The Big Questions

  1. What’s your philosophy of “good student writing”? What are you aiming for in your BW and FYC courses?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy evident in your course and unit plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

Good student writing shows some thought and commitment and addresses the given question, reading or prompt. I must be able to see the student writer’s own ideas, issues or questions regarding the topic, reading or prompt. Good student writing has gone through at least a couple of drafts and has been proofread. This writing feels like it has taken longer to compose than the time it takes me to read it. It is writing that has a point and gives examples or illustrations. Writing that is not indecipherable. I am more interested in the student’s analytical thinking about a topic, reading or prompt, than I am in his or her feelings. While I am a purpose-reader-and-audience-focused teacher and an anti-expressivist, I do expect to see a part of the student in his or her writing. After all, I know that I’ll be reading and evaluating an individual’s original work –writing that is informed or influenced by reading.

If “feeling” does seep out in the service of analysis, thought or persuasion, then the writing is likely to be stronger and I happier. I don’t expect students to produce “good writing” from the beginning, but I do hope that they will get “better” as the semester unfolds. I also aim to get students to be able track their own improvement in writing from draft to draft, by keeping all their drafts and responding to peer and instructor feedback. Additionally, I will give students plenty of opportunities to practice, practice and revise, and hope they will eventually see revision as a necessary part of the writing process. In my class, they will workshop their 5 major assignments in survival groups at least once. Then, even after I assign a grade, I will give less-than-A students yet another opportunity to revise, so they can improve their writing (and grade).

I will have to be careful about time in my class; all the workshopping has to be tightly planned and moderated. Students will need to be trained to give useful, dispassionate feedback. I also need to make sure I stay within the expectations of the institution in regards to what “good student writing” really is. I’m afraid, I have not included many sentences about formal conventions in academic writing. The truth is I have mixed feelings about them; can we really classify them neatly and teach them directly? I say it depends on purpose, audience and genre. I will address these issues, but it might be in more indirect ways depending on the assignment and the mood of the class.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to “the writing process” in your BW and FYC courses?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy/approach evident in your course plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

The process of writing is painstaking and requires much practice. Every writer’s process is slightly (or even dramatically) different from task to task. There will probably be as many writing processes as students in my class. I will encourage students to write, whatever their process may be – “Get to writing, practice every day, and you will probably notice shifts in your process from session to session. It happens and it’s perfectly fine.” I am a big advocate of writing as a process of discovery – meaning that we “discover” what we want to say through writing. However, I’m not a big fan of a linear approach to writing instruction. It’s okay to practice a linear approach, but it’s not the one true process which will be used each and every time a paper is due. Research and preparation, as well as argumentative thinking, are needed and expected, but sometimes the pivotal piece of research comes late in the process, long after the first draft is completed, and sometimes the very thesis of an entire paper changes at the end. Organization is important, but equally important is a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability to the task at hand. Sometimes there isn’t a cohesive thesis: a personal narrative or a response paper do not necessitate a thesis. A recipe, a poem, a set of instructions or a news article may make no sense with an embedded thesis statement. Instead, this genre of writing should be clear and contain certain variables, like ingredients or a step-by-step to do list, or simply information about last night’s earthquake. A formalist would cringe at my multi-process approach; an expressivist would say I’m not a humanist (and she’d be partially right).

Renato’s Six Keys to Writing:

The first key to the writing process is that your process will depend on what you are writing, whom you are addressing and what you are trying to accomplish. The second key is the simplest and most important: practice, practice and practice writing. Practice as you would practice shooting hoops, going over your scales and arpeggios or memorizing your lines for the school play. Do it every day. What I am saying is the process is practice, and you are the only person who can practice your writing.   The third key is in practicing re-vision. Once you have a draft or two done, try to re-inhabit your paper and “see” if it could benefit from a new approach. Don’t throw anything away – keep a “recycling doc” on your computer and save everything you chuck in it. You might need it later or for another task. I have a recycling doc and I also keep all my drafts in their entirety. 4th key: drafting. Do it often. It goes hand in hand with re-vision, though not all drafts have to be re-visions. Sometimes a paper will take you one major re-vision and three drafts to complete, sometimes five. My average is seven drafts per writing task. The 5th key is in rereading pertinent texts that you are writing about. This is especially helpful if you practiced annotation while you were reading the first time. The 6th key is a gimmick: repeat steps 1- 5.

  1. What’s your philosophy of “good teaching” in your BW and FYC courses? What roles do see yourself taking on as a “good teacher”? How does “authority” play our in your notion of good teaching?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy evident in your course plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

My approach to teaching writing is to offer students the tools and resources that I have received as a developing writer. I cannot forget the instructors who have given me challenging assignments, exercises and valuable feedback on my work. It is my ambition to do the same for my students. I am particularly grateful to those instructors who have pointed out possibilities of exploration that I had not considered before. I will do my best to guide young writers to explore and unleash their own processes, as they exercise their writing (and reading) muscles. I am most indebted to those instructors who have stretched my aptitude as a reader by exposing me to a vast assortment of authors of creative and critical works. In order to be a good writer, one must first be a good reader. I feel very strongly about encouraging students to learn to “read as writers,” by reflecting on texts in terms craft and content, annotating, and keeping a commonplace book in which they will glean how to become better readers and writers. This will be helpful to them in future classes.

