“Useful Theory”~

“As learners and researchers, teachers and students are involved in a process of discovery and construction. Oral and written language promote and enable learning. Learning takes place within a context—a group of teachers or students and teachers in a classroom—and this context is itself situated within a larger societal context, both influencing teaching and learning” (Clawson et al.).

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In Clawson et al.’s “Out of Our Experience: Useful Theory”, an excerpt from Teacher Research for Better Schools, the growing field of teacher research is discussed and its applications explored. More, teaching as a process of research and of learning in and of itself is discussed, how teachers can collaborate and use their own wealth of knowledge from their teaching experiences as grounding for theory asserted. This article provides an ample overview of teacher research and of research conducted in favor of teacher research as well as ample rationale for why teacher research should be viewed as valid.

Early on, this article distinguishes between theory and “useful theory”, citing a group discussion of teacher researchers as stating, “Theory is only useful if it’s useful” (Clawson et al.). Essentially, this statement addresses the point at which most teachers seem to believe academic theory fails. That point is where theory ceases to explain or account for lived experience. This discrepancy between theory and practice has been explored in multiple studies from varying perspectives to date (Howard, 1998; Addison & McGee, 2010; Purdy& Walker, 2012; Early, 2014; Bastian, 2017). Clawson et al. seem to be making a case for why teacher-led inquiry and research provide necessary grounding to research on student learning and writing, viewing teaching itself as, “a process of research.” The underlying assumption here being that theory without an impetus in real-life experience has less practical or “useful” application in academic settings.

What was rather interesting about this article was the forwarding of the idea of collaborative teaching. This concept was discussed and promoted in work by Early (2014). The idea behind collaborative teaching is that educators, when they pool their knowledge and engage in open dialogue about what learning occurs or does not in their classrooms, better inform their own pedagogy and so better assist students in their learning. It’s an interesting concept and one that sounds like it should work. In the university Writing Center I work at, we engage in a kind of collaborative teaching/coaching in which, every 2 weeks approximately, we discuss how sessions are going and what we have noticed about the students we have been seeing. Are we getting a lot of students coming in for help on rhetorical analyses? Have we had many “hostile” clients coming in? Any challenging sessions–and why? Any good sessions–and why? This discussion is also assisted with notes taken by graduate assistants about the notes the coaches wrote about their sessions. Essentially, as in collaborative teaching, we pool our knowledge and, if there is a problem or challenge the Center is encountering, we attempt to come up with a solution from the information we have. Logical? I would say yes. Useful? For our purposes, it has been.

Again, collaborative teaching and teacher research both sound like sound and valid concepts. Did this Clawson et al. article make a strong case for that, though? This article sounds like more of an overview of other research, its support subjective as it comes from almost exclusively teachers involved with the National Writing Project or other academics. For me to view this article as more valid, I think I would like to see the “other side of things.” For example, what are the specific reasons against using straight theory? Any statistics for how little application it has to lived experience in this pedagogical context? Also, what is the evidence that teachers who engage in collaboration come up with better teaching models? This seems to be implied. I am not sure if it was the purpose of this article to address all of these issues–as it sees to be more of an introduction–but they are questions I have as a reader and a burgeoning researcher in the field of Writing Studies.

Overall, I find Clawson et al.’s work to be interesting if not entirely compelling as it is presented. Their concepts and theory seem to be logical but I would like to see more evidence and more of the “grounding” that is discussed. It is one thing to have a bunch of teachers assert that teacher research and collaborative teaching inform better pedagogy and practice than any other kind of theoretical framework. It is an entirely other matter to have evidence that explains why teacher research does or does not inform better pedagogy and generate better learning outcomes for students.

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Clawson, Shelia, Marion S. MacLean, Marian M. Mohr, Mary Ann Nocerino, Courtney Rogers, and Betsy Sanford. “Out of Our Experience: Useful Theory.” The Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 4, 2003, https://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/954. Accessed 22 April 2018.

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What the Funk?

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“Our field, it appears, widely acknowledges that we cannot predict what genres our students will write or in what mediums they will compose years from now, but we can work today to prepare students for the future by incorporating print, multimodal, and digital texts into our classrooms and by developing students’ rhetorical knowledge and flexibility so that they can respond to evolving written texts and composing processes” (Bastian, 8)

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In Heather Bastian’s “Student Affective Responses to ‘Bringing the Funk’ in the First-Year Writing Classroom”, textual disruption in the first-year writing (FYW) classroom as well as student affective response to the disruption are both discussed and explored through the collection of and interpretation of empirical data. Bastian posits that, while “bringing the funk” (i.e textual disruption) to writing classrooms is being increasingly encouraged (Banks; Sullivan as cited in Bastian), research on how students react to it is lacking and, as such, is necessary in order for any kind of classroom innovation to move effectively forward. Essentially, in this article, Bastian makes the case for why more empirical research should be collected before “bringing the funk” is lauded as it has been. More than this, though, Bastian seeks to use the results of her research into student affective response to textual disruption in the FYW classroom to better inform innovative pedagogy so that implementation of it ensures student learning occurs.

