Articulation

In Joanne Addison and Sharon James McGee’s “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions”, the discrepancy between the practice of teaching literacy and ensuring its application is meaningful and transferable across genres at both the high school and university level is explored and examined through a cross-analysis of data collected from multiple studies. That data is also compared to the data collected by Addison and McGee’s own study, sponsored by the CCCC. Their research reveals a number of unsettling developments in the instruction of writing at these levels, not least of which that current practice seems inadequately applied to encourage students to engage in deep learning. More concerning may be that current methods themselves seem unable to adequately articulate the skills they proclaim they are instilling, making their promoters’ claims that they are developing transferable skills suspect at best. Addison and McGee propose more collaboration between institutions of writing studies research in order to create a repository of knowledge on current practice that can be used to inform instruction in a way that will address both the discrepancies in literacy development and in the transfer of skills across genres.

According to Addison and McGee’s study, a cross-analysis of data and responses collected from multiple surveys of both students and faculty reveals there may not only be a discrepancy in regards to literacy but also where perceptions are concerned. It seems no matter the level, students consistently rate their knowledge or proficiency or competence more highly than their instructors would (Though, this discrepancy lowered marginally when the students and faculty being surveyed were from a private institution, perhaps because class sizes are smaller allowing for more interaction between educators and students). While this may be an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action, it could also indicate that the skills instructors assert their methods of practice are instilling in students may not actually be so valid or accurate in accomplishing the tasks they claim to. In reference to data that suggests it’s not whether or not certain skills are transferable so much as whether or not the skills are being effectively conveyed through the writing methods in the first place, Addison and McGee state, “…evidence may suggest that what teachers and employers articulate as best practices in writing vary across discipline and context.” (165) Meaning that current practice may not be clearly articulating the skills it seeks to transfer which could explain why students are unable to accurately assess their own competence: they simply do not know better.

A piece of this data I found personally revealing and compelling concerns itself with the difference between how much additional writing resources are available to high school students vs. college students. Virtually no high schools provide access to services like university writing centers. More, high schools seem to encourage more activities that would allow student to engage in “deep learning” (such as exploratory writing and peer review) but they do not provide any additional writing services. To me, this sounds like high schools students are being asked to engage in the same kinds of upper-level thinking and learning that university level students are but with having only a fraction of the assistance. As a graduate assistant at my own university’s writing center, I find this to be particularly troubling and can understand better why some of the data recorded in this study was reported as such. More often that not, students who come to the writing center are confused more by their instructor’s expectations for an assignment than by the assignment itself. Half the session can be spent clarifying a professor’s particular parameters for an assignment than on the writing itself. That said, I cannot imagine the difficulties high school students may be facing with their assignments–and on their own. While it was reported by high school faculty in this study that they mandate providing additional help/support, that was not reflected in student responses/perception. Addison and McGee note, “And while 31% of high school faculty report ‘always’ conferencing with students on papers in progress, only 12% of high school students report ‘always’ discussing their writing with their teacher.” (159) This seems to indicate that not only is current practice not necessarily utilizing methods that encourage transfer of skills, it is also not making itself available to assist students with the bare minimum of understanding the assigned work.

That said, this was a particularly small study itself that relied more heavily on cross-analyzing and cross-examining other studies’ results for data than relying on its own data to make broader claims. Perhaps if the studies was larger, the results would have been less skewed to one side. More, if there was more equal participation from all institutions involved, perhaps the results of this study would be more varied and indicate different patterns amongst the practices of different levels of education.

The conclusion of this work was interesting in that it seemed to be advocating for a change not in practice but in how data about practice is compiled and subsequently accessed. Addison and McGee call for the greater collaboration between leading organizations of writing studies research so as to create a database where studies about current practice can not only be accessed but their data compiled and used to create a, “complex data landscape” that depicts “the relationships among independent, dependent, and mediating variables.” (Gene Glass par.48, as quoted on 171) Essentially, Addison and McGee believe that allowing a place for this data to be centralized and easily accessible to instructors in the field will lead to more informed practice overall. To me, this seems to be an attempt at a practical approach to addressing the discrepancies in current literacy and writing instruction practices. I appreciate the accessibility of this solution but it seems to require a great deal of interdepartmental and international cooperation amongst many independent or dependent organizations that may prove to be less practical and I’m not entirely convinced this will address the particular problem it seeks to alleviate either.

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Addison, Joanne & Sharon James McGee. “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions.” CCC, vol. 62, no. 1, 2010, chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Fteachingpracticum2016.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu%2Ffiles%2F2016%2F08%2FAddison_CCC0621Writing-in-High-School.pdf. Accessed 7 February 2018.

Murphy, Mark. “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When There Work is Terrible.” Forbes, 24 January 2017,https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2017/01/24/the-dunning-kruger-effect-shows-why-some-people-think-theyre-great-even-when-their-work-is-terrible/#7f8d0bb15d7c. Accessed 7 February 2018.

~Till Next Time~

 

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Transcending Boundaries

“Students, in other words, must necessarily lack ‘expertise and technique’ (Trimbur 1989: 611) so that academia can impart it to them. They can have ‘life experiences,’ but we as academics have ‘knowledge and intellectual skills’ (Kogan 2000: 210).” (Purdy & Walker, 25)

In James P. Purdy and Joyce R. Walker’s “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity: The Construction of Introductory Composition Students as Researchers”, how identifying composition classes as liminal spaces that teach research processes as being, similarly, liminal impacts student development of a research identify is explored. Discussion pertains mainly to the instruction and models of research forwarded in popular textbooks for the genre, in which certain practices of source gathering–particularly from the Internet and other digitally-based catalogs–are scorned and liberally labelled as “un-scholarly” or “illegitimate” places to use for knowledge making. More, discussion revolves around how de-legitimizing research practices students may have developed outside of introductory composition courses affects research identity and student perceptions of the research process. Promoting an approach to research that excludes digital databases as legitimate sources of information in lieu of more traditionally accepted formats by academia can cause students to develop negative associations that will follow them throughout not only their academic life, but their civic life as well. This view frames students themselves as liminal beings, unable to interrogate sources effectively as learners but also unable to generate any new knowledge or complexity of meaning that would cast them as researchers.