In a sense, my mission as a teacher is a selfish one, because I find that through the teaching process my own skills and talents become enhanced, not only as a writer but as a human being as well. At the same time, I feel I cannot continue to grow without sharing my good fortune with others. So then, paradoxically, my mission is selfless too. I tend to give students copious feedback on their work. I also give them plenty of reading. I want nothing more than for my classroom to be a community, an open forum for different ideas and thoughts, so that we can all learn from each other. I am dispassionate when it comes to matters of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and even politics. I address everyone with respect, patience and, above all, compassion. I expect the same treatment from my students towards me and each other.

At this point in my career, I classify myself as a teacher who concentrates on purpose-and-audience-focused writing and emphasizes context-and-culture-focused writing. I am neither a formalist nor an expressivist, though I value well-structured, grammatically correct writing and I expect to see my students’ thoughts, analyses and feelings regarding a topic, reading or prompt in their writing. I also want my students to “discover” or assert their values, beliefs and opinions in their writing. I am more of a coach and facilitator than a gatekeeper or expert. But in the end, I am a teacher, not a “friend,” and as a teacher I am eager to learn alongside my students, but I do expect my students to follow the guidelines I set down.

  1. What’s your philosophy about the purpose and goals of BW and FYC?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field? e.g Framework for Success and WPA Outcomes?

◦How is your philosophy (as well as elements of Framework and WPA) evident in your course ?

◦What tensions to do see? ? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

Since I am new to teaching composition, I’ve come to the conclusion that I could easily adapt to established student learning outcomes, as seen in “The Framework.” I don’t see too many tensions here yet. But, I imagine that experience will force me to adapt

“The Framework” talks about “habits of mind,” and I already have several in my course design. Engagement. A student is not going to be equally engaged with all her required classes. Overall, yes, an engaged student will accomplish more than one who is unengaged. But it is possible for students to keep an “engaged state of mind” by encouraging them to keep their eyes on the prize (degree, graduate education, dream job). Some students will not be interested in doing my literary analysis unit – but these students can be coaxed to look at the “big picture.” Painting small pictures is often the price we pay in order to have the privilege of painting big pictures. All students in my class will be assigned to small survival groups for the semester, which will force them to engage with each other. They “will make connections” and comparisons between their ideas and their peers’ in discussion groups. They will benefit from peer feedback on all their major assignments. They will also have a Responsibility to each other. The students will be graded individually, but there will also be a group grade, which will lower or raise individual grades. They will have to have Persistence in my class, because they will be required to write multiple drafts of each of their main assignments. Since they’ll be required to keep a commonplace book on their reading, they will be writing even when they don’t have any formal assignments. Through annotating on their reading assignments and keeping a commonplace book, and through continual peer writing workshops in which they receive and give feedback to others, my students will begin to practice Metacognition without even knowing it. I’ll make sure we talk about it in class. My units on literary analysis and Rhetorical analysis will add to the metacognition.

From the WPA Outcomes, I have incorporated the following: my students will be encouraged to use multiple and flexible writing Processes. They will learn from each other’s processes in survival groups, where they will review works-in-progress. I will give indirect instruction on Knowledge of Conventions by having recurring Nuts and Bolts mini-lectures on form, grammar, structure, etc., based on common global errors that come up in the class. I also plan on giving brief direct instruction on form and structure in multiple genres at the beginning of each unit. One-on-one conferences about my feedback will also be helpful.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to sequencing writing instruction and writing assignments?

◦How do your writing assignments /activities/instruction build throughout the 30 weeks of the year?

◦How do you build bridges between each of the writing assignments your course(s)?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

My approach to creating writing assignments is predominantly rooted in objectivist theory – in that one assignment builds upon another, like a chain or puzzle. The majority of my writing assignments will be in a reading-response format, because I strongly believe that good writing is necessarily preceded by good reading; in fact, it is difficult to separate the two. My assignments involve a good amount of thinking, so students need to first process (“think through”) the language of the assignment, then think through the reading, and think their way through the writing process. If multiple drafts are required (all my major assignments will), then the students will also need to think back to the readings as they evaluate their revision. The “bridges” between assignments are straight forward: there is a unifying theme for the year – Literacy. Students will keep a commonplace book in which to reflect on readings and gather notes that will be useful in the next assignment. Students be in multiple survival group workshops –in these workshops they go back and forth with each other’s writing assignments.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s probably a good idea to always “Think Back” about the reading (and the language of the assignment) after completing the written portion of the assignment, even in when only one draft is required. In this way, students can get in the habit of asking themselves: Did I answer the question posed? Did I stay within the constraints of the assignment? Did I interact with the text I read? Is there room for improvement? How so? What am I taking away from this assignment? If I feel it didn’t help me – why not? This metacognition is crucial to the learning process, alongside with exposure to stimulating material and practicing of conventions. This metacognition is largely “expressivist” and, as such, allows the student to “think through,” evaluate and even question not only the reading and the student’s own response to that reading, but also the objectivist format of the assignment itself. If there are problems with the assignment, I need to hear about them. By all means, “let’s talk about it! For I have as much to learn as you do.”

