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January 31, 2006

Summary of Langer's "Speaking of Knowing ..."

Langer initially studied writing in the disciplines (WID). She discovered that writing itself, as an activity, does not necessarily promote the reflective assimilation into new ways of thinking that theorists of WID advocate. If students are asked only to “summarize information and points of view that had been presented to them by the teacher or the textbook� (234), they do not develop the particular skills of interpretation and argument prized in each discipline.

Realizing this, Langer turned her attention to “what students are asked to learn� and “what teachers look for as evidence of learning� (234). She contends that instructors must “conceptualize student learning in terms of [how] students think about and discuss the subjects� (234), rather than merely as the acquisition of content knowledge. Further, instructors must communicate discipline-specific ways of knowing to their students, a process that can be facilitated by writing. In Langer’s view, classrooms are training grounds for apprentice scholars, who find models in the instructor and the texts for how the discipline generates and communicates its knowledge. Writing is a way to practice those methods.

Studies by Langer and others have found that there is great debate among scholars (as evidenced by professional writings) about how to think in their fields, and even how students should be taught to think in their fields, but this concern for evaluating methodology is rarely transmitted to students in high school and college classes. Despite some pedagogical calls for greater emphasis on critical inquiry, instruction focuses on content. Interviews with teachers revealed an implicit belief that learning content would lead to higher order understanding of the discipline (238).

Unsurprisingly, researchers noted significant differences across disciplines in how instructors talked about their work and what they expected from their students. But to varying degrees across all disciplines, instructors spoke only in general terms about the kinds of analysis and interpretation they sought from their students. Their comments on student papers were similarly general and content-related.

Langer concludes that professionals need to clarify for themselves what constitutes sound practice in their disciplines (241). (Apparently the methodological disputes have left scholars feeling less confident about situating themselves in and teaching a particular approach.) There needs to be greater articulation in pedagogical literature of how to incorporate disciplinary ways of thinking into courses and how to communicate them clearly and specifically to students.


Laura Barron (2/20) topic choice in writing assignments

Lu Curtis 5.1.06 teaching writing with blogs

Althea Dixon 4.24.06 : Writer's Block

Maru Dominguez-Mujica 4.17.06 topic related to working with Non-Native Speakers of English

Edward Eiffler 4/3/06 Methods of Incorporating Peer Review

Heather Gregg 4/10/06 Cultural Rhetorics

Steven Koskela 2.13.06 Effects of computers or visual media on student writing

Ann Linde 2.27.06 Writing in Service Learning Courses

Maria de Lourdes Mills 3.20 05 Students' interpretations of writing assignments

Gary Peter 3.27.06 Plagiarism

Marcia Lynx Qualey 3.6.05 Assigning Collaborative Writing

January 30, 2006

presentation sign-up sheet

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Packet TOC

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January 29, 2006

EngL5630 syllabus

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January 26, 2006

Summary of James A. Berlin's "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories"

Berlin believes, in contrast to many critics, that the pedagogical analysis of composition should examine the way the writing process is constructed by the interaction between the student (writer) and the instructor. He identifies four dominant approaches to teaching composition: 1) Neo-Aristotelians or Classicists, 2) Positivists or Current-Traditionalists, 3) Neo-Platonists or Expressionists, and 4) New Rhetoricians. He analyses each of these schools, presenting their philosophical underpinnings, practical implications for teaching, and historical precedents. We also see that each of these approaches has adherents, but the Current-Traditionalists are dominant. Berlin concludes that, even in the face of this dominance, it is not necessarily the best. His criticism is that Current-Traditionalists focus on the empirical aspects of human experience to the detriment of reflecting the vast complexity our reality holds. He concludes that the existence of such a plethora of other approaches reflects this disenchantment with the limitations of the dominant paradigm.

January 22, 2006

Hairston: sample critical summary

Hairston, Maxine
(student sample)

In "The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution," Maxine Hairston uses Kuhn's idea of educational "paradigm shifts" to describe a fundamental change experienced as writing instruction moved away from an old set of ideas about writing. According to Hairston, the old paradigm was characterized by: 1) a stress on expository writing; 2) reliance on "an unchanging reality which is independent of the writer and which all writers are expected to describe the same way, regardless of the rhetorical situation"; 3) a neglect of invention; 4) an emphasis on style; 5) belief that "writers know what they are going to say before they begin to write"; 6) belief that the writing process is linear; 7) belief that "teaching editing is teaching writing." By contrast, Hairston explains that the emerging paradigm stresses 1) a recursive writing process; 2) invention and discovery; 3) audience, purpose, and occasion; 4) the role of writing in discovery of ideas and learning; and 5) the principle that "writing teachers should be people who write."