Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Nutshell

Photobooth pic of me from my new iMac!!

I ordered Joseph Harris' new text Rewriting for my Freshman Comp II class next semester. It may be a far bit above their capabilitities, but it is an excellent text about academic writing and revision. The first four chapters of the book examine the four moves of "rewriting": coming to terms, forwarding, countering, and taking an approach. These are moves an academic writer makes as they write. He then uses these same concepts to present ideas for revision. The equivalence of these terms between "rewriting" and "revision" is not exact, and perhaps forced; however, Harris provides excellent advice on how to revise writing beyond mere editing. IN FACT, it seems that much of his approach to revision hinges on reflection or "between-the-draft" activities that are reflective in nature.

Here is his description of a "Project" on page 32: "The next time you complete a first draft of a writing project, see if you can write a paragraph or two in which you describe your essay as it then stands. Don't think of yourself as writing a new introduction to your essay. Rather, imagine your task as coming to terms with your own work, representing your essay to someone who hasn't read it. In this brief piece try to
--Define your aim in writing your draft.
--Comment on the present strengths and limits of your piece"

Later, in Chpt. 5, Harris elaborates on a similar assignment asking students to write an abstract of their essay and even a sentence outline (one sentence summaries of each paragraph) (109-110). Besides noting that this is an excellent example of "interpretive paraphrase" championed by Ann Berthoff (via I.A. Richards), the similarities of Harris' "between-the-draft" pedagogical activities to my own is striking. Harris provides some rationale to the student-reader for WHY these kinds of activities are beneficial: "Such reflective pieces can often be surprisingly hard to write. But that is why they are useful, since the difficulties you meet in trying to come to terms with a draft may point you toward work you need to do in revising it. ... In coming to terms with an early draft of a project, that is, you can begin to form a plan for revising it" (32-33). Unpacking these statements reveals the assumptions behind this pedagogical activity:
--that reflective writing like this "points" and "reveals": it is an activity where students gain the distance needed to SEE something about their draft and thinking that they might not otherwise have seen
--that reflective writing like this is epistemic (or "inventive") in that it helps students "begin to form": where students engage in the shaping and forming of their thinking
--that such an activity will have an impact on revision; that students who engage in this activity will revise better or know better what to do in revision that if they had not done the activity
--the ultimate assumption is that students will write better and produce better final writing pieces if they engage in this type of activity (that if they had not). WHY else do this activity if it would not be "useful?"

What is the nutshell of my dissertation focus?

It is the assumption of "usefulness" and what the "uses" are in this kind of between-the-draft reflective activity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Commentary on Carolyn Miller's "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing"

Dr. Kirk St.
Commentary Article Assignment


Something is not right in Carolyn Miller's 1979 groundbreaking and revolutionary article "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing." Something is out of tune. As Patrick Moore points out, Miller's article is "probably the most important article in the 1970s and 1980s that tries to legitimate the teaching of technical communication in English departments" (171). Elizabeth Overman Smith's 1997 examination of "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing" identified 68 references or intertextual connections within academic journals between the years 1979 and 1995 to Miller's article. Various critics have identified what they see as the broader goals of Miller's article. Moore believes Miller seeks to "create cultural capital in her English Department for the languages of technical communication and technical communication pedagogy"(175). Smith believes Miller's real question is epistemological: "How is knowledge created and recorded?" (193). Thus, Miller is seen by many as "rescuing professional writing [and technical communication] from positivist views of language" (Rentz 187). I will grant the significant influence Miller's article has had for the academic discipline of technical communication.

But I am going to take Miller at her word. Her article is rhetorically situated within a controversy inside her English Department. Within a department meeting, the question is raised: "whether students in our larger technological university should be permitted to take a technical writing course to satisfy humanities requirements" (48). She goes on to refine the question further: "But were we willing to argue, indeed, could we argue that technical writing has humanistic value?" (48). Despite the fact that the real question of allowing the sophomore technical writing class to replace the required sophomore literature class was already decided in the negative at her university, she continues with the argument as a kind of fiction we are drawn into. Could we make this same case at our school? Could Miller's "humanistic rationale" truly convince her original audience--other English department colleagues as well as the Dean or other academic council members? I will answer "no." Miller actually misjudges her audience rhetorically and makes a failed case for a "humanistic" rationale for technical writing.

The Reception of Miller's Article

One of the first responses to Miller's article reveals the way Miller misjudges the meaning of "humanistic" for many scholars and teachers within technical communication and English studies. Elizabeth Tebeaux in her March 1980 response within College English to Miller's article is blunt in her dismay. She believes adoption of Miller's idea would ruin technical writing and "makes technical writing just another English course" (822). She considers Miller's article to be a "treatise on the rhetorical philosophy of technical writing" that says little about the primary purpose of the class: "to prepare [students] for the kind of writing they will have to do in business and industry" (822). She believes the pedagogy implied by the article is inappropriate for an undergraduate technical writing class and states flatly that technical writing is not a course in the "theory of composition" (823). It is Tebeaux's use of the word "enculturation"—a key word at the end of Miller's article—that demonstrates the misunderstanding between these two scholars. For Tebeaux, enculturation is seen through the lens of English studies and how it is meant within English classes. She clearly sees enculturation in opposition to pragmatic things: "These kinds of assignments—the real writing of the real industrial world—have little to do with enculturation" (824). Literature is described by Tebeaux as the "stronghold of enculturation" where students learn a "great deal about human nature and communal values" (825). Technical writing, in Tebeaux's world view, is about "preparing students to write for the changing world of work" (825). It is practical and pragmatic in its orientation, as opposed to Literature's orientation which is decidedly not practical. Tebeaux foresees English teachers teaching the sophomore technical writing requirement as if it were a literature course where technical writing texts would be the object of study and analysis.

In Carolyn Miller's response to Tebeaux's article (published in the same March 1980 College English), she quickly corrects Tebeaux's misunderstanding of what the course would be like: "[the technical writing course] is not, as Professor Tebeaux implies, a course in rhetorical theory or ethics. It is a writing course that is informed by rhetorical theory" (825). In Miller's eyes the course won't be a survey of "Great Works" in technical communication—it is still about writing. However, it is plain that Miller uses the term "enculturation" differently than Tebeaux understands it:

If Professor Tebeaux had understood the point of my original essay, she could not have said that "the real writing of the real industrial world [has] little to do with enculturation." The culture that technical writing students must become acquainted with consists of the values, aims, and methods of the professional community they intend to enter. (826)

Tebeaux still sees this debate as being about whether the required sophomore literature course could be replaced by a technical writing course, and she fears the "enculturation" typical of literature courses taking over what she sees as the greater need of pragmatic work on writing skills for this class. Elizabeth Harris astutely picks up on Tebeaux's understanding of theory as connoting impractical speculation: "She appears to assume that theory, by definition, (like English professors) must be irrelevant to 'the real world'" (828). Although Harris offers an alternative definition of theory that points out the usefulness of theory "organizing and explaining what has been observed," she correctly reads how Tebeaux receives the term "theory" as well as enculturation—each is seen from the liberal arts tradition of humanism within the academy (maintained most stanchly within English departments) which from Tebeaux's perspective is worlds apart from the practical matters of technical writing.

