Saturday, October 29, 2005

on using diffucult texts in teaching writing

Craig Dworkin quotes Lyn Hejinian…she’s my hero...and what he says makes sense, “the difficulties of the avant-garde are…especially well suited to the classroom. Self conscious linguistic disruptions can focus attention on rhetorical and compositional choices in a way that makes all reading a close reading” (604). And then he uses Cage and his analogy of mushrooms and ideas which ‘come to you as things hidden’ as Cage says, like the mushrooms that remain hidden until discovered.

Instead of Teaching we need to think about how to open the classroom to a space for discovery, for opening to contexts and ideas outside of the strict system of classification and structure. I love the idea of using Hejinian or Stein or any other ‘difficult’ work as a way to look at construction of texts, to think about rhetoric and form. When you do a close reading of a difficult text, just like close reading any text, you get into it and see things that you otherwise wouldn’t. Susan Howe, for example, has some poems that look like words and lines of words thrown randomly on top of each other on the page. When students first see this some of them think it’s pure nonsense writing, and then eventually someone will start to ‘read’ the text and find out the content is part of an actual historical narrative, fairly conventional ‘information’ presented in a new and different way. Something like this can really open into an interesting discussion of conventions of form and rhetoric and how and why those might be challenged.

Related to this might be using hip hop or other types of texts in the classroom. I am thinking of creating an assignment in which, after reading about hip hop and some ways it is ‘functioning’ in contemporary culture, students will choose a song, and deconstruct the lyrics in terms of how it is (potentially) functioning as socially conscious (or some other type of specific criteria for analysis). The writing assignment would ask students to write an argument for their analysis that shows how the song is doing what they say it is doing.

Whether using Gertrude Stein or Queen Latifah the point is to open thinking to different types of texts and involve students in discovering how to go about producing writing and thinking about writing in ways that open up more conservative traditional notions of how texts are developed and structured.

collage reading and writing

I like the idea of collage. We use this all of the time whether or not we are even aware of it. College is more like how we naturally collect and process information, make connections, etc. Of course any writing is constructed, writing to a single type of structure which includes a predefined organization of thesis-support-conclusion fails to recognize how information is more naturally 'organized' and how this might be apparent in a variety of texts and types of texts than can be considered outside of/in addition to traditional academic writing.

Sampling in music is collage, is recognizing that everything we do say write comes from something else...we use language that's been used before, we record music that comes from sounds that have been used and played before, information swirls and mixes around us constantly and in recognizing that we might apply strategies of collage effectively to our own writing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

on blogging and its potential

thinking about using/how to use blogs, in particular for teaching comp or etc courses. thinking about how to expand on the idea of blog as 'diary' how the blog space can be opened and used in more multiple and creative ways. or boring ways (simply a place to take notes, post interesting emails into a single and organized location, posting good quotes or thoughts that one comes across...). here are just a couple of thoughts, there are many more:

Sun, 23 Oct 2005 23:35:30 -0400
From: Joe Hakim
Subject: Re: Writing New Media and blog assignments

"Second, I haven't found a way
to blend the personal with the academic. For instance, I'm looking forward
to when the class is over so I can delete my blog entries, because I think
they're stupid and don't want to be further associated with them after the
class. On the other hand, however, I'm thinking about turning the site into
a personal blog where I talk about music, concerts, backpacking, and that
kind of stuff."
Cara -
I went through this a couple years ago when I went back and deleted all of my personal stuff in fear of sounding stupid in the classroom setting. However, I learned at that time that blogs are one of the only places that I've come into contact with that the academic mixes nearly perfectly with the personal, thus I regret deleting all of that old stuff because I can never retrieve it. If nothing else, it becomes a sort of tracking device that enables us to document anything that we feel is important at a given moment. So, in essence, blogs give us this space where we can place either our most intimate thoughts or our current research or both. For students, we should teach this methodology. Show them that they can blog about the last concert they've been to as well as the assignment for the week. There is nothing wrong with this intermingling. Eilola says, "Objects 'mean' not because they inherently, automatically mean something, but because of what other objects they're connected to," (202). What does it mean that I've blogged about Kanye West and Explications in the same week? That's for me to decide. The formulation of meaning is paramount here and it is a type of production. I think this is what Ulmer is going for in his mystory, but in a more methodical fashion. Even beyond all of the intermixing, just letting students know that they're able to store tidbits of information (like a box, as Sarah mentioned) is infinitely helpful. Blogs are whatever you make them - it's all up to the user. We're just here to offer blogs as an option not the answer.

