College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Sweeney, Meghan A. Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept. RTE, Aug. 2018. Posted 09/18/2018.

Sweeney, Meghan A. “Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept of Reading: An Examination of Student Learning in Biochemistry.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.1 (2018): 58-79. Print.

Meghan A. Sweeney presents a case study of a basic-writing student, “Bruce,” who grapples with a composition “threshold concept,” audience awareness. The study tracks Bruce across a three-course composition sequence in his first semester, then through his second-semester work in a research-based composition course as well as biochemistry and chemistry classes in support of his planned major, anesthesiology (64). Sweeney argues that Bruce moved from a “pre-liminal” through a “liminal” phase to end with a “post-liminal” relationship to the concept of audience awareness.

The composition sequence emphasized college reading, which Sweeney finds to be undertheorized in writing instruction (58). Sweeney explores scholarship in disciplinarity to suggest that the development of effective reading practices is important to students’ ability to move beyond the writing classroom and enter “communities of practice,” which P. Prior defines as “a continual process whereby newcomers and old-timers reproduce and produce themselves, their practices, and their communities” (59).

J. Lave and E. Wenger, studying these phenomena, see them “as a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation to other communities of practice” (qtd. in Sweeney 61). Lave and Wenger propose the category of “legitimate peripheral participation” to characterize how students begin their acculturation into such disciplinary sociocultural environments (61).

In studying Bruce’s progress as he approaches the community of practice he intends to enter, Sweeney also draws on the “academic literacies approach,” which emphasizes the ways in which entry into a community of practice involves changes in identity as students begin to see themselves as members of new groups (60). Among the challenges this shift entails are those of transferring practices and concepts from more general academic work to the specialized requirements of the new environment (60-61).

Sweeney’s study examines how such foundational concepts function as students carry them beyond composition. She discusses “threshold concepts” as those that are “potentially transformative” in that, once students grasp them, they begin to think in new ways characteristic of the community of practice in question (63). She gives “opportunity costs” as an example of such a concept in economics (63), advocating more attention to how students introduced to composition’s threshold concepts use these concepts as they transfer their learning into new communities (63).

At the large public research university in the western U.S. where the study was conducted, students deemed underprepared take a semester-long three-course integrated reading and writing combination including “a three-unit composition intensive,” a reading course, and an editing-for-style course (64) before moving on to a second-semester composition course. Sweeney characterizes Bruce, a first-generation Korean American student from a working-class background, as “highly motivated” (64). She quotes B. Flyvbjerg to argue that an atypical subject like Bruce may “reveal more information because they activate more actors and more basic mechanisms in the situation studied” (qtd. in Sweeney 64).

Sweeney observed both Bruce’s second-semester writing course and two sessions of his lecture-style chemistry class, taking notes on Bruce’s involvement and on the ways in which the professors presented the material relevant to their fields (65). Her data collection also included “four semi-structured” interviews in which Bruce provided insights into his reading practices and use of rhetorical concepts across the different classes (65).

Data from Bruce’s work in the first-semester composition combination leads Sweeney to argue that when he entered the sequence, he limited his reading response to summary, failing to engage with audience questions (66). She writes that as the semester progressed, he encountered discussions and readings about how writers differ depending on their situated practice and membership within a field. This exposure, Sweeney writes, triggered Bruce’s deepening attention to audience, and by the end, he

had begun to visualize other readers of his texts, to expect writers to influence others through rhetorical choices, and to expect audiences to keep an open mind while still maintaining an awareness of the choices made. (67-68)

The author describes Bruce’s progress to this point as a transition from “a pre-liminal space” in which the “troublesome” threshold concept of audience awareness posed challenges (67) to a “liminal” phase (68) in which a learner recursively “engages with [the] threshold concept but oscillates between old and emergent ideas” (62).

Sweeney contends that in his second semester, Bruce’s experiences in chemistry and biochemistry classes completed his movement into a “post-liminal” engagement with audience awareness in his new community of practice and with the identity formation involved in this engagement (68). Noting that Bruce learned quickly what information was important to the professor and adjusted his reading strategies accordingly, Sweeney records such moves as the professor’s references to “we” in lecturing, inviting students to see themselves as community members (69).

In biochemistry, Bruce worked with a lab mentor; Sweeney finds it crucial that Bruce recognized that he was not the audience for the technical papers he was asked to read. That realization pushed him to do independent research on Google and other less-advanced sources to develop his acculturation into “biochem jargon” (69).

Sweeney draws on Bruce’s final paper for the course as evidence of his post-liminal growth: she indicates that his exposure to audience awareness in his composition class meant that he “expected a critical reader” (71) and paid attention to the details that would demonstrate to the professor that he had been a strong participant in the class. At the same time, Sweeney notes, Bruce saw the details as “necessary for other scientists who might want to replicate his experiment” (72). Thus he was writing for “dual audiences” but with full awareness of his own standing as a peripheral participant (72). In Sweeney’s view, Bruce’s transformational relationship with audience was further evinced by his assertion that even experts did not read as doubters when encountering new information, and that therefore his strategy of reading new material for comprehension rather than as a critic was appropriate for his early work in science (70).