A second common reception of Miller's article reveals how those in the technical communication field narrowly interpreted the meaning of humanistic. Patrick Miller in his article "Legitimizing Technical Communication in English Departments: Carolyn Miller's 'Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing'" charts out the almost syllogistic way in which rhetoric becomes the bridge of legitimacy for technical communication:

One of Miller's most important moves is to rhetoricalize technical communication. If literature is rhetoric, and many people believe that it is, then when technical communication is defined as rhetoric, it gains capital from the long, documented history of rhetoric … . If technical communication is rhetoric, it fits better in humanistic English departments." (175)

The problem with this equation is that few literary critics consider literature to be rhetoric, and many would consider something deeply wrong if the rhetorical became the most important thing about literature. The crux of my point is not to denigrate rhetoric or the way in which Miller did "rhetoricalize" technical writing. The focus needs to remain upon that sophomore literature requirement—could we make a case that a technical writing class would provide equivalent humanistic capital to justify replacing this sophomore literature requirement? By positioning rhetoric as the thing that provides humanistic capital to technical writing, Miller misses entirely what is at the heart of this literature requirement the class is supposed to replace: the poetic.

A Failed Case

It is my position that Carolyn Miller makes a failed case to suppose that the rhetorical within technical writing provides enough cultural and historical capital to consider the class "humanistic" in the same sense as a literature class. She sorely misreads her literature counterparts and the liberal heart within the core curriculum which grew from John Cardinal Henry Newman's "Idea of a University."

As Sharon Crowley charts out, the modern study of English as a subject didn't even begin until 1870 (58). Adam Sherman Hill, the Bolyston Professor of Rhetoric at Harvard from 1876-1904, in many ways defined the relationship of rhetoric to English and Freshman Writing that persists to today. As Crowley points out, Hill was not aligned with the rhetorical tradition Miller invokes: "[he was aligned] with the Arnoldian tradition of liberal humanism, a tradition distinguished from its classical ancestor by its diminution of the rhetorical impulse and its reverence for the maintenance of the cultural standards exemplified in a textual tradition" (62-63). But as Marilyn Schaurer Samuels points out, Arnoldian humanism was only the latest ancestor in a long line of anti-rhetorical impulses in western thought that led to the partition of science and the humanities (what Stanley Fish called the separation of fact and fiction). Samuels summarizes this history: "the unfortunate compartmentalization of science and the humanities [was] perpetrated by the universalist abstractions of Neoclassicism and the positivist generalities of eighteenth-century science and further fueled by the Romantics' defensive withdrawal into individual expression" (50). It was Ramus, afterall, in the mid-16th century who split invention away from rhetoric and relegated rhetoric to issues of style. Evidence of Hill's truncated level of rhetorical sensibility can clearly be seen in his belief that the "foundations of rhetoric rest upon grammar" (qtd. in Crowley 63).

Elizabeth Harris in her own 1982 College English article, obviously intended to amplify Miller's humanistic rationale with a liberal arts twist, elaborates on this split between technical writing as a worldly, practical "language engineering" and literary criticism. Harris represents the view that "to perform dull writing tasks mechanically and thereby fit mindlessly into the institutions of industry and government… is a betrayal of the mission of literary criticism" (632). She points directly at Matthew Arnold's "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" to articulate that mission:

to know the best that is known and thought in the world and by, in its turn, making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas… to do this with inflexible honesty, with due ability; but … to leave alone all questions of practical consequences and applications. (qtd. in Harris 632)

The humanist tradition Arnold comes from has its roots in Plato and his belief in Truth (with a capital "T"), a realm of universal truths that is fixed and that we gain access to through contemplation and dialectic inquiry. Miller is obviously allied more with the Aristotelian tradition that relegates rhetoric to the realm of ideas and things that are uncertain and in flux. The liberal arts and humanism revered by Mathew Arnold that formed the center of English Studies looked to great texts as vessels of culture and value, of the great Platonic truths. And it was the power of the Poetic—not rhetoric—that communicated these truths. Crowley recounts James Morgan Hart's speech at the first meeting of the Modern Language Association in 1884 where he condemns rhetoric:

Rhetoric always savors to me of the school-bench. It is, if we look into it scrutinizingly, little more than verbal jugglery. …The proper object of literary study, in one word, is to train us to read, to grasp an author's personality in all its bearings. And the less rhetoric here, the better. (qtd. in Crowley 83).

The philosophical romanticism of disinterestedness, the pose of the literary critic toward the world, represented a "distaste for popular or mass culture (Huyssen), but it can be read as a rejection of the rhetorical impulse as well" (Crowley 83). William Spanos believes this humanist impulse persists into our modern time: "modern humanism continually rehearses Arnold's gesture because humanists desire to establish a fixed center, a 'metaphysical space'" where the critic is in touch with these pure truths unbothered by worldly distraction (Crowley 84). "Enculturation," then, from this humanist tradition has little or nothing to do with rhetoric, but has everything to do with one's reading: "the ability to express oneself is the sign of the quality of one's reading, a sort of guarantee that one is acquainted with 'the best that has been thought and said,' to use Arnold's famous phrase. In this formulation the ability to express oneself is not as important as intellectual cultivation; it is the fact of being well-read that counts" (84). The subject matter of technical writing can hardly be considered as a substitute for "the best that has been thought and said."

An examination of one other critic's attempt to provide a humanistic rationale for technical writing will shed further light on Miller's failed case. Russell Rutter (in another article published in College English (1985) entitled "Poetry, Imagination, and Technical Writing") presents the poetic rationale for technical writing that Miller perhaps could have adopted. If the audience of English scholars is adverse to rhetoric, one might think that a firmer case can be made on poetic grounds. Rutter argues that technical writing, too, is an "imaginative, creative, and thus poetic endeavor" (700). The technical writer, in his view, works at "shaping and synthesizing the inchoate stuff of experience into reports designed to inform and enlighten and identified audience, and thus [he is] engaging in a fundamentally poetic process" (705). However, this argument is flawed on two grounds. Rutter himself states the first problem in his argument: "Literary study does not, of course, teach us how to create good poems, but it shows us that people who have created good poems have relied on something more than the transcription of raw data—intuition, imagination, selection, shaping, and so on" (699). The fundamental flaw in Rutter's argument is that literary study is about reading, while technical writing is about writing. One focuses more on the interpretation of great texts; the other focuses on the production of efficient and usable documents. To follow Rutter's argument, then, the sophomore creative writing class would be sufficient to replace the required sophomore literature class (which has not happened anywhere to my knowledge). Joseph Harris in a response to Rutter's article points out the second flaw in Rutter's humanistic rationale for technical writing: "I agree with Rutter that tech writing, like all writing, is at heart creative. But I don't see how that alone makes it particularly poetic" (741). Great literature deals with the deepest truths about the human spirit and human experience: as the "poetic," it touches Truth in a universal, Platonic sense. While science may also deal with truth, this truth does not rise to the same level as the humanist truths contained in literature since these truths concern physical matter—not the human spirit.

Final Considerations

By appealing to rhetoric as the humanistic agent to give value to technical writing, Carolyn Miller appeals to a warrant that her English department colleagues would neither understand or be swayed by. Indeed, the entire framing of her argument as a fictional debate within her English Department seems tacked on. We see her mention her department debate only in the first two paragraphs at the beginning and the last paragraph at the end. However, this close examination of Miller's failed rhetoric toward her fictional audience shed's light on the rhetorical genius of the piece toward her real audience.

It seems clear that Miller's real audience is not fellow English literature teachers in her department, nor is the real issue about whether to replace the sophomore literature requirement with a technical writing class. Her real audience is other technical writing instructors and scholars. English Studies and technical writing represented something akin to two different political parties. By invoking the contested dynamic between English studies and technical communication, she rallies those in her "party" behind a cause everyone in technical communication could agree on—gain equal (or superior) status as the other "party" (English Studies. Once she has gained her audiences alliance in this "fight," she proceeds to detail her version of technical communication's true nature as a "humanistic"1 endeavor by linking it to the 2500 year old rhetorical tradition and postmodern epistemological thinking--and in this fight, she wins and transforms how technical communication sees itself.

