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Pruchnic et al. Mixed Methods in Direct Assessment. J or Writ Assessment, 2018. Posted 12/01/2018.

Pruchnic, Jeff, Chris Susak, Jared Grogan, Sarah Primeau, Joe Torok, Thomas Trimble, Tanina Foster, and Ellen Barton. “Slouching Toward Sustainability: Mixed Methods in the Direct Assessment of Student Writing.” Journal of Writing Assessment 11.1 (2018). Web. 27 Nov. 2018.

[Page numbers from pdf generated from the print dialogue]

Jeff Pruchnic, Chris Susak, Jared Grogan, Sarah Primeau, Joe Torok, Thomas Trimble, Tanina Foster, and Ellen Barton report on an assessment of “reflection argument essay[s]” from the first-year-composition population of a large, urban, public research university (6). Their assessment used “mixed methods,” including a “thin-slice” approach (1). The authors suggest that this method can address difficulties faced by many writing programs in implementing effective assessments.

The authors note that many stakeholders to whom writing programs must report value large-scale quantitative assessments (1). They write that the validity of such assessments is often measured in terms of statistically determined interrater reliability (IRR) and samples considered large enough to adequately represent the population (1).

Administrators and faculty of writing programs often find that implementing this model requires time and resources that may not be readily available, even for smaller programs. Critics of this model note that one of its requirements, high interrater reliability, can too easily come to stand in for validity (2); in the view of Peter Elbow, such assessments favor “scoring” over “discussion” of the results (3). Moreover, according to the authors, critics point to the “problematic decontextualization of program goals and student achievement” that large-scale assessments can foster (1).

In contrast, Pruchnic et al. report, writing programs have tended to value the “qualitative assessment of a smaller sample size” because such models more likely produce the information needed for “the kinds of curricular changes that will improve instruction” (1). Writing programs, the authors maintain, have turned to redefining a valid process as one that can provide this kind of information (3).

Pruchnic et al. write that this resistance to statistically sanctioned assessments has created a bind for writing programs. Pruchnic et al. cite scholars like Peggy O’Neill (2) and Richard Haswell (3) to posit that when writing programs refuse the measures of validity required by external stakeholders, they risk having their conclusions dismissed and may well find themselves subject to outside intervention (3). Haswell’s article “Fighting Number with Number” proposes producing quantitative data as a rhetorical defense against external criticism (3).

In the view of the authors, writing programs are still faced with “sustainability” concerns:

The more time one spends attempting to perform quantitative assessment at the size and scope that would satisfy statistical reliability and validity, the less time . . . one would have to spend determining and implementing the curricular practices that would support the learning that instructors truly value. (4)

Hoping to address this bind, Pruchnic et al. write of turning to a method developed in social studies to analyze “lengthy face-to-face social and institutional interactions” (5). In a “thin-slice” methodology, raters use a common rubric to score small segments of the longer event. The authors report that raters using this method were able to predict outcomes, such as the number of surgery malpractice claims or teacher-evaluation results, as accurately as those scoring the entire data set (5).

To test this method, Pruchnic et al. created two teams, a “Regular” and a “Research” team. The study compared interrater reliability, “correlation of scores,” and the time involved to determine how closely the Research raters, scoring thin slices of the assessment data, matched the work of the Regular raters (5).

Pruchnic et al. provide a detailed description of their institution and writing program (6). The university’s assessment approach is based on Edward White’s “Phase 2 assessment model,” which involves portfolios with a final reflective essay, the prompt for which asks students to write an evidence-based argument about their achievements in relation to the course outcomes (8). The authors note that limited resources gradually reduced the amount of student writing that was actually read, as raters moved from full-fledged portfolio grading to reading only the final essay (7). The challenges of assessing even this limited amount of student work led to a sample that consisted of only 6-12% of the course enrollment.

The authors contend that this is not a representative sample; as a result, “we were making decisions about curricular and other matters that were not based upon a solid understanding of the writing of our entire student body” (7). The assessment, in the authors’ view, therefore did not meet necessary standards of reliability and validity.

The authors describe developing the rubric to be used by both the Research and Regular teams from the precise prompt for the essay (8). They used a “sampling calculator” to determine that, given the total of 1,174 essays submitted, 290 papers would constitute a representative sample; instructors were asked for specific, randomly selected papers to create a sample of 291 essays (7-8).

The Regular team worked in two-member pairs, both members of each pair reading the entire essay, with third readers called in as needed (8): “[E]ach essay was read and scored by only one two-member team” (9). The authors used “double coding” in which one-fifth of the essays were read by a second team to establish IRR (9). In contrast, the 10-member Research team was divided into two groups, each of which scored half the essays. These readers were given material from “the beginning, middle, and end” of each essay: the first paragraph, the final paragraph, and a paragraph selected from the middle page or pages of the essay, depending on its length. Raters scored the slices individually; the averaged five team members’ scores constituted the final scores for each paper (9).