What became most apparent to me in this reading is how disconnected the instruction of research processes is from the reality of the writing process and how the onus of reconciling this dissonance falls on students. No wonder students are themselves so disconnected from their own research identities. Purdy and Walker state, “Offering steps can be a helpful way to begin, but presenting them as unquestionably applicable prevents the adaptability that is crucial to successful research” as well as, “When students see research as more than a set of linear, distinct steps, for example, they can understand why not using all of their sources in an annotated bibliography is okay and not the mark of failure….The instructional methods we studied fail to represent the complexity of research processes in ways that may ultimately damage students’ ability to understand either the activities of research or themselves as engaged ina continuously revised and evolving process of research.” (21-23) The research process students are taught is so often a linear one that so little acknowledges why some information is more relevant that other information in lieu of forwarding the method of attaining the source itself and so little reflects the reality of conducting research, outside the classroom. Also, while research processes are oft structured linearly, the writing process is now understood as a recursive one. “The field of composition studies has already concluded that a universal, linear, step-based model does not and cannot accurately represent or account for a complex activity like writing. Research is likewise a complex activity. Thus, similar models of research are also inadequate.” (Purdy & Walker, 23) The research process that is so prominently promoted fails spectacularly at integrating either the writing process (arguably one of the most essential parts of research) or the personal development necessary to understand the why and not just the how.

Through research methods like the ones promoted in the textbooks Purdy and Walker examined, students are cast as passive observers to research. They can neither question the material or the methods they must use to gather information nor engage actively in knowledge-making. They record and regurgitate throughout their studies and then, somehow, are expected to enter their disciplines fully prepared for active engagement? Purdy and Walker seem to critique this notion, stating, “…for students who occupy liminal spaces where identity is seen as under construction, the relation of the liminal space to the space of the community is one of not only opposition but also active contestation.” (25-26) Essentially, student-researchers occupy an academic no-man’s land. It isn’t until they cross this territory that they can have a “seat at the table.” Obviously, this is damaging to self-image and personal identity. More, this alienation and disenfranchisement can cause students to dissociate themselves from their research identity in the same way instruction of the research process and construction of the composition classroom as a liminal space seems to encourage students to view academia and academic pursuits as separate from whatever has come before. In an effort to maintain its own superiority and social clout, academia seeks to sever itself from the rest of accepted reality. By doing this, teaching students these generalized research strategies to replace their own developed ones in order to uphold the self-imposed mandate of academia, students are not only cast in opposition to research but are also not fully prepared to conduct actual research in the future.

From working in my university’s Writing Center, I’ve seem how this disconnect affects students firsthand. In fact, we have a lengthy presentation we give to classes sometimes that stresses, albeit more implicitly, how important it is to be discerning when it comes to source usage and how to perform that kind of discernment. We see it so often–students using the first 10 sources they find for a research paper, regardless of how well they address the research subject–and so we had to create this presentation. And still, we see students come in, clearly overwhelmed and wholly unprepared to take on their role as a researcher–ostensibly because they were never taught why we research or how to embody that reason. (If that makes sense?) This disconnect is seen at all levels as well, from first-year students all the way up to PhD candidates. The research process is disconnected from the writing process and from the researcher themselves. They can go through the motions but they have difficulty integrating what they’ve learned and then constructing meaning or purpose from it. More, it’s very difficult to convince a student who has learned that the research process is a linear one to alter their initial purpose to better fit the research they’ve found and address the questions it has developed for them. It’s like telling them they have to start their whole project over and, understandably, they are very resistant.

In some ways, this whole concept is difficult for me to understand. Perhaps it is because I never took ENG 1030 (my university’s introductory composition course) due to my AP English scores from high school, but I’ve never felt a disconnect from myself or my research. More, I’ve never felt like I could not distinguish between a legitimate source and a non-legitimate source, the platform it was found on be damned. It’s all my writing, if that makes sense. Though I wouldn’t have always identified myself as a researcher, I’ve always  identified as a writer (and a learner). There’s never been a need to disassociate. I wonder if and how I’d approach research and myself differently on the page if I had been filtered through an introductory course. I think I’d be less fun ^.^

Overall, I found Purdy and Walker’s work to be illuminating but also troubling in that there are really no answers here short of an academic, paradigm shift. More, I feel like this research connects to other research I’ve read about the role standardization of education plays in devaluing students in comparison to achieving some kind of egalitarian assessment. Ultimately, education and instruction that focuses more on regulation than on development of the individual performs a disservice and disadvantages more students than it helps. Here, specifically, a focus on generalizing research practices appears to have made students less likely to conduct effective and meaningful research. In this way, it’s the instruction that is uninformed and detrimental and not the students–though their grades may have them believe differently…. What do you do when it’s the system that’s broken, though?

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Purdy, James P. and Joyce R. Walker. “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity: The Construction of Introductory Composition Students as Researchers.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, vol. 13, no. 1, 2012, pp. 9-41.

~Till Next Time~

Revisiting Writing Assessment

“Writing assessment is thus both hero/ine, the practice that brings us into relationship with our students, and villain, an obstacle to our agency.” (Yancey, 167)

To be honest, I feel like both Kathleen Yancey’s “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty- First Century” and John Bean’s “Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria” only confirm and further affirm points we have been making in class and through our blogs all semester. Mainly, that while writing assessment has certainly made strides in the past few decades, it is still in need of much improvement to actually address what it should be addressing: student learning and progress. Much writing assessment is more concerned with meeting academy standards than with adequately and helpfully assessing student work. The institutions instead of the individuals are prioritized. A reliable means of collecting results is prized over valid assessment of skill. Generalization is prized over individualized learning. While Bean discusses how this difference of priorities affects rubrics, Yancey looks more at how writing programs themselves are affected when standardization sinks its claws in.

Since much has already been said about the failings of contemporary writing assessment as a whole, I’m just going to focus on what Bean says about designing rubrics to avoid some typical pitfalls.

Until now, much of our research has been looking at writing assessment in an overview. Here, Bean focuses on one particular kind of writing assessment–the rubric. Not going to lie, I went into this reading with a rather strong bias already in place. See, there is no love lost between me and rubrics. I find even the best I’ve come across personally to be difficult to interpret. Really, they’ve always seemed like “cop-outs” for teachers and professors who don’t want to actually have to think bout the work they’re grading. They can select a number and be done with it. The criteria listed is somehow enough adequate justification for the grade. Students who struggle to interpret rubrics or who don’t write well using strict guidelines inevitably suffer.

Perhaps I’ve just been in contact with too many generic-style rubrics, though.

In this article, Bean identified many different styles of rubrics but 2 overarching kinds that most fall into–generic or task-specific (analytic or holistic). Generic rubrics seek to be universally applied to writing whereas task-specific rubrics are unique unto each assignment, with criteria aimed toward particular aspects of the work. Clearly showing some preference I can get behind, Bean says, “…A generic rubric can’t accommodate the rhetorical contexts of different disciplines and genres.” (279) Despite my general distaste for most writing assessment, I did find some of the task-specific rubrics Bean shared to be not awful (Figures 14.6 and 14.9, to be specific). While I’m all for allowing students opportunities to explore themselves through their writing and to just write, I also understand that certain genres have certain standards that students must meet. Thus, there has to be a way to inform students of their ability to meet those standards when it comes to those genre-specific works. Task-specific rubrics, I think, when formatted with room for students to still perform explorations, provide a means for both educators and students to maintain their ow agencies while also learning how to write for more standardized genres.