Friday, October 21, 2005

more on writing and the world

i've been thinking about the visual, the technological, the everyday and how we can bring these into the writing classroom and also create our own 'texts' that circulate within and beyond that classroom. at csu some comp folks used to say that the intro comp classroom is potentially the best teaching and learning space on campus because the classes are small (compared to the hundreds of folks in intro sociology lectures or etc) and it's so open to potential. i'm reading this lately as a great potential to bring the texts of the 'world' into the small community of a writing class and making them our own (through discussion, analysis, deconstruction, reconstruction...) and then thinking about our own writing in larger than classroom ways (not necessarily how writing might change the world but how any kind of writing or writing skill that is taken further than this intro comp class might have an effect on the person who then functions in the world...if there is any sense in that. i'll keep thinking about this as i start to develop a syllabus.

some thoughts on writing and the world

from Writing New Media (Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, Sirc)

just having started in on the introduction, here are some good thoughts to begin:

p2: ‘… writing, like all literate practices, only exists because it functions, circulates, and had varying value and weight within complexly articulated social, cultural, political, educational, religious……[etc] webs…we know that, in our places and times, writing is one of many operations by which we compose and understand our selves and our identities and our abilities to live and work with others.’

p4: ‘Teachers of writing recognize that writing classes can easily decontextualize writing such that agency and material structures look independent. The way school can seem separated from other institutions (the ones that constitute the ‘real world’) can keep the work of classrooms from seeming that it has any value or purpose outside the class or the requirements of a degree schedule, and people in writing classes can for that reason among others…often feel they are writing by themselves, as isolated, separated individuals with no particular social, cultural, or historical location.”

cutural studies writing

i think i'll stick with using a cultural studies approach to writing
i think we'll talk about magazine articles and hip hop and movies
and we'll read from the new york times and from web pages

i think we'll think about writing in the context of some worldly things
can you write equivalent to five pages from email or text messages, for example?
there are plenty of 'real world' examples
and the the advertisements say that 'wayne state is first class education for the real world' i think that's the quote, but public radio is doing its fun(d) drive and so i'm not listening, haven't heard the ad this week
the point is, we can deconstruct magazine advertisements and then talk about what hip hop is and isn't doing to break through social barriers and constructions of knowledge/power/etc, how it reinforces some stereotypes and challenges others, how it complicates a lot of issues of race, ethnicity, history, music, gender, etc
and movies, like i said, may do more than simple entertain us...

and so slyly we'll write analyses and commentary, responses and reviews and in the end we'll all feel more confident and contented having thought about it all a little more and having written about it all a little more and we will go on about our lives in this way, or at least, after this has been our way for a time.

some teaching advice

Daily Tao for Friday October 21, 2005

The ancient Masters
didn't try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don't know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Adorno doesn't laugh

in the chapter called 'the culture industry' max and theo write:

'There is laughter because there is nothing to laugh at. Laughter, whether conciliatory or terrible, always occurs when some fear passes...Conciliatory laughter is heard as the echo of an escape from power...It is the echo of power as something inescapable. Fun is a medicinal bath. The pleasure industry never fails to prescribe it. It makes laughter the instrument of the fraud practised on happiness. Moments of happiness are without laughter; only operettas and films portray sex to the accompaniment of resounding laughter. But Baudeliare is as devoid of humor as Holderlin. In the false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into its worthless totality.' the false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness......

