Composition Pedagogy

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The Semester Begins

Almost a month without a post...that may be a record. I will try not to make a habit of it.

Classes start Monday. I didn't get as much done this summer as I had hoped, but there's nothing I can do about that now. This semester I am teaching one graduate course (a composition pedagogy practicum) and, for the first time in two years, a first-year writing course. I finally feel like a credible composition scholar again. I know many may take offense to that; sorry. Of course it's not as if you're only as credible as the recentness of the last time you taught first-year writing. Many people have taught basic writing and first-year writing for decades, but haven't taught it in five or ten years, for example. It's just a personal point of view I have; I will have more confidence in my scholarship about pedagogy if I teach first-year writing regularly. I'm class-testing They Say, I Say and am interested to see how that will go.

In other news, Henry will be sixteen months old tomorrow!

Research Writing Skills

I've been thinking for a while now about all the various skill sets required in order to write a good, source-driven research paper. When I hear the "Johnny can't write" laments, and when I hear teachers complain about their students' failure to meet their expectations, I think of the complexity of what we are asking them to do when we ask them to write research papers (a.k.a. source-based papers, research essays, etc.). In order to do this well, students must have at least these five abilities:

1. the ability to marshal evidence for a specific purpose, or to make a point. This is the highest-order concern: keeping students from turning in a data dump. Students need to know how to be in control of the source information and use it in the service of their own argument
and organizational logic.

2. the ability to find sources (in library databases, on the internet, in the stacks, etc.) and evaluate their credibility. Also, the critical reading ability involved in finding a variety of sources that express a range of viewpoints on an issue, so that the student has a balanced bibliography of sources.

3. the ability to translate or convert another author's style into the student's style, also known as paraphrasing -- never an easy skill to teach.

4. the ability to integrate quoted material smoothly into the student's prose, which includes the use of attributive tags ("Jones argues that..." "According to Jones...") and what some call the quotation cycle, or: setting up a quotation, giving the quotation, and then interpreting the quotation or connecting it to something else -- the whole "don't just stick quotations in and leave them hanging" principle. There's a whole book devoted to just this skill -- though skill #1 is part of that, for sure.

5. the ability to master a documentation style like MLA. "What goes in the parentheses? The author's name and page number? What if there aren't page numbers? What if there isn't an author's name?"

There are probably more; I haven't even touched on audience, context, and purpose of the assignment. My notes here aren't any great contribution, but I just want to get them out there.

A Find from '89

Courtesy of my mom, who saves everything, I found this article in a 1989 newspaper. It was with a box of scarves; my mom had saved an article about different ways to tie scarves and this was underneath it.


I'm mainly interested in this article as a historical document chronicling the "literacy crisis." Note that this article predates the WWW and all manner of other distractions. One could also use it to argue for having students write about topics from their personal lives. Hopefully you can click the image and be able to read the text on the size-large image, but if not, click "original" for bigger text.

The Transfer of Knowledge

I have to believe experiences like the following will make me a better teacher.

Clancy: Henry, say Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma.

Henry: Da-Da.

Clancy: Henry, say Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma.

Henry: Da-Da.

Clancy: Henry, say Ma-Ma.

Henry: Pppbbbtt (sputters)

Clancy: Henry, say Ma-Ma.

Henry: Ah-Ya-Ya.

Notes on CCCC Intellectual Property Caucus

The Intellectual Property Caucus at CCCC was quite productive this year, as always. Thirty-one people attended, and we started the meeting off by plugging our projects and celebrating the year's accomplishments when it came to intellectual property issues:

First, there's the publication of Stephen Westbrook's collection Composition and Copyright: Perspectives on Teaching, Text-making, and Fair Use . Also, Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky have created Writing Spaces, an open access, Creative Commons licensed space that can be used in lieu of a textbook (or in addition to one). Then, following our usual format for the meeting, we heard from the Intellectual Property Committee. The big news there was that we've been invited to write a regular feature for the NCTE Inbox, and Martine Courant Rife volunteered to spearhead that effort. (By the way, if you click the link, you'll see that you CAN subscribe to the Inbox on RSS. That was at issue during the meeting.)

