Revolution Lullabye

June 12, 2009

Cooper and Odell, Research on Composing

Cooper, Charles R. and Lee Odell. Research on Composing: Points of Departure. Urbana: NCTE, 1978.

This collection, from the 1975 Buffalo Conference on Researching Composing, wants to expand the nature and scope of research on the writing process. The editors argue that to do so, scholars in composition need to question their basic assumptions about how writing happens and be open to changing and revising their theories. Writing researchers, they argue, need to look at writers, not written products of published writers, for models of composing, and should look beyond English for answers to research questions – to rhetorical theory, developmental and cognitive psychology, education, and discourse theory. The essays – including those written by Britton, Young, Emig, and Murray – are therefore speculative and broad in scope, trying out new theories and ideas to open the door for further research and questioning in the composing process.

Quotable Quotes

purpose: “redirecting and revitalizing research in written composition” (xiii)

Notable Notes

value of teacher-research


Sommers, Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers

Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” CCC 31:4 (Dec 1980) 378-388.

Sommers argues that the field needs to focus and research how writers revise, and offers her case study of twenty students and 20 adult writers (from Boston and Oklahoma City) as a starting point. Each writer wrote three essays, revised them twice, and sat for interviews with Sommers about their revision strategies. Sommers found that students often focus on the word level when revising – they have what she deems a “thesaurus philosophy of writing” (381) – while the adults saw revision as an opportunity to shape their thoughts and discover the direction and meaning of their writing. Sommers stressed that the truncated view of writing students have – one in which they have a thesis before they even begin writing – does not allow them to engage in writing as a process of discovery or learning, and that teachers of writing need to show students that good writing allows for a holistic and recursive revision process, one that seeks dissonance and wrestles with meaning.

May 26, 2009

Howard, Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty.” College English 57.7 (Nov 1995): 788-806.

University regulations and policy statements on plagiarism need to be revised to reflect the field’s complex understandings of authorship, composing, and plagiarism. These policy statements, which try to simplify and stabilize the dynamic, complex concept of plagiarism, are problematic because they uphold the Romantic ideal of the single, solitary author, they couch plagiarism solely on moral (not pedagogical) terms, and they define plagiarism through textual features without any consideration for a writer’s intent or context. Howard includes a sample plagiarism policy that she wrote that more accurately reflects the continuum of motivations and practices of plagiarisms, with a range of appropriate responses for patchwriting, failure to cite, and outright cheating and plagiarism.

Quotable Quotes

“The cumulative, interactive nature of writing that makes impossible the representation of a stable category of authorship and hence a stable category of plagiarism” (791).

“Sanctioning rather that criminalizing an important stage of students’ learning processes” (802).

Notable Notes

two sources to look at: Thomas Mallon’s Stolen Words – treats plagiarism through lens of solitary author – and Hull, Glynda and Mike Rose. “Rethinking Remediation: Toward a Social-Cognitive Understanding of Problematic Reading and Writing.” Written Communication 6.2 (1989): 139-154. – argues for imitation in comp pedagogy

why is plagiarism so offensive? It undermines what we believe in composition – that writing is discovery, expressionism, an understanding of the self

moral lens so that universities have to prosecute plagiarism: theft, integrity, secrets, crime, honor, citizenship

university policies don’t line up with current understandings and theories of authorship – collaborative, digital

May 25, 2009

Price, Beyond “Gotcha”

Price, Margaret. “Beyond ‘Gotcha!’: Situating Plagiarism in Policy and Pedagogy.” CCC 54.1 (Sept 2002): 88-115.

Price analyzes and compares three plagiarism policies (UMass, Michigan, and Howard’s suggested policy from “Plagiarisms”) to illustrate ways in which university plagiarism policies might better reflect the field’s complex understanding of plagiarism. Since she advocates for situated, local policies, she offers no universal guidelines for universities to adopt, rather focusing on making both the writing of the policy and the teaching of plagiarism open, dynamic, ongoing and dialogue-centered processes that involve students and faculty. Policies need to express the contextual and contested nature of seemingly stable terms like “common knowledge,” “facts,” “your own work/words,” and “sources.” She shows how the policies could be read and understood as institutional genres, and their composing processes (no individual author, borrowing from other policies) contradicts the expectations they state for students.

Quotable Quotes

“We need to stop treating plagiarism like a pure moral absolute (“Thou shalt not plagiarize”) and start explaining it in a way that accounts for the shifting features of context” (90).

