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Abba et al. Students’ Metaknowledge about Writing. J of Writing Res., 2018. Posted 09/28/2018.

Abba, Katherine A., Shuai (Steven) Zhang, and R. Malatesha Joshi. “Community College Writers’ Metaknowledge of Effective Writing.” Journal of Writing Research 10.1 (2018): 85-105. Web. 19 Sept. 2018.

Katherine A. Abba, Shuai (Steven) Zhang, and R. Malatesha Joshi report on a study of students’ metaknowledge about effective writing. They recruited 249 community-college students taking courses in Child Development and Teacher Education at an institution in the southwestern U.S. (89).

All students provided data for the first research question, “What is community-college students’ metaknowledge regarding effective writing?” The researchers used data only from students whose first language was English for their second and third research questions, which investigated “common patterns of metaknowledge” and whether classifying students’ responses into different groups would reveal correlations between the focus of the metaknowledge and the quality of the students’ writing. The authors state that limiting analysis to this subgroup would eliminate the confounding effect of language interference (89).

Abba et al. define metaknowledge as “awareness of one’s cognitive processes, such as prioritizing and executing tasks” (86), and explore extensive research dating to the 1970s that explores how this concept has been articulated and developed. They state that the literature supports the conclusion that “college students’ metacognitive knowledge, particularly substantive procedures, as well as their beliefs about writing, have distinctly impacted their writing” (88).

The authors argue that their study is one of few to focus on community college students; further, it addresses the impact of metaknowledge on the quality of student writing samples via the “Coh-Metrix” analysis tool (89).

Students participating in the study were provided with writing prompts at the start of the semester during an in-class, one-hour session. In addition to completing the samples, students filled out a short biographical survey and responded to two open-ended questions:

What do effective writers do when they write?

Suppose you were the teacher of this class today and a student asked you “What is effective writing?” What would you tell that student about effective writing? (90)

Student responses were coded in terms of “idea units which are specific unique ideas within each student’s response” (90). The authors give examples of how units were recognized and selected. Abba et al. divided the data into “Procedural Knowledge,” or “the knowledge necessary to carry out the procedure or process of writing,” and “Declarative Knowledge,” or statements about “the characteristics of effective writing” (89). Within the categories, responses were coded as addressing “substantive procedures” having to do with the process itself and “production procedures,” relating to the “form of writing,” e.g., spelling and grammar (89).

Analysis for the first research question regarding general knowledge in the full cohort revealed that most responses about Procedural Knowledge addressed “substantive” rather than “production” issues (98). Students’ Procedural Knowledge focused on “Writing/Drafting,” with “Goal Setting/Planning” in second place (93, 98). Frequencies indicated that while revision was “somewhat important,” it was not as central to students’ knowledge as indicated in scholarship on the writing process such as that of John Hayes and Linda Flower and M. Scardamalia and C. Bereiter (96).

Analysis of Declarative Knowledge for the full-cohort question showed that students saw “Clarity and Focus” and “Audience” as important characteristics of effective writing (98). Grammar and Spelling, the “production” features, were more important than in Procedural Knowledge. The authors posit that students were drawing on their awareness of the importance of a polished finished product for grading (98). Overall, data for the first research question matched that of previous scholarship on students’ metaknowledge of effective writing, which shows some concern with the finished product and a possibly “insufficient” focus on revision (98).

To address the second and third questions, about “common patterns” in student knowledge and the impact of a particular focus of knowledge on writing performance, students whose first language was English were divided into three “classes” in both Procedural and Declarative Knowledge based on their responses. Classes in Procedural Knowledge were a “Writing/Drafting oriented group,” a “Purpose-oriented group,” and the largest, a “Plan and Review oriented group” (99). Responses regarding Declarative Knowledge resulted in a “Plan and Review” group, a “Time and Clarity oriented group,” and the largest, an “Audience oriented group.” One hundred twenty-three of the 146 students in the cohort belonged to this group. The authors note the importance of attention to audience in the scholarship and the assertion that this focus typifies “older, more experienced writers” (99).

The final question about the impact of metaknowledge on writing quality was addressed through the Coh-Metrix “online automated writing evaluation tool” that assessed variables such as “referential cohesion, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity and pattern density” (100). In addition, Abba et al. used a method designed by A. Bolck, M. A. Croon, and J. A. Hagenaars (“BCH”) to investigate relationships between class membership and writing features (96).

These analyses revealed “no relationship . . . between their patterns knowledge and the chosen Coh-Metrix variables commonly associated with effective writing” (100). The “BCH” analysis revealed only two significant associations among the 15 variables examined (96).

The authors propose that their findings did not align with prior research suggesting the importance of metacognitive knowledge because their methodology did not use human raters and did not factor in student beliefs about writing or questions addressing why they responded as they did. Moreover, the authors state that the open-ended questions allowed more varied responses than did responses to “pre-established inventor[ies]” (100). They maintain that their methods “controlled the measurement errors” better than often-used regression studies (100).