what i love about max and theo is there ability to just put it all out there. culture is open to critique and they are not going to let any element of mass cultural consumption get away with anything. maybe they would or would not let us laugh while striving to be authentic, to produce autonomous and authentic art outside of the culture industry, but we'd better at least think about that first before giving in to the simple pleasure and escape of laughter in the face of fear...or whatever...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

culture as pleasure or pain

to analyze culture (as in movies and tv and advertisments) we could turn into little maxes and theos (adorno and horkeimer) and decide that the culture industry produces little more (or nothing more) than pleasure which is not real content, as in, pleasure has no substance, no thought. or we could think more rationally, read texts more thoughtfully and critically, teach others (in our classes) not that culture is bad, but that we should all think about what we are watching, how we are participating in media and visual culture in our lives today.

See Adorno and Horkeimer on the Cutlture Industry. See also pop culture critique (link to the right to Slayage) and know that it is possible to both critique (as in analyze critically for better or for worse) and to still love that favorite tv show. But is that even the point? Do we stay away from critique b/c we are afraid it will ruin the pleasure of our favorite movies and tv shows? I don't buy that. If the movie we love is reinforcing stereotypes that we are also buying into, than maybe that's something to challenge. There are plenty of other movies out there to 'love' right? But if we, as thinking people, learn to be aware of all sorts of social issues (inequality in pay, prejudices against service-sector workers who are subject to regular and random drug testing, race relation issues, immigration issues and treatment of mexican workers......) why are we not also encouraged to think about how the corporate media is pervasive and instrumental in forming culture around us whether we are aware of it or not? If we critique our politicians why not critique the media conglomerates as well as the movies and the advertisements themselves which probably have as much or more power over us, over our ideas about our places in society, etc. The process and representation of the presidential elections is a clear example that we need to read our media critically and learn more about what is going on in and around our lives daily.

Friday, October 07, 2005

on anonymity and blogging by Hilary

this is great!

Sat, 17 Sep 2005 19:58:11 -0400
Subject: Re: pedagogy

Renuka, I'd like to respond to your thoughts about anonymity
with some reflections based in the experience I had setting
up a blog for this course.

I discovered that I couldn't get "into" my new blog the way
that I am "into" the blog I created as part of the class
assignment for Winter term.

However, I couldn't see myself
posting "professionally"
on my real blog, which had gotten abandoned and then taken
up again as part of a literary "electronic memoir" project
between me and 3 friends at U of M.

Finally, I resolved the problem by replacing all the names
of peopleandcolleaguesandfriendsand peopleIfightwith and
peopleIhavecrushes on with 1 name: Name deleted. (I deleted
a few posts where peoples' identities are obvious even if I
withhold their names).

Then, I added a post about the blog as a literary
autobiography, or memoir.

The blog is now appropriate for a
wider audience.

The decision had 2 interesting consequences that directly
relate to your post:
1) your post talks about how identities get multiplied
through digital media. And identities don't just get
multiplied when refracted through, um, the digital. They
also get blurred, smudged, narrowed down, switched around
and deleted.

There are only 2 characters left on the blog: me and Name
deleted. It's interesting how that minor revision shifts
the emphasis of all the posts on the blog toward an
exasperating literary abstraction.

2) Because my blog has already been pre-written as a
literary autobiography memoir, my blogged responses to the
readings can only be literary (to keep the spirit of the
project). So by responding to the texts within the literary
environment of my blog, the authors of the essays become
fictional characeters in my everyday life, availiable for
dialogue, adventures and coffee.

Kurt Spellmyer has been rewritten as a student in my English
1020 class.

on teaching through cultural studies

another continued thought...

