Monday, February 25, 2008

Bawarshi, Center Stage

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed Bawarshi’s first two chapters. Something about his messages about genre and invention were really speaking to me. I felt he had a little Burkean flair to his prose in the beginning when he asks the question “what do writers do when they write?” and “what happens to writers that motivates them to do what they do?” Like Burke, Bawarshi brings up the notion of motivation as driving force for writers. Bawarshi, however, is interested in the idea of invention and how the study and teaching of genre theory play a major role in the invention of the writer.
The introduction of his book outlines the term “beginning” as a relatively false claim. As Bakhtin notes, “every beginning is a response to a prior beginning” (2). Said also describes beginnings in much the same way, as a continuation of a prior idea; an idea, however new, that stands next to previous texts, not in a linear line ahead of the rest.
Again, this was another concept that made complete sense to me because if it weren’t for previous texts, people would have a difficult time creating their own in relation to the rest. Bawarshi’s idea of the blank page is also brilliant. He says “the blank page is mythologized as an unmarked space waiting to be marked, its physical blankness masking the fact of its specification in discursive and ideological conventions, including genres, which already situate it, already mark it” (3). Would students feel more comfortable knowing that their the page itself is already situated within a particular genre?
Here we come to the bulk of his argument – the significance of genre theory. He believes invention happens within genres. He also believes that new genres can be created out of already recognized genres through interaction and contact with these genres and by the natural evolution that occurs through the changing of values and assumptions (10). He also brings up the importance of social and rhetorical practices in the creation of tension between the writer’s intention and the genre’s social motives.
He does not confine genres to writing only but rather opens up the possibility of our lives being led through various forms of genre. He says, “…genres are both functional and epistemological – they help us function within particular situations at the same time as they help shape the ways we come to know and organize these situations” (24). There is interplay between genre and those who exist within genres. We shape them as they shape us; it is a mutually exclusive act.
As far as the teaching of writing is concerned, Bawarshi sees genre theory as a tool that can be used to access a writer’s purpose. Not only can it reveal, “what a writer does [but] why they do it, and what happens as a result” (25). I will admit I was a little thrown by his description of Halliday’s “register.” I am not all together clear on what Halliday is going for with this concept of register. Perhaps we can go over this in class.
As a last note, I am very interested in the placement of composition. Bawarshi brings up the debate among scholars as to where composition should rightfully be placed in academia. I had never considered the idea of composition as an entity all on its own, as
it’s own discipline, or as part of writing in the disciplines programs. This is a topic I look forward to reading more about and possibly researching myself.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Haswell, Take Two

Is the way we are "holistically" grading student essays flawed? Do students possess better writing skills as juniors than they do as freshman? According to a group of eager young teachers that scored an assortment of essays, the answer to the ladder question is no, they don't. This may be due to the fact that the teachers were following a very systematic framework for scoring the essays. Nothing was left up to interpretation. And though, as Haswell points out, the teachers might be seen as wholly objective, there is also the flip side of the coin. "If we take objectivity to refer to qualities in the object itself, independent of human subjectivity or judgment" than no, they were not acting objectively (41). Haswell would argue that the teachers have fallen into following an "English-teacher vision." They are no longer looking within themselves for answers, but instead are guided by the standards of the "English-teacher vision." By interpreting the interpretation, one thing is clear, the papers written by the upper classman were not recognized as better than those of the freshman because the teachers were not scoring based on developmental advancement.
Haswell believes that there are obvious improvements in students writing by the time they reach their junior year. The improvements in their writing, however, are for the most part overlooked by the teachers. Many teachers believe in the legend of deterioration. If students are not forced to do any writing in their classes, all the skills they picked up in their freshman comp courses will go out the window. Unfortunately, people have misinterpreted what Kitzhaber discovered. He points out that "the "increasing carelessness" of the students occurs only "when permitted to" and the main "therapy" called for is to "put steady pressure" on the student throughout the four undergraduate years by installing "disciplined practice in writing in courses other than freshman English" (154) or, as we would say today, across the curriculum" (48). It's not so much a matter of students losing their ability to write as it is their losing their momentum due to a lack of structure on the part of teachers. As is said in so many schools across the country, teaching writing should not be left up to the English teachers, and the English teacher alone. Students need all the practice they can get.
Once Haswell walks us through his writing experiment in chapter three, we begin to understand the real life implications of writing. By comparing employees writing with student writing, we are able to see clearly the differences. Thankfully, the employees writing samples score higher than those of the students. This means that students, once out of college, continue to mature and develop and improve their writing skills. What's interesting is that the style of writing of the employees is different. They use the first person "I" a lot more and they take a more linear approach to addressing the prompt. The conclusion paragraph that so many of us teachers drill into our students is no longer being used once out of school. Could this be because it is one of the more difficult paragraphs to write in an essay?
Haswell alleviates some of our worries that students are not improving as they mature. But as he mentions in chapter three, how are we to know if the improvement is due to maturation or learning? We aren't. I think it's fair to say it's a little of both. What will be interesting is to see where his argument takes us next - the teacher. What is our role in all of this and how do we make sure what we are teaching is helping them succeed as writers?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gaining a Little Ground, for now.

