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Abba et al. Students’ Metaknowledge about Writing. J of Writing Res., 2018. Posted 09/28/2018.

Abba, Katherine A., Shuai (Steven) Zhang, and R. Malatesha Joshi. “Community College Writers’ Metaknowledge of Effective Writing.” Journal of Writing Research 10.1 (2018): 85-105. Web. 19 Sept. 2018.

Katherine A. Abba, Shuai (Steven) Zhang, and R. Malatesha Joshi report on a study of students’ metaknowledge about effective writing. They recruited 249 community-college students taking courses in Child Development and Teacher Education at an institution in the southwestern U.S. (89).

All students provided data for the first research question, “What is community-college students’ metaknowledge regarding effective writing?” The researchers used data only from students whose first language was English for their second and third research questions, which investigated “common patterns of metaknowledge” and whether classifying students’ responses into different groups would reveal correlations between the focus of the metaknowledge and the quality of the students’ writing. The authors state that limiting analysis to this subgroup would eliminate the confounding effect of language interference (89).

Abba et al. define metaknowledge as “awareness of one’s cognitive processes, such as prioritizing and executing tasks” (86), and explore extensive research dating to the 1970s that explores how this concept has been articulated and developed. They state that the literature supports the conclusion that “college students’ metacognitive knowledge, particularly substantive procedures, as well as their beliefs about writing, have distinctly impacted their writing” (88).

The authors argue that their study is one of few to focus on community college students; further, it addresses the impact of metaknowledge on the quality of student writing samples via the “Coh-Metrix” analysis tool (89).

Students participating in the study were provided with writing prompts at the start of the semester during an in-class, one-hour session. In addition to completing the samples, students filled out a short biographical survey and responded to two open-ended questions:

What do effective writers do when they write?

Suppose you were the teacher of this class today and a student asked you “What is effective writing?” What would you tell that student about effective writing? (90)

Student responses were coded in terms of “idea units which are specific unique ideas within each student’s response” (90). The authors give examples of how units were recognized and selected. Abba et al. divided the data into “Procedural Knowledge,” or “the knowledge necessary to carry out the procedure or process of writing,” and “Declarative Knowledge,” or statements about “the characteristics of effective writing” (89). Within the categories, responses were coded as addressing “substantive procedures” having to do with the process itself and “production procedures,” relating to the “form of writing,” e.g., spelling and grammar (89).

Analysis for the first research question regarding general knowledge in the full cohort revealed that most responses about Procedural Knowledge addressed “substantive” rather than “production” issues (98). Students’ Procedural Knowledge focused on “Writing/Drafting,” with “Goal Setting/Planning” in second place (93, 98). Frequencies indicated that while revision was “somewhat important,” it was not as central to students’ knowledge as indicated in scholarship on the writing process such as that of John Hayes and Linda Flower and M. Scardamalia and C. Bereiter (96).

Analysis of Declarative Knowledge for the full-cohort question showed that students saw “Clarity and Focus” and “Audience” as important characteristics of effective writing (98). Grammar and Spelling, the “production” features, were more important than in Procedural Knowledge. The authors posit that students were drawing on their awareness of the importance of a polished finished product for grading (98). Overall, data for the first research question matched that of previous scholarship on students’ metaknowledge of effective writing, which shows some concern with the finished product and a possibly “insufficient” focus on revision (98).

To address the second and third questions, about “common patterns” in student knowledge and the impact of a particular focus of knowledge on writing performance, students whose first language was English were divided into three “classes” in both Procedural and Declarative Knowledge based on their responses. Classes in Procedural Knowledge were a “Writing/Drafting oriented group,” a “Purpose-oriented group,” and the largest, a “Plan and Review oriented group” (99). Responses regarding Declarative Knowledge resulted in a “Plan and Review” group, a “Time and Clarity oriented group,” and the largest, an “Audience oriented group.” One hundred twenty-three of the 146 students in the cohort belonged to this group. The authors note the importance of attention to audience in the scholarship and the assertion that this focus typifies “older, more experienced writers” (99).

The final question about the impact of metaknowledge on writing quality was addressed through the Coh-Metrix “online automated writing evaluation tool” that assessed variables such as “referential cohesion, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity and pattern density” (100). In addition, Abba et al. used a method designed by A. Bolck, M. A. Croon, and J. A. Hagenaars (“BCH”) to investigate relationships between class membership and writing features (96).

These analyses revealed “no relationship . . . between their patterns knowledge and the chosen Coh-Metrix variables commonly associated with effective writing” (100). The “BCH” analysis revealed only two significant associations among the 15 variables examined (96).

The authors propose that their findings did not align with prior research suggesting the importance of metacognitive knowledge because their methodology did not use human raters and did not factor in student beliefs about writing or questions addressing why they responded as they did. Moreover, the authors state that the open-ended questions allowed more varied responses than did responses to “pre-established inventor[ies]” (100). They maintain that their methods “controlled the measurement errors” better than often-used regression studies (100).

