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Webb-Sunderhaus, Sara. “Tellability” and Identity Performance. Sept. CE, 2016. Posted 09/18/2016.

Webb-Sunderhaus, Sara. “‘Keep the Appalachian, Drop the Redneck’: Tellable Student Narratives of Appalachian Identity.” College English 79.1 (2016): 11-33. Print.

Sara Webb-Sunderhaus explores the concept of “tellability” as a means of understanding how students in composition classes perform identities. She argues that these identities often emerge from the relationship between their individual experiences and public discourses validated by the audiences they are likely to encounter.

Webb-Sunderhaus’s specific focus is the construction of identity by people who designate themselves or are designated by others as “Appalachian.” Self-identifying as an “Urban Appalachian”—that is, as an individual who has moved out of a region considered part of Appalachia to a larger city (13, 31n5), Webb-Sunderhaus conducted an ethnographic study at two anonymous institutions in Appalachia (13). She examines the classroom activity, written work, and responses to interviews of six students in writing classes at these institutions in light of the students’ connection to Appalachia.

Webb-Sunderhaus presents contested definitions of Appalachia, including those of the Appalachian Regional Council and the Central Appalachian Network, both of which use geographical measures (14). In contrast, Webb-Sunderhaus cites Benedict Anderson’s definition of Appalachia as “an imagined community” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus14), and that of Appalachian Studies scholar Allen Batteau as “a literary and a political invention rather than a geographical discovery” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus14). Webb-Sunderhaus argues that efforts to define Appalachianness may miss the diversity of individuals who identify with the region; she stresses that this identity is “a cultural identity, rooted in the place of the Appalachian mountains, but not necessarily restricted to this place alone” (16).

Tellability, a concept used by scholars in social studies and folklore, involves the relationship between a particular narrative and widespread public discourses about a given phenomenon, in this case, Appalachianness (16). These public discourses determine which narratives accord with common assumptions and widely shared impressions of the phenomenon. A narrative that is tellable fits and reinforces the extant public narratives; accounts that resist these public narratives may not earn what Michael Kearns calls “the audience’s active validation” (16) and are therefore not tellable (16-17). Tellability, Webb-Sunderhaus maintains, is a function of audience. Writers and speakers are aware of the discourses their audiences expect based on the given rhetorical constraints; what is tellable in one context may be untellable in another (22).

This process of negotiating identities through astute choices of tellable narratives, Webb-Sunderhaus writes, accords with Judith Butler’s view of identity as “a performance that is repeated” by “a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already established” (Butler, qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 17). Tellable narratives provide what Debra Journet calls “tropes of authenticity” necessary to such re-enactment (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 21).

Webb-Sunderhaus interprets her study of how tellability influences students’ rhetorical decisions as they perform identities in a classroom setting as evidence that students exhibit considerable awareness of what kinds of narratives are tellable and that in a number of cases, these decisions were based on what the students assumed the instructor expected (29). In one case, a student “fabricated” details (23) to conform to what she saw as the teacher’s belief that affinity with nature is a feature of Appalachianness; in contrast, the reality of the student’s childhood did not meet this expectation and was therefore an untellable response to an essay assignment (23-24).

Drawing on Nedra Reynolds, Webb-Sunderhaus notes a distinction between “perceived” and “conceived” spaces as components of identity. A perceived space designates physical surroundings that can be apprehended through the senses, such as the landscape of Appalachia, while a conceived space is the way an environment is represented mentally, incorporating sociocultural components, attitudes, and values (20).

Students in Webb-Sunderhaus’s study, she writes, exhibited an understanding of this distinction, noting ways in which being born in or from Appalachia often contrasted with their relationship to Appalachia as individuals. One student acknowledged being physically linked to Appalachia but rejected even some of the “positive” stereotypes she felt were culturally associated with the region (25). Another specifically disconnected her Appalachian birthplace and subsequent experiences, arguing that tellable narratives of Appalachians as tied to place did not represent her own willingness to “explore the world” (“Gladys,” qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 26).

Webb-Sunderhaus sees in this type of resistance to common tellable narratives a form of what Ann K. Ferrell calls “stigma management” (28). Many tellable narratives of Appalachia focus on negatives like poverty, illiteracy, narrow-mindedness, and even criminality and incest (18). In Webb-Sunderhaus’s view, resistance to an Appalachian identity defined by such narratives can act as a distancing strategy when such narratives are invoked (28). At the same time, according to Webb-Sunderhaus, the student who rejected the “down-home” component of an Appalachian identity may have recognized that in the setting of a research study, her more cosmopolitan identity narrative would be tellable in a way that it might not be in other contexts (28).

