Sunday, March 9, 2008

Writers and Genres Fight Over Agency

Bawarshi goes a little deeper into his notion of genre as invention in chapter three. He sides with Bazerman in placing the agency of the writer in a larger social sphere. “To designate and treat writers as the sole agents of invention because they are its most visible agents, as is largely still the case in composition pedagogy, is to overlook the less obvious but just as significant factors that are at work on the writer, factors that shape writers’ intentions and motivate the choices they make as agents” (50). Bawarshi is very much interested in teaching genre in writing classrooms as a way for students to be able to more fully understand what happens to them that makes them do what they do. What’s important to remember about the writer is that she is not only acting out her own desires but is also acting out already existing desires. By only looking at half of the equation, by only seeing the writer as agent, we as teachers are misrepresenting the teaching of writing and devaluing composition studies.
Unfortunately, with the focus shifting from the product to the process of writing in the 60s and 70s, came a belief that invention lay in the prewriting stages. Therefore, invention was seen as not only teachable, but also individual. What I found interesting was Lakoff and Johnson’s argument that “metaphors are actually social concepts we learn as part of our social and linguistic development. As already existing social conventions, metaphors structure the ways individuals conceptualize reality” (67). It would be interesting to look at a few metaphors and really see how wide their scope of influence reaches.
Bawarshi may be making more work for teachers of composition, but his intent is valid. We would be doing wrong by our students not to develop the idea of genre as invention. Whether we like it or not, we are wrapped up in social contexts and social practices that determine a lot of what we do. By studying genres, students have a better ability to act against as well as with the constraints that each genre embodies.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sawyer's Down with the Improv

Sawyer’s argument that “creative teaching is better conceived of as improvisational performance” is well taken. I agree that teachers and students need a space for improvisation inside the classroom. Not only is scripted teacher-proof curricula killing the motivation of everyone in education but it’s also keeping healthy, vibrant, and creative prospective teachers out of the classroom. I have witnessed firsthand the color drain out of teachers’ faces when they hear they will be teaching High Point (a direct instruction language arts program). No one wants his or her qualifications questioned. As Sawyer recognizes, teachers think of themselves as professionals but are increasingly being treated as clerical workers. What I found even more disheartening and angering was the quote by a Direct Instruction advocate that, “the reality is that we draw our teachers from the bottom quartile of our colleges” (18). This seems to me to be an excuse Direct Instruction advocates are using to better handle the controversy surrounding the need to implement such a constrictive form of instruction.
Sawyer isn’t advocating for a structureless classroom but rather a classroom that uses the best attributes of improvisation within a logical framework. “Several researchers have noted that the most effective classroom interaction balances structure and script with flexibility and improvisation” (13). Improvisation is the best of both worlds because it allows teachers and students to work and learn cooperatively and to be creative without completely losing sight of the curriculum or goals of the course. What I find particularly positive about an improvisational approach is its ability to create true shared learning. The students, with the assistance of the teacher, can formulate their own understanding in a shared learning environment.
The big question that Sawyer poses and one that seems to have already been answered in many school districts is: “Should we improve schools by investing in scripted curricula – a capital intensive approach – or by investing in teacher training and professional development, a labor-intensive approach?” (17).
I, for one, buy into the worth of our teachers as competent human beings. I believe teachers have a right to learn how to be creative and improvise in their classrooms. After all, once we take away the right to invent ourselves in the classroom, what is left?