Revolution Lullabye

January 4, 2013

Adler-Kassner, The Companies We Keep

Adler-Kassner, Linda. “The Companies We Keep or The Companies We Would Like to Keep: Strategies and Tactics in Challenging Times.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 119-140.

In this article, based off of the author’s 2012 CWPA conference keynote address, Adler-Kassner calls on WPAs and writing studies scholars to be more proactive in the national conversations about what “college preparation” means (specifically what it means in terms of writing) and how that can and should be assessed.  WPAs need to articulate what it is that writing studies does (why the content of writing studies matters) and offer curricular and assessment strategies based on those basic writing studies principles.

Adler-Kassner points out that the conversations are already happening, and she describes five corporate organizations who are central in the drafting of education legislation and the construction and assessment of the Common Core State Standards.  These organizations are more powerful politically and financially than NCTE, MLA, and CWPA.  However, Adler-Kassner contends that this fact is not a reason why WPAs should give up. Rather, this is the time – while the Common Core is in its initial implementation – that WPAs need to work with K-12 educators to take ownership of writing curriculum and assessment.

Adler-Kassner points to the specific outcomes outlined by the DQP (the Degree Qualification Profile, developed by Lumina) to show that writing is cast as merely a skill – students are asked to produce forms of writing.  If writing is only seen as a tool, Adler-Kassner argues, then the discipline of writing studies is erased.  Adler-Kassner argues that WPAs need to emphasize the disciplinarity of writing studies in all writing classes, especially first-year writing classes, teaching students and other stakeholders the value of the central inquiries of the field.

Notable Notes

5 organizations that Adler-Kassner describes:

  • ALEC (American Legislative Executive Council)
  • VSA (Voluntary System of Accountability)
  • Lumina Foundation
  • DQP (Degree Qualification Profile)
  • Common Core State Standards

shift in the purpose of education to “college and career readiness,” a readiness achieved through emphasis of liberal-arts like skills (writing, communication, critical thinking.)  The ultimate purpose of 21st century education, as seen through these national discussions, is economic competition for employment (127-128).  Uses David Larabee’s analyses of public and higher education.

Her major three suggestions:

  1. “no vampires” – make writing courses focused on writing
  2. define what we think is college readiness (through documents like the Framework)
  3. build alliances with K-12 educators, even if we’re not thrilled with the standards they now must work with.

Quotable Quotes

Definition of writing studies:  “Writing Studies focuses on three things: 1. The roles that writers and writing perform in particular contexts; 2. The values reflected in writing and in those roles, and 3. The implications extending from relationships between roles, writing, and values” (131).

“This is because from a content-vacant, skills-oriented perspective, our discipline of Writing Studies is erased. Until we develop and act from principles about the meaning of what composition and writing studies is as a discipline, and then link what happens in composition courses – which exist within our discipline – to those principles, we are at the mercy of the companies seeking to keep our company. And to me, that’s a problem” (130).

“No vampires policy” – “Writing classes, especially first year classes, must absolutely and always be grounded in Writing Studies, must always be about the study of writing” (132).

“The key is to frame the study of writing wtihin the larger principle: that writing classes focus on the study of writing within particular contexts, the values reflected in that writing, and the implications of relationships between writing and values. Not vampires” (134).

“We must build alliances with colleagues who are immersed in efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards in Writing, especially K-12 colleagues, no matter how problematic we find those standards to be” (135). – if we don’t, there’s no chance of our voice being heard.  That’s the price we pay.

“I’ll begin, then, by updating the narrative that I’ve contended extends from documents like the Spellings Report. This narrative says that the purpose of postsecondary education is to prepare students for participation in the 21st century economy, but that faculty aren’t doing a good job with this preparation because we don’t understand what’s necessary for success.

“As I’ve said, answers to two key questions – what is meant by ‘preparation?’ And how should ‘how well’ be indicated? – are critical, because the responses provided to these questiosn will shape curriculum (and assessments)” (120).

May 24, 2011

Downs and Wardle, Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.'” CCC 58.4 (June 2007): 552-584.