Bastian states the purposes of this study were, “…to examine what happens in student writing and what students report experiencing when a teacher disrupted academic convention and encouraged innovative writing over the course of a four-week unit within a FYW classroom” (11). In order to examine this intersection, Bastian conducted an experiment in a FYW classroom in which she developed and implemented an assignment for the course, then observed the ten student-participants’ reactions to different aspects of the activity which were then followed up by student interviews. The assignment developed asked students to write a critique of a genre in a genre of their choosing and then reflect on the assignment (12). Overall, the results of Bastian’s research were that most students were initially confused by the assignment, even distrustful of it but, ultimately, “came around” and became more comfortable doing the work for this innovative assignment as time went on and more examples were made apparent and more peer-review and discussion occurred. More, Bastian’s research seems to suggest that any classrooms that seek to introduce an innovative pedagogy should 1) take into account student affective response, 2) have educators also engage in some kind of innovative teaching, 3) provide familiar “curricular support structures”, at least at first, to make for a smoother transition for students, and 4) allow students plenty of options for how to approach/engage with the innovative assignment (28).

To me, I found Bastian’s research to be both enlightening and engaging. As an undergrad, I took a course on rhetoric and composition in which the instructor had us create a rhetoric concept map meant to communicate our own personal understanding of rhetoric and and its underlying theories. Now, initially, as the student-participants in Bastian’s study, I was confused by the assignment. The professor provided few parameters to regulate the assignment (as they wanted us to be creative with it) which made it difficult even for me to conceive of how I would approach the work. It was not until after the professor provided some examples of prior student work and after I talked with some of my peers that I was able to better understand the assignment and so have a better idea of how I wanted to approach/respond to the assignment. (For those interested, I imagined rhetoric as a game of basketball, the players of each team and the way each team played dependent upon their coaches–who I imagined as prominent rhetoricians like Aristotle or Plato or Cicero. I had two streetball teams as well, led by more modern rhetoricians such as Burke or Foucault.) Anyway, my point is that though this assignment initially confused me and posed quite a challenge for me as it was so different from other kinds of work I had done for other writing courses up until that point, it ultimately did enrich my understanding of the subject matter, evident, I would say, in my ability to even remember the rhetoricians’ names. (I remember many of the rhetoricians’ main beliefs to this day as well.)

All that said, Bastian’s research seems to explain why such an assignment, atypical in some respects, traditional in others, was an effective learning tool. See, the assignment did not just leave me confused. No, the professor provided ample guidance and direction for my creativity, just in a less directive way which allowed for “intelligent confusion” to occur and be proactively used. Bastian states, “…confusion alone is most likely of little value to students’ learning but can be productive when writing teachers encourage students to embrace ‘intelligent confusion’ and work through it by providing curricular support structures that aid cognitive activities…” (26). Essentially, confusion will most likely occur when innovative pedagogy is first implemented due to prior academic indoctrination of certain rhetorical forms (Bawarshi as cited in Bastian) but so long as that confusion is supplemented with other supporting structures such as examples, in-class discussion, and peer-discussion, it can be used as a valuable learning tool.

The idea of using confusion as a learning tool was rather interesting as other studies (Howard, 1998) seem to glaze over the initial confusion that will undoubtedly occur when new pedagogy moves from theory into practice. More, I found Bastian’s research to be compelling in what it implies, though does not discuss. Many of the student-participants in Bastian’s research reported feeling a sense of freedom in being able to approach the critique in their own way, one student even reporting, “I felt pretty comfortable in this unit because I felt more able to be myself” (21). This, to me, indicates that innovative pedagogy such as textual disruption, when undertaken with special consideration of student affective response, could have implications when it comes to studying identity and its construction in writing. At the very least, research on whether or not innovative pedagogy has an affect on identity construction may be a worthwhile avenue to explore.

Overall, though Bastian’s research is certainly limited in its generalizability and inchoate in its academic implications and applications, it certainly makes a case for conducting more research on student affective responses to different kinds of pedagogy, especially emergent pedagogies. That kind of empirical data could help in navigating new pedagogies, especially those that seek to “bring the funk” by incorporating more multimodal and digital segments. More, understanding how textual disruption itself operates in a classroom setting could better inform “bringing the funk” so that its innovation is ultimately effective in increasing student learning in these new contexts.

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Bastian, Heather. ““Student Affective Responses to ‘Bringing the Funk’ in the First-Year Writing Classroom.” CCC, vol. 69, no. 1, 2017, pp. 6-34, chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Fcccc.ncte.org%2Flibrary%2FNCTEFiles%2FResources%2FJournals%2FCCC%2F0691_sept2017%2FCCC0691Student.pdf. Accessed 15 April 2018.

