College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Lauer and Brumberger. Workplace Writing as Multimodal Editing. CCC, June 2019. Posted 07/30/2019.

Lauer, Claire, and Eva Brumberger. “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace.” College Composition and Communication 70.4 (2019): 634-63. Print.

Claire Lauer and Eva Brumberger received a grant from the Conference on College Composition and Communication to study workplace writing. They recruited nine professional writers and shadowed them in the workplace for twelve hours each for a total of more than a hundred hours (642). The study included pre- and post-observation interviews that the authors believed not only allowed them a nuanced view of the writers’ work experiences but also afforded a glimpse into features of current workplace writing that the writers themselves may not have recognized (643).

Participants included content and media strategists, technical writers and editors, communications directors, and “UX” or user-experience analysts (642).

The authors describe the current state of professional workplace writing as characterized by ongoing, often rapid and unpredictable change (638). They cite past studies that found that the ability to collaborate with team members and experts, to innovate and adapt to evolving contexts and audiences, to use a range of developing technologies across platforms, and to produce multiple genres were widely valued by employers (638-39). While “writing” continued to be a much-sought-after capability, studies of job descriptions found that new positions such as “content developer” or “social media writer” increasingly appeared. Desirable traits included time management, critical thinking, and “detail orientation” (639).

The authors argue that traditional understandings not only of “writing” but also of “editing” no longer align with what students can expect to find in the workplace. The model of writing taught in classrooms, proceeding from invention of original material through drafting and revision, they contend, is “isolated and siloed” in comparison to what will actually be required (639, 647). Lauer and Brumberger find that in the current workplace, a writer’s job shifts from classical invention and production to finding the best use of information to further an employer’s goals within time and budget limitations (644).

To describe this shift, the authors argue that “editing” can on longer be considered a “review” process separate from writing and intended to improve clarity or correctness or to ensure quality (640-41). Rather, they claim that workplace writing now is “writing-as-multimodal-editing,” in which writers “work with myriad modes of content—often encountered in medias res after the content has been originated by coworkers or consultants” (637).

Multimodal editors are responsible for modifying, adapting, designing, editing, selecting and constructing content in ways that are dispersed, nonlinear, collaborative, and responsive. (637)

To show writers “Working with Existing Content,” they depict “Tom” “extract[ing]” multiple genres from a press release received overnight (645) and “Connie” working with a video provided by a client (646). Though the writers characterized their work as “writing,” the authors contend that “writing-as-editing” more accurately captured their activities (647).

The importance of “Specific Constraints” is depicted by the need to produce video segments with a demarcated time frame and to meet exact requirements for original words in “site content” in order to improve search-engine optimization (648-49). The authors illustrate “Versioned Communication” via Tom’s need to convert press releases and technical documents to forms accessible to “your regular person” and suitable for social media, as well as for audiences in the organization’s “internal education, sales, and management teams” (649-50).

The use of press releases also serves as a demonstration of the “Hybridization of Genre Conventions” (650). Lauer and Brumberger’s observations note how such conventions may be tweaked, as when a printed manual that has been converted to a tablet app for technicians is structured with chapters to more nearly fit what the users found familiar (651). The authors also contend that genre rules may be “ignored” if necessary to meet the required purpose in the given context (653). For example, Madison, a communications director for a small nonprofit, no longer issues conventional press releases because reporters resisted such extensive documents. Instead, she communicates in smaller chunks like emails and on the phone (651-52).

Moreover, when Madison writes press-release language, she now produces it with a more informal tone that can be reused as a blog post, saving herself time and effort (652). The authors write that Madison’s decision to downplay the traditional press release illustrates the ways in which “editing” often involves choices about what “not” to write before any material is produced at all (653; emphasis original).

Participants also perform “Analytic Optimization,” which the authors describe as micro-level analysis of user responses to seemingly minor decisions via analytical software (653). Conducting “A/B testing of a live website” using two versions of a single menu falls under Ryan’s job responsibilities, while Madison assesses the “various click-through rates of email campaigns and messages,” a task that requires her to stay up-to-date with Facebook algorithms (654). The authors note that these tasks must adhere to budgetary limitations so that the writers must prioritize strategically when choosing among the many small changes that may affect audience responses. They argue that “writers (not developers) have the rhetorical training” for these decisions and can highlight the value of their rhetorical skill in their workplaces (655).

