Emerging Convergence: Developmental Writing and Web 2.0 Literacies
Debi Martin, B.J. , M.A. Professor Deborah Balzhiser, Ph.D. English 5317: Computers & Writing Incomplete Seminar Text January 3, 2013
Emerging Convergence: Developmental Writing and Web 2.0 LiteraciesToday’s college students arguably are some of the most prolific “writers” to have ever lived, participating daily in the dominant discourse of their times at levels unheard of – and technically impossible – previously. Even those students “underprepared” for “college-level” writing courses and enrolled in developmental writing courses can craft clever wordplays with pop culture references as they go about their daily routines of updating their Facebook pages, composing irreverent YouTube memes, checking “the news” on their Twitter feeds, and texting (without looking at the keyboard) lengthy messages from their cell phones. Might connecting those digital “writing” competencies to ownership of academic writing help foster deeper levels of engagement and critical thinking in developmental writers? It’s a conversation well worth having; since before the turn of the last century leading English studies scholars have been advocating for integrating new media literacies into freshman year composition (FYC), a course that traditionally serves to orient students to academic writing across-the curriculum. More recently, scholars have focused more on the nuts and bolts of how tointegrate technology into the FYC writing classroom; a representative sampling of articles published since the 2000 founding of Computing and Composition Onlinehelps illustrates that point:
- “Digitizing Dewey: Blogging an Ethic of Community” (2011)
- “Teaching Invention Through YouTube” (Zhao 2011)
- “SecondLife Literacies: Critiquing Writing Technologies of SecondLife” (2010)
- “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom,” and “Web 2.0 and Literate Practices” (2009)
- “Mixing Media: Textual, Oral and Visual Literacies (and then some) in Teaching Powerpoint” and “The Year of the Blog: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom” (2003)
Works CitedBarrios, Barclay. “The Year of the Blog: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition Online. (2003): http://wwwbgsu.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. Benson, John and Jessica Reyman. “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom,” and “Web 2.0 and Literate Practices.” Computers and Composition Online. (2009): www.bgus.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. Print. Caverly, David C., Sheila A. Nicholson, Jennifer Battle, and Cori E. Atkins. “Techtalk: Web 2.0, Blogs, and Developmental Education.” Journal of Developmental Education, 32.1 (2008): 34-35. JSTOR. PDF file. 8 June 2012. “Conference on College Composition and Communication Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments.” Ncte.org. 12 March 2012. “Developmental Writing: Special Courses.” Austincc.edu. 7 Jan. 2013. Epstein, Paul. “Teachers Must Be Confident with Technology to Effectively Employ It in Their Lessons.” (2010); nwp.org, 12 March 2012. Gregoire, Stafford. “Powerpoint Reflection and Re-Visioning in Teaching Composition.” Conference on Basic Writing.8.9 (2010) www.orgs.tamu-commerce.edu PDF file. 8 June 2012. Gregory, Kay, Joyce Steelman, and David C. Caverly. “Techtalk: Digital Storytelling and Developmental Education.” Journal of Developmental Education, 33 .1 (2009): 42-43. JSTORPDF 8 June 2012. Karper, Erin. “Web 2.0 and Literate Practices.” Computers and Composition Online. (2009): www.bgus.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. Kapper, Michael Carlson. “Mixing Media: Textual, Oral and Visual Literacies (and then some) in Teaching Powerpoint” Computers and Composition Online. (2003): www.bgsu.