...but I have taught comp through
a 'cultural studies lens' and I think in fact the book I
used (Reading Culture) was edited by George and Trimbur. The
book was good, if a little thin, but I found using cultural
studies types of texts (whatever that means exactly I don't
know) was helpful in getting students to think about real,
contemporary social topics and issues. We read a variety of
essays including personal narratives of people who
immigrated to the US as children and had to learn English;
sections from B. Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed; and pieces
criticizing advertising, Ally McBeal, Oprah and Jenny
Jones (is that the talk show woman?). The subject matter
(sometimes) got them interested and talking and then we, as
a group, were able to discuss arguments and evidence, to get
into the texts and the issues and learn how to become more
critical thinkers and active thinking members of our larger
American culture. When we talked about television and movies
as more than simple entertainment, many students were
baffled and took a while to come around to being able to
look critically at the messages that are both subtly and
overtly presented on their favorite shows.

Anyhow, my point is I like teaching writing through cultural
studies because for me it makes the subject matter
interesting and gives a class a lot to talk about. There are
also so many essays to read on every possible
cultural/social topic that I don't feel sad or nostalgic
about not reading 'literature.' As I was saying in the other
post that disappeared, I think there is a critical lack of
real literacy in our country today. Many people don't know
how to read newspapers or visual texts critically; they have
trouble understanding texts enough to think through the
arguments and then analyze and form their own evidence-based
opinions. I feel that helping people to be better thinkers
also helps them to be better writers (and the other way
around too...).

on anonymity and the net

a continuance of a discussion on the email

...that anonymity may not be
an issue, but the issue is the be or not to be
anonomous IS an issue. The verbal attackers could attack under
the protection of remaining unidentified. But when Brian
was identified he was dismissed entirely from the discussion.
The internet is not always an equal and open forum.

But anonymity is an issue that is contanstly changing
according to context and other factors. If more women in
history wrote under male names would we have a greater body
of literature by women available to us now?

Also, I read an article about running on-line chat rooms and
etc, and the author went into detailed discussion of the
differences between forums which allowed anonomous postings,
and those that did not. She basically stated (a very general
summary of her arg.) that those forums that only included
real identities often had posts that were more mature,
professional, articulate, and etc.

I think some of this actually points to larger issues of
text and context, issues of audience and purpose, issues
about how ideas are developed and presented. Some of these
may make for good examples when talking to students about
different writing situations and how to critically read and
write within changing rhetorical contexts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Links and delicious

I've posted some links at right. This blog is part of a larger class 'project' for 6010 at Wayne State Univ. I've also linked to my own delicious bookmarks. Finally for now is a link to Slayage: the International Journal of Buffy Studies because I think it is important to remember that we can always talk and write about Buffy in intelligent and academic ways. There is a conference in May I will consider attending. In theory this is different than a star trek conference; these Buffy people do academic scholarship on Buffy isses and etc.

Links in delicious are basic: Electronic Poetry Center, CSU Writing Center, a link to some other poetry blogs that I haven't yet spent a lot of time reading. I may start adding links to interesting presses, whatnot.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Interview Project

For this Interview project I asked some questions both of Kate Kiefer and Mike Palmquist who are at Colorado State University.

I started by asking Kate about whether or not she fits into any types of pedagogical categories. She responded, “I actually think of myself as somewhat eclectic” and continued:

I find some cognitive explanations compelling – particularly the ways in which memory comes into play – but over-extensions of cognitive theory make me downright uncomfortable (e.g., I do not think of all our behavior as problem-solving processes). The model of cognitive apprenticeship more typically aligned with socio-cognitive perspectives also works well for me as a teacher and researcher, but I don’t follow it slavishly. Social construction theory provides some other useful elements in my grab-bag theory, but I’m also willing to draw on gender theory and other (limited) cultural theories. Lately I’ve been looking closely into complexity theory (the study of complex adaptive systems) because that seems to account for a good part of what we do as learners.

Had I more time to continue the discussion, I would ask her more about how exactly she is using complexity theory and how this works with our own learning processes. I have my own ideas about this in terms of how we actually think and write before we organize and structure our thinking and writing, so I am curious how one might translate this into the writing classroom. Ultimately, though she uses various strategies within her own “rhetorical approach.” She says, “so far, I’ve been able to use rhetorical theory as the umbrella that pulls together theoretical insights and pedagogical concerns.