Participants also undertook “Image Considerations,” for example, deciding about the rhetorical effects of using emojis and animations to convey tone, capture attention, and follow changing communication conventions even in official texts (655-57). The need for this rhetorical awareness, in the authors’ view, should encourage writing programs to introduce students to “the rhetoric of a range of modes” (657).

Among suggestions for preparing students for these tasks are methods of acquiring content for manipulation from businesses and organizations and the creation of “sprint assignments” that help students recognize the importance of working within time and length constraints (657-58). Assignments that focus on “repurpos[ing] content” for a variety of contexts, genres, and audiences can encourage an awareness of the rhetorical possibilities and decisions inherent in the original text (659). The authors contend that this focus on multimodal editing privileges revision in ways that more traditional composition instruction may not (658).

The authors write that students learn the rhetorical skills required by workplace writing in composition classrooms, but could also benefit from recognizing the value of multimodal editing skills they already practice on their own. They could be better encouraged to see their knowledge and learning as assets in future professional writing contexts (660).

We need to rethink our notions of authorship, reconsider our assumptions about the traditional writing/editing process, and modify the ways in which we prepare our students for this kind of professional work. (657)


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Lillge, Danielle. Conflicts in Professional Development for Writing Teachers. RTE, May 2019. Posted 07/02/2019.

Lillge, Danielle. “Uncovering Conflict: Why Teachers Struggle to Apply Professional Development Learning about the Teaching of Writing.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.4 (2019): 340-62. Print.

Danielle Lillge examines conflicts that can affect how teachers charged with teaching writing in the schools apply professional development. She notes that such teachers are often pressured to improve student performance while feeling that their training has not been adequate (340). Teachers often turn to “disciplinary literacy professional development” programs (PD) (340). Lillge reports on what she calls “telling cases” of two teachers’ experiences participating in and applying such PD (341).

Writing that PD programs for literacy professionals emphasize “integrating literacy modes (e.g., reading and writing) in cross-disciplinary instruction” (341), Lillge focuses on her subjects’ encounters with Reading Apprenticeship (RA), a program notable for its concerns with both reading and writing and for its provision of a research-sanctioned PD experience: RA is “sustained over time” with a focus on collaboration and a “cohesive unifying framework” (344). Her two subjects, Abigail and Heloise, are white English teachers in a midwestern urban high school that is 95% African American (343). Lillge is also white, and is a professional in literacy instruction and professional development, with “[v]arying degrees of participantness” in RA programs. She represents her positionality as both ethnographer and participant-observer, and as both insider and outsider (345).

Lillge finds Erving Goffman’s theory of “frames” useful in understanding how Abigail and Heloise negotiated their use of the RA program. A frame, Lillge writes, is

a cognitive structure that reflects the “subjective context” whereby people work with and in relation to one another to interpret interactions by answering the question “What is it that’s going on here?” (342)

Frames, she contends, are social rather than individual, created through interaction, and can be invoked “both explicitly and implicitly” (342). Her study is meant to elicit how “framework conflicts” that teachers may not even be aware of can facilitate or hinder the application of professional development (342).

Lillge’s main consideration is how assumptions about teachers’ self-identity and positionality built into the PD framework may fail to accord with the frameworks the teachers actually bring to the experience (341). She contrasts her two cases, arguing that differences in the degree to which the two teachers’ frames aligned with the frames presented by the RA sessions affected their ability to make full use of the experience.

Both teachers were “eager learners,” were “acutely aware” of the challenges in their teaching environments, and reached out for additional guidance in order to improve as teachers of writing (343-44).

Lillge attributes some of Abigail’s personal frameworks around writing to her participation in a National Writing Project program and her own time in a college continuing education class; both of these experiences led Abigail to hope she could take students beyond “formulaic” writing, which she had found personally frustrating (350). However, in Lillge’s view, Abigail’s framework made it difficult for her to see herself as a writer and to feel confident in her understanding of “what good writers do” (348). Abigail wanted specific guidance to help her achieve her teaching goals and felt that the integrative approach of the RA materials foregrounded reading and in fact barely addressed what she saw as writing (348).