Webb-Sunderhaus emphasizes the power of teachers in “inviting” and approving particular narratives (28). For example, she writes that by picking up on a student’s reluctant reference to moonshining in his family history and sharing a similar family history, she encouraged him to incorporate this component of the public discourse about Appalachia into his own identity (21). Similarly, the student who embellished her narrative was praised by the teacher for her “imagery and pastoralism” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 22); such responses, Webb-Sunderhaus contends, quoting Thomas Newkirk, reveal “the seductiveness of deeply rooted and deeply satisfying narratives that place us in familiar moral positions” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 24).

The power of this seductiveness, in Webb-Sunderhaus’s view, creates rhetorical pressure on students who are asked to perform identities in writing classrooms. While teachers hope that students will produce writing that authentically represents their views and experiences, the authenticity and “reliability” of a performance can easily be judged by its adherence to the common and therefore tellable public discourses in which the teacher may be immersed (28-29). Responding to Zan Meyer Gonçalves, Webb-Sunderhaus writes that the hope of making a classroom a place where students can “feel honest and safe” (qtd. in Webb-Sunderhaus 29) may overlook the degree to which students’ educational histories have led them to make strategic decisions (29) about how to “negotiate successfully [a] particular literacy event” (24).

In this view, the kinds of clichéd endorsements of popular discourses that teachers would like to see students overcome may be among the options the teachers are inadvertently inviting as they convey their own sense that some narratives are tellable in their classrooms while others are not (30).

 


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Kelley, Brittany. Fan Fiction as a “Gift Economy.” C&C, June 2016. Posted 06/22/2016.

Kelley, Brittany. “Chocolate Frogs for My Betas!: Practicing Literacy at One Online Fanfiction Website.” Computers and Composition 40 (2916): 48-59. Web. 02 June 2016.

Brittany Kelley investigates the literacy practices of a fan-fiction site, the Ashwinder archive included in the Sycophant Hex fan community, a “site for quality Harry Potter fanfiction” (Sycophant Hex, qtd. in Kelley 49). Noting prior research on fan fiction that casts it as a locus for “resistance” within consumer cultures, Kelley contends that the interactions within the fan community she has studied are more complex, with unique “affective econom[ies]” (49) that both derive from and expand upon larger social forces (50).

Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 call for composition studies to embrace “this moment right now” for its unique window on what writing and identify mean in an age of increasing digital expansion, Kelley argues that fan fiction deserves attention because it would seem to embody the democratization offered by new online environments (49). For Kelley, however, an important reason to study fan fiction is what it can reveal about evolving digital practices, how they shape writers, and how these practices “change the ways in which texts are produced, circulated, and received” (49).

Kelley documents the degree to which sites like Sycophant Hex are governed by hierarchical gatekeeping processes, such as “vehement” assertions from administrators about the importance of correct English grammar, at the same time that they play a “teaching role” for novice writers who are encouraged to use the site’s resources to improve their writing (50). Contributors are also held to high standards with regard to accurate use of the Harry Potter “canon” and are reminded that while they “own” new characters, invented settings, and events they create beyond those that appear in the books, the “intellectual property” belongs to J. K. Rowling (51-52). Thus, Kelley posits, the site offers access and agency tempered with elements of control.

Kelley’s particular focus is the nature of the exchanges that govern interaction on the site. Though these exchanges take place within a rule-bound context that requires strict adherence to the canon and that channels writers into categories of permitted activities, Kelley argues that the more salient feature of such sites is the degree to which they are governed by the development of emotional relationships and a “‘goodwill’ ethics of exchange” (52).

Citing Henry Jenkins, Kelley posits that continued interaction within the group is the incentive for participation in the exchange of symbolic and social rather than financial capital (52-53). She sees this incentive as affective and emotional, noting for example that plagiarism, which is loosely defined on the site, is seen not so much in terms of legal ownership but rather as “a direct offense against the affective economy of the website” (52).

Kelley illustrates this “goodwill” ethic through a case study of one successful fan-fiction writer, Chivalric. In Kelley’s view, this writer’s practice demonstrates how writers establish long-lasting and emotionally rich relationships with the “betas” who voluntarily edit both for surface correctness and for plot and character development (56). Members of the fan-fiction community serve as betas for each other, generating what Kelley describes as a “gift economy” in contrast to a “commodity culture” (53).