Finally, I am having difficulties in keeping a consistent theme for the entire year. I fear that it will bore students to always be reading, talking and writing about Literacy for an entire year. But still I do see a value in an overarching theme, perhaps a better theme would be: The Reading and Writing in Literacy?

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to using readings and providing direct reading instruction into your course ?

◦Where does your approach fit in the overall landscape of the field? Do you favor cognitive, expressivist, or socio-cultural reading theories?

◦How do your reading assignments/activities/instruction build throughout the 30 weeks of the year?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I mainly practice socio-cultural reading theory, but there is plenty of room to conjoin the three major schools of thought, as McCormick has done. I will teach my students how to become active readers. In my course, students will read. Then the will read again, this time annotating and highlighting. After that, or concurrently, they will think about what they have read and write down responses in a commonplace book. These responses will be organized in two columns (so I would encourage the use of a steno book): one column will hold textual and authorial ideas, notions, issues that resonate for them and some that cause tension, and I hope they will unpack some of the tensions here as well; the other column will have their observations about language use, structure, grammar questions/problems, syntax, diction, and so on. The next step in the process will be to gather in their survival groups to discuss the readings and take notes for their formal assignments. They will then produce a rough draft of the formal assignment and present to their survival groups for discussion and feedback. Then, they will turn in a revised draft to me, which I will grade and comment on. Finally, I will always allow the B-and-Under students an opportunity to rewrite again before I record the final grade.

Since there is an overarching theme in my course, the readings are in conversation with each other. The two main objectives in my reading assignments are to give students what to think about, and to give them models on how to write in different genres. As far as the kinds of reading I will assign, I admit a do align myself with teachers who primarily assign published and scholarly readings. After all, this is an academic course aiming to be a portal to the students’ academic life. However, I am already in conflict with myself. Students may very well need a bigger range of writings to be exposed to in order to learn differences in style, genre and audience, purpose etc. And supplementary non-canonical reading may aid students to gain a greater palate of rhetorical knowledge, not to mention that the diversity will force them to develop more critical thinking. So a small-ish percentage (20-30%) of texts written by students, sources outside academia and multimodal texts is also a good idea.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to integrating reading and writing in BW and FYC?

◦Where does your philosophy/approach fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦Where is your philosophy/approach to integrating reading/writing evident in your course?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I believe I have already answered this question within some of the others. I’ll try not to repeat myself. I believe one must be a good reader before she can be a good writer. Reading gives us what to think about, what to write about. We write about what we read, hopefully discovering new ideas about the topic and ourselves in the process. Then our peers and instructor read what we wrote and comment on it. Then we do it all over again. It is my strong opinion that you cannot separate reading and writing in a class. My reading assignments inform my writing assignments in content and context but they also serve as models of good writing in different genres. I fear that my students might complain about all the reading I will assign, which is why in a BW course I will assign considerably less reading than in a FYC course.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to working with academically underprepared students?

◦Where does your philosophy/approach fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy/approach evident the developmental portion of your year-long plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

This is perhaps the hardest of the questions for me, as I have not spent much time thinking about it. But I do have an opportunity to give it a try right now.

I have always responded well to teachers who treat me like a person, an intelligent human being who is eager to learn. They are usually well-organized. They establish their expectations, they guide me when I need it, and then they let me do my own learning. I am a thorough student; it is one of the few hats I wear well. Give me some room to think my way through the material, and I will give you my best. These kind of teachers are great for students who chose to be in their classes and are willing to do the work. Basic Writing students, however, might not want to be there, and many of them may not really care for the work. These students need a firmer hand; they cannot thrive with a disorganized albeit brilliant teacher. They need a teacher who will continually remind them of the course’s expectations, someone to coax them when necessary, but someone who is unafraid to enforce the rules of the classroom.

There will be a varied spectrum in any class I’ll teach; there has been in the ones I’ve taught. Earnest students with a desire to learn, and a willingness to work, will always have me working harder for them. Maybe this is a bias, but it just naturally happens that way. Students who are there because they have to be just get one hundred percent of my efforts. Academically unprepared students will require me to adopt some roles I am not so comfortable with: expert, referee, wanker. Actually, as I think deeper on this issue, there is a difference between academically unprepared and unwilling. So those roles will be reserved for the people who don’t want to be in my class and don’t want to do the work. For people who are genuinely unprepared but are willing to learn, I will adapt my plans and take them by the hand if and when possible.

November 11, 2014

1. What’s your philosophy of “good student writing”? What are you aiming for in your BW and FYC courses?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy evident in your course and unit plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

Good student writing shows some thought and commitment and addresses the given question, reading or prompt. I must be able to see the student writer’s own ideas, issues or questions regarding the topic, reading or prompt. Good student writing has gone through at least a couple of drafts and has been proofread. This writing feels like it has taken longer to compose than the time it takes me to read it. It is writing that has a point and gives examples or illustrations. Writing that is not indecipherable. I am more interested in the student’s analytical thinking about a topic, reading or prompt, than I am in his or her feelings. While I am a purpose-reader-and-audience-focused teacher and an anti-expressivist, I do expect to see a part of the student in his or her writing. After all, I know that I’ll be reading and evaluating an individual’s original work –writing that is informed or influenced by reading.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to “the writing process” in your BW and FYC courses?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy/approach evident in your course plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I believe every writer’s process is different from task to task. I also believe that there will probably be as many writing processes as students in the class. I will encourage students to write, whatever their process may be – “Get to writing, practice every day, and you will probably notice shifts in your process from session to session.” I am a big advocate of writing as a process of discovery. However, I’m not a big fan of a linear approach to writing instruction. It’s okay to practice a linear approach, but it’s not the one true process which will be used each and every time a paper is due. Research and preparation, as well as argumentative thinking, are needed and expected, but sometimes the pivotal piece of research comes late in the process, long after the first draft is completed, and sometimes the very thesis of an entire paper changes at the end. Organization is important, but equally important is a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability to the task at hand. The first key to the writing process is in practicing writing. The second key is in practicing revision. The third key is in rereading pertinent texts that you are writing about.