Notes Page

1. Miller may in fact be taking "humanistic" as a term from the field of Speech Communication which uses it to refer to the rhetorical aspects of its field of study (social-scientific being the other). In this way, she may be attempting to infuse notions of rhetoric taken from Speech Communication into technical communication.

Works Cited

Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemic Essays. Pittsburg:

University of Pittsburg Press, 1998.

Harris, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Harris Responds:" College English. 41.7 (1980): 827-829. JSTOR.

San Antonio College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

---. "In Defense of the Liberal-Arts Approach to Technical Writing." College English. 44.6

(1982): 628-636. JSTOR. San Antonio College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

Harris, Joseph. "A Comment on 'Poetry, Imagination and Technical Writing.'" College English.

48.7 (1986): 741-742. JSTOR. San Antonio College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

Miller, Carolyn. "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing." College English. 40.6 (1979):

610-617. Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 47-54.

---. "Carolyn Miller Responds." College English. 41.7 (1980): 825-827. JSTOR. San Antonio

College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

Moore, Patrick. "Legitimizing Technical Communication in English Departments: Carolyn

Miller's 'Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing.'" Journal of Technical Writing & Communication. 36.2 (2006): 167-182.

Newman, John Henry Cardinal. "The Idea of a University." Victorian Prose and Poetry. Eds.

Lionel Trilling and Harold Bloom. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. 126-131.

Rentz, Kathryn. "A Flare from the Margins: The Place of Professional Writing in English

Departments." Pedagogy. 1 (2001): 185-190. 5 November 2007 .

Rutter, Russell. "Poetry, Imagination, and Technical Writing." College English. 47.7 (1985):

698-712. JSTOR. San Antonio College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

Samuels, Marilyn Schauer. "Is Technical Communication 'Literature'? Current Scholarship and

Vico's Cycles of Knowledge." Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 1.1

(1987): 48-67.

Smith, Elizabeth Overman. "Intertextual Connections to 'A Humanistic Rationale for Technical

Writing.'" Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 11.2 (1997): 192-222.

Tebeaux, Elizabeth. "Let's Not Ruin Technical Writing, Too: A Comment on the Essays of

Carolyn Miller and Elizabeth Harris." College English. 41.7 (1980): 822-825. JSTOR.

San Antonio College Lib., San Antonio, Texas. 5 November 2007.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

2007 TYCA-SW Conference Presentation

Becoming More Hospitable to Rhetoric: The Rhetorical Forum as a Heuristic Toward a New Composition

--see handout for presentation

Formative Reflection in Technical Communications

Formal Assignment #2 (Engl5371):

Magazine Article for Intercom Magazine

Supercharge the Results of Usability Testing with Formative Reflection

Having information is not enough? It's what we do with that information that matters. As we saw from our government's intelligence shortcomings pre-9/11, we might have a host of data, but this data is useless unless we "connect the dots" and pull together a comprehensive understanding of its meaning. As technical communicators who follow principles of User-Centered Design (UCD) and Information Development, we engage early and often in usability testing, generating substantial amounts of data and analysis. The iterative testing and design process requires us continually to make sense of these results of iterative tests to move our design efforts forward. This article proposes a technique called "Formative Reflection" to help the information design process.

What is Formative Reflection?

Formative Reflection is a strategic technique for assessing the results from usability testing within an iterative design process. Useful for low-fidelity to high fidelity prototypes, Formative Reflection's purpose is to assist technical communicators and information designers make sense of iterative testing in order to formulate new directions for design improvements. This technique is most productively done as an act of writing, though it can be done verbally. It prompts technical communicators to pull together past, present, and future in their deliberations. It is helpful in conceptualizing problems and helping technical communicators and designers check their thinking so that they can more productively move forward in the iterative design process. Formative Reflection is particularly effective when applied to the assessment and design of what Janice Redish calls "complex information analysis" that involves open-ended, complex problems.

How Does It Differ From Formative Evaluation?

Whereas Formative Evaluation seeks to present data and provide analysis derived from usability testing or other forms of review, Formative Reflection goes beyond just analysis to consider the implications of testing results. Formative Evaluation is something like the ill-fated daily briefing presented to the President on August 6, 2001 titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S. It presents facts, an assessment, and perhaps recommendations. Its goal is to assist decision-makers. However, Formative Evaluation doesn't make the decisions. Formative Reflection's purpose is to engage information designers in an activity that helps them pull together all the disparate facts and information—knowledge often outside of the scope of the actual Formative Evaluation report—and come to conclusions about how best to proceed.

When Is It Best To Use Formative Reflection?

Formative Reflection borrows ideas about professional practice and learning theory from Donald Schon, David Kolb, and John Dewey. For each of these theorists, reflection plays a key role in learning and informing action.

Donald Schon (1983, 1987) is best known for his ideas of "reflection-in-action" and "reflection-on-action" in professional practice. He points out the shortcomings of what he calls "technical rationality" and the narrow application of scientific rules and principles in our work. He contrasts the high ground of how things ought to be (based upon research-based theory and technique) and the swampy lowlands of how things really are—messy, confused, and unique. When a problematic situation presents itself as a unique case, it often falls outside the professional's current knowledge and techniques. It's not "in the book." Schon calls the inability to deal with the gap between this form of textbook, scientific knowledge and our understanding of particular situations a crisis in professional knowledge. He says that if the professional practitioner is to deal with a unique situation competently, "she must do so by a kind of improvisation, inventing and testing in the situation strategies of her own devising." Reflection, Schon thinks, helps bridge this gap through a kind of translation process between general rules and particular situations that makes technical problem-solving possible.

The iterative design process has many similarities to what David Kolb has called the "Experiential Learning Cycle." The cycle of User-Centered Design can be represented broadly in this way:

Figure 1: The iterative usability testing cycle.

Just as in the UCD iterative testing process the improvements in design depend upon the frequency and quality of these user tests, in the Experiential Learning cycle Kolb believes that the progress in learning from experience depends upon the quality of the reflective observation. It is from this analytic and detached position that a learner creates a broader understanding of the experience and formulates a new way of approaching it for another attempt.

Figure 2: A simplified version of the experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984).

Translating Kolb's view on the cycle into UCD terms, the cycle might look something like this:

Figure 3: A revised version of the Experiential Learning Cycle for User-Centered Design

Each usability test represents an experience from which the designer must learn. It is the application of Formative Reflection that assists the technical communicator and information designer form the important insights and understandings necessary to move the design process forward successfully.

Formative Reflection, however, may not be necessary in every iterative design cycle. If Schon points out how reflection helps us apply general principles within particular contexts, and Kolb describes how reflection helps us stand back and learn from experience, John Dewey highlights the special purpose of reflection—to address perplexity. It is within a situation of doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty where reflection's special role comes into play. Dewey (1933) described reflection as a special form of thinking where we consider a belief or knowledge, but also evaluate the basis for that belief or knowledge and the conclusions to which it leads. A sense of doubt or perplexity is what triggers the reflection process and drives it. Through this focused examination of where they have been, where they are, and where they might or need to go, reflective thinkers are led to insights that can transform or confirm their stance within the development process.