Pruchnic et al. discuss in detail their process for determining reliability and for correlating the scores given by the Regular and Research teams to determine whether the two groups were scoring similarly. Analysis of interrater reliability revealed that the Research Team’s IRR was “one full classification higher” than that of the Regular readers (12). Scores correlated at the “low positive” level, but the correlation was statistically significant (13). Finally, the Research team as a whole spent “a little more than half the time” scoring than the Regular group, while individual average scoring times for Research team members was less than half of the scoring time of the Regular members (13).

Additionally, the assessment included holistic readings of 16 essays randomly representing the four quantitative result classifications of Poor through Good (11). This assessment allowed the authors to determine the qualities characterizing essays ranked at different levels and to address the pedagogical implications within their program (15, 16).

The authors conclude that thin-slice scoring, while not always the best choice in every context (16), “can be added to the Writing Studies toolkit for large-scale direct assessment of evaluative reflective writing” (14). Future research, they propose, should address the use of this method to assess other writing outcomes (17). Paired with a qualitative assessment, they argue, a mixed-method approach that includes thin-slice analysis as an option can help satisfy the need for statistically grounded data in administrative and public settings (16) while enabling strong curricular development, ideally resulting in “the best of both worlds” (18).


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Sweeney, Meghan A. Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept. RTE, Aug. 2018. Posted 09/18/2018.

Sweeney, Meghan A. “Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept of Reading: An Examination of Student Learning in Biochemistry.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.1 (2018): 58-79. Print.

Meghan A. Sweeney presents a case study of a basic-writing student, “Bruce,” who grapples with a composition “threshold concept,” audience awareness. The study tracks Bruce across a three-course composition sequence in his first semester, then through his second-semester work in a research-based composition course as well as biochemistry and chemistry classes in support of his planned major, anesthesiology (64). Sweeney argues that Bruce moved from a “pre-liminal” through a “liminal” phase to end with a “post-liminal” relationship to the concept of audience awareness.

The composition sequence emphasized college reading, which Sweeney finds to be undertheorized in writing instruction (58). Sweeney explores scholarship in disciplinarity to suggest that the development of effective reading practices is important to students’ ability to move beyond the writing classroom and enter “communities of practice,” which P. Prior defines as “a continual process whereby newcomers and old-timers reproduce and produce themselves, their practices, and their communities” (59).

J. Lave and E. Wenger, studying these phenomena, see them “as a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation to other communities of practice” (qtd. in Sweeney 61). Lave and Wenger propose the category of “legitimate peripheral participation” to characterize how students begin their acculturation into such disciplinary sociocultural environments (61).

In studying Bruce’s progress as he approaches the community of practice he intends to enter, Sweeney also draws on the “academic literacies approach,” which emphasizes the ways in which entry into a community of practice involves changes in identity as students begin to see themselves as members of new groups (60). Among the challenges this shift entails are those of transferring practices and concepts from more general academic work to the specialized requirements of the new environment (60-61).

Sweeney’s study examines how such foundational concepts function as students carry them beyond composition. She discusses “threshold concepts” as those that are “potentially transformative” in that, once students grasp them, they begin to think in new ways characteristic of the community of practice in question (63). She gives “opportunity costs” as an example of such a concept in economics (63), advocating more attention to how students introduced to composition’s threshold concepts use these concepts as they transfer their learning into new communities (63).

At the large public research university in the western U.S. where the study was conducted, students deemed underprepared take a semester-long three-course integrated reading and writing combination including “a three-unit composition intensive,” a reading course, and an editing-for-style course (64) before moving on to a second-semester composition course. Sweeney characterizes Bruce, a first-generation Korean American student from a working-class background, as “highly motivated” (64). She quotes B. Flyvbjerg to argue that an atypical subject like Bruce may “reveal more information because they activate more actors and more basic mechanisms in the situation studied” (qtd. in Sweeney 64).

Sweeney observed both Bruce’s second-semester writing course and two sessions of his lecture-style chemistry class, taking notes on Bruce’s involvement and on the ways in which the professors presented the material relevant to their fields (65). Her data collection also included “four semi-structured” interviews in which Bruce provided insights into his reading practices and use of rhetorical concepts across the different classes (65).

Data from Bruce’s work in the first-semester composition combination leads Sweeney to argue that when he entered the sequence, he limited his reading response to summary, failing to engage with audience questions (66). She writes that as the semester progressed, he encountered discussions and readings about how writers differ depending on their situated practice and membership within a field. This exposure, Sweeney writes, triggered Bruce’s deepening attention to audience, and by the end, he

had begun to visualize other readers of his texts, to expect writers to influence others through rhetorical choices, and to expect audiences to keep an open mind while still maintaining an awareness of the choices made. (67-68)

The author describes Bruce’s progress to this point as a transition from “a pre-liminal space” in which the “troublesome” threshold concept of audience awareness posed challenges (67) to a “liminal” phase (68) in which a learner recursively “engages with [the] threshold concept but oscillates between old and emergent ideas” (62).

