Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

Horizontal divider

New Year, New Semester, New Book – w00t!

posted: 1.20.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

With the arrival of the new semester, for many of us, comes the arrival of the actual book! Usually in this blog we talk more about the WAW pedagogy than we do about Liz’s and my new textbook Writing about Writing. But now that it’s dropped (as, uh, the cool music-industry folks say), and I’m holding the student and instructor versions, and they are so compact and neat and cool, I’m pausing to think about what the book might mean to WAW, the pedagogical movement.

Liz and I were at a Bedford/St. Martins sales meeting in California at the beginning of the month, talking with the sales force about how they might best talk to teachers about the book.  They asked, “What are some things a teacher might say that would tell us, ‘This teacher might be interested in Writing about Writing’?”  We wound up thinking such a list might look something like this:

  • If a teacher doesn’t like comp textbooks because they seem to focus on the wrong things
  • If a teacher worries that their comp course isn’t teaching what students need to know for other courses
  • If a teacher wants to change the way students think about writing
  • If a teacher wants to focus on transfer

Having the book has made us think about teachers out there who might be dissatisfied with how their traditional composition courses go, but haven’t considered making the subject of the course the study of writing as an activity.  I like the idea that if Bedford reps are asking people whether they’ve considered a writing-about-writing approach, the idea may spread a little farther, a little faster. [read more]

Comments Off on New Year, New Semester, New Book – w00t!
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

WAW and Mindfulness: Some End-of-Semester Ruminating

posted: 12.23.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Wardle

Liz

As our composition program at UCF has moved toward full implementation of writing about writing, I have had the opportunity to see how thousands of students complete similar assignments, and whether they seem to be achieving the same outcomes that I hope my own students achieve. One of the assignments that has proven particularly interesting to watch in this way is the autoethnography. This assignment, one of the major ones at the end of Chapter 2, is intended to push students to seriously consider what their own writing processes are like, what is working for them, and what might benefit from changes. In essence, this is an assignment intended to encourage mindfulness. But at the end of the day, mindfulness can’t be taught; it can only be prompted and encouraged.

Looking at some of the autoethnographies that students from dozens of sections are writing, I see some genuine mindfulness as well as some, well, less genuine efforts. This circumstance brings up a lot of unanswered questions for me. If students appear not to genuinely engage now, is there still the possibility of a benefit down the road? Is there still a value in asking students to “walk through” the assignment and go through the motions of reflective activities? For example, the WAW book includes a feature called “meta moments.” These “moments” are intended to encourage reflection and transfer, but it is entirely possible for students to simply make up quick answers to these prompts that are not meaningful, mindful, or particularly genuine. A teacher can’t really grade the level of engagement or mindfulness in a student’s response. [read more]

Comments Off on WAW and Mindfulness: Some End-of-Semester Ruminating
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

My Take on WAW: Training Students to Be Lifelong Researchers of Writing

posted: 12.2.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

sarah read picToday we welcome guest blogger Sarah Read. Sarah is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington in Composition and Rhetoric, with an emphasis in professional and technical writing and rhetoric. She has been teaching either creative, academic, or technical writing for ten years. This experience has made her prone to seeing the similarities between these situations for writing, rather than the differences.

My first contact with writing about writing was in 2002 as a research study participant. My section of the first-year composition (FYC) course at the University of Utah provided the control data for Doug Downs’s dissertation research about the efficacy of WAW pedagogy. At the time I was a creative writer, and my concern was naturally more focused on the production of writing than textual analysis or argumentation. My in-class activities taught process concerns, such as getting started writing, revision strategies, and so on.