Abba et al. recommend more research with more varied cohorts and collection of interview data that could shed more light on students’ reasons for their responses (100-101). Such data, they indicate, will allow conclusions about how students’ beliefs about writing, such as “whether an ability can be improved,” affect the results (101). Instructors, in their view, can more explicitly address awareness of strategies and effective practices and can use discussion of metaknowledge to correct “misconceptions or misuse of metacognitive strategies” (101):

The challenge for instructors is to ascertain whether students’ metaknowledge about effective writing is accurate and support students as they transfer effective writing metaknowledge to their written work. (101)

 


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McAlear and Pedretti. When is a Paper “Done”? Comp. Studies, Fall 2016. Posted 03/02/2017.

McAlear, Rob, and Mark Pedretti. “Writing Toward the End: Students’ Perceptions of Doneness in the Composition Classroom.” Composition Studies 44.2 (2016): 72-93. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Rob McAlear and Mark Pedretti describe a survey to shed light on students’ conception of “doneness,” or when a piece of writing is completed.

McAlear and Pedretti argue that writing teachers tend to consider writing an ongoing process that never really ends. In their view, this approach values “process over product,” with the partial result that the issue of how a writing task reaches satisfactory completion is seldom addressed in composition scholarship (72). They contend that experienced writers acquire an ability “central to compositional practice” of recognizing that a piece is ready for submission, and writing instructors can help students develop their own awareness of what makes a piece complete.

A first step in this pedagogical process, McAlear and Pedretti write, is to understand how students actually make this decision about their college assignments (73). Their article seeks to determine what criteria students actually use and how these criteria differ as student writers move through different levels of college writing (73).

McAlear and Pedretti review the limited references to doneness in composition scholarship, noting that earlier resources like Erika Lindemann and Daniel Anderson’s A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers and Janet Emig’s work suggest that the most important factors are deadlines and a sense that the writer has nothing more to say. The authors find these accounts “unsatisfying” (74). Nancy Sommers, they state, recognizes that writing tasks do end but does not explore the criteria nor the “implications for those criteria” (75). Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, in their cognitive model, suggest that endings are determined by a writer’s “task representation,” with solution of a problem the supposed end point. Again, the authors find that knowing how writers “defin[e] a problem” does not explain how writers know they “have reached an adequate solution” (75).

One reason doneness has not been explicitly addressed, McAlear and Pedretti posit, is its possible relationship to “products” as the end of writing. Yet, they argue, “one of the implicit goals of teaching writing as a process is to get better products” (76). In their view, interrogating how writers come to regard their work as finished need not commit scholars to a “Big Theory” approach; “completion,” like process, can be rhetorically focused, responsive to specific audiences and purposes (76).

The authors surveyed 59 students in four first-year and four second-year writing courses at a Midwest research institution (78). The survey consisted of ten questions; analysis focused on the first two, asking about the student’s year and major, and on two questions, Q5 and Q10, that specifically asked how students decided a piece was finished. Question 5 was intended to elicit information about “a cognitive state,” whereas Question 10 asked about specific criteria (78).

Coding answers yielded three strategies: Internal, Criteria, and Process. “Internal” responses “linked to personal, emotional, or aesthetic judgments, such as feeling satisfied with one’s work or that the paper ‘flowed’” (79). Answers classified under “Criteria” referenced “empirical judgments of completion” such as meeting the requirements of the assignment (79). In “Process” answers, “any step in the writing process . . . was explicitly mentioned,” such as proofreading or peer review (79). McAlear and Pedretti coded some responses as combinations of the basic strategies, such as IP for “Internal-Process” or PC for “Process-Criteria” (80).

Survey responses indicated that first-year students tended to use a single strategy to determine doneness, with Internal or Process dominant. Nearly half of second-year students also used only one marker, but with a shift from Internal to Criteria strategies (79-80). Students responding to Question 10 claimed to use more than one strategy, perhaps because an intervening question triggered more reflection on their strategies (80). However, the authors were surprised that 33% of first-year students and 48% of second-year students did not mention Process strategies at all (80). Overall, first-year writers were more likely to report Internal or Process options, while second-year writers trended more to external Criteria (80-81).

McAlear and Pedretti found that for first-year students particularly, “Process” involved only “lower-order” strategies like proofreading (81). The authors recoded references to proofreading or correctness into a new category, “Surface.” With this revision, first-year students’ preference for Internal strategies “become even more prominent,” while second-year students’ use of Process strategies other than “Surface” was highlighted (82).