Sweeney contends that in his second semester, Bruce’s experiences in chemistry and biochemistry classes completed his movement into a “post-liminal” engagement with audience awareness in his new community of practice and with the identity formation involved in this engagement (68). Noting that Bruce learned quickly what information was important to the professor and adjusted his reading strategies accordingly, Sweeney records such moves as the professor’s references to “we” in lecturing, inviting students to see themselves as community members (69).

In biochemistry, Bruce worked with a lab mentor; Sweeney finds it crucial that Bruce recognized that he was not the audience for the technical papers he was asked to read. That realization pushed him to do independent research on Google and other less-advanced sources to develop his acculturation into “biochem jargon” (69).

Sweeney draws on Bruce’s final paper for the course as evidence of his post-liminal growth: she indicates that his exposure to audience awareness in his composition class meant that he “expected a critical reader” (71) and paid attention to the details that would demonstrate to the professor that he had been a strong participant in the class. At the same time, Sweeney notes, Bruce saw the details as “necessary for other scientists who might want to replicate his experiment” (72). Thus he was writing for “dual audiences” but with full awareness of his own standing as a peripheral participant (72). In Sweeney’s view, Bruce’s transformational relationship with audience was further evinced by his assertion that even experts did not read as doubters when encountering new information, and that therefore his strategy of reading new material for comprehension rather than as a critic was appropriate for his early work in science (70).

Sweeney’s study suggests that for students like Bruce who have been deemed underprepared, awareness of audience may drive them to accept this designation (74). She proposes that for Bruce, his struggles to enter the biochemistry community in the light of this designation may have been “generative” because they pushed him to assert agency by developing effective personal reading strategies (76). She argues that actively teaching audience awareness in early composition courses, in contrast to models that assume students will acquire disciplinary identities through “apprenticeship,” can give students a more productive understanding of how they can begin to relate to the communities of practice they hope to enter (75).


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McWain, Katie. Instructors in Dual-Enrollment Programs. TETYC, May 2018. Posted 06/20/2018.

McWain, Katie. “Finding Freedom at the Composition Threshold: Learning from the Experiences of Dual Enrollment Teachers.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 45.4 (2018): 406-24. Print.

Katie McWain recounts a study of instructors of dual-enrollment courses. She interviews and collects documents from seven teachers, five writing program administrators or dual-enrollment coordinators, and one high-school administrator. These educators represented three “dual-enrollment partnerships” in demographically varied institutions and schools in the Midwest (409).

Documenting the increase in credit-bearing college courses taught in high schools by high school teachers, McWain notes ongoing critiques of the process from composition scholars but states that attention has been turning to how the instructors of these courses can be better supported as members of the composition community (408). She writes that the proliferation of these courses, especially in community colleges, makes dual-enrollment teachers “the first-contact professionals” who will introduce students to college writing (421), placing them in “a uniquely liminal institutional positionality” (408).

In this role, in McWain’s view, the teachers have the opportunity to make first-year composition “a transformative practice” (407). But she argues that the possibilities inherent in dual-enrollment programs depend on teachers’ overcoming significant challenges. Study of teachers’ actual negotiation of these challenges, she contends, is rare (408, 421), but understanding them and working to help teachers overcome them is “the responsibility” of the composition profession (421).

McWain attributes the growth of the dual-enrollment model to the pressure to graduate students more quickly and efficiently; since 2015, she notes, federal funding has been offered for the development of such courses (408). She traces the impact of this trend on the academic freedom of the high school teachers who instruct the majority of these classes (407).

Coding of interviews revealed four “challenges” faced by dual-enrollment instructors in the high schools (409). The first is that these instructors function within “discourse communities” and “activity systems” that differ from those experienced by college faculty (410). McWain distinguishes between the “community of literature” that surrounds high-school English curricula as opposed to a “community of composition” that college writing faculty inhabit (410). Her interviewees express frustration at attempting to provide college rigor without the support college faculty often receive. Further, one interviewee contends that her high-school colleagues “don’t see themselves as writers” and question their own expertise (“Rachel,” qtd. in McWain 411). Preparation may be taken up with “‘calibrating’ assessment strategies” rather than addressing pedagogy (411). Finally, the many entities for whom high school teachers work problematize the concept of academic freedom, as each employer competes to dictate the priorities teachers have to set (411).

Second, dual-enrollment instructors in the high schools struggle to meet college outcomes while still meeting rigid curricular requirements for the high schools where they teach. Such rigidity limits innovation and creative teaching practice. McWain gives an example of a student whose unique project on To Kill a Mockingbird received “all zeroes” as “[o]ff topic, not score-able” when tested against the required assessment paradigm (412-13). In contrast, some interviewees testified to the lack of a specific curriculum, but the freedom that may have followed from this dearth of guidance was undercut by the lack of a “professional teaching community” (412) with knowledge of college expectations and access to “the research and policies” generated by the composition profession (413-14). Teachers spoke of tweaking assignments designed to meet the high school standards rather than developing more rigorous ones that might be rejected (412).

