Revolution Lullabye

January 3, 2013

Simpson, The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support

Simpson, Steve. “The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support: Building a Cross-Campus Graduate Writing Initiative.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 95-118. Print.

Simpson explains that graduate writing instruction is a growing area of need in American universities, and he argues that writing programs should take the lead in addressing this need.  Graduate students at American universities, especially those students in the sciences and engineering, are under more pressure to publish before graduation, and there are more and more international graduate students who need better writing support aimed at NNES (non-native English speakers.)

Simpson describes a graduate writing initiative he helped establish in 2010-2011 at New Mexico Tech through, in part, a Title V grant.  The initiative at NMT showcases Simpson’s claim that the “problem” of graduate student writing is systemic and requires a systemic answer – the burden cannot fall solely on individual departments, a writing center, or a writing program.  The writing initiative at NMT involved cross-campus partnerships to create linked writing/communication courses with individual departments, a course specifically designed for NNES, and a week-long dissertation “boot camp.”

Simpson argues that WPAs and writing studies scholars should look at scholarship in higher education, second language writing, and at work done internationally (especially in Australia and Canada) to help develop sustainable solutions to meeting graduate student writing needs.

Notable Notes

systemic solutions don’t have to be huge: Simpson draws on Donella Meadows to explain how through identifying “leverage points” in a system, change can happen through a ripple effect (104).

Graduate student education is different than undergraduate education, and graduate student writing needs are also different: graduate education more heavily relies on mentors (so writing help needs to not compete with that mentor-mentee relationship), graduate education is more solitary (but writing help should encourage graduate students to seek each other out for peer writing and support groups), graduate education is more individualized (so writing help needs to be flexible, available when graduate students want and need it.) (101-102)

the audience for graduate students (especially STEM) is increasingly the field, with the pressure to publish.  Writing is no longer a heuristic for learning – it is the path to publication and a job.  (99)

Graduate student writing education is an institutional problem – one shared by all (103).

Quotable Quotes

nice “hot potato” metaphor: “At many universities, graduate writing support is a hot potato passed between university departments and advisors, writing centers, ESL departments, and writing programs” (97).

“Frankly, any university department or entity – including writing programs and writing centers – would have difficulty shouldering the weight of graduate writing support independently. Thus, this dilemma’s solution lies in cross-campus partnerships involving writing programs, writing centers, and ESL and other university writing departments” (97).

“The problem of graduate writing is a systemic problem in need of a systems-based solution” (104).

“Graduate writing initiatives have the potential both to build our writing programs and to enrich the research in our field considerably” (113).

December 9, 2010

Tingle and Kirscht, A Place to Stand

Tingle, Nicholas and Judy Kirscht. “A Place to Stand: The Role of Unions in the Development of Writing Programs.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 218-232.

This chapter explains why the lecturers in the University of California system unionized, how that union affects both their writing program and the lecturers working in the writing programs. The authors argue that the unionized lecturers are really a different sort of employee, and there is an invisible wall between thsoe who teach at the university and those who do research, a labor distinction that led to the creation of the independent UC Santa Barbara writing program. They warn that American universities are beginning to act more openly like corporations, making decisions based on economics instead of education.

Notes and Quotes

“The iron law governing the employment of lecturers, and all ‘temps’ for that matter, has been and always will be economics” (220).

short-term stop-gap part-time employment in the 1970s became the norm in an inflexible, tenure-heavy university system.

“While lecturers were increasingly hired as professional educators, the university administration remained wedded to a view of lecturers as satisfying a short-term economic need. This view was perhaps reinforced by the fanciful notion that, if suddenly and for no apparent reason the quality of entering students dramatically impoved, there would be no need for teachers at all” (221).

UC Santa Barbara program – run mostly by lecturers on union contract, an independent writing program

the university is not the only corporation that is increasingly relying on temporary workers – “Historically, a central factor mitigating against the more inhumane excesses of capitalism has been and continues to be unions and the threat of unionization” (231).

June 11, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, and Burton, Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002.

This collection focuses on independent writing programs, writing programs, majors, and graduate programs that have split off from traditonal English literary studies. The various case studies in the book show the challenges of independence: how the new program situates itself theoretically, politically, and institutionally, taking on questions of identity while trying to maintain daily operations. The editors hope that this collection, and the trend of independent writing programs, will help the field begin to define itself positively, by what they do, instead of in opposition to what they don’t do (traditional English studies.) The book is divided into three parts: 1. local case studies and their problems and possibilities 2. connections from local case studies to larger theoretical and ethical issues in the field 3. the future of the discipline and the place of rhetoric and composition in the changing 21st century university.

Quotable Quotes

“The creation of stand-alone writing units – whether programs or departments – provides us with an opportunity to define ourselves in new ways instead of against literature and literary scholarship. It is a chance to begin new and better academic traditions where we can enact what we value instead of spending our energy defending it” (9).

Notable Notes

the challenge of defining a vertical curriculum (a major) when the discipline is still being defined, negotiated

building a program means building a community

variety of ways these independent programs are formed: top-down, bottom-up, slowly, quickly, horizontal v. vertical curriculum

what traditions, values does the independent writing program adopt?

March 25, 2009

Strenski, Recruiting and Retraining Experienced Teachers

Strenski, Ellen. “Recruiting and Retraining Experienced Teachers: Balancing Game Plans in an Entrepreneural Force-Field.” In Resituating Writing. Eds. Janangelo and Hansen. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1995. 82-99.

