I apologize for neglecting to blog in September and this isn’t much for October… needless to say it’s been a very busy semester. I’ve been writing up a revised and researched version of the “nonce genre” idea, and my colleague, John Boyd, and I have been busy writing up our talk/workshop for this week’s IWCA (not to mention the daily work of running our Writing Center).
If you are a writing center person and are attending IWCA this week, we encourage you to attend our workshop. We’ll be offering a rationale for our revised seminar and asking for participants to consider how we should, or might, shift the focus of our tutor training to accommodate recent longitudinal studies in writing studies scholarship. We believe that writing centers must take their place as active participants in learning instruction, and see this as a way to do so. Here is our abstract and presentation details. We hope to see you there!
John Boyd (Washington College), Moriah Purdy (Washington College)
Thursday, October 25, 2012 1:30-2:45
Session: 4C Room: 1360A
Recent longitudinal studies of undergraduate development offer a challenging and, in some ways, unsettling perspective for writing centers and writing programs. Investigations like those conducted at Harvard and the University of Washington suggest that the gains students make in writing during the college years are inseparably tied to disciplinary practice and rarely, if ever, depend on generalized strategies and transparent “skills.”
If this is true, then writing centers will need to rethink some of their assumptions about how peer tutoring contributes to student writing development and what kind of preparation will help tutors function successfully in a variety of contexts. In this interactive workshop, we report on how we restructured our peer tutoring seminar based on the five knowledge domains of writing expertise outlined in Anne Beaufort’s study, College Writing and Beyond. By rooting our seminar in both theoretical and practical knowledge related to process, subject matter, rhetorical context, genres, and discourse communities, we aimed to shift our tutors’ focus away from the problematic binaries often emphasized in writing center literature (such as directive/non-directive strategies and higher/lower-order concerns) and toward a framework for interacting with other writers that accounts for differing contexts and disciplinary practices.
In our workshop, we present what we found to be the benefits and challenges of our revised focus, and we ask participants to consider how they might account for Beaufort’s knowledge domains in their own tutor preparation efforts. Together, we will draw some conclusions about the value of knowledge about writing development and explore strategies for incorporating that knowledge into tutor instruction. Ultimately, we pose the following questions: What kind of course is a peer tutoring seminar? What kind of course should it be?
So I was revising my About page this evening and I realized how much this blog has evolved since I started it. At first it was a place to post my field notes from the Olmsted research I was doing for my thesis/manuscript, my publication news as poems started making it out into the world, and the great work my friends were doing through their own publications or events around the DC area. My job and my teaching inform my writerly identity as much as my work as a poet, though. So in the two years since I moved to the Eastern Shore I’ve felt torn with how I want to represent this identity virtually. Do I continue to represent only one angle of my life as a post-MFA poet trying to get her work out into the world and leave this occupation as a line on the bio? Or, do I let in the thinking that fuels my daily (salaried) work? In many ways this post is very overdue, but it truly took looking at my ”About” page today to realize I should articulate (at least one) of the ways in which these roles in my life are not at all disparate; they are, in fact, informed by each other.
Before I jump right into the reason for this entry’s title, I’ll need some set-up first. I write this entry a day after returning from the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCCs, or 4Cs). As always after a conference I am finding myself energized and exhausted at the same time. The dominant themes at work during this CCCCs (or, at least the things I sought out, and found valuable for my current thinking and work as a composition instructor and Writing Center administrator) seemed to be genre, transfer, and meta-cognition (awareness and understanding of one’s own thought process), and (of course) the relationships between these concepts.
There were two panels I found most powerful on these subjects, in part because they served to validate the work we’ve been doing in our Writing Theory and Pedagogy (peer tutor preparation) course, and in part because it has helped me to think more fully about my intentions in my own Composition and Literature (English 101) course (that’s where the “nonce” idea comes into play… but more on that later). [Specifics and my eventual point/observations after the jump]
Over at This Recording a recent article, “In Which We Get Down to the Actual Writing” they provide an aggregate of excerpts from a bunch of famous writers talking about writing (that was a messy sentence, but you get my point). It’s always been my obsession to read manifestos and learn about writers’ processes through their own language, but lately it seems these texts are easier to find. There’s a new composition text Writing About Writing (2010) with essays with everyone from Mike Rose to Stephen King, the Paris Review has archived all of their interviews with writers back to the beginning of this series, and this recent web thing are great examples.
I am particularly grateful for these resources not only as a writer, but as an educator. Continue reading
In my composition and literature course this spring I am having my students keep a commonplace book. As I told them on our wiki:
The tradition of keeping a “commonplace book” goes back for centuries. Through the process of gathering words, phrases, and quotations from the texts we encounter we are able to create an image of our thinking in the gatherings we put down on the page. Before the “copy and paste” ease of the internet, commonplace books were the storage containers of a reader’s thinking. Many authors and readers still keep commonplace books to this day, though some have moved their books to public forums like blogs, facebook, twitter, and social readings sites such as goodreads.
Sometimes (often) my thinking process is not very linear, so the concept of blogging is a little difficult for me sometimes — the ominous vertical stretch of post space to fill is daunting and lately I find myself resisting it because I think about linear narratives all day (well-crafted emails, assignment prompts, working with student essays, etc). That was a very long sentence.
I am going to try to get over myself, and take a lesson from my own lesson plan. Sometimes, in lieu of reviews, I will write a commonplace entry. There, I’ve said it. It is on the task of this blog, along with field notes and ramblings and event notifications (of which there are many I have missed as of late… my apologies).
The beauty of the commonplace book is that, by definition, it does not have a particular order. It is a gathering. My handwritten commonplace books are separate by project, and serve as some kind of physical reminder of all of the work I’ve done. Sometimes I write a lot of reflection on what I’ve gathered. Sometimes I just let quotations and lists stand for themselves, resonating in their own space by the mere fact that I took the time to write them down.
The first commonplace book entry my students are working on is for the essay Against the Grain, by David Bartholomae. This is my own commonplace entry on the article:
“How I write is against the grain” (192) — against the wood grain, opposite of the expected — but doesn’t everyone do this? I think so often we are TOLD what a writing process should look like, and the reason it takes so long for us to figure out what our own writing process is like is because those things that people told us to do didn’t make any sense. I often wondered, for example, how the hell I was supposed to write an outline when I didn’t know what I was going to write about yet. I never knew… so I wrote the essay and THEN wrote the outline.
“Writing gets in my way and makes my life difficult…” (192) — but I love it, even when it is hard.
“…I’m not making history, but… I am intruding upon or taking my turn in a conversation others have begun before me” (193) ahh, the conversation. Response is key. This is all I ever want to teach my students, is to enjoy the response, to find the compulsion to respond.
Words and phrases he uses to describe his writing process:
- “help me speak”
- historic moment
- “letting the paper bounce around in my head”
- things, never ideas or theses
- add, subtract, rearrange
- “dump and revise”
- multi-layered — adding layers
- someone who speaks
- “to borrow authority”
- “struggle free from the presence of others”
- “giving over and giving up”
- “surrender and betrayal”
- NOT invention or originality
- “a most difficult grace”
“This [the personal confrontation with another figure] is the most powerful influence and it is the influence of another writer, a person represented by a verbal, textual presence — a set of terms, a sound and a rhythm, a sensibility — that I cannot push our of my mind or erase from my own writing” (194)
(His dissertation advisor REJECTED his dissertation!? It’s really incredible this guy became such a leading scholar in the composition world).
“The problem here was not so much what I had to say about Thomas Hardy but what I did with what I had to say and how, in fact, I went about saying it. It’s hard to learn how to deal with this — with the pressure of language to be so pat, complete, official, single-minded; with the pressure of language against complexity, uncertainty, idiosyncracy, multiple-mindedness — and it’s very hard to teach students to work against fluency, the “natural” flow of language as it comes to a writer who has a grasp of a subject” (196) — I think this grasp of a subject thing is key.
“I try very hard to interfere with the conventional force of writing, with the pressure toward set conclusions, set connections, set turns of phrase” (196) YES! I have been resisting convention for so long… but so often conventions are comforting, they tell us what to do. What they don’t tell us is WHY they are telling us to do the thing they are telling us, or HOW that convention makes logical, organic sense (often it does not).
“I often think of writing as multilayered, although not in the sense that there is a center, like the center of an onion, that can be revealed or discovered once the layers are peeled away and sloughed off. I think, rather, that I revise to add a layer, often discordant, over a layer that will also remain — so that there is a kind of antiphony” (196). Who told us that there was a “hidden meaning” in the first place? Why was it hidden? What amount of writing could uncover it? I like this — layers added, not layers surrounding.
“I revise… so that it seems to assert the presence of someone who speaks as more than the representative of an institution or a brand of research or a discipline” (196) — I do not agree with this. Writing is so different than speech. We think differently in written language. What about poetry? Poetry is not (necessarily) linear, narrative, even in grammatically correct sentences.
Western tradition of writers and theories “good writing is efficient writing” — resisting this (197).
“My academic life has been marked by people, not by ideas or theories alone or in the abstract” (198).
What he needed was a “project” (199) — what is the project for us in this class? What project might the students undertake in their college careers? How does this course fit into that? This is definitely the key motivating factor — how do I inspire that in my students? Can I?