Revolution Lullabye

January 22, 2015

Reid, Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection

Reid, E. Shelley. “Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection.” College Composition and Communication 61.2 (December 2009): 197-221. Print.

Reid argues that students studying to be writing teachers need to challenged in their pedagogy class with writing assignments that are difficult, that encourage open-ended exploration about questions or inquiries that have no good answers, and that invite students into critical reflection about their writing. Reid’s argument joins a larger conversation about writing teacher pedagogy and the pedagogy course in particular, which she argues has been under-theorized and under-discussed. Her argument uses her own students’ written reflections, collected from her six semesters teaching composition pedagogy at two different institutions.

Reid’s argument for giving students difficult writing assignments and prompts is grounded in her observations that writing teachers are often naturally good writers who don’t practice the same kinds of writing processes they teach their students. By increasing the difficulty of the writing assignments these future writing teachers write in the pedagogy class, they gain empathy and insight into their future students’ struggles with writing. Reid explains difficult writing assignments aren’t just longer. Instead, difficultly can be created schematically (through requirements of certain length or format, or requiring students to adopt a particular stance in an argument); relationally (by requiring a publication or presentation or peer review step); or exploratory (by asking students to connect personal experiences into their arguments, frequent short assignments, or asking them to tackle an unanswered or unanswerable question.)

Notable Notes

Reid makes the argument that the traditional seminar paper often assigned in graduate courses might not be the best format for teaching our students to explore and inquire in their writing. She suggests making the seminar paper a multi-part process that is constantly revised.

importance of learning how to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty in writing (210-211)

Mariolini Rizzi Salvatori’s theories of difficulty (her work is on reading difficulty)

Quotable Quotes

“Encountering difficulties as writers, with opportunities to discuss and respond to those difficulties, prepares pedagogy students to be flexible, engaged classroom teachers who can move between theory and practice, between learning and teaching, as they respond to the needs of their own students.”(205)

“Our goal in designing assignments to favor writing difficulty, of course, is not to make the whole course more difficult, but to privilege the kind of difficulties that increase new teachers’ experience of being writing-learners and thus strengthen their engagement with the teaching of writing” (207).

“We should also preserve space in our pedagogy classes for writing that doesn’t foreground difficulty; for writing that emphasizes play, experimentation, or discovery; and for writing, difficult or not, that is not evaluated. Moreover, while we may not be increasing the number of assignments in a course, we are raising the bar in some of them; difficult writing need not replace other kinds of learning, but we should be aware that we may need to cover less ground with our students in order to fully engage them as writing-learners. Furthermore, we need to design our classes to ensure that writing teachers who are experiencing difficulty in learning to write find support and have the opportunity to experience success. “ (207)

“Students who experience writing as difficult, but who can identify that difficulty as an opportunity for greater learning, and who then can come to see writing-learning as something that may be collaborative, productive, and satisfying, can build those same ideas into their writing class designs. That is, they can identify more strongly as writing teachers and connect more directly to the theories and practices of the field. “ (208)

“If we intend for students to become more astute at noticing how their own writing experiences, and particularly their own encounters with difficult and exploratory writing, help prepare them to be better teachers, we need to directly ask them for such reflection; we may also need to model, discuss, and praise reflective responses that draw the complex connections we hope for. “ (213)

“By highlighting the need for inquiry and flexibility, and positioning everyone as a learner—including ourselves as we remake our own pedagogies—we position everyone as a teacher. “ (218)

“Writing assignments that create difficulty, encourage exploration, and provide opportunity for directed practice in critical reflection thus reinforce one another in preparing teachers to participate fully and flexibly in the discipline of writing education. “ (214)

“Finally, if we are brave enough to argue that there are better and worse ways to teach writing, generally, then we need to be equally courageous in exploring and recommending better pedagogies for educating writing teachers. Composition pedagogy may indeed need to be “remade” for every class, but it should not be remade from scratch, without reference to common goals and practices. Even as I have been creeping along hoping to dodge or hedge this conclusion, I’ve found myself wondering: how can we face our pedagogy students’ ques- tions about what they should all do in their disparate classes, if—despite our necessary reverence for local contexts—we don’t face each other about what we should all do in ours? “ (217)

“Students who become English majors are often “naturally” good writers. The composition pedagogy class may thus be students’ first opportunity to experience writing as a difficult task, and then only if assignments are deliberately designed to challenge them as writers: posing for them serious difficulties, both cognitive and affective, in discovering and then communicating what they mean.”(201).

“A crucial step toward understanding one’s writing students— toward being rooted in the field—comes in sharing an equivalent experience of difficulty, rather than only sharing equivalent topics or genres of writing.”(201)

“The pedagogy class provides an important opportunity to be deliberately guided through difficulty in writing by an expert in the field.” (201-202)

“Writers who don’t perceive that they need such help are unlikely to believe that the benefits of the drafting process are worth its messiness and disruption, even if they experiment with it in a class or workshop. Until writers encounter real problems, not just infelicities, they have no true need for either guidance or revision opportunities; they may offer both to their students, but they can maintain their own identity as nonrevisers and thus remain disengaged from what they’re teaching. Moreover, pedagogy students need to be aware of the difficulties they face and the role of guided learning in meeting those challenges in order to fully engage with the field of composition pedagogy and put down roots from which to grow.”(202)

“Experiencing writing difficulty can also give writing teachers opportunities for increased inquiry into the whole concept of how learning and teaching might happen each day in a writing class. That is, as difficulty breaks down the writing process from a “flow” to a series of trials, queries, reader responses, and revisions, participating in the process can prepare students to see teacher intervention as a planned yet flexible set of assistive activities rather than as an intuitive, Hollywood-staged, “O Captain! My Captain!” ethos. “ (203)

January 3, 2013

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.

