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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WAC/WID and Expressivism

In reading the GCP piece for today, I thought I saw some nods and some shrugs to expressivism.

Elements of WAC—especially writing to learn—struck me as somewhat expressivist. This segment of WAC encourages students to do things like journaling, quick writing, and make mistakes—to even sometimes even create something “comprehensible only to the writer” (Thaiss and McLeod 285). The teacher also acts as a facilitator, not “as a judge” (285). Here we might see something like the “Adopting the Practices, Not the Theory” approach found in the expressive pedagogy chapter (Burnham and Powell 122).

This contrasts greatly with my understanding of WID, which I’ve augmented by returning to Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University.” WID “focuses on writing to an audience outside the self,” places more heft on the product of writing, and is intimately tied to notions of discourse communities (Thaiss and McLeod 286). Though he doesn’t get a direct shout-out in this chapter, Bartholomae certainly forecasts much of the WID discussion here. Bartholomae writes that “the movement toward a more specialized discourse begins (or perhaps, best begins) when a student can both define a position of privilege…and when they can work self-consciously, critically, against not only the ‘common’ code but their own” (17). Most importantly, students must realize that “there is a context beyond the reader that is not the world but a way of talking about the world” (8). If we want to communicate in specialized discourse, a way of talking about the world (i.e., a discipline), Bartholomae says that we must remove ourselves to the point that we can. This sounds like it could be contrary to some of the methods of writing to learn—though perhaps this is simply the desired destination of those methods?

I’m thinking about expressivist notions acting as a possible wedge between WAC and WID. Do you see any more expressivist differences between the two?

Thaiss and McLeod describe them as being intimately connected, but would an expressivist wedge be problematic at all for WAC or WID?

WAC/WID Dilemma

Thaiss and McLeod claim that there are two big takeaways from our studies of writing in transnational contexts: “(1) that teachers in other disciplines care about writing and about student proficiency, though they are usually not trained in writing pedagogy, and (2) students want their writing education to be connected to their disciplinary learning goals” (293). Both of these claims are incredibly hopeful because they operate under the assumption that our colleagues in other disciplines find worth in our work and that our students find worth in our work as well. I think the claims may be a tad overly optimistic, however.

The first claim is pretty straightforward: most folks outside of Writing Studies don’t study writing pedagogy; those in writing studies do. This assumes, however, that knowledge of writing pedagogy is enough to teach writing in the disciplines. Given what Thaiss and McLeod tell us about the importance of Discourse and genres as social (a la Gee, Miller, and others), writing pedagogy knowledge may not be enough. Thaiss and McLeod note that WAC pedagogy becomes most effective, “Once teachers in the disciplines begin to see the teacher/student relationship as one of professional/apprentice, and once they also begin to view their classrooms as social systems that model […] the discourse of their particular disciplines” (288). For those of us teaching in WID classrooms who are “experts” in writing studies but “non-experts” in our students’ disciplines, this leaves us in a difficult spot, because we lack the disciplinary knowledge to truly enter into this “professional/apprentice” model (See Q1 below).

Similarly, Thaiss and McLeod’s second claim makes sense: students want their writing to be practical and to apply to their other coursework. I would argue that this is certainly true—with one large caveat: students want their writing experiences to be practical IF they understand that writing is actually part of the important work in their discipline. I use a forum analysis in my class to ask students to seek out journals in their field to show that people in their disciplines ARE actually writing and that Discourse conventions matter, but Q2 below reveals my biggest struggle in the writing in the sciences class.

Q1: Given the lack of disciplinary knowledge of some WID instructors, how do we best bridge knowledge of writing studies with students’ own knowledge of their disciplines to make the best of this situation and to get close to the “professional/apprentice” model Thaiss and McLeod advocate.

Q2: How do we help students value writing as PART OF their discipline?

What the Heck IS Writing?

