Revolution Lullabye

January 4, 2013

The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement

“The Visual and Beyond: A Symposium on Rereading, Revising, or Perhaps ‘Hacking the Source Code’ of the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 179-208.

This symposium in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of WPA includes six short essays written in response to the editors’ question, “Shouldn’t the Outcomes Statement include [other work]?”  The editors offer the symposium in light of Ed White’s WPA-L comment, “The Outcomes Statement must remain a living document to stay relevant” (179).

CWPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition

Beaufort, Anne. “The Matters of Key Knowledge Domains and the Transfer of Learning in the Outcomes Statement.” 180-187.

Beaufort argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement could be improved with the inclusion of two key issues in writing studies. First, she argues that the field’s research on the nature of writing expertise (what separates novice from expert writers) could help make more distinct, measurable outcomes.  She also argues that the Outcomes Statement should articulate the goal of writing transfer – how students transfer the skills and knowledge they learn in first-year composition to other writing situations.  She offers five new knowledge domains around which to organize the outcomes: subject matter knowledge; genre knowledge; writing process knowledge; discourse community knowledge; rhetorical knowledge.  Casting the categories as sets of knowledge, Beaufort argues, would make it easier for teachers and administrators to identify gaps in student writing performance (182). She contends that some parts of the Outcomes Statement are too far-reaching and inappropriate for all first-year writers; she states, “Imagine the Outcomes Statement as a lean, elegant (as in precise, concise, clear) document that both notice and expert writing teachers could readily translate into five or six learning outcomes tailored to some degree for any given writing course” (185).

Barbara Little Liu, “Genre Knowledge, Reading, and Faculty Development.” 187-191.

Liu argues that the current CWPA Outcomes Statement assumes a level of disciplinary training and commitment to teaching writing that is not shared by all first-year composition teachers. She suggests that the CWPA offer more professional development for first-year writing instructors, including publishing professional anthologies, promoting professional development, and supporting the publication of more FYC textbooks that focus on rhetorical/genre-based reading, the kind of reading students must do in first-year composition in order to transfer writing skills and knowledge to other rhetorical situations. The Outcomes Statement, Liu argues, should emphasize this kind of reading as much as writing.

“Rhetorical/genre-based reading helps students understand that texts are written by actual people and that rhetorical situations (including genre conventions) affect how readl writers construct their texts. As students learn to parse a text in ways that reconstruct the rhetorical situation and the writer’s rhetorical strategies, they begin to see how they can learn from the strategic choices of other writers to more effectively address the various and new rhetorical situations they will encounter after leaving FYC” (189).

Deborah Mutnick, “Reading to Write and the Economy of Attention.” 191-194.

Mutnick argues that the CWPA Outcomes Statement should be revised to place more attention on the need to teach reading.  Using the results of a reading assessment test performed at her institution (which stated that first-year students were reading on a 9th-grade reading level), Mutnick questions the universal writing requirement at American universities, asking why reading, which is so fundamental to successful writing, is not similarily mandated. Mutnick also argues that the reading practices students develop on the Web work against the kind of close, critical reading they need to do with academic texts (she uses an example of the decoding kind of reading students do in archival research.) Mutnick suggests that the Outcomes Statement specifically address teaching students how to read, select, and evaluate information from the Web.

“Archival research is vertical, slow, deliberate, puzzling, deep, and focused – think preservation, slow cooking, Internet Sabbaths. Reading on the Web is horizontal, fast, accidental, immediate, and shallow. While these characteristics are not exclusive to either domain, the multi-channeled environment of the Web marks the shift from a scarcity of information to a scarcity of attention, requiring us to develop new strategies for sorting out and valuing massive, often contradictory amounts of knowledge that close, deep, slow reading epitomized by archival research helps balance” (194).

Cynthia R. Haller, “Reading Matters: Thoughts on Revising the CWPA Outcomes Statement.” 195-200.

Haller argues that the CWPA privileges writing over reading, and points out that more balanced understanding of reading and writing (that reading does not happen always before writing, that they are ‘a complementary process’ (195) would help first-year composition courses refocus their attention to both rhetorical reception and rhetorical production. Both reading and writing, Haller contends, lead to rhetorical meaning-making. Haller suggests that composition teachers adopt the sense that is implied in the verb “grappling” when teaching students to work with and read texts: by grappling, there is a sense of two-way communication, not a one-way direction of meaning from the text to the student.  She also calls for more research on how students read to help shape writing curriculum (she specifically cites the Citation Project.)

