Composition Pedagogy

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Student Introduction Writing and Dialogic Discourse

I've found that more and more often, my first-year comp students are writing introductions to research papers in this manner:

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Dozens of civilians have been killed as fighting continues between rebels and Liberian government forces for control of the West African country's second-largest city of Buchanan.

Rebels seeking to oust President Charles Taylor turned back a counter-attack by forces loyal to the government Tuesday -- one day after they seized the strategical port city, about 70 miles [112 kilometers] southeast of Monrovia.

"There are bodies all over the place. Dozens of people have been killed," one Buchanan resident told Reuters by telephone. "The wounded are on the streets and there is no way to treat them."

Another resident said the dead were being carted away in wheelbarrows when it was safe to retrieve them, Reuters reported.

Why is there so much conflict in Liberia? In this paper, I will attempt to answer this question, going back to the founding of Liberia by the American Colonization Society in 1817 as a home for emancipated slaves. I will trace the historical events that led up to the current civil war and argue that white imperialism and colonialism led to a corrupt government...

Why is that? (See, I did it too.) I haven't read any Bakhtin on dialogic imagination or dialogic novel or whichever it is, but will do so this fall in my genre theory class. I wonder what he would say. Discourse, especially "academic discourse," whatever that is, has always been a conversation, to use the Burkean metaphor, but it hasn't been common in my experience to see it presented in such an outright way. I never know quite how to respond to introductions like these. On the one hand, that's how composition is, and where it's going, but shouldn't they be able to write an introduction without relying on this kind of "prompt"? Sometimes it's easy to rely too heavily on this model of introduction--and sometimes it's better to be able to summarize and paraphrase events and arguments.

(Oh, here's the link to the Liberia story if anyone wants to see it. Here's another one that I used for fact-checking.)

Course Packet for Identity and Multiculturalism

As you might know, I'm teaching a special section of Rhetoric 1101 in the fall with the theme "Identity and Multiculturalism." I've been selecting readings for a course pack, and here's what I've got so far. Hopefully I'll be able to add on to this list. If you have any suggestions, I would LOVE to hear them. This is really just a preliminary list.

Added News to Blog; Things to Do

I added a News block to my blog. Now you can see what a lefty I am! [grin]

My to do list is always a mile long, it seems. One of my little idiosyncracies is, for the past two years, I've had Star Trek 365-day desk calendars. The first one was a Christmas gift from my friend Susan. I bought the second one myself. Anyway, I thought it would be so nifty to use the back of each day's slip of paper as a to-do list just for that day. At the end of the day, after crossing off each item on the list, I tear up the paper and dispose of it. It gives me great satisfaction. I'm forced to make my lists realistic. The pieces of paper are only about four inches by five inches long, so I can't put too much on there. Today's has a picture from Star Trek: Voyager with the caption, "Chakotay and Janeway work the helm of a new starship. 'Hope and Fear.'"

Tomorrow I need to send a bunch of citations to the Copyright Permissions Center for the course packet for my Rhetoric 1101 class this fall. The theme for the section I'm teaching is "Identity and Multiculturalism," and I have several ideas for assignments. Audre Lorde and Jamaica Kincaid are high on the list, and there are more I'm thinking of too. That needs to be my main task for tomorrow. I also have instruction sets to grade for the class I'm teaching this summer. I want to do some pleasure reading tomorrow, too, and laundry. Sheesh, I never get bored; there's always so much work to do. I feel like a workaholic sometimes--or, rather, a "stress puppy," as I was called during my time at the University of Tennessee. :-)

Clancy Ratliff :: Curriculum Vitae

64 Classroom Office Building | 1994 Buford Ave. | St. Paul, MN 55108 |


Research Interests

Weblogs, Feminist Rhetorics, Intellectual Property, Internet Studies, Genre Theory, Cultural Studies, Composition Theory, Technical Communication, Pedagogy


  • Editor, Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs, 2004.
  • Contributor, Inman, James. Computers and Writing: The Cyborg Era. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2003.
  • Contributing Editor, Literary Culture: Reading and Writing Literary Arguments. 2nd ed. Ed. L. Bensel-Meyers, Susan Giesemann North, and Jeremy W. Webster. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2002.

