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Witte, Alison. CMSs as Genres. C&C, Sept. 2018. Posted 11/20/2018.

Witte, Alison. “‘Why Won’t Moodle. . . ?’: Using Genre Studies to Understand Students’ Approaches to Interacting with User Interfaces.” Computers and Composition 49 (2018): 48-60. Web. 9 Nov. 2018.

Alison Witte addresses the difficulties her first-year students faced when they encountered the Course Management System (CMS) in use at her institution. She surveyed students in first-year courses over six semesters to discover the factors that may have caused these problems (50). Witte found that examining the CMS interface as a genre provided insights into how students interacted with the program.

The author notes that the use of a CMS has “become a normalized part of many educational institutions’ landscapes” (48). The program’s power to shape interactions between students, instructors, and the institution, she writes, can generate “tensions” (48). She describes Moodle, the CMS in place for her university, comparing its “static” features with the more interactive and responsive features of social media sites; she notes in particular the “teacher-driven design” that permits the instructor to determine what sections to create and to provide the content (49). Witte quotes a faculty mentor who supports the university’s commitment to Moodle because the students are familiar with it from high school and “like it,” even though, according to Witte, there is only “anecdotal” evidence behind this claim (49).

In Witte’s view, if students are indeed comfortable in electronic environments, they should not exhibit the level of difficulty she observes (49). Her survey investigates which kinds of interfaces students have experienced and how these experiences might influence their reactions to Moodle (50).

Drawing on genre theory, Witte proposes, highlights the ways an interface cues users to control what behaviors and actions are acceptable, requiring users to determine the “appropriate response” in the rhetorical situation established by the interface (52). Citing Carolyn Miller, Witte considers genre “a way of understanding how a text responds to a particular recurring situation” (50). Just as Microsoft Word’s presentation of a blank page cues an essaylike response rather than a social-media post, the CMS signals certain kinds of “typified” actions (51).

Arguing that writing studies has not explored electronic interfaces through this theoretical lens, Witte contends that interfaces have generally been seen as tools to produce other things rather than as “text[s] with both expectations and formal conventions” of their own (50). Instructors, she proposes, are like other users of electronic environments in that their use of these familiar programs becomes “unconscious or invisible” because they are so accustomed to the process (51). Her study foregrounds the need for teachers to be more alert to the ways that their use of a CMS acts as a genre students must interpret and positions them in certain ways in the classroom environment (50). Teachers’ understanding of this interaction, she maintains, can help students use a CMS more effectively.

Witte notes two common models of CMS use. In many cases, the system attempts to “replicate” a classroom environment, allowing students to complete familiar academic tasks such as taking quizzes and completing assignments. A second model treats the CMS as a “repository” where students go to procure whatever they need for the class. These models share a “top-down” quality in that the teacher decides on the categories and sections and provides the material (52-53). The models limit students to responding in ways determined by the instructor and indicated by the conventions incorporated into the interface (53).

For Witte, a “guiding assumption” in the study was “that people learn unfamiliar genres by determining how they are like and unlike genres they know and by observing how the unfamiliar genre is used in context” (50). Hence, her survey asks the 68 participating students which interfaces they normally interact with (54). It also asks multiple-choice and open-ended questions about students’ experiences with Moodle, including ease of use and kinds of use across classes. Finally, students were asked what they liked about the CMS and what improvements they might suggest (54).

The majority of the participants were in their first college semesters. Witte proposes that while these students might be among the most likely to report problems with the CMS, surveying this particular population yielded good information on how best to help students navigate their early exposure to such platforms (54).

Data revealed that students used a variety of social media, Word tools for producing documents, and “Miscellaneous Web-based Interfaces” like iTunes, E-bay, or YouTube (54). They most commonly relied on the CMS to “complete course work and to find the information necessary” to do so (55). All of the students used Moodle in some of their classes. Grounded-theory coding of the open-ended responses produced four categories of “likes” that focused on availability of materials and information and ease of completing tasks. Students’ suggestions for improvement addressed usability issues, “Mobile Device Compatibility,” and inconsistency in the ways teachers used the CMS (54).

Analysis of her data suggests to Witte that students receive conflicting genre cues about the function of the CMS, sometimes assuming it is more like social media sites than it is in practice and in fact asking for more interactivity with their mobile devices and other media choices (56). They may see certain cues as inviting informal, interactive responses while other require a more “school/professional response” in which they become “passive consumer[s] of information” (56). In Witte’s view, instructors do not always articulate clearly exactly what role the CMS should play in their individual courses; moreover, students may approach the CMS with a different idea about its purposes than the instructor intends (57).

