Revolution Lullabye

June 12, 2013

Halpern, The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of Undisciplined Writing on Disciplined Instructors

Halpern, Faye. “The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of ‘Undisciplined Writing’ on Disciplined Instructors.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 10-26.

Halpern uses her experience as a preceptor (full-time instructor) in the Harvard Expository Writing Program, an independent writing program that hires instructors from across the disciplines to teach an ‘undisciplined’ approach to academic writing, to discuss the effects of programmatic philosophies on the professional development and disciplinary identity of their instructors. Much of the scholarship on independent writing programs have focused on how stand-alone programs affect the identity and working conditions/relationships of the full-time faculty; Halpern’s article provides an in-depth look at how administrative decisions like the creation of independent writing programs or the adoption of particular writing curriculum affect instructors both while they are teaching in the program and after they leave and teach or work elsewhere.

Halpern argues that there is a problem with freestanding/independent writing programs like Harvard’s or Duke’s because the transdisciplinary nature of the programs leaves instructors without a solid disciplinary identity. Halpern points out that these independent writing programs often function as happy intellectual islands, developing their own theories, terms, and language. When instructors (whose positions are really not meant to be permanent positions but rather post-doc-like instructorships) leave, they are not well-prepared to enter into the disciplinary conversations and debates that characterize most academic departments. Halpern argues that WPAs and full-time faculty at independent writing programs need to consider the professional development needs and disciplinary identities of their instructors, preparing them not just to be successful teachers in that particular environment but also at other institutions.

Notable Notes

transdisciplinarity (11) – what writing shares across disciplines instead of what makes each discipline’s writing distinct

the effect of liberation, freedom, and independence on all stakeholders

the many ways it is difficult for an instructor to move from an instructorship to a tenure-track position (16-17)

characteristic of American colleges/universities/academic departments; thinking in terms of disciplinarity (20-21)

important effect: your graduate school training and early jobs have a profound effect on how you view yourself as a teacher and and academic, where you place yourself in the field (22-23)

connection to Duke (in article), possible connection to Syracuse and the Writing Program’s effect on the professional development and identity of the instructors

list of terms used by the Harvard Expos program – creation of a discourse community (13)

Quotable Quotes

“Academic expertise usually involves learning a discipline, but that is precisely not what I learned at Expos: I learned how to move beyond my discipline” (15).

“Perhaps one of the hardest things for a program to do is to acknowledge its own partiality. I mean ‘partiality’ in two senses: programs are partial to their own methods, and their methods constitute only one approach, an approach that intersects inevitably with the work of others” (23).

 

January 24, 2013

Mueller, Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail

Mueller, Derek. “Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail: What Graphs Can Tell Us about the Field’s Changing Shape.” College Composition and Communication 64.1 (Septembter 2012): 195-223.

Mueller investigates 25 years of citations from the journal College Composition and Communication (1987-2011) to explore the discipline’s citation practices and changing shape.  He uses graphs, lists, and tables (an application of distant reading methods drawn from Franco Moretti’s work) to demonstrate the field’s growing specialization, as shown by the diminishing frequency of top-cited scholars among the data set of citations.  He uses Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail to describe what he sees in the shifting citation practices of CCC articles: not only have the top-cited authors changed over 25 years (the scholars most frequently cited in 1987-1991 are not those most frequently cited in 2007-2011), but also there has been a growing number of once- or twice-cited authors or scholars, which shows the expansion and increasingly specialization of composition and rhetoric.  Mueller offers his study as a way to query the field and ask how our graduate education curriculum and professional development prepare future scholars for the field of the future.

Notable Notes

Chris Anderson – Wired magazine 2004: the long tail.  Anderson used the long tail to describe market practices, showing how online retailers are able to capitalize on less-popular niche markets (Amazon v. Borders.)  Pareto distribution/power law

contains a series of graphs – some looking at the aggregate data, others split into five-year subsets

distant reading – systematic, quantitative approach to data, a different scale than close reading, and this larger scale helps us recognize patterns and developments that are not always apparent at close range. Table of contents, article abstracts as an example of distant reading.  They enable decision making: “Readers rely on these devices to make quick decisions about whether to read a particular article or not, but reading the journal through these devices alone is not quite the same as reading a scholarly article in the common sense of the activity” (198).  (Mueller cites Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink in his endnote.)

the usefulness of graphs and distant reading – they encourage new questions

His graphs/lists/tables:

