Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On to Quals!

This semester is finally DONE! Now I can devote all my attention directly on preparation for my quals. I thought I would take a bit of time to do some initial musing and orienting toward the coming test. What I'll do here is take each "domain area" in turn and think about them out loud here.

Three Domain Areas for Exam

Reflection—Rich
Rhet/Comp (Tech Comm)—Fred
Research Methodology—Becky
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Initial questions on the domain area of Reflection

What are the major theoretical perspectives on reflection, and how would your inquiry possibly add to this body of knowledge? --or how does your perspective differ from these other areas?

How are reflection and invention related?

What are the theoretical beliefs behind the use of reflection, and how are they complicated in actual practice in the classroom?

What is your definition of reflection (“rhetorical reflection”)? Justify why this definition is better than others?

What is different and what is the same between “reflection-in-action” (“rhetorical reflection”) and “reflection-on-action” (curricular reflection)?

Rich has hinted that his question will be something related to "rhetorical reflection." A big part of my thinking has focused on what "kind" of reflection is this rhetorical reflection. The term is my term to describe this reflection within the activity of writing, and I think for my quals prep I would do well to spend my time charting out the different kinds of reflection and then where mine fits. I still like Moon's all-purpose definition for reflection saying the mental process is similar but it is the purpose to which it is directed (its "frameworks") that distinguishes the different kinds of reflection. In Composition the term has become so focused on post-task construction of knowledge with the ultimate goal of transfer. So my goal here will be to create a kind of chart or survey of the various approaches to reflection. OK. Good.

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The second domain is Comp/Rhet (Tech Comm) and these are the initial questions I have:

--What are the major areas of Rhet/Comp, and how does the one your working with make connections between Technical Communication and Rhet/Comp?
--Should rhetoric be a part of Freshman Composition, and how does your focus on reflection relate to your answer to rhetoric's place in FYC?
--What are the major views on “the writer” in Rhet/Comp, and how do these perspectives relate to the possible role of reflection in the activity of writing?
--How do we describe and account for differences in approaches to teaching writing?
--Justify the notion of “writing process” and where reflection may fit into that “process?”

Of all the "domains," this is the one that worries the most. It is so open-ended. I meet with Fred today, so I hope that he can give me some guidance on where I can focus my energies. I think I would be wise to do a general review of comprehensive views on Composition from Harris, Crowley, Berlin, Fulkerson, Lindemann, and Connors (among many). I'm spooked, though, on how I will integrate my discussion with Tech Comm. I need also to examine the bridges between Comp and Tech Comm. Of all the questions I have proposed, the first one on rhetoric in composition is the one that I have focused on the most myself and would have the most I could talk about. Ultimately, I think my own conception of teaching writing as well as my use of reflection in a writing course stems from the New Rhetorical or Epistemic tradition in composition studies. I think I need to anchor myself more concretely in that tradition, but again how does this connect to Tech Comm? I should have more direction after meeting with Fred today. More to come...

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The third domain is Research and Research Methodology. Here are my initial questions:

--Describe four possible research methodologies for investigating your research question (including your own), and then argue for why grounded theory is the most appropriate methodology to use?
--What are the strengths and weaknesses of grounded theory?
--What kind of knowledge will your research methodology generate?
--Compare the methods used in three different methodologies (including your own) and discuss what is different about the methods applied in grounded theory?
--Discuss the uses of grounded theory as a research methodology for the fields of Rhet/Comp and Technical Communication.

From a moo discussion I had with Alec a few weeks back (http://moo.engl.ttu.edu:7000/1608) we pretty much landed on question #1, except we narrowed it to three methodologies.
Describe three possible research methodologies for investigating your research question (including your own), and then argue for why grounded theory is the most appropriate methodology to use?

That question would integrate all the other ones pretty much. So to approach this one, I might chart out various research methodologies used in Composition and then decide on the key ones I would focus on. North will help me a lot here, but he only goes to 1985, so I would have to update the research approaches used in the last twenty years. These would include predominantly qualitative approaches I would think. Perhaps I could ask the WPA list what their thoughts are? It is interesting how methods like Case Study could be perceived differently since it had more of a positivistic or what North calls Clinical bent to it originally but now it is definitely a qualitative methodology in an of itself. I need to get that book Methods and Methodologies in Comp, but even it is dated. We need someone to write an update to North's book. I sure could use it!

So I am launched! On to quals...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Subject in Discourse

Clifford, John. "The Subject in Discourse." Contending with Words: Composition in a Postmodern Age. New York: MLA, 1991. 38-51.

I have two interests in this article. The first is in Clifford's history of "the subject" in the twentieth century; the second is Clifford's own project to transform composition pedagogy into a more "critical" practice. I'll deal mostly with the first interest since it provides additional background I need for my own understanding of the "subject who writes and who is written." [My own quotes but from somewhere?] However, Clifford's project in this essay seems so dated to me—so postmodern in its own "ideology"—that I am interested in my own reaction to this piece at this moment in 2008. But more about that in a moment.