Heloise, as a drama teacher and playwright, could draw on “sustained involvement in disciplinary discourse communities” (355) in order to make use of opportunities for experimentation and integration suggested by the RA approach. She was able to choose specific ideas and adjust them to fit her students’ needs, revising as needed through her understanding of the different kinds of writing possible within an English classroom (352). Lillge presents Heloise as already aligned with an “experiential learning” framework that allowed her to see the “unifying rationale” in RA that connected particular writing activities to a more interlocking approach to writing and learning (352).

In Lillge’s account, Abigail struggled to see how a specific activity, such as students annotating their own texts, supported this broader philosophy and therefore found the outcomes disappointing, whereas Heloise, informed by the larger framework, was able to critique and modify her own applications in light of the unifying rationale (353-54). Heloise’s literacy experiences allowed her to draw on “multiple frames” that addressed her role as a white teacher in a largely African American community as well as “interanimated” the RA frames (354).

Lillge questions what she sees as the assumption in many PD programs that “teachers merely need help transferring their own experiences as writers to their writing instruction” (355-56). In her view, the diversity of the frameworks teachers bring to PD requires facilitators to actively address the differences among these frameworks and make potential conflicts more visible (357). She also challenges the “myth of English as a single discipline and writing as serving a set of commonly agreed-upon purposes” (356). Integrative approaches like those of RA, she contends, risk “artificially unify[ing] English subfields and . . . conflat[ing] purposes for writing,” in the process working against teachers’ efforts to introduce students to a range of writing genres and situations (358).


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Shi, Matos, and Kuhn. Dialogue and Argument. JoWR, Spring 2019. Posted 06/15/2019.

Shi, Yuchen, Flora Matos, and Deanna Kuhn. “Dialog as a Bridge to Argumentative Writing.” Journal of Writing Research 11.1 (2019): 107-29. Web. 5 June 2019.

Yuchen Shi, Flora Matos, and Deanna Kuhn report on a study of a dialogic approach to argumentative writing conducted with sixth-graders at “an urban public middle school in an underserved neighborhood in a large Northeastern city in the United States” (113). The study replicates earlier research on the same curriculum, with added components to assess whether the intervention increased “meta-level understanding of the purpose and goals of evidence in argumentative writing” (112-13).

Noting that research has documented the degree to which students struggle with the cognitive demands of argumentative writing as opposed to narration (108), the authors report that while the value of discourse as a precursor to writing an argument has been recognized, much of the discourse studied has been at the “whole-classroom level” (108). In contrast, the authors’ intervention paired students so that they could talk “directly” with others who both shared and opposed their positions (108).

In the authors’ view, this process provided students with two elements that affect the success of written communication: “a clearly defined audience and a meaningful purpose” (108). They argue that this direct engagement with the topic and with an audience over a period of time improves on reading about a topic, which they feel students may do “disinterestedly” because they do not yet have a sense of what kind of evidence they may need (110). The authors’ dialogic intervention allows students to develop their own questions as they become aware of the arguments they will have to make (110).

Further, the authors maintain, the dialogic exchange linking individual students “removes the teacher” and makes the process student-centered (109).

Claiming that the ability to produce “evidence-based claims” is central to argument, the authors centered their study on the relation between claims and evidence in students’ discussions and in their subsequent writing (110). Their model, they write, allowed them to see a developmental sequence as students were first most likely to choose evidence that supported their own position, only later beginning to employ evidence that “weaken[s] the opposing claim” (111). Even more sophisticated approaches to evidence, which the authors label “weaker my” and “support other,” develop more slowly if at all (111-12).

Two class were chosen to participate, one as the experimental group (22 students) and one as a comparison group (27 students). The curriculum was implemented in “twice-weekly 40-minute class sessions” that continued in “four cycles” throughout the school year (114). Each cycle began a new topic; the four topics were selected from a list because students seemed equally divided in their views on those issues (114).

The authors divided their process into Pregame, Game, and Endgame sections. In the Pregame, students in small groups generated reasons in support of their position. In the Game, student pairs sharing a position dialogued electronically with “a different opposing pair at each session” (115). During this section, students generated their own “evidence questions” which the researchers answered by the next session; the pairs were given other evidence in Q&A format. The Endgame consisted of a debate, which was then scored and a winning side designated (115). Throughout, students constructed reflection pieces; electronic transcripts preserved the interactions (115).

