Revolution Lullabye

May 24, 2011

Downs and Wardle, Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.'” CCC 58.4 (June 2007): 552-584.

Downs and Wardle argue for revising first-year writing curriculum so that the course becomes an introduction to writing studies, where students explore writing studies as a content-filled discipline that questions ideas and practices of reading, writing, and literacy. Part of the reason both first-year writing and the field of rhetoric and composition have such low status in the academy is that they are both perceived to be content-less; making the first-year course about the research and theories of writing studies helps improve the status of both the first-year course and the discipline. Downs and Wardle explain the “writing about writing” first-year courses that they taught at University of Utah, Utah Valley State College (both Downs) and University of Dayton (Wardle.)

Notes and Quotes

Students in these courses learn that writing is conventional and context-driven (559). They also become more self-aware writers and understand that academic writing is a conversation.

Challenges: finding appropriate material, having students learn skills that will be useful in other courses, professional development needed for part-time and full-time faculty in order to teach this course

Instead of learning how to write, students in an “Introduction to Writing Studies” course learn about writing, and what they learn changes how they think about writing and how they write.

“It seeks instead to improve students’ understanding of writing, rhetoric, language, and literacy in a course that is topically oriented to reading and writing as scholarly inquiry and en couraging more realistic understandings of writing.” (553).  

make first-year writing like other first-year introductory courses

there is a powerful misconception that first-year writing can give students transferrable general writing skills (554). Writing is far more diverse and complex than that.

In a writing about writing course, students read research about writing, conduct their own writing research, write ethnographies about writing, locate writing issues that interest them, write reviews of existing literature – they are seen as gateways to WAC and WID programs

Readings about problems in the composing process (drafting, revision, reading for purpose, critical reading) and research-based, data-driven studies. Examples of readings include Berkenkotter, Huckin, Sommers, Perl, Flower and Hayes, Elbow, Murray, Swales, Dawkins, Kantz, Lakoff and Johnson, Gee

Assign reflections on the readings, literacy narratives for students to discover what they know about their own writing

Sample student-generated research questions:

Do college freshmen and seniors use rhetorical strategies at all or in similar ways? * How useful is Microsoft Word’s grammar checker? * What makes a classic literary work a “classic”? * What makes an effective business plan?* How does music (or lighting, or other environmental factors) affect writing and revision? * How do literacy activities vary at high- and low-income day cares? * What kinds of writing will a social work major encounter in his career? * Is writing taught in medical school? Should it be, and if so, how?

November 18, 2010

Trimbur, The Problems of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problems of Freshman English (Only.): Towards Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 22.3 (Spring 1999): 9-30. Print.

Trimbur argues for vertical writing curricula where the first-year course would be an introduction to the field of composition and rhetoric, a field that studies, examines, and produces the forms of writing people come into contact with and use in the academy, in the public sphere, and in the workforce. He likens the field’s obsession and concentration on the first-year course to a parent’s overattentiveness to an only child and contends that the field is far more rich and complex than required composition, and composition faculty, like faculty in other disciplines, should have the opportunity to teach courses in their expertise rather than exclusively the first-year service course. The consistent use of placement and proficiency tests justify the view that composition is not at the university because it has something to add to college-level curriculum but instead its role is to address a school-to-college transition crisis. Trimbur also contends that the focus of freshman English is almost exclusively monolingual, English-Only, and calls on the field to change the “First Worldism” of first-year composition.

Notes and Quotes

“I can’t think of any other academic field where a single course plays such a dominant role in shaping the work and subjectivities of its practicioners.” (9).

The “oversaturation” of the first-year course, the many goals of the first-year course: “Think for a moment of all the things that the first-year course is commonly being asked to do. It should help entering students survive in a hostile environment, crack the academic code, repair the damage done by high school English teachers, and enjoy writing. It should meet institutional needs by increasing retention and adding value to the ‘freshman experience,’ as well as certifying literacy levels and protecting the credibility of the undergraduate degree. Not only that, the course should meet employer needs for workers who can ‘communicate effectively,’ multitask, operate computers, and work on teams. It should respond to whatever literacy crisis is happening at the moment, negotiate differences in the ‘contact zone,’ denaturalize the media and mass culture, and stop the decline of public discourse by making a generation of slackers into responsible citizens who read the newspaper, vote, and participate in community service” (14).

“The first-year course simply begins and ends, and in some colleges and universities where students can test out on a placement exam, at least a portion of them just skip over it” (15). It is unconnected to any larger curriculum. Any other upper-divsision courses are not linked to the first-year course in a meaningful way.

Those who test into freshman English are a “stigmatized majority” (16) – they lack something. It’s better not to take the course.

figuring curriculum design as “a rhetorical practice to redistribute expert knowledge and expand the forums and languages available for writing” (24).

“To my mind, the relation of the study and teaching of writing to English departments is both accidental and overdetermined – the result not of a necessary belongingness between the two but of a particular historical conjuncture when written composition replaced rhetoric just as English departments were taking shape in the modern university” (27).