For technical communicators and information designers that means Formative Reflection can be a methodology employed when what to do based upon usability testing is unclear. If we think of the iterative design process as a spiral-shaped road that leads forward from concept to final product or document, Formative Reflection is applied within instances when a tree has blocked that road or the road suddenly comes to a place where it branches in five directions. Formative Reflection can be a way of problem-solving out of set-backs when usability testing has produced particularly disappointing results. It can help us make the right choice when we have multiple possible paths to pursue in development.

How to Do Formative Reflection

Applying Formative Reflection should be a flexible procedure that adapts to the particular needs of a situation where technical communicators face this perplexity in their design process. However, I would like to outline some general guidelines for how you might use this methodology in your design practice.

Do it in writing!

Many companies may employ a verbal approach to evaluating the implications of usability testing by gathering in meetings to discuss findings, but Formative Reflection should be done in writing (at least at first). But why writing? Many theorists of reflection, particularly Max Van Manen, see the particular value of reflection coming from its power to distance a person from events so that they can be viewed in a more objective manner. Writing by its nature gives this kind of distance. Elliot Eisner also sees writing as important for our learning because how we represent what we know actually shapes what we know. The idea is that we come to insights and understandings as we write. It may be awkward within a work environment not used to this kind of silent activity, but Formative Reflection should be seen as a technique applied when needed just as Card Stacking or Affinity Diagramming is used when necessary. Just as these are strategic activities conducted in particular ways to help achieve a particular end, Formative Reflection works the same way—in writing.

Open-Ended Formative Reflection

One approach to Formative Reflection is to conduct an open-ended reflection without a strict prompt. Particularly in instances early in the iterative development cycle, this open form of reflection will promote innovative thinking and problem-solving. Below are two examples of open-ended Formative Reflection prompts:

What are your thoughts on the usability test report and where we need to go from here?

What's working? What's not? Why? Where do we go from here?

Structured Formative Reflection

Structured Reflection has been used in Nursing to help nurses learn from incidents they encounter as they work. It entails filling out a fairly detailed form asking them to evaluate and think about a clinical incident. The usefulness of a Structured Formative Reflection is that you can include specific questions pertaining to the particular development process you are engaged within.

I would like, however, to offer two general frameworks for a more structured Formative Reflection. The first comes from David Boud, a theorists on reflective learning in the workplace. He presents four key elements to consider when re-evaluating experience:

1. association—How does the new data relate to that which is already known?

2. integration—What relationships are apparent within the data?

3. validation—What is authentic? What can be confirmed and what can be negated?

4. appropriation—What understandings and insights do I have?

Another structure for a more detailed form of Formative Reflection comes from the ideas of Jack Mezirow, a theorist in Adult Learning. He sees reflection as taking three different forms: content reflection, process reflection, and premise reflection. Content reflection would be similar to the focus on the data and what its implications are found in Boud's four elements. Process reflection, however, adds the important element of design activity and sequence. The affect of product design can be as impacted by process as by bad design, and the entire design enterprise entails a large scale coordination of personnel and resources. Premise reflection can be the hardest, but most important focus to have while doing reflection. Within premise reflection, you play the devils advocate and question beliefs or procedures that you take for granted. Mezirow believes that it is only through this deeper form of premise reflection that transformations occur. Arriving at such a badly needed change or perspective or course of action could make a significant difference for the entire information design process.

Collaborative Formative Reflection

Most technical communicators work within a team, so we need to consider how this kind of Formative Reflection could work within a collaborative context. One scenario has the entire team in a meeting room discussing a usability report or other form of review. At either a pre-determined point (say after the report has been fully discussed), or at a point where there is particular confusion and lack of consensus within the team, Formative Reflection is used as a technique to help the group come to conclusions and consensus. After the group writes, they share the results of their written reflection out loud. Another interesting approach would be to share the usability testing report with the entire team electronically before a meeting. Team members would do a Formative Reflection and post this writing piece electronically to the entire group. The team could then consider each individual member's Formative Reflection before the meeting, thereby making the team meeting more productive. Through this technique of reviewing the Formative Reflections of others, the benefits of reflection become magnified even further.

Breaking Out of the Straightjacket of Rules

As technical communicators working within contexts dominated by scientific and technical thinking, we may have a tendency to latch on to technical rules of information design development that become formulaic. If it worked once, it will work the same way the next time. If it is described and used by So and So Expert, we seek to imitate them exactly. We all need this kind of guidance for our work. However, viewing these practices as technical rules that predetermine our design can have dangerous results, particularly in instances when our design process faces problems and uncertainty. If we are not able to problem-solve creatively and fully comprehend the implications of usability test results, we could be drawn into creating flawed products. Formative Reflection is one technique that can help technical communicators address perplexity and mediate between the technical rules and universals that guide their practice and the requirements of the particular communication context. Only with this nimbleness of mind and willingness to go beyond the rules when necessary can we produce truly innovative and successful designs and products—Formative Reflection helps us accomplish this goal.

References for further inquiry

Boud, David. Productive Reflection at Work: Learning for Changing Organizations.
London: Routledge, 2006
--. Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning.
London: Kogan Page, 1985.

Moon, Jennifer A. Reflection in Learning & Professional Development. London: Kogan Page, 2000.

Schon, Donald A. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Public Comment to the Commission for a College Ready Texas

From: L. Lennie Irvin

Assistant Professor of English, San Antonio College
1300 San Pedro Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212

My name is Lennie Irvin, and I have taught Community College English in Texas for 18 years. I am the Co-Director of the San Antonio Writing Project, the local site of the National Writing Project, and the author of the 1996 textbook Writing Skills: Preparing for the TASP Test published by Harcourt. I speak before you today as an experienced college writing teacher, as a scholar in Composition, and as an advocate for the Neglected "R"—Writing and its importance as a means for learning within our schools across all disciplines from Kindergarten through College.

I would like to offer for your consideration two definitions of college readiness in the area of writing:

From my experience in the classroom, students ready for college are students with substantial experience reading and writing. The marginal students who place into remedial English classes or flounder in Freshman Composition classes tend to be the ones who say they hardly ever read and they didn't write much in high school.

Lee Ann Carroll in her 2002 book Rehearsing New Roles: How Students Develop as Writers based on a longitudinal study of students' writing development over their college career defines college writing more explicitly:

What are usually called 'writing assignments' in college might more accurately be called 'literacy tasks' because they require much more than the ability to construct correct sentences or compose neatly organized paragraphs with topic sentences…. Projects calling for high levels of critical literacy in college typically require knowledge of research skills, ability to read complex texts, understanding of key disciplinary concepts, and strategies for synthesizing, analyzing, and responding critically to new information, usually within a limited time frame. (3, 4)

Her definition, I think, captures in a nutshell the type of writing and intellectual tasks college students need to be prepared to embark upon when they come to college.

I applaud the efforts of this commission, but I want to close with a word of warning. I am deeply skeptical of this Governor's motives in pursuing his recent educational agenda. I worry about the framing of our current situation as a crisis and the rhetoric of "the imperative of change" if it solely focuses blame for the situation on teachers, labeling them as incompetent practitioners. Stephen North warns of a virulent conservative model in these situations that positions non-Practitioners—in this case Scholars, Researchers, private educational companies posing as experts—as the sole possessors of knowledge and answers. He particularly warns of this conservative perspective because "it establishes what amounts to a science/technology relationship, with [teachers or] Practitioners cast …as technicians: the inquirers [or non-practitioner experts] find out how the world works, and then they tell the technicians, who behave accordingly" (331). Education is not a science, and our schools are not factories. We must honor, foster, and empower the practical wisdom of our teachers who work so hard every day in the classroom to educate our children—not demean or demonize them.