Hypothesis

A Fundamental Disconnect

“Composition studies labors in a state of intellectual double consciousness, trying to demonstrate its value by asserting its identity with literary studies.The relation, however, is not one of identity. Rather, the two are separate though related disciplines within the larger category of “English,” and each needs to be evaluated by its own standards” (Howard, 52).
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In Rebecca Moore Howard’s “The Dialogic Function of Composition Pedagogy: Negotiating Between Critical Theory and Public Values”, the common but concerning disconnect between the theories forwarded in contemporary composition scholarship and the values espoused in contemporary composition pedagogy is discussed. More, Howard explores how the literary discipline’s tenets along with the public at large’s conceptions contribute to the growing divide between composition theory and practice. Essentially, in this article, Howard is making a case for why composition studies must seek to be regarded more as a discipline in and of itself with its own standards. Trying to abide by those standards forwarded and set in place by the discipline of literature is insufficient while trying to appease the general public’s demands is both unreasonable as well as “derailing”, meaning that doing so removes composition’s focus from one within genre to one outside its actual purview. While Howard does not argue for a complete abolishment of the current divide, she does advocate for a greater “meshing” of scholarship and pedagogy that she believes can occur through greater, all-around recognition of composition’s dialogic function.

In order to underline the discrepancy between composition theory and pedagogy, Howard explores how “the figures of the author and the plagiarist are described and represented” in both arenas (52). While contemporary scholarship acknowledges that, because writing is inherently dialogic and collaborative, patch-writing is integral to the writing process (for the reason it simply cannot be wholly extracted because, again, writing is always in conversation) and citations, while admirable, are integrally arbitrary, contemporary pedagogy preaches that plagiarism in all its forms is across-the- board bad and has no place in the writing process.

Basically, contemporary pedagogy does not currently/adequately address the complexities composition theory does. This fundamental disconnect, Howard attributes to composition’s conflation with literature studies and with developing normative literacy. Essentially, composition studies, to most of the broader public, has become responsible for developing standard literacy as well as for developing “standard writing practice”. This mis-attribution of responsibilities, Howard attributes to the discipline’s unique audience. Howard states, “Somehow textual studies is different from other academic disciplines, in that many inside as well as outside the discipline believe that textual studies should be accessible to a non-expert audience” (60). She further identifies that broader audience as such, “So the audience for composition studies includes compositionists (both composition teachers and composition scholars); composition students; and a larger, concerned public (both inside and outside the academy)” (60). The discipline’s disconnect between theory and practice is thus, according to Howard, a result of the discipline having to meet the concerns and demands of such a wide and varied audience which is largely composed of non-experts, necessarily skewing the discipline’s foci.

As a current graduate student in the discipline, I find this discrepancy present in my own life. When people here my major is Writing Studies, more oft than not, they focus only on the former–writing. Basically, they assume I am learning how to teach writing. In reality, though, I am learning about the theories behind writing and why we write, my research concerned with making observations about writing patterns and developing theory to explain them. Essentially, I am learning about writing instead of how-to–do it or teach it. This assumption on most people’s part about my major is indicative, to me, of the issue of audience Howard is describing: the audience is simply uninformed or uninterested in theory. It has no place in the layman’s daily life. Butwriting does.

More, through being a graduate assistant at my university’s Writing Center, I see how the lack of acknowledgement of writing and composition being dialogic impacts student learning. Student writing is more oft than not judged by its Turn It In score rather than its content and the ideas the student-writer is trying to navigate, connect, converse with, and develop. We have a presentation at the Writing Center (WC) titled “Patchwriting Vs. Paraphrasing” that we often give to classes. In the presentation, patch-writing is equated with plagiarism. No exceptions. While we do try to stress that patch-writing is often unintentional and a part of the writing process and not something to be ashamed of–it is indicative of learning–that nuance is often overshadowed by the Professor’s assertions that students who patch-write will be “caught” by Turn It In. Kind of undermines any attempt at nuance, huh? At any kind of conversation, really.

In this way, the other WC graduate assistant I present with and I are usually the only ones who even notice or understand that patch-writing is a grey area. For me, if that is the case–as it so often is, it brings into question the importance of providing presentations like these at all. More than elucidating writing and its details, I seem to be forwarding an agenda that conflicts with how/why writing really is. I’m the one who’s cutting off the conversation on writing.

Overall, I found Howard’s article to be enlightening. It provided clarity to something I have personally felt myself as a burgeoning member in the discipline. That said, I do wonder about some of Howard’s attributions. She makes the whole business seem very nefarious and intentional. Myself, I wonder if a large part of the division that exists is simply due to a lack of accessible information. Could the general public’s beliefs about what the field of composition is responsible for be swayed if they were provided with more of a foundation for the theories academics so commonly deny? In a way, I think the discipline’s problem feeds into itself by buying into the notion that theory is not compatible with current practice. If we don’t even try to redirect current belief, we certainly won’t see any changes, will we?

