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Johnson, June. Teaching the Literature of Witness. CE, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/27/2020.

Johnson, June. “Overcoming Reader Resistance to Global Literature of Witness: Teaching Collaborative Listening Using The Devil’s Highway and What is the What.College English 82.4 (2020): 351-80. Print.

June Johnson writes about the pedagogical challenges of using the “literature of witness” to engage readers’ emotional responses to suffering and injustice in the lives of people different from them.

Citing scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Johnson lists the features of “literature of witness” as

a first-person narrator’s account of suffering and survival, the obligation to tell the stories of the dead, and grounding in cultural and geographic specifics. (353)

The goal of teaching this literature, in Johnson’s view, involves developing readers’ ability to care about strangers and recognize similarities of humanity, without, at the same time, “either subsuming cultural differences within our own cultural frames or accentuating them” (352). Paradoxically, Johnson writes, efforts to engage emotional empathy may exacerbate resistance and even trigger hostility to the sufferers readers encounter in these texts.

For Johnson, citing Martha Nussbaum, narrative writing and literature are the means best suited to draw out emotional responses (351). In the case of literature of witness, the effort to gain empathy through storytelling is “justify[ed]” by “the genre’s outcomes in the world” as attitudes and behavior change; as a result, Johnson considers these texts to have “an overtly persuasive purpose” (353).

Drawing on work within language studies on the role of emotions in decision-making and attitudes as well as in fields such as cognitive psychology and theories of critical reading and “collaborative rhetoric,” Johnson also turns to Krista Ratcliffe’s concept of “cultural logic” to explore the ways in which readers may resist the emotional force of works like literatures of witness (352). Noting that a cultural logic, in Ratcliffe’s words, is “a belief system or shared way of reasoning within which a claim may function” (qtd. in Johnson 354), Johnson examines ways in which these cultural logics may limit readers’ responses to the stories of suffering presented in the specifically situated accounts of refugees, immigrants, and others whose accounts challenge the preconceived assumptions of developed Western societies.

One form of resistance, in Johnson’s view, is “Shock and Fascination Followed by Patronizing Dismissal” (354). Readers may experience a “voyeuristic response” to horrors that seem unimaginable, then move on to cast such horrors as distant and irrelevant in their own lives. Geographical areas where suffering takes place can be seen as needing to “work their way out of their problems” on their own in order to emulate more “developed” countries (355).

Citing scholars studying efforts to ameliorate global suffering, Johnson identifies a second form of response: “Sadness and Indignation Followed by Emotional Overload and Helplessness” (355). In these cases, readers are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and “retreat into emotional self-protection” when no solutions are offered or seem possible (357).

Finally, readers may experience “Fear and Defensiveness Followed by Denial and Retrenchment” (357). In this dynamic, Johnson contends, issues of national security and economic well-being compound with protectiveness over identity to shift attention to questions of responsibility, as members of privileged societies resist blame for others’ suffering (358).

In order to alleviate the effects of these resistances, Johnson writes, respondents must fundamentally change, and she posits “collaborative listening” (354), practices that draw on work by Carl Rogers, Peter Elbow, Donna Qualley, Krista Ratcliffe, and sociologist Robin DiAngelo (353-54). To guide students into these “rigorous listening” experiences (358), she proposes teaching two specific texts, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway and Dave Eggers’s What is the What.

The Devil’s Highway recounts a non-fiction border tragedy in the form of a postmodern novel: a desert march by 26 Mexican migrants, 14 of whom died on the journey. Johnson argues that rhetorical features of syntax and structure immerse readers in transformative identity challenges in ways that traditional narrative strategies may fail to do (359). In her view, the text induces collaborative listening via such moves as a “disorienting narrative structure” that requires readers to “struggle to make sense of the text as the characters struggle to make sense of a journey” (361).

She writes further that the text creates “shifting character identities” with postmodern juxtapositions of characters including Border Patrol agents and “coyotes” or smugglers as well as the migrants (363). Dialogic narrative includes a shift to second-person through which she writes that readers are “[c]aught off guard” and “place[d] . . . directly into the shoes of the walkers”; this shift, Johnson claims, undercuts what Carl Rogers called “our very natural tendency to judge” (qtd. in Johnson 360). In Rogerian fashion, Johnson contends, the text also “listen[s] to” readers’ concerns and further opens a space for engagement (364; emphasis original).

Johnson also defines Eggers’s book as “postmodern narration” that “teaches collaborative listening” (366). The full title is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, A Novel; Deng, a refugee from civil war in Sudan, worked with Eggers over many years, deciding with him that “a shift to fiction” with Deng as the first-person narrator would be most effective in conveying Deng’s story (366). Johnson writes that a “fragmented narrative” that moves forward and backward in time in recounting events from 1987 to 2004, from Deng’s experiences in the Second Sudanese Civil War to his life as a refugee in America, emphasizes the “unknowableness” of these experiences for Western readers (Elizabeth Twitchell, qtd. in Johnson 367). In Johnson’s view, this radical difference undercuts tendencies toward “ethnocentric representation traps of racial privilege and cultural superiority” (367). Instead, she believes it encourages us to collaborate in the search for “agency and meaning” (368).

The text also focuses on the irony that Deng’s search for safety in the United States led him to become a crime victim as well as a victim of cultural oppression (369), undercutting what Michelle Peek calls the “rhetoric of rescue and promise” in which Western readers might find solace (368). Johnson also explores the use of direct address to other “narratees, “ such as the young man guarding Deng while his apartment was robbed; for Johnson, Deng exhibits a “listening” stance that acknowledges readers and their views (370). She also argues that his “reflexive grappling with his subjectivity” over the course of the novel disrupts readers’ attempts to construct a familiar identity for the narrator, thus inviting understanding of the instability of comforting assumptions (372).

Johnson suggests low-stakes practices such as free-writes, journals, or letters to self that teachers can use to introduce students to difficult texts like the literature of witness. These activities should encourage students in:

(1) creating probing dialogues with self that address positionality; (2) curbing judgments and revising assumptions by living with/in multiple perspectives; and (3) embracing ongoing reflexivity that focuses on open listening as a rhetorical stance and an ethical choice. (373)

 

 


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Nazzal et al. Curriculum for Targeted Instruction at a Community College. TETYC, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/11/2020.

Nazzal, Jane S., Carol Booth Olson, and Huy Q. Chung. “Differences in Academic Writing across Four Levels of Community College Composition Courses.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.3 (2020): 263-96. Print.

Jane S. Nazzal, Carol Booth Olson, and Huy Q. Chung present an assessment tool to help writing educators design curriculum during a shift from faculty-scored placement exams and developmental or “precollegiate” college courses (263) to what they see as common reform options (264-65, 272).

These options, they write, often include directed self-placement (DSP), while preliminary courses designed for students who might struggle with “transfer-level” courses are often replaced with two college-level courses, one with an a concurrent support addition for students who feel they need extra help, and one without (265). At the authors’ institution, “a large urban community college in California” with an enrollment of 50,000 that is largely Hispanic and Asian, faculty-scored exams placed 15% of the students into the transfer-level course; after the implementation of DSP, 73% chose the transfer course, 12% the course with support, and the remaining 15% the precollegiate courses (272).

