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)

March 7, 2009

Wysocki, Opening New Media to Writing

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications.” In Writing New Media. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, et al. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2004. 1-41.

Pointing out the divide in new media studies between the study of how to design and compose individual texts (through graphic design maxims) and the study of the broad effects of media structures, Wysocki argues that composition studies can fill the gap between the two by focusing on the material and social conditions of the production and consumption of all texts, both textual, visual, and digital. She forwards five major claims: 1. compositionists have the unique pedagogical expertise to teach students how to think critically about their design and composition choices when writing a text because we already highlight the situated nature of writing. 2. we need to think about the specific material circumstances and choices of the texts we produce, consume, and circulate because no technology is a neutral carrier; our texts contain, in their design and construction, our attitudes, beliefs, and values, both individually and as a society 3. new media texts are any texts, digital or not, whose composer thought deliberately about the range of material design choices they had and who, in their design, highlight the materiality of the text 4. we need, as teachers, to move beyond analysis of new media texts and ask our students to craft and produce them in our classrooms, thinking of new media texts not as objects but rather as material practices, and 5. we need to adopt a generous spirit in our reading, knowing that composing these new media texts requires experimentation, patience, and exploration, and in order to appreciate these efforts, we need to realize that texts need not look identical to what we’re accostomed to in order to be useful, that what we might deem mistakes should be thought of in terms of choices. Her chapter ends with numerous activities writing teachers might use in their classrooms, from undergrad to grad students, to have students think more critically of the materiality of producing and reading texts.

Quotable Quotes

Compositionists can help “composers of texts think usefully about effects of their particular decisions as they compose a new media text, to help composers see how agency and materiality are entwined as they compose” (6)

“this materiality – which takes part in the construction of readers – occurs in all texts we comsume, whether print or digital, research essay or technical instruction set. ANd this material functioning occurs when we produce any text as well” (7)

“any material we use for communication is not a blank carrier for our meaning” (10)

“We should call ‘new media texts’ those that have been made by composers who are aware of the range of materialities of texts and who then highlight the materiality: such composers design texts that help readers/consumers/viewers stay alert to how any text – like its composers and readers – doesn’t function independently of how it is made and in what contexts. Such composers design texts that mark as overtly visible as possible the values they embody” (15).

Technologies do matter because “They are in our worlds and they have weight – but we probably ought not give up our own agency by acting as though technologies come out of nowhere and are autonomous in causing effects” (19)

Notable Notes

classroom activities include writing with crayons, discussing what you need to know to read and produce a “normal” piece of academic text (an 8.5 x 11″ piece of paper, double spaced, academic essay – type.) They get at appreciating and being aware of the materiality of writing

use of the word “crafting” about producing academic texts (drawing on Andrew Feenberg)

it’s important in new media texts – defined “in terms of materiality instead of digitality” (19) – that we look to how and why we use digital media, not that we do it. A new media text isn’t new media because it’s online. It’s a greater understanding and attention to materiality.

Materiality draws on Horner’s Terms of Work for Composition (she quotes that long passage from his introduction)

Creating your identity as a writer – when you’re aware of hte materiality, the technology, you can see your own self and identity as situated in a larger world of choices, making your own choices in those structrues in your text (22)

the subtle, silent, quiet, but real effects of the choices that define our existence

the interplay between agency and materiality

interface design (folders, desktop) as a Western-business centric design, intuitive only to some

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