Thank you for this opportunity to express my views.

Works Cited

Carroll, Lee Ann. Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers. Urbana: NCTE, 2002.

North, Stephen. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Portsmouth: Heineman, 1987.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Research Report Aug. 2007

Report to My Dissertation Committee, Aug. 2007

The entire research site can be accessed here

Methodological Musings and Defining the Research Question

I am still trying to find my way as far as my methodology. My work so far has been foundational--I need to increase my knowledge of research methodologies in composition as well as previous research done on reflection before I can define my own research project. I believe the work completed this summer has gone a long way in accomplishing this goal, but I am not yet ready to design my dissertation focus and research in specific terms, yet. Hopefully, by next summer I will be ready.

So far, I believe I am up to about 1990 in terms of methodologies in Composition. My detailed study of North's Making Knowledge in Composition (1987) has made me aware of different "modes of inquiry" and methodological communities within the field of Composition. He has helped me become more aware of how knowledge is made within our field and how knowledge is socially sanctioned within a community of inquirers. I'm taking baby steps in this community of inquirers and trying to find my own place within it. I hope, eventually, to have the five elements of an inquiry paradigm as defined by Janet Emig ("Inquiry Paradigms and Writing." CCC. 33, 1982: 64-75):

1) a governing gaze; 2) an acknowledged, or at least conscious, set of assumptions, preferably connected with 3) a coherent theory or theories; 4) an allegiance to an explicit or at least tacit intellectual tradition; and 5)an adequate methodology including an indigenous logic consonant with all of the above. (65)

My tutelage with Stephen North, while illuminating and enormously helpful, represents knowledge-making in our field circa 1985 or so. Much has happened since then. Most significantly, most all the modes of inquiry described by North are positivist in methodological nature. I don't believe that qualitative research methodologies (based more on postmodern assumptions about knowledge) had come into their own yet .

One book I have discovered to be central both to my methodological thinking as well as the subject of my inquiry (reflection) is Louise Wetherbee Phelps' Composition as a Human Science. Methodologically, I believe she charts out in theoretical terms the "stance" (or "gaze") toward experience and knowledge that I will seek in my eventual research design. Rather than knowledge founded upon "science" based upon positivistic assumptions, Phelps charts out "human science" based upon the "interpretive turn" and contextuality. I'm not doing her thinking justice, but the first two chapters (pp. 1-80) explore these dynamics of knowledge and inquiry based on modernist and postmodernist notions. Phelps represents my first step in building from North, and I'm sure will relate to the area of qualitative inquiry in Composition I feel I need to learn more about.

Phelps notions of contextuality also meld nicely with Cindy Johanek's Contexualist Paradigm for Rhetorical and Composition. Johanek offers a complementary inquiry paradigm to Emig's that I hope to emulate as well. Johanek believes that a "meta-epistemological reflection" of context needs to happen before positioning oneself within a mode of inquiry (methodology). She believes the research design should "emerge naturally from the need to know, from a question arising from a particular context that will...lead to the best research method(s) available for answering that question at that moment" (108). I like Johanek also because she is not bound by methodological purity and is open to mixed methods research. So far, I have not done this "meta-epistemological reflection" following her Contextualist Paradigm, but I know that I will use Johanek's grid as I formulate my research design.

As I mentioned, Phelps also articulates the core concept of my inquiry related to reflection. Many other scholars touch on this concept as well, but Phelps discusses it in deep theoretical terms. If we were to shift the focus for Phelps' last chapter in her book from teacher-as-practitioner to student-as-writer you will find exactly the focus I wish to target in my research. I will take two quotes and reframe them from teacher to writer:

The student-writer's own capacity to reflect on experience establishes a dialogic relation between writing practices and organized inquiry, such that they reciprocally motivate, interpret, and limit each other. (208)

(Richard Bernstein explaining Gadamer's thinking)
Bernstein explains: "Phronesis is a form of reasoning and knowledge that involves a distinctive mediation between the universal and the particular. This mediation is not accomplished by any appeal to technical rules or Method (in the Cartesian sense) or by the subsumption of a pregiven determinate universal to a particular case. The 'intellectual virtue' of phronesis is a form of reasoning, yielding a type of ethical know-how in which what is universal and what is particular are codetermined." (215)

My interest in reflection revolves around the belief that it activates this mediation process, this enactment of phronesis and "rhetorical stance" so crucial to effective action (i.e. effective writing). One great surprise in my research was to find how Linda Flower had similar notions about reflection to my own. Two quotes from her last chapter on reflection in The Construction of Negotiated Meaning: A Social Cognitive Theory of Writing summarize her views on reflection:

"Reflection not only supports such meaning making [construct and reconstruct an image of a literate practice], it seems to support a certain kind of construction as well. Reflection allows writers to recognize some of the complexity of their rhetorical situations, to acknowledge and to honor multiple and often conflicting goals. It seems to make action more immediately problematic but more ultimately satisfying" (289).


"Reflection is one place in which writers can acknowledge the affective nature of writing, but because reflection is a step removed from the emotional moment, it allows students to bring some critical distance to problematic feelings and fears and to channel emotional energy into rhetorical action… . They suggest ways that reflection—as an effortful, interpretive, and fallible but strategic process—could motivate a more informed and sustained negotiation of meaning" (268).

Bingo! But let me take it a bit further. Since I am interested, in particular, on reflection within the activity of writing--that is, reflection done between drafts--I am finding that the center of gravity of my inquiry begins to shift toward the subject of revision. Let me rephrase Flower's last statement: They suggest ways that reflection--as an effortful, interpretive, and fallible but strategic process--could motivate a more informed and sustained act of revision. The bridge between reflection and action is a shaky one (as some of the research I reviewed showed), so perhaps my focus will remain on what is happening within the "event" of reflection and make speculative ties toward revision. But my instinct tells me that what is most significant about this topic is exactly its relationship to action. When I saw Kathleen Blake Yancey at the February Rhetoric Symposium conference at Texas A&M, Commerce she made an interesting comment. She said that when they first began examining reflection closely they hoped it would reveal something about revision. What has happened, however, is that reflection has been hijacked (in my opinion) by evaluation. Perhaps my work would return reflection studies to this earlier focus.

What Previous Research Reveals

A review of 31 research and research-related articles on rhetorical reflection reveals a number of general convergences in results (right now, I am not exploring method or methodological convergences). These convergences highlight key areas of interest previous researchers into reflection have had and point to possible directions I may pursue. (Note: All subsequent page references denote places within the Annotated Bibliography on Research on Rhetorical Reflection.)

"Deep reflection" leads to better performance
A number of studies concluded that better or more sophisticated reflection lead to better performance (whether that was writing performance or teaching skill). Anson (3) finds a relationship between writer's proficiency and their blending/shifting of "function in scheme" (i.e. more sophisticated reflective thinking). Likewise, Ellis (10) sees a "cohesive" conception of writing (revealed in reflections) with a deeper approach to writing. Each also notes that more surface or less sophisticated sorts of reflection reveal less proficiency. Each is noting a correlation between deeper reflection and better performance. The other studies that follow this general conclusion are Higgins (16), Kennison (18), and Yeo (38). The larger question is--what significance does this correlation mean?

Reflection is a tool for meaning formation/negotiation, practical wisdom, contextual knowledge and action
Three studies--Flower (13), McAlpine (22), and Peck (27)--brought up at least in their implications that reflection has a significant role to play in the formation and negotiation of meaning and action. This conclusion (or assumption) seems to underly the previous convergence on "deep reflection" as well.

