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 25, 2013

Artze-Vega et al, Privilgeing Pedagogy

Artze-Vega, Isis, et al. “Privileging Pedagogy: Composition, Rhetoric, and Faculty Development.” College Composition and Communication 65:1 (September 2013): 162-184.

This article, written by seven scholars who work in the “border” between comp/rhet and faculty development, demonstrates the connections between comp/rhet scholarship and faculty development work and argues for more collaboration between these two fields. The authors define faculty development as a “transdisciplinary site,” (166) list the ways comp/rhet theory and work prepares scholars for faculty development work, explain how faculty development research has informed their own teaching and scholarship, and argue for greater emphasis on faculty development theory and training in comp/rhet graduate programs. Their article includes an annotated bibliography for faculty development scholarship.

The essay makes a case for the political importance of comp/rhet scholars taking on faculty development roles: these administrative positions give comp/rhet scholars the opportunity to affect change on the institution and influence higher education in directions that could privilege teaching and learning.

Notable Notes

How comp/rhet scholarship and training prepares people to take on faculty development positions:

  • “established focus on pedagogy and the trend toward preparation for administrative duties” (166)
  • valuing of teaching and learning
  • insights into how students learn that can be applied across contexts and disciplines
  • good writers/rhetoricians, can prepare professional reports, materials, etc
  • understand that all learning, writing is rhetorically situated
  • interest in how people learn
  • WPA work is oriented to teaching/educating, not just managing
  • work often with instructional technology and digital media
  • familiar with networking through WAC, WID, writing centers

How faculty development scholarship can impact writing education

  • research on student motivation
  • research on student development, especially young adult/adult education
  • research on the impact of the holistic student experience on student performance in individual courses

how a faculty developer can be an “intellectual bureaucrat” (Richard E. Miller, 1998) – make change at higher institutional levels (171), opportunity to be a campus leader.

Problems with the faculty developer position – sometimes seen as an inferior scholar, funding issues (necessary to build strong relationships and connections across campus) (176-177)

Possibilities for graduate education: courses dedicated to faculty development, include faculty development as a possible career path and area of scholarly inquiry, internships in CTL (centers for teaching and learning) or other faculty development positions (training TAs, WAC and WID work, etc.)

Quotable Quotes

“Success in faculty development begins with admitting that we have more questions than answers and with accepting the challenge of continually revising our teaching and reassessing our learning” (177).

“These courses [in composition theory and pedagogy], we feel, could benefit from a closer alignment with insights developed in the field of faculty development: principles of learning from a general perspective, explicit discussion of institutional politics beyond the writing program, inclusion of models for leading and adapting to change within institutions, and broad exploration of curriculum design and assessment. Such training will prepare students to be effective participants in a wide range of institutional and department cultures as well as potentially providing them with access to an alternative (and greatly satisfying) career path” (176).

“Both groups [faculty developers and comp/rhet scholars] believe that continued professional learning is a desirable professional norm” (174).

“We [WPAs} know that teaching and learning are not the same thing, and this insight is central to faculty development work” (168).

“In order to be effective, professional development needs to be sustained not only over the course of a year but over the course of a career” (168).


January 3, 2013

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.

December 29, 2011

Reid, “Preparing Writing Teachers”

Reid, E. Shelley. “Preparing Writing Teachers: A Case Study in Constructing a More Connected Future for CCCC and NCTE.” CCC 62.4 (June 2011): 687-703.

In the CCC Special Symposium on the NCTE/CCCC Relationship

Reid argues that the research, scholarship, and practice in the training of writing teachers, which she terms “writing pedagogy education,” can be fruitful ground for future collaborations between NCTE (focusing on K-12 English education) and CCCC (college composition and rhetoric.)  Reid claims that as a professional organization, CCCC has turned away from the practical issues of training teachers to teach writing.  She insists that scholarship on writing teacher preparation, instead being regulated to the margins of the field, as a solitary-institution specific practice or “sub-field” special interest group,  can bring together a variety of members of NCTE and CCCC in order to work on developing policy and practices for the training of writing teachers. In this way, Reid sees potential for a sub-field (writing pedagogy education) to revitalize larger disciplinary organizations.

Reid uses her own efforts to chair a SIG on the Education and Mentoring of TAs and Instructors in Composition and her work on the CCCC Committee on Preparing Teachers of Writing to show how difficult it was, with limited time and resources, to weave together local experiences of writing pedagogy education into a coherent, useful, and theorized whole about the preparation of teachers of writing. Reid calls on WPAs and those who train writing teachers to stop seeing themselves as “local practitioners” and rather, as part of a national, scholarly organization whose aim is to “articulate a larger vision” about writing pedagogy education (692-693). She argues that forums like SIGs and commissioned committees are not stable or sufficient enough to provide writing pedagogy education practicioners and researchers what they need: momentum and diversity of members. She suggests that CCCC follow NCTE’s lead and form a task force on writing pedagogy education, which could help create and support research grants, national studies, or online clearinghouses.