Abba et al. recommend more research with more varied cohorts and collection of interview data that could shed more light on students’ reasons for their responses (100-101). Such data, they indicate, will allow conclusions about how students’ beliefs about writing, such as “whether an ability can be improved,” affect the results (101). Instructors, in their view, can more explicitly address awareness of strategies and effective practices and can use discussion of metaknowledge to correct “misconceptions or misuse of metacognitive strategies” (101):

The challenge for instructors is to ascertain whether students’ metaknowledge about effective writing is accurate and support students as they transfer effective writing metaknowledge to their written work. (101)

 


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Salig et al. Student Perceptions of “Essentialist Language” in Persuasive Writing. J of Writ. Res., 2018. Posted 05/10/2018.

Salig, Lauren K., L. Kimberly Epting, and Lizabeth A. Rand. “Rarely Say Never: Essentialist Rhetorical Choices in College Students’ Perceptions of Persuasive Writing.” Journal of Writing Research 93.3 (2018): 301-31. Web. 3 May 2018.

Lauren K. Salig, L. Kimberly Epting, and Lizabeth A. Rand investigated first-year college students’ perceptions of effective persuasive writing. Triggered by ongoing research that suggests that students struggle with the analytical and communicative skills demanded by this genre, the study focused on students’ attitudes toward “essentialist” language in persuasive discourse.

The authors cite research indicating that “one-sided” arguments are less persuasive than those that acknowledge opposing views and present more than one perspective on a issue (303); they posit that students’ failure to develop multi-sided arguments may account for assessments showing poor command of persuasive writing (303). Salig et al. argue that “the language used in one-sided arguments and the reasons students might think one-sidedness benefits their writing have not been extensively evaluated from a psychological perspective” (304). Their investigation is intended both to clarify what features students believe contribute to good persuasive writing and to determine whether students actually apply these beliefs in identifying effective persuasion (305).

The authors invoke a term, “essentialism,” to encompass different forms of language that exhibit different levels of “black-and-white dualism” (304). Such language may fail to acknowledge exceptions to generalizations; one common way it may manifest itself is the tendency to include “boosters” such as ‘“always,’ ‘every,’ and ‘prove,’” while eliminating “hedges” such as qualifiers (304). “Essentialist” thinking, the authors contend, “holds that some categories have an unobservable, underlying ‘essence’ behind them” (304). Salig et al. argue that while some subsets of “generic language” may enable faster learning because they allow the creation of useful categories, the essentialist tendency in such language to override analytical complexity can prove socially harmful (305).

The investigation involved two studies designed, first, to determine whether students conceptually recognized the effects of essentialist language in persuasive writing, and second, to assess whether they were able to apply this recognition in practice (306).

Study 1 consisted of two phases. In the first, students were asked to generate features that either enhanced or detracted from the quality, persuasiveness, and credibility of writing (307). Twenty-seven characteristics emerged after coding; these were later reduced to 23 by combining some factors. Features related to essentialism, Bias and One-sidedness, were listed as damaging to persuasiveness and credibility, while Refutation of Opposition and Inclusion of Other Viewpoints were seen as improving these two factors. Although, in the authors’ view, these responses aligned with educational standards such as the Common Core State Standards, students did not see these four characteristics as affecting the quality of writing (309).

In Phase 2 of Study 1, students were prompted to list “writing behaviors that indicated the presence of the specified characteristic” (310). The researchers developed the top three behaviors for each feature into sentence form; they provide the complete list of these student-generated behavioral indicators (311-14).

From the Study 1 results, Salig et al. propose that students do conceptually grasp “essentialism” as a negative feature and can name ways that it may show up in writing. Study 2 was designed to measure the degree to which this conceptual knowledge influences student reactions to specific writing in which the presence or absence of essentialist features becomes the variable under examination (314-15).

In this study 79 psychology students were shown six matched pairs of statements, varying only in that one represented essentialist language and the other contained hedges and qualifiers (315). In each case, participants were asked to state which of the two statements was “better,” and then to refer to a subset of the 23 features identified in Study 1 that had been narrowed to focus on persuasiveness in order to provide reasons for their preference (316). They were asked to set aside their personal responses to the topic (318). The researchers provide the statement pairs, three of which contained citations (317-18).

In Likert-scale responses, the students generally preferred the non-essentialist samples (319), although the “driving force” for this finding was that students preferring non-essentialist samples rated the essentialist samples very low in persuasiveness (323). Further, of the 474 choices, 222 indicated that essentialist examples were “better,” while 252 chose the non-essentialist examples, a difference that the researchers report as not significant (321).

Salig et al. find that the reasons students chose for preferring essentialist language differed from their reasons for preferring non-essentialist examples. Major reasons for the essentialist choice were Voice/Tone, Concision, Persuasive Effectiveness, One-sidedness, and Grabs/Retains Attention. Students who chose non-essentialist samples as better cited Other Viewpoints, Argument Clarity/Consistency, Detail, Writer’s Knowledge, Word Choice/Language, and Bias (322).