“As Norgaard points out, an appreciation for how human knowledge is organized, stored, disseminated, and accessed can prevent students from viewing their own rhetorical production as isolated from other texts” (199).

“‘Grappling’ captures the recalcitrance of texts. Texts are not simply effete collections of symbols, but have consequences, especially as they are taken up in various contexts of use” (198).

“The popular catchprhase ‘critical reading, writing, and thinking’ suggest that meaning-making is a one-way, cognitive action performed on an object; by contrast, the word ‘grappling’ captures the two-way, absorbed engagement we (and we hope our students) experience when reading texts” (198).

Martha Marinara, “Engaging Queerness and Contact Zones, Reimagining Writing Difference.” 200-204.

Marinara argues that the CWPA statement, with its list of outcomes, falls short of a full, true notion of literacy practices and diversity of teaching and learning.  She uses queer theory to reject the notion that rhetorical concepts or writing conventions are neutral – she points out that queerness rejects stability and questions how power, community, and language intersect and give privileges.  Marinara also critiques the idea of the writing classroom as a “contact zone;” she contends that Pratt’s theory has been appropriated and has turned the writing classroom into a space of tolerance, but not one of diversity.

“Contact zones were appropriated by an uncritical, liberal multiculturalist movement and became apolitical, a safe kind of melting pot, a chicken soup for the classroom” (203).

“What the list [the outcomes] does not do and needs to do is quesiton how the process of teaching and learning – the wicked problem of our teaching practices – supports and maintains the role of difference as a definition, rather than a critical process that promotes a fuller notion of literacy” (204).

William P. Banks, “Queering Outcomes: Hacking the Source Code of the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition.” 205-208.

Banks suggests that truly “queering” the Outcomes Statement would involve not just adding new outcomes or tweaking the outcomes to specifically address how rhetorics are cultural, situated practices but instead, “queering” the outcomes would mean complicating and enriching the theoretical principles from which the outcomes emerge. Banks contends that the Outcomes Statement, as printed, is based on a set of disciplinary values that are static, or that are not universally held by writing teachers, or that are incomplete. He suggests remixing the Outcomes Statement in some interactive (digital?) form so that it can be a dynamic, living document, one that shows the links from the outcomes to emerging research in the many subfields and subspecialities of the discipline.

“So where does this change belong? I think it’s in the foundations, the idological and theoretical underpinnings of the OS document, what’s hidden in the framing paragraphs, and by how what’s hidden becomes visible” (206).

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January 18, 2012

Pytlik and Liggett, Preparing College Teachers of Writing

Pytlik, Betsy P. and Sarah Liggett. Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices. New York: Oxford, 2002.

This edited collection brings together a wide variety of essays centered on the preparation of college teachers of writing (specifically focused on TAs.) They discuss what teachers of writing need to know about writing and what kinds of structures help support them in their learning about composition theories and practices. The collection is organized into four sections, addressing these questions: “What are the historical contexts for TA preparation programs? What theories inform TA preparation programs? How are successful TA programs structured? What teaching practices have proven effective in preparing TAs for college writing classrooms?”

The editors do not argue for best practices; rather, they insist that TA preparation must be dynamic to local needs and constraints.

Fulkerson, Richard. “Preface: Preparing the Professors.” xi-xiv

In the preface (“Preparing the Professors”), Richard Fulkerson notes that recent trends in teacher preparation share three common practices or concepts: the idea of teaching as a reflective practice, the role of mentoring in teacher preparation, and the creation and use of teaching portfolios as representation of a teacher’s practice and development.

Quotes

reflection has its roots in Dewey, Donald Schon – “It is an activity characterized by the conscious and conscientious attention of a prepared practicioner, rather than the essential mindlessness of a trained organism. As such it absolutely demands the use of writing as a tool.” (xiii)

Notes

sources to get:

Schon Educating the Reflective Practicioner

essays to look at in this collection:

Weiser, Irwin. “When Teaching Assistants Teach Teaching Assistants How to Teach” – looks at Purdue’s 30-year-history of mentoring new TAs with experienced TAs

Rose, Shirley K. and Margaret J. Finders “Thinking Together: Developing a Reciprocol Reflective Model for Approaches to Preparing College Teachers of Writing.”

Bamberg, Betty. “Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice: A Program for Continuing TA Preparation after the Practicum.”