The "subject" is a term to describe the writer's consciousness as he or she writes—their body and thoughts as they are expressed on the page. I'll be blunt about my own concern related to "the subject." If rhetorical reflection, as I suppose, represents a "reactivation" of invention within the act of writing, we HAVE to have some idea about what it means for a writer to "invent." Postmodernism basically castrated the subject, leaving invention outside the realm of "the subject." If I am to make my claim, I need to "rescue the subject" from these postmodern claims. However, I can't just return to a romantic version of the creative genius on a hero quest within their own psyche to grasp the ultimate boon. No.

But on to Clifford's 101 about the history of "the subject" in the 20th century. He actually spends little time setting the baseline of the "romantic subject." Here is his clearest description of this traditional view of "the subject":
For the traditional humanist, the writer has always been seen as a creative individual, the locus of signification, the originator or meaning, an autonomous being, aware of ends and means, of authorial intentions and motivations. Traditional and expressivist rhetorical theory, in fact, unproblematically assumes that the individual writer is free, beyond the contingencies of history and language, to be an authentic and unique consciousness. (Clifford 39)
These two sentences represent Clifford's summary of the autonomous self. I must admit I am guilty of holding this view of the writing subject because this description (to a degree) represents my experience as a writer. I never presumed to the god-like power of any sort of unique consciousness, but it was my consciousness and I was creating and inventing meanings authentic and unique to me (though shaped of course by outside influences) just as I am now.

Clifford goes on to recount the dismantling of this traditional humanist view of the subject. He starts by discussing the structuralist, mentioning Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes in particular. These structuralist, he says, "cast doubt on the autonomy of the freely choosing individual by positing instead a subject created or written by linguistic, sociological, and anthropological codes" (40). He goes on to state: "Writing [for the structuralist] does not directly express an individual's ideas; it transmits universal codes" (40). I'm not as well versed on Barthes and the structuralists as I ought to be, but this description reminds me of Joseph Campbell asserting in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that there is a universal code—the hero monomyth—that we find within stories from across the globe. Epics and myths express some sort of psychological (Campbell would assert with a nod to Jung's archetypes) universal experience of humanity and the human consciousness. Clifford goes on to lump Lacan with post-structuralist and neo-Marxist, but I see his work fitting more with this psychological perspective. I may not understand Lacan, but he seems essentially Freudian in his structuralist assessment of the subject:
Lacan, for example, develops a materialist theory of the speaker, or the speaking subject, where the "I" that enunciates differs from the ego that employs the "I." … The subject position one enters through language never fully reveals itself since the unconscious always displaces and condenses through linguistic masks as metaphor and metonymy." (40)
The subject is controlled by the ego and unconscious in ways it is unaware of consciously.

After this summary of the structuralist undercutting of the autonomous subject, he moves to discuss the post-structuralist "(re)vision." He mentions that post-structuralists were skeptical of the structuralists "general transhistorical systems of meaning"—i.e. any sort of universal force influencing the subject such as archetypes or the unconscious:
Meaning is thereby made situational and relational. Everything depends on the specific institution where the discourse takes place; in varying contexts the same words are radically transformed to mean one thing and then another. Poststructuralism, then, decenters writing as well as the self, seeing both not only as effect of language patterns but as the result of multiple discourses already in place, already overdetermined by historical and social meanings in constant internal struggle. (40)
With the poststructuralist, to include neo-Marxist and Deconstructionist, we have the postmodern critique of the autonomous subject. The critique seems to have three linch pins. First, that culture, ideology, and language (which contains both) determine the "subject"—what the writer thinks and says. Second, that no situation is universal and thus each situation is unique. Contingency rules and meaning or truth is dependent upon the particulars of the situation in which the meaning is expressed (dissio logio). Third, that language itself is uncertain; our filling of the gap between sign and signified is not fixed and can be undone by multiple alternatives to that equation we call meaning. Meaning itself is a fiction. He mentions Derrida, in particular, in reference to this third critique: "Derrida similarly displaces the subject from the center, for example, in his notion of difference where attempts to define linguistic signifiers create an endless postponement of presence, an endless play of signification. For Derrida, one signifier gives way to another so that meaning is always relational, always changing" (40). Any meaning, any assertion of "presence" can be countered with another meaning which language allows. Clifford gives shortshrift to the first critique about the power of culture and ideology to determine the meanings found and expressed by the subject with a nod to Foucault and not a mention at all of Bakhtin. He sums of the result of the poststructuralist, postmodern destruction of the humanist subject with this statement: "As a result, the independent and private consciousness formerly endowed with plentitude and presence, with a timeless and transcultural essence, becomes in postmodern thought a decentered subject constantly being called on to inhabit overdetermined positions, the implications of which can be only dimly grasped by a consciousness written by multiple, shifting codes" (40-41). The strawman view of this debate has on one side the subject who "creates" from a private agency within and the subject who is "created" by outside forces determining from the outside. Postmodernism would place greater agency on those forces from outside that determine the subject. Is it any wonder, then, with this postmodern perspective that invention became a dormant concern in composition/rhetoric? Invention became a na├»ve impossibility, supplanted by a heroic struggle against the ideologies that would oppress and determine the writer—perhaps a losing battle or an idealistic crusade for "justice."

