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Priorities

posted: 11.14.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Doug

I gave a talk on my campus last week about “How We Want Students’ Understandings of Writing to Change during College.” Because we often talk about “gain” in writing ability as the traceable improvement of a writer’s syntactic fluency and their use of effective writing processes, it was interesting to think about what else might constitute growth.

Last week I sat in on a tutor development session in our Writing Center, and an interesting question arose: Do we wish student writers to become independent, to no longer need a Writing Center, or do we wish them to develop into good collaborators who seek to write with others rather than by themselves? The tutors thought that the question posed a false dilemma. The farther a writer can take their writing “on their own,” the more able a writer they likely are. But more than independence, we want the growth that might fuel it. And an equally important sign of such growth is the valuing of and comfort with the interactional aspect of writing.

This conundrum is an example of the kinds of categories we need to consider when we ask ourselves what’s important for students to learn about writing during their time in college What are our priorities? [read more]

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Refuse It, Break It, Remake It

posted: 10.17.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Doug

I, and Elizabeth, and others have said the following many times in many ways. But it seems hard to say it too often. So I’ll say it another way here.

My graduate Writing Theory course (this semester, we’re calling it “Digital Textuality and Contemporary Rhetoric”) has been reading Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole the last couple weeks, and her work, along with their own experiences teaching non-writing about writing (WAW) composition courses, has gotten them wondering about the point of first-year comp (FYC): why are we doing this anyway?

I’m asking myself the same thing from a different direction as I work on a book chapter that poses the question, “What Is First-Year Composition?” The chapter begins, “It depends on whom you ask.” There is a massive gap between FYC’s “public charter”—the university’s, parents’, students’, and politicians’ reasons for having the course exist at all—and what it can actually do. [read more]

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“It’s in the Walls”—Why We Need a Writer’s Rhetoric

posted: 9.20.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Doug

Now and then on this blog I get up on my rhetoric high horse, and it’s time to ride again. I’m writing this post while drafting a talk on “A Writer’s Rhetoric.” And you say, as opposed to what other kind of rhetoric? I’m glad you asked.

Consider the differences between the rhetoric that writers actually use and the rhetoric that makes it into our textbooks and writing classrooms. That latter rhetoric seems to draw mostly from Aristotelian rhetoric. It is the sort of rhetoric that emphasizes a text’s logos, ethos, and pathos appeals, and little else: the pisteis, canons, purpose, audience, topoi, and a lot of rational argument strategies (these days, most often Toulminian). This philosopher’s rhetoric, as I sometimes call it, seems mostly unaware of contemporary rhetorical innovations like Burke’s equation of ethos and identification, or Polanyi’s linking of pathos to knowledge, or Perelman’s insights on presence, or Fisher’s on narrative epistemology—all explanations that seem to reflect much more closely the behavior of actual writers than much of what Aristotle thought.

It’s been a long time since I heard a writer say, “So in order to decide what to say, I sit down and think through my logos, pathos, and ethos appeals.” I don’t think very many writers do that, even when they have powerful understandings of the pisteis. I think that writers grapple with kairos all the time, but I rarely see the term brought up in rhetoric texts or writing classrooms—much less the most powerful rhetorical concept of them all, mythos. Philosopher’s rhetoric has emphasized the process-order of the rhetorical canons; most writers seem to experience them all at once than step-by-step. [read more]

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WAW: A Mentor's Take

posted: 8.8.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Doug

I returned in mid-July from the Council of Writing Program Administrators summer conference, where for the third time in five years, an undergraduate from my department presented. The following week, this student, Angie Ford, was invited to present at CCCC—my fifth undergraduate to do so. These students have all been outstanding in their own right; that’s a given. But it’s no coincidence that every single one of their projects emerged from a WAW course of some sort.

These successes have me thinking about the role that WAW plays in opening our field to students before graduate school. Completely unremarkable in almost any other academic field, but in our field, most scholars are still recruited during graduate school rather than before it. Of course, the increasing number of writing majors around the country will soon be felt; a major, after all, should essentially be WAW writ large. What I’m thinking about here, though, is what Angie presented on at WPA: invitational feedback loops in WAW courses. [read more]

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