Seeing a CMS as a genre, Witte contends, helps instructors think about their use of the program in terms of audience, redirecting the focus from “its technological affordances to what it does or how it is used in particular context for particular people” (57). She urges instructors to plan CMS structure in accordance with course design, for example, arranging a course built around weekly schedules by weeks and courses meant to provide materials without regard to due date by topic. The survey reveals that students may need specific direction about the type of response indicated by CMS features, like text boxes or discussion forums (57). Instructors are urged to clarify their own purposes and expectations for how students use the resource and to communicate these explicitly (57-58).

Witte also argues that casting a CMS as a genre provides an opportunity to introduce students to genre theory and to understand through a concrete example how audience and purpose relate to the conventions of a particular form. In this view, students can explore how to use their exposure to other genres to situate new genres like a CMS in their contexts when they encounter them (58); they may then carry the experience of navigating a CMS into their interactions with other texts they may be called on to respond to or produce.


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Cunningham, Jennifer. African American Digital Language. C&C, June 2018. Posted 06/07/2018.

Cunningham, Jennifer M. ‘“wuz good wit u bro’: Patterns of Digital African American Language Use in Two Modes of Communication.” Computers and Composition 48 (2018): 67-84. Web. 30 May 2018.

Jennifer M. Cunningham reports a study of three male African American college students living in Ohio as they communicated with each other via text messages (73). Cunningham analyzed the messages for features of digital language (DL), African American language (AAL), and digital African American language (DAAL). She compared the results with those from a 2014 study of 100 comments posted by 19 African American college students on My Space (72). Her goal was to determine whether the features of the three language classes remained consistent across the different purposes, audiences, and platforms. In her view, consistency across these different contexts indicate the degree to which a form of language use is a stable, rule-governed literacy (72).

The author contends that efforts within writing pedagogy to build on languages with which students are familiar and in which they are already accomplished in order to build a bridge to Standard American English can benefit from learning more about how people communicate outside of the classroom (82). Cunningham reports research showing that text messaging is a favored form of communication among both adolescents and college students (68). She argues that studies of digital communication provide a view of how literacies are used for “authentic communicative purposes in . . . non-academic spaces” (67), and, as such, offer important lessons for writing pedagogy.

Cunningham reviews work by scholars who have examined and classified features of DL and AAL language groups. However, her previous study of DAAL is unique in that, except for her work, “there are no existing theoretical frameworks or coding categories that specifically address AAL as it is used to communicate in a digital environment” (73). As a result, for coding, she drew on tables she developed for her 2014 My Space study (73-74).

The author notes that in some views, digital language is considered a substandard form of communication with deleterious impacts on the literacy of users (68, 70). Scholars, however, have argued that the ability to exploit “textisms” like “initialisms” (e.g., “lol”), “letter/number homophones” (e.g., “b4”), and various forms of “shortenings” or “deletions” indicates a larger language-use repertoire rather than a deficit (68). Research suggests that fluidity in the “code-meshing” (69) involved in DL correlates with better reading skills (68, 82).

Cunningham writes that, similarly, African American Language has been labeled “an inferior form of communication that can negatively affect literacy” (69). Scholarship has recognized AAL as a “rule-governed language and literacy” with West-African roots and an English vocabulary (69). Cunningham discusses use patterns in AAL that demonstrate the affinity of AAL with West-African grammar and phonology, including “zero copula,” which occurs because in these language families there is “no form or conjugates of ‘to be’” and the conversion of “th” sounds, which do not occur in the African phonologies, to various alternatives such “d” sounds (71).

She explains her coding process for analysis of 380 messages consisting of 3136 words (73-74). “Open coding” classified the 3136 “instances” into “one of eight DL subcategories, one of six AAL phonological subcategories, and/or one of eight AAL grammatical subcategories” (73). In both the text messages and the social-network posts, Standard American English (SAE) accounted for most of the instances, (54.9% and 59.1%, respectively), but “SAE was not further coded” in the study (73).

In each subcategory, Cunningham reports substantial consistency between the text messages and the My Space posts. She notes some areas of difference. For example, in the subcategory DL, punctuation tended to be missing in the text messages but “excessive” in the social media posts (e.g., !!!) (75).