The transition to DSP and away from precollegiate options, according to Nazzal et al., resulted from a shift away from “access” afforded by curricula intended to help underprepared students toward widespread emphasis on persistence and time to completion (263). The authors cite scholarship contending that processes that placed students according to faculty-scored assessments incorrectly placed one-third to one-half of students and disparately affected minority students; fewer than half of students placed into precollegiate courses reach the transfer-level course (264).

In the authors’ view, the shift to DSP as a solution for these problems creates its own challenges. They contend that valuable information about student writing disappears when faculty no longer participate in placement processes (264). Moreover, they question the reliability of high-school grades for student decisions, arguing that high school curriculum is often short on writing (265). They cite “burden-shifting” when the responsibility for making good choices is passed to students who may have incomplete information and little experience with college work (266). Noting as well that lower income students may opt for the unsupported transfer course because of the time pressure of their work and home lives, the authors see a need for research on how to address the specific situations of students who opt out of support they may need (266-67).

The study implemented by Nazzal et al. attempts to identify these specific areas that affect student success in college writing in order to facilitate “explicit teaching” and “targeted instruction” (267). They believe that their process identifies features of successful writing that are largely missing from the work of inexperienced writers but that can be taught (268).

The authors review cognitive research on the differences between experienced and novice writers, identifying areas like “Writing Objectives,” “Revision,” and “Sense of Audience” (269-70). They present “[f]oundational [r]esearch” that compares the “writer-based prose” of inexpert writers with the “reader-based prose” of experts (271), as well as the whole-essay conceptualization of successful writers versus the piecemeal approach of novices, among other differentiating features (269).

The study was implemented during the first two weeks of class over two semesters, with eight participating faculty teaching thirteen sections. Two hundred twenty-five students from three precollegiate levels and the single transfer-level course completed the tasks. The study essays were similar to the standard college placement essays taken by most of the students in that they were timed responses to prompts, but for the study, students were asked to read two pieces and “interpret, and synthesize” them in their responses (272-73). One piece was a biographical excerpt (Harriet Tubman or Louie Zamperini, war hero) and the other a “shorter, nonfiction article outlining particular character qualities or traits,” one discussing leadership and the other resilience (274). The prompts asked students to choose a single trait exhibited by the subject that most contributed to his or her success (274).

In the first of two 45-minute sessions, teachers read the pieces aloud while students followed along, then gave preliminary guidance using a graphical organizer. In the second session, students wrote their essays. The essays were rated by experienced writing instructors trained in scoring, using criteria for “high-school writing competency” based on principles established by mainstream composition assessment models (273-74).

Using “several passes through the data,” the lead researcher examined a subset of 76 papers that covered the full range of scores in order to identify features that were “compared in frequency across levels.” Differences in the frequency of these features were analyzed for statistical significance across the four levels (275). A subsample of 18 high-scoring papers was subsequently analyzed for “distinguishing elements . . . that were not present in lower-scoring papers,” including some features that had not been previously identified (275).

Nine features were compared across the four levels; the authors provide examples of presence versus absence of these features (276-79). Three features differed significantly in their frequency in the transfer-level course versus the precollegiate courses: including a clear claim, responding to the specific directions of the prompt, and referring to the texts (279).

Nazzal et al. also discovered that a quarter of the students placed in the transfer-level course failed to refer to the text, and that only half the students in that course earning passing scores, indicating that they had not incorporated one or more of the important features. They concluded that students at all levels would benefit from a curriculum targeting these moves (281).

Writing that only 9% of the papers scored in the “high” range of 9-12 points, Nazzal et al. present an annotated example of a paper that includes components that “went above and beyond the features that were listed” (281). Four distinctive features of these papers were

(1) a clear claim that is threaded throughout the paper; (2) a claim that is supported by relevant evidence and substantiated with commentary that discusses the significance of the evidence; (3) a conclusion that ties back to the introduction; and (4) a response to all elements of the prompt. (282)

Providing appendices to document their process, Nazzal et al. offer recommendations for specific “writing moves that establish communicative clarity in an academic context” (285). They contend that it is possible to identify and teach the moves necessary for students to succeed in college writing. In their view, their identification of differences in the writing of students entering college with different levels of proficiency suggests specific candidates for the kind of targeted instruction that can help all students succeed.


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Gonzalez Ybarra. Mujerista Literacies in an Ethnic Studies Course. RTE, Feb. 2020. Posted 05/18/2020/

González Ybarra, Mónica. “‘We Have a Strong Way of Thinking . . . and It Shows Through Our Words.’” Research in the Teaching of English 54.3 (2020): 231-53. Print.

Mónica González Ybarra describes an ethnic-studies course she taught in the summer of 2016 at an “(im)migrant housing complex” in a “semirural suburb in the Rocky Mountain region” (234; parentheses original). This complex, which González Ybarra calls “Comunidad Miravalle” (CM) (231), is home to “mixed-status families” whose heads of households work in agriculture or landscape; many inhabitants have lived in the community for more than ten years (234-35). González Ybarra moved from volunteering at a youth learning center in the complex to teaching a course called “Chicana/Latina Experiences” (235).

Arguing that increased scholarly attention to the literacies and voices of young women and girls of color still gives short shrift to Chicana/Latina youth, González Ybarra stresses the role of “community or nontraditional spaces of teaching and learning” for these populations (231). She examines the literacies of four young women who participated in the course during the summer of 2016, documenting the knowledge their cultural resources contribute to their meaning-making practices (236). In notes, she explains her decision not to necessarily italicize Spanish words and her use of the terms Chicana/Latina (249n1; 240n3).

In this seven-week seminar, the four women and six men collected and analyzed “oral, written, and digital testimonios from the community” and applied the results to broader sociopolitical contexts surrounding marginalized groups. The use and analysis of social media also provided resources as well as material for analysis. Students reflected in journals or via digital projects (236).

The four “young mujeres” featured in the article were high-school students at differing levels, identifying as either Chicana or Latina; all had “cultural, ethic, and national ties to México” (236). All ten students had known each other since they were children. González Ybarra recounts her own cultural connections as those of a “middle-class Chicana” with an immigrant family background and experiences attending largely white schools; she notes as well that because she has citizenship status that many of her students lack, she is afforded privileges they may not have, but states that her “cultural intuition”—her “critical knowledge” of Chicana/Latina environments—makes it possible for her to engage with the ethnic issues her students face (237, 238).

González Ybarra introduces the “trenzas framework” for studying the meaning-making practices in communities like that of CM. This theoretical approach differs from what is usually considered “normal, rigorous, and valid in qualitative research . . . in literacy education” in that it draws on cultural intuition, “humaniz[ed]” data-collection processes, and feminist theories to locate “intersections as well . . . as points of entanglement” in various approaches (237).