Study results do not support what McAlear and Pedretti consider a common perception that correctness and page length dictate students’ decisions about doneness (84). The authors posit that “students may be relying on equally simple, but qualitatively distinct, criteria” (84). First-year students commonly pointed to “proofreading and having nothing more to say,” while second-year students expressed concern with “meeting the criteria of the prompt” (84).

McAlear and Pedretti note that even among second-year students who had been exposed to more than one writing class, these responses indicate very little “awareness of rhetorical situation” (84). Although responding to the rhetorical situation of a college classroom, McAlear and Pedretti argue, second-year students interpret the actual expectations of a writing class simplistically (85). Considerations that writing teachers would hope for, like “Is this portion of my argument persuasive for my audience,” were completely missing (84). Moreover, many second-year students did not note Process at all, despite presumably having encountered the concept often (85).

McAlear and Pedretti propose that the shift away from Internal, affective markers to external, criteria-focused, albeit reductive, strategies may reflect a “loss of confidence” as students encountering unfamiliar discourses no longer trust their ability to judge their own success (85-86). The authors suggest that, because students cannot easily frame a rhetorical problem, “they do not know their endpoint” and thus turn to teachers for explicit instruction on what constitutes an adequate response (87).

For the authors, the moment when students move to external criteria and must articulate these criteria is an opportunity to introduce a vocabulary on doneness and to encourage attention to the different kinds of criteria suitable for different rhetorical contexts (88). Instructors can use reflective activities and examination of others’ decisions as revealed in their work to incorporate issues of doneness into rhetorical education as they explicitly provide a range of strategies, from internal satisfaction to genre-based criteria (88-89). Students might revise writing tasks for different genres and consider how, for example, completion criteria for an essay differ from those for a speech (90).

The authors propose that such attention to the question of doneness may shed light on problems like “writing anxiety,  procrastination, and even plagiarism” (84). Ultimately, they write, “knowing when to stop writing is a need that many of our students have, and one for which we have not yet adequately prepared them” (90).

 


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Skains, R. Lyle. Multimodal Creative Writing. C&C, March 2017. Posted 02/05/2017.

Skains, R. Lyle. “The Adaptive Process of Multimodal Composition: How Developing Tacit Knowledge of Digital Tools Affects Creative Writing.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 106-17. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

R. Lyle Skains describes a “practice-based research” project conducted over a three-and-a-half year period in which she analyzed her development as a writer of digital fiction. In this project, Færwhile, Skains progresses through drafts of several stories, beginning with a traditional “analogue” story and culminating in stories in which she has internalized the knowledge needed to create successful digital compositions.

Skains argues that such research is needed because composition pedagogy does not fully account for the “fundamental, cognitive differences between writing for the page and writing for digital media” (106). While students may engage with digital media as readers, she contends, they have little practice in actually exploiting the possibilities of digital media as writers (115). She emphasizes the need for explicit knowledge of the demands of a new medium to become internalized as tacit knowledge; students come to multimodal assignments with tacit knowledge of print from their long experience with it, but may not yet have gained the kind of tacit knowledge of digital media that will allow them to become fully accomplished multimodal writers (107).

Her own project involved reading digital fiction, reading theory on narrative and genre, and then working through several stories, beginning with a “zero-state” text: “an analogue short story” she undertook before delving into digital composition (107). Subsequent stories engaged more and more fully with the possibilities of digital fiction. Skains walks through her processes as she composes these stories.

Her method is “auto-ethnomethodological”; it consists of observations of herself at work and the states of mind through which she moves from conscious explicit knowledge to a fully functional tacit knowledge of the medium (108). Following advice from Deborah Brandt, Skains draws on “observable paratexts” to her process like “notes, journal entries, and comments on revised drafts”; these allow her to reconstruct her cognitive journey. She draws as well on the 1981 Cognitive Process Model advanced by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, which she credits with the observation that a design or intention can be realized in many different ways and the specific realization emerges from the actual process of writing (108).

She cites other theories of narrative and creative processes including Gérard Genette’s invocation of “hypertextuality (playing the text off familiarity with other texts in the genre) and architextuality (exploring generic expectations in relation to other similar texts)” (107). Flower and Hayes’s Multiple Representation Theory suggests that “the initial mental model of a text is multimodal, then subsequently translated to written language” (107). Skains relates such theories to her own processes, for example noting how her reading interacted with her own texts as well as how the stories in her project contributed to an “intratextual” effect via a shared “element of parallel mythology,” the “Trickster” figure (111). In accordance with Flower and Hayes, she relates how her analogue short story “unfolded in [her] imagination on a visual reel, which then needed translation into written language” (110).

Skains argues for the importance of long-term memory that can draw on a “knowledge base” and allow fiction writers to construct characters and worlds (109). As short-term memory of actions involved in a medium is transferred to long-term memory, tacit knowledge is developed (110).