At the end of each cycle, students wrote individual papers. The comparison group also wrote an essay on the fourth topic, whether students should go directly to college from high school or work for a year. For this essay, students in the both groups were provided with evidence only at the end of the cycle. This essay was used for the final assessment (116-17).

Other elements assessed included whether students could recall answers to 12 evidence questions, in order to determine if differences in the use of evidence in the two groups was a function of superior memory of the material (123). A second component was a fifth essay written by the experimental group on whether teens accused of serious crimes should be tried as adults or juveniles (118). The authors wanted to assess whether the understanding of claims and evidence cultivated during the curriculum informed writing on a topic that had not been addressed through the dialogic intervention (118).

For the assessment, the researchers considered “a claim together with any reason and/or evidence supporting it” as an “idea unit” (118). These units were subcategorized as “either evidence-based or non-evidence-based.” Analyzing only the claims that contained evidence, the researchers further distinguished between “functional” and “non-functional” evidence-based claims. Functional claims were those where there was a clear written link between the evidence and claim. Only the use of functional claims was assessed. (118).

Results indicated that while the number of idea units and evidence-based claims did not vary significantly across the groups, the experimental group was significantly more successful in including functional evidence-based claims (120). Also, the intervention encouraged significantly more use of “weaken-other” claims, which the writers characterize as “a more demanding skill commonly neglected by novice writers” (120). Students did not show progress in using “weaken-own” or “support-other” evidence (121).

With the intention of determining the intervention’s effects on students’ meta-level awareness about evidence in arguing, researchers discovered that the groups did not vary in the kinds of evidence they would like most to see, with both choosing “support-own.” However, the experimental group was much more likely to state that “weaken-other” evidence was the type “they would like to see second most” (122). The groups were similar in students’ ability to recall evidence, in the authors’ view indicating that superior recall in one group or the other did not explain the results (125).

Assessment of the essay on the unfamiliar topic was hampered by an even smaller sample size and the fact that the two groups wrote on different topics. The writers report that 54% of the experimental-group students made support-own or weaken-other claims, but that the number of such claims decreased to a frequency similar to that of the comparison group on the college/work topic (124).

The authors argue that increased use of more sophisticated weaken-other evidence points to higher meta-awareness of evidence as a component of argument, but that students could show more growth as measured by their ability to predict the kind of evidence they would need or use (125).

Noting the small sample size as a limitation, the authors suggest that both the dialogic exchange of their curriculum and the students’ “deep engagement” with topics contributed to the results they recorded. They suggest that “[a]rguing to learn” through dialogue and engagement can be an important pedagogical activity because of the discourse and cognitive skills these activities develop (126).


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Siha, Alfred. Using iPads and iPhones as Teaching Tools. TETYC, Mar. 2019. Posted 04/28/2019.

Siha, Alfred. “In the Palm of My Hand: The Efficacy of Mobile Devices in a Community College Developmental Writing Class.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.3 (2019): 192­-209. Print.

Alfred Siha conducted a qualitative study to determine how students reacted to instruction delivered through iPads and iPhones using iOS apps in their developmental writing classes.

Siha notes that despite some instructors’ concerns about the presence of phones and other electronic communication devices in classrooms, technology is becoming more and more common in learning environments, earning generally “positive” reviews in studies (193). Evidence indicates a number of benefits from incorporating technology, such as improvements in motivation, collaboration, and interaction as well as engagement beyond the classroom (194). Siha feels, however, that more research is needed into students’ actual responses to the use of such devices as teaching tools (195).

Siha recruited students from two semesters of face-to-face developmental writing at a community college. Twenty-three of the thirty-eight students enrolled consented to participate. Names of the participants were shielded from the researcher/instructor until after final grades were awarded (196). Participating students allowed their work to be used and were interviewed at the end of the semester (196).

The course was designed around the use of iPads and iPhones; students were notified of the need to have a device. Seventeen study participants already owned a suitable device, while six purchased one (196). Siha writes that the students were also required to open an Apple ID account (204). The textbook for the class, developed through the educational software in the apps, cost $1.99. Students were able to make their purchases through the college bookstore and to use financial aid (204).