Participants were divided almost equally among those who consistently chose non-essentialist options, those who consistently chose essentialist options, and those whose chose one or the other half of the time (323). Correlations indicated that students who were somewhat older (maximum age was 21, with M = 18.49 years) “were associated with lower persuasiveness ratings on essentialist samples than younger students or students with less education” (324). The authors posit that the second study examined a shift from “conceptual to operational understanding” (324) and thus might indicate the effects either of cognitive development or increased experience or some combination in conjunction with other factors (325).

In addition, the authors consider effects of current methods of instruction on students’ responses to the samples. They note that “concision” showed up disproportionately as a reason given by students who preferred essentialist samples. They argue that possibly students have inferred that “strong, supported, and concise arguments” are superior (326). Citing Linda Adler-Kassner, they write that students are often taught to support their arguments before they are encouraged to include counterarguments (326).The authors recommend earlier attention, even before high school, to the importance of including multiple viewpoints (328).

The study also revealed an interaction between student preferences and the particular sets, with sets 4 and 5 earning more non-essentialist votes than other sets. The length of the samples and the inclusion of citations in set 4 lead the researchers to consider whether students perceived these as appropriate for “scholarly” or more formal contexts in comparison to shorter, more emphatic samples that students may have associated with “advertising” (327). Sets 4 and 5 also made claims about “students” and “everybody,” prompting the researchers to suggest that finding themselves the subjects of sweeping claims may have encouraged students to read the samples with more awareness of essentialist language (327).

The authors note that their study examined “one, and arguably the simplest, type” of essentialist language. They urge ongoing research into the factors that enable students not just to recognize but also to apply the concepts that characterize non-essentialist language (328-29).

 


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Limpo and Alves. Effects of Beliefs about “Writing Skill Malleability” on Performance. JoWR 2017. Posted 11/24/2017.

Limpo, Teresa, and Rui A. Alves. “Relating Beliefs in Writing Skill Malleability to Writing Performance: The Mediating Roles of Achievement Goals and Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Writing Research 9.2 (2017): 97-125. Web. 15 Nov. 2017.

Teresa Limpo and Rui A. Alves discuss a study with Portuguese students designed to investigate pathways between students’ beliefs about writing ability and actual writing performance. They use measures for achievement goals and self-efficacy to determine how these factors mediate between beliefs and performance. Their study goals involved both exploring these relationships and assessing the validity and reliability of the instruments and theoretical models they use (101-02).

The authors base their approach on the assumption that people operate via “implicit theories,” and that central to learning are theories that see “ability” as either “incremental,” in that skills can be honed through effort, or as an “entity” that cannot be improved despite effort (98). Limpo and Alves argue that too little research has addressed how these beliefs about “writing skill malleability” influence learning in the specific “domain” of writing (98).

The authors report earlier research that indicates that students who see writing as an incremental skill perform better in intervention studies. They contend that the “mechanisms” through which this effect occurs have not been thoroughly examined (99).

Limpo and Alves apply a three-part model of achievement goals: “mastery” goals involve the desire to improve and increase competence; “performance-approach” goals involve the desire to do better than others in the quest for competence; and “performance-avoidance” goals manifest as the desire to avoid looking incompetent or worse than others (99-100). Mastery and performance-approach goals correlate positively because they address increased competence, but performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals also correlate because they both concern how learners see themselves in comparison to others (100).

The authors write that “there is overall agreement” among researchers in this field that these goals affect performance. Students with mastery goals display “mastery-oriented learning patterns” such as “use of deep strategies, self-regulation, effort and persistence, . . . [and] positive affect,” while students who focus on performance avoidance exhibit “helpless learning patterns” including “unwillingness to seek help, test anxiety, [and] negative affect” (100-01). Student outcomes with respect to performance-approach goals were less clear (101). The authors hope to clarify the role of self-efficacy in these goal choices and outcomes (101).

Limpo and Alves find that self-efficacy is “perhaps the most studied variable” in examinations of motivation in writing (101). They refer to a three-part model: self-efficacy for “conventions,” or “translating ideas into linguistic forms and transcribing them into writing”; for “ideation,” finding ideas and organizing them, and for “self-regulation,” which involves knowing how to make the most of “the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of writing” (101). They report associations between self-efficacy, especially for self-regulation, and mastery goals (102). Self-efficacy, particularly for conventions, has been found to be “among the strongest predictors of writing performance” (102).

The authors predicted several “paths” that would illuminate the ways in which achievement goals and self-efficacy linked malleability beliefs and performance. They argue that their study contributes new knowledge by providing empirical data about the role of malleability beliefs in writing (103).

The study was conducted among native Portuguese speakers in 7th and 8th grades in a “public cluster of schools in Porto” that is representative of the national population (104). Students received writing instruction only in their Portuguese language courses, in which teachers were encouraged to use “a process-oriented approach” to teach a range of genres but were not given extensive pedagogical support or the resources to provide a great deal of “individualized feedback” (105).