However, the writing process is highly situated, and over time I became dissatisfied with teaching the academic essay writing process as universal. As my pedagogy and curriculum matured during the last eight years, I moved easily from focusing my curriculum on the writing process of a particular writing situation to focusing on the inquiry into the writing process of any writing situation. Over time I have come to understand that the WAW pedagogy trains students to become life-long researchers of writing within their own changing academic, professional, and personal contexts. [read more]

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

Horizontal divider

“But When Do We Teach Them to Write?”

posted: 11.18.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

laurie uttich photoToday we welcome Laurie Uttich, a first-year composition instructor at University of Central Florida. After a 20-year career career in professional writing, she returned to school and now holds a M.F.A. in creative writing. Laurie continues to write fiction and creative nonfiction.

I was born in Missouri, known as the “Show-Me” state. And while I now live in a self-created environment where I continually seek out an active exploration of the abstract, there is always a side of me that ultimately says, “Whatever. Show me what I can do with that. Show me how to turn this idea into something, well, practical.”

Initially, I had the same response to the Writing about Writing curriculum. I was intrigued by the ideology—and the pedagogy—but I struggled to sort out the one question other composition instructors most frequently ask me: “Okay, cool idea. But when do we teach them to write?” Yes. When do we teach them to turn composition content into skills they can use in other disciplines as well as in the workplace?

My colleague, who rigorously prepares her students to rhetorically read and reflect on scholarly composition texts, would claim they learn by osmosis. Good writing in, good writing out. And perhaps she’s right—the majority of her students often surpass desired departmental outcomes. [read more]

Comments Off on “But When Do We Teach Them to Write?”
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

Writing-about-Writing—but What Writing and How Are We Writing about It?

posted: 11.4.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Matt Bryan picToday we welcome guest blogger Matt Bryan, an instructor in the First-Year Writing Program at the University of Central Florida, where he’s the editor of Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing. He holds his MFA in creative writing and continues to write short stories and fiction.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be on a panel at the Thomas R. Watson Conference with Elizabeth Wardle and two colleagues from the first-year writing program at the University of Central Florida. We spoke about our experiences using the WAW approach and how the curriculum works to foster student agency. While our presentation centered on student agency, I couldn’t help but think about my own sense of agency—or, as it were, lack of agency—in the very same scholarly conversations in which I try to get students to engage in the classroom.

Like the other two instructors on our panel, I am not a compositionist. Prior to piloting the WAW curriculum last fall, my only exposure to the type of ideas and readings central to this curriculum came from one grad-school class that prepped new GTAs to teach and provided a rudimentary survey of the entire history of composition studies. Needless to say, my formal apprenticeship in the discipline was quite thin.

When I was given the opportunity to pilot the WAW curriculum, I was excited. I had struggled with finding rigorous material to actually teach in the genre-based approach we’d been using. With WAW, we’d be getting both the content and the rigor. And having just graduated with my MFA the previous spring, the student in me was looking forward to some continuing education in composition studies. [read more]

Comments Off on Writing-about-Writing—but What Writing and How Are We Writing about It?
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

“Tell Me Again Why We’re Doing This?”

posted: 10.28.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

In my writing program, the initial energy of the semester has worn down and we’re all settled into the weekly grind. We’re reading, writing about the readings, and working on large, multi-week projects—like descriptions of discourse communities, and exploring what different communities say makes good writing—that put our readings into motion.

With a couple of major assignments done and another on the way, students, and more than a few teachers, are wondering, “Why, again, are we doing this?” How are these readings and writing-about-writing helping us? It’s a lot of work—what’s the payoff? So this is a good point in the semester to return to the outcomes on our syllabi, what we actually want students to get out of the course.

Here are the outcomes from my Comp I syllabus:

  • Understand the nature of writing and your own experiences with writing differently than when you began.
  • Increase your ability to read rhetorical situations, and be aware of the rhetorical choices you make in your writing.
  • Know what questions to ask when entering new rhetorical situations in order to adjust your approach to writing to meet that situation.
  • Be a more reflective writer.
  • Build your ability to collaborate in communities of writers and readers.
  • Gain comfort with taking risks in new writing situations.
  • Increase your control of situation‑appropriate conventions of writing.
  • Expand your research literacy. [read more]

Comments Off on “Tell Me Again Why We’re Doing This?”
Categories: Writing about Writing, Writing Process
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

Writing about Writing as Critical Pedagogy

posted: 10.14.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

If I were a fan of critical or liberatory pedagogy, I probably wouldn’t have initially cared for writing-about-writing. Teaching about writing is simply a different sport than altering students’ political consciousness. I’ve never thought the latter has any more business at the center of a writing course than it has at the center of an astronomy course, so I was good-to-go with WAW.

