Revolution Lullabye

June 25, 2013

Melzer, Using Systems Thinking to Transform Writing Programs

Melzer, Dan. “Using Systems Thinking to Transform Writing Programs.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 75-94.

Melzer explains Critical Systems Thinking (CST) and argues that it can be used by writing program administration to target “points of leverage” within writing programs that, if adjusted, can lead to system-wide change. His article builds on Porter et al’s call for institutional critique, and shows how CST’s focus on discovering holistic patterns and relationships as well as uncovering and addressing inequalities within larger systems serves as a useful methodology for writing program administrators who need to look beyond individual actors in order to make gradual change. Melzer uses an example from his institution, when he served on a reading and writing faculty senate subcommittee, to show how following a CST approach helped that institution target the junior writing exam as a leverage poin through which to rethink the campus-wide writing program from a focus of deficiency and placement to one that more fully embraced campus-wide, vertical writing instruction.

Notable Notes

CST thinking from management, systems thinking designed in biology and engineering, educational research

Stages in Critical Systems Thinking

1. Creating a model of the system and its underlying ideologies (his example of the flowchart that represents the existing writing program model, which includes an placement test, first-year writing, remedial writing courses, a junior proficiency exam, and upper-division writing intensive courses) (82-83)

2. Recognizing ideological differences and defining an alternative model of the system (84-85) (his example shows the principles, derived from CWPA, CCCC, and NCTE, that the subcommittee wanted the new writing program to be defined by, characteristics for both students and faculty in the program.)

3. Finding points of leverage to change the system (86-87) (his example is the junior writing exam, changing the requirement from passing an exam to taking a writing-intensive course, making the writing intensive course the “centerpiece of the campus writing program” (88))

Quotable Quotes

“Work for change at the systems level rather than tinkering with an isolated course, program, or department by finding points of leverage within the system” (90).

“Embrace the idea of perpetual change” (93).

“A systems thinker’s attention is on the ways the structure of a system will construct behavior” (78)

June 19, 2009

Wiley, Gleason, and Phelps, Composition in Four Keys

Wiley, Mark, Barbara Gleason, and Louise Wetherbee Phelps. Composition in Four Keys. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1996.

This reader is designed to introduce beginning students and scholars to the field of composition and rhetoric, and unlike other sourcebooks, is organized to create a map through which the readers can begin to draw connections between studies and scholars and begin to understand the field as a whole. The heuristic used is that of keys (drawing on Suzanne Langer) or commonplaces that connect certain strands of research and practice in the field. The four keys used are nature, art, science, and politics, and reflect those strands the editors saw emerging in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. The final fifth section of the book offers other ways of mapping and understanding the field. The keys are not exclusionary, and the editors invite readers to question how the keys were constructed and the connections between them. They keys are more than content: they show the readers how people talk about writing, what other disciplines, theories, fields, and values scholars draw on to form their understandings, and how people practice and teach writing.

Notable Notes

the hermeneutical circle – it’s hard to interpret something without a context, but you begin without any sense of position or map. The keys are supposed to help with that.

Nature – natural development of a writer, primacy of the writer, personal power and authority, writer’s voice, romanticisim and transcendental thought, study of students K-U, expressivist, Piaget, Vygotsky, internal expeirnece, self-consciousness, reflection, collaboration, personal responsibility, natural influence of a community on a writer. (Moffett, Britton, Bissex, Berthoff, Murray, Warnock, Elbow, Bruffee, Stewart, Phelps.)

Art – language as central concern, rhetoric, invention, transactional, form, style, craft of writing, choices, imitation, classical rhetoric, formal heuristics, discourse communities, discourse analysis, language can be examined as an artifact, grammar and errors as signifiers, New Rhetoric. (Corbett, Shaughnessy, Winterowd, Williams, Young, Halloran, Ede and Lunsford, Kinneavy, Porter, Coe, Lauer)

Science – inquiry, knowledge, scientific method, disciplinary identity and respect, research methods, protocol analysis, process theory, scientific studies, Cold War, federal funding for language research and education, need for a method for Open Admissions and basic writing, cognitive studies, assessment, empirical studies, ethnographies, rejection of writing products as the object of study – look at writing process instead, influence of computers and technology resaerch, cohesion research, case studies, students v. professionals writing. (Emig, Flower and Hayes, Freedman, Dyson, Hawshier, Hillocks, Haswell, Geisler, Moss, Sternglass)

Politics – a later key influenced by the social turn, postmodern, poststructuralist, neo-Marxist, feminist, literacy research, outside of the classroom, language differences, texts not separated from contexts, cultural studies, critical pedagogy, liberatory pedagogy, ESL, conditions of teaching writing, feminization of composition, liberal, materiality of writing, politics of basic writing, academic discourse as exclusion, no neutral rhetoric and language. (Rouse, Fiore and Elsasser, Rose, Bartholomae, Smitherman, Wyoming Resolution, Miller, Villanueva, Bizzell, Hairston (who critiqued the political turn))

April 15, 2009

Broad, What We Really Value

Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State UP, 2003.