The third challenges McWain explores involves the pressures dual-enrollment instructors face from other stakeholders, especially parents. She illustrates that the role of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is poorly defined in dual-credit environments (414-15). Her interviewees emphasize the demands of communicating with parents in a high-school setting, including “diplomatic emails” about problem areas and the expectation that parents should always be informed if a student is doing poorly (416). The failure to clearly reconcile these requirements with the responsibility given to students in a college course leaves instructors without “protection” should administrators and parents protest low grades (416). Academic freedom can also be challenged if parents object to the “mature and controversial subject matter” that may characterize college work (“Sally,” qtd. in McWain 415).

Finally, McWain argues that the labor conditions of dual-enrollment instructors both affect pedagogy and limit agency. Interviewees detail the amount of work involved in regular high-school teaching (416), while one participant created a spreadsheet to demonstrate that dual-enrollment teachers worked 117 more hours per semester than other teachers (420). These instructors are expected to plan college-level coursework with, in one case, “a 22-minute lunch” and “a 47-minute planning period” (“Kelly,” qtd. in McWain 417). “Sally” reports “being responsible for 124 students” (417). Moreover, teachers report that “assessment is prioritized over pedagogy,” forcing instructors to adjust their activities to meet grading demands (417).

Asked what they most needed, interviewees stressed “time” (419). McWain contends that all teachers, including those in post-secondary environments, face demands to teach more for less compensation, but she highlights the extra burden confronted by the overlay of dual-enrollment duties onto high-school exigencies (419).

McWain illustrates “innovative solutions” developed by teachers themselves, such as one instructor’s handling of parental objections to course content (419-20). Teachers and administrators alike envision more support, such as collaborative “teams” to help with professional development and course design and designated coordinators for dual-enrollment programs (420). McWain suggests possible gains in pushing for more membership in the certifying body, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, which has created standards in several areas. Despite criticism that the Alliance “is not a guarantee of curricular integrity,” McWain contends that the organization at least encourages awareness of important issues (420).

She also recommends that composition’s professional organizations and graduate programs recognize the increasing role played by dual-enrollment instructors and begin to incorporate coursework and policy positions that will encourage better conditions and improve practice for these faculty (421). Her own study, she writes, is “preliminary and general,” but she argues for the importance of learning about and supporting “this growing segment of our disciplinary population” (421).

 

 


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Carter and Gallegos. Assessing Celebrations of Student Writing. CS, Spring 2017. Posted 09/03/2017.

Carter, Genesea M., and Erin Penner Gallegos. “Moving Beyond the Hype: What Does the Celebration of Student Writing Do for Students?” Composition Studies 45.1 (2017): 74-98. Web. 29 Aug. 2017.

Genesea M. Carter and Erin Penner Gallegos present research on “celebrations of student writing (CSWs)” (74), arguing that while extant accounts of these events portray them as positive and effective additions to writing programs, very little research has addressed students’ own sense of the value of the CSW experience. To fill this gap, Carter and Gallegos interviewed 23 students during a CSW at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and gathered data from an anonymous online survey (84).

As defined by Carter and Gallegos, a CSW asks students to represent the writing from their coursework in a public forum through posters and art installations (77). Noting that the nature of a CSW is contingent on the particular institution at which it takes place (75, 91), the authors provide specific demographic data about UNM, where their research was conducted. The university is both a “federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI)” and “a Carnegie-designated very high research university” (75), thus incorporating research-level expectations with a population of “historically marginalized,” “financially very needy” students with “lower educational attainment” (76). Carter and Gallegos report on UNM’s relatively low graduation rates as compared to similar universities and the “particular challenges” faced by this academic community (76).

Among these challenges, in the authors’ view, was a “negative framing of the student population from the university community and city residents” (76). Exposure in 2009 via a meeting with Linda Adler-Kassner to the CSW model in place at Eastern Michigan University led graduate students Carter and Gallegos to develop a similar program at UNM (76-77). Carter and Gallegos were intrigued by the promise of programs like the one at EMU to present a new, positive narrative about students and their abilities to the local academic and civic communities.

They recount the history of the UNM CSW as a project primarily initiated by graduate students that continues to derive from graduate-student interests and participation while also being broadly adopted by the larger university and in fact the larger community (78, 92). In their view, the CSW differs from other institutional showcases of student writing such as an undergraduate research day and a volume of essays selected by judges in that it offers a venue for “students who lack confidence in their abilities or who do not already feel that they belong to the university community” (78). They argue that changing the narrative about student writing requires a space for recognizing the strengths of such historically undervalued students.