I wanted also to get into discussion of technology and writing instruction, and so, while I was waiting for the responses from Kate, I did a little more research.

In their book Transitions, Palmquist, Kiefer, and others at Colorado State University write about issues concerning the teaching of writing in both traditional and computer-supported classrooms. In the Foreword they discuss the “technological transition” that includes access to, general use of, and reliance on computers which may change “the way we think about what it means to write and to be a writer” (xiii). The question then is how might we redefine our roles as teachers? As we recognize and utilize technology in their classes, some teachers may give students more autonomy and responsibility in assignments and writing, and others may see technology as a way to have more control over the classroom and the students. The authors write, “our experience suggests that traditional and computer-supported classrooms challenge teachers in different ways, leading teachers to develop specialized techniques to reach the same curricular goals” (xiii). But the authors also assert also that technology itself does not make good writers. They write “that it is not access to a particular technology that matters…but rather how that technology is used to meet curricular goals” (xv). The focus then, naturally, is on instruction. In light of the variety of technological tools, in addition to all of the other concerns and issues surrounding the teaching of writing, how do we form our pedagogies and practices to best create classroom atmospheres that support students and help them to develop as writers?

“Our beliefs start with an understanding that writing competency develops not through accretion of small chunks of knowledge, but rather through immersion in the experience of inquiring, reflecting, and writing about issues and ideas” (Palmquist et al., Transitions xv). The general goals of the writing program at CSU at the time of this writing focus on helping students to create “meaningful texts” and “receive feedback from careful readers.” The specific goals include focus on writing process, audience and purpose, supporting students at their particular writing levels “as they move toward writing more effective academic prose,” recognizing “connections between reading, writing, and thinking,” and stressing the importance of “writing as a fundamental act of critical thinking and learning” (xvi). In sum, the authors assert, “we focus on exploring the personal and rhetorical aspects of writing within a curriculum that moves from personal essays to academic argument to rhetorical analysis of the discourse conventions in our students” major areas of study” (xvi).

And so, to incorporate computer and internet technology, for example, into the writing class, or to move entirely to a use of these technologies for instruction, requires first a firm grounding in one’s philosophy and goals for the teaching of writing. And according to the above philosophy, the teaching of writing is focused on the writer; the instruction is writer-centered in terms of helping student writers to use and develop tools that they can begin to think about and use on their own.

In response to my question: How does your teaching philosophy extend to the use of technology in writing instruction, using computers in classrooms, etc.? And what are some (theoretical or practical) benefits and disadvantages to using various types of technologies to teach writing? Kiefer responded:

As you may know, I was one of the founding editors of Computer and Composition, so I’ve been involved in looking at computers for writing instruction since the early 1980s. Although the specific questions about which technologies to use still come into play, my over-riding sense is that our classrooms need to capture as much of what students have in other settings as possible. So if students are drafting on computers in their dorm rooms, then we need to have them drafting on computers in classrooms. If students are likely to need to use other computer technologies on their jobs, then we have a responsibility to make sure they know how to use them wisely for classroom projects. College writing, especially upper-division writing, should approximate what students see themselves doing as professionals in their careers and as life-long learners as closely as possible.

That said, I’m not a technology junkie. I don’t believe we have to have every bell and whistle in the classroom. Students need to understand how to use the tools, but some of that can be accomplished by looking at a specific tools and interrogating what its existence and use demands of us. And writing classes are still about writing, even though source material for the writing may be accessed through the Web, drafts may be word-processed, and final format may involve advanced layout software. I don’t have to teach the software – just what it means to think about textual and visual rhetoric.

And in a short email I asked Mike Palmquist the following:

How do you think theory/ideas/use of technology in writing curricula has changed over the last 10 or 15 years in both positive and negative ways? What are your hopes/predictions for the future of technology integration (what do you see as important for those in the field of composition to consider in terms of using technology, what may be important for students, etc.)?

