Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

Horizontal divider

Why Have Just One Semester?

posted: 6.9.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

One of the more common questions about WAW is, “What about the second semester?”  If we write about writing in Comp I, what do we do in Comp II? I won’t build the suspense: we could keep writing about writing.

My starting point for thinking about WAW in Comp I is that our students come to us from walks of life where writing has been “misunderstood.” Many believe they’re “broken” writers, and most believe that writing is a system of rules.  When students come to us later in life, after working for a few years, or after making a few different attempts at college, their experience has usually done little to mitigate that high school sense of the nature of writing and of themselves as writers.

The function of WAW Comp I, then, is to show how there are other, better ways to understand writing. So if that’s the first course, what’s the second?  Some ideas:

More

There’s a perfectly good argument for simply extending the conversation begun in Comp I into Comp II.  This is about the simplest articulation there can be between the two courses: Comp II continues discussing the points raised in Comp I, with additional readings on the same subjects and more discussion of the connections among those subjects.  For example, rhetoric, revision, process, discourse—these are all deep wells.  Comp I can hardly scratch the surface of how earlier writing instruction and cultural misconceptions leave us poorly understanding these aspects of writing.  Comp II can just keep going. [read more]

Comments: (1)
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

As If We Took Them Seriously

posted: 5.26.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for Bits

Doug

My “summer break” began and ended last week, with the submission of final grades for the spring semester and the syllabus for my summer session Comp I course, which began three days ago.

The Comp I class has met twice now, and it’s a fantastic group of students. Many of them happen to be nontraditional or returning students; a few are enrolled in their first college course ever; many have years of experience in various fields and industries. They have so much experience as writers, so much to offer and contribute to the course, that I am practically giddy.

Yet even after years of teaching writing about writing, I still feel that little twinge of fear in my gut when a student introduces herself to the class as a post-baccalaureate who’s starting another program or wants a particular certificate; this WRIT 101 course is required, even though she could easily point to her complete college transcript and say, “Really? I need this?” I think, what does my course in college writing have to teach students who already have college degrees? Or what does it have to teach business professionals who have owned their own businesses and are coming back to college to strike out in a new direction?

Then I remember: that fear is the old composition course talking.  I don’t teach “how to write a college essay” anymore.  Here, we study writing. When students are already experienced writers, they can get even more out of the course. And so I can say to these students with confidence (and even a touch of pride), “This course will not. Waste. Your time.” And I know I can make that stick.  It’s a tremendous relief. [read more]

Comments Off on As If We Took Them Seriously
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

Self-Efficacy in the WAW Classroom: Preliminary Research Results

posted: 5.12.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

UntitledToday’s guest blogger is Mary Tripp, an Instructor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Mary has been teaching courses in writing, literature, and humanities for nearly 20 years. She is also completing her PhD in Texts and Technology at UCF. Her dissertation research explores agency and writing, especially in FYC courses.

I spent last semester (Fall 2010) handing out self-efficacy surveys and conducting a series of interviews with seven students about their writing practices and beliefs. What I discovered after doing all this research was that students in WAW courses do experience an increase in writing self-efficacy over the course of a semester even though the course is MUCH more rigorous than our previous FYC curriculum. While I saw students struggle with new concepts during my series of interviews, they seemed to be most confident when they had the opportunity to write out their ideas. This confidence and willingness to keep trying in the face of really challenging concepts intrigued me.

In my research, I employed a survey instrument developed by Bandura and Zimmerman, which is the most commonly used measure of self-efficacy (and self-regulatory practices) related to writing. You can see my survey data in the thick black upward curve in the illustration here. However, I also used ethnographic methods to complement the survey data, offering both broad and deep understanding of self-efficacy in WAW classrooms. For my ethnographies, I chose to conduct interviews at four points during the semester, once at the beginning and end and after a major writing assignment. I also had students draw maps of their writing process on each assignment during the interviews. I’ve compiled some of the maps into the image here, showing how they reflect a pattern of self-efficacy confirming the survey data, but also detail just what happens throughout the course.

Untitled2 [read more]

Comments Off on Self-Efficacy in the WAW Classroom: Preliminary Research Results
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

Yes, We Should Teach Reading in Writing Courses

posted: 4.28.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for Bits

Doug

Since my second day of teaching college writing (as a masters student), I have been astonished at students’ poor reading abilities. (The first day there wasn’t a reading assignment.) When students were assigned a reading, it was difficult to determine if they had actually read it. They read informationally, not critically, and even then could not often convey what a text had said, much less what it meant. I believe this is a widespread phenomena, and one that is still with us, if studies such as Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson’s citation project are any indicator.