Sweeney’s study suggests that for students like Bruce who have been deemed underprepared, awareness of audience may drive them to accept this designation (74). She proposes that for Bruce, his struggles to enter the biochemistry community in the light of this designation may have been “generative” because they pushed him to assert agency by developing effective personal reading strategies (76). She argues that actively teaching audience awareness in early composition courses, in contrast to models that assume students will acquire disciplinary identities through “apprenticeship,” can give students a more productive understanding of how they can begin to relate to the communities of practice they hope to enter (75).


1 Comment

McWain, Katie. Instructors in Dual-Enrollment Programs. TETYC, May 2018. Posted 06/20/2018.

McWain, Katie. “Finding Freedom at the Composition Threshold: Learning from the Experiences of Dual Enrollment Teachers.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 45.4 (2018): 406-24. Print.

Katie McWain recounts a study of instructors of dual-enrollment courses. She interviews and collects documents from seven teachers, five writing program administrators or dual-enrollment coordinators, and one high-school administrator. These educators represented three “dual-enrollment partnerships” in demographically varied institutions and schools in the Midwest (409).

Documenting the increase in credit-bearing college courses taught in high schools by high school teachers, McWain notes ongoing critiques of the process from composition scholars but states that attention has been turning to how the instructors of these courses can be better supported as members of the composition community (408). She writes that the proliferation of these courses, especially in community colleges, makes dual-enrollment teachers “the first-contact professionals” who will introduce students to college writing (421), placing them in “a uniquely liminal institutional positionality” (408).

In this role, in McWain’s view, the teachers have the opportunity to make first-year composition “a transformative practice” (407). But she argues that the possibilities inherent in dual-enrollment programs depend on teachers’ overcoming significant challenges. Study of teachers’ actual negotiation of these challenges, she contends, is rare (408, 421), but understanding them and working to help teachers overcome them is “the responsibility” of the composition profession (421).

McWain attributes the growth of the dual-enrollment model to the pressure to graduate students more quickly and efficiently; since 2015, she notes, federal funding has been offered for the development of such courses (408). She traces the impact of this trend on the academic freedom of the high school teachers who instruct the majority of these classes (407).

Coding of interviews revealed four “challenges” faced by dual-enrollment instructors in the high schools (409). The first is that these instructors function within “discourse communities” and “activity systems” that differ from those experienced by college faculty (410). McWain distinguishes between the “community of literature” that surrounds high-school English curricula as opposed to a “community of composition” that college writing faculty inhabit (410). Her interviewees express frustration at attempting to provide college rigor without the support college faculty often receive. Further, one interviewee contends that her high-school colleagues “don’t see themselves as writers” and question their own expertise (“Rachel,” qtd. in McWain 411). Preparation may be taken up with “‘calibrating’ assessment strategies” rather than addressing pedagogy (411). Finally, the many entities for whom high school teachers work problematize the concept of academic freedom, as each employer competes to dictate the priorities teachers have to set (411).

Second, dual-enrollment instructors in the high schools struggle to meet college outcomes while still meeting rigid curricular requirements for the high schools where they teach. Such rigidity limits innovation and creative teaching practice. McWain gives an example of a student whose unique project on To Kill a Mockingbird received “all zeroes” as “[o]ff topic, not score-able” when tested against the required assessment paradigm (412-13). In contrast, some interviewees testified to the lack of a specific curriculum, but the freedom that may have followed from this dearth of guidance was undercut by the lack of a “professional teaching community” (412) with knowledge of college expectations and access to “the research and policies” generated by the composition profession (413-14). Teachers spoke of tweaking assignments designed to meet the high school standards rather than developing more rigorous ones that might be rejected (412).

The third challenges McWain explores involves the pressures dual-enrollment instructors face from other stakeholders, especially parents. She illustrates that the role of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is poorly defined in dual-credit environments (414-15). Her interviewees emphasize the demands of communicating with parents in a high-school setting, including “diplomatic emails” about problem areas and the expectation that parents should always be informed if a student is doing poorly (416). The failure to clearly reconcile these requirements with the responsibility given to students in a college course leaves instructors without “protection” should administrators and parents protest low grades (416). Academic freedom can also be challenged if parents object to the “mature and controversial subject matter” that may characterize college work (“Sally,” qtd. in McWain 415).

Finally, McWain argues that the labor conditions of dual-enrollment instructors both affect pedagogy and limit agency. Interviewees detail the amount of work involved in regular high-school teaching (416), while one participant created a spreadsheet to demonstrate that dual-enrollment teachers worked 117 more hours per semester than other teachers (420). These instructors are expected to plan college-level coursework with, in one case, “a 22-minute lunch” and “a 47-minute planning period” (“Kelly,” qtd. in McWain 417). “Sally” reports “being responsible for 124 students” (417). Moreover, teachers report that “assessment is prioritized over pedagogy,” forcing instructors to adjust their activities to meet grading demands (417).

Asked what they most needed, interviewees stressed “time” (419). McWain contends that all teachers, including those in post-secondary environments, face demands to teach more for less compensation, but she highlights the extra burden confronted by the overlay of dual-enrollment duties onto high-school exigencies (419).