The post-postmodern correction to this stripping of the subject's agency is to return some control to the writer, to acknowledge that in the face of these multiple outside influences the writer still shapes and forms their meaning in ways determined (to a degree) by themselves. Helen Foster's conception of "networked subjectivity" as well as Anis Bawarshi's conception of genre's interaction with the subject present alternative, broader views of the writer who writes and is written. Each presents "invention" as a form of negotiation that must be accomplished by the writer as he or she writes; where the writer has some power in this negotiation process. Thus, we have the reawakening of invention in writing studies.

To do Clifford justice, he doesn't fall into a narrow postmodern position that agency for the writer completely is determined from the outside, though he seems thoroughly neo-Marxist in his distrust of ideology's oppressive influence and the need for the writer to resist this oppression. He's all about ideology and hegemony and power. He bases the largest part of his thinking upon Althusser and his 1971 essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus." He likes Althusser's position that "destigmatizes ideology as natural and inevitable" (41). So much of my experience with ideological criticism seems to present ideology as a bad thing—ew, that's ideological and thus bad implicitly. Seeing ideology as "natural" defines it as something like Burke's notion of the "terministic screen." It is an agreed upon perspective that through its terms, understandings, and conventions shapes a world view and beliefs. By its nature it includes as it excludes, allows as it disallows, names as it leaves unnamed. An ideology is a construct, socially negotiated and socially maintained. Quoting Althusser, Clifford says, "ideology represents 'the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence'" (42). OK, call it imaginary, but it still shapes how we see the world and interact within it, which means it is another word for reality.

Now to what seems so dated about Clifford's ideological critique of composition/rhetoric. I can't deny the validity of his criticism of composition teaching practices that he attacks, but I hear his critiques with a different ear that isn't so full of the terministic screen of ideological criticism. Instead, I have been influenced by Anis Bawarshi's Genre & The Invention of the Writer and her equation of structures with genre's. Bawarshi expands our understanding of genres from simple forms and even from recurring situations that generate these forms to genre as an ontologically and epistemologically shaping structure. Genre's are expressions of ideology; ideology is in kind of genre—a shaped structure that shapes. Thus, Clifford's critique of the writing subject in so much of composition/rhetoric could be really reduced to a criticism of the genre of writing held dear by so many writing teachers. This quote from Clifford sounds so much like Bawarshi to me in the sense that form equals genre and the nature of genre to shape writers: "But form is also an attitude toward reality; it is rhetorical power, a way to shape experience, and as such it constructs subjects" (43). Genre invents the writer. Clifford blasts the traditional academic essay for the "attitude toward reality" that it "fictionalizes": "it constructs subjects who assume that knowledge can be demonstrated merely by asserting a strong thesis and supporting it with three concrete points. But rarely is truth the issue. Writing subjects learn that the panoply of discourse conventions are, in fact, the sin qua non, that adherence to ritual is the real ideological drama being enacted" (43). Clifford's critique of form and ritual here seems analogous to blasting an ideology for being an ideology. Granted, he blasts the five paragraph essay for an illusion of establishing truth, but what in fact is the genre supposed to do and be within its context. It is, after all, a teaching-genre, a school-based form of writing intended to accomplish particular goals within the particular context of the school classroom. As such, it has its own validity despite its weaknesses from a larger discourse and epistemological viewpoint.

The way out is not necessarily to blast the academic essay with all its rules, conventions and rituals. As teachers of students writing within an academic context, we need to equip our students with proficiency in this kind of writing (Bartholomae would agree). But we also need to equip our students with an expanded awareness of this kind of writing as a genre. We need to equip our students with a knowledge of how genres function and how students need to interrogate a writing task in terms of genre—whatever that writing task might be. Clifford seems to arrive at this same position, but he expresses it in ideological terms. He talks about "raising their consciousness about the ideological dimensions of rhetoric" and "helping student to read and write and think in ways that both resist domination and exploitation and encourage self-consciousness about who they are and can be in the social world" (51). Yes. We should encourage self-consciousness that the writer is operating within a construct, a genre that generates desires and motivations that to a degree create the writer as the writer creates the genres. But no, in the sense that genres like ideologies are evil for being dominating and exploiting—every genre and every ideology can be critiqued for that fault. The challenge for the writer who writes, for the subject who writes as they are being written, is to negotiate (to invent) their position within that genre. That's what we need to teach.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rescuing the Subject

Miller, Susan. Rescuing the Subject: A Critical Introduction to Rhetoric and the Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 2004. (2004 paperback 2nd edition, originally published 1989).

