Composition Pedagogy

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Enculturation and The Writing Instructor, two journals that had gone a few years without publishing, are back online. I'm happy to see them.

CCCCs' Use of the Web

It's a little late to try to circulate this ad (deadline is tomorrow), but I'm going to do it anyway. CCCC is looking for a web editor:

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is seeking applications from CCCC members for a new position as CCCC Web Editor (to be distinguished from CCC Online Archivist). The CCCC Web Editor’s term will be three years (non-renewable) beginning as soon as possible after the application deadline and ending in December of 2011. This is a volunteer position.

Actual programming or Web building is not required. Instead, the CCCC Web Editor will have the responsibility of orchestrating uses of new Web building structures made available in the coming months (e.g., blogs, Wikis, Face Book and so on), moderating new community spaces, publishing relevant information, and working with NCTE/CCCC to develop a stronger Website with new features. We anticipate that after the initial restructuring period, no more than 5 to 10 hours per month will be required of the Web Editor's time.

Persons interested in applying for the CCCC Web Editor position should send a cover letter of application to be received no later than October 1, 2008. The applicant letter should be accompanied by the applicant's CV, one sample of published writing, and a one-page statement of the applicant's vision for transforming the CCCC Website into an active community space. Two reference letters from CCCC members attesting to the applicant's qualifications can be sent under separate cover. Please do not send books, monographs, or other materials that cannot be easily copied for the Search Committee.

Applications should be mailed to Kristen Suchor, CCCC Web Editor Search Committee, NCTE, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, Illinois 61801-1096; faxed to (217) 328-0977; or emailed to

I originally intended to post this as a "be part of the solution" exhortation, as several of us have expressed criticism of how CCCC has used the web in the past. For example, when they started a blog, some of us weren't impressed. I took a look at the CCCC blog right before writing this post, though, and I was very impressed. The blog had lain fallow throughout late 2006, all of 2007, and the first half of 2008, but now Joyce Middleton has started a series of posts titled Conversations on Diversity. She's featuring essay-length posts by -- so far -- Victor Villanueva, Krista Ratcliffe, Malea Powell, Paul Kei Matsuda, Haivan Hoang, Jonathan Alexander, and Mike Rose. Check it out; I will very likely be assigning this series of posts in my pedagogy classes.

Cross-posted at Kairosnews.

Theory and Interdisciplinarity: Kopelson Part Two

The pedagogical imperative, Kopelson argues, is part of a problematic theory-practice relationship in rhetoric and composition studies. "Theory" comes with at least a couple of problems for rhetoric/composition. First, we end up doing hand-wringing over our anxieties that theory doesn't help people, and we ask, like Kopelson brings up, "whom does the theory serve?" Second, we fret over the argument that we only use other people's theory; we don't DO (our own) theory. I like what Kopelson says on 765: "Theory performs the invaluable service of tracing, often in order to fracture, the very consensus around 'reason.' This seems to me to be neither a 'mere' nor a 'sterile' exercise."

The material about theory/practice is most interesting to me insofar as it's connected to interdisciplinarity. Graduate students surveyed by Kopelson wanted the field to become a vibrant interdiscipline with cultural and political significance, but they expressed concern that we're not there yet. A couple of quotations:

[Survey respondents] defined theory, variously, as something we 'draw on,' 'borrow,' 'import' from other, 'different fields of knowledge' in order to 'apply' and 'use.'

That is, James seems to find our import-and-apply approach a testament to the very interdisciplinarity that he and so many other of our 'new converts' desire for the field. And in a way it is. But this approach attests to a certain, limited kind of interdisciplinarity only; to what Ellen Barton calls a 'one-way interdisciplinarity' (245), and also to a formulaic mode of inquiry that has for too long characterized composition’s relationship to other fields of study (p. 766).

Okay, fine. I want to make two points here. First, with all the articles, books, reviews, etc. being published, most people do well to read all the scholarship in their own fields. So if people in other fields aren't reading rhet-comp, maybe we shouldn't take it personally. Second, as a corollary, reception of our work in other fields isn't the kind of thing we can control.

