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.