The study reported in this article was part of a larger study; for the relevant activities, students first completed scales to measure their beliefs about writing-skill malleability and to assess their achievement goals. They were then given one of two prompts for “an opinion essay” on whether students should have daily homework or extra curricular activities (106). After the prompts were provided, students filled out a sixteen-item measure of self-efficacy for conventions, ideation, and self-regulation. A three-minute opportunity to brainstorm about their responses to the prompts followed; students then wrote a five-minute “essay,” which was assessed as a measure of performance by graduate research assistants who had been trained to use a “holistic rating rubric.” Student essays were typed and mechanical errors corrected. The authors contend that the use of such five-minute tasks has been shown to be valid (107).

The researchers predicted that they would see correlations between malleability beliefs and performance; they expected to see beliefs affect goals, which would affect self-efficacy, and lead to differences in performance (115). They found these associations for mastery goals. Students who saw writing as an incremental, improvable skill displayed “a greater orientation toward mastery goals” (115). The authors state that this result for writing had not been previously demonstrated. Their research reveals that “mastery goals contributed to students’ confidence” and therefore to self-efficacy, perhaps because students with this belief “ actively strive” for success (115).

They note, however, that prior research correlated these results with self-efficacy for conventions, whereas their study showed that self-efficacy for self-regulation, students’ belief that “they can take control of their own writing,” was the more important contributor to performance (116); in fact, it was “the only variable directly influencing writing performance” (116). Limpo and Alves hypothesize that conventions appeared less central in their study because the essays had been typed and corrected, so that errors had less effect on performance scores (116).

Data on the relationship between malleability beliefs and performance-approach or performance-avoidance goals, the goals associated with success in relation to others, were “less clear-cut” (117). Students who saw skills as fixed tended toward performance-avoidance, but neither type of performance goal affected self-efficacy.

Limpo and Alves recount an unexpected finding that the choice of performance-avoidance goals did not affect performance scores on the essays (117). The authors hypothesize that the low-stakes nature of the task and its simplicity did not elicit “the self-protective responses” that often hinder writers who tend toward these avoidance goals (117). These unclear results lead Limpo and Alves to withhold judgment about the relationship among these two kinds of goals, self-efficacy, and performance, positing that other factors not captured in the study might be involved (117-18).

They recommend more extensive research with more complex writing tasks and environments, including longitudinal studies and consideration of such factors as “past performance” and gender (118). They encourage instructors to foster a view of writing as an incremental skill and to emphasize self-regulation strategies. They recommend “The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model” as “one of the most effective instructional models for teaching writing” (119).


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Bastian, Heather. Affect and “Bringing the Funk” to First-Year Writing. CCC, Sept. 2017. Posted 10/05/2017.

Bastian, Heather. “Student Affective Responses to ‘Bringing the Funk’ in the First-Year Writing Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.1 (2017): 6-34. Print.

Heather Bastian reports a study of students’ affective responses to innovative assignments in a first-year writing classroom. Building on Adam Banks’s 2015 CCCC Chair’s Address, Bastian explores the challenges instructors may face when doing what Banks called “bring[ing] the funk” (qtd. in Bastian 6) by asking students to work in genres that do not conform to “academic convention” (7).

According to Bastian, the impetus for designing such units and assignments includes the need to “prepare students for uncertain futures within an increasingly technological world” (8). Bastian cites scholarship noting teachers’ inability to forecast exactly what will be demanded of students as they move into professions; this uncertainty, in this view, means that the idea of what constitutes writing must be expanded and students should develop the rhetorical flexibility to adapt to the new genres they may encounter (8).

Moreover, Bastian argues, citing Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi, that students’ dependence on familiar academic formulas means that their responses to rhetorical situations can become automatic and unthinking, with the result that they do not question the potential effects of their choices or explore other possible solutions to rhetorical problems. This automatic response limits “their meaning-making possibilities to what academic convention allows and privileges” (8-9)

Bastian contends that students not only fall back on traditional academic genres but also develop “deep attachments” to the forms they find familiar (9). The field, she states, has little data on what these attachments are like or how they guide students’ rhetorical decisions (9, 25).

She sees these attachments as a manifestation of “affect”; she cites Susan McLeod’s definition of affect as “noncognitive phenomena, including emotions but also attitudes, beliefs, moods, motivations, and intuitions” (9). Bastian cites further scholarship that indicates a strong connection between affect and writing as well as emotional states and learning (9-10). In her view, affect is particularly important when teachers design innovative classroom experiences because students’ affective response to such efforts can vary greatly; prior research suggests that as many as half the students in a given situation will resist moving beyond the expected curriculum (10).