Reid points out specifically that “few studies of writing pedagogy education are data-driven, longitudinal, or inclusive of more than one program.” (692)

Notable Notes

Argues that scholarship in writing pedagogy education can address Patricia Stock’s 3rd question in what English education is: “(1) What is English? (2) How is English best taught and learned? and (3) How are teachers of English best prepared for their professional work?” (368, Stock “NCTE and the Preparation of Teachers of the English Language Arts,” 2010)

common problem in writing pedagogy education: the local: the isolation of individual writing programs, institution-specific needs and policies. No national network or conversation.

problems facing writing pedagogy education: How do you quantify teacher quality (tie in with national discussions on teacher tenure)? How can you measure writing learning as connected to teacher quality? How long does it take to develop good writing practices?  (692)

Move beyond the discussion of “what worked for us.” (692)

May 25, 2011

Jesuit Pedagogy, The Notebook

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“Jesuit Pedagogy.” The Notebook 11.4

This is a special issue about Jesuit pedagogy published by The Notebook, a publication at Saint Louis University through the Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence. It includes reflections from faculty across a wide variety of disciplines about how they incorporate Jesuit and Ignatian principles in their teaching.

December 3, 2010

Robinson, The CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards: A (Partly) Dissenting View

Robinson, William S. “The CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards: A (Partly) Dissenting View.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 345-350.

Robinson, who contends that writing teachers lack adequate training and professional development, argues that the CCCC Statements needs to “argue as forcefully for improved professionalism in the field as it does for improved status and working conditions” (345). Robinson claims that part of the low status of writing teachers come from their lack of training and knowledge about the field of rhetoric and composition, and in order to have a more professional, scholarly, and respected standing in the academy, they need to work to obtain the disciplinary knowledge they need in order to be writing specialists and experts.

Notes and Quotes

“But in addition to the injustices wrought upon many of us, injustices are wrought upon the students in composition classes taught by teachers who do not know their business. These teachers in turn are produced by English departments that do not hire and place in leadership positions persons genuinely qualified in composition or that hire a token person to whom no real authority will ever be given” (348).

How can you demand better treatment of your faculty when they are not considered professionals because they lack training and preparation for what they teach?

What is successful teaching? How is someone assessed on it? How is someone trained to do it?

November 17, 2010

Lindemann, Three Views of English 101

Lindemann, Erika. “Three Views of English 101.” College English 57.3 (March 1995): 287-302. Print.

Lindemann uses the CCCC debate between herself and Gary Tate (who debated the place of literature in the first-year composition course) as a way to explore what those in the field believe is the purpose and identity of the first-year course. She uses Young, Becker and Pike’s heuristic procedure of viewing an element as a particle, wave, or field (static, dynamic, or as part of a larger network) to explain three ways to teach first-year writing (she focuses on pedagogy, not theory or institutional relationships or departmental politics). Seeing writing as a particple – a product – results in a course that is based in the reading of texts (content) with the idea that reading enough good literature will give students stylistic models to imitate in their own essays and themes, a course where the teacher is the expert, the student is the novice, and that relies on grammar exercises and emphasizes form over invention. Seeing writing as a wave – a process – results in a course that based in process and expressivist pedagogy, where students write on subjects of their own choosing, where a variety of kinds of writing are assigned and encouraged, and where the teacher is placed as a coach or mentor for the student. Invention, practice, and drafting are given primary importance in a process course, and the course is interested primarily in the development of the individual student writer and his search for truth. Seeing writing as a field – a system of social actions – sees student writers as involved in multiple social systems that use writing to communicate and to make meaning (drawing on Cooper’s ecological argument.) It rejects the overarching emphasis on the individual in process theory and instead tries to teach students that they are part of several discourse communities, either through inquiry readings, connections across the curriculum, or connections across the community. How readers and writers relate to one another dependes on the context of the discourse and the values and norms of the community from where that discourse came out of. Lindemann makes the argument that compositionists must understand how they see writing – and how their programs and departments do – in order to have meaningful conversations and assessments.

Notes and Quotes

“Until we can find some common ground in instructional practices (or articulate our differences when we cannot), other discussions seem irrelevantly secondary. Until we can say why teachers and students meet together to read and write in a place called college, we cannot address other practices: placement tests, teacher training, program administration, hiring, and so on, meant to advance this work.” (289).

“Because product-centered courses assign primacy to texts, teachers pay considerable attention to form” (291).

November 16, 2010

Hjortshoj, The Marginality of the Left-Hand Castes

Hjortshoj, Keith. “The Marginality of the Left-Hand Castes (A Parable for Writing Teachers).” College Composition and Communication 46.4 (December 1995): 491-505. Print.

Hjortshoj, the director of the stand-alone Cornell Writing Program, uses an allegory of the left-hand castes in Indian society, the artisans and smiths whose services were necessary but who were shunned by the others, to explain how compositionists could define what they have in common with each other across institutional and hierarchal lines. He notes that teaching writing is seen as messy, dirty work (not unlike custodial work) because it is: it is unpredictable, it is often difficult, and it happens invisibly the margins. Many academics, he contends, do not want to pull open the veil and reveal to others the difficulties they face as writers, the same problems that students struggle with. He argues that writing teachers and compositionists should strive to form programs or move to programs (as opposed to traditional departments) that value the kind of work that they do.

