Reynolds and Bruch
This article reports the results of a study in which Pat and Tom invited students to participate in the instruction of writing. Bruch and Reynolds outline a theoretical basis resting on the view that writing is part of socially constructed process--that it is not a set of discrete skills but rather "a wide variety of practices through which individuals are shaped by and shape society" (p. 12). They argue that this perspective should be borne out in practice in both structure and content of classes. They acknowledge that emphasis the social aspects and power relationships that pervade writing is sometimes criticized by writing teachers who emphasize the skills-based approach to teaching writing. To support their claims that their participatory approach works well for their students (and to allow their students to have a voice in their own instruction) they conducted a survey to gather student input. They used a four-question survey asking students to rate the importance preferred emphasis of various aspects of their writing classes and asking students to list classroom activities they found helpful and finally to evaluate their own improvement as writers over the course of the semester.
In terms of my research, this paper makes me reconsider the potential of survey research as a tool. I have considered it a relatively shallow tool, but Bruch and Reynolds deploy it to look for complex answers in a rich theoretical framework.
Conners and Lunsford
Conners and Lunsford write about the way that teachers respond rhetorically to student writing. They bgin with a fairly detailed history of the ways in which teachers have responded to student writing over the last century and half. They point out that for many years, the instructors' role was seen as either correcting or rating students' deficient writing.
They then work with a massive collection of essays with teacher comments. Staring with a larger sample of around 21,000 essays, they then drew a random sample of around 3,000 articles to analyze. They then winnowed the sample down to 300 papers (150 for each author) to and come up with a preliminary coding scheme for the 3,000 paper sample.
Their research questions were not concerned with analyzing the way teachers marked up "formal and mechanical errors" (p. 205), but with understanding the ways in which teachers respond to writing: "What we wanted to try to look at was
a sometimes vague entity that we called "global comments" by the teachers. What were teachers saying in response to the content of the paper, or to the
specifically rhetorical aspects of its organization, sentence structure, etc.? What
kinds of teacher-student relationships did the comments reflect?" (p. 205).
This is a very descriptive piece, and although the authors provide a number of numerical tables, they seem to want the reader to take away their coders' impressionistic accounts of what they read. In fact, this makes the paper seem to me to have two unconnected personalities--the first personality is that one that presents a huge selection of data and statistics drawn from that data. The second personality presents a relatively informal analysis of the coders' impressions. I'm not really sure what I would try to take from the paper to apply to my own research.
One thing I definitely do like is the window that this paper gives us into Conners and Lunsford's thought processes. They present their research as a reflective narrative, as though the research simply unfolded naturally from step to step. Although this makes the research seem haphazard and unplanned, it is helpful to have this insight into the way this project came together.
In class discussion
There were a number of concerns that came up in class involving this research: IRB, student consent, inter-coder reliability, and so on.
Connors, R. J., & Lunsford, A. A. (1993). Teachers' rhetorical comments on student papers. College Composition and Communication, 200-223.
Reynolds, T. J., & Bruch, P. L. (2002). Curriculum and Affect: A Participatory Developmental Writing Approach. Journal of Developmental Education, 26(2), 12-20