College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Wood, Tara. Disabilities and Time Management in Writing Classes. Dec. CCC. Posted 01/18/2018.

Wood, Tara. “Cripping Time in the College Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.2 (2017): 260-86. Print.

Tara Wood proposes that the field of writing studies can productively use the concept of “crip time” to rethink the ways in which normative assumptions underlie many routine activities in writing classrooms.

Wood’s qualitative study, conducted at a large Midwestern research university, began with twenty students with “registered disabilities” but expanded to include thirty-five students because of the interest her work generated (266). She notes that her final study population included not only students registered with the university disability office, but also students registered with other official offices who might or might not have registered at school, students who chose not to register, and students in the process of registering. Some registered students did not request accommodation (282n1).

Wood gathered more than “2,000 minutes of audio” and transcribed more than 200,000 words (267). She avoids identifying particular students by their disabilities, but her notes reveal the range of situations covered by her research (282-83n3).

The data allowed Wood to meet a primary goal of letting the students speak for themselves. She cites scholarship on the challenges of “speaking for” others, particularly groups that have traditionally been silenced or unheard; many scholars report a “crisis of representation” as they consider their own positionality in studies of such groups (265-66). Wood indicates that in some cases the wording of her interview questions shaped responses, but notes that the focus of her article, issues of “time,” was not a topic introduced by any of her questions; rather, it arose as a concern from the students’ own discussion (267).

Reviewing scholarship in composition on “the intersection of disability studies (DS) and composition studies” (261), Wood notes that writing theorists have long been concerned about access but, in some cases, may have assumed that the process- and discussion-oriented pedagogies common to most writing classes do not pose the same problems as do lecture-based classes with heavy test-taking components (261). Wood contends that such assumptions elide the myriad ways that time affects students with disabilities in composition classes (261). Wood’s premise is that “time” as structured in writing classrooms reflects largely unexamined ideologies of normativity and ableism.

Quoting Margaret Price, Wood says of “crip time” that it is “a concept in disability culture that ‘refers to a flexible approach to normative time frames’” (264). As an attitude toward time, it “avoid[s] rigidity and lower[s] the stakes of writing” (270). Wood distinguishes such an approach from the kinds of responses to disability most common in academic settings, which focus on individual and sometimes “ad hoc” solutions (263) burdened by connection with “medical and legal models” (262). Wood presents crip time as a more systemic, philosophical response to the complexities presented by disability.

For Wood, the assumption that individual fixes devised by disability-service offices are adequate is one of several flawed approaches. She found a subset of instructors who deferred to the expertise of disability professionals rather than expressing a willingness to negotiate with students (271). Similarly, she reports a “disability myth” that students given extra time for assignments will “take advantage of an accommodation,” creating a situation that isn’t “fair to other students” (263). In contrast, the study explores students’ conflicted responses to the need for accommodation and the “pedagogical fallout” that can result (269). Wood also discusses “the tacit curative imaginaries” that cast disability as a “disease or illness” (270) and its correction as “compulsory,” with “able-bodiedness as the ultimate, ever-desirable end” (264).

Wood’s account focuses specifically on two components of writing classes, timed in-class writing and time requirements for assignments. Her interviewees reported on how their disabilities made producing “spontaneous” writing within set boundaries (267) a source of serious anxiety, which, in the views of some scholars, has itself been defined as an illness that “teachers must ‘treat’” (270). Wood quotes Alison Kafer to argue that teachers must become aware that their normative expectations for “how long things take” are “based on very particular minds and bodies” (268). In Wood’s view, crip time applies a sensitivity to difference to such assumptions (264).

Wood further details how some participants’ situations affected their handling of assignment deadlines. Students with OCD, for example, might resist handing in assignments because they need to “make [them] perfect” (275). Some students reported finding it difficult to ask for extra time (274). Students recounted a range of attitudes among their instructors, with some willing to negotiate time frames and other less willing (274).

Wood cites Patricia Dunn to contend that students with disabilities often display “a sophisticated metacognitive awareness of how to navigate the strictures they face in the classroom” (272). Some students in her study explain their strategies in working with instructors to plan the timing of their assignments (276-77). Others set their own deadlines (279), while one plans for the inevitable delays of illness by trying to “get ahead on writing assignments” (qtd. in Wood 273).

Wood quotes Robert McRuer’s contention that “being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor” (279). She argues that such links between assumptions of normativity and the power structures arising from capitalist valuations of productivity make it imperative that instructors recognize how such assumptions impede access (280-81). Wood attributes to Paul Heilker the view that subscribing to crip time is a way of promoting “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (278), since a more flexible classroom structure permits “disabled students to compose in their own ways” (281), thus affirming important components of their personhood (278, 281).

Wood qualifies her recommendations by stating that she is not arguing against deadlines per se but rather asking that teachers be “mindful” about the power dynamic in a writing classroom and the consequences of rigid time boundaries (275). In this view, decisions about time can best be made by listening to students (281) and working collaboratively with them toward strategies that, in the case of one student, are essential to “sustain[ing] her presence in academia” (277).

Ultimately, Wood contends, awareness of the possibilities opened up by concepts like crip time enrich the democratic, inclusive environment that educators can support when they follow Tony Scott’s advice to examine the “ideological assumptions” underlying their responses to pedagogical challenges (qtd. in Wood 281).

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Rule, Hannah J. Embodied Simulation as a Teaching Tool. CS, Spring 2017. Posted 05/30/2017.

Rule, Hannah J. “Sensing the Sentence: An Embodied Simulation Approach to Rhetorical Grammar.” Composition Studies 45.1 (2017): 19-38. Web. 21 May 2017.

