WAC/WID: challenges and possibilities for English teachers

I believe that English teachers should learn other Discourses to help teachers of disciplines other than English develop assignments based on the writing to learn philosophy. However, if genres and their typical rhetorical moves and linguistic formulae can be studied and acquired in a reasonable amount of time, it is difficult to fully grasp the Discourse of a discipline understood as a historically situated human activity. English teachers can gain an understanding of the superficial structures of a discipline but clearly need to collaborate with the instructors of these other disciplines to develop programs that can really help students immerse into the discursive practices of a field of study. Two observations in Thaiss and McLeod article stood out for me: first “teachers must be aware of ways in which student writing  and learning are happening in the rest of the institution” (p. 287). Second: “[the discourse conventions of their disciplines] seem so natural to those fluent in them that it is difficult for them to see why students struggle as they learn them” (p. 287). Let’s start with the first point. Ideally, English teachers should see themselves as detectives who try to understand what teachers in other disciplines do with writing assignments. This is an important step to take if we really want to integrate pedagogical practices and make our classes more relevant to our students. It also true that teachers of other disciplines rarely have a meta-awareness of how their disciplinary discourses function in conjunction with precise modes of thinking, structured activities, disciplinary habits and rituals.  It is a responsibility of English teachers to invite other instructors to reflect on their practices so that they can devise ways to have students engage with them on a deeper and more authentic level.

Concerning the section on Filaments of growth in WAC/WID, I have a provocation to launch: are we sure that technologies have made student writing far easier? Undoubtedly there are now several avenues for the students to express their linguistic creativity but sometimes I wonder whether there are too many tools to choose from. Abundance of choice can paralyze users of technology, just like it paralyses consumers when they enter a store that is exploding with items on sale. CMS are used side by side with WordPress blogs, Google Drive, and, in many instances, social media and other writing platforms. Every tool comes with its own idiosyncrasies that partly detract from the experience of writing by posing a variety of obstacles that can be rather distracting. Writing can certainly improve our learning experiences but when the flow of our ideas is interrupted by technological glitches or by sounds and beeps that come from our machines, the software installed, or internet pages left open, well, we become less absorbed in writing, and the whole activity becomes less beneficial.

How far should we go in our attempt to learn the discursive practice of other disciplines?

Do technologies always assist the writing to learn process? What can go wrong?

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4 thoughts on “WAC/WID: challenges and possibilities for English teachers

  1. Thanks, Massimo. I really like your metaphor: “English teachers should see themselves as detectives who try to understand what teachers in other disciplines do with writing assignments.” Taking on a detective role would help not only English instructors, I think, but instructors in other disciplines who are in conversation with said English instructors. At Concordia, my experience has been faculty in other disciplines do care about students’ writing–very much, in fact–but they feel unprepared (or unaware) to address it.

    Doing this detective work and then reporting it out to other disciplines in an intentional way could be a very helpful approach.

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  2. I, too, enjoyed the metaphor of detective. It implies intentionally noticing the world around you and piecing together the “facts” for a logical conclusion. I often wonder about the abundance of crime-based TV shows, and can’t help but wonder if people just like the intellectual challenge of piecing together the solution. People, generally, like solving a challenge, just not always the imposed-challenges of the classroom (especially in disciplines in which they do not see themselves as experts.)

    Additionally, the idea of choice as overwhelming is a valid point. This reminds me of the New Media chapter and inviting students to see what media does and then choose what best fits their purpose (e.g. the Prezi for an annotated bibliography). Teaching students to make effective choices is a major part of an educator’s job, which gets more complicated the more choices one adds into the mix.

    P.S. The idea of choice reminds me of a book (disclaimer: I haven’t read all of it, but it has perpetually been on my reading list) The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz (http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005696/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429806093&sr=1-1&keywords=the+paradox+of+choice)

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  3. I used to teach Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences almost every semester, and the focus of that class, for me, was rhetorical criticism. I always talked with students about how this kind of textual work is like detective work. We seek clues based on some typical patterns (like patterns in crime) identified by our theories. And this may be one of the ultimate transferable skills for our students as much as the language is transferable to other faculty, though it may identify different norms under each metacognitive term or concept from discipline to discipline.

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  4. English students are already expected of being ‘generalist’ in their studies to fit in the environment of English department fully. Generalist in that regard looked like being someone who can freely move within English studies. I don’t know how many of us even accept the challenge/requirement of being a generalist whole heartedly. Now this debate of knowing the discursive practices of other disciplines is perhaps too much, at least for me.

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