Kelley presents Chivalric’s process to support her claim that literacy practices among fan writers are “deeply heteroglossic” (53). Writing produced by these writers integrates many elements and voices: the intellectual creations of J. K. Rowling; an extensive set of categories and tropes created by community members over time; discussion and debate on forums; specific group-governed genre expectations; and the ongoing interactions among authors and beta readers (55). Many of these intertwined voices are documented in the notes, acknowledgments, and dedications that accompany texts (56).

Further analyzing the heteroglossic nature of these sites, Kelley draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s distinction between “centripetal” and “centrifugal” language practices to examine Chivalric’s short story, “Divorce.” Centripetal or “unitary language,” in this view, is language that is bound by clear directives from the language community, in this case the accepted uses that can be made of the Harry Potter characters and themes. At the same time, Kelley writes that Chivalric’s story, which won one of the competitive challenges generated on the site, demonstrates centrifugal force in that it gives the standard tropes and story material a “unique twist” (55) that results in an original, “transformative” telling that expands readers’ understanding of the conventional materials Chivalric incorporated (54, 55-56). This story, Kelley argues, comments on the power relationships among two Harry Potter characters, legal and political machinations in the post-canon world of fan fiction, and implications of gender in the particular category into which the story falls.

Citing Matt Hills, Kelley notes that prior research casting fan fiction as an avenue for resistance to dominant cultures has been criticized as an attempt by scholars to justify their attention to the form and to cast fan writers as “mini-academics” taking on the role of cultural critics (50, 57). She argues that her study reveals the degree to which academic views of digital environments as “somehow democratizing and hence liberating” should also recognize that “these spaces are still beset with the tensions of power structures” (57).

In her view, the hope that the access offered by such sites will allow for “widely shared and discussed knowledge” free of the bonds of entrenched power systems should include the caveat that much of what ultimately gets distributed “already fits nearly within dominant narratives” (57). The practices Kelley has examined, she contends, are still subject to issues of “race, gender, sex, class, sexuality, etc.” (58).

Noting scholarship on the possibilities of importing fan-fiction processes into the classroom, Kelly cites Michelle Knobel and Colin Lankshear to caution that it may not always be possible or advisable to do so. However, she notes that fan-fiction communities adopt many features of formal writing instruction, such as peer review and revision, and that components of fan-fiction engagement mirror the goals of writing classrooms. In particular, these sites feature learning that is “entirely self-directed” and that is enabled by the kind of intense emotional engagement that fosters learning (58). For these reasons, Kelley urges more “in-depth investigation of the writing practices of these online communities” (58).


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Lamos, Steve. Writing Faculty Job Security and “Negative Affect.” CE, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/27/2016.

Lamos, Steve. “Toward Job Security for Teaching-Track Composition Faculty: Recognizing and Rewarding Affective-Labor-in-Space.” College English 78.4 (2016): 362-86. Print.

Steve Lamos addresses the need for improved job security for “teaching-track” faculty: “faculty members whose jobs primarily or exclusively consist of delivering undergraduate instruction off of the tenure track” (362). Lamos argues that the ongoing discussion of this need, especially within composition studies, fails to adequately address the degree to which pervasive “negative affect” (363) prompts constituencies within higher education to devalue the kinds of work these teachers do.

Lamos reviews the literature on labor conditions for teaching-track faculty, which often advocates for tenure for these positions (362). He underlines the exigency of this concern with statistics showing that in today’s “neoliberal environment” of higher education, 75% of all hires and 95% of hires in composition do not include tenure (363).

To define “affect,” Lamos turns to discussions by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth as well as Sara Ahmed. Their work theorizes what Lamos calls a “precognitive sensation” that exists below conscious levels and “circulate[s]” in ways that, in Ahmed’s words, “mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social, between the individual and the collective” (qtd. in Lamos 363). Such circulation of emotional forces around teaching-track work, Lamos writes, is predominately negative, rendering the labor involved in this work “unimportant, uninteresting, and ultimately unworthy of attention” (363).

Lamos contends that efforts to promote job security must address this negative affect if they are to succeed, but many advocates for improved labor conditions fail to do so. For example, he argues that the claims of Marc Bousquet that solidarity with other labor movements will result in change actually requires the field to downplay its unique commitment to emotional work in order to align with larger groups, thus failing to acknowledge the ways in which negative attitudes toward emotional work within higher education will spur resistance to productive change (369-70). Similarly, calls for various forms of review and credentialing, including one of his own, fail to explain how such a credential, even if awarded, can come to be seen as valuable enough to improve the status of teaching-track work (371).

