Sunday, September 28, 2008

Updated on Paper Number 1

Thanks for all the suggestions. I had some of these same questions before the semester started, but your answers mean so much more to me now that I am in the middle of things. Just an update: I took a step back after the paper #1 rough drafts. I added a lot more thinking and group activities. I posed questions that really helped the students see some of the narrowness of their thinking instead of writing everyone a long list of does and don't. They really rolled with it. We had some awesome class sessions where ideas were flying and light bulbs were burning brightly.

I just read one section of the final drafts, and I was very impressed with my students. They really took things to the next level. I am so glad that I took the time to carefully read the rough drafts because now I feel very connected to each students' progress. My one student with the very inappropriate views on immigrants caught the vision of the assignment and turned in a very progressed version of her first attempt. It still made me a little nervous, but I can really see her progress.

Wish me luck as we dive into paper #2. Thanks again for all your help.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I don't think your experience here is that uncommon, since the first paper calls on students to problematize, a rhetorical strategy that's totally foreign to most college freshmen. It's something I recall us talking about in a monthly meeting last year, and my explanation (which you can buy or not) was that our students are immersed in two rhetorical genres: one the testimonial narrative (on panel shows, human interest news stories, etc.), and the other the political opinion (talk radio blowhards, newspaper editorials, etc.). Those dominant rhetorical forms are connected in a number of ways, but most importantly for our students, they have no need for either critical reflection (i.e. on facts or context) on the part of the speaker/writer, or a critical disposition on the part of the listener/reader.

At any rate, rather than it being a primary/secondary matter, I'd suggest that the papers reflect the students' rhetorical dispositions--or, one might say, what they got out of the text and instruction thus far. I've found though that because problematizing (what the Allyn and Bacon Guide calls "wrestling with complexity" ad nauseum) is the essential rhetorical orientation for which the book is arguing, and on which the students will be working for the term and their college careers, the first paper is an opportunity for students to get their feet wet.

OK, a couple of practical suggestions (you may already be doing one or both of these): one, give students a week (or so) to revise and resubmit their papers after revisiting the chapters and your comments. Two, encourage students to resubmit the paper in a portfolio at the end of the term, so that the first and the last papers "frame" the course and can document the progress they've made--thus you can value student progress and acquired rhetorical sophistication more than the content of the first paper in isolation. I'm sure others will have more (and perhaps better) advice for you as time goes on. We can also think about how to incorporate your experience into the year's theme of interacting with students.

That's about it for now. Comment at will...

Monday, September 15, 2008

A "What do I do with this" Paper

So, I have spent half of the today grading rough drafts of paper #1, and I have had some interesting reflections about my teaching.

John mentioned something to me the other day about the papers (the final product the students turn in) being somewhat secondary in importance to the thinking and growing that happens in the process. I'm used to teaching journalism where the product is pretty central , so I didn't quite understand him until I read these papers today.

A lot of my students totally missed the mark. They wrote some very strong opinions on some hot topics instead of really questioning a problem or an issue. As I read, I started to see the patterns and I am going to take a huge portion of class time this week to have them rethink their issues. I put together some activities where they will be able to question and challenge each other to help them think more complexly. I realize I should have done this long before the rough draft was do. I guess I thought I had. Maybe they needed more examples. Has anyone else had this problem?

But I'm excited for class tomorrow because I feel like all the time reading and commenting on the rough drafts will really pay off as I focus the class time to fill these gaps in my teaching and their understanding. Go Team!

But then I also got a paper that was not a lot different then the paper we read in Grant's seminar at our training this year. It was about immigration. It was highly offensive to me. But I tried to keep it in context with what the students was trying to do. Instead of reacting, I am using the paper to really think about how my teaching is both strong and weak and how can make many concepts more clear for ALL the students this week. I found some very delicate but serious ways to address the issue with this student, and I was very glad we had talked about these situations as a group before I had to face it.

Anyway, that's what I am working on today. I'd love comments or posts about what you do if you realize you've got to back track a little. Any great classroom ideas for getting them to really think about their topics? Any strong paper examples would also be great. I'd love to see a variety of samples.

Critical Thinking and Writing

Some of you requested quotations I shared at Orientation. We talked about how achieving outcomes requires a semester-long effort, focusing on critical writing on the first day of class, foregrounding critical writing on our syllabi and at the beginning of each class period.

In our Sept. Wed. meeting, we followed up by sharing examples of what we do in the first week or day of class. I suggested that we might evaluate our choices based on desired outcomes as opposed to just doing what we have always done. Thanks to everyone for sharing unique approaches for building community and actively involving students.

Critical Thinking and Writing
WPA Outcomes and UVU Writing
From Orientation Breakout Session—Gae Lyn Henderson
August, 2008.

Wayne Booth insists that students must learn to distinguish between sources, to evaluate and understand the “flood of misinformation” with which they are inundated. He centers The Rhetoric, a culminating book of his distinguished career, around this concern: “A citizenry not habituated to thoughtful argument about public affairs, but rather trained to ‘believe everything supporting my side’ and ‘disbelieve everything supporting the bad side,’ is no longer a citizenry but a house of gullibles” (89).

Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Donald Lazere points out that writing instruction, and the broader field of English Studies, has “defaulted on critical thinking” (264). In one example, while he admires Carol Gilligan’s work in women’s ways of knowing, which “judiciously modified the gender bias” in her predecessors [Lawrence Kohlberg and William Perry], a consequence of her work is that “the notion of stage-development of moral or intellectual reasoning was dropped like a hot potato in English Studies” (264). Similarly, the important critique of various oppressive consequences of Enlightenment reason conducted by the Frankfurt School and other postmodernists, “got misinterpreted as a rejection of reason altogether—a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water” (264-65). Lazere argues that “it is precisely higher order reasoning that is needed to refute the logical fallacies in sexist, racist, class-biased, or jingoistic rhetoric . . . manipulating sociocentric emotion” (265).

Lazere, Donald. “Postmodern Pluralism and the Retreat from Political Literacy.” JAC 25.2 (2005): 257-91.

Richard Weaver, in his analysis of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial,” argues for the difficult, yet invaluable goal of “education in any age,” to create what he names “a Summa Dialectica. . . . [T]he educated people of our country would have to be so trained that they could see the dialectical possibility of the opposites of the beliefs they possess” (124).

Weaver, Richard M. “Dialectic and Rhetoric at Dayton, Tennessee.” Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science. Ed. Randy Allen Harris. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras Press, 1997: 107-25.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Scaffolding first year comp assignments and courses

Since a few people asked following orientation last week, I planned to link to the overhead slides I used to discuss the scaffolding of writing projects in Engl 1010 and 2010/2020, and the scaffolding of the courses themselves; however, one more data transfer--this one the "research" server from UVSC to UVU postponed the posting. Anyway, here it is as MS Word document:


OK--don't forget we've got our first part time faculty meeting of the year Tuesday and Wednesday next week. Meetings are 5-6:30 in SC 206 g/h. See you there.