McWain illustrates “innovative solutions” developed by teachers themselves, such as one instructor’s handling of parental objections to course content (419-20). Teachers and administrators alike envision more support, such as collaborative “teams” to help with professional development and course design and designated coordinators for dual-enrollment programs (420). McWain suggests possible gains in pushing for more membership in the certifying body, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, which has created standards in several areas. Despite criticism that the Alliance “is not a guarantee of curricular integrity,” McWain contends that the organization at least encourages awareness of important issues (420).

She also recommends that composition’s professional organizations and graduate programs recognize the increasing role played by dual-enrollment instructors and begin to incorporate coursework and policy positions that will encourage better conditions and improve practice for these faculty (421). Her own study, she writes, is “preliminary and general,” but she argues for the importance of learning about and supporting “this growing segment of our disciplinary population” (421).

 

 


Leave a comment

Vetter, Matthew A. Editing Wikipedia as Pedagogy for Cultural Critique. CE, May 2018. Posted 05/22/2018.

Vetter, Matthew A. “Teaching Wikipedia: Appalachian Rhetoric and the Encyclopedic Politics of Representation.” College English 80.5 (2018): 397-422. Print.

Matthew A. Vetter writes about a study in a junior-level rhetoric and writing course in which he used Wikipedia as a focus for the course and as a primary teaching tool (399). He argues that designing a curriculum in which students actively participate in Wikipedia editing can serve dual goals of meeting general education and composition learning outcomes while also introducing students to cultural critique (400).

The course, which took place in a university in a region of Ohio that is considered part of Appalachia, used depictions of Appalachia in media and in Wikipedia to introduce issues of cultural representation while also allowing students to gain from the particular affordances Wikipedia offers (399).

Vetter notes that while Wikipedia is often excoriated by college and university instructors, scholarship in composition has credited the project with important qualities useful for teaching writing (397, 402). Scholars claim that Wikipedia provides an “authentic” writing environment that engages students with real, potentially responsive audiences in the collaborative construction of knowledge (397). Students working in this environment can “deconstruct authority in public and ‘published’ texts” and can gain firsthand experience in the process of editing and revision (397).

Vetter recounts as well critiques that challenge Wikipedia’s claim to provide “universal access and representation” (398). He cites statistics indicating that the “editorship” is “overwhelmingly make and homogenous” (398). Further, the site marginalizes certain geographic and cultural locations and issues through lack of representation and often through representation from an “outsider perspective” (398).

For Vetter, this disparity in representation affects the ways Wikipedia addresses marginalized areas of Western culture, such as Appalachia. Involving students with Wikipedia’s depiction of Appalachia, in Vetter’s view, gives them access to the ways that representation functions through media and rhetoric and allows them to see their ability to intervene through writing as a potential force for change (399).

Vetter found that a significant minority of his students considered themselves connected to Appalachia (407); 17 students participated in the study (401). The course design allowed all students to engage both with the issue of representation of Appalachia in media and with the rhetorical nature and “cultural politics” of Wikipedia as a source of information (416), with implications for how rhetoric and writing construct realities.

Students began by examining depictions of Appalachia in mainstream media, moved on to group genre analysis of Wikipedia articles, and finally chose Wikipedia pieces on Appalachia to edit, drawing on their research as well as their personal experiences as residents of an Appalachian region (400). Students also wrote two in-class “process logs,” one asking them to reflect on what they had learned about rhetorical treatment of Appalachia and one calling for consideration of how their engagement with Wikipedia had changed as a result of the course (401). Coding of the process logs allowed Vetter to detect themes shared across many responses.

Vetter explores scholarship on teaching with Wikipedia within composition studies, finding an interest in the ways using Wikipedia as a site for writing can enable a shift from consumption to production (403). He argues that Wikipedia is an example of a “[c]ommunity-based pedagog[y]” that, by offering “exposure to multiple authorities and audiences,” contributes to students’ rhetorical knowledge (403). In Vetter’s view, scholarship has tended to focus on the contribution to general learning outcomes enabled by Wikipedia-based assignments; he contends that this focus “should be expanded” to exploit what the site can teach about the rhetorical nature of representation and about the processes that result in the marginalization of “cultures and identities” (404).

The first class project, examining representations of Appalachia in mainstream sources, asked students to examine Appalachia as a “social invention” created through writing (404). This “symbolic construction” (404) of the region, Vetter argues, shifts attention from the “material realities” experienced by inhabitants (405). Study of these material realities, Vetter contends, can lead to more nuanced awareness of the diversity of the region and to a greater appreciation of a range of literacies that characterize individuals (405-06). Vetter’s course and study transcend the “denaturalization” that scholarship begins by encouraging a “method of critical praxis that contributes to the reshaping of cultural narratives” as students not only study how stereotypes are created and persist but resist these stereotypes by actively editing Wikipedia’s Appalachia sites (406).

Analysis of the first process log revealed that students recognized the effects of problematic representation of Appalachia; 88% also noted “the social-epistemic functions of rhetoric and writing” (408, 409). Their study of media depictions of the region also emphasized for students how reliance on outsiders for representation erased the realities experienced by people closer to the region (411).

