Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2009

Tobin and Newkirk, Taking Stock

Tobin, Lad and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1994.

This collection comes from a 1992 conference, “The Writing Process: Prospect and Retrospect,” held at UNH and designed both to look at the process movement’s past and where it might go in the future. In his introduction to the edited collection, Tobin predicts that the writing process movement will change in the 90s due to three factors: the influence of gender, race, class, and culture on the teaching and theorizing about writing; the effect of new technologies on the teaching and theorizing of writing (PCs, online teaching, popular media); and the effect of research on teacher and reader response. These three trends will expand the scope of the process movement beyond the individual expressivist writer, giving larger social and political context to writing. The book has five sections: Reading the Writing Process Movement, Teaching the Writing Process, Institutionalizing the Writing Process, Deconstructing the Writing Process, and Narrating the Writing Process.

Quotable Quotes & Notable Notes

Lisa Ede “Reading the Writing Process.” 31-43

The writing process movement should stop being labeled “good” or “bad” – it was a rhetorically situated movement, created due a particular time and place (the literacy crisis of the 1970s led to the theory if we understand how students write we can teach them better and composition asserting itself as a discipline.) The problem is that all that research was oversimplified into a “process” that was only taught in one course; the British theories of growth and education were ignored as process was mechanized and the diversity of students was eliminated. Process is actually a conglomerate of lots of contradictory pedagogies and methods: freewriting, formal heuristics, sentence combining, protocol analysis, case studies, and theory. Ede argues that the field must look at writing beyond the classroom, especially those kinds of workplace writing that don’t follow our idea of process; abandon the individual writer focus and look at collaboration; and question our models and metaphors in our research. The focus, she argues, needs to be on doing what needs to be done in regards to teaching and understanding writing – not focusing on being a discipline.

James Marshall, “Of What Skill Does Writing Really Consist?” 45-55

“In our youth as a movement we were rebels, or tried to be. We did inhale. We self-consciously set ourselves up as outsiders, and then we gloried in it” (48).

“The one serious mistake we could make, I think, would be to maintain the rhetorical and political positions that we took in our youth. They worked then; I don’t think they can work today. We are facing a different set of problems, and we are working now from the center and not from the margins.” (54)

Three things to do:

  1. deal with our authority and our disciplinary place in the academy – no longer rebels. We’re established.
  2. search for theoretical roots in education and the progressive movement to have models and understand what we do.
  3. open up larger contexts and sites to study and teach writing.

Thomas Newkirk “The Politics of Intimacy.” 115-131.

Looks at how Barrett Wendell’s English 12 course at Harvard was not a course in what we think as current-traditional rhetoric. Rather, Wendell tried to open up relations with his students, talk with them as emerging writers, read student writing aloud in class as models, encouraged critique of the course, and gave them choices for topics. His curriculum, though, was doomed because it never received institutional support and was defeated by a heavy, impossible teaching load that made current-traditional pedagogy the only viable way to teach.

Mary Minock. “The Bad Marriage: A Revisionist View of James Britton’s Expressive-Writing Hypothesis in American Practice.” 153-175.

James Britton argued that expressive writing will naturally lead to other forms of writing over time, as a student grows and matures through years of schooling. American writing educators took that hypothesis and combined it with the American ideal of linear progress. What results is a one-semester course in writing that tries to bring college students from expressive writing to academic argument in fifteen short weeks. When this fails (as it often does, because the important quotient of time is left out), students and teachers alike feel like failures. Writing teachers need to stop trying to formalize and speed up the process of learning how to write: a student might do well on one paper and bomb the next, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t growing and learning. Instead of using expressive writing as an end to itself(which the British do), we use it as a means to an end, an end of academic discourse.

January 28, 2009

Bramblett and Knoblauch, “What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach”

Bramblett, Anne and Alison Knoblauch, eds. What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach: The Anxious Craft of Teaching Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2002.

This edited collection, with an introduction by Thomas Newkirk,¬†showcases the “silent narratives” of beginning composition instructors and teaching assistants, those stories of resitance and confusion that many new teachers are reluctant to talk about because they fear being deemed failures by their fellow teachers, their supervisors, and their students. The essays included, written by TAs and instructors in the University of New Hampshire composition program, are divided into three sections. The first, about¬†the challenges of the first semester of teaching, includes essays about confronting student mediocracy in a required course and learning to adapt and teach “on the fly” when things don’t go as planned (teaching as a practical art.) The second centers around student and teacher relationships and includes pieces about how much a teacher should care about their students, how the personal lives of students often come up and must be dealt with in the writing classroom, and the difficulty of assigning students (who often aren’t much younger than you) grades as a new teacher. The last section deals specifically with different types of student resistance in the classroom, about students challenging a TA’s authority or expertise, about interpersonal problems with male and female students, and about privileged, intelligent students pressing an instructor to tell them exactly how to “fix” their paper. This collection of testimonials provides a space to tell these stories and air these concerns of new composition teachers, a space which Newkirk argues in his introduction that is needed in composition. In addition to telling failure stories, Newkirk believes composition teachers – both new and experienced – need to share “absurdity” teaching stores, visit the classrooms of their teaching colleagues to get ideas and to start pedagogical conversations, and to, in their research and professional writing, provide a more balanced view of the writing and work that happens in the classroom by using both excellent and not-so-excellent examples of student writing in their scholarship.

Quotable Quotes

“Silences in our narratives as teachers, the things we are reluctant to discuss” (1) what we think is not “normal” – Newkirk’s introduction

Notable Notes

edited by UNH PhD grad students (PhD in English with lit, rhet/comp, or linguistics track)

January 24, 2009

Murray, “The Listening Eye”

Murray, Donald M. “The Listening Eye: Reflections on the Writing Conference.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 96-101.

In this essay, Murray reflects on the writing conference, a particular pedagogical technique he developed at the University of New Hampshire, where instead of holding formal classes, he meets weekly with his students in conferences, where students come to discuss their writing, talking about what they learned from their drafts and their plans for their next drafts and projects. He admits to feeling like he’s doing less teaching than when he lectured, but he believes – and he’s told and shown by his students – that his students are learning more and writing better when he takes this non-directive, writer-to-writer approach. Now, instead of telling them what they need to know, they discover it, and Murray then points out to them what they just learned and discovered.

Quotable Quotes

“I expect them to write writing worth reading, and they do – to their surprise, not mine” (99).

“I’m really teaching my student to react to thier own work in such a way that they write increasingly effective drafts” (99).

“I began to learn something about teaching a non-content writing course, about under-teaching, about not teaching what my students already know” (97)

Notable Notes

the conferences are writer-to-writer, generative, full of comments, and lead to more drafts

the subject of the composition class is the students’ own drafts

narrative style of writing by Murray and Elbow (and focus on the art of teaching) isn’t prevelent in current composition reasearch

conference questions are generative and open-ended: What did you learn from this draft? Where’s this taking you? What will you do next? What surprised you? What do you like best? What questions do you have?

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