The importance of the affective or emotional in reflection
Mezirow and Moon discuss this element also (often, I think when talking about Habermas and reflection), but amongst this group of sources studies done by Efkides (8) and Shapira (33) highlight the important role affect or feelings and emotion have in impacting reflective judgment. If reflection is in part about validity testing, then this evaluation is not all rational--we make judgments based also on our impressions and feelings. Shapira's research is interesting because she concludes that "affective strategies" have the most important influence on writing quality (this is from a study of 6th graders).

A complicated link between reflection and revision
Studies done by Rijlaaradam (32) and Peck (27) highlight the difficulties in connecting what happens in a reflection and what ultimately happens in a revision. Making a clear cause-effect connection is perilous to do.

Measuring reflection
Multiple studies use some sort of coding scheme to evaluate reflective texts for analysis. These various coding schemes could be prototypes for an eventual coding scheme I could use for Content Analysis of reflections. Anson (3), McAlpine (20), and Raphael (29) probably have the best coding schemes. Beach (4) and Yancey (37) are also excellent, but they are evaluating self-evaluation texts (roughly equivalent to reflections). Yancey has a scheme similar to Ansons, and Beach's is interesting because he presents results on productive self-evaluations that could then be used as the basis for forming a coding scheme. The one critical voice regarding the measuring and analyzing of reflections is Sumsion who strongly disagrees with the quantitative measurement of reflection (however, she bases this conclusion on a suspect study of her own).

Future Directions

This summer's effort has not materialized any set of clear research questions or deliberate research designs (as I had wished). Although as an exercise I have created sketches of possible research projects based upon each of North's eight modes of inquiry, I do not have a serious set of research designs for you to review.

I have a number of choices to make first before I can begin getting at the subject of my inquiry with different researching probes.

1) What truly is the focus of my inquiry?
2) Based upon a close examination of the context (using the Contextualist Research Paradigm grid), what will be the methodological gaze through which I investigate my subject?

In all likelihood, the focus for my time at next May's Workshop will be to define my answer to these two questions as I prepare my pre-dissertation proposal and reading list for you Summer 2008. During this Fall and Spring, I will continue to think and work on these things:

  1. Continue to learn more about the current "context" within Composition by reading current journals and attending conferences (TYCA, NCTE, and CCCC).
  2. Seek out scholarship on resent research in composition, so that I can build a more contemporary understanding of composition research than North's conception.
  3. Continue to percolate my ideas and my focus.

My Fall class will be Foundations of Technical Communication, and if possible I will seek to use some aspects of this class to further my research agenda. However, in the Spring I will be taking Writing Program Administration, and I hope that I may be able to pursue a project that also pushes my inquiry further along.

I welcome your input on my thinking at this point and your assistance in furthering my inquiry.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Final Thoughts on 5060

I regret having to let this class go and this great group of colleagues. This class has focused directly on my deepest professional interest, and I have thrived on learning more and digging deeper into it. I don't want to knock Technical Communication, but it has been refreshing to have a class that had Composition and Rhetoric as its main concern. I feel as if I need five more courses like this!

I want to write for a few minutes about a couple areas where I feel I progressed in this class. First, I believe I have made some progress in my project to "make knowledge" in the profession (sometimes called the dissertation). I've been chipping away at North's book The Making of Knowledge in Composition all summer and will soon finish it. This book has opened my eyes to the various ways beliefs about practice in Composition have gained validation or become contested. Harris' chapter on Growth and his examination of the impact of these developmental models on composition teaching when framed within North's different modes of inquiry is one example of how belief is "socially justified" within our field. I'm increasingly seeing how strange a profession we have in terms of how we build knowledge from research.

I focused my annotated bibliography work on finding every research study I could find on "rhetorical reflection" that I could find. This quest was difficult because little or no such studies have been done in the field of composition that I could find, at least using those terms. Reflection is predominantly framed as a post-task activity when it is done in writing. The framing of it as an in-task activity within Composition is practically non-existent under the term "reflection." I'm just landing on revision studies that seem to be a promising area of inquiry, but I need to crack open that research area. As a result, I had to seek out parallel fields and situations that seem to use rhetorical reflection: Nursing, Action Research, Service Learning (formative reflection vs summative reflection), Professional Development, Student Self-Assessment (or Self-Evaluation). I still feel that I am groping in the dark and my hands will land on the mother load of search terms, but it hasn't happened yet. It has been a slow slog.

The 19 research studies I did find (along with 10 related articles) have helped me see various different ways to frame reflection, provided me with lots of bibliographic citations to explore further, and revealed different research designs for how to research reflection. Here is my plan for the rest of August:

1. Finish North's book, chart out different modes of inquiry in summary

2. Create a scenario research design for each mode of inquiry as an exercise

3. Chart out as many different research designs as I can (which includes different research designs based from different research questions). Sketches. Brainstorming.

4. Review all this muck and pull together 5-10 proposed research designs to send to my dissertation committee for review. I'd also like to include a short rhetorical analysis of each proposed design (i.e. the "So What? question analysis) and feasibility analysis (it is do-able?)

The goal of all this is to have a decently clear idea of what my research study design will be by December so that I can begin doing whatever it is I need to do to prepare for that study. It may be that I need it earlier to apply for dissertation research grants? This class has been a wonderful opportunity for me to begin work on this research design. I know I have a lot left to do.

The second thing that sticks with me from this class has to do with big picture views of Composition and what we do as writing teachers--I'm talking about all the taxonomies. My analysis of Berlin's "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories" ( really helped me dig more deeply into these different taxonomies and their limitations. I have been influenced by Berlin as well as Knoblauch and Brannon's philosophical view toward composition (i.e. find the "right" philosophical view, base you teaching on it, and you have best practice), and I have certainly felt the moral overtones that this perspective as a consequence loads any discussion of teaching methods with. I find these categories describing teaching composition (whether Berlin's, Fulkerson's, or Kinneavy's) helpful and each one is alluring, but ultimately I see them as restrictive. This course helped me to see other restrictive categories--process/product, real vs. academic writing, directive vs facilitative response, writing as subject vs writing as activity (post-process stuff). Once we begin to build fences and set up either/or, us/them, right/wrong delineations, I believe we are mis-using these taxonomies. I struggled with these taxonomies last Fall in my reading of Kay Halasek's Pedagogy of Possibility, and I think I understand better her complaint about the limitations of these taxonomies as well. Her solution--and it is increasingly how I am seeing these categories and labels--is to see these categories in terms of continuums and oscillation between them. These elements often are in dynamic tension as counterparts rather than enemies (like rhetoric and dialectic as counterparts). I am deepening my own thinking, in particular, about the dialectic between writing (rhetoric) as subject and writing (rhetoric) as an activity. Last summer I wrote some about it, but in this class I've begun to think in a more conscious way what that means for my teaching practice. I think there are aspects of writing that need to be taught as a subject--despite all the post-modern complaints about foundational knowledge and conventions. Revisiting my own experience as a freshman writer made me feel again what it was like when I didn't have a better mastery (dare I use that word!) of some writing basics like spelling or grammar or sentence construction. It is a fine line working on both writing as a subject and writing as an activity, and I think in this class I have begun to see more clearly what distinguishes those two and how I might shape my curriculum to work on both (I already do, but I haven't framed it in these terms). I guess what I'm also trying to get at is that teaching writing as a subject often gets looked down upon because it is perceived as reductive and elementary, but here again is one of those dichotomies that becomes less than useful when it becomes a matter of right and wrong, good practice/bad practice. Writing as a subject and writing as an activity are counterparts that dialectically inform each other.