Yet the more I study WAW approaches, the more I see them as critical in effect.  My “re-vision” stems from a growing perplexity as I work with other instructors on WAW, some of whom really want critical pedagogy. What was once a small scratch in my awareness has swollen to a full orchestra and choir: WAW already is critical and liberatory!

In WAW pedagogy, we want students to encounter radically different conceptions of writing than they likely have so far.  Here are some common cultural misconceptions about writing: [read more]

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

Horizontal divider

How Do You Scale This Thing?

posted: 9.30.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

WardleLiz

While many people have been advocating or teaching a Writing-about-Writing (WAW) curriculum for some time, most of that teaching has been on an individual basis. Far less commonly have we seen WAW scaled for an entire program.

One reason for the Writing About Writing textbook was to support larger-scale implementation of WAW. But the book by itself doesn’t overcome all the obstacles to implementation—most notably, many composition teachers’ lack of disciplinary Rhetoric and Composition (Rhet/Comp) training, which Doug and I described as “the elephant in the room” in our 2007 CCC article. There we pointed out that if the content of a writing class is to be writing and research about writing, the teachers of the class would need to be familiar with some of that research. We (correctly but impractically) noted that this problem usefully brought our field’s labor practices into sharp focus. While that is true, the problem nonetheless puts  writing program administrators (WPAs) in a bind if they want to implement WAW but don’t have the luxury of requiring all teachers to have graduate degrees in Rhet/Comp. Karma ensured that I had to face this challenge myself in a practical way as a WPA.

My first epiphany was recognizing that this “problem” might not be a problem at all, but a strength that I was looking at from the wrong perspective. While most composition teachers may not have Rhet/Comp training, they do all have training with texts. Many of them are writers themselves, whether “academic,” “creative,” or otherwise. Because they have such varied experiences with writing and texts, they can bring many kinds of expertise to the table.

[read more]

Comments Off on How Do You Scale This Thing?
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Horizontal divider

Write ON: Seeing Writing-about-Writing

posted: 9.24.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for Bits Doug

Last week eight TAs and I discussed how Writing 101 students might respond to Keith Grant-Davie’s “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents.” I offered, “If this writing-about-writing doesn’t make sense, we can do something else.” Their response: “Why would we?”

When we started working on Writing about Writing: A College Reader, it was harder for people to see how this pedagogy would work.

Something wrong with composition

While working on my dissertation in 2001 and 2002, I was tracing problems with writing instruction—and the lack of support for it in academia—to the content of most writing curricula being anything but writing. After years of composition research demonstrating how writing is not a basic, fundamental, universal skill, the university still assumed it was exactly that. The source of the problem was our failure to teach about writing;  first year writing (FYC)  was still teaching writing as if there were a universal writing “in general.”

It wasn’t that students couldn’t learn the content knowledge of the field, and the ways of thinking, that would address these problems. It was that few instructors had ever made it a priority to teach it.

WardleLiz

When I began working on my dissertation, I was extremely optimistic about composition. I thought that linked learning community courses could overcome some of the problems with teaching students to write “in general.” But my research did not support my positive convictions. I began to question what composition courses could actually accomplish. David Russell was my dissertation director, so I was more than aware of the argument that composition should teach students “about writing,” but I hadn’t actually seen anyone do this. [read more]

Comments Off on Write ON: Seeing Writing-about-Writing
Categories: Writing about Writing
Read All Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs