May 5, 2005
Response to Sommers’ “Responding to Student Writing”
Sommers begins her article by talking about teacher commenting in general, as a general problem. She says that teacher commenting is extremely under stressed and not generally well thought out. Teachers often give conflicting advice and students have no idea how to read teacher comments. Sommers goes on to discuss a study she conducted with Brannon and Knoblauch, in which they looked at comments on first drafts from NYU and the University of Oklahoma. What they consistently found was that student writing was suffering from a lot of grammatical usage and grammar errors, but that often students were missing the forest for the trees. They were incorporating teacher comments directly, but often confused on what to fix and therefore changing the superficial errors instead of the larger conceptual problems. This stems largely from the fact that teacher comments are often opaque and incomprehensible for students. The see a comment like “be more concise” as a general demand for a very particular expectation. They are also often given mixed messages, “be more concise” and simultaneously “expand”. This turns student revision into a “guessing game,” as Sommers points out. Teacher comments are also often vague, contradictory and interchangeable between different students papers. Sommers concludes by asking teachers to focus their commenting on first drafts to larger conceptual issues and to a few clear comments, instead of a jumble of vague ones. She asks teachers to respond as interested readers and not as judges.
I must agree with most of Sommers’ findings and conclusions. I think these are the problems with commenting. I also don’t believe any of us get enough training on commenting. I do think that some of Sommers’ assumptions are awfully Utopian. She says that we’ll have eight drafts to look at in a semester, eight drafts! That seems very idealistic.
April 12, 2005
Summary of Williams
Williams begins his essay with a discussion of the emphasis the public and most educators place on grammar instruction. According to Williams we always link good grammar instruction to good writing, regardless of the actual benefits or drawbacks grammar instruction has on writing. The second section of Williams’ essay focuses on the series of studies in the eighties and nineties that all showed that grammar instruction had little, or no effect on student writing. In many cases rigorous grammar instruction actually had a negative effect on student writing and at best only improved very technical elements of student writing. Why do we see grammar instruction as necessary? According to Williams’ this comes largely from the fact that we learn language through a building-block model (we learn the alphabet first, and then we learn words). However, grammar does not work the same way, students who learn English as a second language often have great grammar skills, but not necessary good writing skills in English. Williams also points out the fact that much of what we consider incorrect grammar is not incorrect at all. It may be inappropriate usage for school writing, but that does not make it bad grammar.
I found Williams’ arguments very convincing. I did not realize that choices such as double negatives were in fact correct grammar, but incorrect usage. I also appreciate his citation of many different studies. I found the end of the article a little repetitive, but overall it convinced me.
March 29, 2005
Summary of Brannon and Knoblauch
Brannon and Knoblauch’s article begins with a description of the way in which we typically approach texts. Generally when we approach a text we have faith in the author’s ability and intention to communicate. We give the writer authority, even when they even when they may not earn it. We also allow writers that have impressed us in the past a lot more leniency. According to Brannon and Knoblauch the opposite is true of our students. When it comes to our students we interrogate their texts and hold them up to an “ideal model” in our head. We often assume that they do not have anything interesting to communicate. We also correct all of their grammatical and phrasing choices with no regard to their intention. This according to Brannon and Knoblauch is exactly what causes a lack of motivation in students. If we take the power away from them to generate their own meaning, then we take from them the very excitement of writing itself. Therefore we should look at what students are actually communicate and who their intended audience is. We should see ourselves more as facilitators for their ideas then as examiners. This part of a specific approach to paper writer which demands a series of revisions and consultations. Evaluating must not come until the final step. This should even be followed to the extent that students don’t turn in papers until they feel they are totally finished with them. This forces students to take control of their own writing.
I largely agree with this essay. I think that taking the reader/facilitator role will help students take control of and learn to revise their own writing. However, I also think the essay is idealistic. I have a hard time believing that students are suddenly going to say, “I get it, it’s about my vision and not yours.” Certainly not after a brief “dramatization” in class (which is also engineered). It is also unlikely that a teacher in anything but the smallest of classes can wait until the student feels entirely ready to grade their. In the real world there are real time restraints. That said, I would still like to adopt a more facilitative and less authoritative role, I think that is a good idea.