Then we introduced our action tables, met for our breakout sessions, and reconvened to plan actions for the next year. For the purposes of the notes here, I am going to paste the abstract submitted by the action table leader, then right below it put my notes from that action table's report. The notes are notes I took during their reports in the caucus meeting, and since I didn't sit in on these discussions, they're kind of choppy and note-y. And as always, some of the action tables ended up merging, so what I have here isn't exactly what was in the original proposal re action tables.

Exposing Misunderstanding of Fair Use in the Case of the Harry Potter Lexicon

It's disappointing that Steve Vander Ark's proposed HARRY POTTER LEXICON
is coming under fire from Potter creator J. K. Rowling. However, the
attacks on the lexicon from the general public---visible in comments on
news stories and weblogs---are far more disturbing. Vander Ark has been
called a plagiarist, a thief, a crook, and a liar. The lack of support
for his work shows a profound misunderstanding of fair use Speaker #1
wishes to engage in two ways: (a) by sharing strategies for discussion
of fair use; (b) through encouragement of use of the rights all of us
have to create similar works which fairly use copyrighted content.

Notes and Next Actions:

different kinds of misunderstandings of fair use:
1. partial knowledge: some knowledge but misapply it
2. conflating legal and ethical issues: plagiarism of something in the public domain: ethically problematic but legally OK
3. ppl not knowing who to appeal to, governing bodies relevant. vague notions of punishment but not knowing where auth lies
4. misunderstanding of terminology
5. not understanding purpose of fair use

action items: fair use for dummies document
list of common misconceptions for teachers
more formal study: look @ court cases

Copyright, Fair Use, and Digital Delivery of Class Reading Materials

A recent lawsuit brought by a group of academic publishers against
Georgia State University has brought to our attention the dangers of
limiting educators’ Fair Use rights to distribute class reading
materials in digital form (Cambridge University Press et al. v.
Georgia State University). Speakers #2, 3, and 4 will discuss what’s
at stake in the recent debate over application of the Fair Use
exemption to the use of copyrighted works in coursepacks, library
e-reserves, and other forms of online delivery of reading material to
students. They will then take comments that may contribute to the
development of a position statement, directed to academic publishers,
that would encourage a rethinking of the current business model for
copyright permissions for educational use.

Notes and Next Actions:

concerns: for education: what can we do, what can't we do when it comes to digital delivery of online materials
article in CCC in 1998 on fair use. "Use Your Fair Use: Strategies toward Action." 2009
reissuing of article like that in light of course packs, ereserves, etc.
advocacy issues: 4Cs position statement would make a stronger claim re fair use guidelines and digital materials
georgia state case: intervention? 4Cs could begin exploring/supporting defendants in that case?
4Cs educate organization. american library assn. web site. write to house judiciary cmte regarding that decision. action letter. NIH, but implications for government sponsorship of research.
listservs: request to write

Open Access Publishing and Institutional Repositories

Speaker #5 will report on the progress of an OA Task Force that has
been brought together to educate CCCC/NCTE constituencies about OA
options and about mandates to provide open access to federally funded
research, as well as to develop guidelines for meeting those mandates.

Okay, this is the action table I participated in, so I can give a more thorough treatment of it. Most of our discussion was about the following:

Open Access and "The Extended CCC"

As has been discussed on the blogs, notably here and here, a lot of people aren't happy with the recent decision to move some of College Composition and Communication's features, such as review essays, interchanges, re/visions, book reviews, etc. online. My main concern is the open-access implications of that, which Karen Lunsford and I discussed in our action table meeting. For example, if I want to read "Rhetorics of Critical Writing: Implications for Graduate Writing Instruction" by Laura R. Micciche, a review essay in the most recent issue, I have to go here and click the title, then if I'm not logged in with my NCTE member number (which I pay an annual fee for), I get the following:

Please log in to view this journal PDF file: /library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0603-feb09/CCC0603ReviewRhetorics.pdf.

What are the implications for future access to this article, only the first paragraph of which will be in the print journal? Libraries, and by extension teachers and students, who already pay a subscription fee for the print and electronic versions of the journal, will not have access to these features unless they pay to join NCTE. Our action item regarding this issue is to query the Executive Committee: what provision has been made for permanent access to TECCC for libraries? The caucus members generally felt that this was the most alarming and pressing issue related to our field and open access.

