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Show and Tell

As you prepare for our Thursday meeting, I want to invite you to bring to our meeting an assignment for show and tell, one that you think would work well as part of scaffolding for one of the five units.

If you look over the Nelson Graff article, you’ll see that he did a lot of interesting low stakes reading and writing activities with his class to prepare them for the larger project. What kind of low stakes assignment do you think would work well that you are would be willing to share with the group that you think would fit into the

  1. Literacy Narrative
  2. Rhetoric/Genre/Discourse Community Project
  3. Research/position project
  4. Repurposed Multimodal project
  5. Portfolio project
If you get a chance, post these to the website. I’ve created a category called “low stakes assignments.”
See you soon!
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Homework and Schedule

Hi Everyone,

At the top of this page, click on the link called “Orientation Readings for Faculty.” There are nine essays/articles for you to read before we get started on Thursday. They are grouped according to the units that we will be teaching. I tried to choose what I consider to be essential readings for each unit, and I tried to limit them to one per unit, with the exception of the Genre unit, as it’s a little more robust and complicated.

Here’s your homework assignment:

I’m asking that you write a unique blog post for each reading rather than putting them all in a single blog post. The reason for this has to do with how to use the Open Lab to manage submissions from students–we’re going to use your blog post entries to simulate a class, and I’m going to show you how to get things organized on the first day.

So for each article, I’d like you to write a new blog post. You should have nine in total when you are done. Title each post whatever you want but do me a favor and make sure to include the author’s name in the title so we can track them. Also, please use the category feature to tag the post to the appropriate author. I have created a category for each author.

For each post, choose a section of text that you found interesting/worthy of remembering and sharing. Go ahead and quote the passage you found important and then write a response to that passage below your quote. Make sure to set your quote apart so that it is easy to see the difference between the quote and your response. Consider using the “blockquote” feature in the editor to set your quote apart. All nine posts are due by our first meeting on Thursday, the 17th. I’ll be doing these with you as well.

Here’s a rough schedule of the two-day orientation

Thursday 9-12 Meeting Location: Library Computer Lab L540

9:00-10-15   OpenLab Website Creation/Discussion

10-30-12:00  Discussion of Genre, Rhetorical Situation, and Discourse Community (Bitzer, Miller, Devitt, Graff)

Thursday 1-4 Meeting Location: N227

1:00-2:15 Discussion of Literacy Narrative and Final Portfolios (Taczak & Robertson and Neal)

2:30-4:00  Discussion of Reseach/Argument (Kynard and Dirk)

Friday 9-12 Meeting Location: Library Computer Lab L540

9:00-10:30: Multimodal Texts (Shipka)

10:45-12:00 Open Discussion

I’ll be updating you with more information as I have it. If you have any questions, feel free to leave comments below.


Encouraging Students to Imagine with Shipka

Cognizant that the student work featured above may seem strange, especially when the norm for student work is equated with linear, argumentative, thesis-driven print texts that are passed forward in class and geared primarily, if not exclusively, to an audience of one (the instructor), I would suggest that the rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological choices students made while engineering these complex rhetorical events merit serious and sustained attention. Based on the kind, quality, and scope of work I have witnessed students producing for the past seven years, I am moved to argue, with George’s claim in mind, that students have a much richer imagination for what might be accomplished in the course than our journals have yet even begun to imagine, let alone to address. (282)

I admit it readily enough: I am often afraid of technology. So while I love multi-genre work and in theory embrace assignments focused on transfer, visual rhetoric, multimodal forms, media, and digital or audio components, sometimes I get nervous. What if my students want to translate their argument into a podcast and I don’t have the first idea of how to help them? What if they are as nervous as I am about the idea of a translation or original argument created in a multimodal, digital, audio, or interactive media format, such as a text-based video game or a video essay?

Some of the examples that Shipka brings up remind me that I shouldn’t worry, because offering students room to imagine how how they might best bring a complex idea to their audience might far surpass my own imagination. I’m now certain that no one under the age of 25 has any kind of anxiety about using digital or mobile technologies, so if my students don’t yet know how to produce a podcast on their phones, they will surely find a way to do so. It’s impressive to see what is possible for multimodal assignments, and also raises the question for me of how to best frame them, when there is a lot of choice — such as a choice of both topic AND genre — involved.

