Tag Archives: higher education

Thinking about Writing (Instruction)

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing — more specifically, writing instruction — this week. So when this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education came across my radar, I read it carefully. Barrett claims we’re not focusing on writing enough in the college classroom; I’ll respond to that argument in a moment. First, a little background: why I’m thinking about writing so much this week.

This week (actually, today), I will turn in my prospectus to my committee, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing.

This week, my English teaching methods students will enact writing mini-lessons in class.

This week, my tutoring students have brought me many examples of their writing for various classes in school and in response to prompts I have assigned them.

With writing instruction — how to do it best, how to respond to students, where to start in a one-on-one conference — coming at me from all sides of my life, this article made me pause for a minute. My first reaction came from the gut. Berrett’s first sentence:

Too many students aren’t learning enough.

Whoa there. Whoa. If you read this blog regularly, you know how I feel about the crisis rhetoric. See here and here. I was immediately on the defensive, because this sort of talk has, I believe, had a negative impact on our nation’s portrayal of and understanding of the teaching profession. However, I respect both Chronicle and the friend who posted this article to facebook, so I read on.

The arguments that followed resonated with me.

…if academe and its critics want students to leave college with sharper thinking skills, writing ought to gain a higher priority, says Paul V. Anderson, a professor of English at Elon University.

He likens writing’s effect on students to the recently observed subatomic particle the Higgs boson. Just as particles gain mass as they move through the Higgs boson field, he says, “student learning gains heft as students interact through writing with the subjects they are studying.”

The article goes on to argue that writing is a way of capturing thinking, and is one of the best “tests” of student learning a professor can use, if they’re willing and able to sit down and respond to student writing. Agreed. By the time I was done reading, the only issues I had with the article were the opening sentence and the fact that Barrett makes the evaluation of writing sound relatively simple — which it’s not. Responding to student writing in meaningful ways takes time. A lot of it. Just ask my buddies over at The Paper Gradersor any English teacher you know, for that matter. Doing this with large college classes — even when it’s a “small assignment” of only one or two pages as Chronicle suggests, is nearly impossible and would require a lot of training in writing instruction and response. The temptations of the red pen, I’ve found, are strong, and it takes training and support for teachers to learn how to respond meaningfully. Lack of writing instruction in college classes isn’t the easy problem to fix that I think Barrett makes it here, but his point is taken — students need to do more writing, more often.

Speaking of which, I need to go do a little more writing before I pass this prospectus off to my committee, so time to sign off. Happy writing, everyone.

And on a More Uplifting Note… Teaching, Calvinball Style

The Nerdy Teacher posted this on Friday — a plea for educators to embrace the creativity of Calvinball. Go to his post to see the Calvin and Hobbes excerpts about Calvinball. The Nerdy Teacher says,

We are moving more and more toward standardized, cookie-cutter instruction, I think a nice dose of Calvinball (AKA Creativity) is exactly what our classrooms need. Giving the students to freedom to explore and create can be a scary idea to teachers, administrators and “experts” that like to control things, but we all know the power of empowering children. Letting go of the control and allowing students to explore is such an amazing thing to witness. I didn’t “let go” all at once. I’m still “letting go” a little bit more each year. When the unit ends, I’m always glad I let the students create their rules and design their own projects.

I completely agree. In an interview with a teacher last week, she told me “the kids always rise to the challenge” when you give them some freedom and some control over what happens in the classroom, when you make things matter to them by giving them the chance to help you design their learning experiences.

After my grumpy post earlier this morning, this is my attempt to even things out. Thanks, Nerdy Teacher, for the smile and the uplifting reminder that we need to stay creative. 🙂

Blog Carnivals in the Classroom

Traci Gardner posted this piece on blog carnivals, defining what they are, how to use them in the classroom, and how to use them as a professional teacher of writing. I have never had my students engage with blog carnivals, but I think it may be a next step in my next writing course… I encourage you to read Gardner’s post and click around to learn more about carnivals.

A few helpful links from her post:

An archive of blog carnivals

Some useful info about blog carnivals

ProfHacker’s Teaching Carnival

Digital Rhetorics… What are They?

Derek Mueller posted this on Sweetland’s Digital Rhet Collaborative Site, and I found it a thought-provoking piece. I’m going to engage his invitation. A Googlism (he explains this in the post) for “Digital Rhetoric is” yielded the following results, sprinkled with his own additions. I’m going to share the ones I liked best. So, for me, Digital Rhetoric is…

  1. digital rhetoric is characterized by many new genres
  2. digital rhetoric is ?rhetoric? that is ?digital
  3. digital rhetoric is more of a disciplinary nebula than a field
  4. digital rhetoric is the sattelitization of a lost dog found with an embedded RFID chip
  5. digital rhetoric is a Roland Barthes hologram annotating images of his mother and more in a Flickr set called “Almosts”
  6. digital rhetoric is a bridging mechanism between digital consumers and producer
  7. digital rhetoric is worthy of greater attention by rhetoric and communication
  8. digital rhetoric is especially important now that so many citizens rely on official websites as sources of information
  9. digital rhetoric is objects by which I mean units by which I mean things by which I mean nonhumans
  10. digital rhetoric is wasted if those same students aren’t also able to see the relevance of digital rhetoric to their own lives once they leave

There’s my top ten. What does digital rhetoric mean to you? What are digital rhetorics? And… my big question… how are digital rhetorics and digital literacies different or the same? Many of the statements above could replace “digital rhetoric” with “digital literacy.” Perhaps we need more cross-talk between the digital literacy and digital rhet folks?