To progress, in Lamos’s view, composition theorists must develop means of making the various constituencies with the power to address teaching-track status “feel good” (363) about the work such teachers do. His article particularly focuses on larger institutions that generally privilege research over teaching because these institutions function as “higher education trendsetters” (364). Although emotional labor is devalued across most educational contexts, Lamos writes, within more prestigious research universities it is especially “subject to a kind of gendered dismissal” based on a sense that it involves work that women find “inherently satisfying” and thus not in need of other compensation and that, by its nature, consists more of “pandering to difference” rather than enforcing academic standards (366).

For Lamos, negative affect revolves, first, around this view that emotional work is peripheral to the mission of higher-education (365-66), and second, around a failure to understand that the success of emotional labor requires “educational spaces” where students’ minds and bodies can engage with “smart environments” (367) in which students can experience the pleasure of intellectual work. However, such spaces are seen by the institutional elite as “idiosyncratic,” needing to be replaced by spaces that produce “universal, acontextual, and easily assessable” results (367).

Lamos makes the case, however, that the work done by teaching-track faculty in these contexts is essential to learning. Emotional labor in general works to make students “comfortable enough to learn” (364); the kind of emotional labor specific to composition, moreover, strives to “mak[e] writing processes themselves . . . feel good and right and natural” (365). To argue for the value of this kind of work within the overall education mission, he presents the “‘studio’ model of basic writing instruction” developed by Rhonda Grego and Nancy Thompson and the “Accelerated Learning Program (ALP)” promoted by Peter Adams and colleagues.

These program augment “‘regular’ curricula” with the specific kinds of support needed for all students to advance (372). The example of a specific engineering student in Grego and Thompson’s project sheds light on Lamos’s view that affective work with students enhances learning when it makes them “more comfortable” in academic settings and helps them understand how interpersonal components color learning environments (372-73). A second focus of these programs has been demonstrating their ties to retention and graduation rates. Lamos presents data indicating that ALP in particular has generated quantitatively documented evidence that providing students with affective support can reduce attrition and costs (374).

Lamos makes three “assertions” about how best to improve job security for teaching-track faculty engaged in what he calls “affective-labor-in-space” (375). He first recommends explicitly imbuing this labor with the kinds of associations that larger constituencies within higher education will feel good about. Doing so means not only citing evidence on retention and graduation but also continuing to make the case to authoritative stakeholders that emotional labor is “profoundly important to the future of higher education” (377) and that it is “unique,” a kind of intervention unlikely to be undertaken elsewhere in the academy (375, 377, 379, 380). He argues for the effectiveness of such an approach at his own institution.

Next, he urges that the ability to perform such labor be “institutionalized” as a factor in assessment and hiring (377). Expecting documentation of this ability allows it to be “emplac[ed]” so that it becomes “part of our institutional fabric” and thus becomes a stepping-stone to more secure employment (377).

Finally, he advocates emphasizing the importance of job security to teachers providing this kind of instruction. However, he notes that there is little likelihood that tenure will rapidly follow (379). Political barriers such as “right-to-work” laws often prevent direct activism, and some skeptics may note that faculty have demonstrated that they can perform affective labor well without substantive reform (381). To counter such resistance, faculty have worked instead to promote improvements such as “soft reappointments” and “‘evergreen’ contracts,” measures that make securing ongoing employment less onerous and less contingent (381).

While Lamos urges national educational organizations like NCTE and MLA to make job security a focus, he emphasizes finally that “[s]uch work must be made to feel good and right and essential to individuals from across the political spectrum” if progress is to be made (383).


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San Pedro, Timothy J. Native American Silence as Shield. RTE, Nov. 2015. Posted 01/18/2016.

San Pedro, Timothy J. “Silence as Shields: Agency and Resistances among Native American Students in the Urban Southwest.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.2 (2015): 132-53. Print.

Timothy J. San Pedro recounts insights from an ethnographic study conducted over the course of three years as a participant/observer in a class on Native American literature taught at a high school in the southwest United States (132). He draws on “field notes, artifacts [such as written and art assignments], and audio-recordings” as well as “semistructured interviews” (150n3), featuring three female students who identified as Native American (133). San Pedro shares these students’ experiences in their classrooms, especially in their history classes, as they negotiate their identities in the context of the “settler colonial discourse” they encounter in their school environments (135).

