Hi all. Below is the rough schedule for our orientation next week. As I mentioned in the email, it would be great if you can bring a laptop to our session so we can work directly in Canvas setting up the course and reviewing some writing technologies.
Monday, August 14th 1:00-3:00
- 1:00-1:20: General Introductions
- 1:20-1:45: What it Means to Teach Writing
- 1:45-2:15: Looking at the Syllabus
- 2:15-2:30: Setting Up Google Drive Accounts
- 2:30-3:00: Setting Up Medium Accounts, Homework [Haswell reading, sent via Canvas], Questions
Thursday, August 17th 1:00-4:00
- 1:00-1:45 Reviewing Discourse Community Homework
- 1:45-2:30 Working with Canvas,
- 2:30-2:45 Minimal Marking and Meaningful Feedback
- 2:45-4:00 Practice Providing Feedback, Questions part 2
- Homework: Strategies for Workshopping Writing
Two things for homework: 1) work a bit on the discourse communities. What is something you think students could write about, and where are a few places that people write about it? 2) contribute to the Canvas discussion forum on “Strategies for Workshopping Writing”
Friday, August 18th 1:00-4:00
- 1:00-2:00 Responding to Questions / Quick Hits (Plagiarism, Attendance, First Day Attendance, etc), Signing the Book to Reserve the Computer Lab
- Thinking about the First Day
- 2:00-2:30 Signing Up for Teaching Concepts Assignments
- 2:30-3:30 Practice Providing Feedback part 2
- 3:30-4:00 Strategies for Workshopping Writing
Hi all. I wanted to spend a bit of time today thinking about the first day of class. Let’s look at my course plan from the first day of class last semester.
Here’s what is on the schedule:
Monday August 21nd
Class: “Introduction to Argument” Class notes
Remember to take attendance.
Read Timothy B. Lee’s “Pokemon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism”. Complete response sheet. Discuss in groups.
Read Michael Farren and Adam Millsap’s “Pokemon Go represents the best of capitalism”. Complete response sheet. Discuss in groups.
Home: Read They Say, I Say preface and introduction. Post a 3-5 sentence response to either article read in class to Canvas using a template from They Say, I Say.
NOTE: you can get instructions for logging into Canvas here.
Because I want them to write all the time, I have them go into Canvas for homework and write a few sentences. This also makes sure that 1) they know how to get into Canvas and 2) that they know how to post to a discussion forum.
First class–writing and argument thought. Open of second class–writing as style and communication.
- What should we do if an argument gets out of hand?
- What happens if we need to miss class
- Unplanned Absence
- Planned Absence
- How much time should we give students to do readings?
- Should we provide PDFs of first week readings if students don’t have the books? How do we do this?
- What should our signature on our emails to students look like?
- Using the department printer
- Creating an environment in which revision doesn’t mean “just fix the comments”
- New DDS statement?
- How to discuss grades with students? Should I wait 24 hours?
Working With Canvas
Hi all. Today I want to take some time to help you get to know Canvas.
- Home > Settings > Student View
- Home > Settings > Navigation
- Home > Settings > Quiz
- Home > Settings > Assignments
- Home > Settings > Attendance
- Reminder to set up discussion
- NOTE: First Day Attendance
- NOTE: Syllabus change, word count for posts up to 800-1000
Homework: Contribute to the Canvas discussion on Strategies for Workshopping Writing
Providing Meaningful Feedback
- Talk about Haskins
- Talk about Sommers
- Write about Elbow
- Paper #1: Scientology
- Paper #2: Tattoos
- Paper #3: BLM
- Paper #4: Serial Killers
- Paper #5: League of Legends
- Other comments: TB, MW3, RBThesis
What it Means to Teach Writing
Walking into the first day of orientation, it is hard for me to imagine what you know about writing instruction, or what your experience as instructors of writing might be. I thought the best way to open this conversation might be to ake a look at a group of recent articles on writing instruction, most from the Washington Post. Generally, these kinds of articles make folks in Rhetoric and Composition groan, because while they often cite research on the failures of writing programs, they rarely if ever acknowledge the large body of research on how we can (and do) improve writing instruction. The failures research documents aren’t failures of R/C scholars to identify how to improve writing so much as failures of institutions to invest the time and resources it will take to enact such improvements. But that’s another conversation.