Vetter notes that developers in Wikipedia are aware that work remains to be done to improve the depiction of Appalachia. Wikiprojects, “dedicated task forces” that strive to improve Wikipedia, list “more than 40 articles in need of development or major reorganization” within Wikiproject Appalachia (412). Students were able to draw on these articles and on resources and support provided in the Wikiproject’s “talk” page to meet the course requirements (412-13). Vetter discusses the need to move beyond word counts in order to assess student work, because Wikipedia encourages concision and because students must collaborate with other editors to have their work included (413).

The second process log suggested that genre analysis and exposure to Wikipedia itself had given students better understanding and familiarity with the exigencies of working in the site. Some students wrote that professors in earlier classes who had imposed “outright bans” on the use of Wikipedia for research failed to understand how a critical understanding of the site could make it a productive research source (415-16). Vetter contends that a more nuanced understanding of Wikipedia and a well-structured curriculum using the site could allow academics to encourage the kinds of improvements they believe Wikipedia needs, including an increase in the diversity of contributors (416).

Three of the 17 students reported difficulty getting their edits accepted, reporting that experienced editors served as gatekeepers on “popular” topics while more marginalized topics were hard to research because of a lack of well-documented information. Vetter contends that Wikipedia’s insistence on “published and verifiable sources” will always tend to exclude the important insights that come from the direct experience of those familiar with a region or topic (419). While the “distributed model” of “Commons-Based Peer Production” in place at Wikipedia does allow many users to “come together to collaboratively and incrementally build a global knowledge source,” this model simultaneously “deemphasize[s] and devalue[s] the place of local knowledge production” (419).

In Vetter’s view, student engagement with Wikipedia can alert them to the ways that various types of representation can misinform while empowering them to recognize their own writing and rhetoric as interventions for change.

 


Leave a comment

Goldblatt, Eli. Expressivism as “Tacit Tradition.” CCC, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/15/2017.

Goldblatt, Eli. “Don’t Call It Expressivism: Legacies of a ‘Tacit Tradition’.” College Composition and Communication 68.3 (2017): 438-65. Print.

Eli Goldblatt explores what he considers the “subtle legacies” (442) of a “much maligned movement” in composition studies, expressivism (439). His locates his exigency in conversations about the value of a “literacy autobiography” he recently published. These discussions led him to believe that this form of writing did not meet his colleagues’ definition of respectable academic work (438-39).

For Goldblatt, expressivist tendencies may be rejected by theorists but persist in much recent work in the field, creating what Christopher Burnham and Rebecca Powell call a “tacit tradition” within the field (qtd. in Goldblatt 440). Goldblatt argues that recognizing the value and influence of expression will lead to a sense of writing that more fully integrates important aspects of what actually inspires writers.

Graduate students, he reports, often learn about expressivism via the scholarly debate between David Bartholomae and Peter Elbow in 1989 and 1991; such theoretical work cast personal expression as too grounded in the individual and “lacking in a political analysis of the composing situation in schools” (440).

Yet, Goldblatt observes, students often prefer “personal writing,” which they may consider “relatable” (439); his graduate students exhibit interest in the role of the personal in literacy activities in their own research (440). He posits, with Burnham and Powell, that the research from the 1970s by James Britton and his associates reveals “some sort of Ur-expressive drive [that] stands behind all writing” (440).

Goldblatt traces overt strands of expressivism through the work of such scholars as Sherrie Gradin and Wendy Bishop (440-41). He posits that some resistance to expressivism in composition may be traceable to concerns about the kind of research that would lead to tenure and promotion as the field began to define itself within departments heavily populated by literary critics (445). He notes “two stigmas” attached to expressivism: one is its centrality to high-school pedagogy; in its effort to establish itself as a respectable college-level endeavor, composition distanced itself from methods practiced in K-12 (446). Similarly, the field set itself apart from creative writing, in which, Goldplatt recounts, instruction in his experience emphasized “aesthetic achievement rather than self-actualization” (447).

Wendy Bishop, who characterized herself as “something-like-an-expressivist” (qtd. in Goldblatt 448), subsequently became CCCC chair. Goldblatt notes her defense of her pedagogy against the claim that expressivism

keep[s] students in a state of naiveté, [doesn’t] prepare them for the languages of  the academy, . . . and “emphasize[s] a type of self-actualization which the outside world would indict as sentimental and dangerous.” (Bishop, qtd. in Goldblatt 447-48; quoting from Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille Parkinson McCarthy)

Still, Goldblatt contends, her stance was “more admired than imitated” (448), doing little to recuperate expressivism within the field.

Despite his own commitment to poetry, Goldblatt acknowledges the importance of composition’s “social turn” and the power of the “social-epistemic rhetoric” promulgated by James Berlin and others. Still, he finds the rejection of expressivism problematic in recent movements in college writing such as the focus on transfer and the “writing about writing” program advocated by scholars like Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Goldblatt worries that too much emphasis on “school success and professional preparation” (441) undercuts “two  impulses” that he posits underlie the need to write: “the desire to speak out of your most intimate experiences and to connect with communities in need” (442).

