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Lynch, Paul. Writing as Spiritual Exercise. CE, July 2018. Posted 08/17/2018.

Lynch, Paul. “Shadow Living: Toward Spiritual Exercises for Teaching.” College English 80.6 (2018): 499-516. Print.

Paul Lynch writes about a state of mind experienced by some seasoned writing teachers that he equates with Thomas Newkirk’s “emotional underlife of teaching” (qtd. in Lynch 500). Drawing on Paul Kameen’s depiction of this state of mind in Writing/Teaching, Lynch describes it as a point at which a well-developed set of teaching practices ceases to make classroom practice meaningful (499-500).

Further exploring this phenomenon, Lynch considers Bill Readings’s contention in The University in Ruins that teachers who see themselves as a “rhetor rather than magister” find that their “mastery” of teaching practice may not mesh with the need, as a rhetor, to “redefine pedagogy as ‘a relation, a network of obligation” rather than as a platform from which to dispense knowledge (qtd. in Lynch 500; emphasis original). Recognizing the contradictions between the accumulation of professional expertise and an understanding of teaching as relational leads, in Lynch’s view, to questions like Kameen’s “What am I doing here?” In Lynch’s view, teachers cannot easily resolve this contradiction and should consider instead, in Kameen’s words, “living in the shadow of [the question’s] imperative” (qtd. in Lynch 501; emendation in Lynch).

Central to the kind of mastery composition specialists commonly value, Lynch proposes, is faith in reflection as a means of becoming a critically aware teacher. Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s discussions of reflection, Lynch writes of the assumption that reflection can aid teachers just as it can students by allowing them to “consciously and therefore critically reflect on their own success and failure with an eye toward improvement” (502). Such reflection commonly involves exploring one’s experiences through writing. Donald Schön, in The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, further develops the view that by combining “technical knowledge and practical experience” (503), experts like teachers can assemble a set of responses to the problems they encounter.

Lynch turns to critiques of reflection as a means of resolving the problem of the “emotional underlife” teachers may encounter. From Kenneth Burke he takes the concept of “trained incapacity” to argue that a teacher faced with a loss of faith in his or her professional practice may resort to reflection as an attempt to increase mastery, which may make responses to complex relational engagements “automatic” (Schön, qtd. in Lynch 504) and, in Lynch’s view, a grounds for “boredom, burnout, and breakdown” (504).

Casey Boyle similarly suggests that reflection as commonly understood “operates on a destructive subject-object distinction” that assumes that people can separate their “agency” from the environment in which it is created and perpetuated, examining their actions rationally to improve them based on technical assessments of success (505). Lynch also draws on Robert Yagelski’s views, in Writing as a Way of Being, that written reflection as often practiced sees writing “simply as a way to record and express one’s experience,” whereas writing can also be viewed as “an experience in and of itself” (507).

Lynch proposes that the feelings expressed by Kameen and Newkirk “cannot be addressed by a reconsidered lesson plan or a revamped pedagogy” (507); indeed, in his view, resorting to these strategies compounds the problem. He suggests instead the use of writing as a form of reflection as experience that he calls “spiritual.” Spirituality, in his view, need not be specifically religious but can serve as a way of “liv[ing] in the shadow of questions that do not seem amenable to reflective thinking” (507-08) and thus avoiding the need for control that may lead to “demoralization,” defined as a feeling that, for the teachers in question, moves beyond frustration that old ways no longer work to an awareness that “they’ve lost any sense of which ways might” (505).

Lynch draws on Foucault to propose a regimen of “care of the self” (qtd. in Lynch 508) that includes “practices through which subjects might shape themselves” (508). This self-formation addresses character through, in Debra Hawhee’s words, “intensive attention and discipline, painful repeated exercise” (qtd. in Lynch 509). Among the exercises that promote self-re-shaping is a form of writing related to the development of “[p]hilosophic wisdom,” which, for Lynch, is not about acquiring topic mastery but rather “a matter of living a certain way of life” (509). This view counters the view that Lynch, via Foucault, attributes to Descartes, in which the self can be held apart from the knowledge it acquires, with the result that the knowledge does not affect “the structure of the subject itself” (qtd. in Lynch 510).

