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Geiger II, T J. “Relational Labor” in Composition. CS, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/23/2015.

Geiger II, T J. “An Intimate Discipline? Writing Studies, Undergraduate Majors, and Relational Labor.” Composition Studies 43.2 (2015): 92-112. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

T J Geiger II examines undergraduate writing majors as sites in which “relational labor” forms a large part of faculty activities and shapes student perceptions. He considers the possibility that, despite the tendency to view dedicated writing majors as a step toward disciplinary status, the centrality of relational labor to writing instruction may undercut this status. Further, he addresses the concern that support for writing majors may devalue writing instruction itself (94). He focuses on “what the field learns” about these concerns when it listens to students in these programs (98).

Through surveys and interviews with undergraduate majors in “independent writing programs” at a “Private Research University” and a private “Liberal Arts College” (98), Geiger establishes “relational labor” as work done between faculty and undergraduate writing majors in which the personal connections formed contribute to the students’ representations of their learning. The students discussed and quoted consider their relationships with faculty crucial to their “personal development” (“Mark,” qtd. in Geiger 99), which Geiger characterizes in this student’s case “as synonymous with writing development” (99; emphasis original). He argues that faculty attentiveness to the affective components of writing instruction provides students with a sense of a caring audience interested not just in conveying the technical aspects of writing but also in fostering the growth of “unique” individuals through social encounters (102):

Interactions with faculty, part of the context for writing, encourage not only writing majors’ literacy acquisition, but also a sense of themselves as individuals who matter, which in turn can fuel their capacity to take rhetorical action. (99)

Geiger develops this picture of faculty engaged in relational labor against a range of scholarship that has expressed concern about “the ideological complex that figures the composition teacher as a maid/mother disciplinarian,” a characterization he attributes to Susan Miller’s 1991 critique (106). Similarly, he addresses Kelly Ritter’s critique of a “gendered ideology of ‘help'” that Ritter sees as potentially “counterproductive to the discipline of composition studies as a whole” (qtd. in Geiger 106).

Geiger detects justification for these concerns in students’ use of terms like “lovely,” “nice,” and “help” in describing their interactions with faculty (106). His question is whether accepting the role of empathetic helper or the centrality to writing instruction of affective responsiveness necessarily restricts the field’s focus to the “teaching of writing” rather than “teaching about writing” (96; emphasis original).

These concerns accord with those expressed in a larger debate about whether the field should “distance” itself from the constraints that some see as imposed by first-year writing courses, concerns that Geiger notes are themselves broached in affective terms of escape and freedom, indicating that attention to “feeling” permeates all levels of the field (96).

Among the specific concerns that Geiger explores are the ways in which intensive interpersonal investment in students and their work can intersect with professional exigencies. He notes the Modern Language Association’s 2006 report, “Still Standing;: The Associate Professor Survey,” which finds that women in the field report marginally less time spent on research and marginally more on teaching than men; these small differences seem to add up over time to a slower path to promotion for female faculty (107-08). In addition, he addresses the possibility that students who cast faculty as empathetic helpers downplay their role as experts with valuable knowledge to convey (106).

In Geiger’s view, the disciplinary promise of a focus on “teaching about writing” need not be at odds with a pedagogy that values developmental relationships between faculty and students (109). He cites student responses that express appreciation not just for the personal interaction but also for the access to professional expertise provided by faculty during the interactions: He quotes “Jeremiah,” for whom “faculty in the writing program understand themselves as not just research producers, but also as people working with their students” (qtd. in Geiger 102). Indeed, Geiger claims, “students recognize the need for informed care” (108; emphasis original). Such an understanding on the part of students, Geiger argues, demonstrates that investment in a writing major need not crowd out pedagogical value (102), while, conversely, focus on the teaching of writing through an ideology of “care” need not interfere with more intensive study of writing as disciplinary content (107).