So let’s take a look at a few links, a collection of what I might term the “usual suspects” of the national “why Johnny can’t write” argument (note, this argument isn’t new–you can look back at 400 years of writing about writing and quickly learn that Johnny could never write; universtiy faculty have complained about the quality of student writing since the invention of universities. But I digress. Digression will be a theme, maybe even a strategy).
Let’s meet an example of the Codger. John G. Maguire will fill that role today. In “Why So Many College Students Are Lousy At Writing–And How Mr. Miyagi Can Help,” he draws upon Arum and Roksa’s 2011 Academically Adrift to lay out his problem: “Arum and Roksa found that 45% of 2,300 college students at 24 colleges showed no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing by the end of their sophomore years.” His solution, however, is enough to make most writing scholars pull their hair out:
Why aren’t they learning? There are multiple causes. One is that schools admit students who can’t write and then pack them into comp courses taught by adjuncts. But the main problem, I think, is that the colleges are not really trying to teach students to write clear sentences. Not anymore.
First semester writing courses now cover rhetorical strategies, research, awareness of audience, youth civic activism–everything except the production of clear sentences.
His evidence to support this claim (laden with dog whistles) is one anecdote from one other professor. He goes on to praise his own textbook, developed as an improvement over the venerable Strunk and White, which fetishizes emphasizes clarity . His warrant:
Professional writers and editors know readability can be learned. They have learned how to be vivid and interesting, what to do when a sentence is screwed up by a bad verb, and why one controls sentence length. Why not teach these skills to college freshman?
I don’t mean to come off as too snarky. That’s a bad way to introduce myself. But these “back to basics” arguments (whether couched in the language of style or grammar) are infuriating to researchers in rhetoric and composition because so many studies have proved the futility of such an approach. As you’ll see when we look at the syllabus, I do invest class time on thinking about style, syntax, choice of subject and verb. These are important parts of a writing class and should not be overlooked. However, it is unproductive to focus on these skills in isolation. It is disingenuous to pronounce that focusing on them will “fix” writing instruction. Research consistently reveals that the most effective approach to writing instruction is one that helps a student recognize the complex dynamics inherent in any communication situation and reinforce all five rhetorical canons: invention (thinking, argument, evidence, appeals), arrangement (genre), style (diction, voice, revision, decorum), memory (tricky after orality), and delivery (to an actual, responsive audience).
John Warner highlights this research in his direct response, “We Are Teaching Kids How to Write All Wrong — and No, Mr. Miyagi’s Rote Lessons Won’t Help a Bit.” Unlike Maguire, who cites evidence to establish his problem but relies on artistic invention and anecdote in defense of his solution, Warner stresses that “the reason there is limited current scholarly writing on student prose is because the direct instruction of grammar as a method for teaching meaningful writing practice has been discredited for more than 50 years,” including “a 2007 meta-analysis of 11 different teaching methods found the only one that was ineffective was direct grammar instruction.” Warner’s response helps to explicate some of those complex dynamics that I raised in the previous paragraph:
If we want students to truly write well, rather than settling for surface features either through a “readability” approach, or one rooted in the necessity of passing a standardized assessment, we must require students to engage in a much more rigorous curriculum centered on the most important skill all writers must practice: making choices.
Writers choose what they want to write about (subject), who they want to write to (audience), and why they’re writing (purpose). In composition circles we call this the “rhetorical situation,” and without it, you’re not really writing. Instruction that ignores these dimensions will prevent students from developing meaningful writing practices.
While I think Warner frames writing a bit too static for my tastes (in that he treats writing as a product, something that happens in a moment at a computer and then gets passed to someone else), I agree that writing requires the experience of negotiating a rhetorical situation, of making significant choices. We, as instructors, cannot construct an environment in which we make those choices for them. We, as instructors, cannot be the sole evaluator of whether those choices were effective.