An important finding for her project is that the linear structuring and narrative processes she found most comfortable did not lend themselves to a simple “remediation” of the typical analogue text into a digital version (112). As she worked through a succession of stories, she continued to begin with these familiar invention and composing steps; the third story in her discussion, for example, shared features with the “zero-state” story: its “traditional, linear structure and minimal level of interactivity,” even though she “remediated” it into Adobe Flash (111). However, when she struggled with a story about a character whose “interaction with her world, both real and virtual, was hyperlinked,” Skains found that the character could not evolve if she was “stuck in sequential page turns” (112). The solution was to work through the digital version first, giving over fully to the hyperlinked world invoked by the story (112). Skains found that she was still working toward a fully developed “mental model that afforded a fully multimodal composition process” (112).

The author argues that first- or second-person points of view, increased interactivity that provides readers with agency, and intra- or intertextuality are defining features of digital fiction (111). Texts that are composed an analogue narratives, she posits, lack full commitment to these elements and will not lend themselves to revision in digital form (110): “the composition process for multimodal works must necessarily be multimodal” (112).

Skains reports that the means by which she addressed the original “rhetorical problem” for her stories was affected by her deeper and deeper engagement with digital composition (114). Writers of digital texts like hers, she writes, become programmers, with the result that “the text as composed (i.e., the source code) does not resemble the text-as-read/played” (113). She cites digital writer Jenny Weight to argue that a digital-composing experience becomes an “environment” in itself rather than a “traditional narrative” (113). Inventing a set of environments for a character to traverse in the digital composition influences the “world-building” efforts of the analogue version (113).

Similarly, she cites an example of a story in which providing a narrator with multiple voices led to the creation of a website for each voice, a move that in turn led her to experiment with visual font effects in the print version (113-14). In such cases, Skains’s “mental model of the narrative” had been influenced by the digital process (114).

Skains posits that students attempting to apply their tacit knowledge of print technology as they encounter multimodal assignments face a trajectory similar to hers, and that current composition-classroom practice does not facilitate this evolution (114). The addition of digital elements, she notes, adds many new layers to the composing process, “significantly increase[ing] the creative decisions that have to be made” (115). She contends that, like her, students must learn to adjust their creative processes to conform to the media rather than expecting the media to meet their original goals (115). The tacit knowledge and expertise to make this transition, Skains maintains, is “immersion” in the digital process, moving beyond reading to doing (115). She is currently engaged in ethnographical work to develop a “pedagogical model for teaching digital writing” (115).


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Kellogg et al. Verbal Working Memory and Sentence Composition. J of Writing Research, Feb. 2016. Posted 04/24/2016.

Kellogg, Ronald T., Casey E. Turner, Alison P. Whiteford, and Andrew Mertens. “The Role of Working Memory in Planning and Generating Written Sentences.” The Journal of Writing Research 7.3 (2016): 397-416. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

Kellogg et al. conduct an experiment designed to shed light on how working memory (WM) relates to the sequence of the processes that go into generating written sentences. They draw on a body of research like that of Linda Flower and John Hayes that posits a conceptual “planning” phase that is largely nonverbal and a phase of grammatical and orthographical translation that leads to writing or typing (398).

The models propose that the planning stage draws on a visual component when the information to be translated involves concrete nouns that evoke images (399). The researchers hypothesized that a visual working-memory load (that is, a non-verbal load) during the writing task would interact with the planning, or non-verbal, stage, while imposing a verbal working-memory load would impact transcription of the written sentences during the phase when grammatical processing was taking place.

To test these hypotheses, Kellogg et al. provided participants with two different kinds of prompts and asked for two different kinds of sentences using these prompts. The prompts were paired words to be used in sentences. One set of pairs involved words that were semantically related, such as “door” and “knob.” The other set provided words that were not related, such as “ice” and “jail.” All word pairs were concrete and taken from a scale tested to calculate how easily they would be recognized (401).

The rationale for these choices was that more planning was needed to link unrelated word pairs in a sentence, so that the load on visual memory would also increase (399). But because the models specified that planning takes place before “grammatical encoding,” the kind of word pair required should have no effect on this latter process (400).

To investigate the relationship of verbal memory to the sentence-generating process, the researchers imposed another manipulation by asking half of the subjects to compose active-voice sentences, while the other half composed passive-voice sentences. In this case, the rationale was research showing that passive-voice constructions are more complex than active and thus should burden “verbal working memory” but not visual (400). Subjects were screened for their ability to produce the kinds of sentences required as instructed in the prompts (403).

Thus the protocol required subjects to produce sentences, either in the passive or active voice as instructed, in three conditions: while being asked to perform a “concurrent” visual working-memory task, a concurrent verbal working-memory task, or no concurrent task (401). The visual concurrent task involved studying and learning a set of images chosen from “the SPSS Marker Set in Microsoft Word” that were “designed to be not readily named” (401). In contrast, the verbal concurrent task was composed of nine digits that “could be coded verbally” (401). In both cases, after completing the required sentence, the participants were asked to determine whether a set of symbols or digits matched the ones they had previously seen (402-03).

