Revolution Lullabye

November 17, 2014

Odom, Not Just for Writing Anymore: What WAC Can Teach Us about Reading to Learn

Odom, Mary Lou. “Not Just for Writing Anymore: What WAC Can Teach Us about Reading to Learn.” Across the Disciplines 10.4 (11 December 2013). Web.

Odom argues that in order to improve students’ reading skills, faculty should adopt some of the pedagogical practices that have worked in writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives. Odom bases her argument on a three-year study of her institution’s WAC program. She looks at student course feedback and reflections from the WAC faculty (called WAC fellows) to describe pedagogical strategies that did work and that did not work to improve students’ reading skills. She shows that just merely asking students to read does not mean they will read well or learn what the faculty want them to learn from the reading.

Among the pedagogical strategies that worked to improve students’ reading were explaining to students the disciplinary conventions of a discipline-specific reading, asking students to engage with a reading on a personal level, and asking students to make connections between the reading they were assigned to read and either other readings or current events. Odom points out that all these strategies are also principles of effective WAC teaching. Among the strategies that did not work was using writing in the classroom or in electronic discussion boards to merely check that students had done the reading. Faculty complained that students in these forums rarely engaged with the texts beyond a cursory level.

Odom argues that problems in student writing can often be traced to students’ poor reading skills, and points out that reading is rarely taught beyond the elementary level: faculty assume students have the reading skills necessary to succeed in college. Reading in the disciplines is as invisible as writing in the disciplines once was, Odom contends, and she suggests that taking a WAC approach might solve this problem and better equip students with the critical reading skills they need to succeed in college and fully participate in contemporary civic life. In order for this to work, faculty need to be willing to reconsider how they ask students to read and what they ask students to do with the reading that they do.

Quotable Quotes

“It has been my experience that when we talk about student literacy struggles and practices in higher education, writing is talked about more frequently, more specifically, and with greater urgency than reading.”

“Reading instruction can be, particularly for faculty who want to move on and teach other content, unintentionally yet easily ignored.”

“Few and far between are the classes that do not incorporate or depend on reading, although reading skills cease to be taught or assessed.”

“Reading has in many ways become an invisible component of academic literacy” – it is not seen as the problem by faculty or students.

“Indeed perhaps the best reason efforts to rethink student reading should look to writing across the curriculum strategies is the WAC movement’s broad goal of improving not just student writing but student learning.”

“In sum, the issue of student reading is more than just complex; it is characterized by a transparency that renders it too easily and too often overlooked. Explicit reading instruction tapers off precipitously after elementary school, and students, teachers, and testing then tend to focus on the texts being read rather than the strategies used to read them. Just as texts alone do not provide meaning in isolation, the act of assigning texts alone does not guarantee that students will read. It is no surprise, therefore, that faculty dissatisfaction with student reading is vocal and widespread across the disciplines. When looking for ways to address this challenge, WAC, already proven to be a transformative force for teachers when it comes to writing, is a natural place to turn. Just as writing across the curriculum encourages faculty to consider the ways they ask students to write, efforts at improving student reading must begin with a conscious awareness that we ask and expect students to read in particular ways that may not always be familiar to them.”

“Our choices as teachers have very real consequences regarding how or if students read.”

How faculty can encourage better student reading across the disciplines: “First and foremost, faculty must see that they have a role – beyond simply assigning texts – to play in student reading behavior. Second, at the heart of this role must be a clear sense of the goals faculty have for student reading as well as a willingness to share those goals with students. Third, faculty must be willing to provide guidance for students reading complex, discipline-specific texts. Such guidance may come in the form of explicit conversation about disciplinary conventions and practices, but more often than not it can be conveyed in thoughtful, authentic assignments that students can connect to on an either a personal or ‘real world’ level. Adherence to these principles will not solve all the challenges of student reading; they can, however, begin conversations and initiate practices about reading that are long overdue.”

Notable Notes

research to look at: Newkirk (2013); Joliffe and Harl (2008); Horning (2007)

When faculty point to a problem in student writing, do they realize that this may be, at its core, a reading problem that is contributing to the lack of student learning?