Strenski argues against the push to departmentalize writing programs by arguing that the traditional departmental model does not serve the mission of the writing program – to teach and serve students across the university. Rather, WPAs should capitalize on the opportunity of creating dynamic writing programs at the margins of the university that can act as change-agents. The tension, then, in the different populations within a writing program (part-time instructors, full-time faculty, students), can be spun into beneficial, entrepreneural energy. She uses an extended case study between two instructors – Eve (a middle-aged part-time instructor) and Adam (a young graduate student) – to show how they might begin to collaborate instead of conflict with each other. Strenski’s argument is different from many who talk about the labor conditions or the place of writing programs in the university; like Phelps, she argues that there can be productive good in the heterogeneous mix. She argues that the best writing programs come when WPAs recruit, train, and develop good teachers who hail from a variety of different teaching philosophies and methods.

Quotable Quotes

“This very marginality is the major source of energy in the writing program force-field.” (83).

“Edges can be cutting; they can be dangerous, exciting places” (83).

“An entrepreneurial model offers explanatory power and hope. It interprets the anomalous, liminal nature of a writing program as essentially dynamic, and uniquely valuable for that very energy” (85).”

“The culture of a writing program is informed primariy by the central activity of teaching (as opposed to expertise in professing a disciplinary subject), and as a result writing program instructors must be perceived by undergraduates as good teachers who care about teaching” (90).

“Any writing program is really nothing but the people we hire, retrain, and retain.” (97)

Notable Notes

a cadre of diverse teachers

ways to select teachers: interview, evaluate their responses to a sample student paper, ask for syllabi

group grading of papers is an extremely simple and valuable professional development activity (See Edward M. White Teaching)

it’s OK – and even good – to have non-tenured writing instructors

March 7, 2009

Selfe, Toward New Media Texts

Selfe, Cynthia L. “Toward New Media Texts: Taking Up the Challenge of Visual Literacy.” In Writing New Media. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, et al. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2004. 67-110.

A good first step in incorporating and teaching new media texts in composition classrooms is through focusing on visual literacy in print and digital texts. Composition teachers, because many are not formally trained in the applications associated with many digital new media texts (Dreamweaver, desktop publishing, photo editing), feel like they don’t have the expertise to teach and guide students in composing new media texts. The assignments Selfe offers connect visual and alphabetic literacies (which composition teachers are more comfortable with), use rhetorical approaches, not entirely Web-based, and position the teacher and the students as co-learners. Though teachers will probably feel outside their comfort zone at first, Selfe argues for the importance of bridging to visual literacies and to begin to question the privileging alphabetic texts in our society and in the structuring of our writing programs and pedagogies.

Quotable Quotes

“By adding a focus on visual literacy to our existing focus on alphabetic literacy, we may not only learn to pay more serious attention to the ways in which students are now ordering and making sense of the world through the production and consumption of visual images, but we may also extend the usefulness of composition studies in a changing world.” (72)

Notable Notes

faculty feel like they lack the necessary skills to teach new media literacies, to help students compose with it – the faculty has an illiteracy that they have to come to terms with, will “force us to acknowledge gaps in our own literacy sets” (72)

change “author” to “composer/designer” and the reader to “reader/viewer”

assignments include a visual essay, visual argument, visual exhibition, and a text re-design and re-vision for the Web

composition studies needs to continue to be relevant to our students, so we have an obligation to learn about them and use them (new media literacies) in our classrooms as we ask our students to compose

February 23, 2009

Phelps, Administration as Design Art

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Administration as Design Art.”

Writing program administrators should see themselves as designers, the programs and institutions they work in as designs and sites of design, and their work as WPAs as design art. Phelps draws on the work of the New London Group, Gunther Kress, and architects Karl Weith and Stewart Brand to offer a new lens to administrative work to not just see their work as design but to also challenge them to think of their programs as always designable, never concluding in a final design. Writing programs can be sites of institutional change if they continue designing and re-desigining after their initial structure is put into place, and writing programs have the unique complex, contradictory, and improvisational place in the academy to which enact change because they are a managable size with connections, like a sprawling network, across the campus. Phelps shows how crucial it is to reach out beyond one’s own discipline to find design inspiration in all different fields. Phelps also argues that a WPA does much more than design curriculum: the teaching staff, the physical space of the institution, the relationships with different deans and other departments and faculty – these all must be designed.

Quotable Quotes

Object: “to locate administration as design art at the juncture of the practical and productive arts” (7)

“This is the road I advocate for writing programs as transformers: design things that work, but are below the radar, friendly and sprawling, messy and temporary, constantly learning” (26)

“I suggest that it is a mistake to set up a writing program primarily as an instrument to critique or change an institution. It will do that as a consequence of your designing the program to meet the intrinsic goals of its situated design, because writing programs require institutional redesign to locate, support, and implement their characteristic purposes. But theprocess, or rather consequences, should be indirect and ordinary, not grandiose, direct, and instrumentalist.” (26)

Notable Notes

high road/low road of use

designs should not be fixed, they should never end

the challenge of administration is that you cannot design in a bubble: you must jump in and design something that you can’t have complete control, management, or knowledge of. That’s the downfall of the theories presented by Kress and the New London Group

the importance of the feedback loop: remaining sensitive to context, unpredictable, in the moment, temporary – like jazz improv

the importance of construction and building over analysis and critique

Questions: Why is this the way it is? Can it be designed better? Does it have to be this way?

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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