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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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Thomson-Bunn, Heather. When religion and academic norms conflict. CE, Jan. 2017. Posted 01/19/2017.

Thomson-Bunn, Heather. “Mediating Discursive Worlds: When Academic Norms and Religious Belief Conflict.” College English 79.3 (2017): 276-96. Web. 10 Jan 2017.

Heather Thomson-Bunn describes a study on the reactions of composition instructors to students who incorporate their religious views into their writing coursework. Forty lecturers or graduate student instructors at a large “Public Midwestern University” responded to a survey and seven experienced instructors also participated in interviews (278-79).

The discussion focuses on Christian students because, Thomson-Bunn hypothesizes, the Christian religion intersects with higher education in especially salient ways, with the result that it is with these students that “instructors appear to have the most frequent conflicts” (278). She defines Christians as “followers and/or worshippers of Jesus Christ, whose commitment to their faith is a significant (if not the significant) dimension of identity” (278). Thomson-Bunn refrains from modifying “Christian” with other labels because in her findings, the students themselves did not claim these labels (279).

In her literature review, Thomson-Bunn explores previous composition scholarship on religious discourse in academic settings, citing several recent volumes to contend that the topic is “an increasingly visible area of scholarship” (276). Views range from rejection of the possibility that religious discourse can find a place within academic norms to the contention that instructors should help students find appropriate ways to examine and articulate their positions (276-77).

The survey and interviews revealed ways in which instructors felt that Christian students often had difficulty with “academic norms,” in particular those associated with “critical thinking,” “audience awareness,” “appropriate use of evidence,” and “tolerance” (280).

Difficulties involving critical thinking, according to Thomson-Bunn’s findings, revolved around differences in the kinds of discourses religious students found meaningful and the kinds composition instructors felt were appropriate in secular writing classrooms. Citing Thomas Amorose, Thomson-Bunn notes that religious discourse “privileges received meaning over constructed or contested meaning” (278; emphasis original). Similarly, citing Douglas Downs, she explores the claim that religious discourses are “discourses of affirmation,” while those of the composition classroom are “discourses of inquiry” (280). Instructors in her sample seem to find Christian students struggling to see their views as fluid and context-based and to consider them in the light of a range of perspectives, practices that the instructors saw as central to successful academic work (281).

Thomson-Bunn suggests that teachers may not always fully articulate their definitions of critical thinking so that students understand why they are being asked to develop certain habits of thought (281). The result, she finds, can be that students feel that their teachers are rejecting them personally or their faith specifically, rather than advocating for a useful approach to academic tasks (282-83). Teachers’ attitudes, Thomson-Bunn posits, may reflect a sense that their relationship with Christian discourses is a “battle” to be won, an approach that may obscure the more productive uses of critical thinking (283).

Issues involving audience awareness emerged as instructors answered a question as to whether it was “appropriate to incorporate religious beliefs into academic writing” (283). Ninety-eight percent of the participants “answered with a version of “it depends’” (283). Instructors suggested that issues of faith were more appropriate to “personal narratives,” which they tended to contrast with other forms of writing deemed more specific to academic discourse, such as argumentative writing (283). Thomson-Bunn quotes an instructor who postulates that some religious students may not realize that the tenets of their faith are not “a fact for everyone” (qtd. in Thomson-Bunn 285) and thus do not recognize the need to “accommodate” an audience as diverse as that of academia (284). Thomson-Bunn offers examples of Muslim graduate students who were able to incorporate an examination of their religious beliefs into academically appropriate intellectual work (284), but suggests that many students lack the “rhetorical dexterity” such accomplishments require (286). Study participants expressed concern about how to respect students’ values while simultaneously requiring them to adhere to academic norms (285).

Instructors expressed similar concerns about how to address students’ use of personal experience and/or Biblical material as evidence in argumentative writing. Thomson-Bunn notes that personal experience has been considered legitimate argumentative evidence by many groups, such as “women, ethnic minorities, LGBT communities” (286). Instructors find premises based on Biblical infallibility problematic because such arguments may assume that “received meanings and values” should be “automatically accepted” (287) rather than subjected to critical evaluation.