Reading is an “assumed ability” as writing was in the 1960s and 1970s before composition studies challenged that paradigm (Mina Shaughnessy et al) – writing was shown to be far more complex than what students or faculty assumed.

Research shows that there is big discrepancy between what faculty assume students are doing as they read and what students are actually doing.

faculty have “a rather uncomplicated view of how writing and reading might work together,” such as the belief that merely asking students to write about the readings they read will result in critical engagement with those texts.

problem with assigning writing merely to assess or check that students have completed a reading (“quiz/coercion approach”), “reading compliance”


January 4, 2013

The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement

“The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 179-208.

This symposium in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of WPA includes six short essays written in response to the editors’ question, “Shouldn’t the Outcomes Statement include [other work]?”  The editors offer the symposium in light of Ed White’s WPA-L comment, “The Outcomes Statement must remain a living document to stay relevant” (179).

CWPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition

Beaufort, Anne. “The Matters of Key Knowledge Domains and the Transfer of Learning in the Outcomes Statement.” 180-187.

Beaufort argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement could be improved with the inclusion of two key issues in writing studies. First, she argues that the field’s research on the nature of writing expertise (what separates novice from expert writers) could help make more distinct, measurable outcomes.  She also argues that the Outcomes Statement should articulate the goal of writing transfer – how students transfer the skills and knowledge they learn in first-year composition to other writing situations.  She offers five new knowledge domains around which to organize the outcomes: subject matter knowledge; genre knowledge; writing process knowledge; discourse community knowledge; rhetorical knowledge.  Casting the categories as sets of knowledge, Beaufort argues, would make it easier for teachers and administrators to identify gaps in student writing performance (182). She contends that some parts of the Outcomes Statement are too far-reaching and inappropriate for all first-year writers; she states, “Imagine the Outcomes Statement as a lean, elegant (as in precise, concise, clear) document that both notice and expert writing teachers could readily translate into five or six learning outcomes tailored to some degree for any given writing course” (185).

Barbara Little Liu, “Genre Knowledge, Reading, and Faculty Development.” 187-191.

Liu argues that the current CWPA Outcomes Statement assumes a level of disciplinary training and commitment to teaching writing that is not shared by all first-year composition teachers. She suggests that the CWPA offer more professional development for first-year writing instructors, including publishing professional anthologies, promoting professional development, and supporting the publication of more FYC textbooks that focus on rhetorical/genre-based reading, the kind of reading students must do in first-year composition in order to transfer writing skills and knowledge to other rhetorical situations. The Outcomes Statement, Liu argues, should emphasize this kind of reading as much as writing.

“Rhetorical/genre-based reading helps students understand that texts are written by actual people and that rhetorical situations (including genre conventions) affect how readl writers construct their texts. As students learn to parse a text in ways that reconstruct the rhetorical situation and the writer’s rhetorical strategies, they begin to see how they can learn from the strategic choices of other writers to more effectively address the various and new rhetorical situations they will encounter after leaving FYC” (189).

Deborah Mutnick, “Reading to Write and the Economy of Attention.” 191-194.

Mutnick argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement should be revised to place more attention on the need to teach reading.  Using the results of a reading assessment test performed at her institution (which stated that first-year students were reading on a 9th-grade reading level), Mutnick questions the universal writing requirement at American universities, asking why reading, which is so fundamental to successful writing, is not similarily mandated. Mutnick also argues that the reading practices students develop on the Web work against the kind of close, critical reading they need to do with academic texts (she uses an example of the decoding kind of reading students do in archival research.) Mutnick suggests that the Outcomes Statement specifically address teaching students how to read, select, and evaluate information from the Web.

“Archival research is vertical, slow, deliberate, puzzling, deep, and focused – think preservation, slow cooking, Internet Sabbaths. Reading on the Web is horizontal, fast, accidental, immediate, and shallow. While these characteristics are not exclusive to either domain, the multi-channeled environment of the Web marks the shift from a scarcity of information to a scarcity of attention, requiring us to develop new strategies for sorting out and valuing massive, often contradictory amounts of knowledge that close, deep, slow reading epitomized by archival research helps balance” (194).

