Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling the Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth-Anniversary Speech.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Eds. Rose and Weiser. Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1999. 168-84.

Phelps uses the metaphor of a “Great Group” to explain the heady, exciting first years of the Syracuse Writing Program. It wasn’t exactly a “Great Group” – Great Groups are usually elite, young, and self-selected, and at the Writing Program, the independent writing program grew from a very heterogeneous faculty and staff, diverse in age, experience, and in degree. Phelps explains that the Writing Program had a tension-filled dynamic, a thrilling roller-coaster ride oscillating between order and chaos. Phelps argues that this dynamic is central to the development of any complex system or organization. Phelps also describes the storytelling role of leaders, explaining why it is crucial for WPAs to use rhetoric through speech and through writing to communicate to their program and to the university at large.

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December 30, 2010

Phelps, Fitting the Institution That’s There

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Fitting the Institution That’s There.” National Conference of Teachers of English, Los Angeles, November 1987.

In this 1987 NCTE presentation, Phelps describes how program design is an extension of process theory and argues for WPAs to define and see program construction as a design problem. Phelps explains how starting an independent writing program from the ground up involves working in and through chaos. She points out that writing program design has a “human element,” and that WPAs must design programs, balance costs and plan long-term goals always with the thinking of how changes and systems will affect the people working in them. She uses the first two years of the Syracuse Writing Program to explain her theory of writing program design.

Notes and Quotes

“But if teachers are taking such active roles in the Proqram, we need a model of program administration that empowers them to act on their ideas. For this reason among others we are designing a collaborative, entrepeneurial, decentralized administrative structure, cultivating leaders among the faculty of teaching assistants and part-time instructors, trying to diffuse authority and responsibility throughout the Program. Besides the intellectual and ethical justification, we need a much more professional, committed, expert faculty if we are to move the Program out into the university at large, working with other faculty, not to mention the reforms we are undertaking within our own course responsibilities.” (4)

May 1, 2009

Elbow and Belanoff, Portfolios as a Substitute for Proficiency Exams

Elbow, Peter and Pat Belanoff. “Portfolios as a Substitute for Proficiency Exams.” CCC 37 (1986): 336-339. In Assessing Writing. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 97-101.

Elbow and Belanoff describe the process and the benefits of the portfolio evaluation system they piloted at Stony Brook University. Instead of focusing on scoring and ranking essays, the portfolio system they put in place, which is a pass/fail (C or not) from the student’s teacher and another instructor, is mastery- and competency-based. The focus of the assessment and the course turns to comments, feedback, advice, and revision as well as collaboration among teachers. Students see the portfolio assessment (which has a dry run mid-semester) as a hurdle to overcome. Elbow and Belanoff argue that even though the assessment process leads to much debate among teachers during the assessment, this disagreement and chaos is key to learning and the development of community standards and values.

April 25, 2009

Varnum, Fencing with Words

Varnum, Robin. Fencing with Words: A History of Writing Instruction at Amherst College during the Era of Theodore Baird, 1938-1966. Urbana: NCTE, 1996.

Varnum presents a counternarrative to the mainstream history of 20th century composition instruction through her archival investigation of the Amherst freshman writing program directed by Theodore Baird from 1938 to 1966. Her history, unlike other histories written in the field, has three distinct differences: first, she spends much time looking at how outside social and political forces (institutional, national, and global) affected the pedagogy in Amherst’s writing courses; second, she depends on the archives of the program (assignments, student papers, memos, reports, as well as interviews) instead of textbooks and journals to sketch a picture of what was happening in the classrooms; and third, she brings to light a much-misunderstood era of American composition, one that is usually conflated and simplified to be “current-traditional.” Baird’s first-year writing courses were designed by the entire team of teachers (everyone used the same collaboratively-written assignment sequence), and student writing, not textbooks, were the centerpiece of the course. Baird believed that writing was a process of self-discovery, a process through which unexpressible (and unknown) truths could be expressed. Varnum’s history does not sugarcoat or reify Baird’s administration or pedagogy, pointing out that his high-priest attitude was decidedly masculine and top-down, perceived by some students and fellow faculty to be a bully who ran a “boot camp” course.