At least, task-specific rubrics at least try to find a balance between the academy, the educators that must work for it, and the students that must learn within it.

Yancey’s work provided a look into how the academy uses the data it receives from assessment to structure its writing programs. I thought this article paired rather well with Bean’s in that respect. I do not think too much of our research thus far has concerned itself with how institutions not only use assessments to inform their programs but how programs themselves are assessed. According to Yancey, it seems most writing programs are themselves assessed similarly to how they assess writing. In fact, a “good” program creates a kind of “feedback loop” where how well student writing meets learning objectives informs the propriety of the program’s learning objectives and instruction.

Aside from the few programs Yancey identified, though, this seems more like an ideal model of practice than a practical one. Also, too many programs seem more concerned with, again, meeting national standards than with developing local criteria for assessment. Or, more, with allowing local criteria to be as valued. I’m torn on exactly how I feel about this, to be honest. Allowing local faculty to develop their own criteria for assessment seems the best way to allow for more, as Yancey calls it, “authentic writing assessment” but having a program rely entirely upon that criteria may create writing that is too insular and unable to join the global dialogue. In my opinion, writing instruction that doesn’t adequately prepare students to join many contexts or provide them with opportunities to explore diverse contexts is ultimately doing a disservice. What Yancey’s reading leaves me with, then, is a conundrum: can authentic writing assessment and authentic writing coexist? Must one be sacrificed for the good of the other?

I’m very interested to hear what my peers got out of these readings!

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~Till next time~

Making Meaning

“Effective communication must be rooted in, must grow out of, the ability of individual writers and readers to generate meaning.” (Rosenblatt, 13)

Perhaps what I found most enlightening and enjoyable about Louise M. Rosenblatt’s “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory” was their inclusion of reader concerns in regards to the writing process. More, the inclusion of concerns about how one’s writing will be received (i.e read). Until now, I believe most of the research we’ve focused on has been more concerned with other aspects of the composing process as well as teacher-specific issues–not that those aren’t valuable subjects to research. I just find the recognition of the reception of one’s writing to be an interesting lens to view composing and revision through.

Enough about me, though. Let’s get to the theory!

According to Rosenblatt, every experience one has with the world is a kind of transaction. Language itself is merely a way to represent and remember a transaction! Of this, Rosenblatt says, “language is always internalized by an individual-human being in transaction with a particular environment.” (3) In this way, language has no static meanings–it’s all representative of different interactions with social and public significations and personal interpretations. This, of course, means how something is read relies heavily on a reader’s own interpretations–their relationship not only to the text but to their world and the meaning that generates. 

So, how are writers to account for that in their writing? And, should they?

For Rosenblatt, writers inherently face similar struggles and decisions readers do. Rosenblatt says, “For the writer, too, the residue of past experiences of language, spoken and written, in life situations provides the material from which the text will be constructed.” (7) Just as readers cannot separate their experiences–their transactions with the world–from themselves, writers cannot keep the experiences that have shaped them from the page. A writer’s perceptions and purposes are shaped by their own selves and their world. 

Still, that doesn’t address how much a writer should consider their readers’ experiences when writing. Really, I don’t believe Rosenblatt addresses the degree to which reader considerations should be made but they do try to explain how to manage both reader and writer interpretations–being mindful of one’s efferent and aesthetic stances/ choices. An efferent stance focuses on what is to be “carried away from” or retained from the text–there is a literary centering here. As for an aesthetic stance, that focuses on what will be the experience of the text itself–non-literary aspects can come into play. Because these stances also can be representative of how reader will interact with your work, being aware of them can assist a writer in considering how their writing may be received.

Basically, if you’re looking for your readers to have a more efferent transaction with your work, there are certain choices you may make in the writing process–sometimes these choices are made unconsciously. If an educator wants a student to read a work more efferently, they may also give certain directions that would indicate the student focus on literary interpretations. Similarly, if a writer is looking to evoke an aesthetic transaction with the text or if a writing instructor is looking for their students to experience a work more aesthetically, certain choices will be made/directions given to indicate that. By taking a stance, a writer inevitably limits some options but also narrows their focus to something they can perhaps more fully communicate to more people.

Of course, there is no way to account for everyone’s experiences when writing a single work. But, choosing a stance can help a writer make certain choices that will allow them to connect with those they want to.

Something else about Rosenblatt’s article that really stood out to me was what they had to say about “live ideas” and the importance of allowing students to connect their writing to experience. “In short, the writer is always transacting with a personal. social and cultural environment…Thus the writing process must be seen as always embodying both personal and social, or individual and environmental factors.” (7) Disconnecting writing and the writing process from one’s transactions with their world–teaching students to do that–then, is a disservice. It stultifies not only the process but the prospect itself. Rosenblatt says, “Here, we are spelling out an important operational source of much of the current criticism of the writing produced in traditional composition courses and in courses across the entire curriculum. Lacking is some purpose growing out of a need to test the ideas, to apply them to specific situations or problems, or some urge to communicate ideas to specific readers.” (8) Traditional composition courses do not inspire students to come up with ideas they can connect to their specific experiences which creates uninspired and, ultimately, ineffectual writing. More, it isn’t authentic. There is no authentic investment in the work nor incentive given for there to be.

By disallowing students the opportunity to explore their ideas and experiences in their writing, educators are not allowing writing to be a learning process, let alone an exploration of identity or a means of developing one’s voice. And, I would argue, that not providing writers with opportunities to explore their own experiences in their writing disadvantages them when it comes to writing for other readers–how can a writer possibly consider their readers’ experiences in their writing when they aren’t even able to consider their own? To be able to write for many readers, a writer must have a kind of self-awareness as well as a kind of developed awareness of others and their needs; this can be either intuitive or learned. Ruling out the latter leaves only the former and I wouldn’t consider intuition reliable.

Overall, I found Rosenblatt’s “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory” to be particularly enlightening. I think it brings into focus some concerns about not only the writing process but about writers themselves that don’t always get much attention in the community. Providing students with more opportunities to explore themselves and their experiences in their writing allows them opportunities to also consider their readers’ experiences and, ultimately, write more authentically. More, it provides writers with opportunities to explore different stances in their writing, allowing them to further explore different reader effects and experiences. And, shouldn’t writing instruction be concerned with not only the education of students, but the betterment of their writing? Making it more comprehensive and complex? Because writers themselves are both complex and comprehensive?

