College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Hesse, Douglas. R/C Journals since 1984. CE, Mar. 2019. Posted 05/22/2019.

Hesse, Douglas. “Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After.” College English 81.4 (2019): 367-96. Print.

Douglas Hesse surveys journals in rhetoric and composition as of summer 2018. Among his goals is to examine changes in the field as evidenced in the journals based on a comparison with a similar list compiled by Robert J. Connors in 1984.

Connors’s original list contained fifteen journals; Hesse’s considers forty-five “identified presently or historically with composition studies,” using as a “foundation” the journals on Connors’s list (369). Hesse recounts locating lists of journals from such sources as recommendations for graduate students; he examines publication histories and tables of contents for listed journals and selects journals for his survey based on criteria of “centrality,” such as being included on multiple lists, and “diverse directions and interests,” which leads to the inclusion of more specialized journals dealing with ongoing interests and trends in the changing field (369).

Among the challenges of Hesse’s project was determining which journals “count” as belonging in rhetoric and composition (370). For example, he states, not all “rhetorical criticism” addresses issues related to the teaching of writing, even though scholars within the field may cite journals with this focus. Hesse excludes journals focusing on visual communication, as well as those more attuned to business and technical communication and to creative writing because, in his view, “these fields increasingly have become . . . distinct from composition studies” (370). Connors excluded Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Hesse follows this lead (370).

For a “subset” of articles examined more closely, Hesse counted articles and pages in articles, a task requiring him to decide how to define “article.” Ultimately, inclusions like book reviews and editors’ introductions were not counted as articles (371).

At the outset, Hesse notes “the increased density of citation,” which he attributes to the increased availability of information within the maturing field (371). He argues as well that electronic access means that the accumulation of a full set of hard copies of prestigious journals no longer indicates “a symbolic means of identification, even consubstantiation, with disciplinary conversations” or an indication of authority (368).

A first section addresses what Hesse calls the “[e]stablished [n]eighborhood,” which includes the twelve journals from Connors’s list that are still extant and still relevant to composition (376). These include major NCTE offerings such as College English, College Composition and Communication (CCC), and Research in the Teaching of English. Hesse also analyzes “established neighborhood” selections like Composition Studies (378) and Teaching English in the Two-Year College (379), as well as WPA: Writing Program Administration, which had just assumed journal status as of Connors’s study and indicated a shift toward professionalization of WPA work (380-81). Two journals on the foundation list address writing-center issues (379-80).

In the process, Hesse notes reductions in membership rates for NCTE, as well as the institution of a small fee for journal subscriptions, which he speculates may mean that composition scholars now choose specific journals more in keeping with their interests (376). He also notes a shift in several cases from a focus on classroom practices to writing as an object of study in itself, for example in CCC and similarly in Composition Studies, which was once Freshman English News but has since dropped that subtitle (377-78).

Hesse’s evidence also suggests that edited books have taken over some of the roles of journals and that emerging journals covering more diverse interests are less likely to be published by professional organizations like NCTE (381).

For Hesse, journals that have come, and in some cases gone, since Connors’s study constitute “new writing studies neighborhoods” (381). The publications examined suggest that as composition became a more distinct discipline, interests ranged beyond first-year writing and “canonical texts and genres” to more diverse and broader areas (381). Hesse examines journals addressing writing across the curriculum and a number of offerings that deal with technology and writing (382). Computers and Composition and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy both request submissions that are not bound to print traditions (383). In the 1990s, Hesse reports, these journals invited the question of the value of online publication for tenure and promotion committees. That so much publication now does occur online means, for Hesse, that “the question has obviously been settled,” although, in his view, print as “embodied in the pdf” remains a “default design” (384).

He examines recent journals with an empirical bent like The Journal of Writing Research and Assessing Writing, opening in the process the issue of competing methodologies in writing studies: journals that feature empirical studies, he writes, rely on a social-sciences model, while others choose more qualitative, “humantistic” models emphasizing textual analysis or interpretation (384). Hesse reports that the more empirically oriented journals tend to have an international focus (385, 392). A wider range of methodologies as well as an international approach characterizes the “leading empirical research journal in composition studies for years,” Written Communication (385). Hesse determines that empirical research “is not very sexy to the field’s mainstream” (392).

Other new neighborhoods explored by Hesse include publications dealing with narrower areas like “community-engaged writing” and responding to writing (386). Writing on the Edge sponsors creative non-fiction and interviews with prominent writers (387). Hesse notes a trend toward “narrative and the personal essay” in several mainstream journals and suggests that these inclusions may become more common (387).