We also talked about other issues, though, such as:

1. a letter to the executive committee recommending changes to NCTE's journals' copyright policy:
* change the contract to allow authors self-archiving of copies of their articles on their personal web sites
* allow open access to archives the way that JAC does

2. writing a resolution draft about open access -- open scholarship, open teaching materials, maybe even open access textbooks, but we thought that since many in our field write textbooks and textbook publishing houses give us a lot of support, we might have more buy-in with 4cs membership if we leave textbooks out of it and just focus on research

3. joining the Alliance for Taxpayer Access

Students' Rights and Responsibilities in IP

Students are facing more choices for how to treat their own
intellectual products and those of others. It would be helpful for
both instructors and their students to be aware of the legal, ethical,
and cultural ramifications of those choices. Speaker #6 will examine
students' rights in and responsibilities for treating their work
within the realm of intellectual property law issues.

students thinking of themselves as AUTHORS. plagiarism
if teachers aren't allowed to use it, they'd be forced to teach plagiarism in more complexity
let students opt in or opt out?
teachers don't have the right to use student writing in college english -- would have to get permission.
in what ways does turnitin repurpose student writing?
NCTE Inbox: we wish there was a simple way to teach teachers to talk about turnitin
ways other professors use the service?
something more user-friendly for NCTE K-12 and college
conversations with students about the business model
for paraphrasing exercises in class, ok use of turnitin

There was also an impromptu action table about research projects in IP. Here are my notes on that:

1998 Computers & Composition special issue on IP: plan to revisit that in a new special issue.
cultural cannibalism: CFP out before C&W
visual/digital rhetorics for kairos
CCCC panel together next year
sharing scholarship, continuing projexts: regular discussion table each year on research, momentum.
1/2 hour for everyone about research?
call out on lists: course materials about authorship, plagiarism, copyright, collaboration, contract negotiation, OA, OS, free speech/privacy/censorship

Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing

I'd like to encourage all of you to keep your eye on Writing Spaces. It is the start of an open access textbook for writing courses. They're calling for submissions; here's part of the call for proposals:

Volumes in Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing will offer multiple perspectives on a wide-range of topics about writing, much like the model made famous by Wendy Bishop’s The Subject Is . . . series. In each chapter, a rich variety of authors will present their unique views, insights, and strategies for writing by addressing the undergraduate reader directly. Drawing on their own experiences, these teachers-as-writers will invite students to join in the larger conversation about developing nearly every aspect of their craft. Consequently, each essay will function as a standalone text which will easily compliment other selected readings in writing or writing-intensive courses across the disciplines at any level. Thus with your submissions and the publication of subsequent volumes of essays, the Writing Spaces website will become a large library of student-centered instructional essays on writing for all across our field to use in the composition classroom.

The theme for Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1 will be first-year composition, and we invite authors to submit a proposal for a chapter on any topic about writing suitable for a first-year class. For example,

* College writing vs. what you did in high school
* Freewriting
* Why invention is important
* Finding a topic for your personal narrative
* Drawing on personal experience in your writing
* Understanding the rhetorical situation
* What is creativity?
* What do we mean by that term "style?"
* Developing the appropriate voice for your audience
* Getting to the draft
* What makes a good thesis and how to focus your paper
* Best practices for conducting research
* The Internet as a space for communication and research
* Effective quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing
* Re-vision as re-seeing your text
* Why proofreading is important
* Primary research: the I-search paper, ethnography, or interviewing
* Logic in argumentative writing
* Collaborative writing
* New media writing

Because each chapter in Writing Spaces is an essay, authors will want to strike a balance between instruction and creating a text that demonstrates excellent essay writing, with an appropriate and strong, engaging voice for a student audience. An essay could provide students with good writing advice and strategies. Or it might exemplify the type of essay writing that presents perspectives that stimulate critical thinking and invigorating class conversations. Any essay that incorporates outside material should also serve as a student-friendly model for demonstrating effective attribution and integration of sources.

That reminds me: I am continually annoyed by the main problem I see with the reading selections in composition textbooks, which is the dissonance between the readings in the book and the kind of writing we teach (or the writing our universities, I'd argue rightfully, expect us to teach). Usually we're assigning students research papers or some other kind of source-driven paper. For these kinds of papers, we expect information to be cited in the following style, with attributive tags and parenthetical in-text citations:

According to one published study, unemployment rates have "ebbed and flowed in an unpredictable pattern since 1977" (Wilson 5).

