Revolution Lullabye

April 10, 2009

Murray, Learning by Teaching

Murray, Donald M. Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1982.

This collection of Donald Murray’s articles and essays (published and unpublished between 1968 and 1982) describe both how he understands the process of writing and the process of teaching. An advocate and founder of the expressivist movement, he believes that writing is a process in which a writer moves between the stages of prewriting (rehearsing), writing (drafting), and rewriting (revision) recursively, in no one set fashion. His pedagogy is marked by frequent, informal individual conferences with students, where students are treated as writers and come to his office to discuss their essays, which are not assignments but rather pieces imagined and created by them. Murray, a professional writer, sees his role as a listener and a coach, helping students see where their draft might take them next, never looking at writing as a finished product (expect perhaps on the deadline, the end of the term, when it will be graded.) He is interested in the scientific studies of the writing process (Perl, Sommers, Emig), but his argument and theory lays in the theory he developed by reflecting on his own work as a writer, reading about the writing processes of published writers, and observing how his students function as writers. In his theory, he names four forces of the writing process: collecting, connecting, reading, and writing, four forces that are always trying to be in a balance between discovery and clarification.

Quotable Quotes

“Listening is, after all, an aggressive act” – it places a large onus on the student because by listening you are validating them as a thinker, a writer, an intellectual (170)

“Papers are examined to see what other choices the writer might make” (17)

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, not for the paper we call literature by giving it a grade, but for the search for truth in whcih he is engaged. We must listen carefully for those words that may reveal a truth, that may reveal a voice. We must respect our student for his potential truth and for his potential voice. We are coaches, encouragers, developers, creators of environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves” (16)

“The writer is an individual who uses language to discover meaning in experience and communicate it” (9)

“Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action” (15)

Notable Notes

5 writer experiences every student should have: the experiences of seeing (practicing perception), form (creating order), publishing (deadlines and made public), communication (reaching an audience), and failure

teachers need to write too, with their students- teach through modeling

“The Politics of Respect” – it is crucial that we 1. respect students’ intelligence and ability as writers 2. respect composition teachers by providing them with control of curriculum and professional development 3. respect the director of Freshman Comp by recognition of his administration as counting for tenure and giving him the authority he needs to run a successful program as a professional and 4. have respect from other disciplines for knowing how to teach writing – this respect comes from the first three.

revision as opportunity, not punishment

texts of course – student’s own writing, never-ending revision, student’s own forms and languages, stress that discovery of meaning is the goal of writing – you learn through writing

teacher shouldn’t talk much at all

write titles, not labels; write leads, not introductions

the self is a legitimate audience

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April 9, 2009

Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

First edition 1973.

The book is divided between Elbow’s five practical chapters about how to write more fluidly and construct a teacherless writing class and his appendix, which articulates his theory behind his teacherless pedagogy, a theory about how ideas are found and tested through two different methods: the believing game and the doubting game. Academia favors the doubting game (critiquing writing and arguments to find and weed out errors) over the believing game (coming up with different scenarios and hypothesis to test the validity of a given argument, to suspend disbelief and step in the writer’s shoes.) Elbow argues that there needs to be a balance between the two, and the believing game, so often dismissed, offers a valuable way to productively understand and make meaning through metaphor and relationships.

Elbow explains his pedagogy using two different metaphors: growing and cooking. Good writing grows, beginning with a lot of freewriting, then heading towards chaos, then organizing into centers of gravity, and then reforming through ferocious revision. Good writing also cooks, involving a number of competing and conflicting elements (ideas, arguments, words, metaphors, modes) which are forced to interact with each other. Noninteraction comes from an absence of conflict (static agreement) or from constant, unproductive conflict (deadlock and stalemate.) He advocates multiple, quick drafts, attacking the writing as a whole, not through parts, and unleashing energy and words through constrained, 10-minute frequent freewrites. Writing, Elbow argues, cannot be fully completed unless it is done in interaction with others, and thus he argues for a teacherless writing class, one in which a core number of writers commit to writing and responding to a draft once a week. He sets up guidelines for responding readers and writers in Chapter 4 and 5.

