Revolution Lullabye

January 8, 2013

Brent, Crossing Boundaries: Co-op Students Relearning to Write

Brent, Doug. “Crossing Boundaries: Co-op Students Relearning to Write.” College Composition and Communication 63.4 (June 2012): 558-592. Print.

Brent, through a study of how six university students adapted to the new rhetorical challenges of a professional work environment, argues that it is the conglomerate experiences of their academic careers – not just the discrete bits of rhetorical knowledge they might learn in writing or communication classes – that prepare students to transfer academic rhetorical knowledge to solve professional rhetorical problems.

Brent followed six students from the University of Calvary who participated in four-month-long co-ops in a variety of professional careers.  He interviewed them about their work experiences and asked them to reflect on how their rhetorical education at the university helped them write in their new professional environments.  Although he noted that the students had widely differing experiences, he was able to glean several common threads from their experiences.  The most prominent, which the students cited often, was how their professional communication course helped them write clearly and concisely, which they perceived as a valuable skill in the workplace.  Other common themes Brent noticed was how they all had to do some sort of research, adapt their writing to different audiences, read critically, and multitask.  Brent argues that these general rhetorical skills are not just taught in writing courses – students develop them holistically across their academic experiences – but, Brent also contends, writing teachers have a particular place in this larger experience, because they are in a position to help students think consciously about the skills and knowledge they bring to bear to different rhetorical situations.

Brent reviews the literature of transfer, showing the limitations of emprical studies that seem to suggest that the transfer of rhetorical skills and knowledge from the academic enviroment to the workplace happens infrequently or not at all.  Brent contends that what we should value is not the transfer of discrete skills – like how to write a proposal or another particular genre – but instead, we as educators should be concerned with developing flexible schemas and habits of mind that allow students to transform their rhetorical knowledge to meet new situations.

Notable Notes

the research in professional environments is not as slow or meticulous as the research students are expected to do in academia: in fact, “the professional research process as described by the students sounds suspiciously like the process of desparate last-minute searching that is often cited as the one really used by many students, as apposted to the more meticulous process that mirrors what scholars do and teachers espouse” (587).

the six students were not selected because their jobs were writing-specific; writing is required in most all work environments.

what students took away from their professional writing/communication courses: 1. writing concisely; 2. sense of how professional documents are formatted/organized for some sort of hierarchy; 3. “highly general strategies for managing new task environments” (586).

helpful review of studies of learning transfer in writing studies and cognition

rhetorical performance/competence (560).

his definition of rhetorical education is limited to postsecondary rhetorical education and extracurricular experiences that might contribute to it (559-560).

Carl Bereiter: the transfer of dispositions or “habits of mind” (563).

when students are confronted with new genres/rhetorical situations, they often turn to Google (a strategy also used by professionals.) – a common “survival skill” (571)

Quotable Quotes

“If our goal in teaching writing (particularly but not exclusively professional writing) is to facilitate learning transformation rather than learning transfer, the implications for both research and pedagogy are enormous. One: although we may scale back any hope of teaching nuggets of rhetorical knowledge that can be unproblematically applied to new situations, we need not despair of being able to teacher more general rhetorical knowledge that can help our students perform rhetorcially outside our classrooms. Two: we need more research to refine our understanding of what knowledge is most amenable to transformation, and how we might help students acquire it” (565).

“They demonstrated good rhetorical survival instincts that had been developed in order to survive varied academic writing tasks, but that appeared to carry over as a means of dealing with new workplace genres” (586).

“Put more simply, it appears that the academic discourse environment as a whole, not just isolated courses on writing, had helped them learn how to learn” (588).

“While the case studies I have presented don’t settle any details of exactly what a rhetorical education might look like, the study does suggest that an understanding of how to extract genre features from models, how to analyze an audience, and how to use genre knowledge to interpret information will help students develop rhetorical knowledge that they can transform when thrown in the deep end of new rhetorical environments. In addition, if we can help them become more conscious about what to observe and what questions to ask in new rhetorical environments, we will have gone a long way toward helping them transform, if not simply transfer, this knowledge” (590).

May 25, 2011

Simmons, Encouraging Civic Engagement Through Extended Writing Projects

Simmons, Michele  “Encouraging Civic Engagement Through Extended Writing Projects: Rewriting the Curriculum.” The Writing Instructor: Special Issue: Disruptions of/in Professional Writing Pedagogy (May 2010).

Simmons points out the pitfalls of single-semester, single-course service learning projects (for students, faculty, instititutions, and community orgranizations) and, arguing for the real rhetorical benefit of service learning writing courses (she focuses on professional writing), claims that service learning projects need to be envisioned as extended projects that are taken up and valued by an entire curriculum.

These extended projects need to encompass multiple courses, multiple disciplines, and complex problems that require critical inquiry.

Simmons gives an example of a project she did with undergraduate and graduate students: storm water pollution prevention education and outreach website.

Simmons also addresses the issue of assessing a long-range, multi-stakeholder community project and emphasizes the importance of real community collaboration and partnership.

May 6, 2009

Ohmann, English in America

Ohmann, Richard. English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1976.