I’m curious to hear what Rosenblatt’s other readers thought.

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~Till next time~

Knowing When to Speak & When to Be Quiet

“The experience of a writing act is as important–perhaps even more important than–the text produced.” (Whitney et al., 180)

“What is the process we should teach? It is the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world.” (Murray, 4)

It’s about the journey–not the destination.

Though this is a common sentiment, I don’t think its meaning is truly understood or, really, appreciated. Too often, all that matters in our society/culture is the end–the finished product. It’s what measures success. Not how much time or effort was invested in the venture but that is was accomplished. For some endeavors, outcomes definitely have more bearing and deserve more recognition.

Writing is not one of those endeavors.

Whether an educator or a student, the experience of writing/composing is invaluable and enriching. According to research by Whitney et al. in “Teacher-Writers: Then, Now, and Next”, “writing can change perspectives that shape teaching practice.” (179) More, teachers writing in their field for and about their field reauthorizes their voices and allows them to take back some of the power they are robbed by the academy’s privatization and standardization. Writing becomes a way of being, a way of advocating and of generating professional knowledge. For students, re-framing writing as process instead of product provides a means for students to explore writing as experience and as an act constructed from experience. This, Donald Murray asserts in “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product”, is how students learn to “reveal truth through language”–both to themselves and to others. In a way, both researchers conceptualize the act of writing as one of forming identity and of developing voice.

For educators, it seems most important they don’t forget that they are writers too! At least, they have a voice and they have worthwhile experience they can contribute to the conversation. More, though, for Whitney et al., the experience of writing or of reflecting is way for teachers to reclaim their own agency from the academy and for teachers to recognize their own intellectualism. Often, teachers get swallowed up and obscured by institutional standards. Teachers writing about their own experiences teaching reestablishes a sense of ownership of themselves and of their practice. It’s reaffirming.

When educators share their teaching experiences, it also allows for more issues to be explored in the community conversation. In this way, teachers can be advocates and agents of change. Whitney et al. says, “We see teacher-writers being authors in every sense: professionals who claim authority with their own words and their work.” (179) The first time I read this line I read it as professionals who claim authority with their own words over their own work. And, for me, the latter seems almost more appropriate. When teachers exercise their right to share their experiences through their writing, the field of education becomes more accessible in that it becomes one of shared experience which can be used to advocate for changes to the system. Also, I would argue, teachers expressing their voices and claiming their identities allows students the freedom to do the same. (This idea is explored through a different lens in research by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem in “Bi, Butch and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality”. You can read my post on it here!)

On the subject of students and their learning (in regards to writing, of course), Murray provided much insight. In his article, I think Murray not only emphasized some key problems with contemporary writing instruction methods but he supplied some alternative approaches that just make sense. For example, prioritizing process, yes, but in a way that seeks to provide students with the ability to incorporate and explored their own experiences through writing. Because writing is a thoughtful exercise and because our thoughts/conceptions are shaped–more, created by our experiences, it seems appropriate that writing instruction include an emphasis on process as something shaped by experience. If that makes sense?  To me, it does. It seems ridiculous to try to separate the writer from the act of writing. It’s robbing the work of both voice and of identity.

Overall, what I found most compelling about both of these articles is their focus on experience as a tool–one that can enrich the writing and the lives of both students and educators. In a way, I believe there is this idea being forwarded by these works that incorporating lived experience and embodying (actualizing?) the act of writing is authentic expression. At least, it is the practice of kind of authenticity–something that should be appreciated and celebrated.

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~Till next time~

 

Being Mindful

“Writing instruction that supports student writers in the choices they make when they are asked to make those choices while drafting and revising is the kind of writing instruction that will produce versatile, thoughtful writers.” (Wiley, 67)

“Comments that recognize the integrity of the student as a learning writer and that look to engage him in substantive revision are better than those that do not.” (Straub, 248)

As many of us in the field of writing studies and composition know, process versus product is an ongoing debate. Though, I believe there has been a major shift in focus and in appreciation in recent years towards process-based teaching approaches, tensions can still arise over the subject in the community. I myself definitely lean more towards a process-based approach to the teaching of writing. Personally, I believe developing a writer’s process will ultimately assist and benefit them more in the long run. After reading both Mark Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist)” and Richard Straub’s ” The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of “Directive” and “Facilitative” Commentary”, I find that not only do I believe even more in the long-term benefits of a process-based approach to teaching writing but I also believe that teacher-commentary that concerns itself with matters of process and of developing process better facilitates student writing.

In Wiley’s article, the benefits and–many–failings of the Schaffer Approach to teaching writing are discussed. Before reading this article, I had never heard of the Schaffer Approach by name but being very familiar with the heavily scorned and equally formulaic 5-paragraph essay method, I got the gist of the approach fairly quickly.  Schaffer’s Approach is designed to be an easily taught and effective means by which students can respond to writing prompts. Basically, it’s a formula and students just have to fill in the blanks. Though this method is certainly simple (i.e user-friendly) and effective in that it can produce adequate writing if consistently applied, it, unfortunately, by design, reduces writing to a singular form and all literary text to facts alone. In this method, students search for facts to fill in a supplied form. There’s no emphasis on strategy or on interpretation and certainly none on process. Neither the development of voice nor the exploration of identity are promoted through this method. Of this approach, Wiley says it is “a simple solution for sequencing a writing curriculum, but one based on what’s easy for teachers and not necessarily what’s best for students.” (63) It never ceases to amaze me how little some teaching is concerned with students, how little some writing instruction concerns itself with writers.

Schaffer herself apparently recognizes that students consistently seem to struggle with generating or articulating commentary (interpretations/opinions/reactions) and yet excludes guidance on the matter from her method. But if we are all in agreement students are more challenged by this task, shouldn’t developing interpretations and ideas be given more guidance than generating topic sentences from a text? Wiley appears to be of the same mind when he states, “In attempting to take the mystery away from writing and make it more accessible, the formulaic approach winds up hindering students from exploring their ideas, reactions, and interpretations—the rich chaotic mess from which true insight and thoughtfulness can emerge.” (64) Promoting a formulaic approach to writing that values product over process does a disservice not only to student writing but to students’ overall development and growth of self.

