Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

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Writing About Writing in an Open-Enrollment College

posted: 5.9.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Rebecca Block, an Associate Professor and Writing Center Director at Daytona State College; she completed her graduate work in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville. She is currently teaching introductory writing using a writing-about-writing approach in an open enrollment institution where this approach has not previously been employed.

Before I began teaching with Writing About Writing, I was fairly apprehensive about how it would go over in an open enrollment environment. What I’ve discovered, though, is that the students here—especially the ones returning to school after years being away—seem to flourish under the challenge of investigating themselves and tackling difficult reading and writing assignments. Their excitement is so rewarding that I find myself looking forward to the class and to reading their homework and major projects to hear what they have to say. 

“I’ve written a bunch of scripts for my various YouTube videos,” Tom (not his real name) tells me as I look up from my computer. “I’m up to about 40 of them now.” I smile and congratulate him, remembering how this same student, just a semester ago, declared early on that he was “no writer” and attending my introductory composition class only because it was required. Tom, like many students at the institution where I teach, had a bad history with education, and was returning to school after years away from it to obtain an associate’s degree with the hope of improving his employment prospects. Given his initial demeanor, the transformation in his attitude about himself as a student and writer over the course of the semester was amazing to watch. [read more]

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The Student's Perspective: WAW for English Majors

posted: 1.19.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Michael Michaud headshotToday we welcome guest blogger Michael Michaud. Michael teaches courses in composition and rhetoric at Rhode Island College, where he is an assistant professor of English. His current research investigates the role that professional or workplace identities play in adult students’ transition to academic writing. He has been experimenting with writing-about-writing pedagogies in first-year composition courses since the fall of 2008.

Hayden JamesMichael interviews Hayden James, a junior studying creative writing at Rhode Island College. Hayden hopes to write fiction and continue to grow his career as a photographer when he graduates.

During the fall 2011 semester, I taught a new course at Rhode Island College, called “Studies in Composition”–a course intended to introduce undergraduate English majors to the work of the field of composition or writing studies. I decided to use Writing About Writing as the text for this course. It was interesting to use the book to introduce the students to the discipline without the usual purpose of preparing students for academic writing (i.e. first-year composition). I don’t think the field has, yet, devised a textbook intended to introduce English majors to composition. I found Writing About Writing to be a good start in this direction.

1. Can you talk about the coursework you have taken within the English major at Rhode Island College (RIC)?

When I enrolled for classes at RIC, I declared myself an English major but then switched to creative writing. Of the courses I have taken, most have focused on close reading and analysis of texts and then writing papers. Every course has been pretty much the same; only the time period or the origin of the course content changes. [read more]

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WAW for Occupied Campuses

posted: 11.30.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

I don’t know exactly the place the UC Davis gassing might have in a writing-about-writing course, but I think it has one, and so I’m thinking about that moment as I write this post, four days after the event.

I’m thinking about it in the framework of Cory Doctorow’s young-adult novel Little Brother, which I’m also musing about finding a place for in my WAW courses. Its scene is a post-911 dystopia created by Department of Homeland Security uber-surveillance in the name of public safety. There are a number of chilling scenes, including a youth gathering being gassed for failing to disperse on command. (You can see why it came to mind.) Little Brother opens with the Bay Bridge being blown up by terrorists. The teenage protagonist is arrested because he was skipping school and was swept up by police in the chaos. Taken to a secret DHS detention facility, he refuses to divulge the password for his smart phone, which provokes a harsh reaction. His friends, also arrested, say, “’They really hated you… really had it in for you. Why?’”  They conclude, “It had been sheer vindictiveness….A mere punishment for denying their authority….They did it to get back at me for mouthing off.’” [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Writing about Writing
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A Substantive Field

posted: 10.6.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

One of my desert-island books is Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of these days I’ll manage a post on Pirsig’s take on Aristotle and why we should be teaching that, rather than Aristotle itself, as the rhetoric in writing courses.

But for today, I want to focus on ZAMM’s beautiful depiction of how writing instruction has historically been relegated to the basement in the university, as “faculty wives” work, because the nature of writing instruction was essentially clerical.

Pirsig draws the scene of his main character, Phaedrus, interviewing for a fellowship with the Chairman of a University of Chicago’s philosophy program:

The Chairman said, “What is your substantive field?”

Phaedrus said, “English composition.”

The Chairman bellowed, “That is a methodological field!”

Pirsig reflects on the relative silliness of acting as if substance (say, what an atom is) and method (say, how an atom moves) are separable knowledge. Methodological, “how-to” knowledge is substantive subject-area knowledge, in the same way that form (how) is never cleanly separable from content (what) in writing.