What Counts as “Evidence” in Kynard

It was largely through working with Elva that I began to question more rigorously the nature of the research paper in terms of what counts as “evidence.” The type of data that Elva was collecting and her attempt to write it up should not have been a new endeavor for her. She was in fact focusing in the social sciences and was well into her major. None of what she described as her previous research papers, however, seemed to fall outside of the typical library-go-fetch process. (135)

In the Kynard reading, I kept thinking about how often, when our students go and find “sources” for their research paper (sometimes an artificially determined number, for the sake of “sufficient rigor”), they come back with some of the weirdest things. I recall reading papers and thinking not just “How on earth did you find this source?” but also “Why on earth did you think that this source would be a good context, commentary, or voice to enter into a conversation with as you built your argument?”

And it makes me agree that we should introduce research as early as possible, but also its motivations– relevant research can help writers build credibility, understand the nature of a situation or problem, and insert their own original ideas into that gap between others’ voices. But it takes a lot of gathering and analysis and reading and fact-finding and synthesis of sources to effectively deploy sources as the log cabin-like foundation that we stand atop to make a coherent and interesting new argument. So how can we not only help students consult other texts, voices, and sources whenever they approach writing, but also use them effectively? I also have a feeling that primary research — whether ethnography, interviews, observations, or site visits — can also be very empowering in this way for students, since it puts them more in touch with what the research is for, and they are interpreting their own sensory experiences to find meaning.

“The Research Paper” as a Genre without a Discipline in Dirk

Given that it is likely students will be asked to write such papers during their tenure in college, how might we best prepare them for writing a paper that changes across disciplinary contexts despite its common generic name? I believe that treatment of a research paper as an isolated utterance within a composition classroom is problematic in that such papers fail to encourage transfer.

Here’s my problem with teaching “the Research Paper” that Dirk calls “an isolated utterance within a composition classroom”: it lives outside of any academic discipline. In biology, there are lab reports, or researched studies, or literature reviews; in literature, there might be a researched work of literary criticism commenting on a single text; in anthropology, there are ethnographic studies; in sociology, there are widespread studies involving surveys and statistical analysis. But in no discipline besides college First-Year Writing is there a disembodied “academic style” research paper, on either a topic of the student or instructor’s choosing. For that matter, which citation style should you use? Should you use MLA if you are writing about history, and APA if you are writing about education or psychology?

I guess the problem that I think Dirk is identifying is an assignment that has taken on artificiality because it has ceased to belong in a specific situation outside of the composition classroom. When students can define the framework that they want to use in order to make a researched argument, making choices about audience, form, rhetorical approach, sources, investigational primary research tactics, and other questions of agency, then the researched argument will again be a living, breathing genre with a purpose and an audience and as Dirk suggests, “situate their research writing as part of… an activity system.”

Key Terms! What a Concept, Taczak and Robertson

I really jammed out with this reading, both because I love reflection as a writer and enjoy teaching thoughtful active re-envisioning of writing in my classes. I have experimented both with “revision plans” — a reflection after receiving peer and instructor feedback but before undertaking revision — and “revision reflections” on final (revised) drafts of assignments, and think there is value in both. But now this four-part framework really drives it home for me in terms of thinking and talking more explicitly about reflection:

“as a 360-degree, reiterative approach to give students a series of opportunities to make decisions and create some understanding of their writing as a means of engaging in reflective practice as a four-part schema: (1) look backward to recall previous knowledge… (2) look inward to review the current writing situation they are working in; (3) look forward to project how their current knowledge about writing connects to other possible academic writing situations; and (4) look outward to theorize how the role of their current identities as reflective writing practitioners connects to larger academic writing situations.”

This is all driven home for me by T & R’s recommendation to explicitly define and use reflection as a key termpractice reflection in the classroom, and encourage students to develop a theory of writing. Key terms!?! I know I define terms for my students, but I think I was raised through the osmosis style of education — bat a big term around long enough and finally you’ll look it up and try it out and start using it yourself. So yeah, making reflection something you define, practice explicitly, and encourage students to talk about in terms of looking backward/outward/inward/forward is a great way to encourage them to think explicitly about writing choices.

It’s like the Reflection Hokey Pokey.