  1. What’s your philosophy of “good teaching” in your BW and FYC courses? What roles do see yourself taking on as a “good teacher”? How does “authority” play our in your notion of good teaching?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy evident in your course plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

My approach to teaching writing is to offer students the tools and resources that I have received as a developing writer. I cannot forget the instructors who have given me challenging assignments, exercises and valuable feedback on my work. It is my ambition to do the same for my students. I am particularly grateful to those instructors who have pointed out possibilities of exploration that I had not considered before. I will do my best to guide young writers to explore and unleash their own processes, as they exercise their writing (and reading) muscles. I am most indebted to those instructors who have stretched my aptitude as a reader by exposing me to a vast assortment of authors of creative and critical works. In order to be a good writer, one must first be a good reader. I feel very strongly about encouraging students to learn to “read as writers,” by reflecting on texts in terms craft and content, annotating, and keeping a commonplace book in which they will glean how to become better readers and writers. This will be helpful to them in future classes.

  1. What’s your philosophy about the purpose and goals of BW and FYC?

◦Where does your philosophy fit in the overall landscape of the field? e.g Framework for Success and WPA Outcomes?

◦How is your philosophy (as well as elements of Framework and WPA) evident in your course ?

◦What tensions to do see? ? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

“The Framework” talks about “habits of mind,” and I already have several in my course design. Engagement.  A student is not going to be equally engaged with all her required classes. Overall, yes, an engaged student will accomplish more than one who is unengaged. Some students will not be interested in doing my literary analysis unit – but these students can be coaxed to look at the “big picture.” Painting small pictures is often the price we pay in order to have the privilege of painting big pictures. All students in my class will be assigned to small survival groups for the semester, which will force them to engage with each other. They “will make connections” and comparisons between their ideas and their peers’ in discussion groups. They will benefit from peer feedback on all their major assignments. They will also have a Responsibility to each other.. They will have to have Persistence in my class, because they will be required to write multiple drafts of each of their main assignments. Through annotating on their reading assignments and keeping a commonplace book, and through continual peer writing workshops in which they receive and give feedback to others, my students will begin to practice Metacognition without even knowing it.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to sequencing writing instruction and writing assignments?

◦How do your writing assignments /activities/instruction build throughout the 30 weeks of the year?

◦How do you build bridges between each of the writing assignments your course(s)?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

My approach to creating writing assignments is predominantly rooted in objectivist theory – in that one assignment builds upon another, like a chain or puzzle. The majority of my writing assignments will be in a reading-response format, because I strongly believe that good writing is necessarily preceded by good reading; in fact, it is difficult to separate the two. My assignments involve a good amount of thinking, so students need to first process (“think through”) the language of the assignment, then think through the reading, and think their way through the writing process. If multiple drafts are required (all my major assignments will), then the students will also need to think back to the readings as they evaluate their revision. The “bridges” between assignments are straight forward: there is a unifying theme for the year – Literacy. Students will keep a commonplace book in which to reflect on readings and gather notes that will be useful in the next assignment. Students be in multiple survival group workshops –in these workshops they go back and forth with each other’s writing assignments.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to using readings and providing direct reading instruction into your course ?

◦Where does your approach fit in the overall landscape of the field? Do you favor cognitive, expressivist, or socio-cultural reading theories?

◦How do your reading assignments/activities/instruction build throughout the 30 weeks of the year?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I mainly practice socio-cultural reading theory, but there is plenty of room to conjoin the three major schools of thought, as McCormick has done. I will teach my students how to become active readers. In my course, students will read. Then the will read again, this time annotating and highlighting. After that, or concurrently, they will think about what they have read and write down responses in a commonplace book. These responses will be organized in two columns (so I would encourage the use of a steno book): one column will hold textual and authorial ideas, notions, issues that resonate for them and some that cause tension, and I hope they will unpack some of the tensions here as well; the other column will have their observations about language use, structure, grammar questions/problems, syntax, diction, and so on. The next step in the process will be to gather in their survival groups to discuss the readings and take notes for their formal assignments. They will then produce a rough draft of the formal assignment and present to their survival groups for discussion and feedback. Then, they will turn in a revised draft to me, which I will grade and comment on. Finally, I will always allow the B-and-Under students an opportunity to rewrite again before I record the final grade.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to integrating reading and writing in BW and FYC?

◦Where does your philosophy/approach fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦Where is your philosophy/approach to integrating reading/writing evident in your course?