Noting that he could discuss many more examples given enough space, Hesse concludes that the “fragmentation” Connors predicted (388) has occurred, with a resulting “erosion of an informational commons” (389). Of concern for both is the possibility that the “fraternity and consubstantiality” once extant in the field might no longer pertain (Connors, qtd. in Hesse 393). Hesse posits that the wish for a more unified field might be an elitist sentiment, with the proliferation of areas a sign of a mature discipline (393).

Hesse proposes other trends, including a rift between attention to classroom practice and rhetorical scholarship (392-93), and a turn to the politics both of power versus literacy and of composition itself, although he argues that on the whole, publications are “mostly talking about writers and writing” despite their differing bents (391).

A discussion of strategies for sustainability as new journals emerge (390-91) dovetails with concerns about the future of academia in general and Hesse’s sense that the traditional gatekeeping function of journals is valuable (389-90). As a product of care and attention to quality, Hesse contends, a peer-reviewed journal with its longer production times and enhanced scrutiny

demonstrates faith in continuity, an ongoing act of passing the present forward, confident this issue’s articles will bend the field for better, however scantly—and so will the next. (393)

 


Leave a comment

Kolln and Hancock. Histories of U. S. Grammar Instruction. English Teaching: Practice and Critique (NZ), 2005. Posted 04/22/2018.

Kolln, Martha, and Craig Hancock. “The Story of English Grammar in United States Schools.” English Teaching: Practice and Critique 4.3 (2005): 11-31. Web. 4 Mar. 2018.

Martha Kolln and Craig Hancock, publishing in English Teaching: Practice and Critique in 2005, respond in parallel essays to what they consider the devaluation of grammar teaching in United States schools and universities. English Teaching: Practice and Critique is a publication of Waikato University in New Zealand. The two essays trace historical developments in attitudes toward grammar education in U. S. English language curricula.

Kolln’s essay reports on a long history of uncertainty about teaching grammar in United States classrooms. Noting that confusion about the distinction between “grammar” and “usage” pervaded discussions since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Kolln cities studies from 1906 and 1913 to illustrate the prevalence of doubts that the time needed to teach grammar was justified in light of the many other demands upon public-school educators (13).

Citing Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer’s 1963 Research in Written Composition to note that “early research in composition and grammar was not highly developed” (13), Kolln argues that the early studies were flawed (14). A later effort to address grammar teaching, An Experience Curriculum in English, was advanced by a 1936 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) committee; this program, Kolln writes, “recommended that grammar be taught in connection with writing, rather than as an isolated unit of study” (14). She contends that the effort ultimately failed because teachers did not accept its focus on “functional grammar” in place of “the formal method [they] were used to” (14).

In Kolln’s history, the hiatus following this abortive project ended with the advent of structural linguistics in the 1950s. This new understanding of the workings of English grammar was originally received enthusiastically; Harold B. Allen’s 1958 Readings in Applied English Linguistics drew on nearly 100 articles, including many from NCTE (12). This movement also embraced Noam Chomsky’s 1957 Syntactic Structures; the NCTE convention in 1963 featured “twenty different sessions on language, . . . with 50 individual papers” under categories like “Semantics,” “Structural Linguistics for the Junior High School,” and “the Relationship of Grammar to Composition” (14-15).

Excitement over such “new grammar” (15), however, was soon “swept aside” (12). Kolln posits that Chomsky’s complex generative grammar, which was not meant as a teaching tool, did not adapt easily to the classroom (15). She traces several other influences supporting the continued rejection of grammar instruction. Braddock et al. in 1963 cited a study by Roland Harris containing “serious flaws,” according to two critics who subsequently reviewed it (16). This study led Braddock et al. to state that grammar instruction not only did not improve student writing, it led to “a harmful effect” (Braddock et al., qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 15). Kolln reports that this phrase is still referenced to argue against teaching grammar (15).

Other influences on attitudes toward grammar, for Kolln, include the advent of “student-centered” teaching after the Dartmouth seminar in 1966 , the ascendancy of the process movement, and a rejection of “elitist” judgments that denigrated students’ home languages (16-17). As a result of such influences and others, Kolln writes, “By 1980, the respected position that grammar had once occupied was no longer recognized by NCTE” (17).

Addressing other publications and position statements that echo this rejection of grammar instruction, Kolln writes that teacher education, in particular, has been impoverished by the loss of attention to the structure of language (19). She contends that “[t]he cost to English education of the NCTE anti-grammar policy is impossible to calculate” (19).

She sees shifts toward an understanding of grammar that distinguishes it from rote drill on correctness in the creation of an NCTE official assembly, The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG). Several NCTE publications have forwarded the views of this group, including the book Grammar Alive! A Guide for Teachers, and articles in English Journal and Language Arts (20). Kolln urges that grammar, properly understood, be “seen as a legitimate part of the Language Arts curriculum that goes beyond an aid to writing” (20).