Some differences could be attributed to specific word choices by participants. In the AAL phonological subcategories, the two sets of texts differed considerably in the feature Cunningham designates as “Syllables”: “Unstressed syllables may be omitted and two pronounced words in AE may become one construction in AAL” (76). The more prominent occurrence of this feature in the text messages may have resulted from the three men’s regular use of “ight” to mean “all right” (76). Similarly, the verbal choices of “specific interlocutors” accounted for a disparity in the use of “Replacement th” in which the “th” sound is replaced with “d”; “several participants” in the social-media posts tended to use a particular example of this construction (76-77).

The author analyzes the degree to which the features she examined affected “functionality” (78). DAAL appeared designed to “creat[e] concise words, phrases, and sentences that are noticeably different from SAE while also approximating spoken AAL” (78). Writing that AAL is already “a more concise language” (78) and “a pragmatic language” (81), Cunningham contends that DL as used by African American speakers reflects these tendencies.

The author examines scholarship that contends that DL itself is “a hybrid between speech and writing,” creating “a new linguistic system” (69). Cunningham contends that the combination of DL and AAL creates a literacy, DAAL, that employs representations that differ from Standard American English both visually and by “approximating spoken AAL” (78). She found that the features of AAL that were incorporated into DAAL were more consistent across the two corpora than were the DL constructions, suggesting that DL is evolving as it is used in different contexts while “AAL is a more established and less fluctuating form of communication” (80).

In her view, her results reveal DAAL to be a hybrid practice with features that are consistent across contexts and therefore can be identified as a literacy in which users “follow innate and learned linguistic and paralinguistic rules to compose consistent and somewhat predictable written messages” (81). She argues that as an example of enhanced “heteroglossia” and as a way for students to “combine, alter, and mesh” both academic and non-academic language forms in response to differing contexts (81), DL and DAAL should be valued not only as stable, rule-governed linguistic practices but as contributors to “rhetorical awareness and writing ability” (82).

 


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Kolln and Hancock. Histories of U. S. Grammar Instruction. English Teaching: Practice and Critique (NZ), 2005. Posted 04/22/2018.

Kolln, Martha, and Craig Hancock. “The Story of English Grammar in United States Schools.” English Teaching: Practice and Critique 4.3 (2005): 11-31. Web. 4 Mar. 2018.

Martha Kolln and Craig Hancock, publishing in English Teaching: Practice and Critique in 2005, respond in parallel essays to what they consider the devaluation of grammar teaching in United States schools and universities. English Teaching: Practice and Critique is a publication of Waikato University in New Zealand. The two essays trace historical developments in attitudes toward grammar education in U. S. English language curricula.

Kolln’s essay reports on a long history of uncertainty about teaching grammar in United States classrooms. Noting that confusion about the distinction between “grammar” and “usage” pervaded discussions since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Kolln cities studies from 1906 and 1913 to illustrate the prevalence of doubts that the time needed to teach grammar was justified in light of the many other demands upon public-school educators (13).

Citing Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer’s 1963 Research in Written Composition to note that “early research in composition and grammar was not highly developed” (13), Kolln argues that the early studies were flawed (14). A later effort to address grammar teaching, An Experience Curriculum in English, was advanced by a 1936 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) committee; this program, Kolln writes, “recommended that grammar be taught in connection with writing, rather than as an isolated unit of study” (14). She contends that the effort ultimately failed because teachers did not accept its focus on “functional grammar” in place of “the formal method [they] were used to” (14).

In Kolln’s history, the hiatus following this abortive project ended with the advent of structural linguistics in the 1950s. This new understanding of the workings of English grammar was originally received enthusiastically; Harold B. Allen’s 1958 Readings in Applied English Linguistics drew on nearly 100 articles, including many from NCTE (12). This movement also embraced Noam Chomsky’s 1957 Syntactic Structures; the NCTE convention in 1963 featured “twenty different sessions on language, . . . with 50 individual papers” under categories like “Semantics,” “Structural Linguistics for the Junior High School,” and “the Relationship of Grammar to Composition” (14-15).