◦What tensions do you see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I believe I have already answered this question within some of the others. I’ll try not to repeat myself. I believe one must be a good reader before she can be a good writer. Reading gives us what to think about, what to write about. We write about what we read, hopefully discovering new ideas about the topic and ourselves in the process. Then our peers and instructor read what we wrote and comment on it. Then we do it all over again. It is my strong opinion that you cannot separate reading and writing in a class. My reading assignments inform my writing assignments in content and context but they also serve as models of good writing in different genres. I fear that my students might complain about all the reading I will assign, which is why in a BW course I will assign considerably less reading than in a FYC course.

  1. What’s your philosophy/approach to working with academically underprepared students?

◦Where does your philosophy/approach fit in the overall landscape of the field?

◦How is your philosophy/approach evident the developmental portion of your year-long plan?

◦What tensions to do see? (Within your own views, within your course, within institutional expectations, and within the field)

I have always responded well to teachers who treat me like a person, an intelligent human being who is eager to learn.  They are usually well-organized.  They establish their expectations, they guide me when I need it, and then they let me do my own learning.  I am a thorough student; it is one of the few hats I wear well.  Give me some room to think my way through the material, and I will give you my best.  These kind of teachers are great for students who chose to be in their classes and are willing to do the work.  Basic Writing students, however, might not want to be there, and many of them may not really care for the work.  These students need a firmer hand; they cannot thrive with a disorganized albeit brilliant teacher.  They need a teacher who will continually remind them of the course’s expectations, someone to coax them when necessary, but someone who is unafraid to enforce the rules of the classroom.

November 4, 2014

7.4 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 112 – Thinking about critical thinking:

Actually, I have no tensions with “The Framework’s” views on critical thinking. I feel they are all valid. Perhaps, the only problem I foresee is that it may be overly ambitious to cover all these aspects thoroughly in a one-semester course, though I am new to this and experience may tell me otherwise, as so many outcomes can be addresses simultaneously within a single assignment. However, a stretch-course might be the way to go. Of course, I may not always have the option to teach a stretch-course, so it’s best to be flexible and prepared to include as much critical thinking in a single semester.

7.8 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p.112 – Examining conflicting ideas about reading:

Assigning a range of diverse readings, including some not by professionals vs. mostly published or scholarly readings.

I lean to the right (assigning mostly published/scholarly readings as opposed to a wide range). This is an academic course, and the institution has academic expectations. But, the right hand mustn’t be so limiting; there’s a formidable wealth of published academic/scholarly material. Articles, studies and books come in all sizes and shapes and flavors and points of view. In fact most of them are always debating and arguing with one another. There’s a writing proficiency range among academic writers, too. Some are good and some are not so good and some are just tedious and boring.

However, I am already in conflict with myself. The “right” side choices may not be enough. Students may very well need a bigger range of writings to be exposed to in order to learn differences in style, genre and audience, purpose. And supplementary non-canonical reading may aid students to gain a greater palate of rhetorical knowledge, not to mention that the diversity will force them to develop more critical thinking. So a small-ish percentage (20-30%) of texts written by students, sources outside academia and multimodal texts is a good idea. There, I am 75% right/ 25% left. A good compromise…to start.

7.13 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 122 – Articulating my philosophy of reading and writing (a pragmatic approach):

In my course, students will read. Then the will read again, this time annotating and highlighting. After that, or concurrently, they will think about what they have read and write down responses in a commonplace book. These responses will be organized in two columns (so I would encourage the use of a steno book): one column will hold textual and authorial ideas, notions, issues that resonate for them and some that cause tension, and I hope they will unpack some of the tensions here as well; the other column will have their observations about language use, structure, grammar questions/problems, syntax, diction, and so on. The next step in the process will be to gather in their survival groups to discuss the readings and take notes for their formal assignments. They will then produce a rough draft of the formal assignment and present to their survival groups for discussion and feedback. Then, they will turn in a revised draft to me, which I will grade and comment on. Finally, I will always allow the B-and-Under students an opportunity to rewrite again before I record the final grade.

October 28, 2014

8.3 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 129 – Examining tensions in course design:

Lots of workshops vs. lots of discussions:

This is where I feel the greatest tension. Obviously we can’t do it all (which is why I see the benefits of offering a stretch course). A possible compromise in the workshop v. discussion debate: put students into “survival groups” of 3 or 4 students. In their survival groups they will workshop every major assignment at least once, so they have the chance to turn in a revised draft to me for assessment and grading. While everyone is expected to do all the reading at least once, each survival group will have the responsibility to discuss in depth a small number of the readings in each unit (in jigsaw fashion) and present it to the whole class. My survival groups will also be “expert” groups. Wrapping up the process, I would step in and point out important highlights from each group’s presentation.