This next quotation is a kicker, in my opinion (p. 768):

Though we have long foraged about in other bodies of knowledge—and, yes, to some innovative and crucial ends—we are still primarily importers only, consumers, an 'interdisciplinary' field, if it can be said that we are one, with little to no interdisciplinary influence. (Exceptions to this trend are perhaps our influence on assessment as a field and, in some locales at least, on secondary English education.) As Spellmeyer reminds us in 'Marginal Prospects,' even within the confines of the academy, 'College English and CCC cannot truthfully be said to circulate in the same universe as Critical Inquiry or Cultural Critique' (163).

Critical Inquiry? This is what we're going for? Is it that we want as many people to read our journals as these journals, or that we want to write the same kind of articles as Critical Inquiry and Cultural Critique? In either case, this seems like an "I wish I were taller" kind of goal -- not that they're tall and we're short, but that our scholarship is different, and that's okay. I want to raise another couple of points about interdisciplinarity. First, from Kopelson (p. 768):

Indeed, our field’s discussions of teaching—in the very journals mentioned by Spellmeyer—are not only what have helped define us, for better or worse, but are what should have positioned us perfectly to be an interdisciplinary exporter with, as James says, “much to offer . . . teachers and students throughout the academy.” In short, then, it is by no means only a testament to our own limitations, or to the potential interdisciplinary value of our work, that College English and College Composition and Communication do not circulate in other universes, but a testament to the perpetual devaluation of pedagogy itself.

Unfortunate, but a sensible point. And now what I want to say most vociferously: we can go back and forth about the nebulous notion of "impact," but I utterly disagree that we are just "consumers" of other disciplines and that the interdisciplinarity is just "one-way" (not that Kopelson is saying this). Do you think people in social studies of science, history of science, and philosophy of science don't read and cite Alan Gross and Jeanne Fahnestock? Do you think people in medical anthropology and women's studies don't read and cite Susan Wells and Mary Lay Schuster? And hello, Stanley Fish? Even my work has been cited in related fields. There are plenty of other examples.

Finally, I want to note the terms "rhetoric" and "composition," as well as several recent programs' alternative terms, such as "writing studies." Does "writing studies" succeed in reconciling the rhet-comp history, theory/professionalization, practice conflict?

The Pedagogical Imperative: Kopelson Part One

Derek has chosen Karen Kopelson's "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition" for our most recent rhet-comp blog seminar. I think it's a great choice, and here's the first part of my response:

Kopelson's article is a much-needed, frank discussion of the pedagogical imperative, the idea that any rhetoric and composition research project must necessarily have a "pedagogy hook," or a section about implications of the project for college composition. The pedagogical imperative, Kopelson points out, is for many a matter of ethics: our field's mission, and I use that word with all the evangelical valence it has, is to teach college students how to write. Kopelson brings up the argument that "our research is funded with student dollars," not that she agrees with it or says it's valid -- I don't think it's that simple by any means.

Kopelson's concern is that graduate students are too constrained by the pedagogical imperative and that it will overdetermine the future of the field. She also goes through a number of concerns about how the field of rhetoric and composition has gone about attempts at interdisciplinary scholarship as well as the creation and use of theory, which I'll get to in a later post.

Now, though, I need to explain how I came to the field of rhetoric and composition. I'll tell you why you should care about this a little later.

I got my B.A. having had courses in literature and linguistics. I was prepared very well in those areas, but I never took a rhetoric course. One was offered, but for whatever reason I didn't take it. When I set out to get an M.A., I wanted to study rhetoric simply because it was a gap in my knowledge. I said as much in my statement of purpose when applying to programs.

At Tennessee, my first semester in graduate school, I took a Classical Rhetoric course. It was like someone had taken me over to a big pile of wood, brick, sheetrock, and shingles and said, "okay, now build a house." That is to say, I was submerged in unfamiliar material and ways of thinking. The way I was taught composition had nothing to do with rhetoric but consisted of the modes.