This educational critique that focuses on higher education English departments, arguing that they are implicit in forwarding the capitalist, military, industrial agendas of the institutions in power (government, military, big business.) Ohmann argues against New Criticism for a return to the humanist, moralistic study of literature, one grounded in people and culture, not science. English departments, he claims, act to sort and sanction undergraduate and graduate students, assimilating them into an elite class. He draws his critique from an economic history of American industry (and its effect on education) and by looking at the MLA organization, the structure of English departments, freshman composition textbooks, the AP system, and institutional writings like The Pentagon Papers. His critique is profoundly affected by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, and the students’ rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and he wants English departments to adopt Marxist, revolutionary agendas, to shed their apolitical stance and work for societal change.

Quotable Quotes

“Ther is just no sense in pondering the function of literature without relating it to the actual society that uses it, to the centers of power within that society, and to the institutions that mediate between literature and people. In other words, the function of literature and the role of English teachers cannot be understood except within the context of a given society and politics” (303) – texts do not exist and cannot be understood in isolation

“Meetings and memoranda are main instruments in planning, prime media of discourse in a complicated technological society” (191)

Composition arose “when the modern university was being grafted onto the old aristocratic college” (134).

“writing was no longer mainly a private and public art, but a tool of production and management” (93).

“I found it harder to believe that Humanity was being served well by the academic humanities, as our official dogma held, or that the professional apparatus we had invented was a rational structure and not a Rube Goldberg machine” (5)

Notable Notes

wants what is done by English departments and professors to matter, not just be contained in some specialist world that doesn’t communicate with reality.

looks at composition and its connection with gatekeeping. Chapter by Wallace Douglas about the Boylston Professorship at Harvard – move from classical, rhetoric as art to training for the professions, a hurdle to overcome

problem with emphasis on apolitical, childish, decontextualized, solitary, individual, private themes and attitudes towards students in freshman comp – we need to look at what kinds of writing actually are written, valued, and enact policy in the world, like the memos of the Pentagon Papers.

Pentagon Papers – the memos set an official argument, framed action, was a point (evidence) for future reference. THe memo kept policy makers in a particular frame of mind, following the warrants of the genre because the purpose behind it, the human costs of war, were never questioned or considered.  Connection to teaching professional writing, ethics

what does it mean to be a professional? independence, jurisdiction to allow others in, to train, assertion that your knowledge is special, needed, and only attained through long training in schools

industrial society values are tied up in the history of English and comp: efficiency, centralization, measurement, capitalism, management (261)

the shift to the knowledge economy raised the importance of universities to corporations, the college degree became the mark of socialization and training

professional, intellectual choices are political choices (304-305)

February 3, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, Burton, A Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, eds. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2002.

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

Peeples, Rosinski, and Strickland, Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics

Peeples, Timothy, Paula Rosinski, and Michael Strickland. Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics: The Case of Constructing Elon University’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric Concentration. Composition Studies 35.1 (Spring 2007) 57-76.

Using two scenarios (discussions on new faculty hires and acquiring space), the authors show how the complementary perspectives of chronos/strategy and kairos/tactic work as a theoretical framework for describing how programs are designed, developed, and enacted. Their theory draws on both the ancient Greek notions of time (chronos and kairos) and de Certeau’s terms to describe the space from which a person acts (strategy (one’s own, independent) and tactic (undefined, opportunity-driven.)) Their piece attempts to bring case-study story-telling, a method often used by administrators to explain program design due to the very local, contextual nature of program creation, up to a theoretical level by introducing rhetorical terms that can describe common techniques and methods faculty use to carve out their own institutional spaces through majors, minors, and concentrations.

Quotable Quotes

“What we find most powerful about this framework is the way it emphasizes the rhetorical, productive, compositional nature of program development; we write and re-write our programs. As a heuristic framework, the combination of chronos/kairos and strategy/tactic helps with the ongoing inventional process of program development….gives us a way to move beyond situated awareness and toward applying rhetorical analytical skills to our own efforts at program development.” (58)

Notable Notes

emphasis on tactics is not often talked and theorized about in journals, giving a space for it here. Kairos is a key component in the development of programs.

our action – strategy and tactics – form our social realities and our discourse (58)

we need to be more deliberate and conscious of what courses of action we are taking to develop programs, to be aware of the moves that are available to us.

January 26, 2009

Carpini, “Re-Writing the Humanities”

Carpini, Dominic Delli. “Re-Writing the Humanities: The Writing Major’s Effect upon Undergraduate Studies in English Departments.” Composition Studies 35:1 (Spring 2007) 15-36.

Beginning with a classification of the three main types of undergraduate writing majors – professional, liberal arts, and hybrid – Carpini shows how one writing major, the Professional Writing Major at York College of Pennsylvania, has redefined what writing studies means to students and to the discipline. The major has returned rhetoric to the humanities, informing students’ work in literary studies and philosophy by increasing the topics and discussions they can draw on and write about and making them more careful readers and writers. It also has revitalized and added a new area of inquiry to those students in pre-professional tracks, like English education. This was in the special edition of Composition Studies about the writing major, and Carpini includes several institutions’ own writing major descriptions.

Quotable Quotes

“the potential that writing majors have to influence the disciplines with which we share institutional homes and to introduce undergraduate students to areas of research that, until recently, were reserved for graduate studies” (15)

the writing major is on “a continuum moving from praxis to gnosis.” (16)

Notable Notes

English secondary teachers learning tutoring in the writing center

abolition and Crowley arguments cited

extensive (15 or so) descriptions of writing majors from the college or university’s catalogues

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