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Howard, Rebecca Moore. “The Dialogic Function of Composition Pedagogy: Negotiating Between Critical Theory and Public Values” in “Under Construction: Working at the Intersections of Composition Theory, Research, and Practice”. All USU Press Publications, book 124, 1998. chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fdigitalcommons.usu.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D1123%26context%3Dusupress_pubs.

My Hypothesis

 

Collaborative Teaching?

“Preparing students for college, career, and the workplace means giving students opportunities to write the multifaceted and diverse forms of writing taking place in the real world, and it also means finding ways to place writing on ‘center stage’ at their school” (Early, 14).

In Jessica Singer Early’s “Imagining the Possibilities: Improving the Teaching of Writing through Teacher-Led Inquiry”, how a curriculum informed by “teacher-led-action-research” can better meet the “real-life” needs of students is explored. A group of seven teachers from an ethnically and linguistically diverse, low-income, and urban K-12 charter school are the participants in this research. Over the course of six months in 2013, this group met once a month in person in an informal and egalitarian setting to discuss strategies and challenges in implementing different activities meant to help students develop “real-world” writing skills and practices. The members of the group also contributed regularly to an online forum. It was the hope of this group and its work that working together would assist them in creating writing curricula that better prepared students for the “next stages of their lives” as well as taught students how to tackle the “diverse forms of writing” they would encounter in college, the workplace, and their communities. Participants engaged in a kind of “collaborative teaching” in which ideas shared with the group could be remixed, expanded, or otherwise tweaked until a kind of “best practice” seemed to emerge and was identified via student engagement and responsiveness.

Early states early on (haha) that, “We [educators] must find ways to give students opportunities to learn and adapt to different genres of writing, especially those that may have an impact on their later lives” (12). The point of Early’s research and of the group of teachers’ work in the study itself seems to be about facilitating transfer. How do we, as educators of writing, best assist students in developing skills that will allow them to write effectively and, even, passionately across genres? Where in the current curriculum is there space for writing to not only grow but flourish? Answers to these questions seemed to be what Early and these other educators were pursuing–to rather effective ends, if I must say myself. While I have my doubts about empathy being a “teachable” trait, I found the methods many of these teachers used to help stimulate the development of transferable skills to be relatively sound. Incorporating resume writing and proposal work seem tasks as good as any to assist students in connecting what they learn about writing inside the classroom to how they can use it outside the classroom. At least, working on those kinds of assignments seemed to engage students actively in their learning as they could see the “real-world applicability” and thus, motivated them to improve upon themselves. One of the teacher participants remarked, “Students were motivated, engaged, and eager to learn about resume writing. It is incredibly unusual for me to get nearly every student to turn in an assignment but with this resume for a summer job, a lot [of students] were using them for summer internships” (Heather as quoted by Early, 15). Essentially, providing students with an assignment with clear applications to the “real-world” in the classroom inspired greater student participation. In fact, it seemed to inspire transfer itself as students were already using what they were learning and applying it to other areas of their lives such as applying for summer internships.

The question for me becomes how can the overall curriculum be broadened to include activities that ensure transfer is not just a concern but something actively being pursued? Because, it seems to me, that educators striving for transfer of classroom learning to real-world application is not the norm but the exception. I mean, these educators had to incorporate these activities themselves into the curriculum. More, some educators had to get “creative” about making writing visible to students as it seems they couldn’t necessarily find the space to otherwise include it in their classrooms. One teacher hosted an after-school workshop for students to write to their local newspaper and another couple got billboards to hang outside their classrooms for students to hang their own work, establishing a collaborative writing space as both part of the learning process but still outside the classroom (13-14). Another teacher made a Google Group to allow students a public forum where they could upload their work and here back from their peers, another example of collaborative writing being used as a tool to assist in the development of writing skills via group discussion but also of collaborative writing being something that occurs outside of the classroom. Presumably, this is because either 1) the teacher wanted to utilize technology as means to facilitate learning or because 2) there simply was no space to devote to this activity in the classroom.

For me, I found it perturbing that resume writing is not a key component already of the curriculum for a 10th grade English course. How is that knowledge, which has such strong, “real-world” applications, somehow less important or less deserving of focused attention in the classroom than, say, writing a five-paragraph essay about Cambodian agriculture? This research seemed to emphasize the places in contemporary curricula that are lacking–places where educators must decide themselves to “pick up the slack” or else they will not be addressed. To me, the educators in this study provided writing spaces (defined as “‘places highlighting, inviting, publishing, or supporting student writing'” (14)) that should already exist. They made writing visible that should already be visible. At least, more recognizable to students than a five-paragraph essay format for no other reason than because knowing how to write an essay or how to construct a letter to a newspaper editor about a community issue or how to work collaboratively with other writers towards a shared goal is arguably more relevant to what needs students will actually have outside the classroom. The idea of having Writing Centers, places where peer-review of written work can occur in a non-evaluative way, too, should not fall on teachers alone to execute. Why are supervisors and members on boards of education not more interested in having these resources available to students? Universities have Writing Centers. Wouldn’t it be beneficial, though, to teach students early on that receiving assistance from such places can be integral to best writing? Personally, as a Graduate Assistant in my own university’s Writing Center, this is something I wonder about often.