Bastian enlisted ten of twenty-two students in a first-year-writing class at a large, public midwestern university in fall 2009 (11). She used “multiple qualitative research methods” to investigate these first-semester students’ reactions to the third unit in a four-unit curriculum intended to meet the program’s goals of “promot[ing] rhetorical flexibility and awareness”; the section under study explored genre from different perspectives (11). The unit introduced “the concept of genre critique,” as defined by the course textbook, Amy J. Devitt et al.’s Scenes of Writing: “questioning and evaluating to determine the strengths and shortcomings of a genre as well as its ideological import” (12).

Bastian designed the unit to “disrupt” students’ expectation of a writing class on the reading level, in that she presented her prompt as a set of “game rules,” and also on the “composing” level, as the unit did not specify what genre the students were to critique nor the form in which they were to do so (12). Students examined a range of genres and genre critiques, “including posters, songs, blogs, . . . artwork, poems, . . . comics, speeches, creative nonfiction. . . .” (13). The class developed a list of the possible forms their critiques might take.

Bastian acted as observer, recording evidence of “the students’ lived experiences” as they negotiated the unit. She attended all class sessions, made notes of “physical reactions” and “verbal reactions” (13). Further data consisted of one-hour individual interviews and a set of twenty-five questions. For this study, she concentrated on questions that asked about students’ levels of comfort with various stages of the unit (13).

Like other researchers, Bastian found that students asked to create innovative projects began with “confusion”; her students also displayed “distrust” (14) in that they were not certain that the assignment actually allowed them to choose their genres (19). All students considered “the essay” the typical genre for writing classes; some found the familiar conventions a source of confidence and comfort, while for others the sense of routine was “boring” (student, qtd. in Bastian 15).

Bastian found that the degree to which students expressed “an aversion” to the constraints of “academic convention” affected their responses to the assignment, particularly the kinds of genres they chose and their levels of comfort with the unusual assignment.

Those who said that they wanted more freedom in classroom writing chose what the students as a whole considered “atypical” genres for their critiques, such as recipes, advertisements, or magazine covers (16-17). Students who felt safer within the conventions preferred more “typical” choices such as PowerPoint presentations and business letters (16, 22). The students who picked atypical genres claimed that they appreciated the opportunity to experience “a lot more chance to express yourself” (student, qtd. in Bastian 22), and possibly discover “hidden talents” (22).

The author found, however, that even students who wanted more freedom did not begin the unit with high levels of comfort. She found that the unusual way the assignment was presented, the “concept of critique,” and the idea that they could pick their own genres concerned even the more adventurous students (18). In Bastian’s view, the “power of academic convention” produced a forceful emotional attachment: students “distrusted the idea that both textual innovation and academic convention is both valid and viable in the classroom” (20).

Extensive exposure to critiques and peer interaction reduced discomfort for all students by the end of the unit (19), but those who felt least safe outside the typical classroom experience reported less comfort (23). One student expressed a need to feel safe, yet, after seeing his classmates’ work, chose an atypical response, encouraging Bastian to suggest that with the right support, “students can be persuaded to take risks” (23).

Bastian draws on research suggesting that what Barry Kroll calls “intelligent confusion” (qtd. in Bastian 26) and “cognitive disequilibrium” can lead to learning if supported by appropriate activities (26). The students reported gains in a number of rhetorical dimensions and specifically cited the value of having to do something that made them uncomfortable (25). Bastian argues that writing teachers should not be surprised to encounter such resistance, and can prepare for it with four steps: ‘openly acknowledge and discuss” the discomfort students might feel; model innovation; design activities that translate confusion into learning; and allow choice (27-28). She urges more empirical research on the nature of students’ affective responses to writing instruction (29).

 


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Rule, Hannah J. Embodied Simulation as a Teaching Tool. CS, Spring 2017. Posted 05/30/2017.

Rule, Hannah J. “Sensing the Sentence: An Embodied Simulation Approach to Rhetorical Grammar.” Composition Studies 45.1 (2017): 19-38. Web. 21 May 2017.

In order to help students understand and act on their rhetorical choices in constructing sentences, Hannah J. Rule argues for “embodied simulation,” a methodology that she argues recognizes the role of sensory and kinesthetic experience in the creation of meaning. Acknowledging that teaching writing at the sentence level is “practically verboten in our pedagogies,” in part because of its kinship with the grammar drill of the abandoned current-traditional paradigm, Rule cites “efforts . . . to reanimate the sentence as a central site of writing instruction,” such as those by advocates of rhetorical grammar like Martha Kolln (21).

Rule supports her contention that more rhetorical sophistication with sentences will benefit students with an anecdote about a student who was struggling with the concept of “flow” in a paper. After trying a number of approaches, including discussion of the known-new contract, Rule found that the student lacked the technical vocabulary to arrive at the abstract concepts Rule was hoping to teach. Only when Rule began acting out the scenes and actions depicted in the student’s sentences did the student make connections among the varied meanings the paper was intended to convey (19-20).