Anyway, sometimes when I'm in this kind of situation, I think, eh, who needs it? But other times, I buckle down and stubbornly think, I MUST MASTER THIS. Rhetoric was one of those instances. I went on to get really into it, and you can see where that led me.

Kopelson's research is based on a survey of graduate students and professors at two universities. On pages 753-54, she writes:

When asked if they encouraged dissertating graduate students to do work that makes direct connections to pedagogy, the vast majority of our faculty respondents (over 80 percent) claimed to do so only when “appropriate”—that is, when a student’s “project calls for it by its very nature,” or when there are “clear pedagogical implications” to the work. Interestingly, however, the majority of students in our sample revealed feelings of intense pressure to create clear pedagogical implications and applications whether their projects led them in that direction or not, and, most tellingly I think, whether they experienced such pressure firsthand and directly or only as some vague sense of what is required by the field.

When I was at Minnesota doing my PhD, my professors never issued the pedagogical imperative. Still, like the students surveyed, I got the sense that I'd never succeed unless I could answer the "implications for pedagogy" question in a job interview and an article manuscript. My dissertation didn't have to do with pedagogy, but I put in a section in the conclusion about pedagogy anyway, as I wanted to align myself explicitly with composition, and I was coming out of a program that (at the time) was more known for technical communication.

“It’s not necessary,” [a faculty respondent writes], “to write five chapters about Heideggerian philosophy’s importance for broadening our conception of the rhetorical basis of epistemology only to turn to the last chapter and talk about teaching Heidegger to first-year students. I have seen people try similar moves, [and] have heard colleagues make such demands.

Like this faculty member, my committee members didn't think it was necessary, and I suspect that they felt it was a little tacked-on. But they didn't make me take it out. All this being said, I have four thoughts about the pedagogical imperative:

1. A pedagogical implications section is not necessary, but it's impressive if the researcher can explain implications for pedagogy. Along the lines of the argument that you don't really understand something unless you can explain it in clear, simple terms to a non-expert, it would really be something if the person in the Heidegger example COULD connect that research to first-year writing.

2. Not all rhet/comp people are passionate about teaching (and that's okay!). Those who are passionate about it, particularly the early leaders in the field whose cross-over from literature to composition due to love of teaching is described by Kopelson as a religious conversion narrative, have put the pedagogical imperative in place. Now you know why I explained how I came to the field. It's not that I don't enjoy teaching or don't think it's important, but I came to the field another way.

3. So much of this issue has to do with gatekeeping -- for jobs, grant funding, publications. I'd like to know this: how often does it actually occur that manuscripts are conditionally accepted pending insertion of pedagogical implications or rejected due to their absence?

4. Sometimes it takes TIME to figure out the connections of research and theory to pedagogy. A lot of time, years. Perhaps graduate students just want to be trusted to take that time.

More later on the use of theory and the terms "rhetoric" and "composition" (and new alternative terms).

Trying to stay ahead of the demand

It has been a very busy couple of weeks. We had family in town for a week, then of course there's the daily Henry maintenance. On top of that, I have some outstanding committee work to do and several research projects: an article, a book proposal, a book review, and an article proposal. I'll be lucky to get even half of those done, I imagine.

Then we leave to see my family in a few weeks. Henry's first plane ride...any suggestions? Is the pressure going to make him miserable with ear pain?

Off the subject, but it's been on my mind: Andrea Lunsford said, in 2005 I believe, that research is needed about the concept of "common knowledge." This was at the IP Caucus meeting, by the way. She's right, of course; common knowledge is a nebulous concept in classroom practice. I'm wondering, if you were to do a research project on this topic, how would you start, assuming your goal is to historicize this concept? I can think of two ways, neither of which may be very good:

1. Search JSTOR for "common knowledge" in quotes

2. Find all the composition textbooks you can get your hands on, locate the section on plagiarism in each one, and see if there's a reference to common knowledge.