Excitement over such “new grammar” (15), however, was soon “swept aside” (12). Kolln posits that Chomsky’s complex generative grammar, which was not meant as a teaching tool, did not adapt easily to the classroom (15). She traces several other influences supporting the continued rejection of grammar instruction. Braddock et al. in 1963 cited a study by Roland Harris containing “serious flaws,” according to two critics who subsequently reviewed it (16). This study led Braddock et al. to state that grammar instruction not only did not improve student writing, it led to “a harmful effect” (Braddock et al., qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 15). Kolln reports that this phrase is still referenced to argue against teaching grammar (15).

Other influences on attitudes toward grammar, for Kolln, include the advent of “student-centered” teaching after the Dartmouth seminar in 1966 , the ascendancy of the process movement, and a rejection of “elitist” judgments that denigrated students’ home languages (16-17). As a result of such influences and others, Kolln writes, “By 1980, the respected position that grammar had once occupied was no longer recognized by NCTE” (17).

Addressing other publications and position statements that echo this rejection of grammar instruction, Kolln writes that teacher education, in particular, has been impoverished by the loss of attention to the structure of language (19). She contends that “[t]he cost to English education of the NCTE anti-grammar policy is impossible to calculate” (19).

She sees shifts toward an understanding of grammar that distinguishes it from rote drill on correctness in the creation of an NCTE official assembly, The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG). Several NCTE publications have forwarded the views of this group, including the book Grammar Alive! A Guide for Teachers, and articles in English Journal and Language Arts (20). Kolln urges that grammar, properly understood, be “seen as a legitimate part of the Language Arts curriculum that goes beyond an aid to writing” (20).

Hancock frames his discussion with a contemporaneous article by R. Hudson and J. Walmsley about trends in grammar instruction in the U.K. He sees a consensus among educators in England that “an informed understanding of language and an appropriate metalanguage with which to discuss it” are important elements of language education (qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 21). Further, this consensus endorses a rejection of “the older, dysfunctional, error-focused, Latin-based school grammar” (21-22).

In his view, the grounds for such widespread agreement in the United States, rather than encouraging an appreciation of well-designed grammar instruction, in fact lead away from the possibility of such an appreciation (22-23). He sees a U. S. consensus through the 1960s that literature, especially as seen through New Criticism, should be the principle business of English instruction. The emphasis on form, he writes, did not embrace linguistic theory; in general, grammar was “traditional” if addressed at all, and was seen as the responsibility of elementary schools (22). Literature was displaced by Critical Theory, which challenged the claim that “there is or should be a monolithic, central culture or a received wisdom” in the valuation of texts (22).

Similarly, he maintains that the advent of composition as a distinct field with its focus on “what writers actually do when they write” led to studies suggesting that experienced writers saw writing as meaning-making while inexperienced writers were found to, in Nancy Sommers’s words, “subordinate the demands of the specific problems of the text to the demands of the rules” (qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 23). Downplaying the rules, in this view, allowed students to engage more fully with the purposes of their writing.

In Hancock’s view, language educators in the U.S. distanced themselves from grammar instruction in their focus on “‘empowerment’ in writing” in order to address the needs of more diverse students (24). This need required a new acknowledgment of the varying contexts in which language occurred and an effort to value the many different forms language might take. Recognition of the damage done by reductive testing models also drove a retreat from a grammar defined as “policing people’s mistakes” (24-25).

Hancock argues that the public arena in which students tend to be judged does not allow either correctness or grammar to “simply be wished away” (25). He suggests that the “minimalist” theories of Constance Weaver in the 1990s and linguists like Steven Pinker are attempts to address the need for students to meet some kinds of standards, even though those standards are often poorly defined. These writers, in Hancock’s reading, contend that people learn their native grammars naturally and need little intervention to achieve their communicative goals (25, 27).

Hancock responds that a problem with this approach is that students who do not rise to the expected standard are blamed for their “failure to somehow soak it up from exposure or from the teacher’s non-technical remarks” (25). Hancock laments the “progressive diminution of knowledge” that results when so many teachers themselves are taught little about grammar (25): the lack of a “deep grounding in knowledge of the language” means that “[e]diting student writing becomes more a matter of what ‘feels right’” (26).

As a result of this history, he contends, “language-users” remain “largely unconscious of their own syntactic repertoire” (26), while teachers struggle with contradictory demands with so little background that, in Hancock’s view, “they are not even well-equipped to understand the nature of the problem” (29). He faults linguists as well for debunking prescriptive models while failing to provide “a practical alternative” (26).

