Category Archives: Graff

Bardolph’s Built-In Reflection Rings True

Megan J. Bardolph’s essay, “Modifying Classroom Routines to Provide Reflective Space” gives me some much-appreciated pedagogical go-ahead. Thank you, Jackie, for giving it to us. Bardolph’s suggestion that we begin this reflective process early on fuses well with what I’ve already attempted in this short time, and as it’s my first week with this new pedagogy, and the feeling of being overwhelmed is very real, I want to take a moment and say why.

Learning Unit 1. Literacy. Metacognition. The students in at least one of my sections are already flying (boldly!) into uncharted brain space. As I am talking to them, I sense that my desire to NOT reign them in, and yet, my need to give our FY folks some real deliverables, will start to clash soon. So: what I  told them (after giving them a quick overview of Wittgenstein and linguistic game theory) is: “Tell me, in ongoing notation, your:

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graphs on Graff

There is a lot to like in Graff’s piece, even though his audience, “upper- division English majors who intend to become English teachers,” couldn’t be more different than our own.

That said, college freshmen are people who have just made a big investment in their future. They’re both risk averse and risk takers (heck, they just took this huge plunge), and so, treating them like adults, and giving them insight into how we, as educators, think and plan and scheme, giving them a sense of agency as well as a super-sneaky peak behind the curtain…all good. Process: yes. Modeling: yes. “What rhetorical analysis and text modeling offer is the option for students to see what teachers already know, that exam writing is only one kind of writing, with its own set of expectations, and that students may choose to meet those expectations in testing situations…”

Also, our freshmen are often gifted with great Intuition. They often make good choices in the flash of a moment, but don’t know how to appreciate themselves and label and recognize their own proficiency. His student proof:

“Sara may have made this point most explicitly when she noted that, as a result of this project, she became ‘an objective writer who can use the rhetorical tools consciously and effectively whereas before I may have used them still, but more with intuition and less with intention.’ Sara’s comment points to precisely the kind of meta-awareness composition research- ers have suggested can help students apply what they have learned about writing beyond their composition classes (c.f. Beaufort, 1999; Bergmann and Zepernick, 2007; Greene, 2001; Hillocks, 2008; Wardle, 2007).” [boldface, mine]

Dance is often learned by following someone in front of you. Joining in. Writing often flows best when you use it to become part of a larger world full of exciting things. I think that the idea of the Mentor Text is great. “Once they composed their arguments, they found a popular magazine in which they could make their arguments, selected an article in the magazine that suited their vision of what they wanted to say, and revised the original argument using the article as a rhetorical model or mentor text (see Figure 1 for the complete assignment).

Sorry this post is a bit choppy, but I just want to copy, below, his use of the terms “Modeling” and “Process” as they differ a bit from how I have tossed them around in the past:

“Modeling—Composing a variety of text forms and using modeling with low-stakes writing to experiment with genre, style, and syntax helped students apply their developing rhetorical analysis to their own writing.”

“Explicit attention to process—Because of the complexity of the final task, we had to be very mindful of the steps in the process—generating ideas and collaborating to support each other’s writing, drafting, and revising. This very explicit and conscious attention to process is what transferred for some students.”

“It’s changed the way I look at a lot of things,” says one of his students, Elizabeth. I love when students say that. And yes, the teaching to the “writer” and not the “writing” like Jackie already posted. Great. And I could go on a lot about this:

“…Bergmann and Zepernick (2007) suggested that composition courses should focus ‘less on teaching students how to write than on teaching students how to learn to write’ (pp. 141–142).”

I also started reading the Lindemann “Rhetoric for Writing Teachers” that he assigned his own students. Not much time left, though. : )



Rhetorical Analysis as Means of Inspiring Revision – Graff

Jake’s work on this assignment involved a great deal of rewriting, as noted when he said, “I learned how to rewrite at so many different levels.” During rewriting, his style changed less than the content. The writing style–one that felt very natural to him–and the choice of topic made it worthwhile for him to rewrite. He said that, before this essay, he had “never rewritten anything, like changing ideas and stuff.”   (381)

I really enjoy this quote, and it’s quite a pleasure to re-read the Graff piece, since I think it speaks to so many things that we try to do in the classroom all the time. I would LOVE for my students to start their revisions at the macro level, and think about their “ideas and stuff”– the stuff being structure, logic, use of sources, voice, assumptions, and approach into a topic. I did a poll with some of my students last term (after 3 rounds of peer review) about which revision strategies they attempt, and when. While some of them said that they questioned things like their thesis statement and structure at the beginning of the process — or reviewed my and their peers’ comments — several other students noted that they start with sentence-level line edits, and then maybe work their way up to revising bigger ideas…. “if I have time.”

This makes me think that perhaps descriptive outlining in peer review and other types of scaffolded writing and drafting described by Graff might encourage students to “change their ideas” when they revise. Also, I’m intrigued by the idea that Jake had his rhetorical model to use as a model of genre output — to mimic, understand, and play with the same types of rhetorical moves to serve his own purposes. So Graff’s analysis assignment also had a genre production or transfer component, which sounds like it was really satisfying to the students. And motivated really meaningful revisions!


There’s a lot for me to like about Graff’s piece since it’s more pedagogical than theoretical in nature and I’m always delighted to find ways to approach in a practical way a somewhat theoretical issue like genre. Specifically, his list of Implications is extremely helpful, starting with his colleague’s question, “Are we working on the writing or the writer?” I often have to remind myself of that when I find an essay full of errors, and I’m going to do what I did years ago when I first heard the same sentiment — type it out and put it on my bulletin board.

I also appreciate the list of features that “may lead to transfer and are worth emulating,” and the examples he gives earlier about how to sequence and scaffold things like rhetorical analysis and how to challenge them to “apply their knowledge, and [motivate] them to see how writing functions in real-world contexts.” In other words, genres (to piggyback on Miller and Devitt), which I do think is critically important for transfer.

Finally, I agree that it’s important to make assignments meaningful to our students:  “finding topics they were passionate about would make it easier for them to identify sources to analyze because they would either have those sources close to hand or know readily where to find them.” I’m not sure how much that helps with high-road composition transfer, but it does tend to get more work, and better, work; on the other hand, I’ve found that this does motivate students to work on their writing so their discoveries and ideas are clear, so that probably does help with transfer.

Descriptive Outlining-Nelson Graff

“Are we working on the writing or on the writer?” (383).

“The process of composing ideas first and then revising them for a different audience seemed to be important for students’ learning and helped them see the writing as authentic . . . and it is this process of choosing an audience, examining a text written for that audience, and revising for that audience that helps students develop the understanding of writing they can apply to future writing assignments” (384).

The more times I read this Nelson Graff article the more I like it. It’s accessibility and its practicality really jump out to me. I think one of the most important and easiest things we can teach is to have students write rhetorical outlines of other texts and of their own texts. Graff’s use of mentor texts gives students the opportunities to get a feeling for different genres, and using an outline of the mentor text to understand it will help any writer, seasoned or novice. Three essential questions come to mind that help students do a paragraph by paragraph outline of a text they are reading, what is sometimes called a “rhetorical outline” or a “descriptive outline.”  What does the text say? What does the text do? How does the text go about achieving what it’s trying to do? Of course, these small scale questions can be combined with larger rhetorical analysis questions (what is the overall intent, what appeals does the writer make, what types of claim (fact, definition, value, policy), who is the audience, etc.) Incidentally, this same kind of outline is helpful for doing peer review.