Tuesday, September 29, 2009

McDonald, James C. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for College Writing Teachers.

McDonald, James C. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for College Writing Teachers. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.

Regard this collection of essays as a “greatest hits” of composition studies. Though essentially aimed at an instructor of the traditional college composition course, the book can prove useful to anyone using writing in the classroom. You will find the book easy to dip into since it is helpfully arranged into the sections of general theories and perspectives; audience and peer groups; composing and revising; critical thinking and reading in writing; computers; argumentation; form and style; grammar; and designing, responding to, and evaluating writing assignments. Below, I will note some highlights that we might find particularly useful at Ursuline. First of all, you will recognize a familiar name as our Vice President of Academic Affairs, JoAnne Podis, along with Leonard Podis, wrote “Improving Our Responses to Student Writing: A Process-Oriented Approach,” which offers advice on how to best respond to student writing. Another useful selection is “Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively.” In it, Margaret Kantz explains how an unclear description of an assignment caused students to use a familiar genre of writing (narration) even though it didn’t fit the assignment. This reminds us to make our expectations as explicit as possible so as to avoid some common frustrations for both us and students (190-91). Essays by Betty Bamberg and Richard Lanham both offer some advice on how to teach students to revise more effectively. Unfortunately, if they revise at all, most students will revise only superficial surface errors such as a misspelling unless taught otherwise. As a result of such bad student habits as turning in first drafts as final drafts, occasionally instructors will complain about student writing, and often the complaint will include the claim that students need to be taught grammar more formally (usually by someone other than the one complaining, of course). Alas, as Patrick Hartwell points out in “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar,” research into the matter has determined that teaching grammar formally and having students do grammatical exercises has limited if any value for improving their writing. Instead, Hartwell recommends that writers read their writing aloud and note where their speaking corrects their writing and that instructors simply point out any remaining errors with minimal marking (334). The remainder of formal errors will only be avoided as the writer develops more expertise in that type of writing, and develops metalinguistic and rhetorical awareness (334-36). In fact, Peter Elbow, in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment,” claims that a more effective way of improving student writing than punishing them for formal errors is to point out instead what the writer has done well and encourage her or him to do more of it (408). He writes that “reward produces learning more effectively than punishment” (408). Though not all the selections will be applicable to those of us teaching at Ursuline, the book contains enough useful advice that it is a good resource to consult for improving student writing. It is available through OhioLINK.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wardle, Elizabeth. “‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?”

Wardle, Elizabeth. “‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?” College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): 765-89. Print.

In this article, Wardle proposes that the goal of first year composition classes be adjusted from learning to write to learning about writing. Her reasoning is that the traditional goal of freshman composition-- to teach students how to write in college--is essentially impossible to meet since disciplines vary so widely in their expectations for writing that no single general writing course could prepare students adequately for writing in their majors, so a revision of the course is needed. She notes that currently in composition courses students write “mutt genres,” which are “genres that do not respond to rhetorical situations requiring communication in order to accomplish a purpose that is meaningful to the author” (777). In short, students learn writing genres that are only useful in freshman composition, a course they will never take again. To rectify this, Wardle proposes that students study academic genres instead, and that instructors use pedagogical methods that have been shown to encourage the transfer of skills from one setting to another: abstraction, self-reflection, and mindfulness. She writes, “Why is this goal more achievable than the current one of teaching students to write? Because it teaches students a clear content—what we know about how writing and language work—and focuses on that content as the object of attention. Not only that, but the nature of that content nearly requires students to reflect on their own writing practices and the writing practices in courses across the academy” (784-85). While, we don’t have composition per se at Ursuline and do try to cultivate such transference skills in our Ursuline Studies courses, Wardle’s article is a good reminder that writing is a skill (or set of skills) that must be developed across the university “rather than relying on the false hope and promise of general skills writing courses” (785). We can also assist students in transferring skills across courses by teaching “general and flexible principles about writing” and explicitly discussing “similarities between new and previous writing assignments” (770). The journal issue including this article will shortly be available in our mini-library of writing instruction materials in the USP office.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National Day on Writing

The blog is back from summer vacation, and with some exciting news. Ursuline College will be participating in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) National Day on Writing event on October 20th. The event will celebrate writing in hopes of raising awareness of just how much writing we do every day, and what writing does for us. As their Web page describes, the day will "celebrate the foundational place of writing in Americans' personal, professional, and civic lives; point to the importance of writing instruction and practice at every grade level, for every student and in every subject area from preschool through university (See The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor); emphasize the lifelong process of learning to write and composing for different audiences, purposes, and occasions; recognize the scope and range of writing done by the American people and others; honor the use of the full range of media for composing; and encourage Americans to write and enjoy and learn from the writing of others."

To showcase the writing we do at Ursuline, we have a local gallery set up in NCTE's National Gallery of Writing. If you are a member of the Ursuline College community, please consider adding a piece of writing to the gallery. It can be anything you write at Ursuline from a list, an essay, a text message, a poem, a sign, a press release, or even a tweet! Please just be comfortable with others reading it. Click on the image below to send us your writing.

Visit the National Gallery of Writing