T & R says, “this approach allows them to theorize about their own writing overall, and it allows them to evolve not just as writers but also as thinkers about writing.” If our students can become active thinkers about writing, then I think we are getting closer.

Neal’s Cautionary Tale of Formulaic Reflective Cover Letters

Here is a moment that I found helpful in the Neal text:

  • What are the relationships between reflective writing and other artifacts within a portfolio?
  • What — if any — value remains in guiding students into specific reflective writing activities, either for teaching and learning or for the purposes of writing assessment?

In addressing these questions, my intent is to reaffirm the important relationship between reflective writing and portfolio artifacts–though not in limited, formulaic cover letters, but rather as integrated learning tools for students to make evident tacit decisions they make as writers.

Reading Neal right after the Taczak and Robertson reflection reading, I was thinking a lot about active reflection as a framing device for students understanding the narrative of their work throughout a given semester, and the idea that reflection not become a rote thing that you slap on top of a finished revision, but more of a conversation about the writing process that empowers the student writer. Also, how can reflection — and portfolios as final assignments — offer our students agency over their writing decisions, and choices about how and what they choose to highlight as the most important facets of their journey as writers?

In final reflections, I often ask students to reflect on one theme that they find interesting about their own work, whether it is the narrative of their development over the semester’s assignments, their strengths and weaknesses as a writer, or what changed for them in their writing practice. I have found that having a focusing dominant theme, macro-question, or unifying idea in their reflection letter (or essay, they don’t have to address it to me) has led to more interesting and ultimately successful rhetorical explorations of their progress and journey as writers. The thing that surprised me most when I recently did this assignment was the freedom and power in many of the students’ voices–especially students who had struggled to express themselves confidently in an academic tone. Maybe we need to hand the reins to students in their final reflections, and ask them, what about this whole writing process is interesting and exciting to you?

Miller time

Well, I wish I hadn’t saved her piece for last. Diagrams! Charts! She lays it down with no apologies. Once this is all over, I will want to read Halliday, and put publications like “Learning to Mean” and Language as Social Semiotic on my virtual shelf.

“I will be arguing that a rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish.” Okay with me for now. She mentions Campbell and Jameison (a good name for a bar), saying “they proceed inductively, as critics. They do not attempt to provide a framework that will predict or limit the genres that might be identified. Their interest is less in providing a taxonomic system than in explaining certain aspects of the way social reality evolves: ‘The critic who classifies a rhetorical artifact as generically akin to a class of similar artifacts has identified an undercurrent of history rather than comprehended an act isolated in time’ (p. 26). The result is that the set of genres is an open class, with new members evolving, old ones decaying.”

Those critic fuddy duddies! Just like…us. As I read, I kept thinking about Hip-Hop, and how many papers I’ve read about it, and whether or not it is dead, and what is it, anyway…

“I do not mean to suggest that there is only one way (or one fruitful way) to classify discourse. Classifications and distinctions based on form and substance have told us much about sentimentalism, women’s liberation, and doctrinal movements, for example. But we do not gain much by calling all such classes ‘genres.’ T h e classification I a m advocating is, in effect, ethnomethodological: it seeks to explicate the knowledge that practice creates.” Great, and getting better.

She then drops the term “language game” and I am having visions of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Phiolosophicus and Artistotelian syllogism and all the other stuff I loved in college — and continue to bring into the 1101 classroom, just because I can’t ever seem to leave them at home.

“The understanding of rhetorical genre that I am advocating is based in rhetorical practice, in the conventions of discourse that a society establishes as ways of ‘acting together.’ It does not lend itself to taxonomy, for genres change, evolve, and decay; the number of genres current in any society is indeterminate and depends upon the complexity and diversity of the society.”

Gosh, I just want to keep quoting her. It’s like discovering an ancient tomb, and you light a match and see the walls for the first time: “Hierarchical relationships of substance, form, and meaning-as-action. The combination of form and substance at one level becomes an action (has meaning) at a higher level when that combination itself acquires form. Each action is interpretable against the context provided by actions at higher levels.”

Once the dust settles on our Committee, I would totally return to Miller. At present, I am eyeball high in dust.


