Revolution Lullabye

January 31, 2009

Lindemann, A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers

I’m beginning to see the value (you would hope!) in reading through all these guides for beginning teachers of composition. I now know the basic issues that new teachers face, what the field (in general) thinks that it’s important for them to learn or know about (and in turn what their students should learn and know about.) The same common theories and many of the same texts are referenced in both, both in the book and in attached bibliographies, creating sort of a “canon” for important texts for beginning composition teachers (I’ll be reading some of them next.) But, most importantly I think, from an administration point of view, I now know a lot of the approaches taken to instruct beginning teachers about the teaching of writing, and I can draw on these texts in creating a syllabus for that kind of course (or for less formal, less intensive teacher-training.) I like the theoretically-grounded approach Lindemann takes in this text, and I think the one-author (rather than anthology) approach makes the text more coherent and cohesive, a more intimate and straightforward guide for new teachers, but one with a lot of meat and nuances.

Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.

This guide for writing teachers, in its fourth edition, approaches the teaching of writing from a rhetorical perspective, emphasizing teaching a rhetorically and theoretically-grounded concept of writing to students and seeing the act of teaching (and all that is part of that job) as a rhetorical enterprise. The book is divided into three major sections. The first, “The Composing Process,” defines key terms like context, code, and message, and explains the stages of the writing process, highlighting the social nature of writing. The second, “Rhetorical Theory and Practice,” offers three chapters about the fundamental concepts in rhetoric, linguistics, and cognition that writing teachers must know, citing major names and theories, and goes on with other chapters about invention and revision strategies and the study of discourse and style (paragraphing, sentences, and words.) The third section, “Teaching as Rhetoric,” has chapters on assignment creation, response, evaluation, course design, and writing with computers (added for this edition.) Lindemann points out why writing instruction is so important for students – for economic power, social necessity (to live and interact with others in society), and for personal meaning-making – in the introduction of the text. She sees students and their instructors as writers both struggling to make meaning and urges teachers to have the “courage” to give up some of the control and authority those teaching other disciplines might have in order to meet and interact with their students as writers.

Quotable Quotes

“Theories give coherence and direction to the practical. They demonstrate the complexities of the writing process and the importance of teaching it well” (9).

Inspiration from Donald Murray: We, like our students “wrestle with the difficult process of creating meaning through language” (305).

“What is truly basic to composition – a person communicating with another person” (305).

Notable Notes

end of the book contains an extensive timeline of important dates in rhetoric and composition and a bibliography of selected texts

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Coffin, Teaching Academic Writing

Coffin, Caroline, et al. Teaching Academic Writing: A Toolkit for Higher Education. London: Routledge, 2003.

This guide for teachers of academic writing is grounded in the UK higher education system, which has some distinctive features. The first is that first-year composition is a new phenomenon for UK colleges and universities: the UK experienced a surge in student populations a few decades after the US in post-WWII, so the need for the course dedicated to academic writing – to serve the needs of the increasingly diverse student population – was not there. Instead, writing instruction happened in three other places: discipline-specific courses (like WAC/WID) ; “study support centres and writing centres,” “labs” designed to help students with basic literacy skills across the disciplines; and EAP (English for Academic Purposes) courses, created for English as a second language learners. The guide is grounded in a sociocultural theory of language and learning, based in Vygotsky, and gives heuristics and activities for all teachers – both writing specialists in the first-year course and writing centres and those teaching outside of the comp/rhet – in the five chapters.

Table of Contents

1. Issues in academic writing in higher education
2. Approaches to teaching writing (text analysis, process theory, and a hybrid of the two)
3. Writing for different disciplines
4. Planning the assessment of student writing (assignment creation)
5. Giving feedback on student writing
6. Academic writing in an electronic environment

Three-prong emphasis on writing for assessment (that’s interesting), learning, and entering disciplinary communities (discourse communities)

Changes in higher education population and constraints: more students, more diversity, older and part-time students, curriculum changes (move from year-long courses to semester-long ones), larger class sizes.

January 28, 2009

Griffin, Teaching Writing in All Disciplines

Griffin, C. Williams, ed. Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1982.

This edited collection centers around the early writing-across-the-curriculum movement in composition and serves as a guide to teachers as to how they might implement writing-for-learning assignments and initiatives in their own classrooms and in their institutions. The collection contains a balance of more practically-oriented pieces (about how different assignments can help students learn math by writing about it, how teachers can respond to all the writing they’re now asking their students to do, and what kinds of mixed reactions teachers and students give to WAC initiatives) and more theoretical essays, like Fulwiler’s “Writing: An Act of Cognition,” which argues that since language makes meaning, we need to ask our students to use and produce writing in order to understand and learn, not just to communicate what they already know. One of the last essays of the collection, by Maimon, likens the WAC movement as a move back to ancient rhetorical training, a grounding in rhetoric that was required for students going into all fields.

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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