We want students to be able to integrate source materials in the above manner. So what kinds of texts do textbook authors put in books? Why, Amy Tan's "Mother Tongue" and George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," of course! Or op-ed pieces from newspapers and magazines, which don't cite sources that way either. Instead, it's simply assumed, based on the reputation of the magazine, that the writing is "researched" and fact-checked prior to publication. The burden of proof is then shared and is not on the author of the essay in the same way it is in academic writing.

Anyway, just grinds my gears. I know that Writing Spaces seems to be interested in literacy narrative types of pieces, but they also appear to be interested in pieces with a "teach first-year writing as an introduction to writing studies" approach, which would lend itself to citations of research in rhetoric and composition. Please, if you submit something to this collection, remember your MLA format.

A Collection of Good and Not-So-Good Reasons for Assigning a Personal Narrative as the First Essay in a Composition Course

Apropos of a lecture I attended yesterday by Bruce Horner* and some general thoughts I've been having lately about this issue, I've decided to collect as many reasons as I can think of for assigning some sort of "personal essay" as the first assignment in a college writing course. These are reasons I've heard other people cite and reasons I came up with myself when examining this question as a thought exercise. I'm not saying all of these are good reasons by any means, only trying to compile a list. Please let me know if you have other reasons.

1. Start inward, go outward: or from individual concerns to social concerns. This is one of the ideas Horner critiqued, actually; he argued that it rests on assumptions that those two things are uniform and monolithic (I would add, not to mention mutually exclusive).

2. Building blocks: provide students "an initial experience in expression" which they can build on as they move on to argumentation.

3. When content is irrelevant: personal experience provides expedient subject matter when the subject matter of the essay (and the student's mastery of it) is not what one wants to assess. For example, personal experience is often used as a topic for diagnostic essays/proficiency exams in which one wants to assess students' grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, vocabulary, etc.

4. In the interim: students may lack experience with research-based arguments, so the teacher doesn't want to jump right in with that kind of writing yet. As the instructor is in the process of teaching research and argument, s/he assigns students to write about something they know, so that they're always doing some writing.

5. Descriptive skills first: the teacher wants to start off the class by teaching a certain skill set which includes vivid description and specific detail.

6. Unlearn: the teacher wants to get students beyond the five-paragraph essay format they may have had in high school, and as quickly as possible. As a personal narrative doesn't lend itself well to the FPE structure, it hastens this kind of unlearning.

7. Hailing students as writers: the teacher wants students to think about themselves as writers from the very beginning of the course, so s/he assigns a literacy narrative type of assignment to facilitate students' reflections on their past experiences with writing.

8. First contact with theme: the particular FYW course has a theme, and as a way to get students thinking about that theme (gender, cyberspace, labor, what have you), the teacher assigns a personal essay about the student's experience with the course theme.

[Edited to add...]

9. Writing from personal experience can be an exercise in amplificatio

10. Personal experience is easy to write about

And here are some other reasons for assigning personal writing which I'll include for the sake of comprehensiveness. These reasons, however, are reasons for assigning personal writing in general. I'm more interested in "Essay 1: Personal Narrative" reasons that call for putting a narrative first in an assignment sequence.

1. Empowerment: if personal writing is the province of the socially and politically privileged, assigning this kind of writing helps students have access to this discourse.

2. Self-knowledge/student interest: college is thought of as a time to learn more about oneself. I've asked in classes before as a short in-class writing assignment, for example, "what do you most want to learn?" The overwhelming majority of students write "I want to learn about myself/find out who I am."

3. Find your voice: personal writing can be a way to discover what one's voice sounds like. It's a way to cultivate an ethos and style that a student can (potentially? presumably?) take with him/her to other genres and contexts.

4. Site of negotiation: I got this one from Horner. It conceives of the personal as a site of negotiation with issues of ethics, politics, epistemology, social construction, etc.

[Edited to add...]

5. Something for everyone: while some students don't like writing from personal experience, others do, so you assign both outside-source-based and experience-based essays.

6. Refutatio: if you assign an article written by an author who is writing about a group of people of which the students are a part (Cajuns, young people, college students, etc.), students could write an auto-ethnography that responds to the author's claims.