The course was built around iTunes U, which Siha characterizes as a “public and private quasi learning management system, or LMS” (192). This platform allowed the instructor to create his own interactive textbook, notify students of new posts, link posts to chapters, and connect directly and immediately with students (200-01). In order to promote a more interactive student-centered experience, Siha assigned a companion “visual project” for each of the five major writing assignments (198). Siha notes that despite being “digital natives,” students did require some help using the new tools (199).

The study yielded many positive responses from the participants. The “simplicity and mobility” provided by the devices allowed students to work on class assignments in any location, even in the company of friends (199-200). Students found responding to notifications sent to their devices to be more helpful than having to check email for posts (200). Siha found that students appreciated being able to communicate more easily with the instructor; he cites one student who “claimed that this class was the first time he ha[d] ever communicated with a professor outside of class time” (201).

Siha advocates an “intentional pedagogy” to make best use of the features devices and apps like the iOS systems provide (201). Student responses indicate that students reacted well to a textbook written by the instructor and specifically paired with posts and assignments, so that components could be accessed with a touch (201). The students responded that they felt the instructor was ‘“talking directly to’ them” (qtd. in Siha 201); this kind of relationship, he maintains, “elicits self-confidence and allows them to feel invested and cared for in their educational experience” (201). Siha also posted sample student work from previous semesters. He writes that such pedagogical approaches are important in any writing classroom but argues that properly “leverag[ing] mobile devices” provides “complete and unfettered access to high-quality course content . . . at their fingertips” (202).

The author found that varying screen sizes did have a small effect on the ease of reading and writing, with some students planning to use different devices in future classes with similar design or working on desktop computers before posting work to their devices (202-03). Compared to iPhones, the iPads used in the course did require students to be near a safe Wi-Fi network in order to receive immediate notifications (203).

As a developmental writing class, the study course required students to pass with a C or higher to move on to credit-bearing college work. The 74% pass rate for the course compared favorably to the 70% institutional pass rate (203). Siha argues that in addition to pass rates, courses should be assessed on their contribution to student confidence and understanding of writing. He cites student responses indicating that students did find the course a positive influence as they considered moving forward in their college careers (203-04).

Siha notes both his own bias as a researcher and the small sample size of his study (204). However, he states that his sample was a “diverse participant group in age, gender, race, and ethnicity” (205).

Throughout, Siha emphasizes the importance of course design to ensure that “the technology is being implemented wisely into the class curriculum” (204). Instructors, he urges, should receive adequate training and should have administrative support (205). In his view, an “intentional pedagogy” using applications and devices like iPads and iPhones should aim to exploit the “potential technological advantages” in order to move beyond “merely replacing paper handouts with PDFs” (197).


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Lewis Ellison & Solomon. African American Families and the Digital Divide. RTE, Feb. 2019. Posted 04/04/2019.

Lewis Ellison, Tisha, and Marva Solomon. “Counter-Storytelling vs. Deficit Thinking around African American Children and Families, Digital Literacies, Race, and the Digital Divide.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.3 (2019): 223-44. Web. 25 Mar. 2019.

Tisha Lewis Ellison and Marva Solomon address mainstream narratives that depict African Americans’ relationship with digital resources through a deficit model. Lewis Ellison and Solomon argue that “counter-storytelling” as a research methodology reveals a more accurate picture of the ways African Americans interact with digital environments.

The authors define digital literacy as “multiple and interactive practices mediated by technological tools . . . which include reading, writing, language, and exchanging information in online environments” (223). They see the dissemination of this literacy as imbricated in racial identity, yet believe its impact is overlooked in scholarship on race (223). In their view, stories drawn from African American experience with computers and other technologies must be “honor[ed]” rather than marginalized if a full understanding of the role of digital experiences in this community is to be fully understood (224).

Lewis Ellison and Solomon quote Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic to define “counter-storytelling” as a kind of narrative that “aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority” (qtd. in Lewis Ellison and Solomon 224). Such stories, in the authors’ view, are an important methodological resource in the attempt to move beyond misconceptions about cultures (238). Such stories, in this approach, are more revealing than data collection about actual practices in their portrayal of the ways people interact with and see themselves in relation to digital literacy (225).