“A situated understanding of plagiarism will preserve, not harm academic values of honesty and integrity” (90).

“Plagiarism is a dynamic and locally mediated idea, not an unmoving, absolutely knowable rule” (101).

Notable Notes

leave spaces (literally) in the plagiarism policies for students to write in definitions, examples, questions – use this in class discussions

have students underline on a peers’ paper quotes, paraphrases, and own work in different colored pencils

university policies state expectations for both the academic community at large and novice students

April 10, 2009

Murray, Learning by Teaching

Murray, Donald M. Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1982.

This collection of Donald Murray’s articles and essays (published and unpublished between 1968 and 1982) describe both how he understands the process of writing and the process of teaching. An advocate and founder of the expressivist movement, he believes that writing is a process in which a writer moves between the stages of prewriting (rehearsing), writing (drafting), and rewriting (revision) recursively, in no one set fashion. His pedagogy is marked by frequent, informal individual conferences with students, where students are treated as writers and come to his office to discuss their essays, which are not assignments but rather pieces imagined and created by them. Murray, a professional writer, sees his role as a listener and a coach, helping students see where their draft might take them next, never looking at writing as a finished product (expect perhaps on the deadline, the end of the term, when it will be graded.) He is interested in the scientific studies of the writing process (Perl, Sommers, Emig), but his argument and theory lays in the theory he developed by reflecting on his own work as a writer, reading about the writing processes of published writers, and observing how his students function as writers. In his theory, he names four forces of the writing process: collecting, connecting, reading, and writing, four forces that are always trying to be in a balance between discovery and clarification.

Quotable Quotes

“Listening is, after all, an aggressive act” – it places a large onus on the student because by listening you are validating them as a thinker, a writer, an intellectual (170)

“Papers are examined to see what other choices the writer might make” (17)

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, not for the paper we call literature by giving it a grade, but for the search for truth in whcih he is engaged. We must listen carefully for those words that may reveal a truth, that may reveal a voice. We must respect our student for his potential truth and for his potential voice. We are coaches, encouragers, developers, creators of environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves” (16)

“The writer is an individual who uses language to discover meaning in experience and communicate it” (9)

“Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action” (15)

Notable Notes

5 writer experiences every student should have: the experiences of seeing (practicing perception), form (creating order), publishing (deadlines and made public), communication (reaching an audience), and failure

teachers need to write too, with their students- teach through modeling

“The Politics of Respect” – it is crucial that we 1. respect students’ intelligence and ability as writers 2. respect composition teachers by providing them with control of curriculum and professional development 3. respect the director of Freshman Comp by recognition of his administration as counting for tenure and giving him the authority he needs to run a successful program as a professional and 4. have respect from other disciplines for knowing how to teach writing – this respect comes from the first three.

revision as opportunity, not punishment

texts of course – student’s own writing, never-ending revision, student’s own forms and languages, stress that discovery of meaning is the goal of writing – you learn through writing

teacher shouldn’t talk much at all

write titles, not labels; write leads, not introductions

the self is a legitimate audience

April 9, 2009

Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

First edition 1973.

The book is divided between Elbow’s five practical chapters about how to write more fluidly and construct a teacherless writing class and his appendix, which articulates his theory behind his teacherless pedagogy, a theory about how ideas are found and tested through two different methods: the believing game and the doubting game. Academia favors the doubting game (critiquing writing and arguments to find and weed out errors) over the believing game (coming up with different scenarios and hypothesis to test the validity of a given argument, to suspend disbelief and step in the writer’s shoes.) Elbow argues that there needs to be a balance between the two, and the believing game, so often dismissed, offers a valuable way to productively understand and make meaning through metaphor and relationships.

Elbow explains his pedagogy using two different metaphors: growing and cooking. Good writing grows, beginning with a lot of freewriting, then heading towards chaos, then organizing into centers of gravity, and then reforming through ferocious revision. Good writing also cooks, involving a number of competing and conflicting elements (ideas, arguments, words, metaphors, modes) which are forced to interact with each other. Noninteraction comes from an absence of conflict (static agreement) or from constant, unproductive conflict (deadlock and stalemate.) He advocates multiple, quick drafts, attacking the writing as a whole, not through parts, and unleashing energy and words through constrained, 10-minute frequent freewrites. Writing, Elbow argues, cannot be fully completed unless it is done in interaction with others, and thus he argues for a teacherless writing class, one in which a core number of writers commit to writing and responding to a draft once a week. He sets up guidelines for responding readers and writers in Chapter 4 and 5.

