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Webber, Jim. Reframing vs. Artful Critique of Reform. Sept. CCC, 2017. Posted 10/31/2017.

Webber, Jim. ”Toward an Artful Critique of Reform: Responding to Standards, Assessment, and Machine Scoring.” College Composition and Communication 69.1 (2017): 118-45. Print.

Jim Webber analyzes the responses of composition scholars to the reform movement promoted by entities like College Learning Assessment (CLA) and Complete College America (CCA). He notes that the standardization agenda of such groups, intended to improve the efficiency of higher education, has suffered setbacks; for example, many states have rejected the Common Core State Standards (118-19). However, in Webber’s view, these setbacks are temporary and will be followed by renewed efforts by testing and measurement agencies to impose their own criteria for student success (119).

The standardization these groups urge on higher education will, they claim, give parents and students better information about institutions and will ultimately serve as grounds for such moves as “performance funding” (119). The overall goal of such initiatives is to move students through college as quickly as possible, especially into majors (119).

Webber recognizes two prongs of composition’s response to such pressures to portray “college students and parents as consumers” (119). One thread urges “reframing” or “redirecting” the efforts of the testing industry and groups like CLA and CCA. For Webber, this viewpoint adopts a “realist style.” Scholars who espouse reframing urge that compositionists work within the current realities created by the power of the testing and standardization apparatus to “expand” the meanings of terms like “college readiness” (120), adjusting them in ways that reflect composition’s inclusive, humanistic values (122)–that is, in Frank Farmer’s term, “insinuat[ing]” the professional ethos of composition and its authority into the standardization apparatus (qtd. in Webber 122).

Scholars who adopt this realist style, Webber claims, “figur[e] public policy as accommodation to the world” (141n5); moreover, in Webber’s view, they accept the description of “the way the world is” (133) put forward by CCA and others as “irreducibly competitive” and thus “[reduce] the scope of policy values to competition, efficiency, and instrumentality” (141n5).

Webber cites scholars in this vein who contend that the protests of scholars and writing professionals have been and will be effectively “ignored” by policymakers (137). More productive, in this view, is collaboration that will at least provide “a seat at the policy table,” giving professionals a chance to infuse the debate with their values (133).

Webber presents the 2011 Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing as an example of how the reframing position “work[s] within the limits established by the dominant discourse of reform” (123). He notes that Bruce Comiskey was unable to discern any “apparent difference” between the aspirations of the Framework and those of the reform movement (125; emphasis original). For Webber, this approach sets up composition professionals as “competition” for the testing industry as the experts who can make sure students meet the reformers’ criteria for successful learning (124). Reframing in this way, Webber says, requires “message management” (123) to make sure that the response’s “strategic” potential is sustained (121).

Scholars who urge reframing invoke Cornel West’s “prophetic pragmatism” (122), which requires them to:

think genealogically about specific practices in light of the best available social theories, cultural critiques, and historiographic insights and to act politically to achieve certain moral consequences in light of effective strategies and tactics. (qtd. in Webber 122)

Webber contends that reframers interpret this directive to mean that “public critique” by compositionists “cannot deliver the consequences they desire” (123; emphasis original). Thus, a tactical approach is required.

The second thread in compositionists’ response to the reform movement is that of critique that insists that allowing the reform industry to set the terms and limits of the discussion is “to grant equivalence between our professional judgments and those of corporate-political service providers” (125-26). Webber quotes Judith Summerfield and Philip M. Anderson, who argue that “managing behavior and preparing students for vocations” does not accord with “a half-century (at the least) of enlightened classroom study and socio-psycholinguistic research” (qtd. in Webber 125).

In Webber’s view, the strands of reframing and critique have reached a “stalemate” (126). In response to the impasse, Webber explores the tradition of pragmatism, drawing on John Dewey and others. He argues that reframers call on the tenets of “melioration” and “prophetic critique” (127). “Meliorism,” according to Webber’s sources, is a linguistic process in that it works toward improving conditions through addressing the public discourse (127). In discussing West’s prophetic pragmatism as a form of “critical melioration,” Webber focuses on the “artfulness” of West’s concept (128).

Webber sees artfulness as critique “in particular contexts” in which ordinary people apply their own judgments of the consequences of a theory or policy based on the effects of these theories or policies on their lives (128-29). An artful critique invites public participation in the assessment of policies, an interaction that, according to West, functions as “antiprofessionalism,” not necessarily for the purpose of completely “eliminating or opposing all professional elites” but rather to “hold them to account” (qtd. in Webber 129).