I wanted to point at another couple of essays that shed light on the difficulty of teaching college writing. Part of Maguire’s diatribe against contemporary writing courses concerned as emphasis on “civic youth activism.” While he doesn’t come out and say it, we might charitably surmise that such a lofty goal, in his opinion, lies beyond the scope of a first-year writing class. Joseph R. Teller comes right out and forefronts this claim in “Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?” In a 1600 word piece devoid of even a single reference, Teller, the cynic, dismisses 30 years of writing research in order to endorse a different kind of “back to basics”–a return to a current-traditional approach of instruction focused on having students write short, argumentative pieces; he writes “students need to spend less time on difficult texts and more time writing arguments. The more time one spends on content, the less time one has for structure and form.” As much as I find Teller’s dismissive tone annoying, I will admit I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea that challenging content can complicate composition instruction. I agree that when we ask students to read complicated texts, texts that challenge their ideological commitments and or tax their cognitive capacities, then they will (obviously) struggle with writing (especially with logical development). It is a disciplinary and programmatic question as to whether we want students to focus on arrangement, style, and coherence or on invention and critical/analytical ability. I do believe that we must try to do both–and that here at UNC ENG 122 should focus on the former while ENG 123 should focus on the latter.
But I am afraid I have strayed a bit off topic. I wanted to talk about the radical demands often hurled on first-year writing courses. Teller addresses these in his conclusion:
My job is not to save my students from cultural impoverishment. It is to teach them how to express themselves effectively in writing. The development of cogent, clear prose is at the heart of freshman composition. For too long, I have deluded myself into thinking that my job in a composition course was to introduce students to a rich academic topic, make them read difficult texts, make up for years of barely more-than-functional literacy and book aversion, teach them to be critical thinkers, and help them understand the oppressive structures of late capitalism–all while helping them write focused arguments, revise, polish paragraphs, and edit sentences. Should college students be expected to read difficult texts? Sure. Should students develop a love of reading? Absolutely. Should students learn to express their views and persuade others in cogent, clear prose? Without question. But that last one is the only unique provenance of a composition course.
The comment section of this article is an English Department bloodbath. Rhetoric and Composition folks respond critically to Teller’s argument here, and (as I imply above) I don’t think his dismissive tone throughout the piece helps. Some of their animosity is based off of histories too complicated to cover here. I would highlight how, traditionally, rhetoric has concerned itself with how to do things in the world. While it involves critical analysis, it is ultimately a civic and pragmatic discipline. Rhetoric is an art of persuasion, an art of engagement, an art of facilitating change. For many in the field, first-year writing courses must maintain this underlying importance on civic engagement (and here we touch upon the academic vs. non-academic arguments regarding first-year writing).
I myself have struggled with the scope of a first-year writing classroom throughout my career. Prior to entering a PhD program, my background was in 18th century British Literature with an emphasis in theory and cultural studies. I entered my PhD program at Purdue planning on continuing these lines of study. But as my interest in theory developed, I was drawn more to rhetoric; in rhetorical theory I saw a pragmatic application of postmodern, feminist, and materialist ethics spurred by the rapid development of new, digital, communicative technologies. Like Teller, there was a time when I thought the purpose of composition meant exposing students to a particularly critical way of engaging the world. Now, after working with postpedagogical theory, I am more interested in exposing my students to ways in which they can engage their world. I am less confident in the idea that *my* critical orientations can, or should, be *forced* upon them. I am cognizant that they might enter the classroom expecting me to indoctrinate them. I am fearful that they might perform a kind of liberal expectation and that such a performance might create resentment for the very politics that I would want them to support. I don’t want student writers to perform an idea (ideology) that they think I want to see. I don’t want students to anticipate and try and answer my questions about the world. I want them to start asking questions that authentically matter to them.