Notes and Quotes

“At research universities, especially, marginalized teachers (including teaching assistants) are most directly engaged with the interactive, exploratory, “hands-on,” transformative learning processes that university brochures advertise as the foundations of the undergraduate experience. By contrast, official ranking systems in these institutions, from undergraduate grading schemes to tenure reviews, privilege what is already known and already written, along with theory over practice, products over processes, individual achievements over col-laborative endeavors: being over becoming.” (503)

“paradoxal, unstable interdependence” (497).

written communication is fundamental to all academic discourse.

“What we teach, therefore, is fundamentally powerful and important, even if we are not. Within our institutions, writing teachers and their courses might be subordinated to all other kinds of instruction, but written language is not subordinate to anything.” (499)

“Like fire, language is essential, transformative, and potentially destructive. Most of the people I know, especially in academic institutions, are to some extent afraid of writing-daunted by the challenge of controlling language for their own purposes, and afraid that they might be controlled by language for the purposes of others. Writing teachers do not really control language. But the idea that we can or should control language makes us objects of fear or discomfort by association. Keeping us in our place-in a marginal, parenthetical relation to the rest of academic life-is a way of keeping the potentially disruptive power of language contained and disguised, though not altogether denied.” (501).

 He points out that the discoruse surrouding composition – that teachers of writing value their work but believe they are marginalized at the institution – comes into conflict with the fact that some compositionists are not in marginalized positions (deans, chairs, directors) and that a university-wide writing program is almost universally seen as a necessary and valuable enterprise in all US colleges and universities.

June 24, 2009

Harris, A Teaching Subject

Harris, Joseph. A Teaching Subject: Composition Since 1966. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Harris traces the history of the teaching of writing and how the teaching of writing was talked about through five key terms: growth, voice, process, error, and community. His account begins with the 1966 Dartmouth Conference, and it relies on published articles, books, and textbooks in the field for historical evidence, debates over the terms, and trends. He does not present an argument for composition as a theoretical field of inquiry; rather, he sees composition’s inherent ties to education and the classroom as important and needing to be asserted and validated. He traces the process movement through the 1960s and 1970s, and then uses community as the key term to organize his history about the social and political turn in composition. The last chapter is a reprint of his CCC article “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing,” in which he problematizes the term, saying that it posits an ideal, homongenous, warm and happy view of a community. Instead, Harris argues that we need to move even beyond contact zones – which give people fixed cultural identies and affinities – to recognizing the multiple identites and voices that writers and students negotiate at all times.

Notable Notes

Dartmouth Conference: British (K-12) interested in growth and teaching; Americans (university) were interested in professionalization of the field, research, becoming recognized academics

two different ideas of voice: that of the individual writer, emerging from inside (expressivist movement, Elbow, Murray) v. voices that are outside the writer that the writer must learn to orchestrate and control (Barthes, Bakhtin, Derrida, Bartholomae, influenced by Theodore Baird at Amherst)

goal of composition, process: critical thinking, habits of mind, arete (virtues necessary for democracy)

June 3, 2009

Apostel and Folk, First Phase Information Literacy on a Fourth Generation Website

Apostel, Shawn and Moe Folk. First Phase Information Literacy on a Fourth Generation Website: An Argument for a New Approach to Website Evaluation Criteria. Computers and Composition (Spring 2005).

Writing instructors need to change how they teach students to evaluate online sources both to account for students’ own “insider” knowledge of online sources and to account for the shift from alphabetic, text-centered criteria to integrated, multimodal digital design. Their article explains the current shift to incorporate visual literacies into the teaching of composition and gives an overview (with examples) of the four generations of web site design. Old standards for online site evalutions favored objectivity and centralization, ignoring a multitude of rich, subjective sources in blogs, forums, and multimedia. The digital world is rapidly evolving – we have to keep up, change our standards, and teach our students to use it well.

Quotable Quotes

“as websites evolve from their text-only beginnings, the book-derived criteria for evaluating credible sources are becoming increasingly archaic.”

“Here we see that teaching students to evaluate websites based on alphabetic skills may no longer be a sufficient way to equip students to critique and create rhetoric. As websites move into future generations of development, they will—if the current trends continue—incorporate more digital images, video and audio files, and animated images into their designs. If these communication devices are going to be used to orient our way of seeing the relation and display of information, then we need to empower our students with the ability to negotiate these sources so they can critique the information being presented.”

“Before dismissing our students’ current habits, then, we might look at how they are “making do” and how their strategies can be utilized and/or improved to impact our current ideas of website value in the classroom.”

Notable Notes

4 generations: 1. heavy text dump, no formatting 2. introduce tiled backgrounds, tables, frames, animated GIFs 3. thoughtful multimedia design (CDROM technology) 4. all of #3 plus non-CDROM technology like online shopping, IM, broadcasting live

student ways to evaluate sites: who links to this site? where did the original content come from? what does this site feel like? (“technological ethos”) where else is this information found?

opening up subjective possibilities in blogs gives students a whole new range of potential sources to enrich their research.

lots of Kress, Selfe

language isn’t the only semiotic system

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