The literature review lists studies that explore the use of digital resources among African Americans and that counter prevailing assumptions about the existence and nature of a digital divide. In addition, scholarship has explored how listening to counter-stories has helped educators improve learning opportunities for minority students in school settings (226-27). Still, the authors maintain, there is a “shortage” of studies of African American counter-stories about the interactions of race and digital access (227).

The authors write that the concept of a “digital divide” imposes “strict binaries” along social, educational, and economic lines (227). Citing Pippa Norris, they break the divide into the “global divide” among rich and poor geographical areas; the “social divide” that delineates “the information the rich and poor receive within various nations or social groups”; and the “democratic divide,” which addresses the degree to which “access plays a major role in an individual’s agency and power” (227-28). Lewis Ellison and Solomon argue that most discussions around the digital divide locate African American users among the poor with limited access and depict users as White, thus furthering a misleading narrative about “what Internet access looks like, who has it, [and] who does not” (228), with the result that digital resources are often not directed toward communities of color. In fact, the authors contend, research shows that African Americans are making substantial gains in Internet use (228).

The authors’ current research derives from two studies. Lewis Ellison used survey, interview, and observational approaches along with analysis of digital story-telling practices for a qualitative case study of the use of computers in the home by five African American families. Her discussion centers on “Chant,” a professor in an urban university in the south, and Chant’s nine-year-old son “Rem” (229). She asked,

In what ways did the digital literacy and story-making practices of an African American family dyad (mother/son) display evidence of agency in the context of a family-focused digital storytelling activity? (231)

Solomon conducted a “naturalistic inquiry” with eight African American first-graders at the school where she had taught for fourteen years in order to learn “what would happen if first graders had the opportunity to use digital tools in their own storytelling” (231). This study also collected surveys, artifacts, observations, and transcripts. Seven of the eight families studied had home computers. Solomon focuses on two girls, “Penny” and “Jordan” (232).

Lewis Ellison’s study of Chant resulted in conversations in which Chant provided counter-stories challenging the view that African Americans were emblematic of a digital divide. As a professor, Chant spent much professional time using digital resources, and she and her son did so at home as well (229, 237). Chant emphasized the importance of being included as “part of the conversation” for minority communities (233). She revealed the effects of the deficit model in that the less-affluent community where she chose to live was seen by Internet service providers as not in need of advanced online options; as a result, her community was forced to pay higher prices for home service (234).

Solomon’s study of Penny revealed another effect of inaccurate assumptions about African American use of digital resources. Penny did not have access to a computer at home, a fact that drove assumptions about her online competence. However, the authors note that she had access through her extended family, and in fact, Penny proved very adept at telling stories with computers (235).

Jordan’s teacher characterized her as “very creative,” and stated that students had many opportunities to use digital resources creatively (236). The authors state, however, that these opportunities were school-based prompts that prevented Jordan from exercising agency (236). Once permitted to write on her own for the study, Jordan produced images that “announce[d] her status as multiracial in a bivariate family and world,” revealing sophistication that had gone unremarked in comments from the teacher 237).

The authors urge educators to invite counter-stories from students and also from families in order to understand more fully how African Americans interact with digital resources and to dispel oppressive assumptions based on the expectation that they will be constrained by a digital divide (238). Using Adam J. Banks’s model of digital access (233), the authors found that their study subjects exercised all five kinds of access Banks listed: material, experiential, critical, functional, and transformative (237-38).

Lewis Ellison and Solomon conclude that

to date, there are no known opportunities to cultivate discussions and strategies for learning between teachers and parents (and particularly parents of color) concerning digital and nondigital practices. (239)

Awareness of counter-stories as a research methodology, the authors state, can serve as a corrective to deficit models that adversely affect classroom practice.

 


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Moe, Peter Wayne. The Importance of Ordinary Sentences. Comp Studies, Fall 2018. Posted 03/21/2019.

Moe, Peter Wayne. “Inhabiting Ordinary Sentences.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 79-95. Web. 14 Mar. 2019.

Peter Wayne Moe investigates the rhetorical work of “ordinary sentences” like those in his “collection” from first-year writing students (81). He shares with Jennifor Sinor a definition of “ordinary writing as a text that is not literary, is not noticed, and one that should have been discarded but that instead somehow remains” (qtd. in Moe 92n4). Student writing, Moe contends, meets this definition (92).