  • Figure 1- page count and citation count over 25 years (both have increased)
  • Figure 2- 102 most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011
  • Figure 3 – top ten most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011, divided into 5-year intervals
  • Figure 4 – Chris Anderson’s “Anatomy of the Long Tail”
  • Figure 5 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011
  • Figures 6-10 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011, split into 5-year intervals

there is no one stable field.  Growing specialization isn’t a problem to solve; it is something to query and base our actions on (215-217)

more research in the dataset – how does an author’s citation practices change over time? Are citation practices from graduates of certain programs similar? (214)

the problem of keeping up with scholarship in the field.  How can one read the whole long tail?  How has the field changed because of increasing specialization? (214)

our understanding of the field is based on our own vantage point (217)

extension of study done by Phillips, Greenberg, and Gibson in 1993

16,726 citations in 491 journal articles published in CCC from 1987-2011 (25 years) (197)

Who was central when? What does that say about our field? (203)

problem: “citation listings lack dimension” – the works cited does not indicate the importance or general impact of a citation on the work as a whole

dappled field (206)

Quotable Quotes

“From graphs, then, come new insights, new provocations, and new questions: what has changed, over time, in the relationship between the head of the curve and the long tail?” (215)

“A deliberate adjustment in the level of detail at which we ordinarily experience texts: this is a key motive when producing graphs as a distant reading method, and it is a common tactic for mediating large datasets, including scholarly corpora” (197-198).

“Certainly the figures at the top tell us something about citation practices and centrality in the journal’s scholarly conversation; however, the larger number of figures at the bottom indicates something more. It is, after all, in this long, flat expanse of unduplicated references that we can begin to assess just how broad-based the conversations (in a given journal) have grown – and just how much the centered, coherent, and familiar locus of conversation, based on citation practices, has slid” (210).

“Burke’s parlor is nowadays full and teeming, more crowded than ever before” (214).

“A changing disciplinary density: this is not a condition for us to solve; nonetheless, it demands a certain reckoning, particularly for graduate education and professional development” (219).

January 4, 2013

Adler-Kassner, The Companies We Keep

Adler-Kassner, Linda. “The Companies We Keep or The Companies We Would Like to Keep: Strategies and Tactics in Challenging Times.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 119-140.

In this article, based off of the author’s 2012 CWPA conference keynote address, Adler-Kassner calls on WPAs and writing studies scholars to be more proactive in the national conversations about what “college preparation” means (specifically what it means in terms of writing) and how that can and should be assessed.  WPAs need to articulate what it is that writing studies does (why the content of writing studies matters) and offer curricular and assessment strategies based on those basic writing studies principles.

Adler-Kassner points out that the conversations are already happening, and she describes five corporate organizations who are central in the drafting of education legislation and the construction and assessment of the Common Core State Standards.  These organizations are more powerful politically and financially than NCTE, MLA, and CWPA.  However, Adler-Kassner contends that this fact is not a reason why WPAs should give up. Rather, this is the time – while the Common Core is in its initial implementation – that WPAs need to work with K-12 educators to take ownership of writing curriculum and assessment.

Adler-Kassner points to the specific outcomes outlined by the DQP (the Degree Qualification Profile, developed by Lumina) to show that writing is cast as merely a skill – students are asked to produce forms of writing.  If writing is only seen as a tool, Adler-Kassner argues, then the discipline of writing studies is erased.  Adler-Kassner argues that WPAs need to emphasize the disciplinarity of writing studies in all writing classes, especially first-year writing classes, teaching students and other stakeholders the value of the central inquiries of the field.

Notable Notes

5 organizations that Adler-Kassner describes:

  • ALEC (American Legislative Executive Council)
  • VSA (Voluntary System of Accountability)
  • Lumina Foundation
  • DQP (Degree Qualification Profile)
  • Common Core State Standards

shift in the purpose of education to “college and career readiness,” a readiness achieved through emphasis of liberal-arts like skills (writing, communication, critical thinking.)  The ultimate purpose of 21st century education, as seen through these national discussions, is economic competition for employment (127-128).  Uses David Larabee’s analyses of public and higher education.

Her major three suggestions:

  1. “no vampires” – make writing courses focused on writing
  2. define what we think is college readiness (through documents like the Framework)
  3. build alliances with K-12 educators, even if we’re not thrilled with the standards they now must work with.

Quotable Quotes

Definition of writing studies:  “Writing Studies focuses on three things: 1. The roles that writers and writing perform in particular contexts; 2. The values reflected in writing and in those roles, and 3. The implications extending from relationships between roles, writing, and values” (131).

“This is because from a content-vacant, skills-oriented perspective, our discipline of Writing Studies is erased. Until we develop and act from principles about the meaning of what composition and writing studies is as a discipline, and then link what happens in composition courses – which exist within our discipline – to those principles, we are at the mercy of the companies seeking to keep our company. And to me, that’s a problem” (130).

“No vampires policy” – “Writing classes, especially first year classes, must absolutely and always be grounded in Writing Studies, must always be about the study of writing” (132).

“The key is to frame the study of writing wtihin the larger principle: that writing classes focus on the study of writing within particular contexts, the values reflected in that writing, and the implications of relationships between writing and values. Not vampires” (134).

“We must build alliances with colleagues who are immersed in efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards in Writing, especially K-12 colleagues, no matter how problematic we find those standards to be” (135). – if we don’t, there’s no chance of our voice being heard.  That’s the price we pay.

“I’ll begin, then, by updating the narrative that I’ve contended extends from documents like the Spellings Report. This narrative says that the purpose of postsecondary education is to prepare students for participation in the 21st century economy, but that faculty aren’t doing a good job with this preparation because we don’t understand what’s necessary for success.

“As I’ve said, answers to two key questions – what is meant by ‘preparation?’ And how should ‘how well’ be indicated? – are critical, because the responses provided to these questiosn will shape curriculum (and assessments)” (120).

June 24, 2009

Tobin and Newkirk, Taking Stock

Tobin, Lad and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1994.

This collection comes from a 1992 conference, “The Writing Process: Prospect and Retrospect,” held at UNH and designed both to look at the process movement’s past and where it might go in the future. In his introduction to the edited collection, Tobin predicts that the writing process movement will change in the 90s due to three factors: the influence of gender, race, class, and culture on the teaching and theorizing about writing; the effect of new technologies on the teaching and theorizing of writing (PCs, online teaching, popular media); and the effect of research on teacher and reader response. These three trends will expand the scope of the process movement beyond the individual expressivist writer, giving larger social and political context to writing. The book has five sections: Reading the Writing Process Movement, Teaching the Writing Process, Institutionalizing the Writing Process, Deconstructing the Writing Process, and Narrating the Writing Process.

Quotable Quotes & Notable Notes

Lisa Ede “Reading the Writing Process.” 31-43

The writing process movement should stop being labeled “good” or “bad” – it was a rhetorically situated movement, created due a particular time and place (the literacy crisis of the 1970s led to the theory if we understand how students write we can teach them better and composition asserting itself as a discipline.) The problem is that all that research was oversimplified into a “process” that was only taught in one course; the British theories of growth and education were ignored as process was mechanized and the diversity of students was eliminated. Process is actually a conglomerate of lots of contradictory pedagogies and methods: freewriting, formal heuristics, sentence combining, protocol analysis, case studies, and theory. Ede argues that the field must look at writing beyond the classroom, especially those kinds of workplace writing that don’t follow our idea of process; abandon the individual writer focus and look at collaboration; and question our models and metaphors in our research. The focus, she argues, needs to be on doing what needs to be done in regards to teaching and understanding writing – not focusing on being a discipline.

James Marshall, “Of What Skill Does Writing Really Consist?” 45-55

“In our youth as a movement we were rebels, or tried to be. We did inhale. We self-consciously set ourselves up as outsiders, and then we gloried in it” (48).

“The one serious mistake we could make, I think, would be to maintain the rhetorical and political positions that we took in our youth. They worked then; I don’t think they can work today. We are facing a different set of problems, and we are working now from the center and not from the margins.” (54)

Three things to do:

  1. deal with our authority and our disciplinary place in the academy – no longer rebels. We’re established.
  2. search for theoretical roots in education and the progressive movement to have models and understand what we do.
  3. open up larger contexts and sites to study and teach writing.

Thomas Newkirk “The Politics of Intimacy.” 115-131.

Looks at how Barrett Wendell’s English 12 course at Harvard was not a course in what we think as current-traditional rhetoric. Rather, Wendell tried to open up relations with his students, talk with them as emerging writers, read student writing aloud in class as models, encouraged critique of the course, and gave them choices for topics. His curriculum, though, was doomed because it never received institutional support and was defeated by a heavy, impossible teaching load that made current-traditional pedagogy the only viable way to teach.

Mary Minock. “The Bad Marriage: A Revisionist View of James Britton’s Expressive-Writing Hypothesis in American Practice.” 153-175.

