Revolution Lullabye

August 24, 2012

A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs

“A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs.” WPA 35.1 (Fall/Winter 2011): 148-166.

The symposium, which features five short essays, is presented in response to “The CWPA Mentoring Project and Survey Report” published in the fall/winter 2010 issue of WPA. This particular symposium focuses on the mentoring needs and experiences of new or beginning WPAs at non-R1 institutions, demonstrating the range of challenges faced by WPAs at American colleges and universities.

Joyce Olewski Inman, “Reflections on Year One as an Almost-WPA” 149-152

Inman is completing her PhD and simultaneously serving as a WPA at that institution, against the advice of her mentors. She points out how difficult it is to seek mentorship in her role as an “illigitimate” WPA, citing the rhetoric of CWPA resolutions that call for WPAs with terminal, specialized-in-composition degrees.

“I am hopeful it will lead to additional reflection on how our field might become more accepting of the fact that ideal circumstances rarely exist and more conscious of the ways our own rhetoric may be dismissive, not supportive, of WPAs who find themselves in these less than ideal situations” (152).

Kathryn Johnson Gindlesparger, “Snapshot of a Tenure Decision” 152-155

Gindlesparger is a full-time WPA in an admininistrative, not tenure-track faculty, line, and she writes about the benefits and consequences of converting her line into a faculty one. She specificately cites the relative freedom and safety of an administrative position and describes how the culture of a writing program is changed when its control moves from a full-time administrator to multiple faculty members taking on small administrative roles. She calls on CWPA to expand their mentoring to WPAs who are not on the tenure track.

Darci L. Thoune, “The Pleasures and Perils of Being First” 156-159

Thoune explains her position as the first-ever WPA at her institution, describing the challenge of creating a centralized program in a formerly decentralized non-tenure-track instructor system. She explains how one of her primary objectives was to learn about the culture of the department and program, something she did in part by observing classes. She explains how many of her early initiatives at professional development failed, but through those and attending the WPA conference, she decided to implement different, more successful ways to create commonality in the program and manage the many decisions she had to make as a WPA.

Collie Fulford, “Hit the Ground Listening: An Ethnographic Approach to New WPA Learning” 159-162

Fulford discusses how she used ethnographic approaches (especially listening and observing) to learn about the culture of her new department, a HBCU.  She explains, though, that there came a time where she had to stop listening and start speaking, start participating as a member, not just an observer, in the department and college community.

Tim McCormack, “Boss of Me: When the Former Adjunct Runs the Writing Shop”  163-166

McCormack discusses the difficulty in transitioning from an outspoken advocate of adjunct rights to becoming the WPA who did not always have to the power to do the things he thought as an adjunct a WPA should do.  He discusses how he has learned the complex context a WPA works in, and although he has been able to come to terms with some of the decisions he has had to make, he’s uncomfortable with the dissonance with the progressive stance our scholarship often takes about contingent labor and the day-to-day administrative decisions about contingent faculty WPAs need to make.

“My WPA role at the college has evolved from my unquestioning righteousness in support of adjunct faculty to a more nuanced understanding that includes making decisions based on what is good for the writing program and our students.”

January 16, 2009

Schuler and Namioka, Participatory Design

Schuler, Douglas and Aki Namioka. Participatory Design: Principles and Practices. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.

Participatory design, as opposed to expert and speciality-driven design, asks the eventual users of a product or system to assist in the design and development with it. This collection, which arose out of the 1990 Seattle Participatory Design conference (sponsored by the national nonprofit organization, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), focuses primarily on software and system design, but the prinicples of participatory design can be applied across disciplines. Advocates for participatory design argue that it is a more democratic design process and results in higher quality products because more people are participating in the design, especially those who know the intimate context of how it will be used (the workers and users.) Drawbacks of participatory design are mainly logistical: it requires much more time to involve several people in the design process (not all are specialists or professionals, so they don’t even share the same language to talk about the design), it is sometimes difficult to locate appropriate users and find adequate motivation to get them to participate in the process, and it is difficult to keep track of (and continue to motivate) participants to assess the performance of the product or process as it is being used in the workplace. Participatory design theory developed first in Scandinavia and works well with the demographics of their workforce: highly educated, highly unionized, and ethnically and racially homogenous. When participatory design is used in the United States and other European countries, however, researchers and designers need to understand that the demographics of their particular workforces will impact the effectiveness of participatory design (what the participants will expect, what will motivate them.)

