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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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Kopelson, Karen. Workplace Guides for ASD Individuals. CE, July 2015. Posted 07/30/15.

Kopelson, Karen. “‘Know thy work and do it’: The Rhetorical-Pedagogical Work of Employment and Workplace Guides for Adults with ‘High-Functioning’ Autism.” College English 77.6 (2015): 553-76. Print.

Karen Kopelson examines workplace advice guides designed to help adults on the autism spectrum enter the workforce. She argues that, in the process of explaining how such adults can reinvent themselves to meet workplace demands, these guides underscore worker traits that fit a capitalist ideal, presenting ASD workers* as perfect embodiments of this ideal; they diverge from disability-rights agendas in advising ASD adults to downplay or even reject their identity as a disabled person; they participate in the American narrative of individual accomplishment and personal responsibility; and they disseminate an implicit but very visible rhetorical education in ways that shed light on tensions between composition and disability studies.

To illustrate these claims, Kopelson draws on Amazon rankings to select recent and/or prominent examples of these texts. With the exceptions of works by Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy, which she includes because of their prominence, she focuses on guidebooks published since 2010 in order to understand how the most recent research and terminology are presented and employed by these books (555-56).

Kopelson notes the disproportionate attention given to children with autism-spectrum disorders, suggesting that a recent proliferation of workplace guidebooks reflects the fact that once these “children grow up,” their lives will intersect with the larger culture, in particular the job market (553-54). The books, she contends, direct their arguments to multiple audiences: to ASD individuals and their health-care communities but also to employers, who may not recognize that the supposed deficits that accompany an ASD diagnosis are actually the kinds of qualities employers should value (554). Among these traits are the ability to focus, to be absorbed and satisfied by repetitive tasks, to concentrate on work rather than social interaction (558-60), to work long hours and accept “internal motivation” (560) in lieu of high wages, to remain loyal to an employer: in fact, to define themselves, as Grandin does, by the work they do (561).

In Kopelson’s view, the worker thus constructed is the capitalist “fantasy worker in possession of qualities valued most by contemporary workplaces” (571). At the same time, she illustrates through examples from several texts that in order to succeed in workplaces that continue to be structured around neurotypical expectations, ASD individuals must remake themselves, taking it upon themselves to “adapt” and “fit in” (564).

Kopelson includes examples from many of the texts under study that demonstrate the ways in which this adaptation is predicated on attention to the rhetorical principles of “imitation, delivery, invention, and, especially, to audience and context” (564). Foregrounding books by Barbara Bissonnette, Kopelson detects a pedagogic focus on eliminating the “hermeneutic deficiency” that makes autistic individuals struggle to “objective[ly] and accurate[ly] . . . interpret” situations and people (Bissonnette, qtd. in Kopelson 567-68). This exhortation to read workplace audiences accurately and objectively, Kopelson writes, seems at odds with Bissonnette’s insistence that “meaning comes from context” (qtd. in Kopelson 566). Bissonnette’s pedagogy involves providing examples and heuristics that ASD individuals can use to gauge audience and context as they work to overcome the “mindblindness” that dominant depictions ascribe to them and that reportedly prevents them from understanding others’ perspectives (559. 567-69).

In Kopelson’s view, larger issues emerge from her study of how rhetorical principles in line with much implicit composition pedagogy are used in the workplace guides. Among her questions is whether rhetoric is “inherently normative” (566), imposing pressure to match external standards of propriety, in the process engaging in the “the manipulation of subjectivity itself” (566). Kopelson, citing Paul Heilker and Melanie Yergeau, sees in this function a tension with a view more in line with those expressed in disability studies that “autism is its own ‘way of being in the world through language'” (qtd. in Kopelson 571). Kopelson compares this view of autistics’ methods of intersubjective interaction with other examples of difference in language and with efforts within composition studies to both expand students’ linguistic capacity and value their home languages (572). Kopelson further considers competing views as to whether mainstream rhetorical pedagogy like that practiced in the workplace guides can in fact transform ASD individuals in the ways Bissonnette and others envision or whether entirely new methods of rhetorical education must be invented to meet the needs of autistic students (570-71). Ultimately, Kopelson calls for more study and analysis to understand the intersections of ASD individuals with the larger culture, while urging composition scholars to recognize the realities that have fueled the proliferation of guides like Grandin’s and Bissonnette’s:

And so, while our field may be invested in such notions as “rhetorical accommodation” ([Jenell] Johnson 476, [qtd. in Kopelson 572]), or a “revised” and “expanded understanding of rhetoricity” ([Cynthia] Lewiecki-Wilson 157, [qtd. in Kopelson 572]), and while we may be committed to . . . facilitating access to languages of power while valuing languages of culture or nature, we need to be aware that pedagogies far more public and powerful than those of writing studies, or of higher education at large . . , conspire to ensure that neurotypical and other monolithic norms of language and selfhood are sustained. (572)

*Kopelson notes that the preferred choice of major disabilities-rights groups like ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) is “identity-first” language rather than the “people with” language often used by the guidebooks  (556-57; emphasis original).


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Giulia Ortoleva and Mireille Bétrancourt. Articulation of School and Workplace Learning. Journal of Writing Research, June 2015. Posted 06/18/2015.