In order to help students understand and act on their rhetorical choices in constructing sentences, Hannah J. Rule argues for “embodied simulation,” a methodology that she argues recognizes the role of sensory and kinesthetic experience in the creation of meaning. Acknowledging that teaching writing at the sentence level is “practically verboten in our pedagogies,” in part because of its kinship with the grammar drill of the abandoned current-traditional paradigm, Rule cites “efforts . . . to reanimate the sentence as a central site of writing instruction,” such as those by advocates of rhetorical grammar like Martha Kolln (21).

Rule supports her contention that more rhetorical sophistication with sentences will benefit students with an anecdote about a student who was struggling with the concept of “flow” in a paper. After trying a number of approaches, including discussion of the known-new contract, Rule found that the student lacked the technical vocabulary to arrive at the abstract concepts Rule was hoping to teach. Only when Rule began acting out the scenes and actions depicted in the student’s sentences did the student make connections among the varied meanings the paper was intended to convey (19-20).

Rule believes that this anecdote illustrates the role of embodied simulation as a component of language use. According to researchers in neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive psychology, “Meaning is a creative process in which people construct virtual experiences—embodied simulations—in their mind’s eye” (Benjamin K. Bergen, qtd. in Rule 22). Rule writes that “reading or expressing language entails imagistic, bodily, associational, and sensory action” (22; emphasis original). In this view, readers and writers perceive sentences as expressing scenes, feelings, events, and actions, and it is in the process of experiencing these elements that people derive meaning from the language.

Rule notes attention in composition studies to the embodied nature of writing, yet cites Jay Dolmage to contend that “[o]ur everyday classroom practices with texts . . . continue to be implicitly disconnected from embodied experience” (23). Some students’ difficulty in written expression, she suggests, may lie in their failure to connect the abstracted words on a page to their own physical existence in the world (24). Teaching with embodied simulation, in which students are encouraged to see sentences as expressions of sensation and action, may bridge this cognitive disconnect.

She points to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By as a text familiar to compositionists that explores how language relates to bodily experience. She also addresses criticism that such evocation of a universal bodily experience can erase individual difference, especially if the visual is overemphasized (24-25). Rule presents Kristie S. Fleckenstein’s concept of “multimodal imagery” to capture the range of bodily experiences, including, in Fleckenstein’s formulation, “sound, sight, and touch,” that simulation theory posits as the ground of language (26). Such an approach proposes a widely diverse set of sensations that play into language practice.

Similarly, Patricia Dunn’s “multiple channels strategy” incorporates many bodily actions, such as “sketching, three-dimensional modeling, or moving,” into writing instruction, thus, in Rule’s view, freeing students to bring their own favored actions into their learning experience (28). Such openness to different kinds of imaging, Rule states, “enact[s] the inclusivity and access” central to effective, ethical application of the theory (28).

Theoretical work reported by Rule stresses that language and bodily action are not separate categories but rather that language depends on bodily existence: “Amassing simulation research suggests that we do not really choose to link imagery and words; rather, this link is the precise way in which meaning becomes possible at all” (26; emphasis original). Researchers use quantitative measurement to discover ways that “reading about actions is akin to doing them” (27); for example, people who read about turning a key in the ignition “find it easier to turn their hand clockwise than counterclockwise,” as opposed to people who read about screwing something off, who favor moving their hands counterclockwise (Ernest Davis, qtd. in Rule 27).

In order to provide examples of how teachers might incorporate embodied simulation into their own practice, Rule recounts her experience teaching a course in rhetorical grammar to English majors in a large Midwestern university. Course texts were Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar and The Writer’s Options, by Donald A. Daiker, Andrew Kerek, and Max Morenberg (29). Rule applauds the ways in which understanding grammar as rhetorical frees it from a focus on correctness, foregrounding rather the ways that small choices in sentence structure affect readers’ responses. At the same time, Rule contrasts the “traditional strategy of naming and defining” used by the texts with the kind of “intuited” understandings of grammatical function enabled by embodied simulation (30; emphasis original).

Rule’s students worked through to a sense of grammar as the “director” of a mental movie, coining the term “grammera” for “grammar camera” (31). She provides examples to illustrate how thinking of a sentence in terms of the bodily actions it conveys opened students to understanding subjects and objects, including recognizing the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs as in “building a sandcastle” versus “feeling hurt” (30-31). Rule argues that students responded to the physical embodiment of this difference in ways they could not to abstract technical definitions (31). They similarly were able to grasp the effects of absolute phrases and to make sense of the multitude of “sentence-style directives” that handbooks ask them to follow (31-32. 34). For example, “see[ing]” sentences allowed them to discern the difference between active and passive constructions (33-34).

Rule contends that embodied simulation addresses a longstanding issue in writing instruction: the gap between conscious and unconscious knowledge. In her view, the efficacy of embodied simulation as a pedagogical tool suggests that “knowing about grammar,” as opposed to “knowing how to do grammar,” may not be necessary (34-35). In her experience, students exposed to the ways in which subtle grammatical choices impact the ways readers interpret and react to sentences find themselves with a rich, intuitive awareness of the possibilities inherent in grammar without having to memorize and follow rules (35):

[I]nstead of starting with identifying the subject, instead of thinking in terms of noun or participial phrases, instead of perceiving sentences as a set of separate elements we can label—we can simply ask students to dive in and sense the sentence. (33)

Such a formulation of grammar instruction, Rule argues, accords with theoretical awareness that “we make meaning by imagining ‘being there’” (33).