Once again I have strayed off topic. When thinking about the purpose(s) of first year writing, it is easy to stray, because there is so much one might want to do. Let me move to conclusion by calling attention to a recent piece by John Duffy, “First-Year Writing Classes Can Teach Students How to Make Fact-Based Arguments,” written last May. This piece spoke to me because it begins by establishing why the purpose of first-year writing seems so important lately. It highlights what is at stake. Let’s take a look at the introduction:
Perhaps the greatest challenge to academe in the current political environment is the ascendancy of a “post-truth,” “alternative fact,” “fake news” culture, in which claims are detached from evidence and words do not necessarily bear any relation to reality. In the culture of post-truth, social institutions formerly seen as mainstays of objective information — the judiciary, news media and, not least, the university — are widely regarded with skepticism, if not hostility, and their adherence to fact-based argument dismissed as elitism. Indeed, the very concept of a fact may have already become a casualty of the post-truth era.
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts,” Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes declared on Diane Rehm’s NPR show in December. “And so Mr. Trump’s tweets amongst a certain crowd,” Hughes continued, “…are truth.” Hughes was widely reviled for her assertion, but she appears to have correctly assessed the temperature of the times.
How should those of us in academe respond? How do we prepare our students to respond?
I offer here a modest suggestion: support your local first-year writing program.
For much of its history, the first-year writing class has been an arena for teaching values and virtues like honesty, accountability, fair-mindedness and intellectual courage that serve as the foundations, indeed, the essence of academic argument. Moreover, the first-year writing class promotes those values in thousands of institutions across the nation, serving tens of thousands of students each semester by introducing them to principles of ethical argumentation. In so doing, the first-year writing class offers a robust defense against the post-truth culture and provides a model for constructive, fact-based public discourse.
Duffy’s my utopian. His modest suggestion isn’t actually that modest. To suggest that first-year writing is the site from which we can combat the disintegration of epistemology? With students who might struggle to compose a coherent paragraph? Not modest. But I do like so much of what Duffy offers–his idea that FYC introduces students to the most basic philosophical/rhetorical principle–the centrality of claims and evidence. And his corresponding idea that it also inculcates the importance of balancing skepticism, trust, and honesty to facilitate productive dialogue. His idea of radical humility deserves close attention:
Finally, argument in the first-year writing class teaches practices of intellectual humility. Many people have noted how academics represent argument in the language of conflict and war. We attack others’ ideas. We gain and lose territory. We are victorious, or we are decisively defeated. This is the language of intellectual domination.
But argument can equally be understood as a practice of radical humility, in the sense that to argue is to submit ourselves to the judgment of others, offering up our ideas for scrutiny, criticism and rejection. Moreover, while argument in the first-year writing class is frequently taught as the practice of persuasion, it is just as often represented as a process of inquiry, exploration and the reconciliation of diverse views. Understood this way, argument functions not as a truncheon for dominating others but rather as an invitation to collaborate, to reason together and, perhaps, to find and inhabit common ground.
Duffy sees the University’s Enlightenment foundation under attack (from a very different opponent than Derrida or Lyotard), and frames the first-year composition classroom as the battle line. High stakes indeed.
So, how do I begin to situate myself amongst these positions? What kind of introduction to the field will I offer you? One of my aims is to develop writing courses in which students experience writing ecologically. By this I mean experiencing writing as an active, ongoing process [communication], not as the generation of some stable, accountable object [paper]. Experiencing writing ecologically, as communication, means following writing along all three of axes–writer [ethos, who the writer is, more importantly how she relates to expected communities], text [logos, the evidence she provides, the arguments she invents], and audience [pathos, the audience’s emotional predisposition to the subject matter, their willingness to engage the writer’s arguments]. We cannot treat the text as a finished product, an object, produced by the writer. We cannot think of rhetorical situations as static moments in time that can be frozen, analyzed, and addressed. Rather, we should create environments in which the writer has the opportunity to see how the text affects others, how they receive it, (mis)interpret it, respond to it (or not). We should develop writing courses that attempt to let writing move around, and do our best to let our writers follow that movement. This ecological emphasis aims to invest writing with a more affective dynamic: writers improving as writing as they become more invested in the impact of their writing. Real, responsive audiences are essential to developing this investment. And I believe interacting with other people not only helps to benefit students’ growth as writers, but also pushes us closer to the world Duffy imagines and that fascists revile–one in which people approach each other skeptical but cooperative, thoughtful but uncertain, engaged but unperturbed.