Quotable Quotes

“The tendancy among composition historians has been to look at practice in the classroom, or at the materials and ideas presented there, without acknowledging the larger forces that created the classroom itself” (7).

Notable Notes

great model for dissertation

Baird’s constant metaphor of running orders through chaos (taken from The Education of Henry Adams and science, philosophy, Burke, Richards that he read)

the Amherst course was taken by all freshman at the same time with the same assignments so that each assignment was a campus-wide event.

focused on conflict, constant questioning and revision

saw student writer as individual who possessed his own voice, the goal was to free that voice and the imagination; break them of writing what he dubbed “the Perfect Theme” (41) influenced heavily by The Education of Henry Adams

Baird’s ideal was to create a community of teachers

all the work that went into teaching and planning the course (assignments were re-invented each year) took away the time the instructors and professors could do their own research

how do policies and politics outside the classroom affect what is being taught?

impact of WWII, GI Bill, co-education, change in American university system, Civil Rights, move towards general education requirements

Varnum interviews professors who taught with Baird, 7 alumni of the program, looks at student papers, essay contest winners, uses letters she writes to Baird and recieves from him, assignment sequences (in appendix)

April 15, 2009

Broad, What We Really Value

Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State UP, 2003.

Broad introduces the practice of dynamic criteria mapping (DCM) as an inquiry-driven alternative to static, traditional rubrics that have a normative rather than descriptive function, not even addressing many of the things are taught in writing classes (therefore not a valid assessment). His book is a case study of the use of DCM at “City University,” a university with 4000 students in a 3-course English sequence that is assessed through portfolios, graded collectively by 3-teacher teams. Instead of starting with certain textual features to check off, DCM asks teachers and assessors to describe what they see in a text (good and bad.) Together, the instructors find synonyms and antonyms for what they notice, categorize similar ones, and create a visual map that illustrates the values about good writing that the program’s teachers hold collectively. This method, though time-consuming and messy, better articulates the complex processes and ideas that students are showing in their writing. The process is locally, site-baed: though the method of DCM can be used, individual maps cannot be transported across institutions or even across years; it should be a conversation about values that happens continually.

Quotable Quotes

“We can now face the truth equipped with tools (qualitative inquiry) and attitudes (hermeneutics) that help us tap the energy of apparant chaos without being consumed by it. We can embrace the life of things” (137).

“In their rush toward clarity, simplicity, brevity, and authority, traditional scoring guides make substantial knowledge claims based on inadequate research” (3)

“In pursuit of their normative and formative purposes, traditional rubrics surrender thier descriptive and informative potential: responsiveness, detail, and complexity in accounting for how writing is actually evaluated” (2).

“The age of the rubric has passed” (4)

Notable Notes

Vinland map – not appropriate now

move to validity(not the same as reliability)

the DCM finds textual criteria and contextual criteria (things not found in text but have an impact on assessing, before DCM these have not been visible)

benefits of DCM: 1. student learning (shows writing is more complex, they have a better understanding of what they’re doing well and  what teachers are looking for); 2. professional development and community; 3. program development and evaluation; 4. more valid assessment; 5. better relations with the public (values are made public, written down)

drawbacks? time-consuming and needs constant reflection and revisiting

must happen in communal writing assessment so there will be debate, disagreement, and discussion of values.

once the values are visible, you can start having conversations about whether you should value what you do.

a search for truth through hermeneutics, not psychometrics

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 22, 2009

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth Anniversary  Speech.” In The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry into Action and Reflection. Eds. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1998.

 

This version that I am reading and taking notes on is the uncut version. The  speech was significantly cut in the collection.