Hancock presents a 2004 piece by Laura Micciche as a “counter-argument to minimalist approaches” (28). Hancock reads Micciche to say that there are more alternatives to the problems posed by grammatical instruction than outright rejection. He interprets her as arguing that a knowledge of language is “essential to formation of meaning” (28):

We need a discourse about grammar that does not retreat from the realities we face in the classroom—a discourse that takes seriously the connection between writing and thinking, the interwoven relationship between what we say and how we say it. (Micciche, qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 28)

Hancock deplores the “vacuum” created by the rejection of grammar instruction, a undefended space into which he feels prescriptive edicts are able to insert themselves (28, 29). Like Kolln, he points to ATEG, which in 2005-2006 was working to shift NCTE’s “official position against the teaching of formal grammar” (28). Hancock envisions grammar education that incorporates “all relevant linguistic grammars” and a “thoughtfully selected technical terminology” (28), as well as an understanding of the value of home languages as “the foundation for the evolution of a highly effective writing voice” (29). Such a grammar, he maintains, would be truly empowering, promoting an understanding of the “connection between formal choices and rhetorical effect” (26).

http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/2005v4n3art1.pdf

 


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Horarik et al. Teachers’ Subject Knowledge about Grammar. RTE, Feb. 2018. Posted 03/11/2018.

Macken-Horarik, Mary, Kristina Love, and Stefan Horarik. “Rethinking Grammar in Language Arts: Insights from an Australian Survey of Teachers’ Subject Knowledge.” Research in the Teaching of English 52.3 (2018): 288-316. Print.

Mary Macken-Horarik, Kristina Love, and Stefan Horarik report a study of Australian English teachers’ attitudes toward teaching grammar in elementary and secondary schools. The study addresses the effects on writing instruction of a recent national program, Australian Curriculum: English (290). This “ambitious program” (291) asks teachers to implement a many-faceted “relational approach to grammar” (291). Macken-Horarik et al. draw data from a 2014 survey of 373 Australian English teachers to assess their support for the incorporation of this approach into writing instruction and to measure their confidence in their ability to effect this incorporation (291).

The authors cite research from the U.K., including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and from the United States to note increasing calls for grammar instruction that moves beyond workbook exercises to help students understand grammar as a rhetorical element in which choices affect meaning (289, 312). This international research also calls into question whether teachers are prepared to follow through on such a curriculum (289-90).

A “relational approach” as described by the Australian curriculum breaks down amorphous “knowledge about language” into “grammatical subject knowledge” (GSK), which involves “structural resources of lexico-grammar (sentence level and below)” and “linguistic subject knowledge,” which “includes understanding of nonstructural resources such as cohesion (text level and beyond)” as well as “constructs such as genre, register, and discourse semantics” (293-94). GSK includes the ability to recognize and define grammatical elements, while LSK addresses how such elements function in use. In addition to these levels of knowledge, teachers implementing this approach are expected to possess “semiotic subject knowledge” (SSK) that will allow them to extend grammatical instruction to images, performances, etc. (292).

Macken-Horarik et al. identify three features of a relational approach. The first is a “broad scope” that covers multiple genres and forms of communication. The second is a “multilevel” approach, in which “a labeling of grammatical structures is important but insufficient,” with emphasis on how grammatical elements work to enable “higher levels of meaning in language.” Third is a “contextual orientation to grammar,” which allows for analysis of the function of language in diverse communicative and social environments (294).

Australia’s program requires students to study language through this relational lens beginning in kindergarten and throughout their school careers (291-92). The authors point to increasing burdens on teachers not only to convey the higher-level concepts inherent in the relational approach but also to incorporate ever-changing processes important in multimodal genres. They argue that the Australian program has not supplied adequate support to help teachers implement the curriculum (292-93, 313).

The 2014 survey to measure teachers’ appreciation of and ability to teach the curriculum included both quantitative and open-ended measures. Macken-Horarik et al. write that an initial paper drawn from the quantitative questions reported that teachers believed strongly in the value of a contextualized, relational grammar curriculum and generally responded that they were confident in their ability to teach it (296). However, analysis of the discursive, qualitative data “revealed anomalous patterns” (298).

Teachers surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that they valued all aspects of a relational approach, including SSK (the knowledge necessary to engage in multimodal composition) (298). However, questions focusing on specifics received lower positive response rates, and examination of the responses to open-ended questions found that comparatively few employed “a technical metalanguage” (298) that allowed them to discuss how form related to function (300). Despite endorsing the importance of SSK, when asked what kinds of knowledge were important, only 3 of 227 teachers who answered the open-ended version of the question mentioned multimodality (300).