And yet I was told, “Your students are very good readers, and your job is to teach them to write, not read.” That was backward: my students could write decently; what they would not and even could not do was read.

So, I started researching reading. I found that most reading research was irrelevant to college students because it primarily drew from grade-school reading principles. (Reading as a physical/cognitive act is taught in American schools only up until the sixth grade). Grade-school instruction (and thus most research, even today) cares about information and comprehension, about how students answer the question, “what does a text say?” High school tends to treat reading as a hermeneutic problem related to literature: how should an aesthetic text be interpreted? Here students learn to answer (mostly by accepting, by rote, the mysteriously “correct” answers of their assessment-driven teachers), “what does a text mean?” [read more]

Comments Off on Yes, We Should Teach Reading in Writing Courses
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

WAW, Ecological Models of Writing Development, and Writing Centers

posted: 4.14.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

WardleLiz

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently talking to Kevin Roozen about “ecological” models of writing development (see Syverson, 1999; Fleckenstein, Spinuzzi, Rickly, and Papper, 2008). These ecological understandings consider not only how people develop as expert writers in one discourse community but also at their rhetorical practices across communities. They also consider how “literate learners” bring a variety of literate experiences to bear on all their literate practices.  Ecological models look not just at how literate learners develop vertically (say, from comp to gen ed to the major) but also horizontally (bringing, say, writing tutoring session experience to bear when writing in biology classes) and across seemingly disparate discourse communities (one of Roozen’s example is bringing experience with prayer journals and home storytelling to bear in journalism classes).

Why have I become so interested in ecological models? Because writing about writing as a curriculum seems to be, at least partly, a response to the belief that composition classes can’t train students to be expert writers in specialized disciplinary communities, but that they can help students learn how to learn (as Anne Beaufort says) in those specialized communities if they know something about writing. Further, though, writing about writing seems to recognize the range of literate experiences that students can leverage as they write in and across and even outside of the university. In WAW classes we ask our students, for example, to think about their literacy sponsors and the various kinds of writing they do in a day or week, and imagine what this means for what they know and can do, and who they are as writers. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

WAWriting Center

posted: 3.31.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for Bits

Doug

We should think more about Writing Centers and WAW.

This is not something I would have expected to hear myself saying even a couple years ago: I am not a “writing center guy.” They’re not my specialty, despite my recognition of them as a unique and useful site of writing instruction. I have not tutored in a writing center in close to fifteen years, and I usually have too much to read in my own areas to keep up with WC theory and praxis. Yet, my job as interim director of composition at Montana State University this year led me to a couple of new-to-me ideas about how WAW comp courses can impact a writing center, and the too-long-in-coming suggestion that writing centers might be a focal point for WAW work on campus.

In my last post, I offered an example of poor writing assignments. Tutors in a WC see these all the time, and in my limited observation, some of the worst come from first-year composition courses:

  • “Read ‘To Light a Fire’ and consider how you might make the best use of a pet in a similar situation.”
  • “In a three-page essay, compare and contrast the ideals in Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with those of Wolfe’s Electric Koolaid Acid Test.
  • “Identify a value in contemporary America that’s important to you and explain why.”
  • “Make an argument about an article of personal faith.”

Assignments such as these still seem to represent much of the status quo in composition courses.  [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

WAW: Increasing Credibility and Course Personalization

posted: 3.17.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Dan Martin_WAWToday’s guest blogger is Dan Martin, a fulltime Instructor in the Writing and Rhetoric Department who has been teaching composition courses at UCF since 2004. His research interests include writing studies, composition pedagogy and classroom instruction, writing across the curriculum, and writing about literature.

When I first learned that our department was planning to change the composition curriculum to writing about writing, I was a little concerned. How will my students react to this new approach to teaching and learning writing? Will it erode or increase the shaky credibility composition courses currently have? How will I teach the material, and where will I connect my teaching and writing knowledge with this new material? But as soon as I began reading the text, I started to see possibilities for interjecting my strengths and personality into the curriculum that would allow me to overcome these potential obstacles.

WAW gives the field, the instructor, and the course more credibility, direction, and pragmatism because it makes sense to teach writing theories and concepts in a writing course. Historically, writing courses rarely focus on the totality of writing and all of its components—all the decisions and nuances that accompany good writing. WAW helps eliminate many questions students and teachers have about what we are doing in writing courses: we teach writing studies. Composition instructors can be experts in their field rather than glorified writing consultants, tutors, or editors—since writing studies requires background and working knowledge on dozens of writing concepts, principles, and theories. There’s a universalizing of the field that comes with this approach and it’s a good thing, increasing the reputation and respectability of writing departments and instructors everywhere and allowing for more personalization in the classroom. [read more]

Comments Off on WAW: Increasing Credibility and Course Personalization
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

WAW as Survival Guide to College

posted: 3.3.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

In our last post, Laura Martinez considered transfer within WAW courses and how students interpret their assignments there. Her post, along with a workshop I recently conducted for peer tutors in our writing center at Montana State, have me thinking again about how WAW prepares students to be, in Lucille McCarthy’s terms, “Strangers in Strange Lands.”