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. Klages, Maria.A and J. Elizabeth Clark. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing 28.1 (2009): 32-49. JSTOR, PDF file. 20 June 2012. Lalicker, William B. “A Basic Introduction to Basic Writing Program Structures: A Baseline and Five Alternatives.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print. McCorkle, Ben. “English 109.21: Intensive Reading and Writing II, ‘Reading, Writing, Blogging.”‘ Composition Studies, 38. 1 (2010): 108-127. JSTOR, PDF file. 12 June 2012. Remley, Dirk. “SecondLife Literacies: Critiquing Writing Technologies of SecondLife.” Computers and Composition Online. (2010): www.bgsu.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. “Research and Scholarship in the Two-Year College.” National Council of Teachers of English. (2011)JSTORPDF file, 20 Sept. 2012. Richards, Daniel. “Digitizing Dewey: Blogging an Ethic of Community.” Computers and Composition Online. (2011): www.bgsu.edu/cconline, 12 March 2012. Selfe, Cynthia L. Multimodal Composing: Resources for Teachers. New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2007. Print. Tinberg, Howard. “Call for Program Proposals: The Public Work of Composition.” www.ncte.org(2012) PDF file, 20 Sept. 2012. “Writing Now: A Policy Research Brief produced by the National Council of Teachers of English.” National Council of Teachers of English(2008) JSTOR, PDF file, 20 Sept. 2012. Wysocki, Anne Frances, Johndan Johnson-Eiliola, Cynthia L. Self, and Geoffrey Sirc. Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2004. Print. Yancey, Kathleen Blake. Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998. Print. Zhao, Ruijie. “”Teaching Invention Through YouTube.” Computers and Composition Online. (2011): www.bgsu.edu/ccoline, 12 March 2012. ———————— Epstein, P. (2010). “Teachers Must Be Confident With Technology to Effectively Employ It in Their Lessons.” College Board Advocacy & Policy Center. Retrieved from http: www.nwp.org Gallagher, J. (2010). ‘”As Y’all Know”: Blog as Bridge.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 37 (3), 286-294. McClain, L. (2008). McClain’s college reading blog: Helping developmental students succeed: A modest proposal. Retrieved August 1, 2012 from http://blogs.setonhill.edu/LeeMcClain/2008/05/helping_developmental_students.html Nicholson, S.A., Caverly, D.C., & Battle, J. (2007, November). Using blogs to foster critical thinking for underprepared college readers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the College Reading and Learning Association, Portland, Oregon. ———————– Lankshear, C. & Knokbel, M. (2006, April). Blogging as participation: The active sociality of a new literacy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved August 1, 2012 Martin, K. “Book Review: The Digital Writing Workshop.” Retrieved from http: www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3066?x-print-frinedly=1 “NWP Digital Is.” (n.d.) Retrieved from http: digitalis.nwp/about Penrod, D. (2005). Composition in Convergence: The Impact of New Media on Writing Assessment. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Simpson, M.L., Stahl, N.A., & Francis, M.A. (2012) “Reading and Learning Strategies: Recommendations for the Twenty-First Century.” Teaching Study Strategies in Developmental Education: Readings on Theory, Research, and Best Practice, (pp. 12-36). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Snyder, L.G. & Snyder, M.J. (2008). “Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills,” The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 1 (2).