Examining CSWs from a range of institutions in order to discover what the organizers believe these events achieve, the authors found “a few commonalities” (79). Organizers underscored their belief that the audience engagement offered by a CSW enforced the nature of writing as “social, situational, and public,” a “transactional” experience rather than the “one-dimensional” model common in academic settings (80). Further, CSWs are seen to endorse student contributions to research across the university community and to inspire recognition of the multiple literacies that students bring to their academic careers (81). The authors’ review also reveals organizers’ beliefs that such events will broaden students’ understanding of the writing process by foregrounding how writing evolves through revision into different modes (81).

An important thread is the power of CSWs to enhance students’ “sense of belonging, both to an intellectual and a campus community” (82). Awareness that their voices are valued, according to the authors’ research, is an important factor in student persistence among marginalized populations (81). Organizers see CSWs as encouraging students to see themselves as “authors within a larger community discourse” (83).

Carter and Gallegos note a critique by Mark Mullen, who argues that CSWs can actually exploit student voices in that they may actually be a “celebration of the teaching of writing, a reassertion of agency by practitioners who are routinely denigrated” (qtd. in Carter and Gallegos 84). The authors find from their literature review that, indeed, few promotions of CSWs in the literature include student voices (84). They contend that their examination of student perceptions of the CSW process can further understanding of the degree to which these events meet their intended outcomes (84).

Their findings support the expectation that students will find the CSW valuable, but discovered several ways in which the hopes of supporters and the responses of students are “misaligned” (90). While the CSW did contribute to students’ sense of writing as a social process, students expressed most satisfaction in being able to interact with their peers, sharing knowledge and experiencing writing in a new venue as fun (86). Few students understood how CSW connected to the goals of their writing coursework, such as providing a deeper understanding of rhetorical situation and audience (87). While students appreciated the chance to “express” their views, the authors write that students “did not seem to relate expression to being heard or valued by the academic community” or to “an extension of agency” (88).

For the CSW to more clearly meet its potential, the authors recommend that planners at all levels focus on building metacognitive awareness of the pedagogical value of such events through classroom activities (89). Writing programs involved in CSWs, according to the authors, can develop specific outcomes beyond those for the class as a whole that define what supporters and participants hope the event will achieve (89-90). Students themselves should be involved in planning the event as well as determining its value (90), with the goal of “emphasizing to their student participants that the CSW is not just another fun activity but an opportunity to share their literacies and voices with their classmates and community” (90).

A more detailed history of the development of the UNM event illustrates how the CSW became increasingly incorporated into other university programs and how it ultimately drew participation from local artists and performers (92-93). The authors applaud this “institutionalizing” of the event because such broad interest and sponsorship mean that the CSW can continue to grow and spread knowledge of student voices to other disciplines and across the community (93).

They see “downsides” in this expansion in that the influence of different sponsors from year to year and attachment to initiatives outside of writing tends to separate the CSW from the writing courses it originated to serve. Writing programs in venues like UNM may find it harder to develop appropriate outcomes and assess results, making sure that the CSW remains a meaningful part of a writing program’s mission (93). The authors recommend that programs hoping that a CSW will enhance actual writing instruction should commit adequate resources and attention to the ongoing events. The authors write that, “imperatively,” student input must be part of the process in order to prevent such events from “becom[ing] merely another vehicle for asserting the value of the teaching of writing” (94; emphasis original).


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Kraemer, Don J. Ethics, Morality, and Justice. CCC, June 2017. Posted 07/16/2017.

Kraemer, Don J. “The Good, the Right, and the Decent: Ethical Dispositions, the Moral Viewpoint, and Just Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication 68.4 (2017): 603-28. Print.

Don J. Kraemer argues that scholars in composition studies conflate the terms “ethical” and “moral.” He contends that distinguishing between these concepts through examining the ethical-moral interface as ‘a topic” (607; emphasis original) can provide a heuristic opportunity that can enhance compositionists’ efforts to work with diverse student views and values.

A starting point for Kraemer is Joseph Harris’s 2015 article, “Reasoning at the Point of a Gun,” in which Harris records discussion with grad students about a first-year student writing in opposition to gun control (603-04). Kraemer reports that Harris’s concerns included both urging the student “to inhabit, at least for a moment, a point of view you disagree with” and, at the same time, “find[ing] a way to help him develop the argument he wants to make” (qtd. in Kraemer 605, 604).

Kraemer presents these goals as representing the confrontation between the moral and the ethical. He also quotes Patricia Bizzell’s 2009 “Composition Studies Saves the World!”, maintaining that her reference to her “personal morality” (qtd. in Kraemer 605) actually describes “an ethics” (604-05).

To explore the distinctions between these concepts, Kraemer draws on a “kantian” approach in which, “ethically, we evaluate our actions in terms of the good, morally in terms of the right or obligatory” (606; emphasis original). He argues that we all belong to varied communities that may or may not share the same range of values or goods, that values can conflict even for individuals, and that these conflicts become “moral conflicts” in that we use moral reasoning to assess and judge them (605-06).