Hancock frames his discussion with a contemporaneous article by R. Hudson and J. Walmsley about trends in grammar instruction in the U.K. He sees a consensus among educators in England that “an informed understanding of language and an appropriate metalanguage with which to discuss it” are important elements of language education (qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 21). Further, this consensus endorses a rejection of “the older, dysfunctional, error-focused, Latin-based school grammar” (21-22).

In his view, the grounds for such widespread agreement in the United States, rather than encouraging an appreciation of well-designed grammar instruction, in fact lead away from the possibility of such an appreciation (22-23). He sees a U. S. consensus through the 1960s that literature, especially as seen through New Criticism, should be the principle business of English instruction. The emphasis on form, he writes, did not embrace linguistic theory; in general, grammar was “traditional” if addressed at all, and was seen as the responsibility of elementary schools (22). Literature was displaced by Critical Theory, which challenged the claim that “there is or should be a monolithic, central culture or a received wisdom” in the valuation of texts (22).

Similarly, he maintains that the advent of composition as a distinct field with its focus on “what writers actually do when they write” led to studies suggesting that experienced writers saw writing as meaning-making while inexperienced writers were found to, in Nancy Sommers’s words, “subordinate the demands of the specific problems of the text to the demands of the rules” (qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 23). Downplaying the rules, in this view, allowed students to engage more fully with the purposes of their writing.

In Hancock’s view, language educators in the U.S. distanced themselves from grammar instruction in their focus on “‘empowerment’ in writing” in order to address the needs of more diverse students (24). This need required a new acknowledgment of the varying contexts in which language occurred and an effort to value the many different forms language might take. Recognition of the damage done by reductive testing models also drove a retreat from a grammar defined as “policing people’s mistakes” (24-25).

Hancock argues that the public arena in which students tend to be judged does not allow either correctness or grammar to “simply be wished away” (25). He suggests that the “minimalist” theories of Constance Weaver in the 1990s and linguists like Steven Pinker are attempts to address the need for students to meet some kinds of standards, even though those standards are often poorly defined. These writers, in Hancock’s reading, contend that people learn their native grammars naturally and need little intervention to achieve their communicative goals (25, 27).

Hancock responds that a problem with this approach is that students who do not rise to the expected standard are blamed for their “failure to somehow soak it up from exposure or from the teacher’s non-technical remarks” (25). Hancock laments the “progressive diminution of knowledge” that results when so many teachers themselves are taught little about grammar (25): the lack of a “deep grounding in knowledge of the language” means that “[e]diting student writing becomes more a matter of what ‘feels right’” (26).

As a result of this history, he contends, “language-users” remain “largely unconscious of their own syntactic repertoire” (26), while teachers struggle with contradictory demands with so little background that, in Hancock’s view, “they are not even well-equipped to understand the nature of the problem” (29). He faults linguists as well for debunking prescriptive models while failing to provide “a practical alternative” (26).

Hancock presents a 2004 piece by Laura Micciche as a “counter-argument to minimalist approaches” (28). Hancock reads Micciche to say that there are more alternatives to the problems posed by grammatical instruction than outright rejection. He interprets her as arguing that a knowledge of language is “essential to formation of meaning” (28):

We need a discourse about grammar that does not retreat from the realities we face in the classroom—a discourse that takes seriously the connection between writing and thinking, the interwoven relationship between what we say and how we say it. (Micciche, qtd. in Kolln and Hancock 28)

Hancock deplores the “vacuum” created by the rejection of grammar instruction, a undefended space into which he feels prescriptive edicts are able to insert themselves (28, 29). Like Kolln, he points to ATEG, which in 2005-2006 was working to shift NCTE’s “official position against the teaching of formal grammar” (28). Hancock envisions grammar education that incorporates “all relevant linguistic grammars” and a “thoughtfully selected technical terminology” (28), as well as an understanding of the value of home languages as “the foundation for the evolution of a highly effective writing voice” (29). Such a grammar, he maintains, would be truly empowering, promoting an understanding of the “connection between formal choices and rhetorical effect” (26).

http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/2005v4n3art1.pdf

 


Leave a comment

Addison, Joanne. Common Core in College Classrooms. Journal of Writing Assessment, Nov. 2015. Posted 12/03/2015.

Addison, Joanne. “Shifting the Locus of Control: Why the Common Core State Standards and Emerging Standardized Tests May Reshape College Writing Classrooms.” Journal of Writing Assessment 8.1 (2015): 1-11. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Joanne Addison offers a detailed account of moves by testing companies and philanthropists to extend the influence of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) to higher education. Addison reports that these entities are building “networks of influence” (1) that will shift agency from teachers and local institutions to corporate interests. She urges writing professionals to pay close attention to this movement and to work to retain and restore teacher control over writing instruction.