Similarly, Lynch cites the philosopher Pierre Hadot, for whom the “study of philosophy in the ancient world was more concerned with how the student lived than with what the student knew” (510). As an example of how writing furthered such a “spiritual program,” Hadot and Lynch reference the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which they present not as exercises to portray experience but rather to engage more deeply with it (510-14). The spiritual exercise of writing for this purpose allows Aurelius “a chance to examine his conduct” each day (511) and to prepare himself for “the challenges of . . . daily living” (512). Aurelius’s view, quoted by Lynch, is that

The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen. (512)

In order to develop this stance, Lynch proposes, philosophical wisdom requires engaging rather than lamenting “the writer’s daily struggle (shadow boxing) against himself” (512). Lynch sees this kind of self-formative writing as important in the effort of “dwelling within a network of obligations,” which teachers must accept if they are to survive their encounters with the emotional underlife (512).

Contending that more experienced and capable teachers are among the most prone to confront this emotional quandary, Lynch concedes that reflection as most often understood can increase knowledge, but argues that knowledge alone is not sufficient (513). The kind of written reflection as spiritual exercise practiced by Aurelius and other philosophers, he asserts, can offer a way “to practice interdependence” rather than increase control (513). He argues that such exercise may bolster what Hawhee calls “a pedagogy of association” (qtd. in Lynch 514), that is, a pedagogy based on relationship and obligation:

Why would our students want to associate with us? And how will we be formed by the association? These are the kinds of questions that we might answer by practicing writing as a spiritual exercise. (514)


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Lindenman et al. (Dis)Connects between Reflection and Revision. CCC, June 2018. Posted 07/22/2018.

Lindenman, Heather, Martin Camper, Lindsay Dunne Jacoby, and Jessica Enoch. “Revision and Reflection: A Study of (Dis)Connections between Writing Knowledge and Writing Practice.” College Composition and Communication 69.4 (2018): 581-611. Print.

Heather Lindenman, Martin Camper, Lindsay Dunne Jacoby, and Jessica Enoch report a “large-scale, qualitative assessment” (583) of students’ responses to an assignment pairing reflection and revision in order to evaluate the degree to which reflection and revision inform each other in students’ writing processes.

The authors cite scholarship designating reflection and revision “threshold concepts important to effective writing” (582). Scholarship suggests that reflection should encourage better revision because it “prompts metacognition,” defined as “knowledge of one’s own thinking processes and choices” (582). Lindenman et al. note the difficulties faced by teachers who recognize the importance of revision but struggle to overcome students’ reluctance to revise beyond surface-level correction (582). The authors conclude that engagement with the reflective requirements of the assignment did not guarantee effective revision (584).

The study team consisted of six English 101 instructors and four writing program administrators (587). The program had created a final English 101 “Revision and Reflection Assignment” in which students could draw on shorter memos on the four “linked essays” they wrote for the class. These “reflection-in-action” memos, using the terminology of Kathleen Blake Yancey, informed the final assignment, which asked for a “reflection-in-presentation”: students could choose one of their earlier papers for a final revision and write an extended reflection piece discussing their revision decisions (585).

The team collected clean copies of this final assignment from twenty 101 sections taught by fifteen instructors. A random sample across the sections resulted in a study size of 152 papers (586). Microsoft Word’s “compare document” feature allowed the team to examine students’ actual revisions.

In order to assess the materials, the team created a rubric judging the revisions as either “substantive, moderate, or editorial.” A second rubric allowed them to classify the reflections as “excellent, adequate, or inadequate” (586). Using a grounded-theory approach, the team developed forty codes to describe the reflective pieces (587). The study goal was to determine how well students’ accounts of their revisions matched the revisions they actually made (588).

The article includes the complete Revision and Reflection Assignment as well as a table reporting the assessment results; other data are available online (587). The assignment called for specific features in the reflection, which the authors characterize as “narrating progress, engaging teacher commentary, and making self-directed choices” (584).

The authors report that 28% of samples demonstrated substantive revision, while 44% showed moderate revision and 28% editorial revision. The reflection portion of the assignment garnered 19% excellent responses, 55% that were adequate, and 26% that were inadequate (587).

The “Narrative of Progress” invites students to explore the skills and concepts they feel they have incorporated into their writing process over the course of the semester. Lindenman et al. note that such narratives have been critiqued for inviting students to write “ingratiat[ing]” responses that they think teachers want to hear as well as for encouraging students to emphasize “personal growth” rather than a deeper understanding of rhetorical possibilities (588).