Students interviewed do recognize the professional burdens with which faculty must contend and value the personal investment some faculty are still able to make in students’ individual projects and growth (104); Geiger advocates for ongoing consideration of how this ubiquitous and clearly valued kind of labor “is distributed within a program and a writing major” (108).

In addition, Geiger argues that developing as writers through close working relationships with faculty instills in students an understanding of writing as a rhetorical process:

situated, not context-free; social, not solely personal; collaborative, not entirely individual; and (though less often) explicitly politically implicated, not neutral. (108)

Building on the collection by Greg A. Giberson and Thomas A. Moriarty, Geiger urges composition professionals to attend not just to “what we are becoming” (108; emphasis original) but also to “who . . . writing majors (i.e., students) are becoming” (109; emphasis original). Attention to the students’ own perceptions, he contends, provides informative indications of these attainments (109).


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Tinberg, Howard. Transfer at Community Colleges. TETYC, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/16/2015.

Tinberg, Howard. “Reconsidering Transfer Knowledge at the Community College: Challenges and Opportunities.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.1 (2015): 7-31. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Howard Tinberg argues for the value of studying “transfer” from first-year writing (FYW) to future academic work and career, particularly at the community-college level. He acknowledges the impediments to fruitful study of this phenomenon while demonstrating what he learned through a “naturalistic” study of transfer at the community college where he teaches (10). Among his findings is the conclusion that community-college curricula may not provide students with opportunities to engage in the kind of complex writing, including metacognitive components, that will serve them well in more advanced college work and in the workplace.

Tinberg reviews scholarship on the function of FYW and on transfer, noting that the course is often assumed to provide “generalized writing skills” that will be useful in a variety of contexts (7). Skeptics referenced by Tinberg claim that it is impossible to assume that such a thing as transfer exists because the specificity of each writing experience requires learning completely new practices (9).

Tinberg argues that such skepticism, which dismisses the possibility of explicit instruction for transfer, must fall back on “‘[t]he Bo Peep’ theory of transfer: somehow, as if by magic, knowledge needed to address tasks will ‘come home’ to assist students” (9). In Tinberg’s view, such hopes are not realistic for the community-college population. Encouraging transfer is especially important as pressure mounts to increase retention and to demonstrate learning (10, 28).

Tinberg reports that studies have urged attention to “metacognition as a foundational step to transfer” for both students and faculty (9). He cites scholarship that urges composition specialists to see the FYW course as delivering “rhetorical dexterity” (Shannon Carter, qtd. in Tinberg 9) and “rhetorical adaptability” (Holly Hassel and Joanna Baird Giordano, qtd. in Tinberg 9).

In his study, Tinberg surveyed students at the college who had taken the required ENG 101 “at least a semester before the fall of 2014” and who had been at the college at least a year but not more than two years (12). Of the nearly 4000 students invited to take the survey, 110 completed it, with 80 responding to an open-ended question (12). Tinberg interviewed and solicited writing samples from five students with varied interests and majors; he also interviewed four faculty members, all full-time (16); sixty-six percent of the ENG 101 sections are taught by part-time instructors (12). Faculty areas of those interviewed were psychology, history, economics, and human services (10-11).

The surveys indicated that a large majority of students believed that they had benefited from FYW, that they wrote a lot in subsequent courses, that subsequent courses introduced “new knowledge about writing,” and that writing would be important in the workplace (12). Open-ended responses indicated that the gains students reported most often from their FYW experience were formalistic: citation formats, formats for genres, organization, and grammar and mechanics (16). Tinberg speculates that the lack of a well-developed vocabulary made it difficult for students to interpret or articulate the contributions of their FYW classes and the differing requirements of courses in the disciplines. He posits that “new knowledge about writing” may suggest simply “more writing” rather than specific attention to writing processes or practices (13-14).

Tinberg’s goal in the faculty interviews was to determine what teachers in the disciplines hoped students would bring from ENG 101 and “[w]hat new knowledge sets as expressed in their writing” they hoped to see in their own courses (17). He presents two assignments from the psychology instructor and one from the history instructor.