One goal would be to see if common knowledge is defined in any other way besides the following:

1. The magic number 3: if you find a piece of information in at least three of your sources, you may consider it common knowledge and not cite it.

2. By contrastive example (I admit I do this in my own teaching): Some examples of common knowledge that you wouldn't need to cite are a.) Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth; b.) the key to losing weight is to eat foods low in fat and calories and to exercise; c.) breast milk contains the mother's antibodies, which can help keep a child from getting sick. An example of something that is not common knowledge would be: Congolese diamond miners who were banished from Angola are dying from and spreading yellow fever. Obviously I got that somewhere specific.

Quick Mini-Review of Remembering Composition

This morning I was going through some papers, and I found my copy of the film Remembering Composition, a documentary about multimedia rhetoric. I decided to watch it while I did a few other things. I may have more to say about it later -- perhaps I'll even do an audiovisual response -- but for now, just a few thoughts:

  • I hadn't really thought about it until reading this article, but I now appreciate the "not the usual suspects" selection of interviewees. It's true that not everyone Bump Halbritter and Todd Taylor chose to interview is a big computers and composition person. It was interesting to get the perspectives of some of the comp people who aren't well known as techies. Administration was well represented, with Sidney Dobrin, Deborah Holdstein, Erika Lindemann, and Kathleen Blake Yancey (apologies if there are some I've forgotten). I especially liked the inclusion of students in the film; in fact, I wish they'd done even more with that.
  • Throughout the film, there were these interludes inspired by Memento. I wasn't crazy about those; I don't know if it's due to the execution of the idea or the idea itself.
  • Some of the interviewees' comments represented the biggest surface-level clichés about new media out there. It was kind of astonishing. I wondered if they made other, more specific and insightful comments that were edited out. It seemed like the remarks could have been preliminary warming up as the interviewees were getting over their nervousness and summoning their thoughts.
  • There were some standouts, the most excellent of whom were Erin Sullivan (one of the students) and Gregory Ulmer. Sullivan provided a useful comparison based on an ethnographic study of a community. The scholar offers the community the product of his or her study; in one scenario, it's a research paper, and in the other, it's a documentary film. In the film, the community gets to see itself in their own images and hear itself in the words of its own members. I was thinking too that the documentary has a certain simultaneity; it can be experienced by many people all at once in a way that a research paper cannot. Ulmer set forth a smart analogy of academia to entertainment as the church to science in the Renaissance. I also appreciated Holdstein's comments toward the end about institutional context.

Overall, the film was pretty good, but I liked Take20 a little better. The concept is simple but elegant, and I like the fact that the Take20 questions are listed for us, and I like the snappy editing showing the commonalities of the interviewees' responses:

"If you had to pick only one essay for a writing teacher to read, what would it be?"

"Inventing the University."

"Inventing the University."

"Inventing the University."

"If you had to pick only one book for a writing teacher to read, what would it be?"

"Errors and Expectations."

"Errors and Expectations."

"Errors and Expectations."

Syllabus for Composition Pedagogy Course

I banged out a draft of my syllabus for the course I'm teaching next semester, which is a required composition pedagogy course. I'd like some feedback on it, especially on the following:

1. arrangement of the topics
2. reading selections.
3. spreading out of assignments
4. "uh, you are so totally not going to feel like doing that so close to delivering a baby (due May 2!)."

First let me provide some background on the course itself and its place in the graduate curriculum. Students typically take this course (English 501) before they start teaching FYC. It's meant both to introduce them to the major ideas in composition pedagogy and to prepare them for teaching their own classes.

Then, when they do start teaching, they take another course: English 509, which is the practicum. It's intended to be a very practical discussion of problems graduate students are facing in class, situations they're not sure how to handle, activities they try and how those go, etc. I taught 509 this fall.