 

This article combines the tenth anniversary speech Phelps gives to the Syracuse University Writing Program in 1997 with her analysis and reflection on speech as a form  of administrative rhetoric and highlights the intellectual work of both administration and leadership. The speech is divided into three sections – narrative, analysis, and reflection – which are based on the common moves taught in the Syracuse writing studios. Phelps shows how the Writing Program, founded in 1986, can be described as a sort of “Great Group,” who risked chaos in a outpouring of inventiveness and creativity in the early  years of the program. This complex open system became self-organizing, subcritical, and more orderly as the Program reached relatively high “fitness peaks.” However, in order to remain responsive and relevant to changing context, Phelps argues that the Program must be inventive still by bringing in new faculty and new leadership, developing new programs like the graduate program and a major, and by constantly searching out large and small opportunities to connect with other departments, colleges, and outside organizations that will allow the Program to grow, expand, and evolve. Phelps then steps outside her speech and analyzes it as a form of administrative rhetoric, arguing that WPAs, especially women, must not cede their authority as a leader. Rather, they should embrace the public form of administrative rhetoric in the form of speeches for they provide an opportunity to explain to the community that they lead the ideas and principles inherent in their organizing narrative. Strong reflective leadership is not coercive; it is necessary for the survival of a complex, dynamic organization like a writing program.

 

Quotable Quotes

 

“The Writing Program chose the Great Group model, where disparate people are drawn together by mutual commitment to a project and became energized by the power of collaboration, because we believed that it is a social structure more conducive to creativity and more successful in the long run.

In that choice, we risked chaos.”

 

“If the early development of the Writing Program represented the gamble of falling into chaos, after ten years one must imagine that we now risk the possibility of too much order. We are likely to find ourselves trapped on relatively high fitness peaks, where there is a big cost for coming down and trying another one that isn’t likely to prove that much better.” – reminds me of Jefferson/Adams, a  revolution every generation, tension and questioning whether the next wave is going to be as good as what you got already

 

“I came ever more strongly to believe that it is right for writing program administrators to aspire to leadership as an honorable role, to explore and analyze the role of rhetoric in administration, to make creative and ethical use of the rhetorical power their office (and their training) lends them.”

 

 

Notable Notes

 

Great Groups

 

Important sources: Bennis and Biderman (Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration); Gould (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History); Kaufmann (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity); Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)

 

Reference to working on institutional invention piece

 

Used reflections from people who were in the early years of the program

 

WP wasn’t an  exact Great Group  because the people involved were so heterogeneous; not everyone bought into the idea, so that caused conflict and pain.

 

Ecological/systems  model

 

In a complex open system, there must be smaller, more local groups with autonomy that can grow and evolve, together creating a network to form the entire system

 

Evolution isn’t a linear path – there comes a point where there is an explosion of creativity (supracritical) that then is tamed by a learning or S-curve, when you reach high fitness peaks.

 

That “cascade of novelty in uncoordinated, chaotic interactions” was the fear of those who wanted a common text and curriculum.

 

Coevolving systems

 

Move from romance into a fruitful marriage

 

WPA is a “convenient euphemism” for administrators who don’t want to take on the name of leader – why are we so reluctant to use power wisely?

 

Speech as intellectual work of a writing program administrator

February 17, 2009

Phelps, Institutional Invention

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Institutional Invention: (How) Is It Possible?” In Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. Eds. Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer. Knoxville: The U of Tennessee P, 2002.

Phelps argues that institutions can be sites of invention in two ways: they themselves can constantly restructure their ideals, governance, finances, and curriculum, and second, universities can consciously structure itself so that it provides a creative environment for all those who work there. Her argument is situated in the move on many American colleges and universities to restructure to a more bueracratic system, one where administrators and staff instead of the traditional full-time faculty have governance over the institution. In this type of system, distributed leadership is key.Writing program administrators need to realize the power of seizing leadership in order to make institutional change within their own programs to provide environments for creativity, collaboration, and community among the students, faculty, staff, and part-time instructors. Phelps looks at the institution through a system approach, showing how it is both chaotic/creative and structured simulatenously.