Moe builds his argument around the concept of writing as an act of “inhabitation.” He notes that this concept is embedded in “elocution,” the Latin roots of which mean “out of” a “place” (80). Similarly, the Latin sources of “composition” are “to place” and “together” (81). He draws on a number of writers, including both scholars and fiction writers, to demonstrate that the possibility that a writer can “inhabit” his or her prose is widely accepted (79-81). In this view, “location” moves “beyond physical places to include the rhetorical situation, the ways language locates a writer in relation to other people, other ideas, other discourses” (81).

In this sense, Moe argues, ethos becomes a function of the nature of a writer’s location. He cites Kathleen Blake Yancey’s sense that who a writer is will be enabled and constrained by the people and circumstances around her, often in ways that are hard to recognize (80). Moreover, Moe evokes the participation of the reader, who also does the work of “locat[ing] the writer” based on interrelationships between a text and larger contexts that the writer may not control (82).

Moe cautions that his project of developing “a theory of the inhabited sentence” in this larger sense of “inhabitation” is not meant to provide models for imitation because the meaning of individual sentences emerges from the circumstances surrounding them, and therefore the work of any one sentence is “not reliably repeatable or transferrable from one piece of writing to another” (82). He also distinguishes his analysis from the moves of location via metatext highlighted by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein in They Say/I Say. In Moe’s approach, writers are seen to make communicative moves without “heavy-handed metatext” that can be “overbearing” or even “violent” (82). In contrast, Moe argues, sentences in his collection allow readers to construct connections in which they, along with the writers, inhabit meaning (82).

Finally, Moe argues for the value of studying ordinary sentences like those students produce, in contrast to the practice in many textbooks of “[p]lucking ideal sentences by masters,” a practice that Moe maintains delivers the message that ordinary writing, especially that by students, is not “real” writing (83). In addition, in Moe’s view, making extraordinary sentences the basis for writing instruction neglects the need for students and writers to see how their choices in “worker sentences” serve to establish their relationships with others and with issues (91). Students who struggle to note counterarguments or cite sources, he contends, are actually grappling with the problem of locating themselves in and alongside texts (91).

Moe’s collection addresses moves that he feels are both mundane, performed by all writers at some point, and yet important. As one example among eight, he contends that the choice of whether “I” or another writer discussed in the text is chosen as the subject of sentences can map a writer’s changing location with regard to that other writer (84). In another example, he argues that a parenthetical aside “allows the student to speak back to herself, to question what she’s already said” (87). In yet another case, he shows how removing the locative adverbial components leaves a sentence “decontextualized, devoid of urgency, devoid of relevance, devoid of exigency” (88).

For Moe, acknowledging the “rhetorical density of ordinary sentences,” especially through the lens of inhabitation, underscores the degree to which any sentence occupies space, “among other sentences, other clauses, other phrases” (91). This understanding, he argues, is “more important than being able to identify President Lincoln’s use of epistrophe in ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’” (92). Helping students see how their easily overlooked choices locate them among others, in this view, should be the primary academic task (91).


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Daniel, James Rushing. Student Debt and Composition Classes. CCC, Dec. 2018. Posted 01/30/2019.

Daniel, James Rushing. “‘A Debt Is Just the Perversion of a Promise’: Composition and the Student Loan.” College Composition and Communication 70.2 (2018): 195-221. Print.

James Rushing Daniel addresses “debt” as a pervasive force in current culture and in the lives of students in writing classes. He argues that a course based in the study of debt’s history and effects is a useful and pedagogically appropriate composition option.

Daniel presents statistics illustrating the increasing financial pressure associated with a college education, in particular the influence of the student-loan industry. For example, in the early 1990s, 51% of students graduated with debt averaging $10,200, while in 2012, 71% owed loans averaging $29,400. Time to repayment has risen from 10 years to 19.7 years (196).

In Daniel’s view, this phenomenon is part of a larger component of the neoliberal “fast capitalist economy” discussed by Tony Scott in Dangerous Writing: Understanding the Political Economy of Composition (199). Daniel writes that debt, in such theories, is “an ideological apparatus with significant bearing on the agency of subjects in contemporary global society” (197). As such, it drives choices of educational environment and direction, career, and life events such as marriage or home-owning (197, 215). Debt also carries moral weight that further reduces citizens’ abilities to resist the pressures of neoliberal culture (201). Moreover, it forces students to view education “increasingly . . . through an economic framework” (198). Daniel sees debt as a ubiquitous and pervasive element students will face in college and beyond.