The methodologies she illustrates include the “testimonio.” This is a “performative text” that joins “individual experiences to a collective story—voicing the silences and exposing the knowledge located within marginalized bodies” (238). Students participated in “testimoniando,” sharing their experiences as Chicana/Latina youth in the larger white culture.

Equally in use were “pláticas.” These are “dialogic processes of meaning-making that take place in salas, at kitchen tables, and in other gathering spaces within Latinx/Chicanx communities” (239). Pláticas enable the use of “dichos (sayings,), consejos (advice), chismes (gossip. . .), and testimonios” as analytical resources beyond more traditional methods for investigating how cultural experiences shape knowledge (239). González Ybarra sometimes prompted in-class pláticas, but says that often they were student-initiated and -driven. She videoed and recorded these when they occurred in class, but reports that they occurred in other settings as well (239).

González Ybarra’s trenzas framework began with examination of her students’ use of and interactions with texts, broadly defined as encompassing modes such as “visual, aural, written, gestural, embodied, etc.” across a wide range of modalities. This examination included study of these textual moments across “raced-gendered bodies, space and place” including borderlands and homes (239). She used tools like screenshots and photos as well as scanned artwork to record these interactions.

“Thematic coding,” especially through “narrative writing,” allowed González Ybarra to build trenzas as an analytical methodology. However, citing E. Tuck and K. W. Yang, González Ybarra resisted the degree to which such coding created “settler orientations toward knowledge production” (240). As a third layering to counteract this tendency, González Ybarra turned to pláticas with the four mujeres of her study (240).

Central to the findings González Ybarra reports is the degree to which mujerista literacies focus on family and community, in particular the strength and wisdom of Chicana/Latina mothers. Drawing on quoted material from her four women students, González Ybarra sees feminism as practiced in these communities as “[em]bodied and [i]ntergenerational” (240); the experience of seeing their mothers and families resist threats to their survival from the larger culture, in González Ybarra’s view, becomes central to these young women’s world knowledge. She writes that her study belies the narrative that describes Chicana/Latina mothers as “submissive and subscribing to traditional gender roles”; on the contrary, she argues, the mothers supplied opportunities and models for resistance (241). The study points to a literacy that “center[s] the collective, situating literacies within larger sociopolitical discourses and lived realities of communities” (242).

Reports of exchanges between male and female students ground González Ybarra’s claim that the mujeres’ literacy is “disruptive,” as they speak up for the effects of larger systemic injustice on personal choice and against the potential for “othering” gay members of their communities (242-43). One plática she records, she argues, illustrates the young women’s sense of how public discourse can be dominated by “the young men, taking up space with their voices” (244). Finding their own space to express themselves, González Ybarra posits, allows them a better understanding of the politics of traditional school spaces.

Students’ deep reflection on the course reveals that, for one student, it served as a “spark” for otherwise silenced conversations (qtd. in González Ybarra 244), while another appreciated the vocabulary the discussions supplied for speaking to others about her realities (247). For González Ybarra, journal reflections reveal how the course led to “shift[s]” as students found a space to engage deeply with connections between their issues and lives (246).

The author notes that ethnic studies is not yet a consistent feature of traditional education and urges more effort to provide alternative opportunities to explore mujerista literacies. In such spaces, she contends, the degree to which these literacies disrupt normative narratives about Chicana/Latina youth become more visible (248). Her research, she writes, embodies a “mismatch” between the trenzas framework and traditional literacy research in that it

bring[s] together the lived realities of researchers, relationships cultivated within communities, pedagogical approaches, and critical theoretical orientations [that serve as] a legitimate lens for analysis to deepen ideas of literacy and literacy research. (248)


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Wible, Scott. Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving. CCC, Feb. 2020. Posted 04/19/2020.

Wible, Scott. “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses.” College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020): 399-425. Print.

Scott Wible describes an upper-level course in a professional-writing minor in which “design thinking” is central to the course design and outcomes. In Wible’s view, the processes inherent in design thinking lead students to more creative responses to problem-solving assignments.

Wible notes that the 2011 Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing, by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teacher of English, and the National Writing Project, includes “creativity” as one of the “habits of mind” for successful student writing, defining it as “the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas” (399-400). Wible cites scholarship advocating creativity as an important writing outcome and advancing strategies for encouraging it (400). Adding reviews of composition scholars and others who promote design thinking, Wible presents design-thinking as “a human-centered process” that derives its effects from intensive interactions with stakeholders as well as an emphasis on learning as a way of expanding the invention phase of composing (400-01).

In the “large suburban public university in the Northeast” (403) where Wible directs the Professional Writing Program (425), students complete a “series of linked assignments” focused on identifying and proposing a solution to a problem (403). Wible became concerned that traditional assignments did not inspire students to conduct serious inquiry or to think creatively, but rather allowed them to seize on preconceived notions of the ideal solution and then, as noted by Carolyn D. Rude, “approach their remaining work as an exercise in defending that thesis” (404).

In contrast, Wible argues, design thinking uses a set of writing exercises or genres to preclude early closure and engender the kind of thinking needed to address what Richard Marback calls “wicked problems”: those that are “highly contextualized, value-laden, and solvable in more than one way” (404-05).

In Wible’s representation, design thinking encompasses five modes: Empathy Mode, Define Mode, Ideate Mode, Prototyping Mode, and Test Mode (405). These modes, embodied in written genres, provide students with templates for exploring the complexities of a problem and opening pathways to innovation, enabling them, as encouraged by Linda Flower and John Hayes, to “create ideas, not simply find them” (402).

Wible’s class was commissioned by the Office of Faculty Affairs to develop a video for new faculty at the university. Envisioned as a basic introduction to university life, the project as enriched by design thinking, in Wible’s view, recognized and addressed the needs of this group with deeper understanding and effectiveness (405).

An overriding principle behind the five modes and the genres through which they are implemented, he reports, is the need, in the words of “entrepreneur educator” Steven Blank, for students to “get out of the building,” (qtd. in Wible 407), recognizing that effective problem solving does not result from “huddling in a conference room” but rather from “empathy research” that involves firsthand engagement with stakeholders. This kind of research assumes that the inquirer is ignorant and in need of exploring the problem in unfamiliar contexts beyond traditional research (407). The genres facilitate this kind of inquiry.

In Empathy Mode, Wible reports that students present the new faculty stakeholders with a set of “User Empathy Cards” containing “activities and experiences likely common” to the new faculty; respondents sort the cards into priorities, an exercise that elicits conversations leading in unexpected directions (408). Students compose follow-up “empathy questions,” again beyond the expected, to elicit “detail-rich, value-laden stories” that encompass multiple facets of respondents’ situations (409).

The Definition Mode, Wible explains, results in “User Empathy Maps,” which students create through collaborative sharing of their notes, with salient points listed quickly and briefly on sticky notes. Emerging trends in these lists lead to the map, which includes the categories “Say,” “Think,” “Do,” and “Feel.” He gives the example of “academic loneliness” expressed by new STEM faculty trying to develop research agendas (411).