Quotable Quotes

University as a creative system: The “refreshing focus on the inventiveness of a human system rather than exclusively on its function of distributing and controlling power” (80).

“I find it fruitful to juxtapose an nderstanding creativity as systemic wiht a concept of sufficiently complex systems as inherently creative. Together they provide a new metaphorical frame that helps us define problems and generate specific questions about institutional invention.” (79)

Notable Notes

combining practical experience of WPA and a rhetorician’s knowledge of understanding how to react and communicate in changing circumstances. The importance of rhetoric in institutional leadership

further questions to explore at the end of the article

goals: develop concept of invention as emergent phenomenon of institutions; how this concept changes how we think of leadership; the barriers to institutional invention in institutions today (71)

practical art of institutional invention (71)

January 13, 2009

Birnbaum, How Colleges Work

Birnbaum, Robert. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988.

The purpose of this book is to encourage and guide college administrators towards improving what they do by thinking about their work from multiple, complex perspectives. Birnbaum does this by providing case studies of higher education administration (through five fictitious institutions) and by showing how multidisciplinary management theories either do or do not answer the unique challenges of a university. Fundamentally, a well-run university is managed by administrators who can identify the organizational patterns (like a pattern language), follow them in their administration, and create new ones when situations arise where there are no appropriate patterns. The book is divided into three parts: the first explains the elements and concepts that define universities and colleges; the second presents the models used to explain higher education organization and management (collegial, bureaucracy, political system); the third combines those models and argues that a college or university is always being developed and reinvented through all these (as possibly more) patterns.

Chapter 1, “Problems of Governance, Management, and Leadership in Academic Institutions,” addresses the challenges to leadership because of the very nature of academic institutions. It centers around governanace, since a university has three different foci of control (duality of control): the board of trustees, the administration, and the faculty. Other problems include different, conflicting goals and missions (teaching, research, service), a disagreement in the type of power and control that works to sway administraiton and faculty, inflexible resources (personnel due to tenure), decentralization of authority among faculty due to academic specialization, and the conflicting goals of cosmopolitan and local faculty. Birnbaum suggests a model based on social exchange leadership theory – that the faculty and the administration are interdependent – should be considered in the development of an administrative plan.

Chapter 2, “Thinking in Systems and Circles: The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Organizations,” explains the difference between closed and open systems and argues that the university is an  open, nonlinear, and dynamic system (which can seem chaotic), since it is comprised of so many subsystems whose intersections are so distant that a major change or failure in one area would not affect the entire system very much and other subsystems not at all. This is called loose coupling, and it allows for a greater sensitivity to the environment and the needs of each subsystem, which would not happen in a centrally-controlled, tight coupling system. Birnbaum advocates nonlinear thinking in circles and subsystems for administrators, arguing that an effective administrator is more interested in understanding the system than ruling over it with an iron fist.

Quotable Quotes

“Administrators with linear perspectives are likely to emphasize making rational decisions; administrators with nonlinear perspectives are likely to be concerned with making sense. Linear administrators think they know how the system works and how to change it; nonlinear administrators are more modest in their assumptions and expectations” (55)

“Effective administration may depend not on overcoming it [the chaos of an open system] but on accepting and understanding it” (41)

“The beliefs held by administrators and others who influence institutional life affect how they behave, how they interpret their experiences, and even what they ‘see'” (xiv)

Notable Notes

the symbolic president of university

Administration is organized around “the control and coordination of activities by superiors”; faculty around “autonomy and individual knowledge” (10) This is duality of controls. “These two sources are not only different but in mutual disagreement” (10)

January 3, 2009

Csikszentmihaly, Flow

Csikszentmihaly, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Csikszentmihaly explains the principles a person must follow in order to achieve flow, the optimal experience which leads to true happiness. His theory of flow is based on the data collected by his team of researchers through the University of Chicago, who interviewed experts in diverse fields (surgeons, dancers, philosophers, mountain climbers, musicians), and gathered personal testaments from hundreds of other ordinary people around the world through a method called experience sampling, where a person wears a pager for a week and writes down their feelings and thoughts each time the pager goes off (eight randomized times a day.) His concept of flow and optimal experience builds on the theories developed by other scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and is used by those in fields as varied as occupational therapy, education, design, and criminal justice.