A further distinction Kraemer invokes to illuminate the moral-ethical interface is the difference between “what one is to be” and “what one is to do” (James Porter, qtd. in Kraemer 606-07). Kraemer categorizes questions about the kind of person an individual would like to be as ethical in that they deal with individual aspirations and values, the individual’s “good,” while questions about actions are questions about “what is the right thing to do,” that is, “the right thing for one, for anyone to do” (607) and therefore moral; emphasis original). For Kraemer, what individuals aspire to may or may not accord with the universal right thing supplied by morality (607).

Kraemer argues that when morality and ethics confront each other, as they must, we use morality to assess and reason about our ethical choices. In this process, the ethical good, which may accrue to groups and communities as well as individuals and which may be specific to particular circumstances, is not overridden by the moral, universal judgment but is taken into account. When, in Kant’s words, “human morality” and “human happiness” come together in “union and harmony,” the result is the “highest possible good in the world” (qtd. in Kraemer 607). “This,” Kraemer writes, “is the just” (607).

An important component of the just in Kraemer’s formulation is that it takes into account what doing the right thing will cost the individual actor or the community in which a particular version of the good is invoked. The heuristic value of the moral-ethical distinction, in this view, is that it sustains the “inventive tension” (615) between what we owe others (the moral) and what we see as important to achieve, to succeed at (the ethical) (611).

This view of ethics provides Kraemer with the argument that an ethically directed writer might value the rewards, both tangible and psychic, of doing a particular kind of writing well, even if that kind of writing does not commit the individual to making the highest use of his time by acting specifically to benefit others (610, 619); in fact, an individual’s practice of the good as she sees it in her writing may “may add to a reader’s labors, if not also offend that person, or worse” (615). Yet morality does not disappear; it involves the question “as to who benefits and who bears the cost” of an individual or group’s ethical choices (611). When these two kinds of stances “face each other,” we approach “the just” (611).

Kraemer develops his argument through a reading of John Duffy’s “Ethical Dispositions: A Discourse for Rhetoric and Composition.” Bringing this text into conversation with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, Kraemer traces what he sees as Duffy’s movement between the ethical and the moral, arguing that keeping these terms separate allows a more fruitful understanding of the dilemma faced by writing teachers as they work to support students’ individual goals while also fostering a set of dispositions claimed by rhetoric and composition as foundational to the field’s mission.

For example, Kraemer examines Duffy’s statement that asking students to respond to counterarguments in their texts fosters “the dispositions of tolerance, generosity, and self-awareness” (qtd.. in Kraemer 616). For Kraemer, this exhortation to students “seems unnecessarily unilateral” (616). If listening to others respectfully signals care for their ends and “that person’s life as an end in itself,” then we are obligated to “inquir[e] how his ends, taken as policy, would affect us—as well as any of the people we have the luck (good or bad) not to be” (617). In other words, this obligation requires us to expend the same rigor in examining our own position as that of others.

Kraemer provides an example of how such discussions in Duffy might more usefully reflect this interplay between morality and ethics:

It has indeed been the moral side of the discussion that has been voiced. . . . Giving voice to ethical virtue can take as little as adding, to the sentence that follows, “and to themselves”: “To teach these particular practices is therefore to teach students to read, speak and write in ways that express their commitments to other human beings [and to themselves] (Duffy 224; bracketed material added). (618)

Kraemer addresses the problem of morality when it is imagined as and critiqued as a rigid universal code. He agrees with Duffy that a moral code adopted from the perspective of one group to the exclusion of others fails as a source of reasoning about the just. However, he contends that “writing pedagogy will be better informed . . . if morality is not dispensed with as a preexisting standard only” (612). Dismissing its attention to what might constitute the good for everyone and embracing only values attached to specific local contexts diminishes the power morality has to call ethics to account.

Apropos of the “‘perfect’ justice” that may result from too rigid an application of the universal, Kraemer turns to Aristotle’s idea of “decency,” which “corrects” laws that fail to establish the just universality they intend (620). Decency derives from the “practical wisdom” in play when morality “judg[es] in situations with that situation’s particulars in mind” (620).

Applied to the writing classroom, such decency, in Kraemer’s view, honors both individual decisions about “what a course well taught might mean” and claims about what such a course “might do for all students” (621). The tension between these goals is where Kraemer argues that we approach justice, a willingness, despite our individual ethics, to “try to establish terms with one another that everyone can agree are reasonable and fair” (621).


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Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. Service-Learning for Community College Students. May TETYC. Posted 06/09/2017.

Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. “Bridging Gaps and Creating Rich Service-Learning Experiences for Marginalized Students.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.4 (2017): 351-71. Web. 27 May 2017.

Kassia Krzus-Shaw argues that service-learning research has not adequately addressed the ways in which students from community colleges experience service-learning. Using her own practices teaching a service-learning component in a composition class at a two-year institution, Krzus-Shaw discusses how her students’ identities as members of the community they were expected to serve affected their learning and their engagement within an academic environment.