It’s irresponsible teaching to promote to students a method of writing that severs them and their experiences from their learning and development. More, it creates a codependency that will ultimately be to the student’s detriment. Schaffer’s Approach, while able to create adequate writing for most standardized tests, is not capable of nor designed to be capable of meeting the procedural and conditional needs of most other kinds of writing students will encounter and engage in generating. “Procedural knowledge answers the question of how to accomplish a given task, and conditional knowledge answers the question of when to make a particular choice.” (65) Basically, rhetorical knowledge–necessary if students are to create effective work. There are no rhetorical concerns built into Schaffer’s Approach. No appreciation for them whatsoever. In this formulaic method and, I would say, in most formulaic approaches to teaching writing (including the 5-paragraph essay), failure lies not in what it can produce but in how it instructs students to produce work. Product informs process. When this occurs, the rhetorical situation isn’t given proper consideration which means interpretation also suffers–since one’s interpretation is a large component of identifying and recognizing rhetorical maneuvers. And, we could go on and on about what is excluded when product trumps process forever.

Another issue with teaching writing through formulaic approaches I would like to cover though is the authoritarianism. Students are taught that “good writing” follows strict rules. More, because how we write is deeply connected to how we think, students are having their minds structured to fit neatly in circumscribed little boxes through a formulaic instruction of writing. In a learning environment, it is incredibly important to be mindful of the limits imposed and I believe formulaic approaches show a distinct lack of mindfulness on the part of educators–especially when these kinds of approaches are taught as formulas and not as strategies that can be applied to certain writing situations. It discourages exploration of self and of voice by creating boundaries and telling students to, “stay.”

Straub’s article, too, seems to address the importance of educator mindfulness. In this case, when it comes to leaving commentary on student work. In the article, directive commentary and facilitative commentary are compared and contrasted. More, though, Straub seems interested in how we distinguish a facilitative comment from a directive comment and also in how we tend to elevate one style of commentary (facilitative) over another (directive). And, we perform that distinguishing without ever really making clear distinctions about why.

What I found most revealing about this research was how teacher commentary doesn’t exist as some kind of binary so much as it does as a spectrum–meaning that no kind of commentary can be entirely directive or wholly facilitative. Some commentary can lean towards one style or another but it cannot be completely defined as one or the other. The reason for this seems to lie in intent. Because teacher commentary is ultimately geared towards initiating revision, it can never be totally severed from being directive. Teacher commentary is driven towards revision, if not correction. It is attempting to evoke change of some kind and because of that, it cannot be wholly facilitative. And no commentary can be entirely facilitative because that inherently means to initiate no kind of revision and so what is the point of leaving commentary in that case? 

More interesting than that though was how facilitative commentary appears more concerned with developing writer process than with final products whereas more directive commentary obviously appears to see more value and benefit in having students complete “correct” drafts. Its process vs. product again. Directive commentary has a specific product in mind which guides its focus while facilitative commentary is more concerned with the process by which students undertake to generate their work. Like with writing itself, teacher commentary all comes back to process for me. Being attentive to how students write and how they are developing themselves on the page when evaluating their work and providing feedback seems like the best kind of focus teacher commentary can have. Commentary like that certainly practices mindfulness. Comments become, as Straub says, “ways of teaching.” (248)

Too often, in my work in my university’s Writing Center, I read through papers riddled with Professor comments about grammar and syntax–all local concerns. Often, a comment on content is reserved for the very end of the work and then it’s usually sandwiched between commentary galore for correction. And, really, let’s be honest–those comments for correction aren’t so much comments as they are commands for compliance with the academy’s standards. Even when work isn’t covered in directives, comments left are too often regulatory (something else Straub addresses). There’s no expressed interest in the student exploring themselves through their work. No indication whatsoever that writing is a conversation–something social–instead of mere exercise–meant to perfect academy mandates. Commentary leaning this far on the spectrum towards directive too often reads as authoritarian. It’s sad and, again, deeply concerning. Especially when there are ways (as Straub shows) to be directive/authoritative with commentary without being authoritarian, to exert less control over work and encourage more responsibility of it instead–that’s what the intent has to include.

Ultimately, after reading these articles, I find my stance on process-based approaches to be reaffirmed and expanded upon. Though it may not produce the “best” writing according to the academy’s standards, providing students with opportunities to explore form instead of enforcing it outright seems to offer better learning outcomes. Teaching different approaches as possible strategies allows students to take a degree of ownership over their own work until they feel comfortable/are capable enough to develop their own strategies. More, providing commentary on student work that facilitates but does not order revision, that encourages more responsibility instead of enforcing strict rules, that guides instead of orders compliance seems to assist students most in developing their voices and their identities which facilitates authenticity.

That kind of mindfulness is something more classrooms could use these days.

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~Till next time~

 

 

 

 

Not Buying

“But the actual question of what is good writing is more problematic than ever.” (Fulkerson, 681)

Throughout reading Richard Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century”, I constantly found myself wondering both to myself and aloud, “Why doesn’t he just write about the enormous benefits of teaching composition through a procedural rhetoric pedagogy if he prefers the method so much???” Despite the diplomatic assertions towards the end of this work, Fulkerson’s personal preferences were fairly clear. In this article, Fulkerson discusses the shift in composition studies from a procedural focus to a sociocultural approach which emphasizes not just writing but critical thought on social issues. And, Fulkerson clearly does not believe this shift to be beneficial. More, he doesn’t believe this pedagogical and epistemological shift in focus in composition courses offers students the most effective means by which to enhance their writing skills nor improve their ability to navigate academic discourse.

Which, to be fair, I get. To an extent.

Fulkerson classifies composition courses that focus in sociocultural/critical/cultural studies as CCS classes. In a CCS composition class, teaching will usually be centered around having students read articles about contemporary news or a current social issue and then respond to those readings. Being able to identify and recognize one’s own bias and possible socioeconomic benefit from the issue at hand is counted as a plus–as progress. Really, because most of these articles that are chosen deal exclusively with issues of social inequality, being able to identify that in one’s writing is more than half the battle. The other half is the critical discussion which, as Fulkerson notes, is where things gets tricky and where the CCS model most reveals its faults. See, critical discussion of these kinds of articles involves a degree of interpretation–but not the students’ interpretations. No, too often, what really matters in CCS classrooms is how closely the students’ critiques of a text coincide with their Professor’s interpretation/beliefs. And, that is a problem.