James Britton argued that expressive writing will naturally lead to other forms of writing over time, as a student grows and matures through years of schooling. American writing educators took that hypothesis and combined it with the American ideal of linear progress. What results is a one-semester course in writing that tries to bring college students from expressive writing to academic argument in fifteen short weeks. When this fails (as it often does, because the important quotient of time is left out), students and teachers alike feel like failures. Writing teachers need to stop trying to formalize and speed up the process of learning how to write: a student might do well on one paper and bomb the next, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t growing and learning. Instead of using expressive writing as an end to itself(which the British do), we use it as a means to an end, an end of academic discourse.

April 25, 2009

Hawk, A Counter-History of Composition

Hawk, Byron. A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodoligies of Complexity. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2007.

Hawk argues that in modern composition, vitalism (equated with romanticism) is seen in opposition to rhetoric, especially in terms of how composition scholars and teacher talk about and teach invention. He centers on 1980 as a pivotal year, analyzing three articles published that year (Richard Young, James Berlin, and Paul Kameen) to show how they positioned the field to take an oppositional approach to vitalism. He argues that vitalism is a powerful, important philosophy with roots in Aristotle and developed in science and philosophy over centuries. It is at the root of complexity theory, which is an increasingly relevant and important theory today, as digital technologies are rapidly changing the cultural context, showing the inadequacy of methods and techniques rooted only in mind-driven logic. He argues for vitalism to take a central role in reconfiguring composition and rhetoric scholarship and pedagogy, because only through vitalism is the body and experience brought together in concert with the mind. Vitalism also prevents teachers from having a set agenda, a set desire for their students to fulfill, placing instead the onus on the students to develop and find their own relations and metaphors, drawing on all possible means and resources in our complex, dynamic, and ever-changing ecology.

Quotable Quotes

“Composition theorists should be striving to develop methods for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques, that in turn reveal new models for action within those specific rhetorical ecologies” (206).

“An ethical goal for pedagogy, then, would be to design occassions in which students are more likely to create compositions rather than decompositions. A pedagogical act would be evaluated based upon the relationships it fosters and the relationships it serves – on its ability to increase rather than decrease a student’s agency, power, or capacity to produce new productive relations” (256).

“To desire an outcome for them [students] is to commit a certain violence to them” (257).

“Heuristics do not function in a vacuum; they function within complex and specific rhetorical situations. Importantly, the body is the critical, epistemological link between situation and invention. It is the interface.” (120)

Notable Notes

a counterhistory (drawing on Feyerabend) – “a counter-history is an additive paratactic aggregate rather than a recuperative manuever” (123)

distinguishes between 3 forms of vitalism: oppositional (electronmagnetic forces); investigative (scales of influence and organization); complex (events, cooperation)

dissoi logoi – new ways to group texts and to read them

Young – concerned with disciplinarity, so rejects vitalism

Berlin – concerned with his own political Marxist agenda and can’t see anything else, and so rejects vitalism

all the work in comp/rhet on vitalism seems to stem from one dissertation, Hal Rivers Weidner “Three Models of Rhetoric: Traditional, Mechanical, and Vital” (2)

vitalism became the scapegoat term

February 17, 2008

Corbett, Edward P.J. “Teaching Composition: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.”

Corbett, Edward P.J. “Teaching Composition: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.” CCC 38:4 (Dec 1987): 444-452.

This is the second personal perspective essays published in CCC, and in it, Corbett surveys the direction the field has gone during his academic career.  He points at the enhanced professionalism of compositionists, the growth of the graduate programs, the increase in published books on the history, practice, and theory of composition, special conferences in specific sub-topics in the field, and the growth of new journals and new research practices to report in those journals. He also details the changes he’s seen in the teaching of composition, specifically more attention paid to technical and business writing, writing across the curriculum initiatives, English as a second language, the development of cognitive skills in students, and the writing process. He warns teachers, though, that they must constantly evaluate how they teach to make sure they are doing everything possible to help their students be better writers.

February 16, 2008

Irmscher “Finding a Comfortable Identity.”

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Irmscher, William. “Finding a Comfortable Identity.” CCC 38.1 (Feb 1987): 81-87. 

Irmscher argues that the reason composition as a field is undermined in the academy is because composition does not have research methods that accommodate the particular needs of research-teachers who are investigating the complex writing process. The empirical research methods used in the 1970s and early 1980s “complicated the familiar and obfuscated the obvious” by microanalyzing the composing process. Composition should borrow the insights of other disciplines, but it needs to create its own humanistic, dramatistic model of inquiry that takes into account the specific needs and values of the field. In his conclusion, Irmscher lists the criteria he believes should be at the forefront of scholarly inquiry in composition.

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