March 22, 2005
"Response to Bruffee"
Bruffee begins his article by discussing the sudden interest in collaborative learning. He says that collaborative learning is viewed sometimes as its own discipline of study and sometimes as a teaching strategy. He notes that collaborative learning really took off in Comp. and English classes. This was in the mid-nineties and collaborative learning has only become more popular since this article. According to Bruffee collaborative learning was pioneered in the 50’s and 60’s in England, where it was used as a strategy for teaching medical students. Bruffee then examines the ways in which collaborative learning can and should work. He argues that conversation is a fundamental part of thought and learning and that therefore conversation itself should be brought directly into learning. If sitting alone and writing is still part of a larger conversation, then students should converse about their writing. Bruffee advocates certain methods of instituting collaborative learning and not others. For example, Bruffee says that peer tutoring and organized peer workshoping and feedback can be effective applications of collaborative learning. However, Bruffee warns that if students are not part of “knowledgeable” community of peers and if collaboration is not well organized then it will likely fail. I agree with the idea that thinking is done as conversation.
I also think that workshoping is useful, however, I am a little unsure if it will always be useful if it is as organized as Bruffee would imagine it should be.
March 8, 2005
Summary on "The Doubting Game and the Believing Game..."
Elbow's essay begins with a reaction against the charges of anti-intellectualism that have been assigned to Elbow. He begins by explaining that he is in fact an intellectual, but that his approach differs a great deal from others in his larger discourse community. This, he argues, is because we have a great preference for what he calls "doubting" in the academic community. Elbow says that we conflate doubt itself with intellectualism. We seperate ourselves out from our objects of study and we shed doubt on them in order to discover whether or not they're true. According to Elbow this is exactly the wrong way to go about finding true. He says that the tradition of doubting originated largely with Socrates. Elbow finally argues that by accepting and believing arguments we are better capable of finding their truth. He goes on to describe in detail the ways in which meaning is given to words and then is passed along to other people. This, he argues, is primarily an act of believing, that meaning for words is either accepted, or rejected by discourse communities. He then gives a brief description of the New Critics. He says that their probably was largely that they left the meaning in the words. Finally Elbow says that doubting cannot prove or disprove meaning, because it does not test itself. On the other hand accepting can actual test itself against the rules of the discourse community and prove itself right or wrong.
I tried to accept Elbow’s arguments, I tried. However, I don’t really buy his system. I think it is a way for him to defend his own position, without having to critique it. I do think there is undue preference in the academy given to doubt, however, I don’t find that his rationalizations work for me. I don’t believe that right or wrong readings should necessarily be our primary concern and that is what Elbow suggests.
March 1, 2005
"How Students Handle Writing Assignments: A Study of Eighteen Responses in Six Disciplines," looks analytically at what is both helping and hampering the writing process, specifically in terms of peer feedback and revision. The article is written using a number of case studies from writing intensive classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The studies referenced in the article point to several specific breaches between the expectations of the instructor and the expectations and abilities of their students. When a student feedback process was added into the assignment, but was not part of the grade, students often did not utilize this process much if at all. This largely came from the fact that professors were focused largely on the students process and their learning, while students were concerned more with their grade and how exactly they were being evaluated in the end. The article also showed that the more time students had for revisions, the more they would draw on past experience. The article also pointed out the fact that many students were far too busy to spend a lot of time revising. They were sometimes too busy to even finish the work for a class. I found this article helpful in terms of thinking about student expectations and problems with assignments. However, in a way the article paints these problems as necessary and seems to imply that peer feedback is useless. I would like to strategize ways that the revision can still be useful. Perhaps there simply needs to be a grade attached
February 24, 2005
Brief Profile of Disciplinary Discourse
In Theater Studies the primary concern is with the performance event. Texts are generally what is being analyzed, but in relationship to performance. Theater writing may take the form of a play text, theatrical review, critical reading, notes on a performance, etc. There are a variety of forms theatrical writing can take, but they exhibit two primary characteristics that differentiate them from other forms of writing. First, Theatre writing is often more free-form than other types of writing. It concerns itself majoritally with broader ideas then with specific formulaic writing. However, Theater writing employs a great deal of specific stage images and examples. Therefore, theatre writing often experiments with the limitations of its own form. Theater writing is also generally focused around a primary topic or idea. This idea is generally of theoretical origin, either found in the meaning of a particular performance, or used to analyze or explicate a performance or performance mode. Much of theater writing can be seen as an experimentation with various modes of thought, and then application of that thought to cultural events and or documents, in that way it closely mirrors philosophy.
Particular forms of theater writing take on very different characteristics. Even theater reviews and plays are generally arranged around a philosophical idea, but the idea is treated differently in each case. In the theater review the author tries to evoke the feel of the event for the reader. In the play text, the playwright tries to create a template through which a particular idea can be explored onstage. In the case of the academic critical essay, the author is attempting to use theory to critically analyze theatrical and historical texts and see what questions and conclusions can be drawn out of that sort of analysis.
The strength of the discourse is in its ability to take abstract concepts and analyze them through materialized forms (bodies onstage). The weakness of the discourse comes from the same source. Theatrical discourse is obsessively fixated on reducing the distance between the “stage event” and the writing. It attempts to capture and relate to what is an ephemeral form.