Webber argues that proponents of reframing within composition have left out this aspect of West’s pragmatism (128). Webber’s own proposal for an artful critique involves encouraging such active participation by the publics actually affected by policies. He contends that policymakers will not be able to ignore students and parents as they have composition professionals (137).

His approach begins with “scaling down” by inviting public inquiry at a local level, then “scaling up” as the conversation begins to trigger broader responses (130). He presents the effects of student protests as the University of Missouri in 2015 as an example of how local action that challenges the power of elites can have far-reaching consequences (137-38). Compositionists, he maintains, should not abandon critique but should “expand our rhetoric of professionalism to engage the antiprofessional energy of local inquiry and resistance” (138).

As a specific application of his view, Webber provides examples of how composition professionals have enlisted public resistance to machine-scoring of student writing. As students experience “being read” by machines, he contends, they become aware of how such policies do not mesh with their concerns and experiences (137). This awareness engages them in critically “problematizing” their perspectives and assumptions (131). In the process, Webber argues, larger, more diverse audiences are encouraged to relate their own experiences, leading to “a broader public discussion of shared concerns” (131).

For Webber, drawing on the everyday judgments of ordinary people as to the value of policies put forward by professionals contrasts with the desire to align composition’s values with those of the standardization movement in hopes of influencing the latter from within. Opening the debate beyond strategic professionalism can generate a pragmatism that more nearly fits West’s prophetic ideals and that can “unsettle the inevitability of reform and potentially authorize composition’s professional perspectives” in ways that reframing the terms of the corporate initiatives cannot (135).

 

 


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Addison, Joanne. Common Core in College Classrooms. Journal of Writing Assessment, Nov. 2015. Posted 12/03/2015.

Addison, Joanne. “Shifting the Locus of Control: Why the Common Core State Standards and Emerging Standardized Tests May Reshape College Writing Classrooms.” Journal of Writing Assessment 8.1 (2015): 1-11. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Joanne Addison offers a detailed account of moves by testing companies and philanthropists to extend the influence of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) to higher education. Addison reports that these entities are building “networks of influence” (1) that will shift agency from teachers and local institutions to corporate interests. She urges writing professionals to pay close attention to this movement and to work to retain and restore teacher control over writing instruction.

Addison writes that a number of organizations are attempting to align college writing instruction with the CCSS movement currently garnering attention in K-12 institutions. This alignment, she documents, is proceeding despite criticisms of the Common Core Standards for demanding skills that are “not developmentally appropriate,” for ignoring crucial issues like “the impact of poverty on educational opportunity,” and for the “massive increase” in investment in and reliance on standardized testing (1). But even if these challenges succeed in scaling back the standards, she contends, too many teachers, textbooks, and educational practices will have been influenced by the CCSSI for its effects to dissipate entirely (1). Control of professional development practices by corporations and specific philanthropies, in particular, will link college writing instruction to the Common Core initiative (2).

Addison connects the investment in the Common Core to the “accountability movement” (2) in which colleges are expected to demonstrate the “value added” by their offerings as students move through their curriculum (5). Of equal concern, in Addison’s view, is the increasing use of standardized test scores in college admissions and placement; she notes, for example, “640 colleges and universities” in her home state of Colorado that have “committed to participate” in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) by using standardized tests created by the organization in admissions and placement; she points to an additional 200 institutions that have agreed to use a test generated by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) (2).

In her view, such commitments are problematic not only because they use single-measure tools rather than more comprehensive, pedagogically sound decision-making protocols but also because they result from the efforts of groups like the English Language Arts Work Group for CCSSI, the membership of which is composed of executives from testing companies, supplemented with only one “retired English professor” and “[e]xactly zero practicing teachers” (3).

Addison argues that materials generated by organizations committed to promoting the CCSSI show signs of supplanting more pedagogically sound initiatives like NCTE’s Read-Write-Think program (4). To illustrate how she believes the CCSSI has challenged more legitimate models of professional development, she discusses the relationship between CCSSI-linked coalitions and the National Writing Project.

She writes that in 2011, funds for the National Writing Project were shifted to the president’s Race to the Top (3). Some funding was subsequently restored, but grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation specifically supported National Writing Project sites that worked with an entity called the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) to promote the use of the Common Core Standards in assignment design and to require the use of a “jurying rubric ” intended to measure the fit with the Standards in evaluating student work (National Writing Project, 2014, qtd. in Addison 4). According to Addison, “even the briefest internet search reveals a long list of school districts, nonprofits, unions, and others that advocate the LDC approach to professional development” (4). Addison contends that teachers have had little voice in developing these course-design and assessment tools and are unable, under these protocols, to refine instruction and assessment to fit local needs (4).

