Writing Center Assessment

Although I have been a writing consultant at the Center for Writers for three years, I hadn’t ever thought about writing center assessment until I attended a panel on the topic at the MnWE conference this March. The reading for this week reminded me about how much this topic fascinated me. I began thinking about how after a client leaves the center, I typically never again see the development of a students’ writing that I was invested in for a half an hour, unless he or she makes another appointment. This made me wonder how we even know if we are developing students’ writing skills in the long term, rather than acting as a quick-fix before the paper is due. Of course, we try to focus our sessions on providing students with more global, transferable feedback than minor corrections that only apply to the paper at hand. However, how much of our feedback do students generally internalize and successfully apply later on?

One strategy of assessing this outcome from the chapter was the idea of comparing grades between students who use and those who do not use the writing center. I think that this would be incredibly useful to know, but I wonder how telling the results would be, as there are many factors that can affect the results of this method, such as the differing amounts of time and purposes that students use the writing center, the specific tutors that they work with, and so on. Thus, I wonder what other methods may be more effective in measuring this. One of the presentations on the panel I attended discussed her implementation of student exit surveys within the writing center. This would be a valuable tool to gain student insight, but it would not help in determining students’ quantifiable success after using the writing center. Additionally, self-reported responses can often be biased or incorrect.

I think that it would be interesting if a composition instructor would be able to measure whether attending the writing center affects students’ success. However, a teacher cannot force half of the class to get an equal amount of feedback and mandate that the other half refrain from gaining any support, as that would be unethically influencing their grades. If it is for an assignment that is graded based on completion, the case would be difficult. This way, the results would not influence high stakes like grades. Are there still too many factors influencing the outcome? Do you think this method would be valuable? I look forward to hearing any comments!

1.) What do you think is the best method of assessing the writing center’s influence in developing students’ long-term writing skills?

2.) Do you think the classroom study described about would be valuable? Why or why not?

3.) How do you think discovering evidence regarding writing center effectiveness would impact writing centers and classrooms?


Rhetorically Clever or Weakening? — Yancey’s Rhetorical Decisions in Formatting

As a significant portion of Yancey’s text is concerned with developing students’ awareness of effective delivery and media for rhetorical situations, particularly audiences, I wonder how her own rhetorical decisions (particularly those in format and visuals) fit into this. She uses quite a few images, lengthy marginal comments, and pull quotes to frame her argument. I think it is fair to say that this is intentional and aligns with her own arguments about how writing and rhetoric should be taught. If this is true, what are the functions of these formal features? Does Yancey use “the best medium and the best delivery for such a communication might be” (311)? Of course, this is highly subjective, but it is possible to consider how they function.

For example, do readers stop to examine the images or read the marginal comments? I admit that it was very difficult for me to do this because, I suppose, I am conditioned not to, as this is not a typical genre pattern in academic writing. I am used to reading paragraphs, headings, and perhaps a block quote and/or a chart here and there, but never the extensive amount of images that Yancey employs. I think that breaking these conventions raises powerful questions about why readers are not accustomed to them or why readers value certain rhetorical patterns. I suppose that raising these questions supports her own argument, which would, thus, make the formal choices rhetorically effective. However, can they be rhetorically effective if readers simply pass over them? Isn’t that perhaps the opposite of rhetorical effectiveness? Of course, maybe it was just me who passed over them — perhaps I have a poor attention span or poor reading skills, but I am inclined to think that readers are not so likely to break away from reading a paragraph to read a side though or analyze a picture, particularly without being prompted within a text. This is similar to Adam’s comment on Tuesday about Wysocki and Eilola’s choice not to specfically reference the significance of the pictures until the end — is this really rhetorical effectiveness?

Which leads me into my questions:

1.) What is rhetorically gained/lost in Yancey’s decision to include images, marginal comments, and pull quotes? How do these gains/losses balance out?

2.) How does this format inform your reflection on genre pedagogy?

Multimodal Pedagogy and Comp: Does the Value Outweigh the Potential Road Bumps?

Multimodal pedagogy both fascinates and terrifies me. I think that it is incredibly interesting to think about the role of rhetoric in modes outside of texts, but it is also difficult to assign mutlimodal projects in the classroom because there are so many skills that can be applied to creating video, audio, and visual projects that do not come into play in traditional texts. The question then becomes, how do teachers grade these projects? I wonder how much video production or image editing can be taught and graded within a composition class.

