Reading Responses and Reflections (selection of five)

Hello, thank you for visiting my Reading Responses and Reflections (reflections in italics after each response)

“Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking,” Elbow

Elbow’s dig at legislators making decisions without instructors (or only nominally using instructor input) when it comes to education had me on his side from the first paragraph. I also had never separated evaluation and ranking to such a degree. In fact, I never assumed grading (unless on a curve) was necessarily ranking.

Overall, Elbow taps into some of my greatest fears in grading. I used to pore over papers, evaluating and re-evaluating against rubrics and the students’ previous papers. Although, I had to eventually “get over it” and simply get grades on paper (otherwise I would have never had time to do anything else), Elbow’s finding from an older study of English teachers grading the same essay differently reopens some of my initial fears. Benaloff celebrates this subjectivity to an extent, but at the same time we all want to be fair and hold students accountable and to standards.

Usually, one would stray away from a binary system in composition, but as a student in our QQC blog pointed out, Elbow seems to at first tear down the concept of assessment and then in the next breath praise the merits of an “acceptable or not” system for portfolios. The grid in accompanying this statement actually reminds me of early elementary school report cards before grades are introduced.

On my feedback on this response, I was asked if I thought grading on the portfolio system would help with these concerns or worsen them? As I have said elsewhere, I am going to try to incorporate portfolios into my teaching as a means of emphasizing the importance of process in student writing and more realistically reflect how other institutions will expect material to be collected in such a manner. To alleviate some apprehension I have about teaching, I will make sure to leave plenty of constructive thoughts on their progress to remediate between the disparity inherent in ranking and evaluating.

“O Brave New World,” Tobin

I sucked in my breath after reading the introduction to Tobin’s piece. His description of a typical composition classroom was uncannily accurate. I found plenty more instances of self-reflection and insights as I continued through the piece. Tobin described how he maintained this earlier model of teaching because he could not think of an “alternative to organizing the course around the identification and appreciation of the rhetorical features of good writing.” The helpless feeling in teaching as part of a system is one I can relate to. Some ideas that Tobin espouses do seem a little utopian to me (perhaps in class the discussion will dissuade me of this stance), yet I agree with the spirit of his message and the freedom that should be inherent in writing. Overall, though, his emphasis on this freedom in writing makes me wonder where, if at all, foundational teaching fits into composition courses? Can basic foundational lessons be taught while still encouraging exploration, creativity, and even daring? I guess I am looking for some happy medium that is not dogmatic but also not as unrestrained as what Tobin seeks. Part of this questioning comes from my experience teaching English to middle and high school. While college is constrained by its heritage and developed standards, K-12 has become an absolute slave to Common Core. Even ignoring the influence of these standards, though, many students are the type to want “the answer,” which is something composition is not always strong at providing in a direct form. These types of students are happiest when there is a formula like in math that guides them.

One of the comments asked me what I mean by “foundational lessons” and if students should not already have these by this point in their education? The foundational lessons I refer to are in fact those concepts that students should already have been taught but ultimately have failed to learn for one reason or another: the building blocks to writing like spelling, grammar, and syntax. I understand we cannot be a catch-all for everything a student has missed, but if there is a pattern of core compositional concepts missing, I wonder how this fits into allowing students a more creative exploration through writing? An adage says you have to learn the rules before you can effectively break them. Although we can argue for variation, the ultimate goal is to communicate and in order to do that we adhere to certain conventions.

“Revision Strategies,” Sommers

I found Sommers’ introduction, which focused on the relationship between speech and writing, to be an interesting way to delve into the idea of revision, especially because in class we discussed the notion of trademark and copyrights becoming seemingly stronger when we moved from an oral tradition to a written one. I did not quite agree with Sommers’ assertion that speech is unamendable (what is an oral history of stories being passed down if not editing), but I do concede the two are different in what capacity they can be amended. I also appreciated the breakdown of the various ways in which writing has inherited from speech with their shared linearity and “discrete stages” of creation (though one could of course argue the discreteness of the stages).