February 22, 2005
"Cognition, Convention, and Certainty"
Patricia Bizzel begins her article with the assumption that problems in student writing can be traced back to problems in student thinking. She cautions us against taking for granted the fact that we are teaching ways of thinking and therefore seeing the world as well as ways of writing. She argues that approaching problems of writing with the assumption that there is one absolute and correct way to write, while erasing the importance of community and relationship in writing will create two problems. The first problem she outlines is that students still will not recognize the "why" of writing and the second problem is that we, as writing instructors will not disguise ethical questions about writing within the guise of scientific fact. She goes on to outline Flower and Hayes studies on the processes of writing. She does not discredit Flower and Hayes altogether, but argues that their approach assumes that thinking proceeds writing and that writing is purely communicative. Their studies also do not account for where writing conventions come from and how students can engage more actively with the ways in which ideas of writing are generated. Bizzel concludes by looking at Vygotsky and the things his theories can add to and Flower and Hayes. She adopts the theory of discourse communities and finally argues that we must see writing as something formulated in and with those communities. I find her arguments compelling overall and certainly agree that we must use theories that force us to ask ethical questions about writing instruction.
February 14, 2005
Response to Elbow and "Readings"
In “Readings” elbow lays out the arguments for and against keeping the audience in mind during the writing process. Elbow is evidently arguing for an escape from audience centered writing when necessary and he explicit about advocating this goal. He begins by simply introducing the idea of writing without attention to audience and makes a compelling claim. He is very clear not to advocate the abandonment of audience centered approaches to writing altogether, but argues that these should not be the only approaches taught in the classroom. According to Elbow, the audience can work as both a positive force for the writer and as a negative force and it is at the point at which the audience is inhibitive instead of productive to the writer that she must abandon the audience and work as though writing on a desert island. Elbow also says that we can teach students when to avoid attention to their audience and when to focus on their audience. (Elbow, 164) In the next section of the article Elbow moves on to his “more powerful claim,” he argues that writing done without audience in mind is often the most compelling and that this sort of writing should be encouraged in students. He also says that students can often learn how to think from writing done expressly for the self. He ends the section by refuting the claim that all writing is essentially social and instead positing that writing such as free-writing has no audience in mind.
I think that Elbow makes a compelling argument. An overly anxious relationship to a vague, perceived audience can be petrifying for the writer. In instances where the writer is immobilized by her perceived audience, it makes much more sense for her to write for herself. I do think it is possible to overemphasize audience, or teacher as audience. However, I think audience can also be helpful in directing writing and a disagree with Elbow on the point that one can write with no audience in mind. I do think that the self is always a potential audience. I think that the most helpful point to come out of the section is the idea that we can guide students so that they can judge when awareness of their audience is holding them back and they can leave that awareness behind.
February 10, 2005
ASSIGNMENT 1, Theatre Writing Diagnostic
TH1101 SEC 005, Jonah Winn-Lenetsky
Due Tues Oct. 1st
This assignment is meant to be a short paper. It should be 1-2 typed pages, double spaced and “Times New Roman” font. Don’t worry about hitting every point I’ve outlined below. This assignment is primarily meant as a diagnostic task, to examine your relationship to theatre and how you translate that relationship into writing.
Think about your most recent experience with theatre. This could be seeing a play, acting in a play, or having an experience that you think of as theatrical. You may want to think of Victor Turner’s concept of ritual and liminality, if you are unsure of what constitutes theatrical experience. For example, the event could possibly be a high school graduation, or a wedding. Any experience that had an element of ritual and liminality will work. Describe this experience or event in careful detail. What about the event makes it a theatre experience? If it was a play, think about whether it created a sense of community and whether there was a ritual aspect. Think about the “I-Thou” relationship proposed by Buber, did you find a sense of community during this event? It is okay to say that the experience left you uninspired. Do not feel any pressure to exaggerate your memory of your experience, all thoughts and impressions are acceptable for this assignment.
For the second part of the assignment, I would like you to engage the readings from Aristotle and Augusto Boal. In what ways did your experience connect to Aristotle’s Poetics?
One thing that you should think about is whether you think your theatrical experience more closely connected to Aristotle’s conceptions of what theatre should do, or Boal’s. It is also possible that it connected to both in different ways, or neither. You do not need to explore this fully, but should at least think about it, as we will discuss it next week in section. Be prepared to further elaborate on the event you’ve described and it’s connection to the readings in class next Tuesday.
Don’t be concerned about addressing all of these points, but be sure that you at least describe your event and in some way relate it to the readings.