Previous research, Krzus-Shaw contends, generally addresses the “immersion” model in which privileged college students, usually white, enter very different cultural environments (353). Research that does consider students with different ethnic and cultural identities, she writes, has attempted to focus on individual identity groups, while in her experience, community-college students are likely to exhibit many different overlapping identities (352).

Krzus-Shaw presents her teaching model as an exploration of how these overlapping identities complicate service-learning when the culture the students serve is their own. She notes that her study must be considered “anecdotal” because, as contingent faculty, she had no “access to the IRB process, or other institutional supports” and thus could not present data such as student writing (355).

Within such community-college contexts, Krzus-Shaw argues, service learning can address marginalized students’ struggles with embracing an academic identity that confers authority and expertise, develops rhetorical awareness and agency, and encourages commitment to academic and professional contexts (353). This focus, Krzus-Shaw reports, differs from that of more traditional service-learning models in that traditionally, students are assumed to develop academic authority as a result of the service experience; in her class, students needed to begin embracing their identity as analysts and researchers before entering the service-learning environment (357). Unlike students in traditional service-learning courses, her students did not need time to become acquainted with the new culture but “already were experts on the lived social experience embodied by the service sites” (357). The new perspectives marginalized students encountered as they did service work within their communities were the views of themselves as scholar-researchers with “the academic identity to contextualize their experiences in a way that the academy recognizes as rhetorically exigent” (357).

Krzus-Shaw used a “bridge model” as “scaffolding” for her students’ service experiences (355-56). One element of this model in designing service-learning curricula is “flexibility,” for example as a criterion for the sites where the service will take place. Krzus-Shaw emphasizes that for these students, transportation and child care can prevent participation and commitment; her most effective site was within walking distance of the classroom, family-friendly, and bilingual (356).

Also central to the bridge model’s focus on agency, Krzus-Shaw writes, is the decision to make participation optional. She reports that her course outcomes and materials were pre-determined by her program, and that she was probably the only instructor to build a service-learning component into the preset course design (356). Making the service-learning unit optional made it easier for students to feel “ownership” of their choice to participate (357).

Krzus-Shaw writes that she found it possible to build her service-learning model on her department’s focus on “genre; the composition process; and rhetorical awareness” by assigning, first, a narrative “locating their rhetorical voice within their community” (357), followed by an analysis on some aspect of “community action” (357). The class moved on to writing “reports” about visits to the classroom by people active at the sites (357). These visits provided students with role models and mentors as well as contact points for the upcoming service component (358).

Students could then choose one of two tracks for their argument and research papers, either on issues related to the service site itself or on issues related to “community-based problems” to which they proposed solutions (358). Work by students writing for the service site was used to “create new public initiatives and to apply for new grants” (358). Krzus-Shaw writes that awareness that their writing would actually be used inspired students with an increased sense of audience, with subsequent effects on the amount and quality of revision as well as engagement both in the classroom and in the community (360).

Important components of the “pedagogical bridge” involved in service learning, in Krzus-Shaw’s view, are “observation and journaling” prior to developing formal research papers using secondary sources (359-60). In her view, it was during this process that students were able to “negotiate their personal identity with that of the organization, the community, and with the student-scholar role they’re being asked to engage” (359). This negotiation, she writes, contributes greatly to transfer, as students carry these identities forward into future academic, civic, and professional environments.

Krzus-Shaw reports that reflection further enhanced the identity transformation that resulted from becoming leaders and authorities within their own communities. Reflection allowed students to process “shock” at the level of problems faced by members of communities where they themselves were “living within those statistics” (361). Reflection, she contends, allowed them to recognize how systemic factors influence individual lives at the same time that it encouraged them to see how effective rhetorical action could make a difference (361) as they began “reaching for new ways of interacting with their world” (362).

Fifty percent of students in the last of the three semesters during which Krzus-Shaw taught the unit opted to participate, and two students in particular continued working with the participant organizations, noting that the experience “changed their life trajectory” with regard to career choices and confidence in their rhetorical agency (363).

Krzus-Shaw argues for more formal longitudinal studies of students from marginalized communities who undertook service-learning roles in those same communities (364). Such studies could validate her findings, which she contends were necessarily limited by her position as contingent faculty despite encouragement from her institution. First-year writing students, she maintains, are among those who would most benefit from the identity transformation that service-learning can enable (365), yet those students are most likely to be taught by part-time faculty who are burdened by their own economic status and workloads, as well as by being excluded from the formal support needed to design and implement service-learning initiatives (365-66).

She points to the “civic engagement statements” included in the mission statements of many two-year institutions as grounds for providing more support for service-learning in these environments. Meanwhile, she writes, instructors in these colleges can institute “small steps” in service-learning that, over time, can establish networks and practices that ease the workload involved (366-67). For students who become involved in service-learning within their communities, she states, “there is an aspect of service-learning on the student level that sustains itself well beyond our liminal role as professors” (367).