This component of the study suggests to Tinberg that teachers in the disciplines have an attenuated sense of the content and purpose of FYW, seeing it as primarily focusing on such skills as “proofreading” (17); one instructor, however, mentioned the ability to evaluate sources, while one with writing-center experience “touched upon rhetorical understanding as transferable from ENG 101” (17).

The assignments demonstrate to Tinberg that some, though not all, instructors in subsequent courses design pedagogies to impart concepts important to their fields. These assignments also suggest that critical reading is a central concern to these teachers and that some embed metacognitive awareness in their coursework (19-21). Although Tinberg’s coding of instructor values indicates that “expressive” writing is less privileged than critical reading and writing, “concern with form,” and “adaptability” across situations (20-21), he notes a focus in some assignments on linking coursework to students’ personal experiences, “emphasiz[ing}. . . students’ affective response to the reading . . . rather than deep, exploratory examination of disciplinary concepts and methods” (19).

Student interviews generally bore out Tinberg’s expectation that students would most often cite formalistic concerns in discussions of what they considered transferable knowledge; however, “the need to be analytical and critical readers” and the importance of “writing in different contexts other than ENG 101” also earned support. Students generally did not value the “expression of one’s own feelings” (22).

The article discusses two student interviews and writing samples in detail. In each, Tinberg detects both struggles with adequate vocabulary to describe learning from ENG 101 and how it intersects with later learning and evidence of analytical and rhetorical thinking. Without being able to name genres, “Ann” characterizes writing in English as related to students’ personal experiences and writing in other courses as more content-based (23). The student expresses a wish that her teachers would “push” her more (“Ann,” qtd. in Tinberg 23). Similarly, Tinberg posits from interview and writing samples that the other student, “Ash,” “might very well welcome the challenge of complex and specialized reading and writing tasks,” but “is not being given the opportunity” (27).

Arguing for the importance of such study, especially in the community-college environment, Tinberg reports that teachers and students value ENG 101 and that faculty value critical reading (27). But faculty ignorance about the content of the FYW course, “exacerbated by the increasing reliance on part-time faculty,” means that “bridging” between ENG 101 and other courses “is not explicitly and knowingly done” (28). Tinberg’s research points to a tendency of faculty in the disciplines to advance a “generalized” curriculum (26, 28) that subordinates discipline-specific concepts to efforts to efforts to engage students through personal, affective connections (26).

Tinberg urges support for writing-in-the-disciplines initiatives at community colleges, less focus on moving students rapidly through the curriculum, less reliance on part-time faculty, and broader “cross-disciplinary conversations about transfer knowledge” (28-29).


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Sealey-Morris, Gabriel. Rhetoric of Comics. CS, Spring 2015. Posted 06/04/15.

Sealey-Morris, Gabriel. “The Rhetoric of the Paneled Page: Comics and Composition Pedagogy.” Composition Studies 43.1 (2015): 31-50. Web. 28 May 2015.

Gabriel Sealey-Morris argues that comics can enrich college students’ rhetorical education, supplying opportunities for students to meet the outcomes called for by the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition and the NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies. In Sealey-Morris’s view, although the recognition of comics as a complex form of literary activity has been well noted in critical circles, rhetoric and composition has been slow to take up the benefits offered by using comics as a pedagogical tool in the writing classroom (32).

Sealey-Morris examines competing definitions and critical takes on comics by specialists and artists, exploring such issues as the relative priority of words and images (34). He presents comics as a vehicle for enhancing students’ rhetorical and critical abilities by arguing that they meet each of four WPA outcomes—rhetorical knowledge; critical thinking, reading, and writing; knowledge of conventions; and processes—as well as the call for more intensive attention to digital literacy and production in both documents.