To Daniel, composition scholars and the academy in general have failed to properly attend to debt as a component of students’ lives (215). He cites robust efforts to retain students that ignore these students’ financial burdens and thus actually exacerbate the conditions that drive many students to leave college without completing their degrees (201). While, for Daniel, scholars like Marc Bousquet, Chase Bollig, and Pegeen Reichert Powell address debt as a factor in the political economy of writing classrooms, with some exceptions such theorists tend to “gloss its enduring effects while overstating composition’s capacity to prepare students to navigate it” (201). He quotes Bollig, for example, as arguing that a critically active writing class can help students “resist and thrive” in the face of capitalist exigencies (qtd. in Daniel 201).

The author cites scholars from varied fields, such as anthropology, sociology, and philosophy as well as literary studies to enlarge his discussion of debt. Among insights gleaned from those fields is a critique of “debt’s most disempowering aspect,” which is “its narrative of impermanence” (204). Accepting that most people will be “in debt forever,” in this reading, means disabling the illusion that any debt is a “temporary financial transaction” on the path toward an affluent, entrepreneurial future, replacing it with a more accurate awareness of the function of debt in fast capitalism (205).

Daniel asks compositionists to recognize how writing programs are “necessarily entwined with the problem of student debt” and to consider the costs that students ultimately pay to join a college writing class (202). He presents his own intervention, a course designed to introduce students to the ways debt functions in neoliberal society. He contends that this course stops short of promising to free students from debt’s powerful influence. Rather, he hopes that by bringing the issue of debt to the foreground, the course can provide students with a deeper awareness that may lead to more informed choices and one day inspire them to “strive for financial justice in public contexts” in whatever ways they feel are open to them (203).

Suggesting the first-year students will need more scaffolding than students taking the course in later semesters (206), Daniel responds to several potential critiques of his course plan. To the concern that the topic may be too narrow, Daniel responds that because of its influence in all aspects of current life, the topic of debt speaks to the field’s goal of making coursework meaningful to all students (207). While Daniel notes that some students may find the topic irrelevant if they haven’t borrowed to attend college, or if they have already made debt commitments they can’t change, he points out that many may need to borrow later and will benefit from the broader awareness that can inform future decisions (207-08). Some students, he argues, may be reluctant to share personal information, but this resistance can be addressed with work on personal writing as part of a composition curriculum (207).

He responds as well to concerns that a focus on a single topic may not teach the more general competences that have been defined as the field’s obligation to students (213). Drawing on the scholarship of Patricia Bizzell and others, Daniel argues that “taking up social issues and viewing them rhetorically” aligns with compositionists’ goal of creating writers who are critically aware of the power of writing as social action and able to engage in public discourse effectively (213-14).

The course Daniel introduces begins with an introduction to basic economic concepts, then moves to personal writing that encourages students to situate themselves in the matrix of capitalist economics by sharing their experiences of the financial system (208-10). A third unit may involve rhetorical analysis of financial documents and advertisements so that students can assess how debt is presented as impermanent and empowering when it may be a more complex factor in students’ lives (211-12). As a final focus, the course examines possible ways of negotiating or resisting common narratives about and normalized interactions with debt to present “models and opportunities for activism that could be emulated if students so desired” (213). He provides readings, assignments, and examples of student work.

In Daniel’s view, it may not be possible for students to “resist” and “thrive” simultaneously (214). He reiterates that writing professionals should temper their expectations that critical awareness can free students from capitalist exigencies. He encourages the “short term” goal of “present[ing] students with more agentive modes of thinking and acting in the context of neoliberalism while being clear that there are no panacea” (214). To this end, he urges writing studies to respond to his claim that the field “has largely failed to acknowledge debt’s vast material and ideological function” (215).

In particular, he notes, future research should address how debt as a necessary adjunct to education affects how students understand and value the writing they find themselves viewing “through a financial lens” (216). By correcting its neglect, he claims, the field can address the degree to which debt as a permanent reality in capitalist culture has endangered “the fundamental connection between education and democracy” (215).