San Pedro focuses on a stereotype of Native Americans and Native American students as “‘naturally,’ ‘biologically,’ or ‘culturally’ reflective, silent, timid and/or nonresponsive” (134). He states that as he began his study, he was influenced by scholarship that posits that these features of Native American students’ classroom behavior resulted from “mismatches” between the kinds of discourse they experienced in their home communities and the discourse expectations in United States high schools (139). However, in his article, he explores how he came to see these three students’ silence as a form of resistance to the dominant narratives expounded in their classrooms and to the systemic “macroagressions” they experienced, as well as “microagressions”—exclusionary or silencing acts teachers and fellow students might not even be aware of (134, 136).

To frame the ways in which the students’ choices constituted resistance and to explore the effects of that resistance, San Pedro uses the term “critical silent literacies” (142; emphasis original). In this critical practice, the students respond to micro- and macroaggressions by withdrawing from classroom discussions. “Storying” and storytelling through relationships of communicative trust with others then allows the silenced students to make sense of their responses to these aggressions, responses that are therefore “voiced” to allow the ways they both protest and protect to emerge (143, 149).

San Pedro explores different kinds of resistance to analyze how the students’ use of silence and then of storying embodies agency. Resistance can be “damaging and self-defeating”; San Pedro notes how zero-tolerance policies can limit students’ options for productive resistance (142). Other forms of resistance can be what D. Solorzano and D. Delgado Bernal call “conformist”; this resistance allows students to “accept or reject” elements of the conflicting cultures they must negotiate (142). Other resistance can be considered “resilient” (T. Yosso, qtd. in San Pedro 142), leading to a “survival-through-resistance strategy” that G. Vizenor labels “survivance” (qtd. In San Pedro 142; emphasis original).

To illustrate that students choose silence in order to resist rather than passively bringing silence into the classroom because it typifies their home cultures, San Pedro presents several anecdotes in which the students experienced exclusion and even mockery from the dominant culture within the classroom. Each student offered active participation but felt unable to breach the systemic exclusion. “Nisha’s” teacher stopped calling on her when she questioned norms as presented in the history books (140-41); “Shila” was laughed at for not knowing Native American history that had not been taught 145-46); “Eileen” discovered that her history teacher did not know who Chief Sitting Bull was (146-47).

For San Pedro, the slowly developing trust he was able to share with the students allowed them to interpret their reactions to these experiences and to turn them into resilient forms of resistance (149). Such resilient strategies, San Pedro argues, can lead to productive change. He considers the silence of the students he studied resilient because it expanded, through shared storytelling, into an awareness of the kind of resistance they were practicing and became “agentive” (149). Such acts of agency, when voiced and shared through critical silent literacies, San Pedro contends, effect change by encouraging educators to examine more carefully how their teaching choices can subtly or explicitly exclude and silence. He invites readers to consider themselves part of the community of sharing that recognizes the agency in these students’ choices and is moved to a productive response (149).

 


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Geiger II, T J. “Relational Labor” in Composition. CS, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/23/2015.

Geiger II, T J. “An Intimate Discipline? Writing Studies, Undergraduate Majors, and Relational Labor.” Composition Studies 43.2 (2015): 92-112. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

T J Geiger II examines undergraduate writing majors as sites in which “relational labor” forms a large part of faculty activities and shapes student perceptions. He considers the possibility that, despite the tendency to view dedicated writing majors as a step toward disciplinary status, the centrality of relational labor to writing instruction may undercut this status. Further, he addresses the concern that support for writing majors may devalue writing instruction itself (94). He focuses on “what the field learns” about these concerns when it listens to students in these programs (98).

Through surveys and interviews with undergraduate majors in “independent writing programs” at a “Private Research University” and a private “Liberal Arts College” (98), Geiger establishes “relational labor” as work done between faculty and undergraduate writing majors in which the personal connections formed contribute to the students’ representations of their learning. The students discussed and quoted consider their relationships with faculty crucial to their “personal development” (“Mark,” qtd. in Geiger 99), which Geiger characterizes in this student’s case “as synonymous with writing development” (99; emphasis original). He argues that faculty attentiveness to the affective components of writing instruction provides students with a sense of a caring audience interested not just in conveying the technical aspects of writing but also in fostering the growth of “unique” individuals through social encounters (102):

Interactions with faculty, part of the context for writing, encourage not only writing majors’ literacy acquisition, but also a sense of themselves as individuals who matter, which in turn can fuel their capacity to take rhetorical action. (99)

Geiger develops this picture of faculty engaged in relational labor against a range of scholarship that has expressed concern about “the ideological complex that figures the composition teacher as a maid/mother disciplinarian,” a characterization he attributes to Susan Miller’s 1991 critique (106). Similarly, he addresses Kelly Ritter’s critique of a “gendered ideology of ‘help'” that Ritter sees as potentially “counterproductive to the discipline of composition studies as a whole” (qtd. in Geiger 106).