When paired with this model’s distinct lack of process methodology, that problem turns this whole concept into a bit of a conundrum. (I believe it took all of Fulkerson’s generosity not to outright brand this method a mess.) Fulkerson says, “What counts as good writing in a cultural studies course? …What we come down to is that the writing in such a course will be judged by how sophisticated or insightful the teacher finds the   interpretation of the relevant artifacts to be… Thus the standard of evaluation is, I assert, actually a mimetic one–how close has the student come to giving a “defensible” (read “correct”) analysis of the materials.” (662) This criticism is something I can get behind. While I do personally believe that educators have a responsibility–maybe not purely as teachers but certainly as human beings–to teach their students about the culture that shapes themselves and all of their thinking, that does not give educators free license to morally police students and, more, to arbitrarily pass or fail students based upon how well students are able to guess their professor’s beliefs. (‘Cause let’s be real here, that’s what a lot of students are going to do–write for their professor and not for themselves, especially when there’s more incentive (i.e their grade) to do that. That’s not ideal for facilitating authenticity.)

Educators should provide guidance–not enforce beliefs with an iron first. For this reason along with the inability to establish any universal learning objectives for evaluation, I do concur with Fulkerson’s critiques of CCS models. To clarify, I don’t like what he says here but I do understand the reasoning behind his stance. I also recognize that he seemed to try to lessen the blow by introducing, as an alternative to CCS, the genre-based model for teaching composition. Here, Fulkerson helpfully points out how the genre-based model addresses all of CCS’s shortcomings. How the model provides an actual point to discussing and writing about social issues which was so lacking before. Finally, “…both requisite and disallowed moves” can be addressed and writing tailored. (677) Wouldn’t want it not to fit into its own cozy little box now would we….

Anyway, since Fulkerson flat-out didn’t seem to believe in an expressive model, let’s get right to his favourite (and seemingly WPA approved as is so helpfully pointed out got to love those appeals to authority am I right?)–the procedural rhetoric model for teaching composition. For all intents and purposes, this is the “by-the-books” model. All three of the categories–Argumentation, Genre Analysis, & Preparation for “The” Academic Discourse Community–Fulkerson separates this model into have a strong basis in traditional literature. Parameters and processes are established for different genres, axiologies are identified, and pedagogy is centered around students being able to imitate established forms. Beings able to do that is seen as progress and, overall, as success. 

My question, though, is how imitation of classical forms in the procedural rhetoric model is different from the mimicry Fulkerson decries in the CSS classroom model? 

To me, it seems like Fulkerson is arguing a technicality. At the very least, he’s being considerably less generous to the models he personally seems to take issue with. Neither the CCS nor the expressive models’ sections have any benefits discussed (though I do believe Lisa Delpit in her article “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” (1988) provides ample evidence in favor of a CSS-like classroom set-up) even though Fulkerson is more than happy to elaborate upon the good, “selling points” of the academy-approved, tried-and-true procedural rhetoric approach. When discussing the genre-based methodology, Fulkerson says of the concept of specific parameters equating different genres, “This is reasonably well-settled ground, so there is little contemporary scholarship discussing it.” (677) While some may read that as merely a statement of fact–of course genres have well-known boundaries that create them–when read in the context in which it appears in this publication, it becomes more complimentary. At least, it’s a compliment in comparison to what Fulkerson had to say earlier on in reference to the other models–neither of which got quite as much attention or page-space in this work as the third.

Fulkerson may claim this is a discussion or a “look-see” at current theoretical trends in the field of composition studies but I think it is apparent there is an argument being made by Mr. Teaching the Argument in Writing.

Overall, I believe my own views on Fulkerson’s article are as apparent. While I agree with him on some of his critiques, I’m ultimately unimpressed with his approach to discussing them in this work. Fulkerson went hard on CCS for indoctrination and for professors of those courses forwarding their own agendas and yet here he is essentially doing the same thing. Unimpressive. Unappreciated. I’m not sure through which writing model I myself benefited most but I definitely learned how to identify and recognize when I am being sold something.

Also, it seems like Fulkerson’s favoritism here was based upon ease of assessment and evaluation. The procedural rhetoric model, because it did have readily identifiable parameters and forms, made it the most easy for educators to evaluate. Just go down a checklist or a rubric. To me, that seems to reject/challenge everything we’ve been reading thus far. And, you know how I feel about writing centered around assessment.  That may further explain my aversion to Fulkerson’s ideas as well as why I feel so alienated/attacked(?) by the argument he is making. The writing methods Fulkerson seems most interested in promoting do not promote writer authenticity. To me, the CCS and expressive models are at least attempting to tap into something genuine. They promote self-exploration and motivate students to explore their values and how their beliefs shape their identity. There’s a chance here for a voice to make itself known.

All that said, I’m incredibly curious to hear what my fellow classmates have to say about this article. I wonder how they interpreted it–similarly or differently? Can’t wait to find out!

~Till next time~

 

A Topic for Further Study

A subject that has consistently interested me throughout the course of our readings is that of authenticity. Specifically, I’m interested in how authenticity manifests in writing. What denotes it? What facilitates it? More, how can it be identified? Questions like these fuel my fascination. And, I’m not as invested in finding answers to these questions as I am with how exploring what writers and writing researchers think about the subject. I am led to believe it can be rather contentious in academic arenas. This, I think, is because issues of identity and of voice tend to enter the conversation–two topics that are controversial in and of themselves outside of the writing studies scope. It is through the particular lenses of identity and of voice that I would like to analyze authenticity, though. How an individual identifies or defines themselves is going to have an inevitable and invariable impact on how they write just as much as the voice they assume will. It is important to note that many external factors can affect identity and voice, though. In contrast, one’s authentic self is typically characterized as being integral, internal, and insular. There is a dissonance here that I would like to explore.

In the course of my part of this research, I am hoping to develop a fuller understanding of the complexity of realizing/defining/owning one’s authenticity in writing through exploring the interplay of an individual’s identities. According to research conducted by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem (Bi, Butch and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality”), every one of us is constructed of multiple identities that sometimes contradict with each other but, ultimately, cannot be disconnected. Writing instruction that excludes exploration of identity can therefore have an immense impact on authenticity. Can we see that? More, according to research by Suresh Canagarajah (“The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued”), an individual’s written voice is shaped and circumscribed largely by sociocultural norms and expectations. Can we hear that? 

I’m not yet sure exactly how I would like to conduct this exploration. Possibly through a collection of writing samples? On a volunteer basis? (Even though I’m concerned that’ll skew the samples towards Writing Studies or English majors of which I am and of which I’m sure will be more willing to submit work.) I’d appreciate discussing it more in class with everyone else.

~Till next time~

If Students Sound Voiceless, It’s Because We Taught Them To

“The writing of individual lives actively constructs culture and politics by establishing the narrative codes, the parameters of subject and community.” (Gibson et al., 71)

“People are experts on their own lives.” (Delpit, 297)

I definitely did not know the half of what I was getting myself into when I chose for class discussion to pair and contrast Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem’s “Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality” with Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” From the titles, I knew that issues of identity and of power would be explored but nothing quite prepared me for just how intense this research would get. (Is that on me?) In both articles, the place or, more often, lack thereof of individual identity and how it translates or doesn’t to personal power in the classroom–specifically in the writing classroom–is discussed through the lens of each author’s personal experience. As a White, straight female–an identity none of the authors of these articles hold–I found these works to be very revealing on both personal and academic levels.