No Easy Rubric for Assessing Writing in the Digital Era
Debi Martin, B.J., M.A. Professor Deborah Balzhiser, Ph.D. ENG: 5383 Studies in Rhetoric (Fall 2011) Mid-Length “Scholarly” 12 November 2012 No Easy Rubric for Assessing Writing in the Digital Era To move forward, we often first must look back. Like many of the developmental students that I have worked with as a writing instructor and tutor at a community college, I must start “where” I am, connecting new knowledge with old. If we learn to construct knowledge and to write within social and cultural contexts then I suppose we learn to grade – evaluate, assess, whatever it can be called – that way as well. My first job teaching writing: I was hired in the fall of 1992 to teach developmental writing at a community college in East Austin to students deemed “underprepared” and ineligible to enroll in first year composition (FYC) based on their low scores on standardized tests. At all-day grading sessions held the first and last week of classes, adjunct instructors, such as myself, along with the few full-time faculty members, assessed student essays using a criteria-referenced holistic scale crafted by our department head, Thomas D. Cameron, an affable, politically and otherwise progressive man who’d earned his doctorate in English at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite its diagnostic language, the scale was written in an entertaining and engaging tone that evoked the guiding voice of a teacher who’d reflected upon how he’d assessed hundreds of student essays over the years. As Cameron wrote in a special issue devoted to assessment and published in 1993 in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, “The primary value of the scale is that it describes the kinds of writing that people really produce. … the actual papers students were turning in” (320). For example, the scale quantifies why a formulaic five-paragraph essay can sometimes hardly merits a passing grade: “This brief essay addresses the reader’s needs by providing an outline or summary development of the topic. Though it always contains a thesis and thus a defined purpose, it is usually a safely written, highly generalized essay… It may be relatively free of error, in keeping with its refined nature” (316-317). We began grading sessions collaboratively judging “anchor papers,” chosen for how well they typified what a “5” or a “6” paper might read and/or looked like, an exercise with the intended effect of calibrating our assessment skills as a group. Considering the subjectivity involved in assessing any piece of writing, the system seemed fair: each paper was graded twice, we weren’t allowed to grade our own students’ papers; if two graders did not agree – the essay was sent to a third, senior grader, to mediate. Although the criteria were specific, we often passionately differed on individual interpretations, a process Cameron identified as “a professional conversation… if real consensus is to be reached, real discussions must be fostered, as self-assured, dogmatic readers can easily overwhelm inexperienced and insecure readers – the result being a divided department in which some members have no investment in the evaluation instrument.” (318) Those grading sessions socialized me to the collaborative and normative process by which college writing is assessed and taught. The scale grounded those conversations, and gave this then-newbie teacher a tool, a technology to make sense of my “gut” reactions when assessing student writing. Because higher scores were given to essays that were more reader- than writer-centered, the scale helped me articulate what I value about effective college-level writing: awareness of an audience outside the writer’s usual discourse community. I used the scale in the classroom as a teaching tool; sharing it with students seemed to help them develop their “inner editor” by giving them a tangible template to which to refer before turning in revisions. The scale also contextualized my commentary in the margins of their papers; all in all, it was a pedagogically efficacious throughout the five years I taught the course. I came away from that experience, agreeing with Cameron that, “At all levels of a program that purports to teach writing, students deserve a useful and consistent system of evaluation and grading” (314). But that was “B.C.” Before chaos, before so much of what I thought I knew about writing and the teaching of writing changed. I can remember staring into space the first time a student asked me about the MLA style for citing an “online” source.” I earned my M.A. in American Studies (American Literature and History) from UT Austin in 1999. To update my teaching philosophy and tool kit for the digital era, I enrolled in the spring of 2011 in a graduate program in rhetoric and composition. Before I return to the classroom, I want to know: Is there anything akin to the “anchor paper” and Cameron’s scale I used when I started out to inform and guide my assessment of digital writing compositions? If the rhetorical roots of composition instruction involve teaching students how to use all available means of communicating effectively, what does that mean today? A “text” composed in Plato’s time was a speech “distributed” orally before an audience. After Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press, print dominated in even the “late age of print” in the beginning decade of the 21st century. Does it follow that teaching composition can now mean composing with video cameras, PowerPoint, blogs, cell phones? These changes have unset the way we write. The way we communicate. It follows that they should drastically change the way we grade. I found no simple answers to my questions. I did uncover assumptions that go to the heart of what is valued in writing in our culture in the 21st century, an informative trail to follow for a teacher-practitioner who’s recently returned to graduate study. Reviewing the literature has been challenging as it requires synthesizing discourse between, across, and within disciplines such as education and technology, rhetoric and composition, developmental writing, and computers and writing, fields undergoing disruptive paradigm shifts brought on by integrating digital media into the classroom, all of which suggested topics that will be explored in future seminar papers in other courses. Throughout, I found contention over what constitutes “college-level writing,” regardless of digital content, what should be taught in first year composition (FYC), and whether such courses should even be housed in English departments. Though the literature most closely associated with rhetoric and composition addressed the profoundly timely arguments for incorporating digital writing into FYC course work (Selfe), I found relatively less information applicable to assessing such compositions in the everyday practice of teaching FYC (Tremmel). Numerous scholars do agree that the times in which we are teach writing are historically unique. Diane Penrod, a professor of composition and rhetoric at Rowan University in New Jersey, writes in Composition in Convergence: The Impact of New Media Writing on Assessment,“The condition facing writing teachers is one in which computer technology sufficiently alters both a writer’s knowledge base and the definition of what is a text to such a degree that fundamental writing assessment methods and terminology no longer apply” (19). Moreover, this paper topic was even more challenging because rubrics — assessment, evaluation – is a contentious and contested area of discourse. Rubrics seem situated at the contentious crossroads between two major currents in composition studies: positivism and postmodernism. While rubrics are regarded as too proscriptive, formulaic, and otherwise tone-deaf to the nuances required to produce and critique meaning making – regardless of digital content — in a postmodern era. Positivist faith in measurement, testing, scores, objectivity, is at odds with postmodernist skepticism. Eminent scholar Peter Elbow provides perspective: “Rubrics have come in for some fair criticism when they are crude prepackaged lists of conventional features that are used on large scale tests – forcing battalions of readers to try to fit their human responses into corporate pigeon holes. … (but) we can figure out the difference between evaluative practices that are more fair and less fair.” (n.p.) Another voice in favor of moderation, David Martins, defends rubrics, writing that they can be a positive force when they are part of an overall teaching strategy andwithin the context of an ongoing dialogue in a student-teacher relationship, “… in the student-teacher relationship that such processes engender – some of the most important learning happens.” (127). Studies that find a “positive correlation” between sharing rubrics, particularly those composed of analytic, criteria-referenced scales (such as those I used in the 1990s), and to be particularly effective when used in the teaching of argumentative writing to first year college students, and are more effective than the common practice of having students read models of exemplary writing (Soles 127); all of which suggests that it would be extreme to entirely disregard rubrics. Still other writers argue that the downside of using rubrics can be diminished by encouraging individual teachers to customize their assessment guides to match what they value in a particular assignment, a practice already common among instructors in a day-to-day manner, and not really an answer to the problem of how to offer constructive commentary that is not only valid and fair but consistent, generalizable enough to “transfer” across disciplines, creating not just better writing but better writers and thinkers, and producers of digital writing texts. Is it possible to find common ground in terms of what “works” in such compositions? In an essay supportive of a nuanced approach, the authors wrote “… embracing subjectivity does not deny the power of consensus or its vital role. For example, disagreements about art will always exist, but the Mona Lisa’s beauty is generally acknowledged” (Strouthopoulos and Peterson 51). The nature of scholastic inquiry, to investigate, interrogate, to question often seems at odds with the needs of a writing teacher, who needs something tangible – a tool, a technique – that works more often than