Geiger detects justification for these concerns in students’ use of terms like “lovely,” “nice,” and “help” in describing their interactions with faculty (106). His question is whether accepting the role of empathetic helper or the centrality to writing instruction of affective responsiveness necessarily restricts the field’s focus to the “teaching of writing” rather than “teaching about writing” (96; emphasis original).

These concerns accord with those expressed in a larger debate about whether the field should “distance” itself from the constraints that some see as imposed by first-year writing courses, concerns that Geiger notes are themselves broached in affective terms of escape and freedom, indicating that attention to “feeling” permeates all levels of the field (96).

Among the specific concerns that Geiger explores are the ways in which intensive interpersonal investment in students and their work can intersect with professional exigencies. He notes the Modern Language Association’s 2006 report, “Still Standing;: The Associate Professor Survey,” which finds that women in the field report marginally less time spent on research and marginally more on teaching than men; these small differences seem to add up over time to a slower path to promotion for female faculty (107-08). In addition, he addresses the possibility that students who cast faculty as empathetic helpers downplay their role as experts with valuable knowledge to convey (106).

In Geiger’s view, the disciplinary promise of a focus on “teaching about writing” need not be at odds with a pedagogy that values developmental relationships between faculty and students (109). He cites student responses that express appreciation not just for the personal interaction but also for the access to professional expertise provided by faculty during the interactions: He quotes “Jeremiah,” for whom “faculty in the writing program understand themselves as not just research producers, but also as people working with their students” (qtd. in Geiger 102). Indeed, Geiger claims, “students recognize the need for informed care” (108; emphasis original). Such an understanding on the part of students, Geiger argues, demonstrates that investment in a writing major need not crowd out pedagogical value (102), while, conversely, focus on the teaching of writing through an ideology of “care” need not interfere with more intensive study of writing as disciplinary content (107).

Students interviewed do recognize the professional burdens with which faculty must contend and value the personal investment some faculty are still able to make in students’ individual projects and growth (104); Geiger advocates for ongoing consideration of how this ubiquitous and clearly valued kind of labor “is distributed within a program and a writing major” (108).

In addition, Geiger argues that developing as writers through close working relationships with faculty instills in students an understanding of writing as a rhetorical process:

situated, not context-free; social, not solely personal; collaborative, not entirely individual; and (though less often) explicitly politically implicated, not neutral. (108)

Building on the collection by Greg A. Giberson and Thomas A. Moriarty, Geiger urges composition professionals to attend not just to “what we are becoming” (108; emphasis original) but also to “who . . . writing majors (i.e., students) are becoming” (109; emphasis original). Attention to the students’ own perceptions, he contends, provides informative indications of these attainments (109).


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Tinberg, Howard. Transfer at Community Colleges. TETYC, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/16/2015.

Tinberg, Howard. “Reconsidering Transfer Knowledge at the Community College: Challenges and Opportunities.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.1 (2015): 7-31. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Howard Tinberg argues for the value of studying “transfer” from first-year writing (FYW) to future academic work and career, particularly at the community-college level. He acknowledges the impediments to fruitful study of this phenomenon while demonstrating what he learned through a “naturalistic” study of transfer at the community college where he teaches (10). Among his findings is the conclusion that community-college curricula may not provide students with opportunities to engage in the kind of complex writing, including metacognitive components, that will serve them well in more advanced college work and in the workplace.

Tinberg reviews scholarship on the function of FYW and on transfer, noting that the course is often assumed to provide “generalized writing skills” that will be useful in a variety of contexts (7). Skeptics referenced by Tinberg claim that it is impossible to assume that such a thing as transfer exists because the specificity of each writing experience requires learning completely new practices (9).

Tinberg argues that such skepticism, which dismisses the possibility of explicit instruction for transfer, must fall back on “‘[t]he Bo Peep’ theory of transfer: somehow, as if by magic, knowledge needed to address tasks will ‘come home’ to assist students” (9). In Tinberg’s view, such hopes are not realistic for the community-college population. Encouraging transfer is especially important as pressure mounts to increase retention and to demonstrate learning (10, 28).

Tinberg reports that studies have urged attention to “metacognition as a foundational step to transfer” for both students and faculty (9). He cites scholarship that urges composition specialists to see the FYW course as delivering “rhetorical dexterity” (Shannon Carter, qtd. in Tinberg 9) and “rhetorical adaptability” (Holly Hassel and Joanna Baird Giordano, qtd. in Tinberg 9).