It’s rough when one takes issue with something early in an essay and finds it hard to get anything meaningful out of it because of that. Such is the case for me with Janet Emig’s essay “Writing as a Mode of Learning.” While I finally managed to trudge my way through and ultimately agree that writing does, in fact, seem to be an effective learning strategy according to her definition, two of her early claims about the difference between talking and writing had me stuck for a long time.

  1. “Writing is learned behavior; talking is natural, even irrepressible, behavior.
  2. Writing then is an artificial process; talking is not” (9).

The rest of the list doesn’t concern me much; the third point is reminiscent of Ong’s view on writing as technology, for instance, a fact which we’ve discussed at length in class. However, it is particularly the first point, and the second half of that point, that strikes me as problematic. Is talking, in fact, natural behavior? I’m not convinced it is. No matter how many times I reread this section, this potentially fallacious argument keeps jumping out at me. While I would agree that as humans, we seem to require communication of some sort, I do not believe talking is natural behavior. Talking, after all, is built on language, and is language not itself learned behavior? Were it natural, why are we not born with the innate ability to talk? Why are there so many different languages, and why is it so difficult to learn a language not native to us, especially the older we get?

This may seem like something nit-picky to focus on, but these are the first two points Emig cites as “very real differences” between talking and writing (9). They are the foundations of her other points, and help form part of the foundation of her overall argument. Hence my difficulty reconciling the rest of the essay with this problematic beginning.

Another of these differences between writing and talking brings to mind a very interesting question. Emig asserts that “writing tends to be a more responsible and committed act than talking” in her ninth difference (9). Does this still hold true? I ask this because it would seem that social media and texting may affect this claim somewhat, blurring the lines between talking and writing. Do social media and texting put writing on a level playing field with talking in this respect (that is, do they make writing no more responsible and committed than talking)? Or must we adopt a narrower view of writing in order for Emig’s argument to make sense?

Taking social media and texting into account in our current climate seems to make her overall argument a bit fuzzier, too. Is process involved in writing for these contexts in the same way that Emig means when she discusses processes of writing (throughout the essay, but particularly in Figure 1 on pg. 14)? If not, does that mean only certain forms of writing are modes of learning, or are all forms of writing useful in this regard?

This reading has sparked more questions for me than answers, it seems.

Technology as a Tool: Evolving Rhetoric and Composition

There are many great points and arguments made in Kathleen Blake Yancy’s article, Made not only in words: Composition in a New Key but the one I found most interesting has to do with using technology as a tool to write rhetorically.

Yancy quotes Leu when she says “we need to learn how to read and write, e-texts- synthesizing, questioning, evaluating, and importing from them- databases and catalogues, hypertexts and archives, Web essays and portfolios (816).

I believe this information is crucial for the composition classroom for a few different reasons. First, we (as compositionists) rely heavily on language in order to write. From what I remember form taking a language course a few years ago, language must constantly evolve if it wants to continue to as a language. Any language that does not evolve will eventually face extinction. If we view language as a tool itself and that tools needs to evolve, then the way we teach language/ writing must also evolve. Therefore, we must step up our technology skills and learn to adapt to modern day technologies. What sorts of technology are students currently using? Snap chat, texting, and memes?

Secondly, this reminds me of our last reading by Cynthia and Richard Selfe Jr. Selfe and Selfe stress technology and and electric contact zones which leads me to believe that we as teachers need to be literate within technology. Selfe and Selfe state, “Few composition programs or English Departments, however, make a system effort to provide parallel instruction on technology issues they touch on educational projects” (755). This is one to begin heading in the right direction of getting compositions teachers to correctly learn how to navigate through popular technologies so they can teach them within their own classrooms. Once the teacher has learned to how properly navigate, s/he can teach more efficiently by incorporating those technological devices within the classroom.

Questions:

  1. What are some popular technological devices students are currently using?
  2. How can we include some of this technology into the classroom?
  3. Are their programs that can be incorporated into an English program to help teachers become more computer/technological literate?

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?