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).

October 23, 2014

Morgan and Pytash, Preparing Preservice Teachers to Become Teachers of Writing: A 20-Year Review of the Research Literature

Morgan, Denise N. and Kristine E. Pytash. “Preparing Preservice Teachers to Become Teachers of Writing; A 20-Year Review of the Research Literature.” English Education 47.1 (October 2014): 6-37. Print.

Morgan and Pytash, in their review of the 31 published peer-reviewed research studies focused on preparing preservice teachers (PST) to teach writing, argue for an explicit focus on writing teacher preparation in undergraduate teacher education programs. They reiterate the National Commission on Writing’s recommendation for PSTs to have a writing pedagogy methods course in their undergraduate teacher preparation.

Morgan and Pytash organized the 31 studies they found in four thematic categories: 1. studies that focused on PST’s attitudes and beliefs toward writing; 2. studies that focused on PST’s interactions with student writers and writing; 3. studies that looked at PST’s influential experiences in methods courses that expanded their understanding of how to think and read as a writer; and 4. studies that looked at how PST applied what they had (or had not) learned in their methods courses about the teaching of writing in their student teaching and first few years of teaching.

Morgan and Pytash contend that the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature overshadow the teaching of writing, and they argue that it is time, especially in the advent of the CCSS, to rebalance the focus in teacher preparation coursework and in K-12 language arts classrooms. They also point out that there is a need for further research in how PSTs learn and enact the teaching of writing, pointing out that the literature available on how inservice teachers learn and enact the teaching of writing through venues such as the National Writing Project do not address the same needs and concerns as PSTs and beginning teachers. They call for further, longitudinal, cross-institutional research studies that can explore what kinds of concepts and practices learned in methods coursework helps PSTs negotiate both their past experiences as student writers and their current school contexts as they teach writing to whole classes of students.

Quotable Quotes

Goal of the research review: “To develop a coherent picture of the research concerning PSTs’ preparation to teach writing” (7)

“It is critical that PSTs enter the classroom, whether as student teachers or in their early careers, with strong theoretical and pedagogical knowledge for teaching writing” (7).

“Writing is a complex, nuanced, and layered activity. Teaching writing is even more so as teachers are challenged with making visible the in-the-head processes associated with writing, often to 30 students at a time, each with individual writing processes. To make instructionally sound decisions, teachers need to develop a conceptual framework that will guide their interactions with students. PSTs should be able to look to teacher education for that initial guidance” (33).

“Without writing methods coursework, the topic of writing is ‘sandwiched in’ the semester, with often just a few class periods devoted to teaching writing and the rest devoted to teaching reading. This provides PSTs with, at best, surface understandings of and experiences with teaching writing” (30).

“Now more than ever teacher educators are faced with the critical need to prepare PSTs to become confident and capable teachers of writers. With the current national focus on writing instruction in schools due to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) teachers must be prepared to enter the profession with strong pedagogical knowledge of how to teach writing and with a sense of their own writing self-efficacy. Just as schools at the K-12 level are being required to increase their writing instruction, universities should consider increasing the amount of writing preparation PSTs receive. Reading coursework cannot dominate literacy teacher education preparation” (28).

The literature review shows there is “a crucial need for PSTs to experience methods courses that provide explicit, consistent, and thoughtful writing experiences” (28)

Notable Notes

what sorts of preparation do PST get for designing and teaching digital and multimodal writing? (32)

future research project could be analyzing the syllabi of writing methods courses (repeat a similar study done by Smagorinsky and Whiting in 1995)

the methods course for teaching writing must provide PST with a conceptual framework to teach writing and practical strategies to implement in the classroom (29)

there is a divide between what is taught in methods courses at the university and what is implemented in K-12 classrooms – more studies needed about the transition of PSTs to the classroom to see what causes this (29)

studies done with experienced or inservice teachers are helpful, but they do not fully address the particular challenges faced by PST who are teaching writing (30)

without a methods course (or without a strong one), PSTs and beginning teachers revert to teaching as they were taught (27)

good methods courses give PST a reference of both theoretical concepts and hands-on practical strategies (26)

Question about methods courses that are run as modeling/writer workshops: “Is ‘living through’ a writing workshop and all it entails a significant method for learning how to teach writing?” (23) – the difference between being a writer and being a writing teacher (23)

Questions about methods courses that ask students to work one-on-one with student writers: How does working one-on-one with a student writer help a PST learn how to teach writing to a whole class? (19) If the PST only focuses on providing feedback, how do they learn how to create assignments and teach writing before and during the drafting stage? (19)

PSTs who have negative self-images as writers end up not valuing writing in their classroom and/or providing poor writing instruction (14)

Their methods: search databases using key word search terms (“systematic browsing”) and “footnote chasing” (9)

December 3, 2010

Review, Winterowd, The English Department

Review. “W. Ross Winterowd. The English Department: A Personal and Institutional History.” College Composition and Communication 51.1 (Sep. 1999): 138.

This short review of Winterowd’s 1998 history explains that this history of the English departments draws together the connections between rhetoric and literature and argues that there is a future for English departments.

November 17, 2010

McMullen and Wellman, Writing Programs Outside the English Department

McMullen, Judith Q., and J. Douglas Wellman. “Writing Programs Outside the English Department: An Assessment of a Five-Year Program.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 14 (Fall/Winter 1990): 17-26. Print.

The authors describe the independent Writing Improvement Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, created in 1982 in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, and interpret the results of a five-year review survey sent to graduates from the School about the kinds of writing they did in the WIP and how or if the program helped them be more effective writers. The results indicate that the students find the program valuable (if not during college, then after in the work world) and that the program needs to think about who should be teaching in the WIP – experts in the disciplines? those in the English department?

Notes and Quotes

structure of the program: certain courses are writing-intensive, a consultant from the English Department screens student writing and gives one-on-one tutoring to students who are determined to need this kind of help.

May 28, 2009

Pflugfelder, Review

Pflugfelder, Ehren Helmut. Review. Composition Forum 19 (Spring 2009).

Review of three recent books on plagiarism: Eisner/Vicinus Originality, Imitation, and Plagiarism; Howard/Robillard Pluralizing Plagiarism; March Plagiarism: Alchemy and Remedy.

Pflugfelder announces a subfield of “plagiarism studies” and looks to how three recently published texts in rhetoric and composition are moving beyond blaming and criminalizing the student and looking for “plagiarism-proof assignments” to considering plagiarism’s relationship to writing practices and its economic, cultural, institutional, and ideological frames. There has been a critical shift in how the field sees and defines plagiarism, one that refuses to see incidents as local crimes or mistakes, but instead tries to understand the entire global situation. 

Quotable Quotes

no longer “treating incidents of plagiarism like a crime or a symptom. They discuss it like it is – a constructed authorship practice lamented as a crisis and perpetuated by political, economic, and cultural paradigms.”

“change what defines and produces the problem”

Notable Notes

is it a shift the public will adopt?

postmodern, remix culture

January 25, 2009

Horvath, “The Components of Written Response”

Horvath, Brooke K. “The Components of Written Response: A Practical Synthesis of Current Views.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 207-223.

This review and synthesis of the research in response to student writing highlights the scholarship done in how writing teachers engage in formative evaluation in the hopes of sketching out a theory of response and evaluation. Many of the findings are presented today as tried-and-true maxims: avoid negativity, treat student texts as unfinished works-in-progress, move from global to local concerns, and act as a more experienced writing coach with students. Horvath ends by pointing out that response happens beyond the instructor’s written comments, such as responses during oral conferences, peer editing sessions, and class discussions, and includes a bibliography of scholarship in response to student writing.

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