In his study, Tinberg surveyed students at the college who had taken the required ENG 101 “at least a semester before the fall of 2014” and who had been at the college at least a year but not more than two years (12). Of the nearly 4000 students invited to take the survey, 110 completed it, with 80 responding to an open-ended question (12). Tinberg interviewed and solicited writing samples from five students with varied interests and majors; he also interviewed four faculty members, all full-time (16); sixty-six percent of the ENG 101 sections are taught by part-time instructors (12). Faculty areas of those interviewed were psychology, history, economics, and human services (10-11).

The surveys indicated that a large majority of students believed that they had benefited from FYW, that they wrote a lot in subsequent courses, that subsequent courses introduced “new knowledge about writing,” and that writing would be important in the workplace (12). Open-ended responses indicated that the gains students reported most often from their FYW experience were formalistic: citation formats, formats for genres, organization, and grammar and mechanics (16). Tinberg speculates that the lack of a well-developed vocabulary made it difficult for students to interpret or articulate the contributions of their FYW classes and the differing requirements of courses in the disciplines. He posits that “new knowledge about writing” may suggest simply “more writing” rather than specific attention to writing processes or practices (13-14).

Tinberg’s goal in the faculty interviews was to determine what teachers in the disciplines hoped students would bring from ENG 101 and “[w]hat new knowledge sets as expressed in their writing” they hoped to see in their own courses (17). He presents two assignments from the psychology instructor and one from the history instructor.

This component of the study suggests to Tinberg that teachers in the disciplines have an attenuated sense of the content and purpose of FYW, seeing it as primarily focusing on such skills as “proofreading” (17); one instructor, however, mentioned the ability to evaluate sources, while one with writing-center experience “touched upon rhetorical understanding as transferable from ENG 101” (17).

The assignments demonstrate to Tinberg that some, though not all, instructors in subsequent courses design pedagogies to impart concepts important to their fields. These assignments also suggest that critical reading is a central concern to these teachers and that some embed metacognitive awareness in their coursework (19-21). Although Tinberg’s coding of instructor values indicates that “expressive” writing is less privileged than critical reading and writing, “concern with form,” and “adaptability” across situations (20-21), he notes a focus in some assignments on linking coursework to students’ personal experiences, “emphasiz[ing}. . . students’ affective response to the reading . . . rather than deep, exploratory examination of disciplinary concepts and methods” (19).

Student interviews generally bore out Tinberg’s expectation that students would most often cite formalistic concerns in discussions of what they considered transferable knowledge; however, “the need to be analytical and critical readers” and the importance of “writing in different contexts other than ENG 101” also earned support. Students generally did not value the “expression of one’s own feelings” (22).

The article discusses two student interviews and writing samples in detail. In each, Tinberg detects both struggles with adequate vocabulary to describe learning from ENG 101 and how it intersects with later learning and evidence of analytical and rhetorical thinking. Without being able to name genres, “Ann” characterizes writing in English as related to students’ personal experiences and writing in other courses as more content-based (23). The student expresses a wish that her teachers would “push” her more (“Ann,” qtd. in Tinberg 23). Similarly, Tinberg posits from interview and writing samples that the other student, “Ash,” “might very well welcome the challenge of complex and specialized reading and writing tasks,” but “is not being given the opportunity” (27).

Arguing for the importance of such study, especially in the community-college environment, Tinberg reports that teachers and students value ENG 101 and that faculty value critical reading (27). But faculty ignorance about the content of the FYW course, “exacerbated by the increasing reliance on part-time faculty,” means that “bridging” between ENG 101 and other courses “is not explicitly and knowingly done” (28). Tinberg’s research points to a tendency of faculty in the disciplines to advance a “generalized” curriculum (26, 28) that subordinates discipline-specific concepts to efforts to efforts to engage students through personal, affective connections (26).

Tinberg urges support for writing-in-the-disciplines initiatives at community colleges, less focus on moving students rapidly through the curriculum, less reliance on part-time faculty, and broader “cross-disciplinary conversations about transfer knowledge” (28-29).


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Cox, Black, Heney, and Keith. Responding to Students Online. TETYC, May 2015. Posted 07/22/15.

Cox, Stephanie, Jennifer Black, Jill Heney, and Melissa Keith. “Promoting Teacher Presence: Strategies for Effective and Efficient Feedback to Student Writing Online.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.4 (2015): 376-91. Web. 14 July 2015.