Of course, it all comes down to money and funding.

Even this study takes place at a charter school instead of a regular public school. Charter schools can have, perhaps, that little more “leeway” that allowed the teacher participants of this research to incorporate the few additional writing activities they did. There’s more support to facilitate it than many public schools can provide. Also, it is my understanding there are typically fewer students in charter school classrooms which can allow both for the students to receive more individual attention and engage in more individualized learning such as taking part in online class-forums (as the classes are smaller and allow for more manageable contact–on both the students and the teacher’s part) and for teachers to participate in outside research such as this study. Fewer students = fewer responsibilities = more time to participate in additional work opportunities. Somehow, I highly doubt a public school English teacher with say 150-200 kids could find either the time to participate in this study or the time to develop outside the curriculum and implement meant them in the classroom. Of course, this all speculation as I do not know how many students each teacher participant in this research had but, still, these seem valid concerns to keep in mind for anyone who wants to expand Early’s research.

That said, I found the whole idea of collaborative teaching to be interesting and to have some very possible beneficial applications. As Early states, “Teacher inquiry work on the teaching of writing is a tangible and empowering way for English language arts teachers to expand access for all students to gain the real-word writing experience necessary to succeed in college, the workplace, and the community” (15). While I hold my reservations about how effectively this kind of teaching can be applied to more public settings than a charter school, I think the few provided results of it show potential and, more, show students are receptive to it. As engaging students in the classroom seems an eternal uphill battle for most educators, pursuing any small way to lessen the struggle seems worth the effort.

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Early, Jessica Singer. “Imagining the Possibilities: Improving the Teaching of Writing through Teacher-Led Inquiry.” English Leadership Quarterly, April 2014, pp. 11-15.

Young Adult Fiction as a Tool to Assist in the Construction of Individual Identity?

“Identity is now a matter of self-construction amidst unstable times, mores, and global consumerism.” (Bean & Moni, 642)

In “Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identity Construction in Young Adult Fiction”, how applied critical discourse analysis (CDA) or critical literacy(?) can be used to more deeply examine young adult fiction in the classroom is explored. More, a case for using CDA of young adult fiction as a means of assisting in the construction of identity, especially that for younger persons, is made. The authors of this work, Thomas W. Bean and Karen Moni, use a content analysis of studies related to ways of implementing young adult fiction into pedagogy as well as to “post-modern adolescent identity theory” to support their assertions that critical literacy practices, when applied to young adult fiction, aid in the identity construction for young persons. Bean and Moni conclude their work by providing a scant selection of responses provided by students to sample prompts that embody the critical literacy framework discussed in the study which are meant to convey the “deep learning” that occurs when the model is applied in the classroom.

To be honest, I a not very impressed with the work of this study. In my opinion, I felt like it was a rather shallow discussion of complex ideological and pedagogical theory and practice. First, the study never truly seems to define what is meant by their key term “critical literacy.” Bean and Moni describe the aim of critical literacy when they quote another reseacrher, Morgan, “‘[Critical literacy] teaching begins by problematising the culture and knowledges in the text–putting them up for grabs, critical debate, for weighing, judging, critiquing.'” (Morgan, 1998, 157 as cited on 638) Again, this explains how Bean and Moni seek to see critical literacy applied but it does not explain to be what embody critical literacy practice to begin with. As a reader, I am left to assume that critical literacy is synonymous with CDA.

More than this, when Bean and Moni provide their review of literature discussing “post-modern adolescent identity theory” (640) and the impact of fluid entities and institutions such as the internet, shopping malls, and globalism on contemporary youth identity construction, they use other terms not properly explained such as “social actors”. When mentioning another researcher’s work, Bean and Moni state, “Dubet (1994) argued that young people are social actors, struggling with social relationships to construct positive identities in fluid times.” (641) Is a social actor someone who actively participates in social or societal activity? Or, is there more to it? That’s not wholly explained. Neither is the difference between a “positive identity” and otherwise, not to mention.

This lack of explanation of specific terminology exhibited through Bean and Moni’s work is not to say that it is entirely without merit. The idea that more involved engagement with reading assignments can lead to the development of more complex thought processes and examinations of the self and the world has been gaining momentum inf literary and pedagogical circles in the past twenty years or so. Louise M. Rosenblatt’s transactional theory revolves around exploring both reading and writing as personal transactions with a text. This theory is mindful that meaning is derived from an intersection of the personal and the sociocultural and so text can never be of one static meaning. Essentially, Rosenblatt’s transactional theory framework advocates for educators to implement teaching strategies that recognize the complexity of meaning inherent to both reading and writing practices and use that complexity to help students create and construct more informed identities. In many ways, a version of transactional theory seems to be what Bean and Moni themselves are advocating for–just more implicitly.