Sealey-Morris presents comics as an enhancement to rhetorical knowledge by virtue of the medium’s demands for a “radically different kind of literacy” (33) in which the juxtaposition of words and images expands the interpretive possibilities as well as their complexity. He notes also the role that the medium often elicits from authors (36). He argues from sections of the NCTE position paper and from work by Scott McCloud that the separation of word from image required by conventional prose and represented as “maturation” elides the degree to which children naturally combine words and images to communicate. Sealey-Morris sees comics as operating on a rhetorical level that foregrounds more choices and possibilities than either words or images alone can permit snd re-opens the potential for a “rhetorical richness” that may be lost as children are weaned away from seeing images as equal components of expression (35). Sealey-Morris explores comics authors’ relationships to their own work as they create their “authorial ethos” in the process of interacting with varied audiences in different ways, often by depicting themselves as characters in their comics (36). Such recognition of the effects of a wider range of rhetorical choices than prose can allow as well as of the options for designing oneself as a visible component of a communicative act, Sealey-Morris argues, lend increased range and depth to the rhetorical knowledge college writing students are asked to acquire.

The interpretive complexities Sealey-Morris discusses also encourage critical thinking and reading, as well as critical attention to writing as students begin to produce their own comics. Critics present a range of views of how the relation between panels and their contents affects readers’ construction of narratives, their impressions of time, and their choices of reading strategies (37). Sealey-Morris argues that comics cannot be read “superficial[ly]” (38); they demand constant work as readers move between language and images within panels, additionally assessing the overall relationships established by the arrangement of different components on the page (37). Readers, moreover, must choose among a range of possible orders for encountering the text (37). For Sealey-Morris,

[i]mmersion in a comics page is more difficult than in prose, which is temporal and necessarily sequential, or in the presence of image only, which is static and visible within a self-created context. (38)

Such challenges to reading result in a “critical distance” in which conventional responses to reality become unavailable; at the same time, exposure to images of body language and gesture simulate “the work of interpreting real life” (38). For Sealey-Morris, these contributions to the activity of reading encourage students to develop a much more varied rhetorical and critical repertoire.

Comics, Sealey-Morris contends, can also help students develop knowledge of conventions. He presents examples from Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing, by writers Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander and artists Kevin and Zander Cannon to illustrate how a comics presentation can both lay out an academically sophisticated argument and teach an academic convention like citation (39-40). He further draws on examples of work by comics artists to argue that the intensive revision and recursive development of a comics page instills in students both an understanding of the importance of writing processes and an appreciation for the ways collaboration can increase rhetorical choices and effectiveness (41). Collaboration, in this view, is becoming more and more central as multimodal literacy assumes heightened importance in literacy education (42).

To argue for the effectiveness of comics as a means of enhancing students’ digital literacy, Sealey-Morris draws on Richard Lanham’s contention in The Economics of Attention that print “is marked by ‘fixity’ and ‘invisibility,’ as it delivers meaning without calling attention to itself as a medium” (45). In contrast, the image/word juxtaposition and tension unavoidable in comics demands awareness of the role of the medium in the communication process, thus alerting students to the complex pressures inherent in rapidly changing communicative technologies (45-46).

Sealey-Morris points out that the technical difficulties students might face in actually generating comics within classroom environments have been addressed by the recent distribution of a number of relatively simple, cheap, or even often free apps that can be used to create the necessary images (46). Such production is important for the college writing classroom, he argues, not just for its contribution to critical thinking and rhetorical knowledge, but also for the degree to which it can support student ownership of their work. Quoting Jared Gardner, Sealey-Morris sees words as easily available for passive consumption and thoughtless deployment in “an environment in which, for writers, the ‘choice of tools (pen, typewriter, laptop) have become irrelevant'” (48). Sealey-Morris again contrasts the effects of producing comics, an activity in which the multitude of complex elements and choices make rhetorical action a much more demanding and absorbing effort than, in his view, print generation has become, thus encouraging increased thoughtfulness and awareness of the effects of each choice (49).