I am currently in Half Moon Bay and will be back in town tomorrow, therefore my post will be brief. I will be adding to it tomorrow, however.
I think Haswell brings up a good point when he mentions teachers are resistant to change if it means leaving behind any remnants of one's old pedagogical practices. People don't like to be told what they are doing is wrong. And in the teaching profession, it's usually not entirely wrong, it's just a matter of tweeking one's pedagogy a little to fit with the students. After all, I feel like the idea to cut way back on grammar instruction was perhaps not the best plan. Now scholars are writing about reinventing grammar in the classroom and teaching it within student writing so that it's not so dry and detached from any frame of reference. We are constantly learning and relearning how to teach. Haswell is proposing we look at the new findings in the study of student development and try to come up with a way to adjust some of our understandings and teaching practices accordingly.
Haswell introduces his terms: standard, status, and change. Change is inevitable in a classroom and in a student's life. The type of change isn't always a positive one; it depends on her motivation or lack there of. But with change, comes a shift in status.
I am not entirely sure where the standard comes into play here. I am going to have to do a bit more rereading tomorrow and come back to this thought. I do think Haswell brings up some valid points about who we are teaching and what they really know versus what we assume they know.
More tomorrow...
It's Monday, and I am back in Arcata and ready to talk a little more about Haswell.
What I found particularly interesting was his description of high school students perception of their writing skills. It doesn't seem to matter if the student is high achieving or barely passing, she will always view her own skills as proficient, even above average. What makes a student view her skills in such a good light? Could it be because, as students believe, grading writing is very subjective, and therefore, they aren't relying on a grade to determine how well they write; they'd rather decide for themselves. In my experience teaching, students, for the most part, hate writing. So the question becomes, how can students think they are all great at something they hate doing?
And then back to the standard, status, change. What is it that makes a student's status change? Is it their promotion to another grade or something purely mental? If a student believes he is a good writer, has his status really changed? It's obvious from Haswell's examples that student J has reached a higher standard of writing than student F. But how? If, as he says, students forget or dismiss many of the skills they once used, what skills are they using now?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Dramatism Blog, take one

After reading chapter one of Elements of Dramatism, I was a little worried. The material is dense and the concepts new to me. But chapter two allowed me to place myself in the picture and see how form directly affects my life. Form is something an author can use to appeal to their audience. Does that mean form can be applied to the way people interact with each other outside of printed works or film? If I’m having a conversation with someone, might they already have an expectation of the way the interaction will unfold (Conventional Form)?

The idea that there is danger in certain forms is so true. We can be easily carried away with a particular song or film because it appeals to our sense of form, yet the underlying message is contradictory to our beliefs. We have to be aware of the motives of those behind the scenes.

I feel like I’ve taken away a new appreciation for looking at motivation, identification, division, and consubstantiality (an unconscious desire to identify with others). Burke wants us to look at situations and recognize the reasons behind our unity and division. Dramatism allows us to create new identifications through studying the way we use words as a tool to achieve our goal. He therefore aligns dramatisim with rhetoric. “Dramatism and rhetoric are both conceptual frameworks for understanding ways that human relations are formed through language” (15). What I found interesting is that Burke doesn’t believe rhetoric is just about persuasion but that it’s about identification. Therefore there is some sense of a desire to identify with one another but a lot of that desire may be unconscious. It reminds me of the presidential election. If we identify with one of the candidates more than another, we may, without knowing, begin to align ourselves with their platform without really understanding it. There is, as Burke mentions, a dialectical struggle between identification and division. We want to identify, but we cannot be entirely someone else. Therefore, there will also be division.

So much of what Burke says (through the much easier to understand prose of Blakesley) rings true in my mind. I am just waiting for the day when I can see the whole picture, when all the rhetoric stuff we’re learning in all of our classes comes together is an organized fashion.