Imagine a course where a student encounters an assignment like this (loosely paraphrased from real life):

First Term Paper. You must have a title page, abstract, essay including intro, body, and conclusion, and a reference page. Your paper must cite at least three references, in-text, in APA style, at least one of which must be from a scholarly journal, and none of which may be more than 10 years old. The paper should be 3–5 pages, not more than 10, using a 12-point regular font like Arial or TNR. The title, abstract, and reference pages are separate and do not count in the actual page count. Do not use “we,” “our,” “you,” and similar words in the paper—second person writing as to a friend is not appropriate. You must submit the paper in .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf formats, as my computer won’t read any others. Make sure you proofread the paper and read the grading rubric so you know how I’ll assess the paper.

The paper should describe how people’s decision-making can be explained by one of the three approaches to game theory we’ve studied over the past several weeks. You are to select three popular movies from the list of ten provided and apply one theoretical approach to each movie….

So how will a student get this paper produced?  Everything in the assignment suggests that form comes first and content is nearly incidental, and there are so many rules that it would be a challenge to follow them all while coming up with what to say. When the grading rubric gives more credit for form than for ideas, what should a student focus on in order to submit a successful paper? [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

If This Is “Just Another English Class,” Then Why Aren’t We Speaking the Same Language?

posted: 2.17.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

MartinezpictureToday’s guest blogger is Laura Martinez, who is pursuing an MA in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Central Florida.  She is currently teaching Composition I and Composition II as a Graduate Teaching Associate, and is completing a thesis project that focuses on transfer within FYC.

When I was first introduced to the WAW curriculum in a graduate course, I thought I had been given the secret code to composition pedagogy. I left this course convinced that I was more than prepared to enter any FYC classroom and enlighten the future writers of the University.

Armed with my carefully annotated academic articles and two “thought-provoking” discussion questions that I was sure would spark enough conversation to cover a fifty-minute segment, I confidently entered my classroom. What I encountered, as you can probably predict, was a room filled with blank stares and confused faces, all too willing to tell me that they “didn’t get it.” My inspirational conversation had thus reached its end before it started, as I stared back at my students with the same confused look that they gave me: Why didn’t they “get it?”

Though this confusion has decreased significantly since that initial semester, the underlying question of my current pedagogical struggles remains somewhat the same. My students can identify concepts and define them easily enough, but applying them to a written discussion of our own writing processes seems like an entirely new challenge.

To me, such issues are rooted in transfer. Unlike much of the current discussion on transfer stemming from FYC, my focus, as I began my thesis work, was to explore the issues that we face when encouraging transfer within our own classrooms. Particularly in a WAW curriculum, where we are holding our students accountable for both the understanding and the application of writing-related concepts much different from those they have encountered before, encouraging transfer from the initial setting of the class discussion into the individually written products of our students seems particularly challenging. [read more]

Comments Off on If This Is “Just Another English Class,” Then Why Aren’t We Speaking the Same Language?
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

The Student's Perspective: A Conversation

posted: 2.3.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

MichaelMichaudToday 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.

MilnerMary Milner is a freshman studying History and Secondary Education at Rhode Island College.  She is currently interested in someday teaching middle schoolers, and is considering also studying Special Education.

Michael: When I was asked to write a post for “Write On: Notes on Teaching Writing about Writing,” I immediately thought of my experience working with Mary Milner in my honors section of first-year writing during the fall, 2010 semester. Mary agreed to join me for this post to talk a bit about her experience in my course.

Hi Mary! Thanks for taking the time to talk about your experience with the Writing About Writing pedagogy (WAW) in Writing 100, our first-year writing course here at Rhode Island College (RIC). Maybe we could start with you just saying a word or two about yourself. Where are you from and what are you studying?

Mary: Hi Professor Michaud, thanks for asking me to join you in this conversation. I’m from Lincoln, Rhode Island, and I’m a freshman studying Secondary Education/History at RIC. I was enrolled in the honors section of Writing 100 during the fall of 2010.

Great. Can you tell me, as you have come to understand it, what WAW is about?

My understanding of WAW is that it introduces students to a new discipline: Writing Studies. This introduction is a model of how students should approach the new disciplines they will be writing for while attending the university. Students study the knowledge of this field, which they can then use to improve their own writing. [read more]

Comments Off on The Student's Perspective: A Conversation
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs