All posts by jacksonnc1

Testing a Theory of Writing in FYW

Nicholas Jackson
University of Louisville
nicholas.jackson.2@louisville.edu

In 2016, four other instructors at UMaine (where I was teaching at the time) and I began incorporating elements of the Teacher for Transfer curriculum into our WAW first-year-writing course. The theory of writing has been the TfT element I find the most useful, and I have students return to it repeatedly throughout the course, asking them to reflect on how they would make changes in light of their most recent reading and writing and then to revise that theory accordingly.

In planning our assignment sequences, we discussed the benefits of explicitly asking students to reflect on writing in other classes as well. This prompt is what I developed to foster that reflection. It is part of a scaffolded assignment sequence in which students engage in new writing tasks between (almost) every class to work toward final portfolios. This prompt is typically when I see students begin to make more thorough connections between the writing they do in first-year-writing and the other types of writing they engage in or expect to engage in in the future. While many of the readings I include focus on writing in new contexts, some of which are non-academic, asking students to apply their own theories to those other types of writing helps them see these connections more clearly than when they just read what others have said.

Prompt: Your last assignment asked you to “test” your theory of writing against your experiences writing your last essay in order to think about how complete and useful this theory is. While this is a good start to evaluating the usefulness of your theory, you should once again recall Downs’ and Robertson’s claim that “The better–the more completely, consistently, and elegantly–a theory accounts for past experience and the more accurate its predictions about future experience, the stronger or more robust it is, and thus the more useful it is” (111). As such, it would seem useful to test how consistently your theory of writing can account for your past experiences with writing and make predictions about future writing experiences for writing experiences outside of this class. Therefore, for this assignment you will turn your attention to writing you have produced (or are producing) outside of this class in order to begin to develop a clearer picture of the usefulness of your theory of writing.

For next class, please select a piece of your writing from outside of this class. It can be something you have completed or something you are still composing. You may choose an academic example (a history paper or lab report you wrote last week; an essay from high school) or a non-academic example (a tweet, a post on an online forum, a letter to your grandmother, fanfiction, a prayer journal, etc.). The more unlike the writing you do in ENG 101 this sample is, the more fruitful and interesting your examination will likely be.

After you have selected the piece of writing, use your theory of writing as a frame to explain what you did as you composed this piece of writing, how you did so, and why, much as you did in your last assignment. Like with the last assignment, the length will, in part, be determined by the usefulness of your theory of writing. If you find yourself unable to write much, you may want to instead begin thinking about how you will revise your theory of writing to account for this other type of writing.

You do not need to send me this piece of writing (though you can), but you will need to make sure I have enough context to understand what you’re saying, so you’ll want to cite specific examples from your text. Make sure you also explain what your theory of writing fails to account for–that is, are there ways your theory of writing as it is currently written fails to explain what happens when you write, say, a tweet instead of an academic essay? How will you revise your theory of writing in light of this information?

When you have finished, please revise your theory of writing based on the work you did here. Please send me your revised theory and the writing you did above.

WAW Standing Group, CCCC 2018 Notes. Language Diversity and Academic Writing group.

During the WAW Standing Group meeting, our breakout group discussed:

The textbook: Language Diversity and Academic Writing by Samantha Looker-Koenigs

  • We recognized the diversity of scholars in the textbook as important. Some of us shared that our first attempts creating a WAW reading list for our students included mostly white men. More diversity of authors read in the classroom is needed.
  • The book includes excerpts rather than full articles because 1) Bedford had constraints about lengths, both for the textbook as a whole and for individual readings, and 2) because this allowed more readings to be included.

Literacy Narratives

  • This discussion began with a list of possible readings to use to frame the literacy narrative, especially one that addresses issues of language diversity. I, unfortunately, did not catch all of those readings. The two I did catch were Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” and Alcoff’s “The Problem of Speaking for Others.
  • The latter reading is useful for moving away from issues of “linguistic tourism” in the class.
  • This idea of “linguistic tourism” framed some anxiety around asking students to engage in a literacy narrative that asks students to focus on their diverse language practices. Geoff mentioned hearing of an assignment where students were required to code-mesh, which included asking white students to use AAE. We all recognized this as a problem.
  • We discussed framing code-meshing for students using Canagarajah or Ashanti Young. In thinking about WAW approaches to language diversity, we discussed the necessity of helping students think about how academic writing already involves a meshing of codes, but that’s it important to recognize the difference in stakes for different language users.
  • It was shared by multiple people that literacy narratives often feel performative, with students engaging in transformation narratives articulating what they think the teacher wants to hear. Nick shared borrowing the “Theory of Writing” from Yancey et al.’s “Teaching for Transfer” curriculum as something students begin on the first day of class and repeatedly return to throughout the semester. This theory of writing asks students to explain what previous experiences informed their ideas about writing, so students engage in some of the same moves as a literacy narrative but in a more critical manner.

Approaches to Assignment Sequencing

  • Several approaches to structuring the course were discussed:
    • The way the textbook moves through thinking about issues of language and identity to academic writing.
    • Working backwards from that: starting with readings and discussion on the ways in which ideas of “good writing” are not stable but context-dependent. Once students recognize this, then moving to destabilize their notions of standard language.
    • Linking discussions of language diversity with discussions of the rhetorical situations. Students can begin by thinking about what type of language is appropriate for a text message and what type of language is appropriate for an assignment, and why.
    • Working towards discussions of language by beginning with discussions of nonverbal language (i.e. graffiti, body language, etc.) to think about how communication within culture and how those communicative norms change. This can then move to official signs (i.e. stop signs), as codes that are written for us, before moving to language as traditionally conceived. John Swales’ article on discourse is useful framing for this.
    • Beginning with a “language autobiography” rather than a “literacy narrative.” The first week of class is ungraded reflection where students talk about themselves as writers. Students then read the Thaiss and Zawacki article in the text book and think about how some of the things they’ve been taught to do in writing are indicative of the larger moves discussed here.