Quotable Quotes

“Make writing a global task, not a piecemeal one.” (72)

“Our conception of intellectual process is so dominated by critical thinking” (xxv)

Notable Notes

2nd edition begins with an introduction in which Elbow calls attention to his appendixed theory (doubting and believing games) and invites further response to it.

Believing game is what Quakers, juries have to do; it is what happens during a paradigm shift (Thomas Kuhn)

many fast drafts instead of one slow one

it’s better in responding to be honestly subjective (share the movie in your mind) than trying to be objective

human beings are most of the time not in communication with each other – people passively listen, nod, agree – that’s why a genuine teacherless writing group is so invigorating

his pedagogy is backed by his theory, specifically of the importance of the believing game to the intellectual enterprise.

the believing game allows for multiple gestalts, multiple meanings, requires waiting, patience, and a commitment to the importance of experience

March 13, 2009

Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Tufte, Edward R. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed. Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press, 2001.

Excellent, elegant graphics give the viewer a large amount of complicated, relational statistical information in a compact, data-rich space. Tufte’s book explains the fundamental principles of good graphic design by showing both good and bad (deceptive and distracting) graphics (in Part I) and by giving a theory and a language to explain the creation and design of good graphics (Part II). High-quality graphics follow his principles of graphical excellence and graphical integrity, and throughout the book, he shows the importance of careful crafting and revision to only include the necessary information in the most ink-efficient graphic, a technique that usually yields graphics that invoke a viewer’s sense of curiosity, intrigue, wonder, and discovery. Part II contains a lot of information about how to create graphics, as he argues that the job of creating good graphics doesn’t belong to an uninterested artist, but rather, the author should consider the construction of graphics to be as integral to a text as the words. He demonstrates this principle in this book, with its intricate integration of graphics and words on almost every page. He argues in Part II for new ways of displaying quantitative information, emphasizing multifunctioning graphical elements that take on more than one duty or function in a graphic, offering revisions of bar charts, histograms, and scatterplots that have redundant and unnecessary non-data ink.

Quotable Quotes

“Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data” (178).

“Design is choice. The theory of the visual display of quantitative information consists of principles that generate design options and that guide choices among options. The principles should not be applied rigidly or in a peevish spirit; they are not logically or mathematically certain; and it is better to violate any principle than to place graceless or inelegant marks on paper. Most principles of design should be greeted with some skepticism, for word authority can dominate our vision, and we may come to see only through the lenses of word authority rather than with our own eyes” (191).

“Context is essential for graphical integrity” (74).

Notable Notes

kinds of graphics include data maps, time-series, narrative graphics of space and time, and more abstract relational graphics (that show the relationship between two or more variables, the most elegant and sophisticated kind of graphic that isn’t used as often as it should be in trade magazines and papers)

founders of statistical graphic design are J.H. Lambert and William Playfair; 20th century John Tukey

Charles Minard’s invasion and retreat of Napoleon’s army into Russia (41)

Lie Factor = size of the effect shown in the graphic/size of the effect in the data; don’t use two or three dimensions to show one-dimensional data because it augments (usually wrongly the magnitude of the difference of the numbers)

reasons we don’t have good graphics: lack of statistical skill in illustrators, thought that quantitative information is boring, perception that the audience is stupid – why graphics lie and use simple (not relational graphics) designs

data-ink ration

chartjunk = unintentional optical art (moile effect, hatching that’s become more popular with computers), unneccessary grids (should be as a first step in making a graphic, but not after), and the duck (a graphic for the sake of the graphic)

data density – but must be clear to the viewer

don’t have a lot of info? use tables

continuum from sentences…text tables…tables…semi-graphics…graphics

principles to follow to create elegant graphics – last chapter

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

February 17, 2008

Witte, Stephen P.

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Witte, Stephen P. “Pre-Text and Composing.” CCC 38:4 (Dec 1987): 397-425.

Witte argues that the writer’s pre-text, or mental construction of “text” prior to transcription, is such an important composing phenomenon that there must be more theoretical and empirical research in writing on it, specifically think-aloud protocols. From his own research on college freshmen’s pre-texts, he makes four observations about pre-text: pre-text directly affects the direction of the written text; pre-text can be stored in the writer’s memory and used in the text; revising pre-text uses the same strategies as revising written text; and pre-text is not a rigid step in the composing process but a necessary link between translating ideas to written text.

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