The synthesis afforded by the map leads to the POV Statement, a template in which a specific “user” is said to “need” a certain outcome based on conclusions from the mapping process. Wible contrasts these statements with project statements from a more typical course, in which a solution would often be embedded in the definition of the problem (412). The goal, he writes, is to capture “the emotional depth and breadth of a person’s experiences rather than only their material needs” (413).

Instead of proposing “import[ed]” solutions in the Ideation Mode, students use their POV Statements to compose “How Might We” statements that define the needs, then move on to an intensive collaborative brainstorming session. Wible emphasizes what he considers effective brainstorming, in his case, characterized in part by using the limited space afforded by sticky notes to capture ideas without getting bogged down in developing each one (415).

This process leads to “Idea Selection.” Wible urges moving beyond the commonly applied criterion of “feasibility,” which he argues results in “many imaginative yet undeveloped ideas get[ting] lost” (415). His students broke into teams charged with producing videos, with one considering feasibility, but two others looking for the idea “most likely to delight the user” and another considering the “potentially ‘biggest breakthrough’” (416).

In the Prototyping and Testing Modes, students presented possible “rough” solutions to their respondents and gathered feedback. This step, offered in multimodal genres, led to further revision. Genres included “[a]nnotated sketches,” and “role playing.” Because they had been asked to create a video, the students chose to create “eight-panel storyboards” (418). Wible continues to emphasize how the design process results in deeper knowledge and creative insights about context and needs:

The aim of creating and testing prototypes . . . is not to seek confirmation about a solution idea but rather to bring designers together with users to think with and through the prototype-as-tentative solution. . . . (418)

Students finally “pitch” their solutions, but Wible argues for moving them away from foregrounding their product to foregrounding their learning. They synthesize an “Innovation Story” and a “Learning Story” that detail how they created their solutions through the design modes (419-20).

Wible promotes the value of writing as a means to explore and focus the learning resulting from the use of design thinking and advocates integrating the methodologies students encounter in their varied majors with design processes (422). He reports critique that, unless specifically structured to include it, design thinking can overlook learning from past cultural moments, including “humanistic and social research that happen through reading” (423). He notes that design principles should not be seen as monolithic solutions for better writing outcomes but rather as part of a pedagogical strategy to inspire deeper, more creative engagement in problem-solving methods.


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Crawford et al. Public Memory, Hope, and Rhetorical Education. CE, Jan. 2020. Posted 03/29/2020.

Crawford, Anne E., Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer. “Drawing Hope from Difficult History: Public Memory and Rhetorical Education in Kansas City.” College English 82.3 (2020): 255-80. Print.

Anne E. Crawford, Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer present an upper-level English course, “Rhetorics of Public Memory,” taught at an “urban research university” in Missouri prior to the March 2018 College Composition and Communication convention in Kansas City, Missouri (256). Materials from the course were exhibited at the convention as a series of panels titled Deconstructing the Divide: Rhetorical Activism in Kansas City (264). The exhibit was also displayed at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center on the authors’ university campus and at other educational venues (256). The resulting article recounting the development of the exhibit has been co-authored by Greer, instructor of the course, and two undergraduates who took part (256). Each author presents her experiences in a dedicated section of the article.

Crawford et al. write that an important exigency for the course and the exhibit was a 2017 NAACP travel advisory citing the need for African Americans to be cautious while in Missouri because of a “series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently” (qtd. in Crawford et al. 255). Greer, as the instructor, was moved to ask how a college rhetoric course could address the troubled moment. The resulting course drew on scholarship on public memory and its relationship to “hope” to provide students with opportunities to develop their rhetorical skills while also examining their own situated engagement with their home city (256, 258).

The authors contrast studies of public memory with the study of history by citing Carole Blair’s distinction between history’s “legitimacy based on research norms” and public memory’s “overtly political and emotionally invested” nature (qtd. in Crawford et al. 257). Further review of research in English studies and in college classrooms grounds the authors’ claim that “public memory is a profoundly rhetorical enterprise” and thus a rich topic for rhetorical pedagogy (257).

Drawing on part of Stephen Browne’s definition of public memory as “a shared sense of the past” (qtd. in Crawford et al. (257), the authors note that this shared sense can be “created” for specific purposes (257); they develop a relationship between public memory and “hope” through the work of scholars like Stephen Fishman (drawing on John Dewey) and Paula Mathieu by arguing that despite its attention to the past, public memory serves to remind audiences of their connectedness to others and to engage them in dialogue that often serves as a “provocation” to become involved themselves (258, 261Fr). They cite Fishman’s claim that “for Dewey, hope always arises in the context of anxiety and potential despair” and is inspired by a belief intrinsic to public memory that “things could have been otherwise” and that people have agency to effect change (260). Because of its rhetorical nature, public memory becomes a shared activity that engenders the “fundamentally communal project” of encouraging hope (259).

The course exhibit made use of the relationship between public memory and hope both by reminding viewers of past injustices and also by enhancing public memory of activism that addresses these injustices. The course itself was a reprise in response to the NAACP advisory of one taught over nine years by Greer. As the instructor, she drew on Mathieu’s advice to create a “project orientation” rather than a “problem orientation” because student efforts could not realistically solve the major systemic injustices involved. Rather, the intent of the project reflected the approach advanced in Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage, which Greer identifies as “widely influential” in guiding “public historians, park rangers and tour guides.” Greer writes that Tilden sees the purpose of public memory not as instruction or persuasion but instead as a means of “spur[ring] ongoing engagement between the exhibit’s audience and the material being presented” (263).

The students drew on award-winning exhibits for models. From a 2016/2017 exhibit by university history students came the plan of designing freestanding panels that could be transported to multiple venues. From the curator of interpretation of an exhibit at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, with which Greer has partnered, students learned the importance of personal stories to generate immediacy (262). Greer details the multitudinous archives the students searched in order to collect “nearly fifty items/artifacts” relevant to “education, injustice, and activism” in Kansas City’s past (263). She notes that students’ interest expanded from attention to national figures usually associated with activism to “local stories” showing how “resistance,” “resilience,” and “creativity” can be used by lesser-known individuals from their own communities (263).

Students determined that Deconstructing the Divide would create separate sections to address “literacy activism, legal activism, and embodied activism” (264). Smaller groups of students worked on each section. Crawford worked with others on the opening panels (268), while Galloway participated in constructing the closing section (273).

Panels on literacy activism featured a Black women’s book club and a student poet at the only high school offering African Americans educational opportunities in 1918 (264). Legal activism encompassed a challenger to segregated graduate studies at the University of Missouri in the 1930s and a teacher who worked with students in their homes rather than at their unsafe school (264). Embodied activism highlighted students who demonstrated during civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chicano/a students who organized a walkout to underscore the needs of multicultural and multilingual students (265).