The level of accuracy in this ability to match the symbols or digits displayed after the writing task with those seen previously constituted the main data for the study (409). The researchers wanted to test the hypothesis that impeding visual working memory would not interact with the verbal process of grammatical encoding, but that impeding verbal working memory would do so (399).

Additional data came from measuring factors such as the length of the sentences produced, the number of words produced per second in each trial, the time involved in producing the sentences, and the time before typing began. These factors were controlled for in the interpretation of the major findings.

The authors’ predictions, therefore, were that factors that made planning harder, such as efforts to work with unrelated nouns, would show up in less accurate results for the visual working-memory task, the symbols, while factors that impeded grammatical encoding, such as writing passive-voice sentences, would manifest themselves in less accuracy in recalling the verbal working-memory task components, the digits.

Unexpectedly, they found that even though, as predicted, passive voice sentences took longer to write, required more words, and resulted in fewer words per second, the type of sentence made “no reliable difference” on the verbal concurrent task (the digits): “if anything, actives produced more interference than passives” (410). They found also that, contrary to expectations, related word pairs “most disrupted the verbal WM task” (410). Thus, the operations assumed to be simplest required the most verbal working-memory effort, and factors that were expected to affect visual working memory because they were presumably involved in planning did not produce the hypothesized interference with the visual task (409-10).

That the presumably simpler effort involved in producing an active-voice sentence using a related pair of words demanded more verbal working memory led the researchers to consult the work of M. Fayol, who proposed that the “Kellogg (1996) model” may fail to take into account “an understanding of the temporal dynamics” involved in writing sentences (411). To explain their findings in the current study, Kellogg et al. posited that the conceptual work of planning for the simpler active-voice/related-pair resulted in “a single chunk that was then immediately cascaded forward to grammatical encoding” (411). In contrast, they suggest, the more difficult planning for a sentence using the unrelated pair occurred incrementally, possibly in parallel with grammatical encoding or during pauses, for example, after typing the first of the words. Thus, the grammatical encoding process that would have shown up as a demand on verbal working memory was broken up into “piecemeal” activities by planning phases rather than implemented all at once (411-12). Such intermittent planning/encoding has been demonstrated in studies of speech and typing (412). In short, easier planning can result in more pressure on verbal working memory.

The authors conclude that “the role of WM in written sentence production is markedly more complex than previously postulated” (414).


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Bollig, Chase. Students as Citizen-Workers. CCC, Dec. 2015. Posted 01/11/2016.

Bollig, Chase. “‘Is College Worth It?’ Arguing for Composition’s Value with the Citizen-Worker.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (2015): 150-72. Print.

Chase Bollig urges compositionists to address the ongoing debate about the value of college by adopting a view of students as “citizen-workers.” Bollig argues that the field must “[resist] the compartmentalization of higher education’s cultural, civic, and economic functions” (163). Such resistance can challenge what Bollig sees as reductionist views of the relationship between education and economics that proliferate in the public debate.

Bollig reviews the conversation within the “commentariat” (151) as to whether college is “worth it,” finding widespread agreement that people’s desire to attend college is related to the existence of “precarious job markets” (152) that both spur enrollment and raise questions about the trade-offs involved, especially when applicants are deemed underprepared.

According to one school of thought, a college degree is more important than ever in times of tight job markets (154), while another approach, which Bollig characterizes partly through the claims of economics professor Richard Vedder, laments an overproduction of college graduates as problematic in view of the economy’s need for people to do low-tech work (154-55). Supporters of the importance of a college degree reply that higher education provides “social capital” that is more important than specific skills learned; indeed, some contend that college admissions serve as markers for employers looking for workers capable of being inculcated into middle-class roles and values (156).

A thread in such discussions, Bollig reports, is the increasing cost of college attendance, which is blamed on such factors as “administrative costs” (157), but which Bollig ties to the question of whether higher education in general should be seen as a public good. He cites Jeffrey J. Williams, who associates the rising costs that students must bear with “the rollback of the welfare state” (qtd. in Bollig 157). This rollback transforms “the primary function of a university from being a social good to an individual investment,” a shift that Vedder supports because, in Vedder’s view, there is little or no “spillover effect” for society as a whole from an increase in college-educated citizens (157). Bollig sees the privatization called for by Vedder as an impediment to access that “naturalizes” the need for large amounts of student-loan debt (157), a burden that then disempowers employees who must hold onto jobs to pay back their loans (158).

Bollig explores prior efforts by composition scholars to valorize composition’s place in an institution that “is not a space but a market” (Williams, qtd. in Bollig 158). A number of defenses focus on college’s redistributive role, centering on issues of access like those related to the work of Mina P. Shaughnessy in showing that supposedly “ineducable” students can succeed if seen as “beginners” (159). Tom Fox similarly assumes that “redistributing wealth and privilege” and enhancing democracy are primary responsibilities of higher education (161). Bollig responds that discourses in support of access and redistribution “do not directly engage the market-oriented terms of the ‘worth it’ debate” (160). Such terms, for example, include claims by Vedder and others that remediation is not cost-effective and that inviting all to aspire to advanced literacy will “dilute quality” (Vedder, qtd. in Lauren Weber and Bollig 160). Moreover, Bollig writes, current trends that distinguish elite institutions from those attended by most students guarantee that stratification will persist regardless of educators’ beliefs in the equalizing potential of a college degree (161).

A second category of responses offered by compositionists in defending the value of college involves the role of higher education in fostering civic engagement. Bollig references work on service-learning to illustrate support for this view, but counters with cites from Catherine Chaput that efforts to produce effective “citizens” accept rather than challenge “the classed positionality into which we are hailed” (qtd. in Bollig 162).

Bollig presents Christopher Newfield as a scholar who does address economic factors in defending the value of college and particularly of humanities and social-science majors (162-63). Newfield believes that it is possible to “manage markets” by establishing the economic value of graduates in these fields (qtd. in Bollig 162; emphasis original). Chaput further states that the development of land-grant institutions specifically answered an economic exigency (163). These claims lead Bollig to suggest that

we in composition should reflect on how aspects of vocationalism can be appropriated to advance a reflexive, flexible vision of the relationship between higher education, composition, and the economy. (163)

Bollig develops the concept of the citizen-worker as it has been expressed in the work of a number of composition scholars. He draws on Joshua S. Hanan to explore the claim that classical rhetoric encourages separation of daily lived experience, including its economic aspects, from political involvement (164). Chaput and Tony Scott both advocate expanding the definition of “professionalism” to counteract a mindset that “distances college students and instructors from working-class Others” (164). Bollig cites scholarship by James Berlin, John Trimbur, and Russel K. Durst that argues for incorporating into the classroom a view of work that highlights its location in a larger, collective, democratic venue (165): Rather than banishing vocational concerns from the classroom, compositionists can encourage students to critically “examine their positionality as workers and consumers within the system of global capitalism” (165).

Extending this concept, Bollig urges making an examination of work “a mode of inquiry” that moves from a discussion casting “postgraduation employment as an individual problem” to one that “becomes an engagement with both the potential privileges of a degree and its limits” (166). In taking such steps, Bollig writes, the field can embrace the concerns and needs of the many students who must work while attending college, concerns and needs that he sees as absent from the extant debate (167).

Thus, in this view, making the “citizen-worker” the “subject of composition” (151) melds civic, economic, and political dimensions, a set of connections that are occluded both by the commentariat and by much scholarship in composition (168). This approach, Bollig believes, will allow composition not only to undercut the “literacy myth[s]” that tie education unproblematically to social mobility but also to advocate more effectively for the value of the work done in composition classrooms (168). One result, he believes, can be a renewed sense that the “mass literacy” (160) enabled by college is a “social good” (168).


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Rice, Jenny. Para-Expertise in Writing Classrooms. CE, Nov. 2015. Posted 12/07/2015.

Rice, Jenny. “Para-Expertise, Tacit Knowledge, and Writing Problems.” College English 78.2 (2015): 117-38. Print.

Jenny Rice examines how views of expertise in rhetoric and composition shape writing instruction. She argues for replacing the definition of non-expertise as a lack of knowledge with expanded approaches to expertise open to what Michael Polanyi has called “tacit knowledge” (125). Rice proposes a new category of knowledge, “para-expertise,” that draws on tacit knowledge to enable students and other non-experts to do activities related to expertise.

Rice cites a number of approaches to expertise in rhet/comp’s disciplinary considerations. Among them is the idea that the field has content that only qualified individuals can impart (120). Further, she sees expectations in writing-across-the-curriculum and writing-in-the-disciplines, as well as the view that composition courses should inculcate students in “expert [reading and writing] practice[s]” (121), as indications of the rhetorical presence notions of expertise acquire in the field (120-21).

She opposes the idea of novice practice as a deficiency with other attitudes toward expertise. Within the field of composition studies, she points to the work of Linda Flower and John Hayes. These scholars, she writes, found that the expertise of good writers consisted not of specific knowledge but rather of the ability to pose more complex problems for themselves as communicators. Whereas weaker writers “often flatline around fulfilling the details of the prompt, including word count and other conventional details,” expert writers “use the writing prompt as a way to articulate and define their own understanding of the rhetorical situation to which they are responding” (121).