8.11 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 138 – Pondering assessment principles:

I think the best form of assessment is two-fold: one, midterm formative assessment evaluating the student’s progress in conference with the student; and two, summative assessment based on multiple factors of student performance and progress to assign a grade and address university expectations.  In both cases, I feel strongly about the student making progress, and therefore a certain percentage of the student’s grade in my class will be based on “personal improvement” (up to 10% not to ruffle too many administrative feathers; I realize that this is slightly on the expressivist side, and I am steadfastly against expressivism, but I expect every student will be different and have different needs.  I’ll try to always err on the side of compromise and flexibility as opposed to rigidity)

October 14, 2014

6.2 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 87-8 – Working with the “Framework”:

A tension from the language of the “Framework”: What exactly is a “real audience”? Academia is a bubble, and writing to a real audience –potentially outside the university– might be helpful, useful and a great practice, but it also might be counterproductive, or at least time consuming and not very pragmatic. There are already so many expectations in a first year composition course that are tough to negotiate into the curriculum.   There is no control on the student’s part on getting a response or feedback from said “real audience.” There are plenty of “real audiences” in the bubble of academia, and certainly writing assignments can be mindful of those; students are likely to come across such “real audiences” in future courses.

I don’t think the idea is without merit, however, and I think that this would be a perfect “extra credit” type of assignment. Or, perhaps, practicing writing to a “real audience” could be controlled in the culture of the classroom. In peer response groups perhaps (though roleplaying may not be effective as there will be no “real” consequences to the writer’s text.

Since there are potentially as many real audiences as there are texts, and this practice will come sooner or later anyway, I feel that our class time would be better used by focusing on multiple genres within the bubble, keeping in mind “real audiences” as much as possible. (This is not to say that I wouldn’t include one or two exercises on addressing “real audience” – I just won’t make them part of the major writing assignments.

I know all this sounds contradictory, but it kind of makes sense in the bubble of my own mind.

6.5  Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 90-91 – Examining ways I will assign writing:

The second pairing immediately jumps out at me, causing some friction in my aching head: creativity v. sticking to the assignment. Coming from a long career in creative writing, I am biased and see all writing as naturally (organically) creative. But here, I am baffled by how much “creativity” should be allowed in a first year composition course. I suppose of paramount importance is how the students define “creativity” rhetorically. A highly creative piece of text that has nothing to do with a given assignment is not creative at all (in the context of the assignment which, here, is the only context really needed).

So, my leaning right now is –and this will change, I’m sure– to err on the side of the assignment’s expectations and requisites. I will push the parameters of the assignment first, creativity second. Students should feel free to be as creative as they want to, as long as they stick to the assignment (or in the case of uber-creative souls as long as they stick to the spirit of the assignment).

Defining “creativity” for the purposes of this course seems imperative. This definition can be partially created with the class as a whole but, I think, must be something like: “the ability to produce meaningful new ideas and interpretations of the given material by staying grounded within the parameters of the assignment.” Personally, I would be really interested in seeing and encouraging the kind of creative thinking that allows students to make connections between this assignment and previous ones, or connections with other readings or other classes or situations.

6.6  Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 91 – Synthesizing my approach to assignments:

My approach to creating writing assignments is predominantly rooted in objectivist theory – in that one assignment builds upon another, like a chain or puzzle. The majority of my writing assignments will be in a reading-response format, because I strongly believe that good writing is necessarily preceded by good reading; in fact, it is difficult to separate the two. My assignments will involve a good amount of thinking, so students need to first process (“think through”) the language of the assignment, then think through the reading, and think their way through the writing process. If multiple drafts are required (all my major assignments will), then the students will also need to think back to the readings as they evaluate their revision.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s probably a good idea to always “Think Back” about the reading (and the language of the assignment) after completing the written portion of the assignment, even in when only one draft is required. In this way, students can get in the habit of asking themselves: Did I answer the question posed? Did I stay within the constraints of the assignment? Did I interact with the text I read? Is there room for improvement? How so? What am I taking away from this assignment? If I feel it didn’t help me – why not? This metacognition is crucial to the learning process, alongside with exposure to stimulating material and practicing of conventions. This metacognition is largely “expressivist” and, as such, allows the student to “think through,” evaluate and even question not only the reading and the student’s own response to that reading, but also the objectivist format of the assignment itself. If there are problems with the assignment, I need to hear about them. By all means, “let’s talk about it! For I have as much to learn as you do.”

6.16 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 107 – Contextualizing assignments in my own teaching philosophy.

I believe in two things more than anything else:  one, good writing comes from good reading, and two, good writing requires much practice.  My aim is that my students will learn to write well by doing assignments on a trial-and-error basis. First, they write a draft, which they bring to their small group for peer review and discussion.  In this “workshop” students will learn from each other and will, in a sense, teach each other.  Second, they go home and practice some more in a second draft, which I read and comment on.  In my BW course I’ll assign a couple of literary analyses on poetry, short stories, or memoirs.  Students will read the texts they will analyze multiple times, take notes in the margins, interact with the texts.  After that, they will only focus on one or two elements of the text to write an analysis on – say, the arch of a character, or the use of suspense in a story, or the intent of the speaker in a poem.  They’ll bring their drafts to small group, go home a rewrite before they turn in their second or third draft to me.  If I find a student’s performance to be subpar, I will have a meeting with them and offer them to do an additional rewrite for credit.