Addison expresses further concern about the lack of teacher input in the design, administration, and weight assigned to the standardized testing used to measure “value added” and thus hold teachers and institutions accountable for student success. A number of organizations largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promote the use of “performance-based” standardized tests given to entering college students and again to seniors (5-6). One such test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), is now used by “700 higher education institutions” (5). Addison notes that nine English professors were among the 32 college professors who worked on the development and use of this test; however, all were drawn from “CLA Performance Test Academies” designed to promote the “use of performance-based assessments in the classroom,” and the professors’ specialties were not provided (5-6).

A study conducted using a similar test, the Common Core State Standards Validation Assessment (CCSSAV) indicated that the test did provide some predictive power, but high-school GPA was a better indicator of student success in higher education (6). In all, Addison reports four different studies that similarly found that the predictor of choice was high-school GPA, which, she says, improves on the snapshot of a single moment supplied by a test, instead measuring a range of facets of student abilities and achievements across multiple contexts (6).

Addison attributes much of the movement toward CCSSI-based protocols to the rise of “advocacy philanthropy,” which shifts giving from capital improvements and research to large-scale reform movements (7). While scholars like Cassie Hall see some benefits in this shift, for example in the ability to spotlight “important problems” and “bring key actors together,” concerns, according to Addison’s reading of Hall, include

the lack of external accountability, stifling innovation (and I would add diversity) by offering large-scale, prescriptive grants, and an unprecedented level of influence over state and government policies. (7)

She further cites Hall’s concern that this shift will siphon money from “field-initiated academic research” and will engender “a growing lack of trust in higher education” that will lead to even more restrictions on teacher agency (7).

Addison’s recommendations for addressing the influx of CCSSI-based influences include aggressively questioning our own institutions’ commitments to facets of the initiative, using the “15% guideline” within which states can supplement the Standards, building competing coalitions to advocate for best practices, and engaging in public forums, even where such writing is not recognized in tenure-and-promotion decisions, to “place teachers’ professional judgment at the center of education and help establish them as leaders in assessment” (8). Such efforts, in her view, must serve the effort to identify assessment as a tool for learning rather than control (7-8).

Access this article at http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=82


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Sullivan, Patrick. Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Class. CCC, Sept. 2015. Posted 09/15/2015.

Sullivan, Patrick. “The UnEssay: Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 67.1 (2015): 6-34. Print.

Patrick Sullivan urges composition scholars to embrace creativity as a fundamental component of an enriched writing curriculum. In Sullivan’s view, although researchers and scholars outside of composition have steadily moved creativity to the core of their models of cognition and of the kinds of thinking they feel are needed to meet 21st-century challenges, writing scholars have tended to isolate “creativity” in creative-writing courses. Sullivan presents a “most essential question”: “Might there be some value in embracing creativity as an integral part of how we theorize writing?” (7).

A subset of questions includes such issues as current definitions of creativity, emerging views of its contribution in myriad contexts, and the relationship between creativity and important capacities like critical thinking (7).

Sullivan surveys works by educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and others on the value of creativity and the ways it can be fostered. This work challenges the view that creativity is the special domain of a limited number of special people; rather, the research Sullivan presents considers it a “common and shared intellectual capacity” (12) responsible for the development of culture through ongoing innovation (9) as well as essential to the flexible thinking and problem-solving ability needed beyond the classroom (8-9, 15).

Scholars Sullivan cites position creativity as an antidote to the current focus on testing and accountability that promotes what Douglas Hesse calls the “extraordinarily narrow view of writing” that results from such initiatives as the Common Core Standards (qtd. in Sullivan 18). Sullivan draws on Ken Robinson, who contends that current models of schooling have “educated out” our natural creativity: “[M]ost children think they’re highly creative; most adults think they’re not” (qtd. in Sullivan 9).

Other scholars urging the elevation of creativity as central to cognition include intelligence researcher Robert J. Sternberg, for whom creativity entails three components: “synthetic ability (generating ideas), analytical ability (evaluating ideas, critical thinking), and practical ability (translating ideas into practice and products)” (10). Sullivan compares models of “habits of mind” developed by other scholars with the habits of mind incorporated into the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” collaboratively generated by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project; he notes that many such models, including the “Framework,” consider creativity “an essential twenty-first-century cognitive aptitude” (12). He recommends to composition scholars the international view that creativity is equal in importance to literacy, a view embodied in the Finnish educational system and in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which would replace testing for memorization with testing for students’ ability “to think for themselves” (Amanda Ripley, qtd. in Sullivan 13).