not, holds up in day-to-day practice under deadlines and other demands. When I return to a classroom, I believe it is essential to use and share with students specific criteria by which their work will be judged, especially if I do not want to explain after-the-fact why a silly cat videos posted on youtube.com doesn’t count toward their grade as an essay; a scenario, I am convinced, is not unlikely. What might that assessment tool look like? What are its components? My research led me to the promising and insightful work of reflective scholar practitioners who ground their assessment strategies in how well students understand, interpret, and process the application of Lloyd Bitzer’s seminal concept of “the rhetorical situation” to any text, regardless of format or medium. For example, in Toward Making Composition Whole, Jody Shipka, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland, addresses the problem of how to grade open-ended, activity-based multimodal compositions. Her solution: flexible, customizable heuristics that can be used to evaluate compositions in a variety of formats. A particularly compelling contribution is the Statement of Goals and Choices (SOGC) that requires students to turn in with their final projects a written document that outlines how well they succeeded at meeting their own goals and why they made specific choices – which could include explication on selection of medium, such as why a blog rather than a website. As a teaching strategy, the SOGC supports and creates a space for students to reflect upon, “own,” and regulate their own learning process. As an assessment tool, it gives the instructor substantial insight into the process by which these projects are defined, providing the opportunity to offer instructive comments for revisions. Moreover, it allows the teacher to include in her judgment of the work, how well the student met his or her own objectives. Another example: an essay that tells the story of how the English Department at San Juan College negotiated and processed the overhauling of its old-school six-trait rubric by creating a new one that more precisely reflects what the faculty value in writing, including digital writing compositions. Like Shipka’s model, the consensus is around a rubric with a solid base and customizable components. Dubbed the “Cold Stone Rubric,” inspired by how one orders ice cream at a local Cold Stone Creamery, the instructors envisioned a rubric with “a solid foundation such as critical thinking and audience awareness (the ice cream) and then had a variety of extras sprinkled on, as needed, such as emotional appeals, humor, strong hook, or vivid examples? Put another way, we desired something with the structural strength of the six-trait rubric, coupled with the flexibility to capture the less tangible aspects of writing. Where would the flexibility come from? A customizable list of extra criteria (toppings) based on instructor preference and the specific needs of the writing assignment.” (52) All in all, the literature suggests that the best rubrics for assessing digital writing are based not only on rhetorical analysis, which seems particularly suitable to multimodal formats, they must be well-matched to – perhaps constructed synergistically with — a particular assignment. As such, they can be tweaked from time to time, depending on how well they “play” in actual classroom situations. In the end, I was a bit troubled that there wasn’t more scholarship on assessment or rubrics or whatever they might be called, and came away with the impression that writing instruction is devalued, perhaps not considered a legitimate area of academic inquiry; an unfortunate conclusion considering FYC’s role in instigating critical thinking skills prerequisite to astute social critiques of American culture, at a time in our history in which information-overload abounds in unprecedented degrees.
Works CitedBitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader.New York: The Guilford Press, 1999. Cameron, Thomas D. “A Responsible Evaluation Instrument and Its Impact on a Developmental Writing Program.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College. (TETYC)December (1993): 313-323. Elbow, Peter. “Good Enough Evaluation.” (2010). Emeritus Faculty Author Gallery. Paper 37. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/emeritus_sw/37(2010). Web. 11 Nov. 2012. Martins, David. “Scoring Rubrics and the Material Conditions of Our Relations with Students.” TETYC36.2 (2008): 123-137. Penrod, Diane. Composition in Convergence: The Impact of New Media on Writing Assessment. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 2005. Selfe, Cynthia L. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc. (2007). Shipka, Jody. Toward A Composition Made Whole.Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Soles, Derek. “Grading as a Teaching Strategy.” TETYC 29.2 (2001): 122-133. Strouthopoulos, Chris and Janet L. Peterson. “From Rigidity to Freedom: An English Department’s Journey in Rethinking How We Teach and Assess Writing.” TETYC (2011): 43-62. Tremmel, Michelle. “What to Make of the Five-Paragraph Theme: History of the Genre and Implications.” TETYC (2011): 29-42.