He responded: My general sense is that the fundamental concerns for writing instructors haven’t changed all that much over the past few decades. There are certainly new technologies to address-- the Web and Blogs being the biggest, I think, in terms of impact on writers and teachers. And perhaps IM and related technologies might have an impact. I continue to think that voice interfaces will be a big deal, but they’re taking a long time to get here. I’ve attached two articles…[the second] might provide the best insights into the direction I think we should be heading as a field – that is, a focus on what the writer needs (i.e., the resources that might best support the student writer in the act of composing) as opposed to replicating existing educational structures. Here is the abstract for Palmquist’s article, “Rethinking Instructional Metaphors for Web-Based Writing Environments”:
Abstract: Since the early 1980s, writing theorists and instructional designers have envisioned digital “writing environments” that would support writing processes. This work has informed the development of word-processing tools now used routinely by writers. Conspicuously missing from the design of these environments, however – at least from a teacher’s perspective – is attention to instruction. Their designers seem to have assumed that writers would bring sufficient knowledge and experience to the composing process to write their documents. In this essay, I argue that an ideal writing environment would provide student writers with immediate access during composing to relevant instructional materials and feedback tools. I review the design of earlier digital writing environments, develop a theoretical framework that supports the integration of instruction into writing environments, describe Colorado State University’s Web-based instructional writing environment, discuss current and planned research on the environment, and consider implications for future development of such environments (1). The “Web-based instructional writing environment” or Writing@CSU, can be found at which is also the site of one of the largest online writing centers in the country. The site includes resources for writing teachers, students, and GTAs of composition courses. Colorado State students and teachers can use Syllabase—a program similar to Wayne’s Blackboard—and has tools like discussion forums, calendars, and chat rooms. Unlike Blackboard, you retain the right to your own work when you post to Syllabase. Another program that is a little newer in development is open for anyone to use on the Web; The Writing Studio is a place where you (or your students) can keep the work that you do doing your writing process. There are places for notes and drafts of papers, as well as a space for a bibliography. One idea is that students can post work and share it with each other and the teacher, so the process becomes a project (and it could incorporate more collaborative work as well), and the focus is less on the final product. In Transitions, and from listening to Mike and Kate and others at CSU I have learned about some of the advantages to using a program like Syllabase both in a computer classroom, or as a supplement to a class taught in a traditional classroom. Students often take “computer work” more seriously than simply writing in their notebook when prompted by a teacher. In a computer classroom, you can have students spend time during class responding to a prompt or question by writing and posting to the discussion forum. Students can then read and respond to each other. Often they spend more time thinking and writing quality responses (quality compared to having them write a response in their notebook during class, which they often know you are not going to collect or read again and hence may not write much, or they just list sparse notes). Using the computer makes the work seem more professional, and they know the rest of the class and the teacher is going to read their work. Additionally, these posted entries, like entries on a blog or in an email listserve, can be copied (and attributed!) and used in papers or other writing; initial responses can be used in later drafts and work on topics discussed.

In the conclusion section of “Rethinking Instructional Metaphors” Palmquist says of the Writing@CSU site, “we have developed an instructional writing environment that provides writers with support for the full range of composing, communication, and information-management processes they face as they engage in a writing task.” The pedagogy involved focuses on the writer and presents resources and support for writers at any stage and at any level of writing. I have attached the “Conclusions” section at the end of this paper because it gives more detail about the philosophy and “potential advantages for teachers of writing and writing-intensive courses” and the integration of technology (22).