They include an example of a student who wrote about his struggles to develop stronger theses and who, in fact, showed considerable effort to address this issue in his revision, as well as an example of a student who wrote about “her now capacious understanding of revision in her memo” but whose “revised essay does not carry out or enact this understanding” (591). The authors report finding “many instances” where students made such strong claims but did not produce revisions that “actualiz[ed] their assertions” 591. Lindenman et al. propose that such students may have increased in their awareness of concepts, but that this awareness “was not enough to help them translate their new knowledge into practice within the context of their revisions” (592).

The section of student response to teacher commentary distinguishes between students for whom teachers’ comments served as “a heuristic” that allowed the student to take on roles as “agents” and the “majority” of students, who saw the comments as “a set of directions to follow” (592). Students who made substantive revisions, according to the authors, were able to identify issues called up the teacher feedback and respond to these concerns in the light of their own goals (594). While students who made “editorial” changes actually mentioned teacher comments more often (595), the authors point to shifts to first person in the reflective memos paired with visible revisions as an indication of student ownership of the process (593).

Analysis of “self-directed metacognitive practice” similarly found that students whose strong reflective statements were supported by actual revision showed evidence of “reach[ing] beyond advice offered by teachers or peers” (598). The authors note that, in contrast, “[a]nother common issue among self-directed, nonsubstantive revisers” was the expenditure of energy in the reflections to “convince their instructors that the editorial changes they made throughout their essays were actually significant” (600; emphasis original).

Lindenman et al. posit that semester progress-narratives may be “too abstracted from the actual practice of revision” and recommend that students receive “intentional instruction” to help them see how revision and reflection inform each other (601). They report changes to their assignment to foreground “the why of revision over the what” (602; emphasis original), and to provide students with a visual means of seeing their actual work via “track changes” or “compare documents” while a revision is still in progress (602).

A third change encourages more attention to the interplay between reflection and revision; the authors propose a “hybrid threshold concept: reflective revision” (604; emphasis original).

The authors find their results applicable to portfolio grading, in which, following the advice of Edward M. White, teachers are often encouraged to give more weight to the reflections than to the actual texts of the papers. The authors argue that only by examining the two components “in light of each other” can teachers and scholars fully understand the role that reflection can play in the development of metacognitive awareness in writing (604; emphasis original).

 


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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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Costello, Lisa A. Research Paper to Blog Post. TETYC, Dec. 2015. Posted 02/05/2016.

Costello, Lisa A. “Blogging a Research Paper? Researched Blogs as New Models of Public Discourse.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.2 (2015): 180-94. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Lisa A. Costello advocates for a “hybridized assignment” (180) in which students compose a traditional research paper and blog posts on the same topic. She researched the effects of this assignment by analyzing writing samples from a first-year course at a “regional college in the Southeast” (185). Her materials included “rationale essays” in which students reflected on their choices in responding to the assignment and comments on anonymous evaluations (185). The assignment called for the research essay to explore a problem and a range of solutions and the blog post to advance a specific solution (183-84).

Costello designed this assignment to respond to her conclusion that her students’ research projects were addressed to her as the primary audience and that students seemed reluctant to express their opinions (181). One goal in the assignment was to provide a richer sense of audience and to encourage students to recognize and experience how including personal expression in their writing affected their rhetorical presence (182).

Costello cites Kathleen Blake Yancey’s call for attention to “new models of writing” (qtd. in Costello 180; emphasis original). Yancey also urges teachers to attend to the need for students to engage more deeply in public forms of writing, especially online writing, which, according to Costello, she characterizes as “everywhere” (qtd. in Costello 180). At issue is student ownership of writing and their awareness that their writing can have effects beyond the classroom (181). Costello argues that blogs can encourage this sense of ownership, especially by tying into writing that students already do by choice in various digital venues (181, 185). Her goal is to

help students create a bridge between the writing they “want to do” with writing they “have to do” by framing that writing as personal and a part of public discourse; it is writing that has real consequences. (181)

For Costello, the hybrid assignment exploits the advantages of the two genres. While blog writing can incorporate the personal as well as invite response, thus raising students’ stake in their work, it can veer toward unsupported personal opinion; to be expert enough on a topic to write with authority requires research and critical evaluation (184-85). Costello contends that writing the research paper first provides students with an increased sense of authority and confidence (186). At the same time, the possibility of a responsive audience resulting from a blog promotes an awareness of varied perspectives that may be missing from an academic research project that will only be seen by the teacher (185).