Using young adult fiction to assist contemporary young adults in constructing their identities–another complex term also not defined, come to think–seems to follow. Yet, whenever the researchers present evidence to support that young adult fiction when viewed through CDA, of course, does help younger persons become more informed or considerate or contemplative, Bean and Moni never really explain why. For example, when discussing the work of another study they state,”…this class read novels and then wrote songs about the deeper meanings in boos like Rudolfo Anaya’s (1972) Bless Me, Ultima. These more advance reader-response options engaged students and increased their depth of learning.” (639) In what ways? How did this study identify more engagement and deeper learning? That is never properly addressed. Other assertions such as, “Literacy, especially through multicultural young adult novels, provides a forum upon which to build cosmopolitan world-views and identities” and “Streetskaters navigate the concrete structures of urban spaces, rappers use in-your-face poses and lyrics to nail down a strong rhythmic vibe in this shifting arena, and everywhere people use technology to stay in the flow” are also made without an explanation. (642) What does a cosmopolitan world-view entail? And, how are young adult novels constructing this forum for the construction of cosmopolitan world-views? As for the latter quote, that authors’ language seems rather reductive. Also, until this point in the work, the culture surrounding street-skaters and rappers was never discussed so I am not sure where Bean and Moni are getting their evidence to support the reductions of these cultures they are making. (Somehow, I sincerely doubt a rapper today would themselves describe their work as merely “in-your face” posturing and lyrical content >.>)

Additionally, the conclusion of this work seems under-explained. Bean and Moni provide sample questions that could assist in leading a CDA of a young adult work along with a small collection of student responses to the young adult novel Fighting Ruben Wolf. Some of the provided questions were, “What social function does the novel serve?… Who is the ideal reader for this novel? How far do you accept that positioning?… How might we rewrite this novel to deal with gaps and silences?” (645) From the student responses to these prompts provided in this work, it seems there was a discussion about gender and the lack of female representation in a novel, Fighting Ruben Wolf. Though, the impact of this discussion and how it assisted or did not assist the students in constructing their identities is lacking. More, how the exploration of silenced or missing voices from a novel contributes to developing a more informed and complex view of the self is never really explained in depth? The onus for explaining why these questions can be beneficial, especially in regards to the construction of individual identity, seems to fall wholly on readers. To me, that is a major shortcoming of this work–how much of it falls on readers to interpret.

Overall, I feel Bean and Moni’s work carries much potential. Incorporating CDA of young adult fiction as a way to help student construct more complex personal identities seems like an idea that holds promise. But, how that connects to helping students navigate their identities in a fluid, consumerist, global world requires more explanation and research. I think Bean and Moni’s study attempted to connect too many large ideas in too small a space with too little explanation.

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Bean, Thomas W. and Karen Moni. “Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identity Construction in Young Adult Fiction.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 46, no. 2, May 2003, pp. 638-648, chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=file%3A%2F%2F%2FC%3A%2FUsers%2FKelli%2FDownloads%2FDeveloping_students%27_critical_.pdf. Accessed 13 March 2018.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory.” CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF READING A READING RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER REPORT, Technical Report No. 416, pp. 1-18. IDEALS, https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/18044/ctrstreadtechrepv01988i00416_opt.pdf. Accessed 13 March 2018.

 *CrashCourse on Youtube is an educational channel. They have a few sections on Literature which seem to embody the CDA framework discussed in this article. Maybe they’re worth checking out? Here’s the latest one:

Imagining the Self~

The idea that literary practice constructs identity is not new. Especially as of late, much research (Gibson, Marinara, Meem, 2000; Canagarajah, 2006; Rosenblatt, “Transactional Theory”) has been concerned with the ways writing as well as writing instruction can impact both the development and the construction of identity–meaning the characteristics associated with the way one performs actions and with the way one is (ex, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.). To date, most aforementioned research has focused on the creation of identity through literary and communicative practices in traditional learning spaces such as the classroom and the written document–8’’ x 12’’ Word sheet. How new digital mediums and online spaces can contribute to the construction of identity is a topic of emerging academic interest. More, the literacy practice and the quality of it that occurs in these new online spaces is a subject of some controversy. Still, with the rise of new digital media and with its growing ubiquity, some researchers have found it prudent to explore the medium’s applications, particularly how the emergent literacy practices occurring in online spaces can assist in the development of and creation of individual identity.