Downs and Wardle argue for revising first-year writing curriculum so that the course becomes an introduction to writing studies, where students explore writing studies as a content-filled discipline that questions ideas and practices of reading, writing, and literacy. Part of the reason both first-year writing and the field of rhetoric and composition have such low status in the academy is that they are both perceived to be content-less; making the first-year course about the research and theories of writing studies helps improve the status of both the first-year course and the discipline. Downs and Wardle explain the “writing about writing” first-year courses that they taught at University of Utah, Utah Valley State College (both Downs) and University of Dayton (Wardle.)

Notes and Quotes

Students in these courses learn that writing is conventional and context-driven (559). They also become more self-aware writers and understand that academic writing is a conversation.

Challenges: finding appropriate material, having students learn skills that will be useful in other courses, professional development needed for part-time and full-time faculty in order to teach this course

Instead of learning how to write, students in an “Introduction to Writing Studies” course learn about writing, and what they learn changes how they think about writing and how they write.

“It seeks instead to improve students’ understanding of writing, rhetoric, language, and literacy in a course that is topically oriented to reading and writing as scholarly inquiry and en couraging more realistic understandings of writing.” (553).  

make first-year writing like other first-year introductory courses

there is a powerful misconception that first-year writing can give students transferrable general writing skills (554). Writing is far more diverse and complex than that.

In a writing about writing course, students read research about writing, conduct their own writing research, write ethnographies about writing, locate writing issues that interest them, write reviews of existing literature – they are seen as gateways to WAC and WID programs

Readings about problems in the composing process (drafting, revision, reading for purpose, critical reading) and research-based, data-driven studies. Examples of readings include Berkenkotter, Huckin, Sommers, Perl, Flower and Hayes, Elbow, Murray, Swales, Dawkins, Kantz, Lakoff and Johnson, Gee

Assign reflections on the readings, literacy narratives for students to discover what they know about their own writing

Sample student-generated research questions:

Do college freshmen and seniors use rhetorical strategies at all or in similar ways? * How useful is Microsoft Word’s grammar checker? * What makes a classic literary work a “classic”? * What makes an effective business plan?* How does music (or lighting, or other environmental factors) affect writing and revision? * How do literacy activities vary at high- and low-income day cares? * What kinds of writing will a social work major encounter in his career? * Is writing taught in medical school? Should it be, and if so, how?

June 16, 2009

Special Issue: The Writing Major, Composition Studies

Special Issue: The Writing Major. Composition Studies 35:1 (Spring 2007).

I’m going to briefly note what’s in this issue and the highlights from each essay or article. Two articles I already have notes on.

Estrem, Heidi. “Growing Pains: The Writing Major in Composition and Rhetoric.” 11-14.

the writing major is that in-between space between 1st year comp and grad programs. This issue features essays and articles about these forming majors, articles that bridge local constraints, stories, and contexts with larger themes of the importance of place, timing, capitalizing on unexpected events, advocacy, and long effort. This group of growing writing majors asks the field to define itself – will it be under the umbrella of “writing studies?”

Carpini, Dominic Delli. “Re-writing the Humanities.” – already have notes

Clary-Lemon, Jennifer. “The Hot Arctic: Writing Majors as New Sites for New Hires.” 37-38

McClure, Randall. “Projecting the Shape of the Writing Major.” 39-40.

think about how instruction is delivered (online?); to and with whom (K-16?, interdisciplinary?) – the importance of the archictecture of a writing major when designing it.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Curricular Activism: The Writing Major as Counterdiscourse.” 41-52.

Writing majors give the field an opportunity to argue for a positive, informed view of postsecondary writing instruction. Howard reviews the websites of new writing majors and contends that websites, written for student, faculty, and public audiences, can be composition’s PR tool for changing the traditional, normative assumptions of writing instruction and allowing the institution to see composition and rhetoric as legitimate intellectual, disciplinary work.

Shamoon, Linda and Celest Martin. “What Part of the Elephant is This? Questioning Creative Non-Fiction in the Writing Major” 53-54

study of nonfiction can be placed in a historical trajectory in comp/rhet with expressivism. need to investigate and open up the theoretical and conceptual connections between creative nonfiction and comp/rhet

Schaffner, Spencer. “Grounding the Writing Major in the Socio-Graphemic Approach.” 55-56

the activity of writing is the central organizing theme to study: “students will become specialists in the study of written language, rhetoric, writing technologies, and image/text semiotics” (55).