Review YouTube Participation Culture
Comp 4.0: Fast-tracking developmental writers into FYC
Debi Martin ENG 5316: Teaching Observation I & II papers Dr. Rebecca Jackson Spring 2012
Comp 4.0: Fast-tracking developmental writers into FYCI. Introduction and Rationale: I customized this assignment to meet my goals as an older student returning to graduate study after working as a writing teacher, academic tutor, and freelance writer. To relate prior experience to new knowledge, I chose to observe a course comparable to one I used to teach at Austin Community College (ACC), when I was an adjunct instructor of “Writing Skills II,” then, the-gateway course to First Year Composition (FYC) at that particular institution. I was specifically interested in observing and analyzing pedagogical approaches to current issues in the field such as student retention in developmental writing courses and the integration of computers in the writing classroom. I observed ACC’s “Comp 4.O,” created to serve as a “bridge” to “mainstream” developmental writing students in one semester into FYC. The class met in a computer-networked, state-of-the-art classroom at ACC’s Round Rock campus. Comp 4.0 is a hybrid course that requires students simultaneously enroll for an exit-level “Writing Skills III” course and “English 1301.” Piloted less than a year earlier, Comp 4.0 was designed by Developmental Writing full-time faculty and adjunct instructors to address administration’s concern that too many developmental students took too long taking to progress to their first college level English course. At the time, ACC already offered at least three developmental writing courses – Fundamentals, Writing Skills I or Writing Skills II. Assessment tests helped advisors place students in the appropriate level course. However, depending on their needs, some students might need to progress through all three levels before enrolling in their first for-credit composition class – a required course for any associates degree, even one in welding. Students enrolled in those remedial courses, which don’t count towards a college degree, often get discouraged, and drop out. And, whereas the class size in most English 1301 courses at ACC is between 23 and 25 students, Comp 4.0 enrollment is capped at 16 students, which allows for intensive and personalized attention and instruction. Students attend class for more than two hours a day, twice a week, for 16 weeks. During an interview, Patricia Dungan, a professor and full-time faculty member since the mid-1990s at ACC, said the Comp 4.0 has been around “informally for about 10 years. The expansion is new – administration really wants to move students through the system faster. ” Pedagogically, the Comp 4.0 format allows Dungan to fine tune, “completely individualize the grammar instruction. I assign them between four and five different skills they have to master in the first weeks. They have to find what a run on is, online, and then do online exercises, submit it and then review – it’s a student-centered approach. My ultimate goal: You don’t need me, you have this powerful tool, the internet.” The face-to-face factor plays a role too, for a learning community or cohort, develops faster than it might in more traditional class, said Dungan. “You get a lot more time to connect with students in ways that just don’t happen when you teach 28 students in English Comp 1.” And the students connect with each other in a writing studio format that fosters collaboration. “There’s a lot of research that talks about benefits of group work. I let them do annotating together, works cited, formatting. They can help each other. I have students who take the next class together, Comp 2, and they say they really see the benefit of bonding. ” Course instructors are required to have experience teaching both developmental writing and English composition; adjunct instructor Leslie Hancock, who has credentials in both fields. It seems significant that faculty and adjunct developmental writing instructors had a “say” in the creation of Comp 4.0. In an interview, Hancock said: We didn’t want administration making these decisions. Development writing faculty had to have a say. … WSIII is a lab layered over English 1301 and a way to teach 1301 in a more nurturing and supportive way. Usually in 1301, it’s sink or swim – essays are marked “accepted” or “rejected” and that’s not going to help someone who’s borderline, who may get discouraged and drop. In Comp 4.0, we hold their hand for the first 8 weeks and then let ’em fly. It’s a difference in attitude, approach, and material. English Comp I instructors don’t want to spend class time teaching comma rules. In Comp 4.0 the remediation is fast-paced enough that students have to be placed correctly so they can keep up. We screen them personally. II. Observations: I first visited Hancock’s Comp 4.0 class during the spring semester in 2012. At the time I was working as an English/writing/academic tutor in the Learning Lab, conveniently just across the hall from where her class met. The classroom resembled the computer-networked, web-enhanced environments typical of 21st century workspaces, and its existence positively indicated that writing instruction is an important enough field at ACC to require its own space. The walls of the classroom were lined with individual computer workstations. Tables in the center of the room were light enough to move easily and large enough to accommodate two or three students — and their laptops – working collaboratively on group projects. When I arrived at 10 a.m., the students were free-writing drafts of their analysis of Elizabeth Wong’s “The Struggle to be an All-American Girl.” They’d been at it for almost an hour. Most of the students in the class looked to be in their early to mid-twenties, a culturally and ethnically diverse mix of young adults. On the white board at the front of the classroom, Hancock had written a list of that day’s activities, which included a discussion of their papers on “Only Daughter” by Sandra Cisneros, and a “class editing” session on an open-ended mix of topics, including punctuation patterns when using coordinating conjunctions. Hancock’s instruction on punctuation patterns when using coordinating conjunctions included “examples” from the students’ own course essays that she’d just graded. Using a webcam, Hancock displayed on a white board sentences with problematic grammatical constructions from “anonymous” donors. Because the sentences surrounding the sentences in question could also be viewed, the material was in context, and because the students had written the sentences, the instruction was personalized – and more than a few guffaws of recognition were heard as the students edited the sentences as a class. Judging from the excerpts, these were personal essays on the mother-child relationship. Hancock’s routine: show a paragraph, focus on one particular sentence, and ask the class if it needs to be corrected. “Is there a problem?” If no responses, give a hint. I observed that – with a few exceptions — the entire class seemed to be involved either by chiming in with a possible fix or scribbling on a piece of paper in front of them on their desk. The students seemed comfortable with one another, at ease with speaking up in class – perhaps because the students met together for longer periods of time, forming earlier than they might have otherwise in a more traditional and larger course, a supportive, collegial learning community. It made sense that the topic of punctuating sentences with coordinating conjunctions would come up so much during the class editing session. These students are challenging themselves to write sentences that contain higher-level, critical content. As such, what they have to say no longer fits in the simpler grammatical structures they are accustomed to relying upon. Yet, they often, can be so uncertain as to where to punctuate, they create less sophisticated work to get around the problem. Coordinating conjunctions, words such as therefore, however, consequently, or although, convey logical relationships between ideas, and require a clear understanding of sentence boundaries, fragments, independent and dependent clauses, colons, semi-colons, and commas. Later, after class, Hancock said that one of the goals of the class is to help these students feel more “confident” as writers, to not just have a “feeling that a comma belongs there, but to know it does.” III. Conclusions: It is possible that what I observed during my visits to Hancock’s classroom could justifiably be most closely aligned with positivist assumptions about knowledge creation, and the efficacy of the much-derided “skill and drill” methodology. However, a more modernist approach emerges when I consider the thinking behind the creation of the course, the selection of course texts, and the approach to the final research paper assignment. The process through which this course came into existence reminds me of the activist streak in Writing Program Administration (WPA) literature. There’s also shades of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) pedagogy: the “writing to learn” and “writing to communicate” approach to the Comp 4.0 research paper on the student’s chosen career field, as well as class time devoted to free-writes that are shared, commented upon but not graded by the instructor and peers. The writing studio/learning community ethos that underlies the course design allows for collaborative learning activities suggestive of social-constructivist pedagogy as well as the impromptu teachable moments that place-based enthusiasts espouse. But it is the two texts required for the course – and provided to students free of charge – that’s most indicative of the course’s (and the instructor-designers’) pedagogical orientation. The main course “text” is a 160-page “course-pack” bound by two staples. Its cover states simply: “Austin Community College — Comp 4.0: English 1301 paired with Writing Skills 3, Spring 2012, updated July 21, 2011.” It’s a stripped-down to the essentials, customized text that includes:
- departmental syllabi for English 1301 and WS III (each instructor provides her supplemental own version) and grading rubrics
- MLA document design guidelines that don’t assume students are computer literature, such as how to create word documents, set margins, create hanging indentions for works cited pages, the differences between using a PC or MAC; classroom-tested hand-outs
- pithy how-to’s: “Writing a Title for the Academic Essay”
- a lay-out, and overall appearance suggestive more of an e-book from the digital era than the traditional hefty hardcover text.
Works CitedAustin Community College — Comp 4.0: English 1301 paired with Writing Skills 3,Spring 2012, updated July 21, 2011. Dungan, Patricia. Personal interview. 7 Feb. 2012. Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine, 2006. Print. Hancock, Leslie. Personal interview. 7 Feb. 2012.