So these are some of the thoughts I am left with from this class. I know I will continue to think about this class for a long time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Last Two Assignments

Annotated Bibliography
I geared this annotated bibliography toward the literature review for my dissertation, focusing on research done on reflection. It is not your traditional annotbib, but I explain my rationale in a preface to the collection.

Teaching Philosophy
This has been a fun an valuable exercise for me. It has made me think hard about what I believe in as a teacher. I hope you enjoy it.


(final course reflection tomorrow morning)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Open Spaces--Toward a New Composition

Open Spaces—Toward a New Composition

I want to write for a moment on Joseph Harris' call at the end of his chapter on Community in his book A Teaching Subject for "a public space where students can begin to form their own voices as writers and intellectuals" (116). Harris seems to advocate the metaphor of public space rather than community for the shared context for communicating and learning in a composition class. He seems to distrust the term community because it connotes a club or false utopia. In Harris' call for public space, I hear my own heuristic for a New Composition—the Rhetorical Forum.

I was particularly interested in Harris' reference to work done by John Swales on discourse communities. Here are some of the characteristics of Swales ideas:
--the discursive "forum" is a shared common space
--one-to-one communication follows some protocols (whether externally imposed or internally generated). Swales sees it as reduced to providing information and feedback, but the nature of the interaction need not only be limited to these.
--forum is not a community, must be some common goal toward which the group is working (or could it also be a common interest).
--It is a free, voluntary gathering of individuals with shared goals and interests, not so much forced together as chosen to associate with on another

Harris envisions a "community of strangers," a civitas, a public forum and gathering place that is not so much about entering the academic community as learning to position oneself and interact (he likes the word "wrangle") within this "city," this public space. This notion of public space is VERY similar to the description of a "rhetorical forum" talked about by Thomas Farrell: "a rhetorical 'forum' is a more or less formal location, where types of reasoning and argumentation are practiced. …an encounter setting sufficiently durable to serve as a recurring 'gathering place' for discourse. As such, the forum provides a space for multiple expressed positions to encounter one another" (88). Or as Harris would say, "wrangle" with one another. Farrell's primary argument in his article "Practicing the Arts of Rhetoric" (which is a summary of his book Norms of Rhetorical Culture) is that "rhetoric derives its materials from the real conditions of civic life, the appearances of our cultural world. At the same time, this activity makes room for disputation about the meaning, implications, directions, and value of cultural appearances" (80). Let's dig into this passage in terms of our discussion. A rhetorical forum constitutes just such a public space or gathering place that by its nature participates in civic concerns and codes of civil behavior. Cursing, nudity, or racist comments are not tolerated in this kind of context. And that is the key—the rhetorical forum constitutes a public context, a context that is wider than our classroom. The nature of this forum also is discursive—discussion, debate, dialogue, dispute, collaboration. It is a "talking" forum. But more than that, as Swales says it must be a forum that has some purpose, some mission behind its talk. What might that purpose be for a rhetorical forum?—ah, Farrell tells us: the disputation about the meaning, implications, direction, and value of cultural appearances and civic life. Should we get out of Iraq? What are the ethics of being able to purchase a morning after pill at the drug store without a prescription? Why do so few youth vote? What could be done to get more youth to vote? These are just a few examples of these "public" topics, but the topics could be more traditional. Why does Hamlet hesitate? As a rhetorical forum, the communication would follow certain codes and conventions that would be in part created simply by the context of the space, but also by the rules imposed and generated upon the space.

Farrell talks about two interesting qualities of a rhetorical forum. The first is that those interacting within the space begin to both adopt and use the "norms" of discourse and social knowledge to enter the discussion in meaningful ways. I hate to use the example, but radio talk shows are excellent examples of rhetorical forums. This nature of norms can easily be seen if you switch between different shows—say between a political talk show like Rush Limbaugh and a sports talk show like Jim Rome. You will hear the participants not only speaking in "normative" ways that fit with the conventions of that forum but also using various forms of social knowledge (common places) in their arguments. The "blogosphere" has the connotation of a rhetorical forum, disjointed and entwined, organic and untamed. The second special quality of a rhetorical forum Farrell talks about is that within the "two-sided argument, the running controversy, the ritual that becomes a crisis" (85) that those engaged in the forum practice rhetoric and must learn and enact practical wisdom (phronesis). This practical wisdom is learned through experience, through engagement with the forum where the participant sees and learns what works and what doesn't, what gains attention and what doesn't.

Here's my dream. I would like to establish a "rhetorical forum" for freshman composition that is an internet space. It would be a special space for college students from across the country, whether in a class or not in a class. I would envision the space as a key part of both freshman composition I and II. How would we make this work? What would be the interface? How would we make it amenable to new media texts? As well as print-texts that may have document design elements? How would we set up a finely balanced open and closed space—a place where students could freely communicate but it would still stay within what is appropriate for college and maintain its purpose as educational? How could it be a space where composition teachers from across the country would want to make it part of their class too? How could different teacher agendas/curriculums merge, in part? Could a teacher's main goal to be to guide and facilitate the learning of his or her students in this rhetorical forum, but she could also be the main moderator of a section of the forum on a particular book or issue where the participants in that section of the forum could be from across the country with only one student from that teachers class. Hah! Could a student generate a forum and a teacher join in as a co-facilitator? Could teachers participating in this space begin to offer various sessions or lessons available to the whole forum community as well as her students? How to edit? Using MovieMaker? How to do MLA Documentation? How would attention be focused in this forum (since attention is the key commodity in the information economy)? Would there be a main page with certain selected posts/writings and then the breakout forums which might also have some selected posts? How does YouTube select what shows on its main page? Could there be some "algorithm" that floats certain writings to the top? What might that algorithm be? How could this forum become a place where students felt like they were engaging in discourse that truly might have some significance on the cultural/social/political topic they are discussing? How might the environment lead to collaborative writing and documents?

This dream of a rhetorical forum is one key component of what I call New Composition. To make this dream a reality, though, will take a combination of deep thinking of how this forum would work as well as innovative thinking about the technical interface for making it happen, and then how these ideas for the forum will work with the interface. If you are interested in joining me in exploring these possibilities, let me know. And lets get started.

Farrell, Joseph. "Practicing the Arts of Rhetoric: Tradition and Invention." Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Ed. John Jouis Lucaites, Celeste Condit, Sally Caudill. New York: Guilford Press, 1999. 79-100.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind" by Kenneth Bruffee

"Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind" by Kenneth Bruffee

Reading this article again, I am amazed at how much of his ideas I have absorbed into the fiber of my own belief about language, knowledge, and teaching. Part of my interest in reflection comes from his notions of reflective thought as internalized conversation. His ideas, I see, have been my entrance into postmodern views toward language—that thought and conversation are causally related, that to converse better is to learn to think better: "If thought is internalized public and social talk, then writing of all kinds is internalized social talk made public and social again. If thought is internalized conversation, then writing is internalized conversation re-externalized" (400). Let me chart this process out:

Thought = social talk made internal

Writing = internal thought/social talk made external

Bakhtin and Foucault are the one who most closely say the same thing as Bruffee here, but they would include more than "talk" and include all language (spoken or written or seen). I love this quote in particular: "The way they talk with each other determines the way they will think and the way they will write" (400). Language shapes thought. How we frame reality by the language we use gives reality meaning. I think in terms of teaching that the two most important touch-points for our guidance as teachers of how our students talk to each other and us is in peer response and in writing reviews. I think it is important that we model and request that students talk about writing in certain ways using certain language.