One of the most interesting things Sommers pointed out in the study was the hesitancy of many students to call what they do revision. Sommers’ found that students revise but seem to be stuck as to how to continue after a certain point, even when they sense “something larger is wrong” (80). They often do not have the set of strategies to continue in the revision process. Sommers piece made me recognize explicitly that I should be concerned with moving students to care about form and audience when thinking about revision, a move overall to the more holistic and recursive. How to get students to this point is another matter entirely.   

A good point was made in the comments to this reading response in that a good place to start in getting students to care about form and audience in the revision process is to push them to choose a topic they are passionate about. One of the issues that I only tangentially mentioned is how students will often put off writing and not have the time or investment to go through the revision process. By setting aside set dates for stages of revision and encouraging them to write on a topic they enjoy, the hope is that more students take agency of their writing and learn from revision.

“Racism Address to CWPA 2016,” Inoue

The notion of code switching was brought up before in relation to Royster’s article, but Inoue takes this idea a step further in his condemnation of the existing racist structures as a call to action, recognizing the systems of racism in rhetoric and composition and how even the makeup of the faculty at colleges (predominantly white) enforces these structures..

The article left me feeling helpless in many regards. At the last high school I taught in Quincy there was not one white student on campus (almost entirely black with a few hispanic students), and though I had dealt with issues brought up in the article before at other schools, I felt it most oppressively in Quincy. When the students were working on a creative piece, I never tried to stifle their  unique voices, but predictably, in order to have them pass the state testing and “make it” in the world, and of course as a part of the administration's goals, I drilled proper grammar within a system of what Inoue convincingly argues is an oppressive, white structure. Inoue would have argued that my approach is a false binary, thinking that we can “honor and respect” the variety of speech patterns in the classroom while still pushing the dominate Standardized English.

Royster in the earlier article advocated for multiple voices, but this article made me wonder how forced this need to switch is and how the “white” voice still dominates discourse. Yet, we do not want to condescendingly assume that someone "didn't have to speak in appropriated academic language." How to address this in a composition course eludes me. It is an extension of W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of double consciousness and the systems of racism that are so interwoven in our society. It seems something that can only be chipped away at.

It is comforting to know that Coxwell-Teague also felt helpless to an extent after hearing Inoue’s speech. As is true for many issues presented in this course, there are not always clear answers and many problems are institutional. In trying to answer her comment of other ways students could “succeed” I believe creating assignments that allow for variation past Grammar A is a start in providing an environment where students can write more authentically in their own voice.

“Made Not Only in Words.” Yancey

Many of Yancey’s points can be put in direct dialogue with Arola’s discussion of interface and how it shapes thinking. But while Arola seems to lament the fall of design, Yancey stays optimistic to the possibilities overall. The enthusiasm is infectious, and I am excited as well for the new avenues available in presentation of material, but I do have reservations. As I hinted in a QQC post, exercises in remediation can help students analyze "what they leave out, what they add," but I almost feel they may not need as much practice in recognizing this in some media forms. This is something I will have to come to terms with, many principles in thi s article being the basis of ENC 2135.

It is interesting that one of the main ways the public engages with our current president is through Twitter. I have even seen people compare Trump’s Tweets to FDR’s Fireside Chats as a novel way to interact with the public. The idea that we need to formalize in some way students’ “develop[ment] as members of a writing public” strikes me as necessary in teaching critical thinking skills in this day and age (311).

Yancey also touches on collaboration in the piece. Which is a natural tangent to make when discussing technology in rhetoric. In fact. she reminds us that even hundreds of years ago, Charles Dickens stories were being serialized before becoming novels. From this fact I had never made the connection that readers therefore "helped shaped the development of the [Dickens] text-in-process." I admit that I find myself romanticizing the lone writer and become frustrated when George R. R. Martin says that watching the show adaptation of his novels is influencing how he is writing the rest of the series. But as Yancey has pointed out, this method of collaboration has exciting possibilities.

It was interesting to note that not only do Arola and Yancey seem to be in direct dialogue, but that they are actually in a collection together with McElroy about assemblage. I plan to seek out this collection as I believe it would be enlightening to see their viewpoints tethered together in such a manner. On another note, and responding to another comment on my reflection, one of the conclusions I had to make throughout this course is that being critically aware of one’s media usage and using them are not as linked as I would assume. Even though students are constantly on Facebook, for example, and more than familiar with its structure and conventions, they do not always analyze their use critically.