Importantly, Sullivan argues, incorporating creativity into classrooms has crucial implications for overall cognitive development. According to the researchers Sullivan cites, expanding the kinds of activities and the kinds of writing students do enhances overall mental function (14), leading to the “rhetorical dexterity” (Shannon Carter, qtd. in Sullivan 20) essential to negotiating today’s rapidly changing rhetorical environments (21).

As further evidence of the consensus on the centrality of creativity to learning and cognition, Sullivan presents the 2001 revision of Bloom’s 1956 Taxonomy. This revision replaces “synthesis and evaluation” at the pinnacle of cognitive growth with “creating” (19). Discussing the revised Taxonomy to which they contributed, Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl note that the acquisition of the “deep understanding” necessary to “construction and insight” demands the components inherent in “Create” (qtd. in Sullivan 19-20).

Such deep understanding, Sullivan argues, is the goal of the writing classroom: “[I]ts connection here to creativity links this luminous human capacity to our students’ cognitive development” (20). Similarly, concern about students’ transfer of the intellectual work of academic writing to other domains and a recognition of the importance of metacognition to deep learning link the work of creativity scholars to recent composition theory and applications (20). Sullivan suggests shifting from “critical thinking” to “creative and critical thinking” because “[a]ll good thinking . . . is creative in some way” (16).

Sullivan sees the increased focus within writing studies on multimodal and other diverse uses of writing as a move toward reframing public conceptions of academic writing; he presents “desegregat[ing] creative writing” as one way of “actively expanding our definition of academic writing” (21). He lists many ways of incorporating creativity into classrooms, then provides the unit on creativity that he has embedded in his first-year writing class (22). His goal is to “provide students with an authentic experience of the joys, challenges, and rewards of college-level reading, writing, and thinking” (22-23). To this end, the course explores what Paul Hirst calls “knowledge domains,” specifically, in Sullivan’s class, “traditional assignments” examining how knowledge functions in history and the human sciences (23-24), with the unit on creativity “[s]andwiched” between them (24).

In this unit, students consider the definition of creativity and then write poems and stories. The centerpiece is an individual project in which students produce “their own work of art” such as “a sculpture, a painting, a drawing, a photograph, a collage, or a song” (24). Sullivan furnishes examples of student work, including quotes illustrating the metacognitive understanding he hopes to inculcate: “that creativity, and the arts in particular, provide a unique and important way of looking at the world and producing knowledge” (25).

The final assignment is an “unessay,” which bans standard formats and invites students to “[i]nvent a new form!” (26). Sullivan shares examples of student responses to this assignment, many involving multimodal components that gesture toward a more inclusive embrace of what Kathleen Blake Yancey calls “what our students know as writing” (qtd. in Sullivan 28). Ultimately, Sullivan contends, such diverse, creatively rich pedagogy will realize David Russell’s hope of casting writing not as “a single elementary skill” but rather “as a complex rhetorical activity embedded in the differentiated practices of academic discourse communities” (qtd. in Sullivan 29), and, importantly, Douglas Hesse’s hope of communicating to students that writing is not an isolated academic exercise but rather “a life activity with many interconnected manifestations” (qtd. in Sullivan 18).


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Feigenbaum, Paul. Coalition between Math and Rhetoric. CE, Spring 2015. Posted 06/09/15.

Feigenbaum, Paul. “Rhetoric, Mathematics, and the Pedagogies We Want: Empowering Youth Access to Twenty-First Century Literacies.” College English 72.5 (2015): 429-49. Print.

Paul Feigenbaum advocates for the development of a “Rhetoric Project” similar to and in conjunction with the “Algebra Project” created in the 1980s by civil-rights leader Robert Moses and described in Radical Equations, by Moses and Charles Cobb Jr. For Feigenbaum, composition and mathematics can productively partner because both are targets of the ongoing standardization movement, in which the practices of repetitive drill and subsequent high-stakes testing work to diminish the chance of college and career success for less-privileged students. According to Feigenbaum, the Algebra Project seeks to instill a sense of efficacy in underprivileged students by making visible the role of mathematics in everyday activities, making the math knowledge to analyze that role accessible, and showing how mathematical knowledge can strengthen communal struggles for social justice. Feigenbaum draws on Joanna Wolfe’s essay “Rhetorical Numbers: A Case for Quantitative Writing in the Composition Classroom” to further argue that mathematics are used rhetorically in civic life and policy-making and that an understanding of rhetoric can energize students’ ability to think critically about how mathematics are being deployed as well as how to use them to further progressive causes (430). An important focus in both the Algebra Project and Feigenbaum’s proposed Rhetoric Project is the shift from a view of education as a competitive, “market-driven” venue “in which everything depends on individual success and failure” to a view in which individual success and common welfare become interdependent, complementary goals (435).