Notion #2 that I am reminded about in this article is the idea of "normal discourse," that the foundation of being considered knowledgeable and worth listening to is that the writer has adopted certain codes, conventions, and baseline knowledge or literacies that are "normal" for that group. It is equivalent to a terministic screen (Burke), a way of looking and seeing the world that is linguistically, gesturally, and ethically subscribed. Of course, this community has different levels, and the sort of "community of knowledgeable peers" we seek to develop in our classes is many steps below the kind of entrance into normal discourse I am seeking to do in this doctorate. Yet, in act and effect (perhaps not in degree) they are the same and develop a kind of practical wisdom of communication that may carry over into other experiences with other normal discourses.

Notion #3: I have been deeply influenced by Bruffee's notion that "knowledge is a social artifact" (404). I think I have mouthed the words for years without really understanding them, but I am getting some glimpses what they truly mean since I have been in this program. These are the two key quotes for me:

"Knowledge is maintained and established by communities of knowledgeable peers. It is what we together agree it is, for the time being."


"We socially justify belief when we explain to others why one way of understanding how the world hands together seems to us preferable to other ways of understanding." (405)

I think about my main goal for this summer—try to understand how knowledge is made in composition, try to see how knowledge about reflection has been made via research, and inquire about how I might go about creating knowledge with my dissertation.

I think what Bruffee is saying, in other words, is that knowledge is rhetorically created! This perspective is the one that I wrote about early in the summer when Harris talked about how Britton was so successful with his theories about writing growth. North said essentially the same thing. What I am coming to see is that some of my premises of what I should be doing with this dissertation research are flawed. I have this idealized version of revealing observation, confirming objective truths about the world, that I can then SHOW everyone and presto—they will believe me. My essential model is a scientific one—find proof in nature for my theory and test it and show the results that confirm the theory. Maybe. Maybe that would work. BUT what am I really after? What can I actually do in my research? I'm after creating "socially justified belief" in whatever manner I can. It seems in this rhetorical endeavor that I need to present some grounds for my proposition/claim/theory. But what sorts of support will lead to this belief and must it be scientific proof? What are the strengths and limits of empirical evidence in the formation of knowledge as a social artifact? It seems clear that whatever I do I must engage in a level of social exchange to create this social artifact called negotiated meaning.

One last connection with Bruffee. I was just this morning summarizing a small study that Linda Flower did on reflection (recounted in chapter 9 of her book The Construction of Negotiated Meaning), and she hints that reflection is a pedagogical tool that can help students acquire better facility with what she calls "literate practice." What she means by "literate practice" is the complex literacy of academia—a particular "normal discourse." Bruffee has a strikingly similar claim to make about collaborative learning. He says, "[collaborative learning] is one way of introducing students to the process by which communities of knowledgeable peers create referential connections between symbolic structures and 'reality', that is, by which they establish knowledge" (410). I hear them saying essentially the same thing—that each one is a pedagogical tool, a classroom practice to use that will help students achieve this "knowledge," this capacity for action based upon knowledge. Ahhh! What happens when a class uses both of these teaching practices! Here, in theoretical terms, is expressed my goals in using peer response and writing reviews so much in my classroom.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Take 20 Piece

This nearly killed me, but I have a video response piece on the Take 20 DVD that is about New Media writing.

It is about 14 minutes long--enjoy!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Annotated Bibliography beginnings

I am not that far along with my annotated bibliography so far. I've mostly been researching and researching in the databases and on the web for any research studies I can find that investigate the role of what I call "rhetorical reflection" (in-task, writer-based, validity testing) in the writing process. I have only really found one, but I'm still searching and getting into past research done on metacognition and the writing process by Flower and Hayes and others.

So far I have my list of possible studies. I'm still adding to it--

I also have developed a table to chart out each research study reference:

Chart for Research Assessment


Research Question(s)

What are the focused questions for this research?

Research Approach

Quantitative, Qualitative, Mixed Methods

Knowledge Claims


Postpositivism—determination, reductionism, empirical observation and measurement, theory verification

Constructivism—understanding, multiple participant meanings, social and historical constraints, theory generation

Advocacy/Participatory—political, empowerment issue-oriented, collaborative, change-oriented

Pragmatism—consequences of actions, problem-centered, pluralistic, real-world practice oriented (6)

Strategies of Inquiry

Operating at a more applied level are strategies of inquiry that provide specific direction for procedures (or methods) in a research design. (13)


Specific methods performed following the general strategy of inquiry


How did they choose/gather the sample? What is the size of the sample? What forms of rigor were applied to their sampling?

Data Analysis

How was the data interpreted? What forms of rigor were applied to their data analysis?


What were the results of their research?


Overall assessment of this research project?

So far I have only one source fit into this chart:


Anson, Chris. "Talking About Writing: A Classroom-Based Study of Students' Reflections on Their Drafts." Self-Assessment and Development in Writing: A Collaborative Inquiry. New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2000: 59-74.

Research Question(s)

How do writers represent their own writing process? How do they talk about their writing? Can we explore writer's reflections on their emergent texts to understand how writers develop expertise

Research Approach


Knowledge Claims



Strategies of Inquiry

Classroom-based research, purely descriptive, case study

Content analysis? Rhetorical analysis


Talk aloud protocol--"retrospective accounts" done in naturalistic setting (within context of class)


Taped recorded narrative commentaries about the process of writing a first draft turned in with draft. Few strict guidelines put on focus of tapes (i.e. no direct prompts).

Does not specify number of sample—only says "classes."
Selected accounts used for data analysis based on whether they were the very best or very worst writers. No specific number of how many fit into this sample.

Data Analysis

Developed a coding analysis rubric based on two poles:
1) Halliday's functional approach to language
--Ideational (speaker's content)
--Interpersonal (audience)
--Textual (language)
2) Time-oriented dimension
--Retrospective (what he or she did during creation of text)

--Projective (focus on actions the writer says he or she intends to do)
--Temporal (occurs in the present moment)

Developed rubric with nine possible combinations from the two axes (functional/time-oriented)
e.g. : R/ID = Retrospective/Ideational

No evidence of use of inter-rater reliability done

Brings in theories of intellectual development from Perry's Model of Intellectual Development in his interpretation of data


Stronger writers showed more control of their writing process; weaker students lack control, seldom comment projectively. There is an unmistakably "absolutist" quality in the metacommentaries of students who speak of their writing textually and in the past tense, and there is an unmistakably "evaluistic" quality in the talk of both successful novice writers and experienced writers as they shift among functions, retrospect and project, and embrace uncertainty in their own control of their work.

It appears that there is a strong relationship between proficiency and the blending/shifting of functions in scheme.

Concludes with how this metacommentary can enable him in his classroom practice to provide better feedback and direction to struggling writers.


This article is focused directly on the type of "data" I am interested in and develops a VERY interesting tool for coding this data. He varies from me in that he transcribes verbal accounts and I use written accounts. This seems interesting to me and significant since I seem to base a fair amount of my thinking on the importance of the act of writing. His sampling seems problematic to me, but he is being descriptive, qualitative. Should he have used inter-rater reliability checks to assess the usefulness of his coding rubric? Since he is not counting tendencies, perhaps not.

I plan to create charts like this for ten to twenty research studies that I have. The problem is that few focus directly on what I want to study, so I have to interpellate to other instances of reflection that I could consider "rhetorical." I know that I am not far in this process, but that is where I am right now. More progress to come next week.