Cynthia R. Haller, “Reading Matters: Thoughts on Revising the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” 195-200.

Haller argues that the CWPA privileges writing over reading, and points out that more balanced understanding of reading and writing (that reading does not happen always before writing, that they are ‘a complementary process’ (195) would help first-year composition courses refocus their attention to both rhetorical reception and rhetorical production. Both reading and writing, Haller contends, lead to rhetorical meaning-making. Haller suggests that composition teachers adopt the sense that is implied in the verb “grappling” when teaching students to work with and read texts: by grappling, there is a sense of two-way communication, not a one-way direction of meaning from the text to the student.  She also calls for more research on how students read to help shape writing curriculum (she specifically cites the Citation Project.)

“As Norgaard points out, an appreciation for how human knowledge is organized, stored, disseminated, and accessed can prevent students from viewing their own rhetorical production as isolated from other texts” (199).

“‘Grappling’ captures the recalcitrance of texts. Texts are not simply effete collections of symbols, but have consequences, especially as they are taken up in various contexts of use” (198).

“The popular catchprhase ‘critical reading, writing, and thinking’ suggest that meaning-making is a one-way, cognitive action performed on an object; by contrast, the word ‘grappling’ captures the two-way, absorbed engagement we (and we hope our students) experience when reading texts” (198).

Martha Marinara, “Engaging Queerness and Contact Zones, Reimagining Writing Difference.” 200-204.

Marinara argues that the CWPA statement, with its list of outcomes, falls short of a full, true notion of literacy practices and diversity of teaching and learning.  She uses queer theory to reject the notion that rhetorical concepts or writing conventions are neutral – she points out that queerness rejects stability and questions how power, community, and language intersect and give privileges.  Marinara also critiques the idea of the writing classroom as a “contact zone;” she contends that Pratt’s theory has been appropriated and has turned the writing classroom into a space of tolerance, but not one of diversity.

“Contact zones were appropriated by an uncritical, liberal multiculturalist movement and became apolitical, a safe kind of melting pot, a chicken soup for the classroom” (203).

“What the list [the outcomes] does not do and needs to do is quesiton how the process of teaching and learning – the wicked problem of our teaching practices – supports and maintains the role of difference as a definition, rather than a critical process that promotes a fuller notion of literacy” (204).

William P. Banks, “Queering Outcomes: Hacking the Source Code of the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition.” 205-208.

Banks suggests that truly “queering” the Outcomes Statement would involve not just adding new outcomes or tweaking the outcomes to specifically address how rhetorics are cultural, situated practices but instead, “queering” the outcomes would mean complicating and enriching the theoretical principles from which the outcomes emerge. Banks contends that the Outcomes Statement, as printed, is based on a set of disciplinary values that are static, or that are not universally held by writing teachers, or that are incomplete. He suggests remixing the Outcomes Statement in some interactive (digital?) form so that it can be a dynamic, living document, one that shows the links from the outcomes to emerging research in the many subfields and subspecialities of the discipline.

“So where does this change belong? I think it’s in the foundations, the idological and theoretical underpinnings of the OS document, what’s hidden in the framing paragraphs, and by how what’s hidden becomes visible” (206).

January 26, 2009

Chaput, “Lest We Go the Way of Vocational Training”

Chaput, Catherine. “Lest We Go the Way of Vocational Training: Developing Undergraduate Writing Programs in the Humanist Tradition.” WPA 31.3 (Spring 2008) 15-31.

Chaput argues for structuring undergraduate writing majors around the conjunction between cultural studies and rhetoric, citing that this politically-active theoretical foundation will best serve students, who must communicate in a globalized, interdisciplinary, integrated world of sign-symbols and discourse systems. Rhetoric has been treated as a sub-sub-discipline (of composition and English), thus fracturing and fragmenting its study at the university, but the undergraduate writing major has the possibility of allowing students to focus on rhetoric with a cultural studies inquiry (as is done in many graduate programs.) The Writing and Culture concentration at Georgia Southern University is used as the model in the article; it is one of four concentrations in the Writing Department and is the most theoretical and humanist of all of them. Chaput is concerned with the professionalization of writing majors, arguing that undergraduate students should be trained to see the connection between rhetoric and democracy in all spheres of public discourse.