Feigenbaum recounts the growth of the Algebra Project from a K-8 school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Moses established a program to teach his daughter and her classmates algebra during regular class hours even though the subject was not officially part of the curriculum. The AP grew to a national nonprofit that develops “Math Literacy Workers” who spread enthusiasm for math among younger students. The article provides examples of how the Algebra Project uses “experiential learning” to make math meaningful—for example, by generating equations to denote physical community locations. Similarly, facility with math allowed students in Baltimore to analyze a school district’s budget and exact fairer funding practices (437-38).

In Feigenbaum’s view, there are “clear areas of overlap” between such efforts and what rhetorical education can offer (438). Mathematical knowledge can combine with rhetorical knowledge, for example, to further understanding of how standardized tests are constructed and how they are used as vehicles for ideologically driven policy (438). Further, he argues in support of “logomechanics” (438; emphasis original), a curriculum espoused by Jenny Edbauer Rice that emphasizes multimodal communication in which students become increasingly proficient at managing and even designing “the means of production” (438) in order to exploit the burgeoning power of new rhetorical forms. Students with such facility, Rice contends, can take on the role of “potential inventors of actions and ideas, rather than the invented products” (Rice, qtd. in Feigenbaum 439; emphasis original). Feigenbaum compares logomechanics to a University of Illinois project, Writing with Video, that gives students the tools to produce multimodal messages. These expanded skills, which Feigenbaum argues would be enhanced by a coalition between mathematics curriculum and rhetorical education, encourage student collaboration as students and teachers jointly become both experts and learners. For advocates of these projects, students not only learn to see video and film as rhetorical; they also acquire the capabilities that allow them to become more effective rhetors in the multimodal public sphere (439-40).

Feigenbaum’s discussion of a Rhetoric Project pilot site in an underserved community points to the promise he sees in the venture and the challenges to be addressed. The project paired Florida International University graduate students who wanted to extend their learning in Feigenbaum’s “Community Writing” course with ongoing AP activities in Miami-Dade County public schools. Transportation issues required the Project to function as an extracurricular activity rather than as part of the regular class day; the need for participating students to remain after school required revision of the intended rhetorical curriculum from one in which theoretical concepts such as ethos, kairos, and exigency could be explicitly foregrounded into a curriculum of “theory-through-play” activities that would energize students after their long day (442). An example of “theory-through-play” is a board game modeled on an AP game, Flagways, designed by Moses. The AP game allows students to apply mathematical concepts to sports to engage students in a “culture of mathematical literacy” (Moses and Cobb, qtd. in Feigenbaum 443). The RP game, Circumstances: The Game of Rhetorical Situations, was invented by Feigenbaum and graduate-student collaborators; players used avatars to progress through school to career and beyond. Feigenbaum reports that the high-school participants enjoyed the game, although some planned components had to be curtailed for lack of time.

Funding and coordination problems deferred continuation of the pilot, but Feigenbaum hopes to re-establish it through a writing studies master’s degree at FIU, which will attract public-school language arts teachers. Feigenbaum hopes these teachers will strengthen the presence of the AP/RP collaboration across more area educational settings (445).

Efforts like the RP, Feigenbaum emphasizes, may not lead to a formal research agenda, but he endorses the view of Jeffrey Grabill that establishing relationships within communities in and of itself is a vital form of research, essential to the “community building” needed to empower local communities to resist the negative effects of standardization (444). Feigenbaum proposes that advocates for activities like the RP take seriously the need within public schools for tools to raise standardized test scores; he suggests that research projects growing out of the RP could address the ways in which the Project and other pedagogical endeavors like it can contribute to recognized measures of student success like high-school completion and college attendance (444). Ultimately, Feigenbaum sees in the Rhetoric Project an answer to calls from scholars like David Fleming and Wayne Booth for expanded rhetorical education, both in undergraduate and public school settings. He envisions the joint community-serving efforts of the Rhetoric and Algebra projects as enhancing “young people’s power to stand up for their interests against the harms wrought by standardization” (445).