Rule believes that this anecdote illustrates the role of embodied simulation as a component of language use. According to researchers in neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive psychology, “Meaning is a creative process in which people construct virtual experiences—embodied simulations—in their mind’s eye” (Benjamin K. Bergen, qtd. in Rule 22). Rule writes that “reading or expressing language entails imagistic, bodily, associational, and sensory action” (22; emphasis original). In this view, readers and writers perceive sentences as expressing scenes, feelings, events, and actions, and it is in the process of experiencing these elements that people derive meaning from the language.

Rule notes attention in composition studies to the embodied nature of writing, yet cites Jay Dolmage to contend that “[o]ur everyday classroom practices with texts . . . continue to be implicitly disconnected from embodied experience” (23). Some students’ difficulty in written expression, she suggests, may lie in their failure to connect the abstracted words on a page to their own physical existence in the world (24). Teaching with embodied simulation, in which students are encouraged to see sentences as expressions of sensation and action, may bridge this cognitive disconnect.

She points to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By as a text familiar to compositionists that explores how language relates to bodily experience. She also addresses criticism that such evocation of a universal bodily experience can erase individual difference, especially if the visual is overemphasized (24-25). Rule presents Kristie S. Fleckenstein’s concept of “multimodal imagery” to capture the range of bodily experiences, including, in Fleckenstein’s formulation, “sound, sight, and touch,” that simulation theory posits as the ground of language (26). Such an approach proposes a widely diverse set of sensations that play into language practice.

Similarly, Patricia Dunn’s “multiple channels strategy” incorporates many bodily actions, such as “sketching, three-dimensional modeling, or moving,” into writing instruction, thus, in Rule’s view, freeing students to bring their own favored actions into their learning experience (28). Such openness to different kinds of imaging, Rule states, “enact[s] the inclusivity and access” central to effective, ethical application of the theory (28).

Theoretical work reported by Rule stresses that language and bodily action are not separate categories but rather that language depends on bodily existence: “Amassing simulation research suggests that we do not really choose to link imagery and words; rather, this link is the precise way in which meaning becomes possible at all” (26; emphasis original). Researchers use quantitative measurement to discover ways that “reading about actions is akin to doing them” (27); for example, people who read about turning a key in the ignition “find it easier to turn their hand clockwise than counterclockwise,” as opposed to people who read about screwing something off, who favor moving their hands counterclockwise (Ernest Davis, qtd. in Rule 27).

In order to provide examples of how teachers might incorporate embodied simulation into their own practice, Rule recounts her experience teaching a course in rhetorical grammar to English majors in a large Midwestern university. Course texts were Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar and The Writer’s Options, by Donald A. Daiker, Andrew Kerek, and Max Morenberg (29). Rule applauds the ways in which understanding grammar as rhetorical frees it from a focus on correctness, foregrounding rather the ways that small choices in sentence structure affect readers’ responses. At the same time, Rule contrasts the “traditional strategy of naming and defining” used by the texts with the kind of “intuited” understandings of grammatical function enabled by embodied simulation (30; emphasis original).

Rule’s students worked through to a sense of grammar as the “director” of a mental movie, coining the term “grammera” for “grammar camera” (31). She provides examples to illustrate how thinking of a sentence in terms of the bodily actions it conveys opened students to understanding subjects and objects, including recognizing the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs as in “building a sandcastle” versus “feeling hurt” (30-31). Rule argues that students responded to the physical embodiment of this difference in ways they could not to abstract technical definitions (31). They similarly were able to grasp the effects of absolute phrases and to make sense of the multitude of “sentence-style directives” that handbooks ask them to follow (31-32. 34). For example, “see[ing]” sentences allowed them to discern the difference between active and passive constructions (33-34).

Rule contends that embodied simulation addresses a longstanding issue in writing instruction: the gap between conscious and unconscious knowledge. In her view, the efficacy of embodied simulation as a pedagogical tool suggests that “knowing about grammar,” as opposed to “knowing how to do grammar,” may not be necessary (34-35). In her experience, students exposed to the ways in which subtle grammatical choices impact the ways readers interpret and react to sentences find themselves with a rich, intuitive awareness of the possibilities inherent in grammar without having to memorize and follow rules (35):

[I]nstead of starting with identifying the subject, instead of thinking in terms of noun or participial phrases, instead of perceiving sentences as a set of separate elements we can label—we can simply ask students to dive in and sense the sentence. (33)

Such a formulation of grammar instruction, Rule argues, accords with theoretical awareness that “we make meaning by imagining ‘being there’” (33).


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Skains, R. Lyle. Multimodal Creative Writing. C&C, March 2017. Posted 02/05/2017.

Skains, R. Lyle. “The Adaptive Process of Multimodal Composition: How Developing Tacit Knowledge of Digital Tools Affects Creative Writing.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 106-17. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

R. Lyle Skains describes a “practice-based research” project conducted over a three-and-a-half year period in which she analyzed her development as a writer of digital fiction. In this project, Færwhile, Skains progresses through drafts of several stories, beginning with a traditional “analogue” story and culminating in stories in which she has internalized the knowledge needed to create successful digital compositions.

