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.

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