Analysis of demographic data indicated that among the variables studied, including type of school and geographical location, only the teachers’ level of experience and the level at which they taught influenced the importance they attached to teaching grammatical knowledge. Less experienced teachers and primary-school teachers valued this knowledge more than more experienced counterparts teaching higher grades. The authors posit that teachers at higher levels may have assumed that by the time students reached them, the “core business” of grammar was “already ‘in place’” (301). In alignment with research in other cultures, teachers working with students from lower economic strata placed more importance on grammar than did their counterparts (301-02).

When asked in the quantitative sections of the survey about their confidence in their ability to teach the Australian curriculum, teachers again responded overwhelmingly that they felt prepared to do so. New teachers were more likely to express some doubt about their competence (303). Noting prior research that suggests that confidence levels do not necessarily indicate competence (303), Macken-Horarik et al. found that in the discursive answers to a question about the challenges the teachers faced, of 104 respondents, 69 found aspects of grammatical subject knowledge challenging (304). A number of these teachers stated that they had not been taught this knowledge in their own educations; others found “mapping functional grammar terminology onto traditional grammar terminology” difficult, while a third group noted that teaching a relational approach required them to work with more complex and difficult components and texts than they felt prepared to teach (305).

Further coding suggested that 63.5% of teachers responding to the issue of challenges “had already developed [knowledge about language] but needed to add ‘nuance’ to this in one or more areas of knowledge,” while 31.7% struggled with “basic knowledge of language” (305). These same teachers expressed “easy confidence with subject knowledge” in the quantitative measures (306-07). The authors find that this mismatch increases as teachers are asked to articulate specifics, particularly involving the role of lower-level components of language in developing higher levels of meaning (307).

Asked what professional development they needed, teachers identified published resources appropriate to the new curriculum, “infrastructure support,” and collaboration within and across schools (307). Again, roughly 30% of those who answered requested “a comprehensive introduction to subject knowledge” (308), and again, large majorities of those indicating such needs expressed high levels of confidence in their ability to teach the material (309). Discursive responses again revealed “an eerie silence” about the tools needed to teach in multimodal contexts (309).

The authors write that their study of “perceptions” did not allow them to judge whether teachers were actually capable of implementing contextual, nuanced instruction (310). Although more than 60% of the teachers surveyed rejected “decontextualized grammar exercises” (311), the authors call for further research including interviews. focus groups, and possibly text-based testing to illuminate teachers’ actual performance (311). In the authors’ view, Australian literacy education must do more to help teachers understand “how” to achieve the mandated goal of “[c]learly relating grammatical choices to meanings in texts and to contexts in which texts are produced” (312).

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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McAlear and Pedretti. When is a Paper “Done”? Comp. Studies, Fall 2016. Posted 03/02/2017.

McAlear, Rob, and Mark Pedretti. “Writing Toward the End: Students’ Perceptions of Doneness in the Composition Classroom.” Composition Studies 44.2 (2016): 72-93. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Rob McAlear and Mark Pedretti describe a survey to shed light on students’ conception of “doneness,” or when a piece of writing is completed.

McAlear and Pedretti argue that writing teachers tend to consider writing an ongoing process that never really ends. In their view, this approach values “process over product,” with the partial result that the issue of how a writing task reaches satisfactory completion is seldom addressed in composition scholarship (72). They contend that experienced writers acquire an ability “central to compositional practice” of recognizing that a piece is ready for submission, and writing instructors can help students develop their own awareness of what makes a piece complete.

A first step in this pedagogical process, McAlear and Pedretti write, is to understand how students actually make this decision about their college assignments (73). Their article seeks to determine what criteria students actually use and how these criteria differ as student writers move through different levels of college writing (73).

McAlear and Pedretti review the limited references to doneness in composition scholarship, noting that earlier resources like Erika Lindemann and Daniel Anderson’s A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers and Janet Emig’s work suggest that the most important factors are deadlines and a sense that the writer has nothing more to say. The authors find these accounts “unsatisfying” (74). Nancy Sommers, they state, recognizes that writing tasks do end but does not explore the criteria nor the “implications for those criteria” (75). Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, in their cognitive model, suggest that endings are determined by a writer’s “task representation,” with solution of a problem the supposed end point. Again, the authors find that knowing how writers “defin[e] a problem” does not explain how writers know they “have reached an adequate solution” (75).