October 7, 2014

5.2  Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 73 – Navigating writing program goals:

(First, I’d like to mention, generally, that as I was reflecting on all these questions, I came to the conclusion that I could easily adapt to departmental goals, as I am new to this and have never taught composition before.  But, I imagine that experience will bring new tensions with it, tensions I have not seen in theory).
I have tension with number 2, “Address challenging questions about the consequences of their writing.”  I think it’s not the ideology that I have a problem with, but the language itself.  I feel the verbiage is too strong and vague and gets in the way of what the goal wishes to accomplish.  “Consequences of their writing” sounds severe and punitive.  “Scrutiny of the purpose” and “logic” (who’s logic?) are notions that feel prescriptive, as opposed to “flexible,” which is what this department’s goal is aiming at – students’ acquiring flexibility in writing.  How could they be encouraged to be flexible in the practice of their craft when the framework of the expectation feels so rigid?   “Awareness of what’s at stake”???  What is this, a life or death scenario?

Okay, so I’ve objected.  The solution seems simple to me – don’t include this language in my instruction or on my syllabus (if possible).  I get the point; I can work with this, but in my own way and with my own lexicon.

5.6 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 77-8 – Analyzing goals and learning outcomes:

“Appropriately”? – How can you respond “appropriately” to a rhetorical situation?  This feels oxymoronic to me.  I can see how the word could be used in terms of surface level features of writing, but we’re talking about constructing a response to a rhetorical situation.  I would have to say “it depends” on the situation, the rhetor and the audience.

I can teach appropriate formatting and use of diction in a variety of genres, but I can’t teach “appropriate” thinking.  All I can do is give students exposure to texts and multiple interpretations of those texts, and I can give them useful writing assignments so they can practice their craft.  I can also give students parameters in which to operate.  (hmm looks like I can do a lot of stuff!)

Again, the language of the outcomes is the problem for me.  It lacks concreteness.   Fine, since it’s vague and “rhetorical,” I suppose I have a great freedom to interpret here: I would say that an “appropriate” response to a rhetorical situation would be one in which the student addresses the subject/topic and analyzes its implications, positions herself somewhere in the spectrum of the debate/argument in question, and argues as consistently as possible for her position in response to the rhetorical situation.

5.7 Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, p. 78-79 – Examining the “Framework for Success”:

I think I like the Framework better than the WPA Outcomes.
Engagement: this is certainly vital to learning and academic success.  However, a student is not going to be equally engaged with all her required classes.  Maybe this class I boring, or that one is out of her field of interest, or maybe the teacher is terrible and cannot frame challenging and thought-provoking assignments.

Overall, yes, an engaged student will accomplish more than one who is unengaged.  But there will be times when the “engagement” is limited to perfunctory moves to just pass a course.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Teachers and institutions both play important roles in nurturing and maintaining students’ engagement but, ultimately, if the student doesn’t wanna, the student isn’t gonna.  It is possible, though, to keep an “engaged state of mind” by keeping your eyes on the prize (degree, graduate education, dream job) or on the field of inquiry that you are really interested in.  This uninteresting course is just part of the small picture – students can be coaxed to look at the “big picture.”  Painting small pictures is often the price we pay in order to have the privilege of painting big pictures.

5.10  Informed Choices, Lockhart & Roberge, pp 82-3 – Balancing tensions:

Tension:  I want to give a choice v. I want to push them beyond their comfort zone.

This assignment will be called “examining opposing sides of an argument or issue.”
1. Read and analyze these three short articles/excerpts (provided by me on current events)
2. Choose one of the following prompts:

  • Option A> Write 1-2 pages on whether you agree or disagree with the argument/issue and why.
  • Option  B> Write a 1-2 page Critique on the author’s argument in terms of you own values.
  • Option C> Write a 1-2 page critique if you find the author left out an important aspect of the situation.

3. Write a 1-2 page rebuttal of your argument in Part 2.
Goals of exercise:  1. students will practice active reading and rhetorical analysis. 2. Students will place themselves on two opposing sides of an issue and will write a persuasive essay for each side. 3. Students will recognize that rhetorical situations have no absolute answers.  3. Students first make a choice and write within their comfort zone; then they are challenged by arguing for the side they don’t necessarily agree with.  4. When they workshop this assignment in small groups, student will be exposed to numerous possibilities of approaching rhetorical situations.

Synthesis of Readings for September 23, 2014

“What is Reading?” by Ruth Schoenbach et al.