Although the grading can be messy, I think there is value to multimodal projects. First, they raise students’ awareness of how rhetoric is a part of any form of communication — not just texts. This can help them think more critically about the media they see every day. I also wonder if students have more motivation to create a video or an infographic (as Brooke uses in the “New Media Pedagogy” chapter) than they would a paper. At the MnWE conference a couple weeks ago, I attended a panel on using multimodal pedagogy in first-year composition classrooms, where the panelists actually presented student work. One example was a powerful compilation of interviews, news footage, and protest videos surrounding the Washington Redskins team name controversy. The students who created this project (in a group) utilized language and tone (in their commentary) as well as music and the careful placement of video clips to shape their argument that the team name is racist. The students even posted the video to YouTube. The panelist said that they still did writing through weekly reflections (and other projects, of course), but he found this project to be valuable because students were able to see literacy and rhetoric beyond print.

He also argued that this project was meaningful to his students because they were able to use talents that they normally could not incorporate into a writing class to strengthen their rhetorical skills. This is similar to Brooke’s argument that new media can be a site for experimentation. This leads me into my primary question:

1.) Do you see experimentation with new media as having a place in the composition classroom? What are the benefits as well as complications that come with assigning projects like these?

2.) How would you grade multimodal projects? Would you grade on use of audio or visual components (seeing them as a form of rhetoric), or do you find these skills beyond the scope of a composition classroom?

Extra Blog Post: How do Critical Pedagogies Deal with the Internet? Digital Citizenship and @KQEDedspace

My favorite part about Ann George’s chapter on critical pedagogies in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies was her suggestions of giving students agency in the classroom through devising the syllabus or even grading scale together. I appreciate the notion that encouraging students to be critical of dominant classroom structures will help make it easier for them to think critically about other discourses. Working at the Center for Writers, I witness how difficult it is for many first-year students to think critically because they are used to reading to absorb knowledge rather than to be critical. I think that establishing a classroom built upon democratic processes and critiquing dominant discourses will help students become more critical citizens.

Of course, not all theorists think this way; as the chapter discusses, Kelly Ritter – students argues that “capable of enacting the principles of civic discourse in internet spaces” (84). However, I argue that this is not true. While students may be capable of engaging in internet discourses, this does not necessarily mean that they do so productively. I think that Giroux and McLaren’s focus on teaching students to be aware of “civic responsibility”  (82) is vital, particularly on the internet. It is much easier to be inconsiderate of others’ ideas on the internet than it is in person because you cannot see who the other people are — it is as if they are not real. I argue that a significant part of successful democratic dialogue is respect and reason in order to productively progress the conversation, which is difficult to find in many internet forums. Thus, think that critical pedagogies can also be applied to internet or digital citizenship to help students become critical members of the internet community.

One practical method of doing this is to engage students in political and cultural discussions through the Twitter conversation @KQEDedspace, which encourages students to respond to a popular current event or idea through a Tweeted question every Friday. When participating in these conversations, students must respond to what others have said and frame their argument in 150 characters or less, which is a challenging rhetorical task. Comments from other Tweeters will also help them understand what rhetorical strategies are more effective than others (perhaps, for example, a student makes a faulty claim and another Tweeter calls him or her out on it). Thus, @KQEDedspace is an arena for students to engage in internet discourses as well as develop their own voices as a form of social action and cultural critique, all of which are highly valued by critical pedagogies. This activity also allows students to explore their own identities and build their own understanding of how to approach and critique dominant discourses, rather than being given “a ready-made critical theory” (85), which George criticizes. Overall, I think that incorporating a critical awareness of digital citizenship into the study of critical pedagogies is essential in today’s society.

Q1: Would you set aside time for @KQEDedspace in your classroom? What are some values of this activity? What are some limitations?

Q2: Do you think that critically exploring digital citizenship has a place within critical pedagogies? What is your reasoning?

Laura Micciche’s chapter “Feminist Pedagogies” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies reviews and reflects on intersections between feminism and composition pedagogy. She discusses many prominent theorists and their ideas of implementing feminist pedagogy within writing classrooms, which I found to be useful. In this blog post, I will discuss my thoughts on the pedagogical strategies that were particularly prominent to me.