Quotable Quotes

“Leaving out the users isn’t just undemocratic – it has serious consequences for worker health, human rights, job satisfaction, and also for the work process and the bottom line” (4) Ellen Bravo “The Hazards of Leaving Out the Users”

“User involvment and iteration are generally acknowledged to be more critical to success in software design than adherence to conventional design paradigms” (xii).

“Participation Design (PD) represents a new approach towards computer systems design in which the people destined to use the system play a critical role in designing it.” (xi)

“Practice as the social construction of reality is a strong candidate for replacing the picture theory of reality. In short, practice is our everyday practical activity. It is the human form of life. It precedes subject-object relations. Through practice, we produce the world, both the world of objects and our knowledge about this world. Practice is both action and reflection. But practice is also a social activity; it is produced in cooperation with others. To share practice is also to share an understanding of the world with others. However, this production of the world and our understanding of it takes place in an already existing world. The world is also the product of former practice. Hence, as a part of practice, knowledge has to be understood socially – as producing or reproducing social processes and structures as well as being the product of them” (63) Pelle Ehn, “Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill”

“Central and abiding concern for direct and continuous interaction with those who are the ultimate arbiters of system adequacy; namely, those who will use the technology in their everyday lives and work” (vii)

Notable Notes

secretaries and computers, eyestrain

Expertise is valued as a resource, not an unchallenged authority (xii)

unions and participatory design

participatory design doesn’t mean workplace democracy, but it does mean a bigger chance of participating in decision making.

making products and systems integral to the workplace, not just dumped into it by people who don’t work there and understand the context

using ethnographic field methods to describe and understand before beginning the design process

February 18, 2008

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways with Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 4:59 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Commuities and Classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.


Heath, an anthropologist and linguist, wanted to understand how children’s language development is affected by the cultural communities they grow up in. This research was important because of the push for better educational methods to increase the success of minority and working-class students in schools. She conducted an ethnographic study from 1969 to 1978 of two communities in the Piedmont Carolinas only a few miles away from each other: Roadville (a white working-class community whose members work in the textile mills) and Trackton (a black working-class community who used to farm but now also work in the mills.) She recorded and intepreted the langauge learning habits of the children in these two communities, specifically looking at the effects of the preschool home and community environment on the children. She found that the language expectations of the schools and the mills were different from the values and expectations of the home communities. She argues that the “place of langauge in the cultural life of each social group is interdependent with the habits and values of behaving shared among members of that group,” values formed by family structures, religious groups, and concepts of childhood. (11). Heath also explains her ethnographic methodology.

Chapter 1: “The Piedmont: Textile Mills and Times of Change”

Heath explains the history of the Piedmont region of the Carolinas and describes the antagonistic relationship between the mill worker communities and the townspeople. She introduces the communities of Roadville and Trackton.

Chapter 2: “‘Gettin’ on’ in Two Communities”

Heath describes in detail the layout and members of the communities of Roadville and Trackton and explains each communities’ norms and beliefs about the roles of men and women, the place of schooling, and their expectations for their children.

Chapter 3: “Learning how to Talk in Trackton”

Heath describes the life of a Trackton child from birth, noting that boys are favored over girls and that the child is immediately a part of the community, not just one family. She illustrates with transcripts the three stages in which Trackton children learn to carry on conversations between the ages of 1 and 2: repetition, repetition with variation, and participation. Boys learn how to use language by being challenged by older members (usually men) of the community; girls learn through “fussing” and playsongs with the older girls. “Flexibility and adaptability are the most important characteristics of learning to be and to talk in Trackton” (111).

Chapter 4: Teaching How to Talk in Roadville

Heath explains how Roadville women prepare for the birth of their children and how they interact with their babies, toddlers and preschoolers. They use babytalk with infants but increasingly correct their children’s language as they grow older. Roadville mothers consider it their duty to train their young children so to prepare them for school, so there is a lot of focus on learning to talk “right.” Children are sex-segregated from two until junior high. Play is an important opportunity to emphasize language through educational toys. Memorization and repitition is key in church and home activities, during which children are expected to answer and perform for adults.