Detailing her participation in the creation of the opening panels, Crawford posits that a “sentimental view” of her home city led her to become “perhaps complacent” as she failed to “appreciate the complexity of the history I had inherited” (267). She recounts the impact of images from the 1968 civil unrest, in which students in familiar locations confronted police in gas masks (267-68). She writes that the opening panels were intended to remind viewers of past injustice while pointing toward the activists included in the other panels (270).

Galloway writes of the revisions required to avoid “creat[ing] a false sense of unity among the preceding panels or to oversimplify” Kansas City’s past (273). The group moved from “imperative statements . . . in the second-person singular (you)” to images of a prominent building that they decided presented “too simplistic a story of progress” (273). The panels as finally completed noted “current social justice organizations” and an example of a communal effort that resulted in historical preservation and neighborhood revitalization (274). Galloway recounts responses via social media and in-person conversations that attested to the exhibit’s effects (274).

Both students report finding personal connections to their city’s past and present as well as renewed hope for the future. Citing the many rhetorical skills involved in creating such a complex exhibit, the authors emphasize the importance of public memory work as an act of forward-looking engagement, the goal of which is

not to present a definitive argument about the past, but to provoke and energize ongoing dialogue about what that future might be. (277)


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Bunch, George C. “Metagenres” as an Analytical Tool at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/24/2020.

Bunch, George C. “Preparing the ‘New Mainstream’ for College and Careers: Academic and Professional Metagenres in Community Colleges.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.2 (2019): 168-94. Print.

George C. Bunch, describing himself as a “relative ‘outsider’” who has been studying English learners and the “policies and practices” affecting their experiences as they enter and move on from community colleges (190n1), writes about the need for frameworks that can guide curricular choices for the “New Mainstream,” the students with diverse backgrounds and varied educational preparation who populate community colleges (169). He suggests attention to “metagenres,” a concept advanced by Michael Carter (171) as an “analytical tool” that can provide insights into the practices that will most benefit these students (170).

Bunch contextualizes his exploration of metagenres by reporting pressure, some from policymakers, to move community-college students more quickly through layers of developmental and English-as-second-language (ESL) coursework. Such acceleration, Bunch suggests, is meant to allow students to move faster into college-level or disciplinary coursework leading to transfer to four-year colleges or to career paths (168).

Bunch reports a study of ten California community colleges he and his team published in 2011. The study revealed contrasting orientations in approaches to developmental writing students. One endorses a skill-based curriculum in which students acquire “the basics” to function as “building blocks” for later more advanced coursework (172). The other promotes curriculum leading to “academic pathways” that encourage “opportunities for language and literacy development and support in the context of students’ actual progression toward academic and professional goals” (172). Bunch contends that in neither case did his team find adequate discussions of “the language and literacy demands of academic work beyond ESL, developmental English, and college-level composition courses” (173; emphasis original).

Bunch writes that scholarship on the role of writing instruction as students prepare for specific professional goals follows two divergent trends. One approach assumes that literacy instruction should promote a universal set of “generalist” competencies and that writing teachers’ “professional qualifications and experience” make them best qualified to teach these practices (173). Bunch points to the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” developed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project, as well as work by Kathleen Blake Yancey, as exemplifying this approach (173-74).

At the same time, he notes, the later “WPA Outcomes Statement” illustrates a focus on the specific rhetorical demands of the disciplines students are likely to take up beyond English, asking, he writes, for “guidance” from disciplinary faculty and hoping for “share[d] responsibility” across campuses as students negotiate more targeted coursework (174). Bunch expresses concern, however, that faculty in the disciplines have “rarely reflected on those [literacy practices] explicitly” and tend to assume that students should master language use prior to entering their fields (174).

Bunch suggests that the concept of metagenres can supply analysis that affords a “grain size” between “macro approaches” that posit a single set of criteria for all writing regardless of its purpose and audience, and a “micro-level” approach that attempts to parse the complex nuances of the many different career options community-college students might pursue (175).

To establish the concept, Carter examined student outcomes at his four-year institution. Defining metagenres as “ways of doing and writing by which individual linguistic acts on the microlevel constitute social formations on the macrolevel” (qtd. in Bunch 176), Carter grouped the courses he studied under four headings:

  • Problem-Solving, most apparent in fields like economics, animal science, business management, and math
  • Empirical Inquiry, which he located in natural and social sciences
  • Research from Sources, visible in the humanities, for example history
  • Performance, notably in the fine arts but also in writing coursework (176)

Bunch notes that in some cases, the expected definitional boundaries required negotiation: e.g., psychology, though possibly an empirical discipline, fit more closely under problem-solving in the particular program Carter analyzed (176-77).

Bunch offers potential applications at the levels of ESL/developmental/composition coursework, “[w]riting across and within the disciplines,” “[c]ollege-level coursework in other disciplines,” and “[i]nstitution-wide reform” (177-79). For example, writing students might use the metagenre concept to examine and classify the writing they do in their other courses (178), or faculty might open conversations about how students might be able to experience discipline-specific work even while developing their language skills (179). Institutions might reconsider what Thomas Bailey et al. call the “cafeteria model” of course selection and move toward “guided pathways” that define coherent learning goals tied to students’ actual intentions (179).

Bunch and his group considered coursework in nine programs at a “small community college in the San Francisco Bay Area” that is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (180). In selecting programs, he looked for a range across both traditional academic areas and career-oriented paths, as well as for coursework in which minority and underprepared or minority-language students often enrolled (180-81). Primary data came from course descriptions at both class- and program-levels, but Bunch also drew on conversations with members of the community-college community (180).

He writes that “the notion of metagenres” was “useful for comparing and contrasting the ‘ways of doing’ associated with academic and professional programs” (181). He writes that history, fashion design, and earth science (meteorology and geology) could be classified as “research from sources,” “performance,” and “empirical inquiry,” respectively (182-83). Other courses were more complex in their assignments and outcomes, with allied health exhibiting both problem-solving and empirical inquiry and early childhood education combining performance and problem-solving (183-86).

Bunch states that applying the metagenre concept is limited by the quality of information available as well as the likelihood that it cannot subsume all subdisciplines, and suggests more research, including classroom observation as well as examination of actual student writing (186). He cites other examinations of genre as a means of situating student learning, acknowledging the danger of too narrow a focus on particular genres at the expense of attention to the practices of “individuals who use them” (187). However, in his view, the broader analytical potential of the metagenre frame encourages conversations among faculty who may not have considered the nuances of their particular literacy demands and attention to writing as part of students’ progression into specific academic and career paths rather than as an isolated early activity (174). He posits that, rather than trying to detail the demands of any given genre as students enter the college environment, institutions might focus on helping students understand and apply the “concept of metagenre” as a way of making sense of the rhetorical situations they might enter (189; emphasis original).

Ultimately, in his view, the concept can aid in

providing more specific guidance than afforded by the kinds of general academic literacy competencies often assigned to the composition profession, yet remaining broader than a focus on the individual oral and written genres of every conceivable subdiscipline and subfield. (189).


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Obermark, Lauren E. “Misfitting” and Disability in English Graduate Studies. Nov. 2019 CE. Posted 01/28/2019.

Obermark, Lauren E. “Making Space for the Misfit: Disability and Access in Graduate Education in English.” College English 82.2 (2019): 173-203. Print.

Lauren E. Obermark examines the English graduate school experience through the lens of disability studies, incorporating the concept of the “misfit” to analyze responses to a survey she conducted at the “midsize regional public university” (179) where she is an assistant professor.

She reports that her own graduate education, where she regularly felt she “did not fit the graduate school mold” (173), aroused her interest in issues of access in English graduate programs like the one she attended and the one in place at her institution. To key concepts of access and disability, Obermark adds “wonder,” which she draws on Tanya Titchkosky to define as “a multipronged and exploratory orientation” (177) that can be “uncomfortable” because it is “outward-facing and change-focused” (178). She describes her survey as an act of wonder; her grounded-theory approach to the responses leads her to conclude that many assumptions underlying common models of graduate education create unacknowledged “pedagogical misfits” and diminish access in these programs (176).

Disability scholarship leads Obermark to argue for understanding disability studies as a form of inquiry into concerns that affect everyone as these studies consider how the “collaboration and interdependence” that improve conditions for people with disabilities can enhance everyone’s lives (176). Such an approach, she contends, makes questions about access “generative” rather than casting access as a way of correcting a specific problem through “accommodations” that can create more obstacles than they remove (174, 193-94).

Noting that institutions implement procedures that attempt to resolve access problems, Obermark describes many such efforts as part of a “disability bypass,” which renders people needing different forms of access invisible as their needs have supposedly been met. In graduate schools, she argues, this bypass takes the form of insistence that no student succeeding in academia meets the definition of disabled (182). Obermark’s survey examines the ways she believes the university and the students alike bypass or deny the existence of students for whom extant forms of access mean struggle (181).

For the concept of “misfitting,” Obermark turns to the scholarship of Elisabeth L. Miller and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. Quoting Garland-Thomson, Obermark writes that “a misfit is a result of incongruence or ‘awkward’ juxtaposition” and therefore “does not imply a problem with the environment or with an individual” (177). A premise that emerges from the survey data is that misfits occur when established norms are wrongly assumed to work well for everyone. In Obermark’s view, such misfitting can affect access, especially as it often goes unnoticed (177).

Obermark’s institution offers an MA and an MFA, which feature many overlapping classes for students working toward a number of goals, such as credentialing for their secondary teaching jobs or preparing for PhD work. Of the ninety-five students offered the survey, thirty-two participated(179). Opening questions asked about the “most common in-class approach and the most common assignment” in the students’ experiences (183). By wide margins, students reported that whole-class discussion was the most common approach and an academic essay the most common assignment (183).

From open-ended comments, Obermark concludes that many students question whether the class discussions really serve either the learners or the course goals as effectively as they might (184). Student comments note the tendency for a few students with strong oral skills to control discussion, in one case describing this environment as “repetitive and even a bit intimidating for those not ‘in the loop’” (184). Another called such discussions “unstructured and random” and not clearly aligned with assigned materials (185). A student who found the reading challenging wrote that the discussion did not provide the access to the material that she needed (185).

Student comments about the essay assignments, in Obermark’s view, constitute “a deeply enculturated essay allegiance,” with students contending that only the traditional essay correctly showcases graduate-level skills (188). Obermark counters that much recent scholarship in digital and multimodal communication suggests that a wider range of options might be fruitful (188).

For Obermark, students’ sense that they are expected to succeed in these situations even if they are not comfortable with them suggests that students have internalized a message that those for whom the accepted process is not the best fit are not actually “fit” for graduate school (185). She characterizes “reverse accommodation” as a common assumption on students’ parts that it is “their job to figure out and work through” any issues they encounter with the teaching methods considered the norm (190; emphasis original). Rather than questioning how the norms could change, Obermark argues that students see adaptation as their only recourse. The ability, in the words of one respondent, to “just muddle through and figure it out on our own” is seen as the duty of a graduate student in English by students and professor alike (191). Misfitting, in this view, is the misfit’s fault.

Maintaining with other disability scholars that “accommodation” is not “access,” Obermark argues that accommodation as generally provided “requires a great deal of emotional labor from students,” making it their responsibility to inform and educate their instructors individually about their needs, thus “reliev[ing] the professor (or the institution) from making a wider change” (192-93).

For Obermark, the students’ struggles to accommodate the traditional academic assumptions raise the question of what the field of English studies really wants. She responds to “water cooler” assertions that graduate school should be rigorous and the material difficult with the contention, quoting Anne-Marie Womack, that “The way to teach difficult material well is always to make it more accessible” (194). The failure to provide this access leads Obermark to wonder whether the field “really want[s] [graduate education] to be accessible or inclusive in meaningful ways” (195).

Acknowledging that colleagues may see student struggles as “an ongoing reality” (195), Obermark asks questions about her respondents’ attitudes toward disability. She reports that for students currently teaching, learning about disability issues makes them more aware, not just of specific disabilities, but also of difference and diversity generally in their own classrooms (196). Such awareness, she contends, suggests that the teachers acknowledge their responsibility to change rather than requiring their students to adjust when their fit to norms is not perfect (196).

Obermark writes that examining how graduate students manage their fit in current graduate-school culture might encourage an open-ended and ongoing conversation, perhaps triggering small changes in the pedagogical practices that are often taken for granted (195). She offers examples of alternative practices that can welcome other ways of learning rather than promulgating what she considers a “take it or leave it” message (177), which she believes drives students out of graduate programs when they perceive that their abilities are not those the field requires. Thus, in her view, awareness of misfitting is a step toward creative thinking: improving access generates new approaches that she believes enhance access for everyone.


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Andrus et al. Teaching for Transfer at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC Sept. 2019. Posted 12/13/2019.

Andrus, Sonja, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg. “Teaching for Writing Transfer: A Practical Guide for Teachers.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.1 (2019): 76-89. Print.

Sonja Andrus, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg report on participating in a study to examine the effects of Kathleen Blake Yancey et al.’s teaching-for-transfer curriculum (TFT) across a range of institutions and student populations. Andrus et al. applied the curriculum from Writing across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing at three community colleges, one “small, rural,” one “suburban,” and one “urban” (77).

The study group consisted of nine writing professionals at different institutions who taught “parallel courses” in fall 2017. The curriculum from Writing across Contexts had been deemed useful in first-year writing courses at a “large research university”; the study considered how the assignments and scaffolding materials could be effectively adjusted for a wider sample of settings (77).

Arguing for the importance of helping students understand the usefulness of their learning beyond the college-writing classroom (76), the authors note the students who are likely to enroll in community-college courses may differ in age, experience, and life situations from students at four-year institutions. They write that differences in institutional structures, such as class sizes and higher class loads, can also affect the efficacy of the transfer curriculum (77).