The composition program at CSU is an example of how folks are recognizing the ever-changing role of technology in all aspects of life and work. As teachers of writing, it is important to recognize the changes and to keep up with the technology both to keep students involved and interested, and to place more responsibility on them to take charge of their writing, to be more invested in writing and thinking as combined and real-world activities. To recognize that writing comes in all forms, is created in a variety of contexts, and involves many processes of recording and organizing based on the particular contexts at hand is an important point to stress to students. It is necessary to give writers tools for developing their skills and aptitude with writing. But the goal is not to perfect the writing, the goal is not to make students who can mechanically produce “excellent” writing, but to help students to develop as writers, to “make better writers” as some would say. And the goal is also not to simply get them to use more technology. The focus has to be on the instruction and the development of writers and writing. The idea is to get students to think about their roles as writers, to take on the responsibility to determine writing context, who their audience is, and what the purpose of their writing is for each individual situation that arises. Something as simple as having students meet in a computer classroom and doing in class-writing on the computer can help students to feel more invested in their work. One downfall I have noticed is that sometimes discussion can be more difficult in a computer classroom b/c the students quickly get used to sitting at computers and writing, doing their own thing, and to get them to take those ideas and discuss them openly in the class sometimes causes a sort of a shift in the tone of the class. It’s hard to get a good balance of both computer work and discussion in a computer classroom. The set-up at Wayne though is nice b/c the computers move around, the tables and chairs all move around, the room is more easily re-structured to better lend itself to discussion and community activity, as well as quiet personal time with the computers, a setting that can potentially lend itself to quality writing instruction with the use of technology.


from Palmquist, “Rethinking Instructional Metaphors for Web-Based Writing Environments”
The Writing@CSU Web site offers an example of an instructional writing environment based on a pedagogical metaphor that differs from that commonly used in writing classrooms. The articulation of an ideal learning situation – in this case, that of a student writer who has access to relevant composing and researching tools, relevant instructional materials, and feedback and advice from classmates and a teacher – has informed our development of the site. Working from this metaphor, we have developed an instructional writing environment that provides writers with support for the full range of composing, communication, and information-management processes they face as they engage in a writing task. Work by a wide range of scholars over more than two decades has laid the foundation for such an environment, but shifts in technological capabilities and changes in the kinds of documents writers are asked to create continue to redefine the ideal.
The instructional approach that led to the creation of the Writing Studio and the Writing@CSU Web site has potential for enhancing students” writing skills. It also has potential advantages for teachers of writing and writing-intensive courses. By providing access to instructional materials and composing tools that support students as they learn to write – whether that writing be general activities such as summaries and reviews of literature or more discipline-specific activities such as engineering design reports, chemistry lab reports, and business letters and memos – we can significantly reduce the effort faculty might otherwise make to develop materials of their own. By developing communication and document management tools that support feedback on student writing, we can support out-of-class peer review and increase teachers” options for providing response. By creating support materials for faculty – including Web-based guides on integrating writing activities into courses, guides that provide direction on reducing the time needed to provide substantive responses to student work, and model course curricula and materials – we can further reduce the effort disciplinary faculty need to expend to use writing activities and assignments in their courses.
Our observations of instructors working with students in computer-based classrooms suggested an alternative approach to writing instruction, one that departs in significant ways from that used in most writing courses. When student writers compose in isolation, their instructional resources are typically limited to information obtained through a textbook or course notes. When student writers compose in an instructional learning environment such as the Writing@CSU Web site, they have access to a far wider range of instructional materials. In addition, through network communication and commenting tools, they have the possibility of obtaining feedback on their writer in far less time than would be the case if they had to wait for the next class or an instructor’s office hours. The development of instructional writing environments based on pedagogical approaches that differ from the dominant approach of class discussion followed by students writing in isolation offers an intriguing alternative to computer-based instructional materials that maintain the pedagogical status quo.

Works cited:

Kiefer, Kate. E-mail Interview. October 2005.

Palmquist, Mike. E-mail to the author. 3 October 2005.

Palmquist, Mike. “Rethinking Instructional Metaphors for Web-based Writing Environments.” Writing and Digital Media. Ed. Luuk Van Waes, Marielle Leijten, and Chris Neuwirth. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.

Palmquist, Mike et al. Transitions: teaching writing in computer-supported and traditional classrooms. Greenwich, Conn.: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1998.