This discussion leads Rice to a view of expertise as meaningful problem-posing, an activity rather than a body of knowledge. In this view, students can do the work of expertise even when they have no field-specific knowledge (122). Understanding expertise in this way leads Rice to explore categories of expertise as laid out in “the interdisciplinary field of Studies of Expertise and Experience (SEE)” (123). Scholars in this field distinguish between “contributory experts” who “have the ability to do things within the domain of their expertise” (Harry Collins and Robert Evans, qtd. in Rice 123; emphasis original); and “interactional experts,” who may not be able to actively produce within the field but who are “immersed in the language of that particular domain” (123). Rice provides the example of artists and art critics (123).

Rice emphasizes the importance of interactional expertise by noting that not all contributory experts communicate easily with each other and thus require interactional experts to “bridge the gulf” between discourse communities addressing a shared problem (124). She provides the example of “organic farmers and agricultural scholars” who function within separate expert domains yet need others to “translate” across these domains (124-25).

But Rice feels these definitions need to be augmented with another category to encompass people like students who lack the domain-specific knowledge to be contributory or interactional experts. She proposes the category “para-expertise,” in which para takes on its “older etymology” as “alongside (touching the side of) different forms of expertise” (119).

In Rice’s view, the tacit knowledge that fuels para-expertise, while usually discounted in formal contexts, arises from “embodied knowledge” gleaned from everyday living in what Debra Hawhee has called “rhetoric’s sensorium” (cited in Rice 126). In Rice’s words, this sensorium may be defined as “the participatory dimension of communication that falls outside of simple articulation without falling outside the realm of understanding” (126). She gives the example of not being able to articulate the cues that, when implicitly sensed, result in her clear knowledge that she is hearing her mother’s voice on the phone (125)

Rice’s extended example of the work of para-expertise revolves around students’ sense of the effects of campus architecture on their moods and function. Interviews with “hundreds of college students” at “four different university campuses” regarding their responses to “urban legends” about dorms and other buildings being like prisons lead Rice to argue that the students were displaying felt knowledge of the bodily and psychological effects of window and hallway dimensions even though they did not have the expert disciplinary language to convert their sensed awareness into technical architectural principles (127-31). In particular, Rice states, the students drew a sense of a problem to be addressed from their tacit or para knowledge and thus were embarking on “the activity of expertise” (131).

In Rice’s discussion, para-expertise can productively engage with other forms of expertise through the formation of “strategic expertise alliances” (131). By itself para-expertise cannot resolve a problem, but those whose tacit knowledge has led them to identify the problem can begin to address it via coalitions with those with the specific disciplinary tools to do so. As a classroom example, she explains that students on her campus had become concerned about intentions to outsource food options, thus endangering connections with local providers and reducing choices. Lacking the vocabulary to present their concerns to administrators, a group of students and faculty joined with local community organizations that were able to provide specific information and guidance in constructing arguments (132-33).

Rice’s own writing students, participating in this campus issue, were asked to gather oral histories from members of a nearby farmers’ market. The students, however, felt “intimidated and out of place” during their visits to the farmers’ market (136), partly because, as students from other areas, they had seldom had any reason to visit the market. Rice considers this tacit response to the market the opening of a problem to be addressed: “How can a community farmers market reach students who only temporarily reside in that community?” (136; emphasis original).

Rice writes:

[T]he solution calls for greater expertise than first-year students possess. Rather than asking students to (artificially) adopt the role of expertise and pose a solution, however, we turned to a discussion of expert alliances. Who were the “pivot points” in this problem? Who were the contributory experts, and who had the skills of interactional expertise? (136)

Ultimately, alliances resulting from this discussion led to the creation of a branch of the farmers’ market on campus (136).

Rice argues that this approach to expertise highlights its nature as a collaborative effort across different kinds of knowledge and activities (134). It de-emphasizes the “terribly discouraging” idea that “discovery” is the path to expertise and replaces that “myth” with an awareness that “invention and creation” and how “[e]xperts pose problems” are the keys to expert action (122; emphasis original). It also helps students understand the different kinds of expertise and how their own tacit knowledge can become part of effective action (135).

 


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Kuebrich, Ben. Community Organizing for Change. CCC, June 2015. Posted 07/02/2015.

Kuebrich, Ben. “‘White Guys Who Send My Uncle to Prison’: Going Public within Asymmetrical Power.” College Composition and Communication 66.4 (2015): 566-90. Print.

Ben Kuebrich writes about the limits of civil rhetoric in the efforts of communities to bring about true social change; he urges compositionists to take a more direct but cautious role in the kind of locally driven community organizing that he believes can address power inequities.