Goldblatt examines “habits of mind” that he associates with expressivism in the recent work of four scholars who, he believes, would not explicitly call themselves expressivists (443). In Goldblatt’s view, Robert Yagelski’s Writing as a Way of Being “seems both anchored in and estranged from expressivism” (448). Yagelski’s focus on “the ‘writer writing’ rather than the ‘writer’s writing’” seems to Goldblatt a “phenomenological” approach to composing (448) that values the social impact of relationships at the same time it encourages individual self-actualization (448). Goldblatt compares Yagelski’s views to Ken Macrorie’s in his 1970 book Uptaught in that both reject “standardized instruction” in favor of “writing as a means to explore and enrich experience” (450), undoing a “false binary” between writing for the self and writing to engage with the world (448).

In Adam Banks’s Digital Griots, Goldblatt finds the personal entering through voice and style that both invoke the African-American tradition while “consciously modeling that social boundaries everywhere must be crossed” (451). Banks recounts “personal testimony” from young African Americans for whom individual storytelling establishes solidarity while creating connections with the past (452). Goldblatt notes that unlike early expressivists, Banks rejects the sense that “all expression is drawn from the same well” (453). Instead, he “remixes” many different individual voices to generate an implicit expressivism as “a deep and dialogic commitment to the individual within the swirl of events, movements, and economic pressures” (453-54).

Tiffany Rousculp’s Rhetoric of Respect recounts her creation and administration of the Community Writing Center at Salt Lake City Community College (454). Goldblatt finds Rousculp addressing tensions between progressive Freirean motives and her recognition that community members from a wide range of backgrounds would have personal reasons for writing that did not accord with the specific goals of the “sponsoring institution” (455). Although honoring these individual goals may seem antithetical to a social-epistemic approach, Goldblatt writes that the Center’s orientation remained deeply social because, in his view of Rousculp’s understanding, “individuals can only be seen within the web of their relationships to others” (456). Only when able to escape the constraints of the various institutions controliing their lives and select their own reasons for writing, Goldblatt posits, can individuals “exert agency” (456).

Sondra Perl’s On Austrian Soil depicts a teaching experience in which she worked with native Austrian writers to explore the legacy of the country’s Nazi past. Stating that he connects Perl not so much with early expressivism as with the origins of the process movement (458), Goldblatt notes her interest in the “personal, even bodily, experience of composing” (457). In his view, her experience in Austria, though painful in many ways, highlights the ways in which students’ emotional positioning, which can both inspire and limit their ability to write, must often become a teacher’s focus (458). Moreover, Goldblatt stresses, the learning both for individuals and the group arose from the shared emotions, as Perl connects what she called each student’s “wonderful uniqueness” (qtd. in Goldblatt 459) with “the socially oriented responsibility” of ethical behavior (459).

Goldblatt hopes for an understanding within composition of how a sophisticated approach to expressivism can infuse writing with the “intentionality, joy, seriousness, and intimacy available in the act of writing” (461). He worries that the writing-about-writing agenda “elevates the study of writing over the experience of writing,” an agenda perhaps appropriate for more advanced writing majors but complicit in what he sees as higher education’s current “hostility toward intellectual play and exploration” in the service of completely managed institutional priorities. He proposes that recognizing the power of expressivism can fuel compositionists’ hopes that students will embrace writing:

Without an urgency that is felt as personal, a writer will always be looking to the teacher, the boss, the arbiter for both permission to begin and approval to desist. (461)


1 Comment

Hall, H. Bernard. Hip-hop Based Education. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/10/2017.

Hall, H. Bernard. “Deeper than Rap: Expanding Conceptions of Hip-hop Culture and Pedagogy in the English Language Arts Classroom.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 341-50. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

H. Bernard Hall writes about the status of “hip-hop based education” (HHBE) (342) in English Language Arts classrooms. He advocates research in and teacher-education on the ways that HHBE can be effectively integrated into literacy education.

Hall presents conversations he has had at conferences and with colleagues about how best to include hip-hop in a curriculum, particularly one that is expected to accord with the Common Core State Standards (341-42). He reports that teachers seem interested in the potential of hip-hop as a means of “teach[ing] critical media literacy and foster[ing] critical consciousness, especially as they intersect around racial identity politics” (344). Some teachers need guidance in best practices for using hip-hop to engage students already involved in hip-hop culture when such a curriculum is explicitly prohibited by an administration (342).

Hall’s review of the past three decades of interest in hip-hop as a pedagogical intervention suggests that “teachers no longer need to be sold on why they should be using hip-hop in the classroom; they want to know how to use hip-hop in the classroom” (342; emphasis original).

Central to this concern is a question as to where hip-hop “[f]it[s] within the Common Core.” Hall answers, “It fits where you make space for it” (343; emphasis original). He argues that such efforts are aided by “the vagueness of the Common Core” and “the versatility of hip-hop texts” which allow “additive and transformative approaches” that can both exploit the strength of hip-hop as a pedagogical vehicle and meet the skills-based outcomes teachers must produce (343). Important to this process, Hall argues, is the power of hip-hop to undermine the Common Core’s “false binary of literary and informational texts” (343). In imparting knowledge through narrative, hip-hop becomes, in Hall’s view, “literary nonfiction” that moves beyond “just poetry” (343). Hip-hop’s aesthetic conveys argument and critique about important issues in students’ cultural experiences.