Andrus et al. report that the TFT curriculum includes three components: key terms, reflection requirements, and four major assignments (77). The key terms, which are meant to provide students with “a single vocabulary for talking about writing in the classroom and for thinking about writing,” are

  • Audience
  • Genre
  • Rhetorical situation
  • Reflection
  • Discourse community
  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Knowledge (78)

The authors endorse the reflection component for its power to “slow student writers down” so they can become more “self-aware” and develop metacognitive sensibilities that will allow them to understand the process of writing as well as themselves as writers. All assignments come with reading lists and reflective elements that act as “perpetual glue” supporting the curriculum’s scaffolding (80).

The authors explain how they believe that each of the first three assignments leads students toward the final task, which is

[a]reflective composition, in a genre of the student’s own choosing, . . . [that] state[s] a fully developed theory of writing drawn from the course’s key terms and grounded in the course’s readings, a theory upon which students may draw when asked to write in new contexts. (80)

The first assignment is a “source-based definition and synthesis essay” (78) in which students apply the terms genre, rhetorical situation, and audience to assigned readings and in the process “describe the relationship among the terms” (79). The rationale for basing an assignment on sources early in the term is to introduce students to addressing varied perspectives “from the start” (79).

This assignment, the authors aver, is “daunting” and “unfamiliar” for students and for instructors, who, like Tinberg, may be unsure their classes are ready for the synthesis required (84). The requirement to relate the unfamiliar terms to each other and apply them to a challenging reading, the authors believe, immediately confronts students with the need to explore “what writing is and how it works” beyond the basics of a specific college requirement (84).

The second assignment also “flips” traditional practice by asking for research into “large, genuinely interesting questions rather than simplistic thesis-driven answers” (79). Andrus et al. state that teachers may need to support students in a process that not only presents the basics of research writing but also confounds their expectations by asking them to explore an issue rather than working to support a preconceived opinion (85). Included in this assignment is an emphasis on a key term, “discourse community,” as students are asked to see research and writing as important elements of knowledge-making in context (85).

In the third assignment, students recast their prior work in three different genres (79). The authors caution that it may be tempting to limit students with tight semester schedules to a single genre, but they argue that “at least planning the work for multiple genres is significant here” (86). One recommendation is to allow students to work in genres they already understand so that students who may be disoriented by college have a “stable” starting place for the new learning required (87-88).

The authors encourage instructors to prepare for a range of responses to the final assignment, noting that some students may repackage the reflections they have already completed while others may try to frame the assignment in more familiar forms (86-87). They provide an excerpt that they believe illustrates a student “conspicuously and knowingly deploying critical terms from the course” in which she articulates increased awareness of the importance of audience, genre, and rhetorical context (87).

The authors discuss ways they adjusted the TFT process to serve their community college environments. They emphasize the importance of conferencing and illustrate ideas for managing the time demands of one-on-one interaction with students (80-81). The assignments differ from those students have experienced previously, and both the cognitive load and pace of the work can benefit from enhanced “reassurance” and “direction” (81), in the authors’ view.

In addition, the authors changed some of the required readings, emphasizing their efforts to meet the goals of the curriculum while finding a balance between readings that were too long or dense and those that were too “short and easy” to accomplish the curriculum’s goals (81). These decisions, they write, allowed students to address readings in more depth (82). Andrus et al. analyze the effects of some of the listed readings, including students’ resistance to articles that cast them as “objects to be studied” and their appreciation of works in which the challenges they faced as community-college students were seen as “important and central to the course” (83). The authors also provide ideas for increasing the reflective writing considered essential to the course goals (83-84).

A list of recommendations includes as well the importance of being “frank and upfront” with students about the course and of being flexible and innovative within the bounds of the curriculum goals in order to make the course more effective for the particular students involved (87-88).

 

 


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Schey and Blackburn. Queering Normative Literacy. RTE, Aug. 2019. Posted 10/16/2019.

Schey, Ryan, and Mollie Blackburn. “Queer Ruptures of Normative Literacy Practices: Toward Visualizing, Hypothesizing, and Empathizing.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.1 (2019): 58-80. Print.

Ryan Schey and Mollie Blackburn discuss a study of their students in an “arts-focused charter high school in a Midwestern city” (64) as the students responded to Steve Brezenoff’s novel Brooklyn, Burning. The course was an “LGBTQ-themed” (58) literature course for juniors and seniors (64). The authors argue that the book created “ruptures” of normative literary practices, highlighting how readers’ responses to these ruptures could either shut down discussion or provide opportunities for learning (59).

Schey and Blackburn detail their research methodology, in which they combined ethnography and teacher research (63). Schey acted as participant-observer while Blackburn conducted “practitioner inquiry,” designing curriculum and assessment procedures (64). Materials for analysis included curriculum documents and student work, as well as field notes, audio and video recordings, and entrance and exit interviews (67). Thirteen of the fourteen enrollees in the course participated. Schey positions himself as a “white straight cis man” and Blackburn identifies as a “white queer cis woman” (66). Both have extensive experience working in support of LGBTQ groups.

The authors differentiate between LGBT scholarship and queer theory. The former, they write, “tend[s] to characterize sexuality and gender as stable, using positivist and modernist lenses” (60). In contrast, queer studies “destabilize fixed notions of gender and sexuality” (60). The authors review a number of studies that they feel can endorse not only “heteronormativity” but also “homonormativity,” when “binary framings” lead to “oversimplification” of students’ perceptions of sexuality and gender (61).

Literacy, for these writers, is itself ideological, influenced by context and extant power relations; they discuss how differently a student might read a text with friends as opposed to under the scrutiny of teachers (61). Classroom power relations make some forms of literacy response “normative and dominant”; queer theorists like those reviewed by Schey and Blackburn attempt to disrupt such processes and open the way for alternatives (62).

Reading experiences that confront students with ruptures in their normalized expectations, in the authors’ view, force them to attend to inherent possibilities that are otherwise obscured (63). Rather than addressing confrontations with such ruptures as “individual cognitive experiences,” the authors argue for a perspective contextualized within a social environment, an approach that they write requires more attention to race than is often provided (62). They turn to R. A. Ferguson as a scholar who, by “vehemently den[ying] the discreteness of any category such as gender, sexuality or race” offers a lens through which students can encounter generative ruptures (63).

Arguing for their ethnographic approach as a means to address “oppressive power relations,” the authors write that of their thirteen students, one was “white and Asian,” while the rest were white (64). A chart classifies the students, with a caveat that the students’ gender and sexual identities were “mulitiple, variable, and fluid,” with some changing after the study ended. Five were straight and cis gendered; a gay trans man was not named in the study, while another woman identified as queer and another as a lesbian (65). Three of the named students are listed as fluid in gender.

Brezenoff’s book, Ryan and Blackburn contend, functions as queer in that the “ruptures” it creates resist normative modes of literacy. They follow a brief plot summary with the statement that the novel “queers gender . . . but it also queers sexuality, families and homes, and time” (66). The gender of two of the main characters cannot be ascertained, nor can their sexuality. The novel contrasts the heteronormative contexts from which these characters emerge with a context in which characters play changing roles as partners and caregivers; moreover, an unusual chronology defies attempts to impose “order and stability” (66).