Broad introduces the practice of dynamic criteria mapping (DCM) as an inquiry-driven alternative to static, traditional rubrics that have a normative rather than descriptive function, not even addressing many of the things are taught in writing classes (therefore not a valid assessment). His book is a case study of the use of DCM at “City University,” a university with 4000 students in a 3-course English sequence that is assessed through portfolios, graded collectively by 3-teacher teams. Instead of starting with certain textual features to check off, DCM asks teachers and assessors to describe what they see in a text (good and bad.) Together, the instructors find synonyms and antonyms for what they notice, categorize similar ones, and create a visual map that illustrates the values about good writing that the program’s teachers hold collectively. This method, though time-consuming and messy, better articulates the complex processes and ideas that students are showing in their writing. The process is locally, site-baed: though the method of DCM can be used, individual maps cannot be transported across institutions or even across years; it should be a conversation about values that happens continually.

Quotable Quotes

“We can now face the truth equipped with tools (qualitative inquiry) and attitudes (hermeneutics) that help us tap the energy of apparant chaos without being consumed by it. We can embrace the life of things” (137).

“In their rush toward clarity, simplicity, brevity, and authority, traditional scoring guides make substantial knowledge claims based on inadequate research” (3)

“In pursuit of their normative and formative purposes, traditional rubrics surrender thier descriptive and informative potential: responsiveness, detail, and complexity in accounting for how writing is actually evaluated” (2).

“The age of the rubric has passed” (4)

Notable Notes

Vinland map – not appropriate now

move to validity(not the same as reliability)

the DCM finds textual criteria and contextual criteria (things not found in text but have an impact on assessing, before DCM these have not been visible)

benefits of DCM: 1. student learning (shows writing is more complex, they have a better understanding of what they’re doing well and  what teachers are looking for); 2. professional development and community; 3. program development and evaluation; 4. more valid assessment; 5. better relations with the public (values are made public, written down)

drawbacks? time-consuming and needs constant reflection and revisiting

must happen in communal writing assessment so there will be debate, disagreement, and discussion of values.

once the values are visible, you can start having conversations about whether you should value what you do.

a search for truth through hermeneutics, not psychometrics

March 31, 2009

Anson, Figuring It Out

Anson, Chris M. “Figuring It Out: Writing Programs in the Context of University Budgets.” In The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Brown and Enos. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 233-252.

Anson describes how WPAs can come to fully understand their program’s budgets by using a mapping heuristic to create a visual diagram of a program’s expenses, sources of income, and problems. He shows through a fictional case study how a WPA can find creative solutions to budgetary problems by mapping, because mapping allows for a WPA to create budgetary categories and to see relationships in and between those categories. He also advocates arguing for better pay and benefits for part-time instructors through analytical data and facts rather than emotional or theoretical appeals about equitable and ethical compensation because he believes administration will be more moved by hard-line data about the profits a composition program brings into the university.

Quotable Quotes

“That a program is forced to pay its teachers less than the full-time salary at the fast-food restaurant in the student union, and that it is unable to buy a new computer or provide donuts and coffee at its teacher-development meetings even though it is generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in net revenues is a sad commentary on the way in which an essential part of college-level instruction is viewed by those who govern our higher educatoin institutions. Jodi’s analysis, done carefully and disinterestedly, can contribute much more effectively to the mobilization of forces against such continued exploitation than will unsupported assertions, anecdotes, or the sort of victim mentality that lends to a begrudging acceptance of the status quo.” (251).

Notable Notes

responsibility-centered budgeting trend

uses Tim Peeples’ mapping concpet from his article about WPA and Postmodern Mapping

February 23, 2009

Porter et al, Institutional Critique

Porter, James E., Patricia Sullivan, Stuart Blythe, Jeffrey T. Grabill, and Libby Miles. “Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change.” CCC 51.4 (June 2000) 610-642.

Composition and rhetoric scholars need to begin seeing the institution itself, as a rhetorical and spatial entity, as the place where they might critique and enact change. Working with the situated institution prevents composition and rhetoric’s critiques and calls for change from being to global and idealistic or being so local (classroom-level) that it does not effect the institution as a whole. Institutions range from the university to the school, legal, and political system. Institutional critique as a methodolgy draws on postmodern mapping and critical theory, particularily investigating the rhetorical and spatial construction of institutions, the power dynamics at the boundaries, and the multiple historical and social perspectives of those in the institution. This kind of methodology begins to push the gap between research and service and might be one way of validating and rewarding the rich intellectual work that compositionists and rhetoricians do that is all but thrown away with the label of “service.” Rhetoric and composition as a field is uniquely equip to practice institutional critique.

Quotable Quotes

“Our basic claim is this: Though institutions are certainly powerful, they are not monoliths; they are rhetorically constructed human designs (whose power is reinforced by buildings, laws, traditions, and knowledge-making practices) and so are changeable” (611).

“We focus, then, on institutions as rhetorical systems of decision making that exercise power through the design of space (both material and discursive)” (621).

“Institutional critique is, fundamentally, a pragmatic effort to use rhetorical means to improve institutional systems” (625).

Notable Notes

projects like where a writing center is physically situated on campus; how and when during the publishing process a handbook is open for revision & the various stakes that go into such a production; Ellen Cushman’s work with Quarytown in The Struggle and the Tools.

advocacy – action to enact change. Can’t stop at critique. It fills in the gap between macro-level ideals and mirco-level classroom practices

equating the discipline with the institution ignores the material constraints the discipline has to work in (619)

design relationship – between rhetoric and space

David Sibley Geographies of Exclusion, postmodern geography

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