Chapter 5: Oral Traditions

In Roadville, story-telling emphasizes correctness, details and chronology, which are “reinforced in many of the community’s church-related practices and on other occasions when adults tell stories on themselves or each other.” The children’s own stories imitate what the adults do. The community’s expectation for true accounts is in contradiction with the fairytales and imaginative stories told in the preschools. In Trackton, fictionalization in stories (“talking junk”) is allowed and even encouraged, as good storytellers are valued in the community. Children are talked to in Trackton, not read to, and they are taught to be creative storytellers who can relate what they are saying to the ongoing conversation. Verbal play (“yo momma” and other insults, playsongs, one-liners, challenges) is a regular feature in Trackton language.

Chapter 6: Literate Traditions

Trackton and Roadville have different expectations for literacy: in Roadville, writing is seldom done but reading is actively encouraged and praised; in Trackton, writing also is not emphasized and reading is not done silently but only “read aloud.” Roadville children are surrounded by books and specific child-directed reading materials, while in Trackton, children aren’t given books but rather use reading as a competition, a game, and a way to figure out the bigger world around them. Roadville residents see the written word as an authority; Trackton residents see written language as something to be negotiated and manipulated. Women write and read more than the men in both communities.

Chapter 7: The Townspeople

Heath describes the townspeople, those people who are not Trackton or Roadville community members whose children attend school with Trackton and Roadville children. They are the managers of the Trackton and Roadville residents who work at the mills. The townspeople have a different attitude toward children: they treat them as potential conversationalists from birth and mothers are the primary caregivers. They use baby-talk and question-answer routines to talk with their babies. The townspeople’s uses for reading and writing more directly mirror the expectations of the schools, such as using written sources to find information to use in oral or written material of their own. Reading and writing are activities that all members of the community participate in for work and for leisure.

Chapter 8: Teachers as Learners

This chapter describes “how the ethnographies of communication in Roadville and Trackton became instrumental for teachers and students bringing language and culture differences and discovering how to recognize and use language as power” (266). Heath worked with townspeople in her graduate classes and teachers in the community. She helped teachers come up with new expectations and understandings of the relevance of teaching reading and writing to Trackton and Roadville students who would not be going to college, who were instead on the vocational track. The teachers didn’t need to lower their standards of correctness, but instead view the students as bringing a history and a background to the classroom that was to be built on and respected, not shunned and called dumb.

Chapter 9: Learners as Ethnographers

Heath discusses a classroom assignment where the students become ethnographers of their own communities.

Quotable Quotes

“These ethnographies of communication focus on each of the communities in which the children are socialized as talkers, readers, and writers to describe: the boundaries of the physical and social community in which communication to or by them is possible; the limits and features of the situations in which such communication occurs; the what, how, and why of patterns of choice children can exercise in their uses of language, whether in talking, reading, or writing; the values or significance these choices of language have for the children’s physical and social activities.” (6)

“For [Trackton residents], a ‘true story’ calls for ‘talkin’ junk'” (189)

“In short, for Roadville, Trackton’s stories would be lies; for Trackton, Roadville’s stories would not even count as stoires.” (189).

“For Roadville, the written word limits alternatives of expression; in Trackton, it opens alternatives. Neither community’s ways with the written word prepares it for the school’s ways” (235)

“As the children of the townspeople learn the distinctions between contextualized first-hand experiences and decontextualized representations of experience, they come to act like literates before they can read. They acquire the habits of talk associated with written materials, and they use appropriate behaviors for either cooperative negotiation of meaning in book-reading episodes or story-creation before they are themselves readers” (256).

“Thus it is the kind of talk, not the quantity of talk that sets townspeople children on their way in school. They come wiht the skills of labeling, naming features, and providing narratives on items out of their contexts.” (352) The importance of CONTEXT!

The townspeople “bring with them to school linguistic and cultural capital accumulated through hundreds of thousands of occasions for practicing the skills and  espousing the values the schools transmit.” (368)

February 16, 2008

Freed and Broadhead, “Discourse Communities, Sacred Texts, and Institutional Norms.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 6:50 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Freed, Richard C. and Glenn J Broadhead. “Discourse Communities, Sacred Texts, and Institutional Norms.” CCC 38.2 (May 1987): 154-165. 

The authors argue that analyzing the written materials (the sacred texts) and terminology of discourse communities is a powerful way to understand the values and the systems of those communities. It is vital that students understand how to analyze the discourse communities they are writing to and in so that they can most effectively and persuasively construct their messages. The authors advocate teaching students ethnographic methods for learning about different discourse communities and cultures. Also, instructors should employ an ethnographic perspective on their own teaching and courses to discover what assumptions exist in their pedagogy.

Create a free website or blog at