Noting that “[t]eacher effectiveness and student achievement . . . are located in why and how we teach more than in what we teach,” Hall asks teachers to articulate the “big idea driving [their] curricular intervention” (343-44; emphasis original). He gives examples of the ways such big ideas emerge from diverse applications of HHBE (344). To understand how hip-hop can best be used, he urges more ethnographic research into such applications “by real teachers in their specific contexts” (344).

Arguing that analyzing hip-hop as a text is not sufficient to release its potential as a source of “ideas, epistemologies, and dilemmas that can inform teaching and learning” (Petchauer, qtd. in Hall 345), Hall examines two aesthetic dimensions of the form. In its improvisational nature, freestyling is related blues and jazz; Hall contends that allowing students to move outside the restrictions of more conventional writing formats and use freestyling to “write without premeditation or fear of reprisal” (345) can provide new avenues for the prewriting and invention that lead to more successful academic work.

Similarly, ciphering, or an active participatory exchange that moves beyond “the mere arrangement of desks in a circle” to cast students as “feelers” and “righters” (346) can make use of hip-hop’s emphasis on the realities and environments in which Americans actually live (348). Hall gives examples of teachers who have accepted the call inherent in HHBE to become “cultural workers” in the manner of Henry Giroux (345-46). Effective methodologies for incorporating hip-hop can exploit the form’s focus on the lives of “black and brown students” and their relations to cultural oppression even through the study of traditional texts (346).

Hall takes issue with the position that only practitioners deemed sufficiently authentic can make use of HHBE. He writes that efforts to “’keep it [HHBE] real,’ in effect, stifle the potential of HHBE to interrupt the white privilege that dominates teacher education” (347). Development of HHBE must “work toward narrowing the chasm that exists between the black men who tend to dominate HHBE research and the white women interested in practicing HHBE” (346).

Moreover, Hall writes, scholarship on and practice of HHBE should be willing to determine, through “experimental studies,” in what ways incorporating hip-hop into ELA curricula helps students achieve outcomes like those promoted by the Common Core (347). He juxtaposes worries that working with the Common Core framework will necessarily constitute “sell[ing] out” with his admonition that scholars

must be careful not to essentialize the collectiveness of hip-hop understandings, experiences, and ways of knowing, nor to romanticize the agentive and/or reproductive aspects of hip-hop culture and pedagogy. (348)

He calls for “more models” that will underscore the role of hip-hop as a “microcosm of the nation’s challenges to manifest its rhetoric of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion” (348). Efforts to locate HHBE firmly in the mainstream of ELA education, he contends, are important because the exclusion of hip-hop from teachers’ options would palpably demonstrate that “black lives don’t matter” (348; emphasis original).


1 Comment

Webb-Sunderhaus, Sara. “Tellability” and Identity Performance. Sept. CE, 2016. Posted 09/18/2016.

Webb-Sunderhaus, Sara. “‘Keep the Appalachian, Drop the Redneck’: Tellable Student Narratives of Appalachian Identity.” College English 79.1 (2016): 11-33. Print.

Sara Webb-Sunderhaus explores the concept of “tellability” as a means of understanding how students in composition classes perform identities. She argues that these identities often emerge from the relationship between their individual experiences and public discourses validated by the audiences they are likely to encounter.

Webb-Sunderhaus’s specific focus is the construction of identity by people who designate themselves or are designated by others as “Appalachian.” Self-identifying as an “Urban Appalachian”—that is, as an individual who has moved out of a region considered part of Appalachia to a larger city (13, 31n5), Webb-Sunderhaus conducted an ethnographic study at two anonymous institutions in Appalachia (13). She examines the classroom activity, written work, and responses to interviews of six students in writing classes at these institutions in light of the students’ connection to Appalachia.

Webb-Sunderhaus presents contested definitions of Appalachia, including those of the Appalachian Regional Council and the Central Appalachian Network, both of which use geographical measures (14). In contrast, Webb-Sunderhaus cites Benedict Anderson’s definition of Appalachia as “an imagined community” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus14), and that of Appalachian Studies scholar Allen Batteau as “a literary and a political invention rather than a geographical discovery” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus14). Webb-Sunderhaus argues that efforts to define Appalachianness may miss the diversity of individuals who identify with the region; she stresses that this identity is “a cultural identity, rooted in the place of the Appalachian mountains, but not necessarily restricted to this place alone” (16).

Tellability, a concept used by scholars in social studies and folklore, involves the relationship between a particular narrative and widespread public discourses about a given phenomenon, in this case, Appalachianness (16). These public discourses determine which narratives accord with common assumptions and widely shared impressions of the phenomenon. A narrative that is tellable fits and reinforces the extant public narratives; accounts that resist these public narratives may not earn what Michael Kearns calls “the audience’s active validation” (16) and are therefore not tellable (16-17). Tellability, Webb-Sunderhaus maintains, is a function of audience. Writers and speakers are aware of the discourses their audiences expect based on the given rhetorical constraints; what is tellable in one context may be untellable in another (22).