Our world still wants to relegate writing to “mere” method, though, assuming that the activity and teaching of writing is nothing of substance. How, after all, when writing is the form that gives expression to the substance of whatever it is talking about, could writing itself also have substance? Writing, in this view, is the empty container filled up by some other substantive field, and thus writing itself appears quite insubstantial (and thus inconsequential)—especially when the teaching of it, through clerical editing, also appears quite devoid of intellect. [read more]

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Making Effective Arguments for Improved Writing Education

posted: 9.21.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

EAW_BW_YFLiz

In my last blog post, I talked about my upcoming trip to Portland to speak to a number of AASCU provosts, vice provosts, and deans. I also mentioned that our WAW grant-related training was in full swing. Now both of these events have passed, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from them. Most importantly: we are all facing a difficult fight to provide students with writing education based in best research-based practices.

I did not know what to expect in the online conversations about writing research and WAW pedagogy. Many of the faculty members who were signed up for the grant training did not know about WAW and had not realized that is what they were getting into. Yet we quickly met many smart, interesting faculty members and TAs at schools of all sizes and shapes who were excited to connect with other faculty members, talk about writing research, and reimagine their writing courses. We had some good online conversations with experienced faculty members, some of whom were approaching writing research for the first time, and came away energized and interested. This was yet another affirmation that the writing research and our own personal experiences continue to speak for themselves in stressing that composition courses as they have been imagined for decades aren’t working. Many people seem to believe this whether they have read the research or not. The research (on transfer, genre theory, and program assessments, for example) can sometimes clarify what experienced teachers have felt for some time.

The NGLC grant project we were part of focused on “blended” learning, and as part of that grant, Debbie Weaver (UCF Composition Coordinator) created some sample modules for a blended learning WAW class to share with participants. However, Debbie and I focused most heavily on the teacher discussion and training, hoping that participants would leave the project with an interest in outcomes and research-based pedagogies rather than on using our sample modules all-inclusively. Thankfully, that was, in fact, what seemed to happen. The participating teachers found their own ways to approach some writing-focused outcomes and developed their courses out of their own expertise and understanding of how writing works. [read more]

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Categories: Professional Conferences, Writing about Writing
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What Is WAW 2.1?

posted: 9.7.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

A conference paper I’m writing has me pondering the future(s) of college composition and WAW’s role as literacies continue shifting technologically, digitally, and visually—so I thought I’d ask here.

First, I’m certain WAW version 2 will have more subwoofers, thus WAW “2.1.” (Non-gearheads, just wikipedia—we use that as a verb now—“5.1” to get the joke.)  Also, I’m tired of the X 2.0 meme—we need a better way to say “next version.”

Seriously, here’s an initial division. WAW 2.1 might add to existing WAW or clean-sheet it. Are we going to update WAW by “filling in” things we see missing?  Or will we build from the ground up, as if we were doing WAW for the first time, now instead of 10 years ago? The resulting answers aren’t identical.

I’ll play with a clean sheet here, a brand new sandbox. What do I get?

  • Born Rhetorical. A lot of WAW 1.x mapped rhetoric on after the fact—we didn’t mean for WAW to teach rhetoric, but we couldn’t teaching writing without it.  What happens if we purpose-build WAW to teach rhetoric? Probably, less attention to process and stronger attention to exigence (which gets you activity and community of practice).  A lot of WAW users might say, “I already do that.” Me too. But not as the core. [read more]

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Basically, Writing about Writing Builds Confidence and Skills in Struggling Students

posted: 8.18.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Adele RichardsonToday we welcome guest blogger Adele Richardson, an instructor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. After a ten year professional writing career, she went back to school for an MA in Literature. She has taught FY writing since 2007.

I’ve been a banner carrier for the writing-about-writing curriculum since 2008. Since then, I’ve helped pilot the curriculum change here at UCF, spoken at conferences, taught teacher training classes, and delicately—yet firmly—pointed out to the naysayers the errors of their ways.

However, I can’t deny that one of the problems I’ve experienced with the WAW curriculum is that sometimes incoming freshmen, who are not being all they could be academically, flounder with it. High school, for whatever reasons, simply does not prepare everyone equally for the rigors of college.

To help combat this issue, I spent the spring of 2011 designing a basic WAW course that I tried out in a six-week summer semester.  And, boy, did I have fun!