Courses Taught

  • University of Minnesota
    Rhetoric 1101: Writing to Inform, Convince, and Persuade
    Rhetoric 1223: Oral Presentations in Professional Settings
    Rhetoric 3562: Technical and Professional Writing
  • Roane State Community College
    English 1010: Composition I
  • University of Tennessee
    English 101: English Composition I
    English 102: English Composition II
    Interdisciplinary Studies 493: Technical Writing Module, Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program

Conference Presentations

Professional Activities

More on Teaching Philosophy/Portfolios

Laurie told me about this portal of teaching with technology portfolios at Penn State. I also found this how-to for writing a teaching philosophy statement that is helpful...but it doesn't answer that crucial theory/practice balance question I have in mind. Laurie, Jessica, and I talked about how the teaching philosophy statement genre has changed over the years. Apparently at one time it was kind of, well, effusive and I feel a call to teach deep down in my soul-esque, but now it's more matter-of-fact. I need to figure out how much pathos I want in mine. Here are a couple more how-to sites on writing teaching philosophy statements:

That last site starts out with "Your statement of teaching philosophy essentially answers the question 'why do I teach?'" That's confusing to me; I thought it was supposed to explain what your approach to teaching is, what you think is important that your students get out of your class, and why you have chosen the approach you've chosen (the theoretical underpinnings).

Teaching Philosophy Statement

I really need to do a good teaching philosophy statement that I can stand by, publish on the Web, and be proud of. I was poking around my hard drive trying to find a statement that I wrote years ago while at the University of Tennessee, but I could only find this quotation that I've loved ever since I first read it in Fall 1999 (guess the actual teaching statement got eaten along the, it's probably on a floppy somewhere):

Nor will the preceptor be under the obligation merely to teach these things, but frequently to ask questions upon them, and try the judgment of his pupils. Thus carelessness will not come upon them while they listen, nor will the instructions that shall be given fail to enter their ears; and they will at the same time be conducted to the end which is sought in this exercise, namely that they themselves may conceive and understand. For what object have we in teaching them, but that they may not always require to be taught?

---Marcus Fabius Quintilian, from Institutio Oratoria, written in the year 90 C.E. My emphasis.

Bet you loved that one, Mike--seems right up your alley. I guess what I'm struggling with in writing my statement is a balance between theory and practice--oh, that and a solid understanding of the teaching philosophy statement as genre. Here are a couple of statements from teachers I know:

Does anyone else know of good examples of online teaching philosophy statements? Please post them.

Teaching and the Sunshine Law

I was checking out Erin O'Connor's weblog early this morning and have been meaning to blog about this post in which she comments on a proposed bill that would "bolster the academic freedom of professors by denying public access to books, films and other resources being used in classrooms." We have a conflict--on the one hand, a professor wants to feel like she or he can speak freely without a Big Brother's monitoring; on the other hand, the public has a right to know what is going on in public universities.

O'Connor says:

This has to be one of the more convoluted pieces of academic self-justification I've seen in a long time. Academic debate will be chilled if it is second-guessed? Debate is second-guessing. Allowing the public to see what's taught at public colleges and universities threatens the civil liberties of professors? Only if you think professors have the right never to be questioned. Syllabi should be treated as sensitive information? Only if the professor has something--perhaps lack of seriousness or lack of competence--to hide. The above quotes are the rationalizations of professors who don't want to be criticized, who don't believe John Q. Public is qualified to criticize them, and who don't want to acknowledge either their snobbery or their thin skin.

Anyone who knows me should guess right away the extent to which I agree with this. I really believe in a sunshine policy when it comes to education. That's why I write about my teaching on a public weblog, and why I upload my syllabi to my public Web space--it's not guarded by usernames, passwords, and a secure connection. Sure, teachers feel exposed, but that feeling is temporary. I think that any criticism I get will improve my teaching, which is O'Connor's point too. But at the same time, I can see that this is a debate not only about teaching technique, expectations of students, and types of assignments, but ideology, politics, and "indoctrination." With the current political climate and right-wing-majority in office, I suspect that feminist- and Marxist-influenced pedagogies would come under fire more so than pedagogies influenced by colonialism and capitalism. Still, though, I am persuaded by the sunshine policy; I haven't heard a strong enough argument against it.

Cross-posted at Kairosnews.

Syllabus for Rhetoric 3562

In case you wanted to see. I'm finally finished tweaking it...for now, heh.

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