In “Online Fan Fiction, Global Identities, and Imagination”, author Rebecca W. Black performs a three-year ethnographic study in which she explores how participation in an online fan fiction community helped three ELL participants–Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan– develop English literacy and social practices that contributed to the construction of their cosmopolitan identities both online and outside of the digital sphere. More, Black’s research sought to explore how online spaces and the globalized communities that inhabit them can serve as models of social and communicative practice, the creative and imaginative approaches that shape the participatory culture of these spaces having possible applications outside of digital space. The idea that the participatory culture and practice of online spaces can better inform community and civic action beyond is also discussed in work by Henry Jenkins et al. (2006) While Black’s research expresses interest in the possibility of online spaces being models for civic imagination, it concerns itself more with the construction of identity within the community context of Fan Fiction.net (FFN; a website where participants from across the globe can write stories/create works based upon another existing media canon). Participation in communal, online activity by study participants that took place outside of FFN was also considered in the scope of this research.

What Black found was that while Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan all certainly used fan fiction and participation in the fan fiction community as a, “means of developing their English language abilities”, use of each participants’ native language within a written work was also scene as valuable in the community, allowing them to both retain and to develop their transcultural/transnational identities, something not always possible in the traditionally monolingual classroom. (419) Black states that participation in this online community allowed Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan, “…to leverage a diversity of resources, including their Asian backgrounds, as they developed identities as powerful language users.” (420) In addition to this, the collective imaginary of online communities allowed the participants of this study to explore language, knowledge, and communication as collaborative, networked entities, created by users. This heightened awareness of culture being a social construct that can be developed through the participatory culture of online spaces is another topic explore by Jenkins et al. In both Black and Jenkins et al.’s work, this new awareness of ideas, perspectives, and other community members’ contributions serves to better inform literacy practice, the co-construction of knowledge serving as a way to return agency. Black contends, “For Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan, media content coupled with networked technologies served as an active resource for emergent forms of social action and agency that were closely tied to their local contexts and daily lives” and that, “…all three young women creatively employed language to create linguistically hybrid texts that indexed their transcultural identities and signaled their affiliation with a cosmopolitan audience.” (422) Essentially, participation in online communities and culture facilitated an acquisition of language and literacy practice that in turn assisted in the development of individual identity.

The influence of new digital media on learning and meaning-making is a particularly interesting topic. Much has been said and speculated about the negative impacts of new media on learning (a quick Google search on “Millenials” reveals many such views, the rise of new digital media commonly correlated). Research like Black’s that seeks to explore applications of digital media to the learning process and that seeks to discover ways in which new media can help facilitate and inform better practice puts into perspective the overarching bias. Perhaps digital media is detrimental to some learners and learning but not researching new digital media’s possibilities can keep valuable information about best practice and about specific concerns such as how it can facilitate in identity construction out of the public sphere of knowledge, which detriments all learners and learning. If anything, Black’s research emphasizes how online spaces can serve as platforms that can be used to bring communities together to better serve and engage the individual. As new media continues to develop, it will be interesting to see how theory around the develop of identity evolves as well as the place of imagination in the development of culture and community.   

Works Cited

Black, Rebecca W. “Online Fan Fiction, Global Identities, and Imagination.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 43, no. 4, May 2009, pp. 397-425. Jstor, chrome-extension:// bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Flibrary.kean.edu%3A2083%2Fstable%2Fpdf%2F27784341.pdf%3Frefreqid%3Dexcelsior%3A8637c8a7c7512d3cfa4b668556e9db82. Accessed 2 March 2018.

Canagarajah, Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” CCC, vol. 57, no. 4, 2006, pp. 586-619.

Gibson et al. “Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” CCC, vol. 52, no. 1, 2000, pp. 69-95.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory.” ENTER FOR THE STUDY OF READING A READING RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER REPORT, Technical Report No. 416, pp. 1-18.

Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning, 2006. chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.macfound.org%2Fmedia%2Farticle_pdfs%2FJENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF. Accessed 2 March 2018.

Links

Hypothes.is: Check out my annotations on this week’s reading~

Post on Jenkins et al.

Post on Canagarajah (and Matsuda)

Post on Gibson et al. (and Delpit)