To develop his position, he recounts a case history of efforts in the Near Westside neighborhood in Syracuse to address police behavior. These efforts consisted of a collaboration between Syracuse University and the community, resulting in the creation of the Westside Residents Coalition (WRC) and the Gifford Street Community Press. During Kuebrich’s involvement with the community, the press published I Witness: Perspectives on Policing in the Near Westside, a collection of citizen voices. The activism that led to the book resulted most immediately from the proposed installation of surveillance cameras in the Westside neighborhood without consultation with the residents (571, 588n4). Residents felt that the decision to mount the cameras epitomized the disdain with which the police regarded the neighborhood and served as a call for residents to confront the existing power relations (571). The police responded by agreeing to meet with the WRC in conjunction with the Westside Police Delegation (571). Kuebrich became involved through a graduate course with Steve Parks; he was enlisted to help develop the book, which would make the perspectives of the citizens visible and possibly result in “greater communication and accountability” (572). He collected interviews beginning in 2011 and served as editor until the book’s publication in 2012 (567).

Central to Kuebrich’s concerns is the role that activist composition scholars have taken in promoting effective civic interventions. Drawing on Edward P. J. Corbett’s terms (568), he contrasts calls for rhetoric’s “open hand” as an effective means of influencing power asymmetries with situations in which the “closed fist” has emerged “tactically” (577) as a tool for promoting change. To analyze this distinction, Kuebrich draws on anthropologist James C. Scott’s work on “public” and “hidden transcripts” developed in Domination and the Arts of Resistance (569). The public transcript is the discourse created and “policed” (573) by the elites and the entities in power, generating a “self-portrait of dominant elites as they would have themselves seen” (Scott, qrd. in Kuebrich 569; emphasis original). In contrast, the hidden transcript expresses the actual perceptions and responses of the less powerful, “beyond direct observation by power holders” (Scott, qtd. in Kuebrich 569-70). Kuebrich enlists the work of Parks and Christopher Wilkey to contend that the “notions of civility and propriety” promoted by organizations like the Community Literacy Center (CLC) in Pittsburgh,, designed to move oppressed groups from what Linda Flower calls “a rhetoric of complaint and blame” (qtd. in Kuebrich 576) to a rhetoric more suited to public discourse, fail to empower citizens to make effective use of public channels (575-76).

This is so, Kuebrich argues, because the demands that the hidden transcript be made public by citizens “speaking out” entail serious risks for individual speakers and ultimately are dismissed within the extant power structures (574). The silence of oppressed groups, Kuebrich contends, is not “false consciousness,” in which the oppressed blindly subscribe to the conditions that oppress them, but rather a true critical awareness of the conditions under which they live. In contrast, rhetorical actions that elicit a response to the hidden transcript and gain power are those in which the speakers contribute to a collective voice (572, 574). Civil rhetoric and the “community think-tank” model (576) only earn such a response when they operate hand in hand with collective effort that “presents a credible threat to established power” (575). Kuebrich cites Nancy Welch’s exhortation to study effective social movements to understand why they succeed (569) and advocates assessing rhetorical strategies based on how well they actually produce results (576). Kuebrich’s case study of the WRC and I Witness explores how anger and resentment can be remodeled into effective collective action as the residents of the Near Westside developed strategies for engaging with the police (577). Important to this process, Kuebrich argues, is the progress toward concrete action (578).

Kuebrich explores the relationship between the public and hidden transcripts and their effects on action by analyzing two rhetorical engagements between the Near Westside residents and the police: the release event for the book attended by about a dozen officers and forty residents, and the book itself. The release gathering featured readings from the book, small group discussions over lunch, and a full-group discussion afterward. Kuebrich argues that this event did not become the kind of event at which the hidden transcript took center stage for active, open analysis (583); rather, it revolved around “loose terms like ‘dialogue,’ ‘communication,’ and ‘respect'” (581). The burden for effecting change fell upon the residents rather than on the police, who did not acknowledge the need to correct their own behavior; most issues on the table were the concerns of the police, not of the residents (582). However, Kuebrich writes, the engagement did leave the police “unsettled”: he believes the meeting “pushed the boundaries of public speech . . . without taking too many risks” (583). He argues that in such situations, activists hoping for a more confrontational moment should defer to citizens’ own assessment of the risks and benefits involved in speaking out (579-80).

I Witness, in contrast, makes public the specific concerns and perspectives of the residents in explicit language. Kuebrich illustrates, however, how one resident author acknowledged audience by softening his claims with an added introduction that focused not so much on the validity of “horror stories,” though some were aired, but rather on the importance for police to understand how their actions made people feel (584). Again, the emphasis is on the importance of the book as a collective statement, not as an example of a single heroic individual going public (587). Kuebrich closes with two small incidents where the police modified the public transcript to show deference they might not have shown before the book and the meeting; he argues for the existence of a “slowly shifting dynamic” that disrupts the carefully scripted public transcript that might otherwise pertain (587). Kuebrich urges composition scholars to study such events to better understand how to follow the lead of communities working as collectives to initiate change (587-88).