In the introduction to the article, Brezenoff suggests that his work reacts to attempts to assign fixed gender and sexuality through stereotypical, sexist characteristics; the authors write that his refusal to gender the two characters “destabilized not only sexist practices and ideologies but also those grounded in cisnormativity” (59).

The authors recount classroom discussions in which students grappled with “seeing” versus “visualizing,” “understanding” versus “hypothesizing,” and “connecting” versus “empathizing.” Some students expressed frustration that Brezenoff’s handling of characters made it hard to “gaze directly at the characters and find them legible according to [their] normative definitions of gender and sexuality” (69). The authors contrast other students who used the textual ambiguity to “visualize alongside” the characters, as if “looking over [their] shoulders,” thereby adopting new perspectives (69). Ambiguity, one student suggests, invites more readers to identify with the characters because they can imagine different characteristics.

Similarly, some students wanted to understand definitive answers to questions raised by the text, such as the cause of a fire (71). The authors contrast this need with the willingness of other students to “hypothesize” alternatives in which concrete characteristics were seen as contextual and fluid rather than fixed in specific bodies (72). According to the authors, the need to reduce ruptures to “fixed, stable, and singular knowledge” cast ruptures as “problems” rather than as “expanded epistemological practices” that invited “different ideas through different pathways” (76).

The authors recount a single mention of race as a rupture students struggled to address. One of the more resistant students said that he could not deal with ambiguity in race along with his uncertainties about gender and sexuality (72-73). Other students explored various ways of finding empathy across what the authors see as “white homonormative interpretations” (73), but the bell rang and ended the discussion. In contrast, the authors argue that the book’s depiction of a character’s addiction encouraged students to visualize the addiction as only one part of the character’s situation, thus allowing them to empathize in ways a narrower portrayal would have curtailed (74-75). Schey and Blackburn contend that the ability of several students to connect with characters with addictions but not people of color reflects national attitudes that equate addiction with criminality in Black people but with illness in need of care in whites (76).

In the authors’ view, presenting students with texts that create ruptures in their normal reading processes imposes risks, but that such ruptures can become “opportunities” rather “obstacles,” means, they contend, that “reading with ruptures is a risk worth taking” (77).


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King, Carolyne M. Reading as Embodied Practice. Comp Studies, Spring 2019. Posted 09/16/2019.

King, Carolyne M. “The Reader in the Texbook: Embodied Materiality and Reading in the Writing Classroom.” Composition Studies 47.1 (2019): 95-115. Web. 09 Sept. 2019.

Carolyne M. King argues for increased attention to the material aspects of student interaction with texts as they read. In her view, helping students understand how their situated physicality shapes the reading experience will enhance their ability to create meaning (97). She contends that writing pedagogy, particularly as it addresses reading in a pair of widely used readers, takes only “limited” account of the material process of reading (96).

Examining references to reading in a range of textbooks, King notes that they encourage activities such as underlining and highlighting, as well as marginal annotation, but states that attention to the “bodily involvement” and “sensory aspects” of these behaviors is nonexistent (98). She maintains that the textbooks fall short, as well, in considering how different media affect students’ ability to follow standard advice about effective reading; even when new media are addressed, attention to these experiences “largely focuses on changing technologies, . . . subtly giv[ing] agency to literacy tools as they act upon the body” (98) rather than on how students’ meaning-making activities change.

King draws on research by Christina Haas, Kristie Fleckenstein, and Sondra Perl to ground the claim that context and physical involvement, such as Perl’s “felt sense,” affect how readers respond to and make use of texts (97). Disability studies extend this understanding by illustrating, in King’s view, how classroom practice often advances what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls a “normate,” defined in King’s words as “the physical manifestation of the collective, un-stigmatized characteristics of a culture” (101). Normates provide expectations about what students should be able to do with a text without regard for the differences in the lived experience of individual readers, for example projecting a textbook as “an object that all students can carry, hold, and read” (101). King finds textbooks a rich area for study of these expectations because they purport to “describe what students should do when reading” (101).

King develops her argument by analyzing two textbooks that focus on reading but are widely assigned in writing classes (102), Ways of Reading by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky (Ways) and The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty, by Mariolina Salvatore and Patricia Donahue (Elements). As sources of “authoritative instruction in how students should read,” these books, in King’s view, provide opportunities to investigate how they further a normate treatment of the material features of reading (99; emphasis original).

An illustration demonstrates that the two books provide closely spaced text with narrow margins and minimal white space (103). King argues that such formatting choices make assumptions about a reader’s ability to focus on small text and discourage interaction other than underlining and highlighting (103). The texts do not suggest anticipation of a reader who might need a magnifying glass, for example, and could not take in the page “holistically,” as this format invites (104). King suggests that variations in font, unlike the uniform features of these texts, might encourage student awareness of how such features affect their engagement with a text (104).

For King, the metaphors the books use to describe reading also pay inadequate attention to the embodied aspects of interaction with a text. Ways calls reading a “conversation,” but, King argues, does not envision how different bodies might understand or participate in conversation differently and thus respond differently to the metaphor (105). Elements offers a “transaction” as its metaphor, using the embodied language of “voice” but, King contends, focusing on thinking, stating that “reading involves . . . thinking the thoughts of another, inhabiting someone else’s mind” (qtd. in King 105). King writes that readers cannot inhabit the minds of others whose minds may have been shaped by different material experiences (106). Both texts, she argues, portray a sense that “the body can be transcended” and that thinking can exist outside of situated individual realities (106).

She critiques the books’ use of “a real—not hypothetical—student to exemplify their ideal reading process and outcome” (106). The student narrative in Ways “is intended to describe the embodied experience of the common student,” but in order to do so, the authors refrain from naming the student or providing any physical detail of the student’s appearance or of his activities as he enacts the ideal process (107). Similarly, Elements presents a successful student who is given a name but no other identifying details, such as age, race, or college status; according to King, the student’s actual successful strategies are not shared (108).

King draws on other critiques of these narratives to argue that the students in question are presented as having successfully modeled “teacher-sanctioned practices” (108) that they found accessible because “the material conditions of their prior existence most closely align with the classroom” (109). King argues that differently embodied students might interact with the two texts very differently than the “idealized” students in the narratives (107); their different responses, attributable to their different lived realities, risk falling outside the normate established by the texts.

Contending that for students, “the body houses their sociocultural identity,” King suggests principles and strategies for making students more aware of how they physically interact with texts. Encouraging “multiple ways of knowing” (110) and a range of modes and physical activities such as playing with visual elements and fonts (111), King writes, can raise students’ awareness of how different texts make them feel and act, and help them locate their own most effective strategies for reading (112).

When our textbooks privilege a version of reading that is not embodied and which does not emphasize the materiality of reading, our classrooms actively construct barriers for students whose embodied, material realities do not reflect an assumed norm. (112)