First of all, I found Catherine Lamb’s collaborative writing activities insightful, but I thought that the connections to feminist pedagogy could have been clearer. Micciche stated that “the feminist outcomes of [Lamb’s activities] include and awareness of knowledge ‘as cooperatively and collaboratively constructed'” (132), but I was wondering how the feminist outcomes could be more emphasized within the activity. Of course, females and males would be given equal roles to work together and guide their learning, but are there other benefits of collaborative learning specifically within feminist pedagogy?

I think that the most significant role that collaborative learning can play is active discussions about feminism, which bell hooks touches on when she considers the role of the classroom as a “catalyst for new thinking, for growth” (134). I think that exploring and perhaps changing perspectives is vital in composition classrooms, and reading this chapter made me wonder what other classroom activities and writing assignments can help students do this. One method from the chapter that comes to mind is John Alexander’s narrative assignment that required students to write stories from the perspective of the opposite gender. It’s interesting because it requires students to consider the differences in experiences and identity that the opposite sex may have. I think this assignment may be more effective if it is centered around a particular idea or issue so that students can compare and contrast different perspectives surrounding the issue. This also doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to gender, either; I think it would be interesting to incorporate different ethnic groups or ideologies.

Additionally, I thought that Joan Bolker’s strategy of assigning writing that challenges the “good girl” complex was interesting because it helps students reconceptualize the notion of what women “should” write and think about. Are there any downsides to this? I was thinking that perhaps some students may not feel comfortable with writing about some of these topics, but it seems like a great deal of choice is involved. Another issue that comes to mind is students who are resistant to feminist pedagogy or come to the class with prejudices towards specific genders. These students may not be as receptive to assignments that require them to overcome gender stereotypes. Even my brother thinks that gender roles are static, so I think he would have a difficult time with assignments that challenge his thoughts. Not too long ago, he told me that women should not be politicians because they let their emotions get in the way. How can composition instructors address students like my brother who may be too stubborn to challenge societal stereotypes?


How can composition instructors help students overcome prejudices that they bring with them into the classroom?

What are some other examples of activities and writing assignments that help students think about situations or issues from other perspectives?

What can be done about students who are resistant to feminist pedagogy?

Matsuda and Moving Forward

Paul Kei Matsuda’s article provides a useful overview of the history of ELL research in the field of composition as well as draws attention to a significant topic that is still relevant today: how can composition studies contribute to ELL research, as numerous ELL students are placed in composition courses across the country. Although NDSU has ELL courses, both offered through the Modern Language Department and the English Department, these courses stop at first-year writing. While students undoubtedly learn about many writing conventions and rhetorical practices in their early writing courses, they cannot possibly get enough practice in retaining the skills if they do not have another English course until their upper-division writing courses. Matsuda points out that “even when ESL students are enrolled in special ESL courses before taking required writing courses, the unique difficulties that ESL writers encounter in English composition are not likely to disappear after a semester –or even a few years– of additional language instruction” (789). I would argue that this is definitely true for some, if not all, ELL students.

Working at the Center for Writers, I see ELL students who struggle to understand American rhetorical and citation conventions every single day. Specifically, last semester I worked with a student from China quite frequently who was in his Writing in the Sciences Course. This student struggled with paraphrasing; every time I worked with him, he would bring in pages and pages of copy-and-pasted texts from websites. I had explained to him that in the US, it is considered plagiarism to use other people’s words and tried to help him paraphrase the sentences, but he always said that he did not know how to put them into his own words. He also significantly struggled with creating a thesis and integrating is opinion into his writing. He came to the Center for months, and I struggled to help him make even small improvements.

Some may argue, “Well he should have learned that in his lower-level writing courses,” but how can that be a guarantee? I do not think that this student’s situation is unique; I have worked with numerous other international students who have difficulty adapting to American writing standards even after spending several semesters in ELL writing courses. How can composition instructors better help these students? Matsuda suggests that English departments provide training for composition instructors on how to teach ELL students, which I think is a vital step. However, how much of this is done? This leads me into my concluding questions:

Q1: What accommodations can be made for ELL students in upper-division writing courses who still have not fully grasped American writing standards?

Q2: What are some practical methods that composition instructors can take to assist ELL students in their writing courses?