Costello incorporates these points into her three reasons for choosing blogs as an adjunct to a research paper: Unlike Facebook and Blackboard, blog sites permit a degree of customization that increases students’ sense of ownership; blogs promote interactivity that expands perspectives; and they support the plank of composition’s mission that values participation in civic discourse (182-83). She sees combining the “new form” discourse enabled by blogs with “‘old form’ research” as a way for students to develop and communicate “nuanced opinions” (183).

She further contrasts blogs with print options like brochures and chapbooks, which reach limited, defined audiences and do not offer the breadth of rhetorical demands inherent in blogs. Blogs, she states, provide participation that is “immediate and interconnected” (184). She sees the “potential” for “instant response” as immediacy, and notes the interconnectivity achieved when students incorporate links to their research in their blogs, knowing that readers can evaluate the information independently (184; emphasis original). Moreover, blogs, unlike other formats, allow for other tools to invite audience interaction, such as videos, polls, and games (185).

Costello notes that blogs may not generate responses, but she contends that even a print communication like a brochure with a specific audience can be easily ignored. She argues that students’ sense of a virtually infinite audience alerts them to the rhetorical possibilities embedded in their positions; calling that audience into being shapes students’ sense of a public to address (186, 187). Furthermore, she writes, the expanded audience increased the odds of a response (187).

She notes that some students still feared expressing their views to possibly hostile readers (186); a student who did receive a challenge to his position asked her to guide his response and had to be redirected to understand that “this continuing dialogue in the public realm was now up to him” (187).

Costello provides student writing samples in support of her claim that converting the research assignment to a blog post resulted in such gains as “stronger personal stance[s],” increased support for points, more direct and effective organization, and an expanded recognition of varied perspectives (188-90). Of one student’s blog post, Costello writes, “This entry underscores not only that the audience is present, but that [the student] is a part of that public that can effect change” (190).

Limitations include the small sample size, the possibility that constraints on access to blogging platforms may affect participation, and the degree to which the blog format itself challenged some students (190). Some students’ sense, as one student wrote, that they were “vulnerable” as a result of expressing themselves to a blog public also affected the results (qtd. in Costello 191). Costello responds that despite the difficulties the assignment may have presented to some students, the act of venturing into a public forum “got them thinking about the implications” of presenting a position in such a space (191). She cites Howard Rheingold to argue that while possession of a tool does not guarantee efficacy in its use, awareness of the potential of a tool and practice with such tools increases agency in new media environments (192).

Although recognizing that not all students will adapt easily to the new rhetorical demands of blogs, Costello reports “[i]ncreased interest and engagement,” “increased commitment to their topics,” and “increased . . . complexity and depth” in their discussions of their topics (191). Students with practice in such rhetorical flexibility, she writes, “may be more likely to become active participants in their worlds” (192; emphasis original).


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Obermark et al. New TA Development Model. WPA, Fall 2015. Posted 02/08/2016.

Obermark, Lauren, Elizabeth Brewer, and Kay Halasek. “Moving from the One and Done to a Culture of Collaboration: Revising Professional Development for TAs.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 39.1 (2015): 32-53. Print.

Lauren Obermark, Elizabeth Brewer, and Kay Halasek detail a professional development model for graduate teaching assistants (TAs) that was established at their institution to better meet the needs of both beginning and continuing TAs. Their model responded to the call from E. Shelley Reid, Heidi Estrem, and Marcia Belcheir to “[g]o gather data—not just impressions—from your own TAs” in order to understand and foreground local conditions (qtd. in Obermark et al. 33).

To examine and revise their professional development process beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2013, Obermark et al. conducted a survey of current TAs, held focus groups, and surveyed “alumni” TAs to determine TAs’ needs and their reactions to the support provided by the program (35-36).

An exigency for Obermark et al. was the tendency they found in the literature to concentrate TA training on the first semester of teaching. They cite Beth Brunk-Chavez to note that this tendency gives short shrift to the continuing concerns and professional growth of TAs as they advance from their early experiences in first-year writing to more complex teaching assignments (33). As a result of their research, Obermark et al. advocate for professional development that is “collaborative,” “ongoing,” and “distributed across departmental and institutional locations” (34).