Skains argues that such research is needed because composition pedagogy does not fully account for the “fundamental, cognitive differences between writing for the page and writing for digital media” (106). While students may engage with digital media as readers, she contends, they have little practice in actually exploiting the possibilities of digital media as writers (115). She emphasizes the need for explicit knowledge of the demands of a new medium to become internalized as tacit knowledge; students come to multimodal assignments with tacit knowledge of print from their long experience with it, but may not yet have gained the kind of tacit knowledge of digital media that will allow them to become fully accomplished multimodal writers (107).

Her own project involved reading digital fiction, reading theory on narrative and genre, and then working through several stories, beginning with a “zero-state” text: “an analogue short story” she undertook before delving into digital composition (107). Subsequent stories engaged more and more fully with the possibilities of digital fiction. Skains walks through her processes as she composes these stories.

Her method is “auto-ethnomethodological”; it consists of observations of herself at work and the states of mind through which she moves from conscious explicit knowledge to a fully functional tacit knowledge of the medium (108). Following advice from Deborah Brandt, Skains draws on “observable paratexts” to her process like “notes, journal entries, and comments on revised drafts”; these allow her to reconstruct her cognitive journey. She draws as well on the 1981 Cognitive Process Model advanced by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, which she credits with the observation that a design or intention can be realized in many different ways and the specific realization emerges from the actual process of writing (108).

She cites other theories of narrative and creative processes including Gérard Genette’s invocation of “hypertextuality (playing the text off familiarity with other texts in the genre) and architextuality (exploring generic expectations in relation to other similar texts)” (107). Flower and Hayes’s Multiple Representation Theory suggests that “the initial mental model of a text is multimodal, then subsequently translated to written language” (107). Skains relates such theories to her own processes, for example noting how her reading interacted with her own texts as well as how the stories in her project contributed to an “intratextual” effect via a shared “element of parallel mythology,” the “Trickster” figure (111). In accordance with Flower and Hayes, she relates how her analogue short story “unfolded in [her] imagination on a visual reel, which then needed translation into written language” (110).

Skains argues for the importance of long-term memory that can draw on a “knowledge base” and allow fiction writers to construct characters and worlds (109). As short-term memory of actions involved in a medium is transferred to long-term memory, tacit knowledge is developed (110).

An important finding for her project is that the linear structuring and narrative processes she found most comfortable did not lend themselves to a simple “remediation” of the typical analogue text into a digital version (112). As she worked through a succession of stories, she continued to begin with these familiar invention and composing steps; the third story in her discussion, for example, shared features with the “zero-state” story: its “traditional, linear structure and minimal level of interactivity,” even though she “remediated” it into Adobe Flash (111). However, when she struggled with a story about a character whose “interaction with her world, both real and virtual, was hyperlinked,” Skains found that the character could not evolve if she was “stuck in sequential page turns” (112). The solution was to work through the digital version first, giving over fully to the hyperlinked world invoked by the story (112). Skains found that she was still working toward a fully developed “mental model that afforded a fully multimodal composition process” (112).

The author argues that first- or second-person points of view, increased interactivity that provides readers with agency, and intra- or intertextuality are defining features of digital fiction (111). Texts that are composed an analogue narratives, she posits, lack full commitment to these elements and will not lend themselves to revision in digital form (110): “the composition process for multimodal works must necessarily be multimodal” (112).

Skains reports that the means by which she addressed the original “rhetorical problem” for her stories was affected by her deeper and deeper engagement with digital composition (114). Writers of digital texts like hers, she writes, become programmers, with the result that “the text as composed (i.e., the source code) does not resemble the text-as-read/played” (113). She cites digital writer Jenny Weight to argue that a digital-composing experience becomes an “environment” in itself rather than a “traditional narrative” (113). Inventing a set of environments for a character to traverse in the digital composition influences the “world-building” efforts of the analogue version (113).

Similarly, she cites an example of a story in which providing a narrator with multiple voices led to the creation of a website for each voice, a move that in turn led her to experiment with visual font effects in the print version (113-14). In such cases, Skains’s “mental model of the narrative” had been influenced by the digital process (114).

Skains posits that students attempting to apply their tacit knowledge of print technology as they encounter multimodal assignments face a trajectory similar to hers, and that current composition-classroom practice does not facilitate this evolution (114). The addition of digital elements, she notes, adds many new layers to the composing process, “significantly increase[ing] the creative decisions that have to be made” (115). She contends that, like her, students must learn to adjust their creative processes to conform to the media rather than expecting the media to meet their original goals (115). The tacit knowledge and expertise to make this transition, Skains maintains, is “immersion” in the digital process, moving beyond reading to doing (115). She is currently engaged in ethnographical work to develop a “pedagogical model for teaching digital writing” (115).


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Kellogg et al. Verbal Working Memory and Sentence Composition. J of Writing Research, Feb. 2016. Posted 04/24/2016.

Kellogg, Ronald T., Casey E. Turner, Alison P. Whiteford, and Andrew Mertens. “The Role of Working Memory in Planning and Generating Written Sentences.” The Journal of Writing Research 7.3 (2016): 397-416. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

Kellogg et al. conduct an experiment designed to shed light on how working memory (WM) relates to the sequence of the processes that go into generating written sentences. They draw on a body of research like that of Linda Flower and John Hayes that posits a conceptual “planning” phase that is largely nonverbal and a phase of grammatical and orthographical translation that leads to writing or typing (398).

The models propose that the planning stage draws on a visual component when the information to be translated involves concrete nouns that evoke images (399). The researchers hypothesized that a visual working-memory load (that is, a non-verbal load) during the writing task would interact with the planning, or non-verbal, stage, while imposing a verbal working-memory load would impact transcription of the written sentences during the phase when grammatical processing was taking place.

To test these hypotheses, Kellogg et al. provided participants with two different kinds of prompts and asked for two different kinds of sentences using these prompts. The prompts were paired words to be used in sentences. One set of pairs involved words that were semantically related, such as “door” and “knob.” The other set provided words that were not related, such as “ice” and “jail.” All word pairs were concrete and taken from a scale tested to calculate how easily they would be recognized (401).

The rationale for these choices was that more planning was needed to link unrelated word pairs in a sentence, so that the load on visual memory would also increase (399). But because the models specified that planning takes place before “grammatical encoding,” the kind of word pair required should have no effect on this latter process (400).

To investigate the relationship of verbal memory to the sentence-generating process, the researchers imposed another manipulation by asking half of the subjects to compose active-voice sentences, while the other half composed passive-voice sentences. In this case, the rationale was research showing that passive-voice constructions are more complex than active and thus should burden “verbal working memory” but not visual (400). Subjects were screened for their ability to produce the kinds of sentences required as instructed in the prompts (403).

Thus the protocol required subjects to produce sentences, either in the passive or active voice as instructed, in three conditions: while being asked to perform a “concurrent” visual working-memory task, a concurrent verbal working-memory task, or no concurrent task (401). The visual concurrent task involved studying and learning a set of images chosen from “the SPSS Marker Set in Microsoft Word” that were “designed to be not readily named” (401). In contrast, the verbal concurrent task was composed of nine digits that “could be coded verbally” (401). In both cases, after completing the required sentence, the participants were asked to determine whether a set of symbols or digits matched the ones they had previously seen (402-03).

The level of accuracy in this ability to match the symbols or digits displayed after the writing task with those seen previously constituted the main data for the study (409). The researchers wanted to test the hypothesis that impeding visual working memory would not interact with the verbal process of grammatical encoding, but that impeding verbal working memory would do so (399).

Additional data came from measuring factors such as the length of the sentences produced, the number of words produced per second in each trial, the time involved in producing the sentences, and the time before typing began. These factors were controlled for in the interpretation of the major findings.

The authors’ predictions, therefore, were that factors that made planning harder, such as efforts to work with unrelated nouns, would show up in less accurate results for the visual working-memory task, the symbols, while factors that impeded grammatical encoding, such as writing passive-voice sentences, would manifest themselves in less accuracy in recalling the verbal working-memory task components, the digits.

Unexpectedly, they found that even though, as predicted, passive voice sentences took longer to write, required more words, and resulted in fewer words per second, the type of sentence made “no reliable difference” on the verbal concurrent task (the digits): “if anything, actives produced more interference than passives” (410). They found also that, contrary to expectations, related word pairs “most disrupted the verbal WM task” (410). Thus, the operations assumed to be simplest required the most verbal working-memory effort, and factors that were expected to affect visual working memory because they were presumably involved in planning did not produce the hypothesized interference with the visual task (409-10).

That the presumably simpler effort involved in producing an active-voice sentence using a related pair of words demanded more verbal working memory led the researchers to consult the work of M. Fayol, who proposed that the “Kellogg (1996) model” may fail to take into account “an understanding of the temporal dynamics” involved in writing sentences (411). To explain their findings in the current study, Kellogg et al. posited that the conceptual work of planning for the simpler active-voice/related-pair resulted in “a single chunk that was then immediately cascaded forward to grammatical encoding” (411). In contrast, they suggest, the more difficult planning for a sentence using the unrelated pair occurred incrementally, possibly in parallel with grammatical encoding or during pauses, for example, after typing the first of the words. Thus, the grammatical encoding process that would have shown up as a demand on verbal working memory was broken up into “piecemeal” activities by planning phases rather than implemented all at once (411-12). Such intermittent planning/encoding has been demonstrated in studies of speech and typing (412). In short, easier planning can result in more pressure on verbal working memory.

The authors conclude that “the role of WM in written sentence production is markedly more complex than previously postulated” (414).