Ebest, Sally Barr “Mentoring: Past, Present, Future.” – how mentoring arrangements and relationships are made, the power differential that occurs

Bender, Gita Das “Orientation and Mentoring: Collaborative Practices in Teacher Preparation” – year-long staff development with collaboration between administration and teachers

Wanda Martin and Charles Paine. “Mentors, Models, and Agents of Change.” how veteran TAs help with teacher training and preparation

Lindgren, Margaret. “The Teaching Portfolio: Practicing What We Teach” – how the TA’s teaching portfolio can help analyze the effectiveness of TA training programs

June 17, 2009

Trimbur, The Problem of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problem of Freshman English (Only): Toward Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA 22:3 (Spring 1999) 9-30.

Trimbur articulates two of the problems of the first-year writing course: first, it tries to compact an entire field’s inquiry, research, discussion, and debates into a single course and second, it perpetuates a First-World English-Only attitude in American colleges and universities by privileging English vernacular literacy over other languages. He argues for the creation of larger curriculum in writing (minors, concentrations, and majors) to solve both of these problems. First, it will rescue the first-year course from being the only child of the discipline – the sole site of study and pedagogy in writing and rhetoric – transform it into an introduction to the discipline, where ideas and theories can be introduced and built on in later courses. Second, this major can and should reach beyond the traditional English department and seek interdisciplinary connections across the campus, finding ways to connect disciplines, faculty, and students toward the study of writing in the context of global, international, multilingual literacies. Such minors and majors need to be locally constructed and situated, and must be designed through answering hard questions of disciplinary identity: what do we study? what are our theories? how to our courses connect and build upon each other?

Quotable Quotes

“the relation of the study and teaching of writing to English departments is both accidental and overdetermined – the result not of a necessary belongingness between the two but of a particular historical conjuncture when written composition replaced rhetoric just as English departments were taking shape in the modern university.” (27)

“curriculum planning that looks for interfaces between disciplines, programs, students, and faculty” (25).

Notable Notes

first-year course is overpacked, overprogrammed like an only child

grad programs churning out students to teach and administer one course – what other field is so centered around a single course? shouldn’t our research, theories inform more than a single course?

composition and literature have worked together to promote vernacular, English-Only literacy and a homongenous national culture

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

February 3, 2009

Phelps, The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs: Catalyst, Laboratory, and Pattern for Change.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Richard Bullock and John Trimbur. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1991. 155-170.

Instead of focusing on what the relationship between rhet/comp and literature can be in an English department, Phelps takes a step back, widens the scope, and discusses what a independent writing program can do for the institution as a whole. Higher education is going through a multifacted crisis (the devaluing of teaching and undergraduate education due to the focus on research, the absence of community due to specialization, and the employment of under-paid, under-trained part-time and graduate teachers), but the theoretical foundations of a writing program makes it a prime candidate for a site of institutional change: the field of composition highly values quality pedagogy and undergraduate education; a writing program serves the whole institution and therefore must reach out across disciplines; and the large, diverse cohort of teachers allows for the construction of professional communities. Writing programs must confront several challenges to be viable. In addition to negotiating the local political and institutional constraints of each university, writing programs have unique budget, space, technology, labor, tenure, evaluation, and structural needs that must be administratively met in order for the writing program to be viable.

Quotable Quotes

“The most important contribution I think writing programs can make, though, with respect to higher education at large, is to exemplify the struggle to foster community in the face of the prevailing mood of skepticism, critique of all cultural institutions and their traditions, radical individualism, and loss of fellowship that troubles our colleges and universities” (167) – through community building and professional development of professors, part-time, grad students, undergraduates

“With luck, and propitious local circumstances, this situational fit enables writing programs to become a positive force for change by enacting their own logic: operating experimentally and hypothetically; nuturing a fragile sense of community in talk, text, and collaborative work; and seeking interdependencies where they can find them.” (168)

“the concrete practices of community” (167)

Notable Notes

rhetorical concept of kairos – fitting into the historical and situational context – by having writing programs lead institutional change (168) 

the field of rhetoric/composition as a model, a logic for writing programs to develop and follow

get out of the trap of quibbling over departmental structure

use Syracuse as a model

Ernest Boyer (Carnegie Foundation) – higher ed reform that Phelps bases her argument for writing programs on

Themes of the disciplines that work for institutional change:

  1. writing helps students become active learners and meaning-makers
  2. common literacy strategies adapted for diverse rhetorical situations
  3. collaborative work
  4. communicate patiently through hands-on talk and text – create a community (163)

Challenges 164-166

Writing program acts as collaborator and as a catalyst, an experimenter, for change.

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