Here’s what happened: I divided the course into three parts. In part one, students read and wrote about reading. My theory is that you can’t really write much of anything for college if you don’t know what you’ve read. In part two, we read and wrote about writing, and in part three, students put all their new skills together for an I-Search project. I had students write in class nearly every day about what they personally took away from the readings, or how they could use what was discussed in the world outside our classroom. Our “major” papers began as short (two to three pages) literacy histories and advice papers, but ended with a five- to six-page research paper. [read more]

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Categories: Basic Writing, Writing about Writing
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What Should WAW Courses Teach about Source Search?

posted: 7.21.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

This week I’m presenting early findings on observations of college students searching for sources. What it looks like so far is that students use considerable technological fluency to assimilate—impressionistically, and at high speed—disparate sources in order to assemble a cohesive storyline on their subject. Students research with a motion and immediacy that I’ve taken to calling fast transfer: a fluid, constant retrieval and skimming of texts and assimilation of material (via copy/paste and download) into their emerging narrative.

A number of attitudes and habits contribute to this activity, and it’s these habits of mind and practice that might prove fruitful to WAW instructors teaching about source search.

First, students who came of age during the past decade tend to operate computers with a “get-it-now” sense of acquisition, characterized by music downloading and online video services like iTunes and Hulu. When the computer is working properly, anything that can be found can be had immediately: see it → want it → get it → got it. For research, this implies that only immediately available full-text sources will be favored.

Second, the students I observed (mostly twenty-somethings using their own notebook computers) kept their screens in nearly constant motion: scrolling up and down a page, working through links, hopping across numerous browser tabs, and flipping through multiple open programs and folders. There was a restlessness to most of the activity I observed. (Gaming culture, anyone?) Keeping screens so active demands skim reading and relatively quick decision making, where texts are rapidly assessed and discarded or downloaded for more careful perusal later. Big implications there for research. [read more]

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How Do You Scale This Thing–More?

posted: 7.7.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

WardleLiz

In one of my first blog posts I asked, “how do you scale this thing?” At that point, I was wondering how you scale a writing-about-writing (WAW) approach for an entire program. This fall we will have completely moved to a WAW approach at UCF (the second largest university in the country, by the way), so we have some evidence that a full-program “scaling” can be done. But just to ensure that I don’t spend too much time enjoying and exploring that milestone, now I have been handed an even bigger challenge: working with 66 teachers from 16 schools to introduce them to WAW and help them consider whether it might work for their own writing programs and, if so, how to implement it.

This challenge came about somewhat serendipitously. Our Center for Distributed Learning at UCF had the opportunity to partner with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to apply for a Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant that would help numerous AASCU schools around the country redesign some of their composition and/or algebra courses in a blended (partially online and partially face to face) format. Debbie Weaver (who cowrote the Writing about Writing Instructor’s Manual) and I were invited to be a part of that grant. In April we learned that the grant was funded, with the majority of the redesigned courses to be taught this fall. That’s right, this fall—a few short weeks from now.

Debbie and I had insisted that the composition portion of the grant include an intensive six-week teacher discussion and training, in addition to the required sample “template modules” for teaching various possible units in a WAW course. As a condition of the grant, all of the materials we create—the training itself, as well as the teaching template modules—are available for others to freely use and adapt. [read more]

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The Student’s Perspective: WAW for Nontraditional First-Year Students

posted: 6.23.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Michael Michaud headshotToday we welcome back guest blogger Michael Michaud. Michael teaches courses in composition and rhetoric at Rhode Island College where he is an assistant professor of English. His current research investigates the role that professional or workplace identities play in adult students’ transition to academic writing. He has been experimenting with Writing About Writing pedagogies in first-year composition courses since the fall of 2008.

H.Gieseke.HeadshotHeather Gieseke is a senior studying Social Work at Rhode Island College. Upon graduation, she plans on attending graduate school and eventually becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Heather currently resides in Providence, RI with her fiance and their two dogs.

After working with Mary Milner in my first blog post earlier this year, I was on the lookout for students who brought interesting experiences and viewpoints about WAW for future collaborations. Heather Gieseke was a student in an evening section of first-year composition (FYC) that I taught during the spring 2011 semester at Rhode Island College. As a nontraditional first-year student who had experience with upper-level coursework and workplace writing, Heather had lots of great observations about the materials we were reading and what WAW was doing to change her thinking about writing. Here’s our conversation.

Michael: Unlike most RIC students, you took FYC near the end of your college journey. Why?

Heather: I had already taken an FYC course at my previous institution. However, because that course was not similar to RIC’s, it only transferred as an elective.

If you had to explain the Writing about Writing (WAW) pedagogy that you experienced in FYC this semester to a friend or family member, what would you say?

I think WAW gives a different approach to writing that presents the information and tools necessary to write in any situation, rather than just doling out rules that “must” be followed (as many students are taught). WAW allows students to gain skills and knowledge through self-examination and personal experience, as opposed to being lectured at and told what to do. [read more]

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