Stephanie Cox, Jennifer Black, Jill Heney, and Melissa Keith address the challenges of responding to student writing online. They note the special circumstances attendant on online teaching, in which students lack the cues provided by body language and verbal tone when they interpret instructor comments (376). Students in online sections, the authors write, do not have easy access to clarification and individual direction, and may not always take the initiative in following up when their needs aren’t met (377). These features of the online learning environment require teachers to develop communicative skills especially designed for online teaching.

To overcome the difficulty teachers may find in building a community among students with whom they do not interact face-to-face, the authors draw on the Community of Inquiry framework developed by D. Randy Garrison. This model emphasizes presence as a crucial rhetorical dimension in community building, distinguishing between “social presence,” “cognitive presence,” and “teacher presence” as components of a classroom in which teachers can create effective learning environments.

Social presence indicates the actions and rhetorical choices that give students a sense of “a real person online,” in the words of online specialists Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt (qtd. in Cox et al. 377). Moves that allow the teacher to interact socially through the response process decrease the potential for students to “experience isolation and a sense of disconnection” (377). Cognitive presence involves activities that contribute to the “creation of meaning” in the classroom as students explore concepts and ideas. both individually and as part of the community. Through teacher presence, instructors direct learning and disseminate knowledge, setting the stage for social and cognitive interaction (377).

In the authors’ view, developing effective social, cognitive, and teacher presence requires attention to the purpose of particular responses depending on the stage of the writing process, to the concrete elements of delivery, and to the effects of different choices on the instructor’s workload.

Citing Peter Elbow’s discussion of “ranking and evaluation,” the authors distinguish between feedback that assigns a number on a scale and feedback that encourages ongoing development of an idea or draft (376-79; emphasis original). Ranking during early stages may allow teachers to note completion of tasks; evaluation, conversely, involves “communication” that allows students to move forward fruitfully on a project (379).

The authors argue that instructors in digital environments should follow James E. Porter’s call for “resurrecting the neglected rhetorical canon of delivery” (379). Digital teaching materials provide opportunities like emoticons for emulating the role of the body that is important to classical theories of delivery; such tools can emphasize emotions that can be lost in online exchanges.

Finally, the authors note the tendency for responding online to grow into an overwhelming workload. “Limit[ing] their comments” is a “healthy” practice that teachers need not regret. Determining what kind of feedback is most appropriate to a given type of writing is important in setting these limits, as is making sure that students understand that different tasks will elicit different kinds of response (379-80).

The authors explore ways to address informal writing without becoming overwhelmed. They point out that teachers often don’t respond in writing to informal work in face-to-face classrooms and thus do not necessarily need to do so in online classes. They suggest that “generalized group comments” can effectively point out shared trends in students’ work, present examples, and enhance teacher presence. Such comments may be written, but can also be “audio” or “narrated screen capture” that both supply opportunities for generating social and teacher presence while advancing cognitive goals.

They recommend making individual comments on informal work publicly, posting only “one formative point per student while encouraging students to read all of the class postings and the instructor responses” (382). Students thus benefit from a broader range of instruction. Individual response is important early and in the middle of the course to create and reinforce students’ connections with the instructor; it is also important during the early development of paper ideas when some students may need “redirect[ion]” (382).

The authors also encourage “feedback-free spaces,” especially for tentative early drafting; often making such spaces visible to all students gives students a sense of audience while allowing them to share ideas and experience how the writing process often unfolds through examples of early writing “in all its imperfection” (383).

Cox et al. suggest that feedback on formal assignments should embrace Richard Straub’s “six conversational response strategies” (383), which focus on informal language, specific connections to the student’s work, and maintaining an emphasis on “help or guidance” (384). The authors discuss five response methods for formal tasks. In their view, rubrics work best when free of complicated technical language and when integrated into a larger conversation about the student’s writing (385-86). Cox et al. recommend using the available software programs for in-text comments, which students find more legible and which allow instructors to duplicate responses when appropriate (387). The authors particularly endorse “audio in-text comments,” which not only save time but also allow the students to hear the voice of an embodied person, enhancing presence (387). Similarly, they recommend generating holistic end-comments via audio, with a highlighting system to tie the comments back to specific moments in the student’s text (387-88). Synchronous conferences, facilitated by many software options including screen-capture tools, can replace face-to-face conferences, which may not work for online students. The opportunity to talk not only about writing but also about other aspects of the student’s environment further build social, cognitive, and teacher presence (388).

The authors offer tables delineating the benefits and limitations of responses both to informal and formal writing, indicating the kind of presence supported by each and options for effective delivery (384, 389).