I believe it is difficult for many of us to conceptualize ourselves as not having one, authentic identity but, instead, of being constructed of many equally authentic identities. Our culture, as emphasized in Gibson et al.’s work, operates as a system of binaries–so assuming one identity invariably means distancing yourself from/rejecting another. Competition is a cornerstone of our culture. This means, of course, that people end up stuffed into these convenient, circumscribed little boxes they did not fashion for themselves. This means in-authenticity is inherent to/in our culture, our classrooms, and our writing.

How? 

I’m glad you asked. According to Gibson et al.’s research, “Increasing our understanding of those who tell stories from the social margins means exploring contradictions–the changing shapes of difference–so we can locate ourselves within/as the process of negotiating class and sexuality.” (79) Basically, the cultural discussion is lacking the input of some much-needed voices that have been brushed aside as they don’t tend to ascribe to/be complicit with the status quo’s binary compartmentalization. And, by excluding these voices from the conversation, we are excluding not only exploration of contradictions when it comes to identity but awareness itself that one’s identity can be contradictory and that’s okay. Visibility promotes acceptance, the opposite shame.

As it pertains to writing and the stories we tell, identity is everything. “Storytelling is the way we compose our lives: all identity, all social construction, begins with narratives” (Gibson et al,. 71). By denying people, specifically students, the ability and the means to express the complexity of their identity and their experience, a great disservice is not only performed but applauded as the pinnacle of higher education. In fact, it seems the education system especially equipped to weed out and further alienate outliers instead of to even attempt to meet the needs of these “out-of-the-box” students. The academy certainly doesn’t seem to appreciate celebrations of individuality and self-determination. I’m reminded of the academy’s dismissive and, really, harsh treatment of “voice.” After reading through these articles though, I think I better understand the academy’s stance. See, voice is reflective of the interplay between the identities an individual assumes and of the complex relationships between those multitudinous identities. When viewed in this light, it becomes clear why the academy would not want students exploring their “voices”–that could lead to trouble for not only the academy, but for the status quo the academy is upholding. 

When one of the authors of the stories shared in the Gibson et al. research recalled, when they were up for reappointment at their university, that a member of the school’s administration told her, “[your] task is to identify with administrators, not students” I literally scoffed aloud because that kind of sums everything wrong with education now. (90) Not only are students subject to these restrictions of identity, but educators as well. When that is the case, how can authenticity in any classroom be practiced? “Lived experience operates to both authorize and de-authorize speech.” (Gibson et al.) By discouraging educators from living their truth, the system is discouraging students from living their truths. Because of the culture of power (which I’ll get to more in-depth in a moment), educators–meaning teachers, professors, administrators–have the power to authorize identity, experience, and voice. When they do not/are disallowed to provide that authorization or legitimization, indoctrination and internalization occurs and so the system is able to uphold the culture of power.

According to Delpit, the culture of power refers to both the outright and the unspoken rules White people have established as norms in society which often–if not always— negatively impact POC who were never intended to be a contributing part of the culture let alone ever benefit from it. And, these rules inform every aspect of society. In many cases, abiding by these cultural rules is what decides your progress and overall success in life. (Abiding by the rules is the culture.)

So, imagine living in this culture of power but being unable to speak the language. Imagine having a voice but it going ignored because it does not speak how it should. Imagine that kind of silencing. You’re not excluded from society by your own choices but by your own voice.

As a White person, I can’t say I’ve ever known this kind of silencing. I probably never will. I’ve felt silenced by other circumstances of my identity (i.e recall the female aspect) but never specifically because of the White part. I was born into the culture of power. I directly benefit from it. What I say and what I write is immediately deemed appropriate and so has more potential to be heard and to be accepted as a truth.

Ignoring the presence of this established power differential in the classroom seems like it should be impossible but when it is so inherent in a society that it is the norm, how it can go unquestioned becomes glaringly apparent those who would question it simply don’t have the voice necessary to be heard, the tone to be believed.

POC have seen the discrepancy since the beginning. Which is something Delpit addresses when she lists, “Those with power are frequently least aware of–or least willing to acknowledge–its existence. Those with no power are often most aware of its existence” as a key feature of the culture of power. (282) And, when issues in the classroom become framed as issues of power, I believe Delpit articulates rather well the reasons why issues arise/exist in the first place. Miscommunication is one of the primary reasons. (Could this be because teacher and student are using 2 different voices, speaking in 2 different codes???) And, mis-identification of what is agitating in the first place is another big reason. By this, I mean mis-identification by administrators who create policies they, in all their White omniscience, believe will address the offending issues but so often miss the mark entirely. (Honestly, they’re playing archery while everyone else is doing lacrosse.) Miscommunication contributes to mis-identification though and both problems arise because no one is listening to or, really, hearing the voices that need to be minded and heard.

“Politically productive identity demands a culturally recognizable political self” says Gibson et al. (73) But, so many people do not have the voices to claim themselves, at least, to claim themselves in a way that will be recognized by the culture their selves reside within. This means political productivity and engagement is forfeit by default. And because policy guides education, that means productivity is down in that arena as well. It really is an unforgiving system.

Aside from that awful realization, another look at how power plays out that really struck me occurred when Delpit says, “It is impossible to create a model for a good teacher without taking issues of community and culture into account.” (291) If educators are unwilling to look at the privileges being a member of the culture of power provides them, very little meaningful progress can occur in the classroom. And, what progress does occur usually occurs at the cost of some aspect of the students’ identity. In order to succeed in a classroom in the culture of power, a part of one’s own individual culture may need to be sacrificed. This is obviously not ideal and, really, cruel.

Students should not be the victims but they so often are.

Despite many assertions that classrooms are “contact zones”, places where diversity can be experienced and learned from, there seems to be a distinct lack of any real appreciation for diversity in the academy or any real belief in the enrichment it provides. With parameters like these in place and enforced, is it really any wonder that student writing sounds dead and lifeless? Voicelss? If anything, that seems to be the goal.  (Convince them to silence themselves right? In a way, I’m reminded of Foucault’s Panopticon.) 

