Composition Pedagogy

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Possible Preliminary Exam Questions

Today I've been poring over pages and pages of past preliminary exam questions and devising my own to send to my committee for consideration. Most of the questions are derived from the old exams, slightly tweaked to accommodate my interests. I wrote a few of them myself. Any suggestions? [Edited to add links to the reading lists: rhetorical theory and tech comm theory and research. Gender and CMC list is coming.]


Rhetorical Theory

  1. Consider Cicero's De Oratore as a response to Plato's critique in the Gorgias.
  2. What does Cicero mean by “eloquence”? Does the concept have implications for the understanding and teaching of rhetoric today?
  3. Select two canonical works by classical male theorists, e.g. Gorgias's “Encomium of Helen,” Plato's Gorgias or Phaedrus, Aristotle's Rhetoric, Cicero's De Oratore, and indicate how you would teach them from a feminist perspective. In each case, indicate why you are doing what you do.
  4. Select two canonical works by modern theorists, e.g. Burke's Rhetoric of Motives, Habermas' “What Is Universal Pragmatics?”, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's The New Rhetoric, Bakhtin's “The Problem of Speech Genres,” and indicate how you would teach them from a feminist perspective. In each case, indicate why you are doing what you do.
  5. Burke directly addresses technology as a social commentator, a philosopher, and a rhetorical theorist. Discuss his approach to technology in each of these roles and comment on its importance to rhetoric as practiced by bloggers.
  6. What theoretical concepts within the rhetorical tradition are most important to the creation of an adequate rhetorical theory of blogging practices? What, if any, traditional concepts does this new technology render obsolete? (More detailed treatment of fewer concepts is preferred to less detail and more concepts.)
  7. Assume that nothing of the Aristotelian corpus survived except the Rhetoric and that we knew nothing of Aristotle's political views. Agree or disagree with this statement: “It is difficult to imagine a theory of rhetoric less congruent with modern feminism(s) than that set forth in the Rhetoric.” Defend your view by making specific reference to Aristotle's text.

So much work...

I'm slammed! I have to grade papers, do more studying for prelims, and a host of other stuff, including another entry in the Encyclopedia of Third Wave Feminism, this time on essentialism. I'll post drafts of these entries and solicit feedback as soon as I receive the guidelines on how they are to be written.

Today I found out that NCTE is supporting the Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act and the Graduation for All Act. Both acts center on improving literacy among adolescents. I would have quoted some sections of the letters, but NCTE has specified in the Document Properties of Acrobat Reader: "Content copying or extraction: Not allowed." Great. Yeah, I could type out what I want to quote, but it's the principle. The acts seem like a good idea, but I'd have to learn more about exactly how they'd work before endorsing them myself. All I know now is that PASS would provide grants for promoting literacy and would place "literacy counselors" in schools to work with teachers and with students who at risk of dropping out of school. "Academic counselors" would work with students and parents. The Graduation for All Act is basically the same, except it would target the schools with the lowest graduation rates.

Technical Communication and Politics

I was again elated after class last night. We managed to have a pretty interesting discussion about memos, bringing in references to the movie Office Space and using examples of how crucial memos can become when a tragedy or debacle occurs in an organization. We talked about the memos involved in the Challenger disaster and touched upon the torture memos, which I might circle back to on Monday. Using these political examples seems to work pretty well and make for engaging discussions; I think I'll continue in this vein and assign the Gap, Inc. Social Responsibility Report. Lots to talk about there: audience, exigency, purpose, rhetorical strategy, etc.

Gap report via Desert Dragon.

First Night of Class

Yesterday was the first day of the summer term, and I'm thrilled with how well class went last night. My students are so bright and quick to catch on to the kind of writing we're doing in this class (Professional and Technical Writing) and concepts such as rhetorical purpose and primary and secondary audiences. To get an idea of how great these students are, consider this: On the agenda for last night's class was defining technical communication. I was going to pontificate about it, but as soon as I got in there, I looked around the room at the students and asked them what they thought it was. Their answers, which I wrote on the white board:

  • information
  • relaying messages in scientific/technical fields
  • representations of data
  • writing for a non-expert audience
  • purpose-driven writing
  • science writing (e.g. New York Times science columns)
  • presentation of research
  • business communication: memos, etc.
  • inter-office, organizational communication
  • concise way to exchange information

This was a baseline reading; I hadn't said a word about the concept of technical communication, and they presumably hadn't read the textbook yet. I'm impressed. :)

High-School Composition Pedagogy

I've been following a couple of posts on high-school composition pedagogy with interest: Mister B.S. expresses dismay at essay-writing rules that strike him as arbitrary, and over at Erin's, they're talking about reading assignments and writing. Right now participants in both discussions seem to be trying to find a balance between an old model, characterized as "hard-nosed" and formulaic, and a new model, characterized as "touchy-feely" and ineffectual with regard to really learning how to write essays (see the Onion story that spurred Erin's post). I've nothing to add at this time, but will continue to lurk in the discussions.

Squared Away

I found out that, in addition to teaching the SEAM section of 1101 in the Fall, I'm teaching speech again next Spring. The course coordinator seems to think I'm a pretty decent teacher.

Also, I scheduled my prelims for the first two weeks of August. They're going to sneak up on me, I know it. I should go ahead and get some diazepam for the hives. :D

Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom

Charlie has posted the paper he and Terra Williams co-authored, "Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom." In it, they offer a useful and long overdue critique of Blackboard and WebCT:

Blackboard and WebCT, with their emphasis on content delivery and teacher administration functions, are classroom-only gated communities. Institution-maintained course management sites may have WWW addresses and contain links to other Internet sites, but as they move through the password-protected virtual hallways, students easily realize such online class spaces are not the information superhighway. Instead, they are only one way streets that pull content without contributing to the larger discourse which is the Web. Within password-protected classroom spaces, these student writers are safely sequestered from the discourse community of the Internet.

They argue persuasively that students engage with their peers more in weblog writing and that they take writing for their peers an audience beyond the classroom more seriously than writing only for the instructor.

Cursing in the Classroom

Interesting discussion going on at Making Contact about a colleague of hers who is being dragooned by the administration for using the "f-word" in class. For probably the only time in my life, I'm finding myself on the more priggish end of the debate.

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