Quotable Quotes

“In an interdisciplinary world, writing programs need to interact with the rhetorical functions of politics and entertainment as they emerge in both public and private spaces” (16).

“foundation in liberal, rather than mechanical, arts” (16).

“continually working at the intersections of rhetorical humanism and cultural studies” (16).

wants majors to “be based exclusively on rhetorical humanism and cultural studies. Such a curriculum would move beyond the professionalizing, reproductive mechanism of traditional rhetorical practices, at least within the domain of composition, and embrace rhetoric as a dynamic that produces the material and textual world through cultural, political, and economic valuations” (22).

such a major gives students “the theoretical and practical tools necessary to engage, negotiate, and transform a world in which textuality dominates our personal and public lives, encouraging a politics and culture of engagement” (26).

Notable Notes

other concentrations in the major are linguistics, creative writing, and professional and technical writing.

service/applied/outreach courses

theory courses are cross-listed graduate

uses Freire to talk about rhetorical humanism goals

writing majors can’t just prepare students for workplace writing

January 10, 2009

Shedroff, Experience Design

Shedroff, Nathan. Experience Design 1. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Press, 2001.

Experience design seeks out the common elements that make “superior” experiences, those that are successful and memorable. Shedroff includes all experiences in his analysis, both online and off-line, and his goal is to define principles of good experiences so that they can be consciously reproduced. Experiences are contained by their boundaries and usually consist of three major phases: attraction, engagement, and conclusion. The principles Shedroff discovers by evaluating and analyzing superior experiences (those he deems superior) connect to all three of those phases and include attributes like consistency, usability, interactivity, feedback, control, creativity, adaptivity, and community and identity creation. These types of good experiences have developed cognitive models, which is a structure based on how the designer predicts how the audience might understand the information, find meaning in it, and remember it. Shedroff also argues that good design is derived from insight, which is created by thoughtful, contextual structured information, developed along a continuum of information, stretching from pure data (which has no context), to context-driven, organized information, to generalized knowledge, to personalized, non-transmittable wisdom.

Quotable Quotes

“The elements that contribute to superior experiences are knowable and reproducible, which can make them designable” (2).

“[Seduction] has always been a part of design” (8)

“Information is really data transformed into something more valuable by building context around it so that it becomes understandable” (34) and “Information is data put in context with thought given to its organization and presentation” (42).

“The path to wisdom is not even open until we approach understanding with an openness and tolerance for ambiguity” (54).

“The most important aspect of any design is how it is understood in the minds of the audience” (cognitive model) (60).

Notable Notes

Experiences must “compete for the attention of the audience and partcipants” – novelty isn’t enough to keep a person interested for long. Compare with Lanham The Economy of Attention. (4) “Successful digital media are those that offer experiences unique to their medium and complete with traditional media in usefulness and satisfaction” (4)

Look at experiences throughout history to inform the design of present and future things (23)

Important experiences include birth, death, and the takeaway moments – those important experiences that you take away with you as you die as your lasting memories of Earth (rarely have anything to do with modern digital technology)

Information overload is really information anxiety – there is too much information out there as just data, no context or insight to put it into perspective or communication with others (34)

Ways to organize data (only 7) – magnitude, time, numbers, alphabet, category, location, randomness. Many presentation possibilities for the same data (example of the periodic table of the elements.) (66)

There is a need for multiplicity for different learning styles, redundancy, different levels of understanding and meaning (example of Vietnam memorial in DC), navigation routes.

Clear navigation and cognitive models are key in design.

Important design considerations: consistency, usability (learnability and functionality), design must create meaning, interactivity (audience are participants), feedback (audiences know that their participation matters), control (audience has control over experience – or thinks they do), creativity (people feel valuable, satisfied when asked to be creative), productivity (usefulness), adaptivity (customized, personalized), community membership, authentic identity formation, storytelling, narrative, perspective and point-of-view.

Sensorial design (276) – smell, taste, touch, sound, sight

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