7. Investment: you want students to feel some personal stake (ownership, authority) in the writing they do. If they're writing about a topic they don't care about, they won't care about the research involved, organization, style, etc. of the paper. But if they are writing from personal experience, they (presumably) care more about how that experience is represented on the page and will spend more thought on crafting the essay.

* abstract here:

"Rewriting the Personal"

Examining the contradiction between those calls for incorporating
personal writing into scholarly texts to defy the strictures of recent
critical theory and those calls for using personal writing to comply with
those strictures, I argue that confusion over what constitutes the personal
has led to this discrepancy in positions on its use and prevents us from more
productive engagement with the personal in public discourse in both our
writing and our teaching.

Feminisms and Rhetorics 2009

I'm being asked by a few folks to circulate the following call for proposals for the next Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, which follows below. Bravo to Michigan State for taking out the parentheses -- as in feminism(s), rhetoric(s). If we're going to use the plural, let's use the plural.

One bit of criticism I have, which isn't necessarily directed toward Michigan State's department, or even the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, is that I wish we could start putting conference sites in ONE place, like all FemRhet conference sites could be on the Coalition's site. We tried to do that with Computers and Writing, but it didn't catch on, as Stanford did their own site for 2005's conference, Texas Tech did their own for 2006, Wayne State did the same for 2007, which doesn't seem to be there anymore, and UGA created a site for 2008's conference.

The problem for Feminisms and Rhetorics, though, is more serious, I think. At least most of the Computers and Writing conference sites are still available. Try to go to the conference site for 1999, and it's not there. 2001's conference in Decatur, IL doesn't have a site available either. Ohio State's 2003 conference site redirects to the English department's main page. I couldn't find sites for Michigan Tech's 2005 conference or even the most recent one, 2007's conference at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

I understand if universities want to create their own sites for conferences they're hosting. Still, I don't think these sites should be thought of as ephemera. They're historical documents about fields of study. I think it's important to at least archive the files at some stable site that represents the organization and isn't hosted on a particular university's web space. If Michigan State does this, I will be very impressed.

Michigan State University / East Lansing, Michigan / October 7–9, 2009 *

The 2009 Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) conference will be hosted by the
Rhetoric & Writing program at Michigan State University. We invite proposals

• *reflect* the complexity and diversity of who "we" are as a scholarly
• *make manifest* the deep structure of the connections, intersections, and
overlaps that actually
make us a community;
• *help articulate* who "we" are as a deliberate community of scholars, and
what that means about our responsibilities and relationships to one another
across scholarly areas and institutional positions;
• *highlight* scholarly and teacherly activities that deliberately create
space for more complex notions of scholarship and teaching within the
discipline of Rhet/Comp;
• *include* and significantly engage communities outside of the academy;
• *focus on* antiracist pedagogies and scholarship; present
interdisciplinary scholarship in Afrafeminist Rhetorics; American Indian
Rhetorics, Chicana Rhetorics, Asian American Rhetorics, post/neo-colonial
• *highlight* the intellectual traditions of women's communities, especially
communities constellated around specific identity markers such as race,
ethnicity, class, sexual orientation issues, geographic origins;
• *explore* the relationships between written, oral, and material discursive
• and other topics that *address* the connections in the conference theme.

We also welcome proposals on relevant topics not directly addressed above,
that significantly engage disciplines other than Rhet/Comp, and that have
consequences for communities located outside of the academy.

Although traditional presentations are acceptable, we encourage participants
to create formats that go beyond the read-aloud academic paper. Interactive
sessions that include discussions, dialogues, and performances are
especially welcome. Proposals should be uploaded to the FemRhet 2009 web
site (, and can be for:

• 20-minute individual presentations (250-word proposals)
• 90-minute 3–4 member panels (500-word proposals)
• 90-minute workshops or roundtables (500-word proposals)

Please plan to submit a title, a proposal the length indicated above, and a
program-ready, booklet-friendly 50-word blurb for the presentation.

Proposal System Open: December 15, 2008
Proposal Deadline: February 1, 2009
Acceptances Distributed: April 30, 2009

For more information: Contact Malea Powell (, Nancy DeJoy (, or Rhea Lathan (

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