Peeples et al. “Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics” notes already

Taylor, Beth. “On Brown University’s New Nonfiction Writing Program” 77-78

students aren’t required to take writing at Brown, but 26% do take a nonfiction writing course – academic essay, journalism, creative nonfiction

Newman, Glenn. “Concoting a Writing Major: A Recipe for Success.” 79-80.

undergrad who developed his own rhet/comp major at U of Utah and is preparing himself to go to grad school for rhet/comp

Scott, Tony. “The Cart, the Horse, and the Road They Are Driving Down: Thinking Ecologically about a New Writing Major.” 81-93.

faculty designing writing majors must think beyond their scholarly,  intellectual visions and consider the institutional constraints they are working with – hiring, budgets, staffing, space. Argues for a move to a “post-writing program era” (90) – without mandated syllabi, teacher management; encourage scholarly and pedagogical experimentation. The contradiction between the administrative functions of a writing program and the faculty functions of a major. Draws on Marx, circulation to look at the narratives and ideologies of power and control are wired into postsecondary writing instruction (85)

Peele, Thomas. “What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Writing?'” 95-96

where does creative nonfiction belong? disciplinary arguments that writing majors bring out

Lowe, Kelly. “Against the Writing Major.” 97-98.

writing majors, in order to thrive, must have proper staffing and consider faculty strenghts and weaknesses when constructing a program. Find the faculty to fit the major, not the other way around. Don’t attempt a major if you can’t run it well.

Taylor, Hill. “Black Spaces: Examining the Writing Major at an Urban HBCU.”

argues for consideration of context when developing a writing major – a Tier 1, mostly white research institution is going to have a much different writing major than an open-admissions, Washington DC, urban HBCU, which could focus on writing for government, policy, education, and African-American rhetorics and pedagogies. Calls for a haptic curriculum (one that is contingent, participatory), not an optic one (simplified, homogenous one) for writing majors (draws on Giles Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus.)

February 3, 2009

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

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

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

January 27, 2009

Downs and Wardle, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions”

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC 58.4 (June 2007) 552-585.

The authors argue for transforming the required first-year course, usually taught as a introduction to the skills necessary to write “academic discourse” into a course that introduces students to writing studies as a field, using their own courses at University of Dayton and Utah Valley State College as examples. The generalized first-year course stands in contradiction to many of the established, researched theories in rhetoric and composition: that all writing is content and context-driven, that writing is an area of research and study, that writing is a complex activity that requires more than good luck and “transferable” basic skills, and that experts in writing are needed to teach writing. Such a shift in the curriculum of the first-year course allows for better transitioning to WAC initiatives (because writing, from the very beginning, is grounded in content and context), gives the newly developing majors a cornerstone foundation course, and improves the position of writing at the university from a service discipline to one that is recognized by students and faculty as a field with valuable, relevant, and important research and theoretical knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“Writing studies has ignored the implications of this research and theory and continued to assure its publics (faculty, administrators, parents, industry) that FYC can do what nonspecialists have always assumed it can: teach, in one or two early courses, “college writing” as a set of basic, fundamental skills that will apply in other college courses and in business and public spheres after college. In making these unsupportable assurances to stakeholders, our field reinforces cultural misconceptions of writing instead of attempting to educate students and publics out of these misconceptions” (1) page numbers are from printed online version

“Students leave the course with increased awareness of writing studies as a discipline, as well as a new outlook on writing as a researchable activity rather than a mysterious talent” (7).

“By employing nonspecialists to teach a specialized body of knowledge, we undermine our own claims as to that specialization and make our detractors’ argument in favor of general writing skills for them. As Debra Dew demonstrates, constructing curricula that require specialization goes a long way toward professionalizing the writing instruction workforce” (21).

Notable Notes

what the first-year course is reflects the whole discipline. Making it more rigorous and centering it on the field of rhet and comp will improve the status of rhet/comp.

category mistake – Gilbert Ryle – academic writing as one category of writing when it really cannot be defined as an umbrella term

problems/consequences of the shift: no textbook that teaches first-year writing in this way, huge labor force that needs to be trained, the research takes a long time and student work won’t be as clean or neat, high schools don’t prepare students for the field, so there’s a huge learning curve that needs to happen, content and expecatation-wise

courses that follow the intro to writing studies model use readings drawn from the research of the field of rhetoric and composition, allows students to explore their own writing practices in juxtaposition, and asks them to do research on writing.

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