Quotable Quotes

“Make writing a global task, not a piecemeal one.” (72)

“Our conception of intellectual process is so dominated by critical thinking” (xxv)

Notable Notes

2nd edition begins with an introduction in which Elbow calls attention to his appendixed theory (doubting and believing games) and invites further response to it.

Believing game is what Quakers, juries have to do; it is what happens during a paradigm shift (Thomas Kuhn)

many fast drafts instead of one slow one

it’s better in responding to be honestly subjective (share the movie in your mind) than trying to be objective

human beings are most of the time not in communication with each other – people passively listen, nod, agree – that’s why a genuine teacherless writing group is so invigorating

his pedagogy is backed by his theory, specifically of the importance of the believing game to the intellectual enterprise.

the believing game allows for multiple gestalts, multiple meanings, requires waiting, patience, and a commitment to the importance of experience

March 13, 2009

Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Tufte, Edward R. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed. Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press, 2001.

Excellent, elegant graphics give the viewer a large amount of complicated, relational statistical information in a compact, data-rich space. Tufte’s book explains the fundamental principles of good graphic design by showing both good and bad (deceptive and distracting) graphics (in Part I) and by giving a theory and a language to explain the creation and design of good graphics (Part II). High-quality graphics follow his principles of graphical excellence and graphical integrity, and throughout the book, he shows the importance of careful crafting and revision to only include the necessary information in the most ink-efficient graphic, a technique that usually yields graphics that invoke a viewer’s sense of curiosity, intrigue, wonder, and discovery. Part II contains a lot of information about how to create graphics, as he argues that the job of creating good graphics doesn’t belong to an uninterested artist, but rather, the author should consider the construction of graphics to be as integral to a text as the words. He demonstrates this principle in this book, with its intricate integration of graphics and words on almost every page. He argues in Part II for new ways of displaying quantitative information, emphasizing multifunctioning graphical elements that take on more than one duty or function in a graphic, offering revisions of bar charts, histograms, and scatterplots that have redundant and unnecessary non-data ink.

Quotable Quotes

“Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data” (178).

“Design is choice. The theory of the visual display of quantitative information consists of principles that generate design options and that guide choices among options. The principles should not be applied rigidly or in a peevish spirit; they are not logically or mathematically certain; and it is better to violate any principle than to place graceless or inelegant marks on paper. Most principles of design should be greeted with some skepticism, for word authority can dominate our vision, and we may come to see only through the lenses of word authority rather than with our own eyes” (191).

“Context is essential for graphical integrity” (74).

Notable Notes

kinds of graphics include data maps, time-series, narrative graphics of space and time, and more abstract relational graphics (that show the relationship between two or more variables, the most elegant and sophisticated kind of graphic that isn’t used as often as it should be in trade magazines and papers)

founders of statistical graphic design are J.H. Lambert and William Playfair; 20th century John Tukey

Charles Minard’s invasion and retreat of Napoleon’s army into Russia (41)

Lie Factor = size of the effect shown in the graphic/size of the effect in the data; don’t use two or three dimensions to show one-dimensional data because it augments (usually wrongly the magnitude of the difference of the numbers)

reasons we don’t have good graphics: lack of statistical skill in illustrators, thought that quantitative information is boring, perception that the audience is stupid – why graphics lie and use simple (not relational graphics) designs

data-ink ration

chartjunk = unintentional optical art (moile effect, hatching that’s become more popular with computers), unneccessary grids (should be as a first step in making a graphic, but not after), and the duck (a graphic for the sake of the graphic)

data density – but must be clear to the viewer

don’t have a lot of info? use tables

continuum from sentences…text tables…tables…semi-graphics…graphics

principles to follow to create elegant graphics – last chapter

January 25, 2009

Horvath, “The Components of Written Response”

Horvath, Brooke K. “The Components of Written Response: A Practical Synthesis of Current Views.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 207-223.

This review and synthesis of the research in response to student writing highlights the scholarship done in how writing teachers engage in formative evaluation in the hopes of sketching out a theory of response and evaluation. Many of the findings are presented today as tried-and-true maxims: avoid negativity, treat student texts as unfinished works-in-progress, move from global to local concerns, and act as a more experienced writing coach with students. Horvath ends by pointing out that response happens beyond the instructor’s written comments, such as responses during oral conferences, peer editing sessions, and class discussions, and includes a bibliography of scholarship in response to student writing.

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