June 17, 2009

Trimbur, The Problem of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problem of Freshman English (Only): Toward Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA 22:3 (Spring 1999) 9-30.

Trimbur articulates two of the problems of the first-year writing course: first, it tries to compact an entire field’s inquiry, research, discussion, and debates into a single course and second, it perpetuates a First-World English-Only attitude in American colleges and universities by privileging English vernacular literacy over other languages. He argues for the creation of larger curriculum in writing (minors, concentrations, and majors) to solve both of these problems. First, it will rescue the first-year course from being the only child of the discipline – the sole site of study and pedagogy in writing and rhetoric – transform it into an introduction to the discipline, where ideas and theories can be introduced and built on in later courses. Second, this major can and should reach beyond the traditional English department and seek interdisciplinary connections across the campus, finding ways to connect disciplines, faculty, and students toward the study of writing in the context of global, international, multilingual literacies. Such minors and majors need to be locally constructed and situated, and must be designed through answering hard questions of disciplinary identity: what do we study? what are our theories? how to our courses connect and build upon each other?

Quotable Quotes

“the relation of the study and teaching of writing to English departments is both accidental and overdetermined – the result not of a necessary belongingness between the two but of a particular historical conjuncture when written composition replaced rhetoric just as English departments were taking shape in the modern university.” (27)

“curriculum planning that looks for interfaces between disciplines, programs, students, and faculty” (25).

Notable Notes

first-year course is overpacked, overprogrammed like an only child

grad programs churning out students to teach and administer one course – what other field is so centered around a single course? shouldn’t our research, theories inform more than a single course?

composition and literature have worked together to promote vernacular, English-Only literacy and a homongenous national culture

January 27, 2009

Downs and Wardle, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions”

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC 58.4 (June 2007) 552-585.

The authors argue for transforming the required first-year course, usually taught as a introduction to the skills necessary to write “academic discourse” into a course that introduces students to writing studies as a field, using their own courses at University of Dayton and Utah Valley State College as examples. The generalized first-year course stands in contradiction to many of the established, researched theories in rhetoric and composition: that all writing is content and context-driven, that writing is an area of research and study, that writing is a complex activity that requires more than good luck and “transferable” basic skills, and that experts in writing are needed to teach writing. Such a shift in the curriculum of the first-year course allows for better transitioning to WAC initiatives (because writing, from the very beginning, is grounded in content and context), gives the newly developing majors a cornerstone foundation course, and improves the position of writing at the university from a service discipline to one that is recognized by students and faculty as a field with valuable, relevant, and important research and theoretical knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“Writing studies has ignored the implications of this research and theory and continued to assure its publics (faculty, administrators, parents, industry) that FYC can do what nonspecialists have always assumed it can: teach, in one or two early courses, “college writing” as a set of basic, fundamental skills that will apply in other college courses and in business and public spheres after college. In making these unsupportable assurances to stakeholders, our field reinforces cultural misconceptions of writing instead of attempting to educate students and publics out of these misconceptions” (1) page numbers are from printed online version

“Students leave the course with increased awareness of writing studies as a discipline, as well as a new outlook on writing as a researchable activity rather than a mysterious talent” (7).

“By employing nonspecialists to teach a specialized body of knowledge, we undermine our own claims as to that specialization and make our detractors’ argument in favor of general writing skills for them. As Debra Dew demonstrates, constructing curricula that require specialization goes a long way toward professionalizing the writing instruction workforce” (21).

Notable Notes

what the first-year course is reflects the whole discipline. Making it more rigorous and centering it on the field of rhet and comp will improve the status of rhet/comp.

category mistake – Gilbert Ryle – academic writing as one category of writing when it really cannot be defined as an umbrella term

problems/consequences of the shift: no textbook that teaches first-year writing in this way, huge labor force that needs to be trained, the research takes a long time and student work won’t be as clean or neat, high schools don’t prepare students for the field, so there’s a huge learning curve that needs to happen, content and expecatation-wise

courses that follow the intro to writing studies model use readings drawn from the research of the field of rhetoric and composition, allows students to explore their own writing practices in juxtaposition, and asks them to do research on writing.

January 25, 2009

Larson, “The ‘Research Paper’ in the Writing Course”

Larson, Richard L. “The ‘Research Paper’ in the Writing Course.” In The Writing Teachers Sourcebook. 180-185.

The ambiguous, often-assigned ‘research paper’ has three fundamental problems for writing teachers and composition. First, real research has no one recognizable genre, so the emphasis on teaching the 10-to-12-page research paper is misguided. Second, the research paper assignment overrelies on the use of library, book-based research rather than exploring other quantitative or qualititative discipline-specific research methods. Third, there are such a variety of research methods in the disciplines that instructors can’t possibly prepare all their students, who hail from all different disciplines, to do research in their field. Instead of assigning the research paper, then, Larson argues that we should teach students the multiple ways of seeking out information they need through inquiry and research.

Quotable Quotes

Every discipline “works from distinctive assumptions and follows distinctive patterns of inquiry” (184).

Research itself is “the subject – the substance – of no distinctly identifiable kind of writing” (182). It is the foundation of most.

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