The TA program in place at the authors’ institution prior to the assessment included a week-long orientation, a semester’s teaching practicum, a WPA class observation, and a syllabus built around a required textbook (34). After their first-year, TAs were able to move on to other classes, particularly the advanced writing class, which fulfills a general education requirement across the university and is expected to provide a more challenging writing experience, including a “scaffolded research project” (35). Obermark et al. found that while students with broader teaching backgrounds were often comfortable with designing their own syllabus to meet more complex pedagogical requirements, many TAs who had moved from the well-supported first-year course to the second wished for more guidance than they had received (35).

Consulting further scholarship by Estrem and Reid led Obermark et al. to act on “a common error” in professional development: failing to conduct a “needs assessment” by directly asking questions designed to determine, in the words of Kathleen Blake Yancey, “the characteristics of the TAs for whom the program is designed” (qtd. in Obermark et al. 36-37). The use of interview methodology through focus groups not only instilled a collaborative ethos, it also permitted the authors to plan “developmentally appropriate PD” and provided TAs with what the authors see as a rare opportunity to reflect on their experiences as teachers. Obermark et al. stress that this fresh focus on what Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher call a “participatory model of research” (37) allowed the researchers to demonstrate their perceptions of the TAs as professional colleagues, leading the TAs themselves “to identify more readily as professionals” (37).

TAs’ sense of themselves as professionals was further strengthened by the provision of “ongoing” support to move beyond what Obermark et al. call “the one and done” model (39). Through the university teaching center, they encountered Jody Nyquist and Jo Sprague’s theory of three stages of TA development: “senior learners” who “still identify strongly with students”; “colleagues in training” who have begun to recognize themselves as teachers; and “junior colleagues” who have assimilated their professional identities to the point that they “may lack only the formal credentials” (qtd. in Obermark et al. 39). Obermark et al. note that their surveys revealed, as Nyquist and Sprague predicted, that their population comprised TAs at all three levels as they moved through these stages at different rates (39-40).

The researchers learned that even experienced TAs still often had what might have been considered basic questions about the goals of the more advanced course and how to integrate the writing process into the course’s general education outcomes (40). The research revealed that as TAs moved past what Nyquist and Sprague denoted the “survival” mode that tends to characterize a first year of teaching, they began to recognize the value of composition theory and became more invested in applying theory to their teaching (39). That 75% of the alumni surveyed were teaching writing in their institutions regardless of their actual departmental positions reinforced the researchers’ certainty and the TAs’ awareness that composition theory and practice would be central to their ongoing academic careers (40).

Refinements included a more extensive schedule of optional workshops and a “peer-to-peer” program that responded to TA requests for more opportunities to observe and interact with each other. Participating TAs received guidance on effective observation processes and feedback; subsequent expansion of this program offered TAs opportunities to share designing assigning assignments and grading as well (42).

The final component of the new professional-development model focused on expanding the process of TA support across both the English department and the wider university. Obermark et al. indicate that many of the concerns expressed by TAs addressed not just teaching writing with a composition-studies emphasis but also teaching more broadly in areas that “did not fall neatly under our domain as WPAs and specialists in rhetoric and composition” (43). For example, TAs asked for more guidance in working with students’ varied learning styles and, in particular, in meeting the requirement for “social diversity” expressed in the general-education outcomes for the more advance course (44). Some alumni TAs reported wishing for more help teaching in other areas within English, such as in literature courses (45).

The authors designed programs featuring faculty and specialists in different pedagogical areas, such as diversity, as well as workshops and break-outs in which TAs could explore kinds of teaching that would apply across the many different environments in which they found themselves as professionals (45). Obermark et al. note especially the relationship they established with the university teaching center, a collaboration that allowed them to integrate expertise in composition with other philosophies of teaching and that provided “allies in both collecting data and administering workshops for which we needed additional expertise” (45). Two other specific benefits from this partnership were the enhanced “institutional memory” that resulted from inclusion of a wider range of faculty and staff and increased sustainability for the program as a larger university population became invested in the effort (45-46).

Obermark et al. provide their surveys and focus-group questions, urging other WPAs to engage TAs in their own development and to relate to them “as colleagues in the field rather than novices in need of training, inoculation, or the one and done approach” (47).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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