This process of negotiating identities through astute choices of tellable narratives, Webb-Sunderhaus writes, accords with Judith Butler’s view of identity as “a performance that is repeated” by “a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already established” (Butler, qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 17). Tellable narratives provide what Debra Journet calls “tropes of authenticity” necessary to such re-enactment (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 21).

Webb-Sunderhaus interprets her study of how tellability influences students’ rhetorical decisions as they perform identities in a classroom setting as evidence that students exhibit considerable awareness of what kinds of narratives are tellable and that in a number of cases, these decisions were based on what the students assumed the instructor expected (29). In one case, a student “fabricated” details (23) to conform to what she saw as the teacher’s belief that affinity with nature is a feature of Appalachianness; in contrast, the reality of the student’s childhood did not meet this expectation and was therefore an untellable response to an essay assignment (23-24).

Drawing on Nedra Reynolds, Webb-Sunderhaus notes a distinction between “perceived” and “conceived” spaces as components of identity. A perceived space designates physical surroundings that can be apprehended through the senses, such as the landscape of Appalachia, while a conceived space is the way an environment is represented mentally, incorporating sociocultural components, attitudes, and values (20).

Students in Webb-Sunderhaus’s study, she writes, exhibited an understanding of this distinction, noting ways in which being born in or from Appalachia often contrasted with their relationship to Appalachia as individuals. One student acknowledged being physically linked to Appalachia but rejected even some of the “positive” stereotypes she felt were culturally associated with the region (25). Another specifically disconnected her Appalachian birthplace and subsequent experiences, arguing that tellable narratives of Appalachians as tied to place did not represent her own willingness to “explore the world” (“Gladys,” qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 26).

Webb-Sunderhaus sees in this type of resistance to common tellable narratives a form of what Ann K. Ferrell calls “stigma management” (28). Many tellable narratives of Appalachia focus on negatives like poverty, illiteracy, narrow-mindedness, and even criminality and incest (18). In Webb-Sunderhaus’s view, resistance to an Appalachian identity defined by such narratives can act as a distancing strategy when such narratives are invoked (28). At the same time, according to Webb-Sunderhaus, the student who rejected the “down-home” component of an Appalachian identity may have recognized that in the setting of a research study, her more cosmopolitan identity narrative would be tellable in a way that it might not be in other contexts (28).

Webb-Sunderhaus emphasizes the power of teachers in “inviting” and approving particular narratives (28). For example, she writes that by picking up on a student’s reluctant reference to moonshining in his family history and sharing a similar family history, she encouraged him to incorporate this component of the public discourse about Appalachia into his own identity (21). Similarly, the student who embellished her narrative was praised by the teacher for her “imagery and pastoralism” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 22); such responses, Webb-Sunderhaus contends, quoting Thomas Newkirk, reveal “the seductiveness of deeply rooted and deeply satisfying narratives that place us in familiar moral positions” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 24).

The power of this seductiveness, in Webb-Sunderhaus’s view, creates rhetorical pressure on students who are asked to perform identities in writing classrooms. While teachers hope that students will produce writing that authentically represents their views and experiences, the authenticity and “reliability” of a performance can easily be judged by its adherence to the common and therefore tellable public discourses in which the teacher may be immersed (28-29). Responding to Zan Meyer Gonçalves, Webb-Sunderhaus writes that the hope of making a classroom a place where students can “feel honest and safe” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 29) may overlook the degree to which students’ educational histories have led them to make strategic decisions (29) about how to “negotiate successfully [a] particular literacy event” (24).

In this view, the kinds of clichéd endorsements of popular discourses that teachers would like to see students overcome may be among the options the teachers are inadvertently inviting as they convey their own sense that some narratives are tellable in their classrooms while others are not (30).

 


1 Comment

Anson, Chris M. Expert Writers and Genre Transfer. CCC, June 2016. Posted 07/09/2016.

Anson, Chris M. “The Pop Warner Chronicles: A Case Study in Contextual Adaptation and the Transfer of Writing Ability.” College Composition and Communication 67.4 (2016): 518-49. Print.

Chris Anson presents a case study of an expert writer, “Martin,” attempting to “transfer” his extensive writing experience to the production of seventy-five-word “game summaries” for his son’s Pop Warner football team. The study leads Anson to argue that current theory on transfer does not fully account for Martin’s experiences working in a new genre and advocates for a “more nuanced understanding of existing ability, disposition, context, and genre in the deployment of knowledge for writing” (520).

Martin wrote the summaries to fulfill a participation requirement for families of Pop Warner players (522). He believed that the enormous amount of writing he did professionally and his deep understanding of such concepts as rhetorical strategies and composing processes made the game-summary assignment an appropriate choice (522). The summary deadline was the evening of the Sunday after each Saturday game; the pieces appeared in a local newspaper each Thursday (523).

Martin logged his writing activities during a twelve-week period, noting that he wrote multiple genres, both formal and informal, for his academic job (520). For the game summaries, he received verbal and emailed guidance from the team coordinator. This guidance allowed him to name the genre, define an audience (principally, team families), and recognize specific requirements, such as including as many players as possible each week and mentioning every player at least once, always in a positive light, during the season (523-24). Martin learned that the team coordinator would do a preliminary edit, then pass the summaries on to the newspaper editors (524).