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Litterio, Lisa M. Contract Grading: A Case Study. J of Writing Assessment, 2016. Posted 04/20/2017.

Litterio, Lisa M. “Contract Grading in a Technical Writing Classroom: A Case Study.” Journal of Writing Assessment 9.2 (2016). Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

In an online issue of the Journal of Writing Assessment, Lisa M. Litterio, who characterizes herself as “a new instructor of technical writing,” discusses her experience implementing a contract grading system in a technical writing class at a state university in the northeast. Her “exploratory study” was intended to examine student attitudes toward the contract-grading process, with a particular focus on how the method affected their understanding of “quality” in technical documents.

Litterio’s research into contract grading suggests that it can have the effect of supporting a process approach to writing as students consider the elements that contribute to an “excellent” response to an assignment. Moreover, Litterio contends, because it creates a more democratic classroom environment and empowers students to take charge of their writing, contract grading also supports critical pedagogy in the Freirean model. Litterio draws on research to support the additional claim that contract grading “mimic[s] professional practices” in that “negotiating and renegotiating a document” as students do in contracting for grades is a practice that “extends beyond the classroom into a workplace environment.”

Much of the research she reports dates to the 1970s and 1980s, often reflecting work in speech communication, but she cites as well models from Ira Shor, Jane Danielewicz and Peter Elbow, and Asao Inoue from the 2000s. In a common model, students can negotiate the quantity of work that must be done to earn a particular grade, but the instructor retains the right to assess quality and to assign the final grade. Litterio depicts her own implementation as a departure from some of these models in that she did make the final assessment, but applied criteria devised collaboratively by the students; moreover, her study differs from earlier reports of contract grading in that it focuses on the students’ attitudes toward the process.

Her Fall 2014 course, which she characterizes as a service course, enrolled twenty juniors and seniors representing seven majors. Neither Litterio nor any of the students were familiar with contract grading, and no students withdrew on learning from the syllabus and class announcements of Litterio’s grading intentions. At mid-semester and again at the end of the course, Litterio administered an anonymous open-ended survey to document student responses. Adopting the role of “teacher-researcher,” Litterio hoped to learn whether involvement in the generation of criteria led students to a deeper awareness of the rhetorical nature of their projects, as well as to “more involvement in the grading process and more of an understanding of principles discussed in technical writing, such as usability and document design.”

Litterio shares the contract options, which allowed students to agree to produce a stated number of assignments of either “excellent,” “great,” or “good” quality, an “entirely positive grading schema” that draws on Frances Zak’s claim that positive evaluations improved student “authority over their writing.”

The criteria for each assignment were developed in class discussion through an open voting process that resulted in general, if not absolute, agreement. Litterio provides the class-generated criteria for a resumé, which included length, format, and the expectations of “specific and strong verbs.” As the instructor, Litterio ultimately decided whether these criteria were met.

Mid-semester surveys indicated that students were evenly split in their preferences for traditional grading models versus the contract-grading model being applied. At the end of the semester, 15 of the 20 students expressed a preference for traditional grading.

Litterio coded the survey responses and discovered specific areas of resistance. First, some students cited the unfamiliarity of the contract model, which made it harder for them to “track [their] own grades,” in one student’s words. Second, the students noted that the instructor’s role in applying the criteria did not differ appreciably from instructors’ traditional role as it retained the “bias and subjectivity” the students associated with a single person’s definition of terms like “strong language.” Students wrote that “[i]t doesn’t really make a difference in the end grade anyway, so it doesn’t push people to work harder,” and “it appears more like traditional grading where [the teacher] decide[s], not us.”

In addition, students resisted seeing themselves and their peers as qualified to generate valid criteria and to offer feedback on developing drafts. Students wrote of the desire for “more input from you vs. the class,” their sense that student-generated criteria were merely “cosmetics,” and their discomfort with “autonomy.” Litterio attributes this resistance to the role of expertise to students’ actual novice status as well as to the nature of the course, which required students to write for different discourse communities because of their differing majors. She suggests that contract grading may be more appropriate for writing courses within majors, in which students may be more familiar with the specific nature of writing in a particular discipline.

However, students did confirm that the process of generating criteria made them more aware of the elements involved in producing exemplary documents in the different genres. Incorporating student input into the assessment process, Litterio believes, allows instructors to be more reflective about the nature of assessment in general, including the risk of creating a “yes or no . . . dichotomy that did not allow for the discussions and subjectivity” involved in applying a criterion. Engaging students throughout the assessment process, she contends, provides them with more agency and more opportunity to understand how assessment works. Student comments reflect an appreciation of having a “voice.”

This study, Litterio contends, challenges the assumption that contract grading is necessarily “more egalitarian, positive, [and] student-centered.” The process can still strike students as biased and based entirely on the instructor’s perspective, she found. She argues that the reflection on the relationship between student and teacher roles enabled by contract grading can lead students to a deeper understanding of “collective norms and contexts of their actions as they enter into the professional world.”