The most important things, I think, about Shipka’s work, are that it asks students to be responsible for their own writing choices, and then to explain those choices. It’s so (bear with me) groundless in some ways for the students that they need to invent a wheel, and then they need to say “okay, this is why I built this particular wheel.” By groundless, I mean that she leaves very very much of it up to the students, and while mine is a pedagogy of student choice, the assignments of hers I’ve seen seem to be less scaffolded than I’ve ever been able to pull off.

I’ve always found her work both inspiring and confusing. I’ve done some workshops with her and have always been a little confused about what’s going on. The projects she describes here sound pretty cool, but I can also see some students getting lost in the shuffle because, in some ways, she seems to rely on a LACK of scaffolding (and pedagogically, I understand why she does.) Hers is a pedagogy that necessitates a moment of frustration, one which students must get over to make projects which are often very cool. I wonder if this works with all student populations, though.

It would be difficult to argue against multimodality in her work, though (although I’ve certainly heard people do it.) The metacognitive reflection of the “heads up” statement shows students working through the decision making of writing in the way of true practitioners—and the examples she uses are interesting, engaged, contemporary examples that explore language. The fact is, students are using these types of writing already (or they are interested in doing so) and her assignments, lack of scaffolding and all, help them see writing as a process of invention rather than an act of following someone else’s inscrutable rules.

Well, it’s late.

I think she’s making this too complex. We know what genre is when we see it. As she herself mentions, when you pick up the mail and see a letter from a friend, you respond differently than you do to an advertising flyer. She says we respond to much more than the textual features and formal conventions of these items of mail, but… what are we responding to besides these things? (I mean, also graphics, paper quality, the way the paper is folded, font, etc, I suppose.) But most importantly: why is pinning down a definition of “genre” important? Or does she have another project here that I am missing?

She does mention something that I think is important: she says that, though the assignment is a letter to the editor, “if you begin with an inverted triangle” (???) the audience is really the professor. I think she refers to a description of the rhetorical situation here. However, this makes me think about the idea that if you ASSIGN a letter to the editor, the assignment is really a paper for class. How do we make the genre NOT a college essay when the assessment procedure is a letter grade given by an English professor? It’s hard to shake.

Yancey may have more time on her hands than I

Taczak and Robertson tell us: “Yancey argues that reflection, when woven into a curriculum, becomes a ‘discipline, a habit of mind/spirit/feeling that informs what we do, always tacitly, sometimes explicitly, and that making such understanding explicit is a good’ and that when students use reflection, they ‘learn to know their work, to like it, to critique it, to revise it, to start anew’ while they also ‘invent [writing] identities’ (Yancey 1998, 201–2).”

Flatly put, do we have time in our short, one-semester encounter to adequately reflect? No. Now that we have the whole year, perhaps…

“Yancey’s definition of reflection in its attention to self-monitoring resembles the advice offered by David Perkins and Gavriel Salomon and by the researchers in How People Learn—we must help students become more aware of themselves as learners, which has been shown to increase the potential for transfer (Bransford, Pellegrino, and Donovan 2000b, 67; Perkins and Salomon 1992).”

Okay. Then, if we are going to make students more aware of how they learn, we also have a responsibility to give them terms/terminologies from psychological research, and also lay bare for them our own learning/teaching styles. That would square with the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude that some of the other authors we’ve encountered advocate. I like that. However, TandR don’t really give us much by way of resources. Sometimes, if a class is receptive, I will have us all complete a learning personality quiz Online, and see where we fit onto a grid. It feels a bit like horoscopes, and it’s fun. We also look at the Atlantic Magazine’s Timeline and plug in our birth years to see how different we are. Still, again, how can we integrate this kind of awareness into getting students to latch onto writing-specific terms?

TandR agree that some kind of new vocabulary (definitions, identifications) are necessary. So far, the results of using reflection were not painted as terribly heartening:

“What these findings mean, as demonstrated by the participants, is that reflection did help them in a composing moment to think about what they were doing with their writing, but it did not encourage them to become critical about what they were learning about writing. Thus, as a practice in doing writing, reflection had a limited usefulness. Some might argue that this utility is sufficient, but our research suggests that with a fuller curricular model—including key vocabulary, a reflective framework, and students’ theory of writing—students can and do transfer knowledge and practices about writing to other writing contexts.”