Revolution Lullabye

January 4, 2013

Matsuda, Let’s Face It

Matsuda, Paul. “Let’s Face It: Language Issues and the Writing Program Administrator.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 141-163. Print.

Matsuda argues that writing program administrators need to establish clear policy statements for grammar teaching and grading in light of reseach that shows the complexity of second language acquisition.  Matsuda contends that it is unfair to assume language homogenity in the writing classroom – the idea that all students come to the writing classroom with the same linguistic resources – especially in light of the increasing international student population in American universities. Futhermore, Matsuda uses scholarship from second language writing and linguistics to show that even with written grammar feedback on student writing, improvement in a student’s grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awarenss may not take place or may take place very slowly.  Therefore, using the principle of instructional alignment (where outcomes, instructional methods, and assessment strategies align), Matsuda argues that second language writers should not be marked down for their grammatical errors, since it is often impossible for teachers to teach students grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awareness in just a single semester.

Matsuda points to the field’s turn away from language issues as one of the reasons why writing teachers are so confounded with second language writing issues.  He also suggests the adoption of pedagogical grammar, and encourages WPAs and writing teachers to learn methods of pedagogical grammar (which is grounded in applied linguistics) in order to help raise students’ metalinguistic awareness.

Notable Notes

nice overview of scholarship in comp/rhet that argues for and against attention to grammar and language issues (147-154)

uses the WPA Outcomes Statement to show that although attention to style and grammar is part of first-year writing outcomes, the extent to which students master style or grammar or the weight placed on style and grammar is not specificied in the outcomes. (145)

writing teachers need to provide grammar feedback – it will not guarantee learning, but it will faciliate it (not giving feedback won’t.)

Quotable Quotes

“The key is to focus on the development of linguistic resources rather than to focus on deficits” (156). Punishing students for errors can backfire when students avoid complex constructions on purpose.

“As a rule of thumb, the proportion of grammar grades should not exceed the proportion of grammar instruction provided that can guarantee student learning. If, for some reason, the program or the institution deems it important and necessary to assess students based on the myth of linguistic homogeneity – that is, to demand that all students meet the standards that can be expected only of life-long users of the dominant variety of English – then reasonable provisions need to be made to accomodate those who do not fit the profile, including second language writers and users of non-dominant varieties of English” (157).

“If grammar feedback does not guarantee learning, is it fair to hold students accountable? If we take the principle of instructional alignment seriously, the answer would have to be negative, and we need to stop punishing students for what they do not bring with them” (155).

January 30, 2009

Bridges, Training the New Teacher of College Composition

Bridges, Charles W. Training the New Teacher of College Composition. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1986.

The training of TAs and beginning composition instructors happens at almost every college and university (especially those with MA and PhD programs), but it is rarely discussed across institutions or theorized about in the field’s journal. This collection brings together essays by rhetoricians and writing directors to answer two questions: how do you, at your institution, train beginning teachers, and what advice do you give new teachers about the teaching of writing. The essays, some by well-known members of the field, run the gamut from discussing how new teachers should be taught through the writing process they will teach their students to specific suggestions for grading, making assignments, and managing a classroom. I’ll include the table of contents with some notes for reference:

Richard Gebhardt “Unifying Diversity in the Training of Writing Teachers” – tremendous diversity in who these beginning teachers are and what content can form a teacher-training course and the composition course. A “responsible training course in composition” sees the students as writers, showing them how to teach others to be writers through the writing process. The writing process should form the foundation of composition instruction. Lots of valuable references to comp articles.

Charles Bridges “The Basics and the New Teacher in College Composition” – teach teachers that writing isn’t just a basic skill but a valuable “way of knowing, of discovering, of experiencing.” Student-centered, writing-intensive curriculum/

William Irmscher “TA Training: A Period of Discovery” – the importance of a stability in a writing program through a director who is grounded in and is interested in the research and practice of the teaching of writing. Give TAs independence over their own teaching

RIchard VanDeWeghe “Linking Pedagogy to Purpose for Teaching Assistants in Basic Writing”

Nancy Comley “The Teaching Seminar: Writing Isn’t Just Rhetoric” – the training course should look beyond composition (because not all TAs are studying comp/rhet) to show how writing can be incorporated in all different disciplines

Don Cox “Fear and Loathing in the Classroom: Teaching Technical Writing for the First Time”

O. Jane Allen “The Literature Major as Teacher of Technical Writing: A Bibliographical Orientation”

John Ruskiewicz “The Great Commandment” – don’t lecture away the class; the focus should be on writing, have the students write

Mary Jane Schenck “Writing Right Off: Strategies for Invention” – journals, freewrite, heuristics, small groups

Ronald Lunsford “Planning for Spontaneity in the Writing Classroom and a Passel of Other Paradoxes” – importance of the teacher’s role in planning and implementing group workshopping sessions

Richard Larson “Making Assignments, Judging Writing, and Annotating Papers: Some Suggestions”

Maxine Hairston “On Not Being a Composition Slave” – argues against the model of the good comp teacher as marking up all papers and holding non-stop conferences. It’s a huge, draining workload and a cognitive overload for students, putting too much emphasis on correction. Teachers should only mark up a paper on the 2nd read, teach students how to revise, have students work on papers in class, do peer editing.

Christopher Burnham “Portfolio Evaluation: Room to Breathe and Grow”

Timothy Donovan, Patricia Sprouse, Patricia Williams “How TAs Teach Themselves”

Quotable Quotes

Teacher training needs to be “an important and rewarded part of a given department’s activities” (viii)

There needs to be more communication so theories and methods can be developed or else “teacher training will remain a hit-or-miss process that departments assign to lower-ranking faculty members and then ignore” (viii) – in isolation

January 28, 2009

Bramblett and Knoblauch, “What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach”

Bramblett, Anne and Alison Knoblauch, eds. What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach: The Anxious Craft of Teaching Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2002.

This edited collection, with an introduction by Thomas Newkirk, showcases the “silent narratives” of beginning composition instructors and teaching assistants, those stories of resitance and confusion that many new teachers are reluctant to talk about because they fear being deemed failures by their fellow teachers, their supervisors, and their students. The essays included, written by TAs and instructors in the University of New Hampshire composition program, are divided into three sections. The first, about the challenges of the first semester of teaching, includes essays about confronting student mediocracy in a required course and learning to adapt and teach “on the fly” when things don’t go as planned (teaching as a practical art.) The second centers around student and teacher relationships and includes pieces about how much a teacher should care about their students, how the personal lives of students often come up and must be dealt with in the writing classroom, and the difficulty of assigning students (who often aren’t much younger than you) grades as a new teacher. The last section deals specifically with different types of student resistance in the classroom, about students challenging a TA’s authority or expertise, about interpersonal problems with male and female students, and about privileged, intelligent students pressing an instructor to tell them exactly how to “fix” their paper. This collection of testimonials provides a space to tell these stories and air these concerns of new composition teachers, a space which Newkirk argues in his introduction that is needed in composition. In addition to telling failure stories, Newkirk believes composition teachers – both new and experienced – need to share “absurdity” teaching stores, visit the classrooms of their teaching colleagues to get ideas and to start pedagogical conversations, and to, in their research and professional writing, provide a more balanced view of the writing and work that happens in the classroom by using both excellent and not-so-excellent examples of student writing in their scholarship.

Quotable Quotes

“Silences in our narratives as teachers, the things we are reluctant to discuss” (1) what we think is not “normal” – Newkirk’s introduction

Notable Notes

edited by UNH PhD grad students (PhD in English with lit, rhet/comp, or linguistics track)

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