Addison writes that a number of organizations are attempting to align college writing instruction with the CCSS movement currently garnering attention in K-12 institutions. This alignment, she documents, is proceeding despite criticisms of the Common Core Standards for demanding skills that are “not developmentally appropriate,” for ignoring crucial issues like “the impact of poverty on educational opportunity,” and for the “massive increase” in investment in and reliance on standardized testing (1). But even if these challenges succeed in scaling back the standards, she contends, too many teachers, textbooks, and educational practices will have been influenced by the CCSSI for its effects to dissipate entirely (1). Control of professional development practices by corporations and specific philanthropies, in particular, will link college writing instruction to the Common Core initiative (2).

Addison connects the investment in the Common Core to the “accountability movement” (2) in which colleges are expected to demonstrate the “value added” by their offerings as students move through their curriculum (5). Of equal concern, in Addison’s view, is the increasing use of standardized test scores in college admissions and placement; she notes, for example, “640 colleges and universities” in her home state of Colorado that have “committed to participate” in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) by using standardized tests created by the organization in admissions and placement; she points to an additional 200 institutions that have agreed to use a test generated by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) (2).

In her view, such commitments are problematic not only because they use single-measure tools rather than more comprehensive, pedagogically sound decision-making protocols but also because they result from the efforts of groups like the English Language Arts Work Group for CCSSI, the membership of which is composed of executives from testing companies, supplemented with only one “retired English professor” and “[e]xactly zero practicing teachers” (3).

Addison argues that materials generated by organizations committed to promoting the CCSSI show signs of supplanting more pedagogically sound initiatives like NCTE’s Read-Write-Think program (4). To illustrate how she believes the CCSSI has challenged more legitimate models of professional development, she discusses the relationship between CCSSI-linked coalitions and the National Writing Project.

She writes that in 2011, funds for the National Writing Project were shifted to the president’s Race to the Top (3). Some funding was subsequently restored, but grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation specifically supported National Writing Project sites that worked with an entity called the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) to promote the use of the Common Core Standards in assignment design and to require the use of a “jurying rubric ” intended to measure the fit with the Standards in evaluating student work (National Writing Project, 2014, qtd. in Addison 4). According to Addison, “even the briefest internet search reveals a long list of school districts, nonprofits, unions, and others that advocate the LDC approach to professional development” (4). Addison contends that teachers have had little voice in developing these course-design and assessment tools and are unable, under these protocols, to refine instruction and assessment to fit local needs (4).

Addison expresses further concern about the lack of teacher input in the design, administration, and weight assigned to the standardized testing used to measure “value added” and thus hold teachers and institutions accountable for student success. A number of organizations largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promote the use of “performance-based” standardized tests given to entering college students and again to seniors (5-6). One such test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), is now used by “700 higher education institutions” (5). Addison notes that nine English professors were among the 32 college professors who worked on the development and use of this test; however, all were drawn from “CLA Performance Test Academies” designed to promote the “use of performance-based assessments in the classroom,” and the professors’ specialties were not provided (5-6).

A study conducted using a similar test, the Common Core State Standards Validation Assessment (CCSSAV) indicated that the test did provide some predictive power, but high-school GPA was a better indicator of student success in higher education (6). In all, Addison reports four different studies that similarly found that the predictor of choice was high-school GPA, which, she says, improves on the snapshot of a single moment supplied by a test, instead measuring a range of facets of student abilities and achievements across multiple contexts (6).

Addison attributes much of the movement toward CCSSI-based protocols to the rise of “advocacy philanthropy,” which shifts giving from capital improvements and research to large-scale reform movements (7). While scholars like Cassie Hall see some benefits in this shift, for example in the ability to spotlight “important problems” and “bring key actors together,” concerns, according to Addison’s reading of Hall, include

the lack of external accountability, stifling innovation (and I would add diversity) by offering large-scale, prescriptive grants, and an unprecedented level of influence over state and government policies. (7)

She further cites Hall’s concern that this shift will siphon money from “field-initiated academic research” and will engender “a growing lack of trust in higher education” that will lead to even more restrictions on teacher agency (7).

Addison’s recommendations for addressing the influx of CCSSI-based influences include aggressively questioning our own institutions’ commitments to facets of the initiative, using the “15% guideline” within which states can supplement the Standards, building competing coalitions to advocate for best practices, and engaging in public forums, even where such writing is not recognized in tenure-and-promotion decisions, to “place teachers’ professional judgment at the center of education and help establish them as leaders in assessment” (8). Such efforts, in her view, must serve the effort to identify assessment as a tool for learning rather than control (7-8).

Access this article at http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=82