Also, there's a course (not required) called Modern Composition Theory, which is not a special topics course, though I don't believe there's anything stopping us from focusing on a couple of ideas in depth throughout the semester. I mention this one because it has informed my thinking as I'm preparing my English 501 course; I don't want the two to overlap too much.

I'm using the second edition of Cross -Talk and the Guide as the course texts, and here are my assignments as I've envisioned them now (students are now the audience I'm addressing):

Reading Presentation: Pair up with another student, and select an article from one of the books that isn’t already on the syllabus. Assign it to the class to read, and lead the class discussion that day.

Weekly Reading Responses: These will be posted to the course web site each Friday by midnight. I intend these to be syntheses and evaluations of the reading selections from the past week.

Teaching Philosophy Statement (of Intent): 2-3 pages, double-spaced. [NOTE: the students in my 509 course had to write a teaching philosophy statement when they took 501, and they said that it was more like a statement of intent since they hadn't taught before, and I like that so I decided to implement that as the name of the assignment.]

Class Participation: I will distribute discussion questions for each reading assignment. These will be directed toward classroom practice; for example, I might ask how you would use the ideas in the article to design a writing assignment or draft classroom policies on your syllabus.

Annotated Syllabus: This is a syllabus for a first-year writing course that you will annotate with your rationales for each section. [NOTE: hopefully the choices made in the syllabus design will be informed by material in the reading.]

(No longer addressing students.) Here's the schedule. Yes, this class meets three days a week. Perhaps I should have been more vocal in trying to get that changed, but oh well. It will be good experience for me to be disciplined in my planning and management of class time. Dates reflect class cancellations for Mardi Gras (yuh-huh, we get three days off!), Spring Break, and CCCC.

Class Schedule (subject to change)

Week 1: Introductions

23 January: Introduction to course: History of composition studies, assumptions about teaching writing
25 January: James Berlin, “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories”

Week 2: Process and Post-Process Pedagogy

28 January: Donald Murray, “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product”
30 January: Lad Tobin, “Process Pedagogy”
1 February: Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, “Post-Process ‘Pedagogy’: A Philosophical Exercise”

Week 3: Rhetorical Pedagogy

8 February: William A. Covino, “Rhetorical Pedagogy”

Week 4: Collaborative Pedagogy

11 February: Kenneth A. Bruffee, “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’”
13 February: John Trimbur, “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning”
15 February: Rebecca Moore Howard, “Collaborative Pedagogy”

Week 5: Cognitive Theory and Teaching Writing

18 February: Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing”
20 February: Mike Rose, “Narrowing the Mind and Page: Remedial Writers and Cognitive Reductionism”
22 February: Attend panel at the Louisiana Conference on Language and Literature [NOTE: I'm moderating this]:

Crossing Boundaries: Exploring New Pedagogical Sites
• Nathan Shepley (Ohio University) Composition Borderlands: Contextualizing Writing Processes through Considerations of Place
• Suzan Aiken and David McClure (Bowling Green State University) (Re)Signifying the Composition Classroom Space: Acknowledging the
(De)Centering Myth
• Adeline J. Smith (University of Texas at Austin) The Importance of the Body as a Place in Literature for Transgendered Adolescents
• Daniel Eiland, (Louisiana State University) Distance Learning Frameworks: Using Multiple Technologies to Inspire Community

Week 6: Critical Pedagogy

25 February: Maxine Hairston, “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing”
27 February: James Berlin, “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class”
29 February: Ann George, “Critical Pedagogy”

Week 7: Creating a Syllabus

3 March: The Function of the Syllabus
5 March: Review and Discussion of Sample Syllabi
7 March: The Syllabus and the Teaching Persona

Week 8: Reading Presentations

10 March: Reading Presentations
12 March: Reading Presentations
14 March: Reading Presentations

Week 9: Reading Presentations

17 March: Reading Presentations
19 March: Reading Presentations

Week 10: Reading Presentations

31 March: Reading Presentations

Week 11: Drafting a Teaching Philosophy Statement (of Intent)