Anson writes that Martin’s first challenge was to record the games through extensive notes on a legal pad, matching players against a team roster. When Martin sat down on the Sunday following the game to write his first summary, he was surprised to find himself “paralyzed” (526). The effort to be accurate while making the brief account “interesting and punchy” took much longer than Martin had anticipated (526-27). Moreover, it earned only derision from his two sons, primarily for its “total English professor speak”: long sentences and “big words” (528).

On advice from his wife, Martin tightened the draft, in his view “[taking] the life completely out of it” (528). When the summary appeared in the newspaper, it had been further shortened and edited, in ways that made no sense to Martin, for example, word substitutions that sometimes opted for “plain[er]” language but other times chose “fancier” diction (530). He notes that he was offered no part in these edits and received no feedback beyond seeing the final published version (529).

Martin experienced similar frustration throughout the season, struggling to intuit and master the conventions of the unfamiliar genre. His extensive strengths were “beside the point” (531); faced with this new context, a “highly successful writer” became “a ‘struggling’ or ‘less effective’ writer” (531-32).

Anson draws on Anne Beaufort’s model of discourse knowledge to analyze Martin’s struggles. He reports that Beaufort lists five “knowledge domains” that affect the ability to write in a particular context:

writing process knowledge, subject matter knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, and genre knowledge, all of which are enveloped and informed by knowledge of the discourse community. (532; italics original)

In his analysis of Martin’s situation, Anson contends that Martin possessed the kind of reflective awareness of both writing process knowledge and rhetorical knowledge that theoretically would allow him to succeed in the new context (533). He notes that some scholarship suggests that such knowledge developed over years of practice can actually impede transfer because familiar genres are in fact “overpracticed,” resulting in “discursive entrenchment,” for example when students cannot break free of a form like the five-paragraph theme (533). Anson argues, however, that because of his “meta-level awareness” of the new situation, Martin was able to make deliberate decisions about how to address the new exigencies (533-34).

Anson further maintains that, as a reasonably attentive sports fan, Martin possessed sufficient subject-matter knowledge to comprehend the broad genre of sports reporting into which the game summaries fell (534-35).

Anson finds genre knowledge and knowledge of the discourse community central to Martin’s challenge. Martin had to accommodate the “unique variation” on sports reporting that the summaries imposed with their focus on children’s activities and their attention to the specific expectations of the families and the team coordinator (535).

Moreover, Anson cites scholarship challenging the notion that any genre can be permanently “stabilized” by codified, uniformly enforced rules (536). On the contrary, this scholarship posits, genres are “ever changing sets of socially acceptable strategies that participants can use to improvise their responses to a particular situation” (Catherine E. Schryer, qtd. in Anson 536), thus underscoring Beaufort’s claim that the nature of the relevant discourse community “subsumes” all other aspects of transfer, including genre knowledge (536).

In Anson’s analysis, the discourse community within which Martin functioned was complex and problematic. Far from unifying around accepted norms, the community consisted of a number of “transient” groups of families and officials who produced unstable “traditions”; moreover, Anson posits that the newspaper editors’ priorities differed from those of the team coordinator and families (537).

The study leads Anson to propose that external factors will usually override the individual strengths writers bring to new tasks. He notes agreement among scholars that “[t]ransfer theories are always ‘negative’,” recognizing that transfer always requires “significant cognitive effort and some degree of training” (539). Anson argues that Martin’s experiences align with theories of “strong negative transfer,” which state that writers will always struggle to adjust to new tasks and contexts (539-40).

Anson urges scholarship on transfer to apply a “principle of uniqueness” that recognizes that each situation brings together a unique set of exigencies and abilities. While noting that Martin is “qualitatively different” from writers in composition classrooms (541), Anson contends that students face similar struggles when they are constantly routed across contexts where genre rules change radically, often because of the preferences of individual instructors (541-42). A foundational course alone, he states, cannot adequately nurture the flexibility students need to navigate these landscapes, nor is there adequate articulation and conceptual consensus across the different disciplines in which students must perform (541). Moreover, he claims, students seldom receive the kind of mentoring that will enable success even when they import strong skills.

In a twist at the conclusion of the article, Anson reveals that he is “Martin” (544). The existence of such a genre-resistant article itself, he suggests, illustrates that his full understanding of the discourse community engaged with a composition journal like College Composition and Communication provided him with “the confidence and authority” to “strategically deviate from the expectations of a genre” in which he was an expert (544). In contrast, in his role as “Martin,” interacting with the Pop Warner community, he lacked this confidence and authority and therefore felt unable “to bend the Pop Warner summary genre to fit his typical flexibility and creativity” (543-44). This sense of constraint, he suggests, drove his/Martin’s search for the “genre stability” (543) that would provide the guidance a writer new to a discourse community needs to succeed.

Thus the ability to mesh a writer’s own practices with the requirements of a genre, he argues, demands more than rhetorical, genre, subject-matter, and procedural knowledge; it demands an understanding of the specific, often unique, discourse community, knowledge which, as in the case of the Pop Warner community, may be unstable, contradictory, or difficult to obtain (539).