Thomson-Bunn notes an instructor who bases judgments about the acceptability of evidence on its effectiveness in a “specific rhetorical context”; this move, Thomson-Bunn argues, eliminates the question of whether or not the student’s “beliefs are correct” (288). Religious students, she points out, share with all students a need for help in determining how to choose evidence for specific situations (288).

Thomson-Bunn finds that “tolerance” for diverse views has become, at least implicitly, “one of the purposes of instruction within the academy” (288). This particular academic norm is of concern in her study because the question, “What characteristics come to mind when you think of a Christian student?” (288) generated responses like “Judgmental,” “Not very open-minded,” and “Suspicious of ideas that challenge their faith” (288-89). No contrasting terms, such as “very open-minded,” emerged (289).

Thomson-Bunn reports a study participant who was taken aback by an intolerant statement from a religious student but who also worried that she responded by “shutting down the conversation” and avoiding “teaching ‘gay’ texts for two years,” responses that she deemed, in fact, emblematic of her own intolerance (289). Thomson-Bunn finds that many instructors respond to the expression of intolerance from religious students by declaring certain topics off limits in their classes (289).

Thomson-Bunn encourages “work[ing] through discursive conflict, rather than avoid[ing] it or inflam[ing] it” (290). She cites one study participant who felt that “critical responsibility [for helping students through such conflict] lies with the instructor” (qtd. in Thomson-Bunn 290). Following Beth Daniell, she suggests that what may look like resistance may be students’ efforts to “work through new ideas” (291).

One instructor addresses the use of the Bible as evidence by conducting a full-class discussion rather than one-on-one conversations with specific students. This tactic, according to the instructor, allows other students to make audience responses and differing interpretations of the text visible and to allow Christian students to examine audience further by re-imagining themselves as audiences for the religious texts of other faiths (292).

Another strategy involves helping students analyze texts that do meet academic norms while drawing on faith, such as the 1805 text “Red Jacket Defends Native American Religion” and “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. Through such texts, students can analyze the rhetorical power of specific textual moves to alienate or appeal to diverse audiences (293).

Finally, Thomson-Bunn argues that by finding ways to respond constructively to religious values in the composition classroom, teachers can “model the very kinds of tolerance and critical thinking we want all students to exhibit” (294; emphasis original).


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Omizo & Hart-Davidson. Genre Signals in Academic Writing. JoWR, 2016. Posted 24 May 2016.

Omizo, Ryan, and William Hart-Davidson. “Finding Genre Signals in Academic Writing.” Journal of Writing Research 7.3 (2016): 485-509. Web. 18 May 2016.

Ryan Omizo and William Hart-Davidson, publishing in a special section on digital text analysis in the Journal of Writing Research, report on a process for investigating markers of genres, specifically in academic writing. They hope to develop a tool that will help advisors and advisees in graduate programs recognize differences between the rhetorical moves made by experienced writers in a field and those more likely to appear in the work of less experienced writers.

They draw on “rhetorical genre theory” to state that although particular kinds of text “recur” in the scholarship of a given field, simply learning patterns for these generic texts does not necessarily produce the kind of text that characterizes expert writing within the field (486). Specific instances of a particular genre vary from the “stable textual patterns” that are easy to identify (486).

As a result, the authors contend, understanding that textual patterns actually constitute rhetorical moves is a necessary component of successfully participating in a genre. Omizo and Hart-Davidson characterize the markers of a genre as “signals shared by author and reader about the social activity—the genre—they are co-negotiating” (486). Understanding the rhetorical purposes of genre features allows novice writers to use them effectively.

The authors work with 505 research articles from the SpringerOpen Journal archive. In order to determine how particular genre markers function as social signals, they begin by developing a coding scheme that mimics what human readers might do in finding clusters of words that do social work within a genre. They give the example of identifying a move essential to an article that can be labeled “science”: “propositional hedging,” in which the writer qualifies a claim to reflect stronger or weaker evidence (487). Omizo and Hart-Davidson argue that in searching for such moves, it is possible to identify a “key protein,” or crucial marker, that indicates the presence of the move (487).