7 April: The Function of the Teaching Philosophy Statement
[DUE: Annotated Syllabus]
9 April: Review and Discussion of Sample Teaching Philosophy Statements
11 April: Review and Discussion of Sample Teaching Portfolios

Week 12: Technology and Teaching Writing

14 April: Technology: Praise and Blame
16 April: Chris Anson, “Distant Voices: Teaching and Writing in a Culture of Technology”
18 April: Charles Moran, “Technology and the Teaching of Writing”

Week 13: Writing in the Institutional Context

21 April: Mike Rose, “The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University”
23 April: David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University”
25 April: Richard E. Miller, “The Arts of Complicity: Pragmatism and the Culture of Schooling” [final Weekly Reading Response due]

Week 14: Literature in the Composition Class [NOTE: Here I'm thinking I'd bring in guest speakers]

28 April: TBA
30 April: TBA
2 May: TBA

Week 15: TBA [Work on teaching philosophy statements as it's likely that the prof will be in the hospital?]

5 May:
7 May:
9 May: DUE: Teaching Philosophy Statement (of Intent)


From "Standardizing a First-Year Writing Program: Contested Sites of Influence," by Sheila Carter-Tod. WPA: Writing Program Administration, Spring 2007.

With our task before us and our goals in mind, we spend the greater part of a summer deciding on course assignment sequencing, common assignments, and themes for our two-part course sequence. We wrestle with issues such as which writing and reading assignments encourage the specific kinds of critical thinking that are part of our objectives, and we happily discuss the ways the choices that we have made might eliminate some of the "problems" we knew existed in the "ways in which specific unnamed faculty had been treating first-year writing as a literature course or as a platform for exploring some objectionable -- almost pornographic -- themes." These are all arguments that those of us attending the meetings had heard expressed by colleagues within the department and faculty outside the department. What we don't discuss are the ways in which we, in standardizing the requirements and creating five themes for all 250 sections of our first-year program, are quite possibly diminishing the positive and wide range of experiences students may have in their first-year writing sequence. We do not discuss the idea that, by limiting what may be perceived as "extremes" in the process of establishing specific standards, we might also be limiting the environments in which students may be encouraged to learn more about themselves and others through writing, though the grappling with less-than-comfortable cultural issues and issues of difference. We also do not discuss the possibility that hearsay about extremes, while possibly an issue in any course in any department, may have been taken completely out of context. Instead, we focus our attention on ways to make sure that we address the outside critiques that initially brought our courses into question -- critiques like those from some engineering faculty who have questioned how personal writing could prepare students for the reports or data interpretations that would be expected of them as part of their engineering curriculum. Others in the university have had trouble seeing reasons that students should take a writing course in the English department when other departments offered writing and public speaking in the same course. In response to these demands for convenience and economy of effort coupled with the fear of losing colleagues in the next round of budget cuts looming over us, we work on building an argument for making sure that the writing program in the English department is seen as vital to the goals and needs of the larger university.

Carter-Tod is at Virginia Tech, which is perhaps where the engineering faculty critique comes in. While the article isn't very specific about what they ended up doing with the curriculum (it does say that they have a custom textbook for first-year writing), it does say that in their curriculum, the guidelines for the assignments are broad, as in, one essay requires students to do analysis, one essay requires synthesis, and one essay requires argument. Besides that, teachers can design the assignments however they want, including choosing the readings. I would have appreciated an appendix or two consisting of a statement about the curriculum that the WPA gives to teachers, or a table of contents of their textbook. Still, very interesting stuff. You can probably tell that I share some of Carter-Tod's reservations about standardization, but I would really like to hear some critiques of the position she outlines in the quoted selection.

Edited to add: Actually, I know that one argument for standardization is that it can be helpful for new teachers, who sometimes don't know what to teach and how to teach it. For them, a set syllabus and detailed assignment descriptions can be beneficial.

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