  • It’s not just a basic skill.
  • It’s a complex process that includes your “world of knowledge and experience related to the text” (38).
    • Reading a text on an unknown subject might lead you to stops and starts in comprehension.
    • A silent conversation with the author takes place.
    • Understanding strategies may need adjusting.
  • Reading is Problem solving – not just the words but the ideas, memories and knowledge evoked by the text.
  • Reading is an active process. It isn’t simply decoding. Reading is situational.
    • Fluent reading includes thinking about context and the big picture where the text is situated.
  • Good readers are engaged, motivated to learn, and socially active around reading
  1. “The Active Reader” by Cees Van Woerkum.
  • Readers as partners with the author.
  • They more they know the more they learn.
  • Activities they do –
    • Before reading: select, infer from possible cues (author, title, pictures, publication), and anticipate;
    • During reading: construct a contextual frame, ongoing inferences, control focus and processing, pace internally.
    • After reading: reflection, find alternative or new readings, discuss with others.
  1. “I Don’t Teach Reading” study by Lisa Bosely.
  • Reading is not a discrete “core” skill in G.E., although often incorporated into composition courses.
    • No clear method on how critical reading is taught can be classified.
  • Reading is as important as writing in a university setting.
  • H.S. teaches surface level reading – read receptively (for information).
  • Many college students don’t know how to read actively or critically.
  • Myth in college textbooks found: textbooks “presumed a neutral process of decoding authorial intent.”
  • Even some veteran teachers, who clearly incorporate many elements of teaching critical and active reading into their curriculums, don’t realize they’re teaching reading.
  • College freshmen need to be taught critical and active reading explicitly.
  • Less experienced teachers should be mentored by veterans, and there should be some departmental cohesion.
  • More research is needed.
  1. “A Historical Perspective” by Alexander and Fox (Jigsaw assigned reading).
  • Conditioned Learning Era (1950-1965):
    • Post WWII confluence of social, educational, political and social factors pushed for change.
    • Baby boom. Lots of children entering schools in the 1950s. Large number of these children had problems learning to read. More pressure on educational community to fix problem.
    • Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolph Flesch. Influential book. Flesch attacks look-say method of teaching and pushes for a more phonetics approach.
    • Psychology and behavioral theory join the circus. Reading is seen as a “conditioned behavior.”
    • Medical metaphor for reading problems – diagnosis, prescription and remediation.
    • Skinner: teach students good coping behaviors from the bottom-up. Teach the building blocks in linked sets of sequential behaviors. Untangle chained links of behaviors and train students in each component skill. Reading as perceptual ability.
    • Required “sub-skills” for reading emerged.
    • Alternative camps/opposing views: influenced by William James: reading as “mindful habit.” Calling for introspection instead of observing measurable behaviors. Another camp: gestalt psych: look at the whole, not the constituent pieces. Coherence and sense cannot be attained by assembling behaviors.
  • Natural Learning Era (1966-1975):
    • Advances in neurology and artificial intelligence triggered demand for new kinds of research – focus on internal mental structures and processes of the brain. Go inward into the mind, not outward into the community.
    • First Grade Studies: federally funded, nation-wide research movement. Their findings: interdisciplinary perspectives on reading and learning are needed (still a hallmark today).
    • Enter Chomsky and the linguists and psycholinguists. A more hardwired view of language acquisition (and reading); less environment. Generative Grammar (innate human mental structures that allow for language); a preexisting template that guides language.
    • Reading/language as a natural and developmental process.
    • Practicing through “meaningful use” – thinking – not just fostering mindless reactions.
    • * Aggregation of language arts into unified field of literacy.
    • Learner as active participant in meaning construction.
    • Rival Camps: computer geeks – let’s represent the brain process and transfer it into an artificial structure that could approximate human performance. These people found through their research that: innate mental capabilities had to work in concert with language acquisition techniques. Especially true of writing – the manipulation of symbols (letters) is learned, not innate. Learning styles are too varied; you can’t pack it all into a computer program.
  • Information Processing Era (1976-1985):
    • Federal funding increased in reading research, inviting interdisciplinary researchers.
    • Influence of 18th Century Kant. Text-based learning=knowledge.
    • Many writings on story grammar, text cohesion, text structure, text genre…
    • Emergence of Schema Theory: all knowledge is organized into units; information is stored within these units.
    • More focus on the individual mind
    • Research showed that knowledge could be significantly modified through interventions, training and explicit instruction.
    • Rival Camps: increased concerns with aesthetic of reading over the rational.
  • Sociocultural Learning Era (1986-1995):
    • Constructivist Theory – learning as individualistic; reject mechanisms, computer-like notions of learning.
    • Results from Information Processing Era not very promising (students failed to learn those ways).
    • Writings in social and cultural anthropology begin to bleed into the field of reading.
    • Vygotsky – ethnocentric and qualitative modes of inquiry.
    • Learning becomes less important than “learning process.” Knowledge alone is no longer important; rather, the mutual understanding in social interactions of particular individuals in particular contexts in particular times. The many, not the one. Knowledge is now plural: knowledges. Reconciliation of schooled and unschooled knowledge. Conditionality of knowledge; knowledge as a domain, task, or knowledge from social and contextual factors.
    • Rival Camps: knowledge is not transferable between situations or contexts.
  • Engaged Learning Era (1996 – Present):
    • An era of alliances.
    • Multidimensional reading.
    • Hypermedia, hypertext offer many alternative readings on students’ learning
    • Nonlinear text: links and databases that prompt readers to other sources.
    • Motivation theory and research from the previous decades floods reading community.
    • Reading as a domain that relates to young and remedial readers, as well as readers of all ages and abilities.
    • Not confined to traditional methods. Lots of daily, interactive, dynamic, audiovisual media.
    • Marriage of the cognitive and the aesthetic, and sociocultural – these are not seen as separate anymore.
    • Looking forward: continue research on traditional remedial reading studies, but also research and study how to help those who get lost in hyperspace.
    • A key influencer: John Dewey – experimental learning. Cognitive + motivational forces need to be joined in learning.
    • Learning is always happening. It’s less passive.
    • There’s a reconciliation between individualistic and collective dimensions.
  • How the Eras Have come together:
    • Membership in reading community is flexible and interdisciplinary.
    • Sociopolitical forces from outside the reading community are influencing new research.
    • Technology’s changing the reading community.
    • There’s been an ebb and flow of reform movements coming back and forth throughout the decades.
    • Integration of camps and dimensions is key.
    • There’s still no grand theory. Rival camps are always inevitable.