Writing@CSU. 1993-2005.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Technology in the Writing Classroom

The composition program at CSU, as at Wayne, is an example of how folks are recognizing the ever-changing role of technology in all aspects of life and work. As teachers of writing, it is important to recognize the changes and to keep up with the tech both to keep students involved and interested and to place more responsibility on them to take charge of their writing, to be more invested in writing and thinking as combined and real-world activities. To recognize that writing comes in all forms, is created in a variety of contexts, and involves many processes of recording and organizing based on the particular contexts at hand. The point I suppose is to give writers more tools for developing their skills and aptitude with writing. But the goal is not to perfect the writing, the goal is not to make students who can mechanically produce ‘excellent’ writing, but to help students to develop as writers, to ‘make better writers’ as some would say. The idea is to get students to think about their roles as writers, to take on the responsibility to determine writing context, who their audience is, what the purpose of their writing is for each individual situation that arises. Technology can help in many ways including the variety of tools that are available to writers through the use of various technologies. Something as simple as having students meet in a computer classroom and doing in class writing on the computer. The quality of the writing and thinking is often, in my own experience, better than when you do the same exercise but have the students do the writing in their notebook during class. On the computer they will incorporate complete thoughts and sometimes go deeper and do more analysis of these thoughts. They spend more time actually writing, like working on the computer is somehow more real and therefore more valuable. One downfall, though, as I have noticed is that sometimes discussion can be more difficult in a computer classroom b/c the students quickly get used to sitting at computers and writing, doing their own thing, so to get them to take those ideas and then discuss them openly in the class sometimes causes a sort of a shift in the tone of the class. It’s hard to get a good balance of both computer work and discussion in a computer classroom. The set-up at Wayne though is nice b/c the computers move around, the tables and chairs all move around, the room is more easily re-structured to better lend itself to discussion and community activity, as well as quiet personal time with the computers.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

on form and structure in teaching writing composition

i'm not messing with the form just to be funny
having trouble formatting text on this blogger
will work on this issue in the future...

I started this on the listserve, I am continuing
to think about how these ideas go or don’t go
together…are there lines to be drawn, what is
acceptable in a composition class, how do we
prepare students for other classes they will
have in which writing will be required, what
is it to be ‘creative’ to break with conventional
forms to follow hypertextual tangents and links
(even on the paper if not actually virtually)
in moving through a line of thought, say,
in making a point or posing an argument?
I am completely in favor of breaking any and
all conventions in writing (see interest in
poetry and cross-genre work moving into
all realms) but I am still traditional in
helping students to build basic writing
skills (whatever those may be but let
me finish) (I am always, too, working
on my own 'basic skills' constantly),
learn how to think about writing in a
variety of contexts (and how to adapt
their ideas and writing to those), and
practicing different types of academic
writing. We all need to be able to write
comfortably and express ourselves, but we
also need to function within the
larger academic communities we inhabit
as writers and
thinkers. My point is that I believe
I owe it to my students
to talk about context, to discuss
style and form and language
and structure and audience and etc
for the variety of writing
situations they might possibly
encounter. 'New Media' falls
into this certainly, but the
continuum is great and
potentially filled with innumerable
ways of rising up to every
kind of writing situation. We need,
as writers and as
teachers, to have a toolbox filled
with skills and ideas about
how best to synthesize and incorporate
information, how best
to talk about what writing is and
what writing does, how best
to translate our ideas and opinions
and our evidence and
arguments onto the page in the most
intelligent and effective
manners possible...for each
particular situation at hand.
But how is this also not defining
what we are to do as writing
teachers? How can I bring my own
creative impulses together
with the more academic understanding
of what writing is and should
do? or is it also that there aren’t
actually accepted conventions,
that everyone has her own idea of
what the accepted conventions
are so we might as well break them
anyhow?? How can I get students
to be creative and open with their
form and means of expression,
and also work on maintaining a focus
and using evidence to support
arguments they want to make in
their writing??