Revolution Lullabye

February 17, 2016

Bacon, Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style

Bacon, Nora. “Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 290-303.

In this book review, Bacon reviews two recent popular style manuals: Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing and Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Bacon points out the strengths and flaws of both books, ultimately arguing that although both Sword and Pinker bring important interdisciplinary perspectives to teaching style, neither of them (but particularly Pinker) draw on or engage thoroughly enough in the research and theories of composition studies. Bacon calls for more public scholarship by compositionists on writing and style, pointing out that in its absence, other scholars and fields have taken our place.

Bacon uses Patrick Hartwell’s taxonomy of grammars from his 1985 article to construct a parallel taxonomy of style: style 1 (individual style), style 2 (house style), style 3 (usage), style 4 (plain style), style 5 (elaborated style.) She uses this taxonomy to analyze the arguments and advice promoted in both Sword’s and Pinker’s books.

Sword’s book is written to academics about academic prose, and one of Sword’s central arguments is that academics don’t need to write in a boring, stiff style. Sword conducted an empirical study of academic writing in 10 disciplines, and she uses her analysis of the data (over 1000 journal articles) to suggest specific strategies academic writers can use to write better, more reader-friendly and engaging prose.

Pinker’s book is written from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and a linguist, and Bacon points out the main flaw that she sees in it: Pinker’s arguments are detached from composition studies and seem to assume that a person who understands grammar will be a better writer. Bacon disagrees and argues that the relationship between knowing linguistics and sentence structure and being able to write with a clear, dynamic style is complicated. Describing language is different than using it.


Quotable Quotes

“Moving too hastily from linguistics to writing, Pinker makes the mistake that generations of back-to-basics school reformers have made, imagining that the way to improve writers’ sentences is to teach them grammar. Composition scholars know that the relationship between an understanding of grammar and an ability to write healthy sentences is not so simple” (300).

“Gaining metalinguistic knowledge is one thing; learning to write well is another. Confusing the two leads to misguided instruction” (301).

“In classrooms and books, we talk about the rules of usage, the virtues of plain style, and the pleasures of the elaborated style in the hope that the discussion will help writers achieve more effective individual styles” (292).

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).

November 18, 2010

Parker, Where Do English Departments Come From

Parker, William Riley. “Where Do English Departments Come From?” College English 28 (1967): 339-351. Print.

Modern English departments are a phenomenon of the 20th century, born out of 19th century studies in oratory, rhetoric, and philology. Although the practice of literary criticism and research is old (16th, 17th, 18th examples are given by Parker), the job of teaching English literature at American colleges and universities is relatively new. He argues that the relationship between rhetoric/composition and literature is really historically accidental, literature emerging as a university discipline at the same time college attendance was growing in the late 19th century, developing a need for a universal composition requirement. English, Parker contends, has always been a “catchall,” and there is no logical reason why literary critics are more able than others to teach freshman composition. Parker argues that it was the association of rhetoric with 19th century elocation that led to the university’s abandonment of rhetoric, the ancient foundation of a liberal arts education. Parker warns English departments to reassess how they define their discipline and argue for the reintegration of rhetoric, speech communication, and linguistics as valued and necessary members of English departments.

Notes and Quotes

“To live intellectually in one’s own time is as provincial and misleading as to live intellectually only in one’s own culture” (339).

political upheaval in 18th, 19th century made rhetoric again a civic oratory art (public speakers, public debate,s, debating societies, amateur and informal attention to rhetoric); Boylston Professorship at Harvard in 1806, first held by John Quincy Adams

English departments are a paradox: the utilitarian composition (based on a pragmatic philosophy) and the specialized teaching of literature (based on the German research model).

argues that just because literature is in place doesn’t mean rhetoric should disappear (347)

“Thanks first to its academic origins, and then to the spirit of competition and aggressiveness engendered by departmentalization, “English” has never really defined itself as a discipline.” (348).

“I care a lot about liberal education, and I care a lot about the study of literature in English, but it seems to me that English departments have cared much less about liberal education and their own integrity than they have about their administrative power and prosperity” (350).

June 29, 2009

CCCC, Students’ Right to Their Own Language

Conference on College Composition and Communication. “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.” CCC 25 (Fall 1974).

This publication of the CCCC’s position statement on students’ right to use their own language in their composition classes contains background information and a bibliography about the sociolinguistics research the committee used to create the statement. The statement asserts that there is no one standard dominant American dialect, and to require students to conform to one and abandon their home dialects is discriminatory and assimilationist. The statement also argues that teachers of writing need to be given the training they need to allow them to teach students who bring a wide variety of dialects and languages into the classroom. The statement does allow for the teaching of EAE (educated American English) to help students prepare to get jobs after college, but that instruction of EAE must be done in a way that respects and validates their home langauge. College writing and composition courses should be a place where students learn about code-switching, not abandoning their culture and heritage, which is intrinsic to their language use. English teachers must take the lead in public debates about language use and educate the public through research in and knowledge of modern linguistics.

Quotable Quotes

“A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.”

Notable Notes

extensive bibliography of resources that led to the statement

background information contains basic linguistics information that every English teacher should know (what they said)

June 12, 2009

Hairston, The Winds of Change

Hairston, Maxine. “The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing.” CCC 33:1 (Feb 1982) 76-88.

Hairston draws on Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts to declare that the field of composition and rhetoric has experienced a paradigm shift in the teaching of writing, moving from (current-)traditional methods to process pedagogy. She claims current-traditional pedagogy is primarily focused on expository writing; wants students to find form, not ideas, through writing; is a linear composing model; equates teaching editing with teaching writing; and is not connected to research or experimentation. In contrast, Hairston argues that the process model is concerned with writers and their process, not their written products, and so is concerned with teaching students heuristics to invent, compose, and revise; is rhetorically-based; is recursive and holistic; treats writing as a way of learning and communicating; and is informed by other disciplines like psychology and linguistics. The process model depends on research in writing and on writers, and requires teachers of writing to be writers. Hairston argues that the process model is the best equip to teach writing to the new populations of American colleges and universities.

Notable Notes

attention to process began in the 1950s and 1960s with generative theories of linguistics (Chomsky) and grammar (Christensen), along with tagmemicists (Pike)

April 8, 2009

Shaughnessy, Errors and Expectations

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Basic writers are not unintelligent; rather, their writing is riddled with errors because they are confused about the basic structure and patterns of sentences and academic prose. Shaughnessy defends her focus on the errors of basic writers by arguing that in order to teach basic writers, teachers must understand what the range of basic writing errors are, why students might be making them (shuttling between two different codes, second language issues, unfamiliarity with written English tenses, structures, and punctuation), and how teachers might help their students write better through addressing these errors (assignments and in-class exercises.) Shaughnessy’s drive is to demystify the common errors basic writers make (punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, syntax) so they can move towards expressing their complex ideas and thoughts in equally as complex and intelligent prose. Shaughnessy does not prescribe a curriculum or program, arguing that each basic writing program must be created for the context of the students’, teachers’, and institutional expectations and circumstances.

Quotable Quotes

Errors “are unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader” (12) Teachers shouldn’t ignore error or argue for theoretical conceptions of the relativity of error (diversity of linguistic structure) in a basic writing classroom because that type of approach dismisses two important points. First, students are hyperconcerned about error and want to know about it and fix their errors. Second, errors force a reader to extend more effort to understand the writer, an effort that not all readers make and thus results in a loss of communication.

Her book wants to cultivate “a readiness to look at these problems in a way that does not ignore the linguistic sophistication of the students nor yet underestimate the complexity of the task they face as tehy set about learning to write for college” (13).

“Far from being eleventh-hour learners, these students appear in many ways to be beginning their lives anew.” (291)

“College both beckons and threatens them, offering to teach them useful ways of thinking and talking about the world, promising even to improve the quality of their lives, but threatening at the same time to take from them their distinctive ways of interpreting the world, to assimilate them into the culture of academia without acknowledging their experience as outsiders” (292)

Notable Notes

Basic writing pedagogy must be taken up seriously as an area of scholarship, study

Context – early 1970s open admissions, City College (CUNY system), no guide for how to teach these students who had never before been in college, instructors just see a “chaos of error”

Data – hundreds of placement essays from entering students at City College 1970-1974

confusion and unawareness lays at the heart of the issue. Students need explicit instruction, need to be shown the patterns and structures, templates of writing sentences and academic prose passages.

need to fix errors without disrespecting the culture and language backgrounds of the students

Chapters: handwriting and punctuation; syntax; common errors; spelling; vocabulary; beyond the sentence; expectations

problem – does not adequately address linguistic differences, boils things down to looking at the errors in the student text without looking outside the actual paper, the larger history and social context

lots of pattern-practice, sentence-combining, learn how to express abstract thoughts and longer arguments

February 8, 2009

Mutnick, On the Academic Margins

Mutnick, Deborah. “On the Academic Margins: Basic Writing Pedagogy.” 183-202.

How to teach and understand basic writers has developed from studying them through their errors (Shaugnessy), to in-depth cognitive research to understand how their thinking and writing practices, to finally seeing them in the larger political and social context, analyzing how they learn to appropriate and use academic language, and how academic language affects their home language and culture. Basic writing pedagogy is interested in how students from diverse cultures and backgrounds come into and work in the university, the relationship between language and meaning, linguistic theories of error, and the writing and learning processes of adults. New pushes in basic writing pedagogy include mainstreaming basic writers in “regular” first-year composition classrooms and developing competency requirements that aren’t tied to a particular university course.

Notable Notes

First forays: Mina Shaughnessy – CUNY Open Admissions; Horner “Discoursing Basic Writing”

Cognitive process studies: Perl “Unskilled”; Sommers; Lunsford “What We Know” – showed problems in analysis and synthesis

Social and rhetorical theories: Bartholomae Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts and “Inventing”; Gilyard Voices of the Self; Students’ Right to Their Own Language; Bizzell biculturalism; Tom Fox “Standards and Access”; Alice Horning “Teaching Writing as a Second Lanuage”

students on the social margins change through education but must develop their own consciousness, the new discourses they learn affect their home ones. Basic writing courses can transform the students, teachers, administration, and institutions

February 6, 2009

Burnham, Expressive Pedagogy

Burnham, Christopher. “Expressive Pedagogy: Practice/Theory, Theory/Practice.” 19-35.

Often coupled with process pedagogy, expressive pedagogy concerns itself with the individual writer and his development of a writerly voice or ethos. Stemming in the 1960s and 1970s from the same practicioners as process pedagogy (Elbow, Murray, Macrorie), expressivism opposes the reductive current-traditional model of writing education that devalues the writer, thus creating an arhetorical view of reality because the writer – the individual maker of meaning – is stripped of all authority. The first proponents of expressivism argued through narratives, but later scholars and teachers relied on theories from linguistics, cognitive and developmental psychology, phenomenology, and existential philosophy to show that writing is a way of making meaning, creating and developing knowledge that moves from the individual private sphere to be shared with the world. In this sense, the social conclusion that all writing comes to, answers the critiques of expressivism (Berlin and Faigley), which state that it is not critical, is romantic, rejects social and political problems, and is over-concerned with the voice of the individual. The most recent scholarship on expressivism have attempted to make it more critical, placing theorists such as Bakhtin, Ong, Gibson, and Dewey at the center of the pedagogy, arguing that expressivism explores relations between language, meaning-making, and self-development, forming individual and social identities.

Quotable Quotes

“Expressivism’s strength is its insistence that all concerns, whether individual, social, or political, must originate in personal experience and be documented in the student’s own language” (31)

Expressive pedagogy is “engaged pedagogy, holistic teaching” (31)

Notable Notes

Theory for expressivism draws heavily on Britton (Language and Learning, Development of Writing Abilities 11-18) and Kinneavy (A Theory of Discourse.) Britton talks about expressive function in language and creates a developmental taxonomy of writing, arguing that writing is a process of discovering meaning and learning (puts his theory at center of National Writing Projects and whole language movements.) In Langauge and Learning, he explains the participant and spectator roles in writing, says that expressive writing involves both. Kinneavy talks about expressive discourse and uses Sarte to talk about how writing is used to explain individual meaning-making to a larger audience, analyzes the Declaration of Independence and shows how it is not a persuasive text but rather an expressive text that is forming a new nationanl identity.

Crowley, The Methodical Message; Macrorie, Telling Writing; Elbow, Writing without Teachers and Writing with Power; Murray, A Writer Teaches Writing; Britton, Language and Learning; Kinneavy, A Theory of Discourse; Sherrie Graden, Romancing Rhetorics; Vygotsky; Bruner; Chomsky; Sarte; Thomas Merton, Learning to Live; bell hooks Sisters of the Yam

expressivism is concerned with developing individual responsibility and ethics (Socrates)

critiques include: ahistorical, atheoretical, arhetorical, anti-intellectual, standard-less, relativistic

uses freewriting, journals, reflective writing, small response groups

February 3, 2009

McComiskey, English Studies

McComiskey, Bruce. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 2006. 12-53.

Through an overview of the history of English studies and its increasing specialization, McComiskey argues against the decisiveness that specialization creates and puts forth a new model, integration, that will transform all the disciplines housed within English studies (rhet/comp, linguistics, English education, literacy criticism, critical theory, and creative writing) through the development of large, common goals created through both identification (Burke) and articulation (Stuart Hall.) He cites four major problems with splintered, specialized English departments: 1. they do not appear coherent to administrators or to students 2. the marginalized disciplines (non-literature) are gaining more attention and financial resources, causing more strife 3. the scholarship that emerges from specialization only speaks to itself, giving up on any attempt to make cross-disciplinary connections and create interdisciplinary methodologies and 4. the faculty pour their energy into upper-division speciality electives, depriving the lower-division courses of resources and relegating them to service status. McComiskey draws on Stephen North’s assessment of the discipline of English and points out the problems with his three proposed solutions (secession, corporate compromise (organize under a new term, like cultural studies or literacy), or fusion (intergrate all disciplines into one major and in all courses.)) McComiskey’s solution, integration, is to reorganize English studies as the discipline that studies the analysis, critique, and production of discourse. His book (this is the introduction to it) features six chapters, each about one of the disciplines housed within English studies: linguistics, rhetoric and composition, English education, creative writing, literature and literacy criticism, and cultural studies and critical theory. His goals are to educate scholars on the other fields so that they might come to identify (Burkean term) with their fellow faculty members in order to collaborate on productive, functional projects and build true relationships by working on common problems, showing that English is a useful, important discipline in society.

Quotable Quotes

“English studies can move from being a set of unrelated subdisciplines to a powerful collection of integrated (structurally separate but fundamentally interrelated) disciplines with a coherent and collective goal that does not compromise each discipline’s unique integrity. I propose that the goal of this integrated English studies should be the analysis, the critique, and the production of discourse in social context” (43).

New attitude: “English is useful.” (49)

“The history of English is the history of academic specialization” (26).

“For with radical specialization, as English studies has experienced in the last half century, we are no longer able to represent ourselves to university administrators as having coherent goals (other than the material fact that we work side by side)” (30).

Notable Notes

reimagine ourselves as a larger community of English studies – use Burke

great overview and history of the specialization and splintering of English studies from mid-1900s onward.

Cold War grants skipped over the humanities, led to the decrease in importance of humanities. English was “saved” by the service, practical discipline of rhet/comp.

New generation of rhet/comp scholars in 1960s and 1970s embraced composition and made it their object of critical study and rhetoric the foundation.

Dewey calling for the dissolution of knowledge and praxis in The Educational Situation (1901)

Secession leads to small, competing departments that are scruntinized by administration and more likely to be cut in budgets.

Those departments that already had secession happen must reintegrate into one large department.

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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