Csikszentmihaly’s theory of optimal experience is grounded in the belief that an individual must control their own consciousness (their perception and reaction to reality) in order to achieve happiness. The universe cannot be controlled or predicted; therefore, instead of only reacting to it as a passive responder, a person who wants to achieve flow must confront the challenges life brings and find a way to make meaning out of them. That way of meaning must be intrinsically developed through a set of personal goals and purposes, for societal goals and the “shields of culture” society develops in response to the chronic frustration humans face in nature can fall apart, leading to further disillusion and anxiety. What people can control is their attention: what bits of information they choose to focus on and pay attention to.

Happiness, Csikszentmihaly argues, is achieved through participation in autotelic activities, defined as “a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward” (67). Autotelic activities have several characteristics: they are challenging activities that require skills, they occur during the merging of action and awareness, they have clear goals and feedback, they require complete concentration on the task at hand, they give the person a sense of non-threatened control, they allow the person to experience a loss of self-consciousness as the person becomes one with the activity, and they often involve a transformation of time (time slows down or speeds up.) The purpose of life, Csikszentmihaly argues, is to create a systematic pattern of optimal experiences, which can be achieved by setting goals, becoming immersed in activities that you care about, paying attention to what happens around you, and enjoying the immediate experiences of life. In the book, Csikszentmihaly shows how people can experience flow in physical activities, symbolic activities, work, relationships, and during times of extreme stress and tragedy.

Quotable Quotes

“Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their life, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy” (2).

Flow: “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (4).

“We create ourselves by how we invest this energy” – psychic energy, attention (33)

“Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience” (81) Cultures create goals and rules about how people should order attention.

“People without an internalized symbolic system can all too easily become captives of the media. They are easily manipulated by demagogues, pacified by entertainers, and exploited by anyone who has something to sell” (128).

“Taking up each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunity for learning and improving skills” (172)

“Learning how to use time alone, instead of escaping from it” (171)

Notable Notes

Csikszentmihaly’s notes are contained in the back of the book, with references to the literature behind his claims for each chapter. The notes are extensive and are a condensed scholarly-referenced version of the book.

Optimal experience, flow, attention are not passive – they call on people to participate in life.

Csikszentmihaly believes that religion is not the answer for finding true happiness because it is a construct of culture, not an individually-determined creation. Old methods of liberation (from societal controls) don’t always work in different historical contexts (example: yoga in modern-day California) because the needs and purposes of people are different.

Consciousness = “intentionally ordered information” (26) because lots of information enters our brain (7 bits at a time, 40 bits a second), but we have to choose what we pay attention to and make part of our consciousness, our version of reality.

Plane of happiness: boredom — flow — anxiety/frustration

Autotelic families instill clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge to their children.

The autotelic personality is created both individually and by a society that allows autotelic individuals to function and work.

History is important and enjoyable because it exercises memory. The ability to memorize allows for self, internal stimulation because the mind “is stoked with patterns of information” – an independent, autonomous mind (124).

Autotelic jobs are independent, skill-driven, challenging, and constructed like games.

People who get through ordeals well have dissipative structures that can recycle waste into order and energy: unselfconscious self-assurance, can focus attention on the world rather than themselves, and are open to discover new solutions and alternatives. (201-202)

Making all of life have meaning involves finding purpose, choosing a path of resolve, and moving in harmony with the world.

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