control over the chaos – how to shape and academic argument” (7).

“We have to require the higher level of thinking that is achieved through the simultaneous processes of analysis and synthesis” (6).

The retelling that happens in a book report “is useless for several reasons – foremost among them is that it is a shabby mimicking of the original. No one can write Poe’s ‘The Fall of the Usher’ as well as Poe, nor should another writer attempt to” (4).

“Reporting is a retelling of ideas found; it is not an analysis of ideas found” (1)

“As educators, we must teach students to realize that they are required to have their own insights into source materials. They must engage in a dialogue with the sources they consult. Without this dialogue their research is meaningless and becomes a mere exercise of collecting and organizing” (1)

Notable Notes

absolute binary between research and retelling

works cited only includes one thing from rhet/comp, a article from Written Communication about text/source use and ESL students

one of her plagiarism prevention techniques she dubs “non sequitor approach” – having students turn in copies of online study guides to provide them for comparison with their essays

prescriptive writing process and sequence = freewriting, notetaking, outlining, writing

retelling (summaries) are not, in DeSana’s opinion, objective pieces of writing, not subjective researched positions

focus is on how to teach students to write thesis-driven, argumentative, taking-a-stand research essays

January 19, 2009

George, “From Analysis to Design”

George, Diana. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.” CCC 54.1 (Sept. 2002) 11 – 39.

George explores how the relationship between the visual and the verbal has been explored and defined through fifty years of composition history, arguing that the visual needs to be more fully incorporated in composition classrooms, not just as a prompt or an aid, but an intregal part of the design of an argument. She discusses three approaches composition teachers and scholars have taken with using visuals in the classroom: as essay prompts, objects for analysis, or as “dumbed-down” versions of more complex verbal arguments (32). Instead, taking the lead from the New London Group and scholars such as Wysocki and Trimbur, compositionists need to see the connection between writing and graphic design and embrace design as an important concept in the teaching of writing. Students interact with visual Web technologies on a daily basis, and in the work place, they will be asked to compose, design, and communicate both verbally and visually, and so our composition classrooms need to shift their notion of what constitutes an argument and teach students how to compose and design with and through visuals.

Quotable Quotes

“I am after a clearer understanding of what can happen when the visual is very consciously brought into the composition classroom as a form of communication worth both examining and producing” (14).

“It is important to point out that thinking of composition as design shifts attention, if onyl momentarily, from the product to the act of production” (18)

“The issue [of incorporating the visual in the composition classroom] seems to be less one of resources than one of emphasis, or, rather, relationship” (32).

“For students who have grown up in a technology-saturated and an image-rich culture, questions of communication and composition absolutely will include the visual, not as attendant to the verbal but as complex communication intricately related to the world around them” (32)

Notable Notes

good history of the role visuals played in the composition classroom, from the 1950s to the 1980s to today

Important references include Trimbur, Wysocki, New London Group, Johnson-Eilola, Faigley, Walter Benjamin, J. Anthony Blair.

requires a shift in the thinking of composition and argument beyond printed text – one of design, of broader communication.

what has the Web done to composition? will composition meet that challenge? will it morph? or is it a field designed to meet a specific need and purpose (Harvard, 1890s.)? is digital media destined to remain a subspeciality?


Wysocki. “Monitoring Order: Visual Desire, the Organization of Web Pages, and Teaching the Rules of Design.” Kairos 3.2 (Fall 1998)

Trimbur. “Delivering the Message: Typography and the Materiality of Writing.” Composition as Intellectual Work. Ed. Gary Olson. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. 188-202.

Kress, Gunther. “Design and Transformation: New Theories of Meaning.” Cope and Kalantzis. 153-161.

Bernhardt, Stephen. “Seeing the Text.” CCC (1986) 66-78.

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