Overall, I found both of these works to be both eye-opening and challenging. The many ways in which liminality is rejected seems to contradict with the very heart of what education is–encouraging explorations of the self and of learning. And, how power structures outside the classroom construct the power structure within–oft to the disadvantage of too many students from the “wrong” cultural background–is utterly horrifying if I think about it for too long. I have flashbacks of moments in classes where I thought fellow peers were just “bad students” but, what if they were just victims of a bad system? A system I benefited from because it was mine to inherent? As both articles seem to suggest, Delpit perhaps more overtly, becoming a better student, writer, individual, etc. requires you set your “self” aside and critique your life. Check your privileges. That seems to be the only way to fight back.

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~Till next time~

Do You Even Like What You Write???

The worst criticism seeks to have the last word and leave the rest of us in silence; the best opens up an exchange that need never end. – Rebecca Solnit

“My main premise or subtext in this essay is that we nonprofessionals can and should work on it [assessment] because professionals have not reached definitive conclusions about the problem of how to assess writing (or anything else, I’d say).” (Elbow, 187)

Sassy Elbow, very sassy. I like it. Much of what Elbow said about the merits or lack thereof of writing assessment in his essay, “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment”, I agree with. Elbow identified some very relevant and pressing concerns with the contemporary process of writing assessment: 1) its unreliability 2) its inability to actually improve student writing and 3) its focus is so often not the students’ benefit but the system’s own. Elbow says, “Much of what we [educators] do in the classroom is determined by the assessment structures we work under” (187) –which is horrifying bad enough without him continuing soon after, “In short, the reliability of holistic scoring is not a measure of how texts are valued by real readers in natural settings, but only of how they are valued in artificial settings with imposed agreements.” (189) So, not only are educators’ hands bound by a system unconcerned with individual student improvement, this system can’t even be relied upon to actually measure what it’s supposed to measure. 

Crazy.

Now, as discussed in my prior writing on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of writing assessment as a whole. At least, the methods used to perform it thus far leave little to be desired in my mind. There’s something about reducing a written work full of potential and promise and exploration down to a single number or letter that makes some very large, integral (perhaps primal) part of my being recoil. If you’ll allow me a poetic respite, my heart bleeds–breaks for the writing that is stolen from the world by assessments that find writers wanting and consequently leave writers not wanting to share their voices anymore. It’s devastating. Unfair.

Maybe it’s that most writing assessments seem more interested in telling students what to say and how to say it instead of in encouraging them to keep using their voice that makes me bristle. That robbery, that sleight of backhand, even in done unintentionally, we all know ignorance of the law is no excuse, right? (And crimes committed without intent are still illegal, just saying.)

Perhaps I’m too pessimistic or harsh or fatalistic in general, but in my writing courses and in the university Writing Center I work in, I’ve seen the indelible marks “arbitrary” assessments leave on students and in their writing. I hear the scars when I am so often asked, “Is this good?” or “Does it sound right?” or “Do you think the Professor will like it?” or “Will I get a good grade?” On and on, ad infinitum…

What?

How about, “Do you think this is good?” or “Do you like what you’ve written? Like what you write?” How many students can’t answer those questions? Or, have never been asked those questions? How many could respond positively? Can I?

I’d like to think I write what I like. I like to think that. But how much of what and how I write has been shaped by the assessments and the comments and the evaluations I’ve received from my teachers and my professors (who have read anywhere from 1-3 written works of mine tops)? More, how much of what I don’t write is shaped by them? Is shaped by a culture that glorifies authoritarianism at all levels, education not excluded?

The persistence of questions like these is why it is so important educators be mindful of the kind of evaluations they are conducting. Both Elbow in his essay and John Bean in his, “Writing Comments on Student Papers” seem to consider the long-term ramifications writing assessment has on students. Personally, I reserve my right to still hold reservations and suspicions toward the entity that is writing assessment but, neither man is advocating for assessment so much as they are for evaluation. Which makes both researchers’ works sound like semantic arguments but, thankfully, they’re not.

In Bean’s work, assessment becomes a kind of evaluation centered around revision-oriented commentary. Instead of correcting papers, educators are responding to papers. Comments are made to prompt revision, not to justify final grades. Papers are read for their ideas, not their errors. Instruction is centered around improvement and students are regarded as actual individuals, deserving of all the dignity and all of the respect that entails. More, Bean’s method advocates for students to eventually take responsibility of their own review and editing. By focusing review on suggestions for revision instead of on error detection and on vague, oft insincere (let’s be honest) commentary, students are able to retain some agency of their own writing. Whereas students can’t always argue with corrections, they can consider commentary/criticism and act in accordance with the decisions they come to. Also, in this system proposed by Bean, there are multiple drafts submitted before the final which allows students to make their decisions free of the burden of a grade for essentially the entire process. And, because students have been allowed to make revisions and to improve, their anxiety about their final grade is lessened. If not ample, reasonable consideration is being offered from both sides in this model of evaluation. Students consider their writing and their own learning while educators consider the students as well as their students’ writing.

While I definitely believe this system is still more ideal than practical in many ways (for example, revisions will only be as good as the suggestions the reviser provides which inherently still means the student is deferring to an authority and, also, I’m not sure students are incentivized enough to make their own revisions), I do appreciate the realization that no draft is without potential. This concept is something Elbow elaborates upon in the alternatives he promotes to sometimes replace strict writing assessment.

Of evaluation, Elbow says, “The process of evaluation, because it invites us to articulate our criteria and to make distinctions among parts or features or dimensions of a performance, thereby invites us further to acknowledge the main fact about evaluation: that different readers have different priorities, values, and standards.” (192) Here, Elbow not only identifies the individual in the writing but the importance of that individuality to writing/the writing process. Because individuality directs the writing, it should provide direction to the evaluation.

Which, shouldn’t be as revolutionary an idea as it is.

I remember, in a creative writing course of all things, receiving an overall comment on the first 10 or so pages of a novel I had been working on for the better part of many months that read, “This could work.” That was it. Not even This works but This could work. Not even a semblance of recognition for the writer behinds the story. Luckily, I let this uninspiring commentary only inspire me more but you can’t expect every student to have the same mental fortitude. And, Elbow recognizes that.

When everything is evaluated, everything counts.” (197) Including the individual, the writer. Again, file this under things that shouldn’t be revolutionary but unfortunately are.

Honestly, though, if writing assessment isn’t focused on the writer, what is it focused on? If instruction isn’t centered around improvement, what is it being centered around? If students don’t like what they write, why not?

I think the answer to all those questions is woefully singular and until something gives, both writing and writing assessment will unfortunately continue to be disingenuous.

Till next time~

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Remind me in class to talk about the idea of reciprocity (if you’re interested) because I spent another post ranting and raving about writing assessment!

And, in light of the discussion last week’s meeting spurred, I thought this exchange that came across my feed was appropriate to share with everyone:

 (@feminismonbustle)