One reason doneness has not been explicitly addressed, McAlear and Pedretti posit, is its possible relationship to “products” as the end of writing. Yet, they argue, “one of the implicit goals of teaching writing as a process is to get better products” (76). In their view, interrogating how writers come to regard their work as finished need not commit scholars to a “Big Theory” approach; “completion,” like process, can be rhetorically focused, responsive to specific audiences and purposes (76).

The authors surveyed 59 students in four first-year and four second-year writing courses at a Midwest research institution (78). The survey consisted of ten questions; analysis focused on the first two, asking about the student’s year and major, and on two questions, Q5 and Q10, that specifically asked how students decided a piece was finished. Question 5 was intended to elicit information about “a cognitive state,” whereas Question 10 asked about specific criteria (78).

Coding answers yielded three strategies: Internal, Criteria, and Process. “Internal” responses “linked to personal, emotional, or aesthetic judgments, such as feeling satisfied with one’s work or that the paper ‘flowed’” (79). Answers classified under “Criteria” referenced “empirical judgments of completion” such as meeting the requirements of the assignment (79). In “Process” answers, “any step in the writing process . . . was explicitly mentioned,” such as proofreading or peer review (79). McAlear and Pedretti coded some responses as combinations of the basic strategies, such as IP for “Internal-Process” or PC for “Process-Criteria” (80).

Survey responses indicated that first-year students tended to use a single strategy to determine doneness, with Internal or Process dominant. Nearly half of second-year students also used only one marker, but with a shift from Internal to Criteria strategies (79-80). Students responding to Question 10 claimed to use more than one strategy, perhaps because an intervening question triggered more reflection on their strategies (80). However, the authors were surprised that 33% of first-year students and 48% of second-year students did not mention Process strategies at all (80). Overall, first-year writers were more likely to report Internal or Process options, while second-year writers trended more to external Criteria (80-81).

McAlear and Pedretti found that for first-year students particularly, “Process” involved only “lower-order” strategies like proofreading (81). The authors recoded references to proofreading or correctness into a new category, “Surface.” With this revision, first-year students’ preference for Internal strategies “become even more prominent,” while second-year students’ use of Process strategies other than “Surface” was highlighted (82).

Study results do not support what McAlear and Pedretti consider a common perception that correctness and page length dictate students’ decisions about doneness (84). The authors posit that “students may be relying on equally simple, but qualitatively distinct, criteria” (84). First-year students commonly pointed to “proofreading and having nothing more to say,” while second-year students expressed concern with “meeting the criteria of the prompt” (84).

McAlear and Pedretti note that even among second-year students who had been exposed to more than one writing class, these responses indicate very little “awareness of rhetorical situation” (84). Although responding to the rhetorical situation of a college classroom, McAlear and Pedretti argue, second-year students interpret the actual expectations of a writing class simplistically (85). Considerations that writing teachers would hope for, like “Is this portion of my argument persuasive for my audience,” were completely missing (84). Moreover, many second-year students did not note Process at all, despite presumably having encountered the concept often (85).

McAlear and Pedretti propose that the shift away from Internal, affective markers to external, criteria-focused, albeit reductive, strategies may reflect a “loss of confidence” as students encountering unfamiliar discourses no longer trust their ability to judge their own success (85-86). The authors suggest that, because students cannot easily frame a rhetorical problem, “they do not know their endpoint” and thus turn to teachers for explicit instruction on what constitutes an adequate response (87).

For the authors, the moment when students move to external criteria and must articulate these criteria is an opportunity to introduce a vocabulary on doneness and to encourage attention to the different kinds of criteria suitable for different rhetorical contexts (88). Instructors can use reflective activities and examination of others’ decisions as revealed in their work to incorporate issues of doneness into rhetorical education as they explicitly provide a range of strategies, from internal satisfaction to genre-based criteria (88-89). Students might revise writing tasks for different genres and consider how, for example, completion criteria for an essay differ from those for a speech (90).

The authors propose that such attention to the question of doneness may shed light on problems like “writing anxiety,  procrastination, and even plagiarism” (84). Ultimately, they write, “knowing when to stop writing is a need that many of our students have, and one for which we have not yet adequately prepared them” (90).