Ortoleva, Giulia, and Mireille Bétrancourt. “Collaborative Writing and Discussion in Vocational Education: Effects on Learning and Self-Efficacy Beliefs.” Journal of Writing Resaarch 7.1 (2015): 1-28. Web. 6 June 2015.

Giulia Ortoleva and Mireille Bétrancourt, researchers in Switzerland publishing in the Journal of Writing Research, address articulation between school and workplace activities for students in a “vocational” program in Geneva. The 40 students were in their first or second year of study in the School for Social and Health Care Assistants. Two teachers with professional histories as nurse practitioners participated in a project to investigate the effects of writing, discussion, and collaboration in preparing these students for careers (8).

Ortoleva and Bétrancourt discuss the skills necessary for “[p]rofessional competence,” distinguishing between “hard skills” like mastery of concrete procedures and “soft skills” such as the ability to communicate and develop productive interpersonal relations (2). Ortoleva and Bétrancourt contend that the common practice of combining academic training and workplace experience to impart this range of competences can fall short because the two contexts are often “disconnected” and because workplace experiences can vary widely (2-3).

To address this problem, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt turn to an “integrative pedagogy model” developed by P. Tynjala and D. Gijbels, which outlines the necessary interaction of “four types of knowledge: practical, conceptual, self-regulative, and sociocultural (knowledge that is embedded in the social practices of workplaces and is learned through participation in these practices)” (3). The intervention tested by Ortoleva and Bétrancourt draws on two elements of this model, writing and collaboration. They argue that although the role of writing in promoting “deep processing” that encourages more intensive and productive learning is widely cited, clear demonstrations of this effect have been elusive, perhaps because assessment has focused on memorization and not the actual production of transformative knowledge (4). Moreover, to be most effective, writing must be part of a broader set of activities that include personal and social connections, such as personal reflection and class discussion to prompt students to consider a range of perspectives and revise their own (4-5).

Collaboration in the study involved peer feedback, but Ortoleva and Bétrancourt note the need for well-designed interaction if such feedback is to prove effective. They reference guidelines from the field of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) to suggest that computers can facilitate peer interaction if appropriate prompts and combinations of individual and group activities are in place (5).

Ortoleva and Bétrancourt hoped that their intervention would not only increase students’ acquisition of a range of professional competences but would also enhance self-efficacy beliefs—students’ perceptions that they could do well in their workplace settings (6-7). They review research on self-efficacy from Albert Bandura and others. They considered growing self-efficacy a marker of a maturing professional identity (7).

To measure the effects of writing, peer feedback, and class discussion on students’ professional capabilities and self-efficacy beliefs, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt used two pre/post measures: a test of “declarative” knowledge that asked students how they would respond in a specific situation they were likely to encounter in their workplace; and a self-efficacy instrument. The test of declarative knowledge comprised two parts: multiple-choice questions about the best handling of the situation and an open-ended discussion of the student’s reasons for his or her choices. Ortoleva and Bétrancourt caution that they will be unable to “disentangle the effect of each component alone” (8), but they see a correlation between a student’s level of participation and any gains the student makes as a useful measure of the effects of the intervention as a whole (8). Students also evaluated their experiences as participants in the activities.

The three components were scheduled in ninety-minute sessions two weeks apart. In the first phase, writing and peer feedback, students wrote about a “critical incident” they had experienced, responding to specific questions about how they had responded to it; using a wiki program, other students responded, following guidelines for effective feedback. Students then followed directions to respond to the suggestions made by peers (9-10). Class discussion constituted the second phase, while in the third phase, second-year students returned to their accounts to reflect further. This variation of the third phase appeared to be “too repetitive,” so the phase was reconceived for the first-year students, who read research materials on the relevant issues before revisiting their written accounts (11).

Post-test results for second-year students indicated no gains in the multiple-choice component of the declarative knowledge test but minor gains in responding to the open-ended questions. First-year students improved significantly in their ability to choose the best handling of the scenarios but no gains in the open-ended response (13-14). Similarly, second-year students’ self-efficacy beliefs did not change, but those of first-year students improved (14-15). Participation was measured by assessing the length of written components and by number of contributions to class discussion. This measure showed that students who wrote more in their first-phase accounts performed better on both the pre- and post-test competency assessment (16). The teachers, who had noted problems with participation in class discussion in previous classes, felt that the intervention generated more student engagement and better participation (15). The student response to the project was positive (16).

In general, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt judge the intervention “partially” successful both as a means of enhancing and articulating school and workplace learning and as a way of developing higher self-efficacy (17-18). They posit that the different outcomes for first- and second-year students, in which second-year students did not improve on the multiple choice or self-efficacy measures but first-year students did, result from the degree to which second-year students knew more about workplace options because of their more advanced schooling and also had already developed “more stable (and accurate) image[s] of themselves” as professionals (18). The researchers judged that participation in the written phases was quite high and the feedback phase was well-received. They note that students who wrote more were less active in the oral discussion phase, implying that a mix of the two types of participation accommodates differing communication preferences (18).

Among the study’s limitations, they note the small sample size, lack of a control group, and especially the lack of an adequate measure of the kind of complex learning they hoped to promote (19). Recommendations from the study include beginning with individual writing activities to foster later engagement; providing clear guidance for feedback sessions; and using wikis to generate and record collaboration (19-20).