Post on Rosenblatt

The Case for Developing New Media Literacy

…every child deserves the chance to express him or herself through words, sounds, and images, even if most will never write, perform, or draw professionally. Having these experiences, we believe, changes the way youth think about themselves and alters the way they look at work created by others.” (Jenkins et al., 7)
In short, new media literacies involve the ability to think across media, whether understood at the level of simple recognition (identifying the same content as it is translated across different modes of representation), or at the level of narrative logic (understanding the connections between story communicated through different media), or at the level of rhetoric (learning to express an idea within a single medium or across the media spectrum).Trans-media navigation involves both processing new types of stories and arguments that are emerging within a convergence culture and expressing ideas in ways that exploit the opportunities and affordances represented by the new media landscape. In other words, it involves the ability to both read and write across all available modes of expression.” (Jenkins et al., 48)
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In “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, Henry Jenkins et al. identifies the burgeoning engagement, communication, and actualization occurring in new digital spaces, primarily amongst young people, as the development of a “participatory culture” in which “relatively low barriers of to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentor ship.” (3) More, Jenkins et al. address how this new kind of culture necessitates greater responsibility on the part of educators to incorporate instruction on how to participate and and interact within online spaces. This is because these new digital spaces are fast becoming places of meaningful learning and skill development amongst younger generations. Often these new digital space serve as models for “real world structures” so navigation of and engagement with these spaces can allow participants opportunities to develop not only digitally but outside of digital spaces as well via a transfer and application of skills learned online, possibly through play or simulation, to real world situations. By encouraging and providing the tools to engage and participate as meaningfully and thoughtfully as possible with new digital media, educators are thus providing their students with the means to become more actively engaged citizens in their communities overall.
Henry Jenkins discusses this concept of transfer, wherein participation in online spaces and communities can teach and develop a kind of engagement that can be beneficial outside of digital spaces and out into the real world, in this interview:

(Thank you Courtney for sharing such an enlightening and informative video with us!)

Essentially, Jenkins believes that neglecting the very real learning that is occurring in new digital spaces because of longstanding stigma (particular from academic institutions about what constitutes “good” or “proper” pedagogy and learning) ultimately proves detrimental not only to these students whose engagement in these spaces is being written off as somehow less legitimate but to the global community at large as it ignores the many meaningful applications of new digital media to life. In referencing two other articles by Blau and Pew Research that advocate for viewing new digital media as a means of evoking more civic engagement among young people, Jenkins et al. state, “Both reports suggest we are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media, toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced” and continue, “Empowerment comes from making meaningful decisions within a real civic context: we learn the skills of citizenship by becoming political actors and gradually coming to understand the choices we make in political terms.Today’s children learn through play the skills they will apply to more serious tasks later” (10) New digital media and the participatory culture that has risen up around it allows for a participants to be more than just that–they are not just consumers, but creators of the culture they identify within. In a participatory cultural framework, you are not just a consumer but a creator of content as well. This can generate a kind of awareness about the process of creating culture itself thus far elusive to many classroom discussions. More, in this kind of framework, participants become aware that culture  is creation. It doesn’t just exist. It’s made. We make it.

That said, participation in new online and digital spaces can still be very shallow without some establishment of framing or context. Basically, if the underlying structures many digital spaces mirror are not readily apparent or noted, learning can be limited at best. As Jenkins et al. state, “What we are calling here the new media literacies should be taken as an expansion of, rather than a substitution for, the mass media literacies.” () Meaning that new digital media is an expansion of mass media in many ways and as such is subject to all of the agenda-pushing, propaganda-aiding, and advertisement ploys that implies.

For some more insight into how digital spaces can extend the agendas of mass media, I highly suggest checking out these educational videos on the topic, especially if you are unfamiliar with things like learning algorithms:

This twining of new digital media and mass media seems only to further the case for why academia should be concerned with incorporating education on participation in online spaces with “traditional” subject matter. How students navigate and participate and “read” online spaces will undoubtedly have an affect on how they navigate, participate, and read their world communities. To me, teaching new digital literacy is merely an extension of the work educators should be doing. Jenkins et al., seemingly conscious of the sometimes stifling parameters of academia state, “Much of the resistance to media literacy training springs from the sense that the school day is bursting at its seams, that we cannot cram in any new tasks without the instructional system breaking down altogether. For that reason, we do not want to see media literacy treated as an add-on subject. Rather, we should view its introduction as a paradigm shift, one that, like multiculturalism or globalization, reshapes how we teach every existing subject.” () Again, according to Jenkins et al, providing instruction on new media literacy, should not be treated as an extra subject so much as an extension of already existing ones–because it is.

As much of Jenkins et al.’s project here is speculation based upon a comprehensive content analysis of other studies instead of concrete research, it’s difficult to speak to the effectiveness of the suggestions provided to help address the disconnect between academia and new digital media, between perceptions and the growing realities of participatory culture. Still, it seems highly irresponsible for educators not to, themselves, properly consider the applications of digital media to learning and to the development of skills that can be transferred across disciplines. More, it seems negligent not to address the ways in which meaningful participation in new digital and online spaces can lead to meaningful civic engagement and community participation.

If anything, it seems more research is necessary to uncover the power and possibility that participation with new digital media can access and actualize. “…every child deserves the chance to express him or herself through words, sounds, and images, even if most will never write, perform, or draw professionally. Having these experiences, we believe, changes the way youth think about themselves and alters the way they look at work created by others.” (Jenkins et al., 7)

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Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning, 2006. chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.macfound.org%2Fmedia%2Farticle_pdfs%2FJENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF. Accessed 25 February 2018.

~Till Next Time~

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~

 

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~