December 29, 2011

Reid, “Preparing Writing Teachers”

Reid, E. Shelley. “Preparing Writing Teachers: A Case Study in Constructing a More Connected Future for CCCC and NCTE.” CCC 62.4 (June 2011): 687-703.

In the CCC Special Symposium on the NCTE/CCCC Relationship

Reid argues that the research, scholarship, and practice in the training of writing teachers, which she terms “writing pedagogy education,” can be fruitful ground for future collaborations between NCTE (focusing on K-12 English education) and CCCC (college composition and rhetoric.)  Reid claims that as a professional organization, CCCC has turned away from the practical issues of training teachers to teach writing.  She insists that scholarship on writing teacher preparation, instead being regulated to the margins of the field, as a solitary-institution specific practice or “sub-field” special interest group,  can bring together a variety of members of NCTE and CCCC in order to work on developing policy and practices for the training of writing teachers. In this way, Reid sees potential for a sub-field (writing pedagogy education) to revitalize larger disciplinary organizations.

Reid uses her own efforts to chair a SIG on the Education and Mentoring of TAs and Instructors in Composition and her work on the CCCC Committee on Preparing Teachers of Writing to show how difficult it was, with limited time and resources, to weave together local experiences of writing pedagogy education into a coherent, useful, and theorized whole about the preparation of teachers of writing. Reid calls on WPAs and those who train writing teachers to stop seeing themselves as “local practitioners” and rather, as part of a national, scholarly organization whose aim is to “articulate a larger vision” about writing pedagogy education (692-693). She argues that forums like SIGs and commissioned committees are not stable or sufficient enough to provide writing pedagogy education practicioners and researchers what they need: momentum and diversity of members. She suggests that CCCC follow NCTE’s lead and form a task force on writing pedagogy education, which could help create and support research grants, national studies, or online clearinghouses.

Reid points out specifically that “few studies of writing pedagogy education are data-driven, longitudinal, or inclusive of more than one program.” (692)

Notable Notes

Argues that scholarship in writing pedagogy education can address Patricia Stock’s 3rd question in what English education is: “(1) What is English? (2) How is English best taught and learned? and (3) How are teachers of English best prepared for their professional work?” (368, Stock “NCTE and the Preparation of Teachers of the English Language Arts,” 2010)

common problem in writing pedagogy education: the local: the isolation of individual writing programs, institution-specific needs and policies. No national network or conversation.

problems facing writing pedagogy education: How do you quantify teacher quality (tie in with national discussions on teacher tenure)? How can you measure writing learning as connected to teacher quality? How long does it take to develop good writing practices?  (692)

Move beyond the discussion of “what worked for us.” (692)

April 6, 2009

Enos and Borrowman, The Promise and the Perils

Enos, Theresa and Shane Borrowman, eds. The Promise and the Perils of Writing Program Administration. West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2008.

This post contains information about three different narrative essays in Section 6: Tenure, Promotion, and the WPA.

Langston, Camille. “A New WPA at a Small Private School with Large Public(ation) Expectations.” 182-190.

Langston’s story is like many other jWPA horror stories: eager to serve as WPA, she was asked in her first year to direct the program in her 2nd year. Her time, though she was supposed to focus on publication, was quickly eaten up with writing an official job description for the job (which was not recognized as a university administrative position but rather a department appointment), defending the English Department’s right to teach comp during core curriculum committee debates, and conducting a self-assessment of the program.

Peguesse, Chere L. “Fit for an Unfit Fittedness: National Writing Project Site Directors as WPA.” 190-203.

WPA positions don’t have to be internal (WPAs, WAC directors, writing center directors); Peguesse, in her personal narrative, explains how the work of a National Writing Project director is also WPA work, and like WPA work, is unrecognized by other faculty at the university as merit for tenure. She cites Burke in her title and her introduction, drawing on his argument that sometimes it is your training (in her case, focus on WPA work as internal) that becomes an incapacity for you. Her NWP work required her to coordinate with the public school system, run summer sessions, and write extensive grants (which she argued should be counted as peer-reviewed publications, but didn’t.) She also experienced a great deal of friction with the previous, untenured, part-time instructor who ran the program. She was initially denied tenure, but when she proved to the dean that her necessary publication was accepted and being printed, her dean wrote a letter that should give her tenure. She is not directing the NWP after another year, when she will train someone else.

Reid, E. Shelley. “Will Administrate for Tenure, or, Be Careful What You Ask For.” 203-211.

When hired, Reid was told her tenure case would be decided 1/3 on scholarship, 1/3 on teaching, and 1/3 on administrative work. That promise, though, was not upheld at tenure-time, because though some department members believed in it, it was not a belief held by the rest of the university faculty. She was told to couch her administrative work as pedagogical, which gutted her case for tenure.

“Handing around copies of WPA statements, smart as they are, may have no more lasting effect than passing out handbooks to first-year composition students.” (211)

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