After this initial coding, the authors analyze the texts and convert the markers they find to a graph that allows them to calculate “the relationships between words” (487), which then make visible similarities and differences between the uses of markers in expert work and in novice work, with the intention of allowing advisors and advisees to address the reasons for differences (489).

Their study addresses citation styles in chemistry and materials science (502). They argue that citations are among important kinds of “signaling work” that “communicate something about a text’s status as a response to a familiar kind of exigency to a particular audience” (488). They hoped to find “classifiable patterns in citations moves” that varied “consistently” between experienced and novice writers (489).

They review other ways of categorizing in-text citations, some recognizing as many as twelve different uses of citations. For their own purposes, they created four categories of in-text citations that could be recognized from “premarked cue phrases” similar to those used by D. Marcu, who used phrases marked with “although” and “yet” to locate rhetorical moves (491). Omizo and Hart-Davidson’s scheme, they contend, can recognize types of citation moves and assign them rhetorical functions across disciplines, without requiring any specific knowledge of the discipline or field in which the moves occur (490). Moreover, they argue that their system can distinguish between “mentor and mentee texts” (491).

They categorize citations into

  • Extractions: This term denotes “an idea paraphrased from source [sic] and attributed via a parenthetical reference” (491). In an extraction, the paraphrase itself does not reference the source. Such a rhetorical choice, they posit, “prioritize[s] the information” rather than the source author[s] as “active agents” (491).
  • Groupings: These include “3 or more sources within a parenthesis or brackets” (492). The authors see the social function of groupings as an indication of how the writer or writers locate their work on the topic in question in the larger disciplinary field. As opposed to an extraction, which notes “what particular agents are saying” about a topic, groupings indicate what “a community of scholars is saying” (493). Groupings often facilitate the groundwork laid out in research-article introductions, in particular allowing scholars to establish their ethos as knowledgeable members of the relevant community (493).
  • Author(s) as Actant(s): In this category, the author(s) of the source appear in the sentence as subjects or objects. The category also requires a publication date (493). Omizo and Hart-Davidson see this form of citation as “a qualitatively different means to engage with sourced material” (495), specifically allowing the writer of the current paper to interact directly with others in the field, whether to “affirm, extend, complicate, or challenge” (495).
  • Non-citations: This category encompasses all other sentences in an article, including references to named authors using pronouns or without specific dates (495). Recognizing that they are leaving out some moves that other coders might classify as citations, the authors argue that the limited “shallow parsing” their program uses allows them to more precisely determine “citational intrusion whereupon authors are making manifest their adherence to research conventions and signaling adjuncts to their arguments” (495). Thus, they exclude such components of a text as an extended discussion that is not marked by citation conventions.

Omizo and Hart-Davidson explain in detail how they convert the citation patterns their program discovers into graphs that allow them to chart the relationships between different citations (496-501). They believe that this process allows them to detect several phenomena that may be useful to advisors aiding students in developing their “scholarly voice” (507). The data suggest that it may be possible to use a coding scheme like the one proposed in this study to amass features that characterize a body of work by experienced writers and compare analogous features of an advisee’s draft in order to detect deviations that signal “that there is something this writer does not know about the ways others in the disciplinary area use” the particular feature, in this case citations (505).

For example, the data indicate that the papers of less experienced writers vary less and adhere to conventions more insistently than do those of more experienced writers, who have been exposed to more genres and whose status allows more deviation (503-04). Advisee papers exhibit more “elaboration” than do those of their mentors; Omizo and Hart-Davidson suggest that the detection of more Author(s)-as-Actant(s) citations signals this feature. Markers at the sentence level such as words like “actually” or “better” can point to the presence of more explicit evaluative stances in the work of the less experienced writers (505).

In sum, the authors propose that digital analysis can detect patterns in the citation practices of novice scholars that point to differences between their work and the work of more established scholars and thus can allow them to focus their revision on the rhetorical moves embodied in these differences.