Revolution Lullabye

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.

January 26, 2009

Bartholomae, “The Study of Error”

Bartholomae, David. “The Study of Error.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 338-352.

Instead of dismissing the writing of basic writers as illogical and/or meaningless, Bartholomae argues for using the linguistic strategy of error analysis (often used by second language learners research) to learn the patterns of langauge use that basic writers rely on to think and compose so that composition teachers can track their progress and know better how to help them with their writing. Error analysis isn’t a perfect fit for composition, however, because it was intended for speaking exercises, and many basic writers’ errors come from the actual physical work of writing, the performance of composition rather than the conceptualization of arguments and ideas. However, the technique, which involves students reading back and consciously correcting their own prose, has three positive outcomes for composition instructors: it can help diagnose the problems a student writer is having, it can teach students a method for reading and self-correcting their errors, and it can help teachers see how their students, over the course of a semester, are growing and developing as academic writers.

Quotable Quotes

“We need to refine our teaching to take into account the high percentage of error in written composition that is rooted in the difficultly of performance rather than in problems of general linguistic competence” (349).

Errors that come from the “physical and conceptual demands of writing” and “the requirements of manipulating the print code” (351).

Errors are “stylistic features, information about this writer and this language” (342).

“When a basic writer violates our expectations, however, there is a tendancy to dismiss the text as non-writing, as meaningless or imperfect writing” (339).

“We have read, rather, as policemen, examiners, gate-keepers” (339)

We need to “treat the language of basic writing as language and assume, as we do when writers violate our expectations in more conventional ways, that the unconventional features in the writing are evidence of intention and that they are, therefore, meaningful, then we can chart systematic choices, individual strategies, and characteristic processes of thought” (340)

Notable Notes

All language use is idiosyncratic. The distance between a text and the accepted convention is just greater with a basic writer.

interlanguage/ intermediate system

have a writer read his own text to see what the maning is.

problem with error analysis: people learn correct written English not just aurally, but also visually. Also, the difficulty of intention: written error analysis asks for interpretation and analysis of the reason behind the error. The analyst has to first interpret the text, not just describe what’s there.

Rose, “Remedial Writing Courses”

Rose, Mike. “Remedial Writing Courses: A Critique and a Proposal.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 353-369.

Mike Rose points out five problems of the typical remedial writing course and suggests how basic writing courses can be changed to better serve the students in them. First, they are self-contained courses, not connected to larger writing contexts students will encounter at the university. Second, they rely on assignments based on simple, unmotivating topics that don’t produce academic prose. Third, they are not grounded in the writing process, rather focusing almost exclusively on error avoidance. Fourth, they do not expand their scope to include reading and thinking heuristics in conjunction with writing assignments. Finally, they stay in the realm of personal writing, never challenging students to write academic prose. Instead of this model of a remedial writing course, teachers need to give students real discourse patterns to write with and in, grounded in meaningful context. Those patterns should be taught as strategies, not structures, and be sequenced to build to more and more complex writing situations and assignments.

Quotable Quotes

We need to start “conceiving of composition as a highly complex thinking/learning/reading/writing skill that demands holistic, not neatly segmented and encapsulated, pedagogies” (362).

“The reflexive, exploratory possibilities of engaging in academic (vs. personal) topics are not exploited, and instruction in more complex patterns of discourse is delayed or soft-pedaled” (362).

“The nature of our programs is nearly synchronized with the narror reality created for them by our institutions” (369).

Notable Notes

reflexive writing tied to Emig

January 23, 2009

Shaughnessy, “Diving In”

Shaughnessy, Mina P. “Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook, 3rd ed. 321-326.

Citing that it is the teachers of basic writing, not the students, who need to change in order to succeed in the academy, Shaughnessy outlines four stages teachers of basic writing progress through in learning about basic writers and accepting the challenge of teaching them. The four stages, as Shaughnessy describes them, are Guarding the Tower (exclusionary policies and attitudes); Converting the Natives (trying old pedagogical techniques to help a few students who seem promising); Sounding the Depths (confronting the contradictions in the expectations of students’ many discourse communities); and finally, Diving In (committing to study and change teaching practices to answer the challenges of the new student populations.)

Quotable Quotes

“Are they aware, for example, after years of right/wrong testing, after the ACTs and the GEDs and the OATs, after straining to memorize what they read but never learning to doubt it, after “psyching out” answers rather than discovering them, are they aware that the rules have changed and that the rewards now go to those who can sustain a play of mind upon ideas – teasing out the contradictions and ambiguities and frailities of statements?” (324)

“The greatest barrier to our work with [basic writing students] is our ignorance of them and the very subject we have contracted to teach” (325)

“Diving in is simply deciding that teaching them to write well is not only suitable but challenging work for those who would be teachers and scholars in a democracy” (326)

“By underestimating the sophistication of our students and by ignoring the complexity of the tasks we set before them, we have failed to locate in precise ways where to begin and what follows what” (325).

Notable Notes

medical terminology used to describe basic writers

put onus on teachers, not students, to find the solutions.

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