Susan Miller's project in this text predominantly is to refigure the rhetorical tradition to highlight the significance of writing as opposed to oratory in how we conceive this tradition and how we understand "the subject"--i.e. the writer who writes. Do we conceive of the writer and what the writer is about through the lens of a rhetorical tradition dominated by concerns and figurations of oratory, or do we see the writer through a lens of "textual rhetoric?" It seems clear to me from how she ends the text and her special focus on Mina Shaughnessy and the struggles of developmental writers that she is discussing what I might call "textual literacy." She means the cognitive and linguistic skills to read and write text on a page. By recasting the rhetorical tradition and illuminating the prominence of thinking and philosophizing about the written word all the way back to Plato, Miller is "rescuing" the writer (the subject who writes) from a tradition biased toward the spoken word. She valorizes the scholarly study of the written word as unique. Charles Bazerman seems to be the most prominent scholar in "discourse studies" who has extended Miller's project in terms of research (though I could be wrong).

I recall a comment that John Schilb made in the video Take 20 about the difficulty Composition Studies (or Writing Studies) will have in the face of our modern transformation in literacy to a "new media" literacy. In the face of multi-modal texts, he said, we will face special challenges to define the nature of and relevance of written texts. He might have just been conservative here--guarding his traditional bastion of disciplinary work--but I think he speaks from the perspective of Miller's "textual rhetoric." Schilb's comment makes me wonder if Composition really ranges within the narrow walls of "textual rhetoric" or if it should range beyond just words on the page. I think this question is one of the largest questions facing Freshman Composition classes around the country. Perhaps some innovative teachers have broadened into new media literacy in both reception (critical reading) and production (critical "writing") of new media "texts," but I would guess that the majority of "English" teachers teaching writing have not. I know I can't claim to have made this transformation (though I peck at the edges), and I certainly don't see it amongst my colleagues. These musings make me wonder if Miller's point to recover writing in the rhetorical tradition isn't to a degree moot now. The problem now is that we use textual paradigms (print-based literacy) to describe and understand the new form of new media literacy. What is "remediation" after all but this way of using one construct to formulate another construct.

I want to return to the title of Miller's work--rescuing the subject. My interest in this book was predominantly in the title. I am interested in various conceptualizations of "the subject"--the writer who writes, the thinking agent who puts words to page. For my own research focus, I will have to present my own conceptualization of "the subject" since implicit in my understanding of process and reflection is a writer who makes decisions and choices about their writing. My special affinity with cognitive views toward composition (Flower and Hayes) presumes a thinking subject with power over how they conceive their own sense of reality. I think this cognitive tradition can be too narrowly reduced to the "unified self." Flower's own expansion into the "social cognitive theory of writing" is about taking into account these "outside" influences on writers.

I must say that Miller's thoughts on this issue of "the subject" are disappointing. However, she does describe the dynamic of the modernist "unified subject" theory and the post-modernist, deconstructionist indeterminant subject who faces being "written" by culture, conventions, and language itself. Let's see if I can find a few quotes:

"In this broader space, an originating presence to a text, the forgotten writer, is more complex than the individual and imaginatively 'masculine' subject, who we conceive of as an independent, potentially totalizing, univocal source of statements. It has been a relief, not just a logical linguistic and theoretical conclusion, to proclaim the recent 'death' of that figure.

The writer who enlarges our vision of what it means specifically to explain written discourse lives ... in a complex textual world. The writer knows especially about convention, precedents, and 'anxieties of influence,' the control of already written language over both meaning and the further actual results of writing. The writer, who is admittedly a fiction whose existence is never called into play outside a theoretically conceived writing event, both originates with, and results from, a written text. ... this writer simultaneously sacrifices 'meaning' to the resistance of written language, and written language to 'meaning,' in actual, time-bound performances." (15)

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"The premises for this theoretical proposal are that writing cannot now be imagined only as a 'medium' for direct communication from a singular individual, and that it is always the living embodiment of a risk whose description must vary historically, but which is always the province of a textual 'actor' taking in hand a language that in fact can only fictionalize such assertive control." (36)
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"I have assumed that working out this theory of writers historically, philosophically, and in terms of definitions of rhetoric will contribute to ongoing reconceptualizations within compositions studies because I take the act of writing to be still somewhat hidden in the persistent convention that writing only 'contains' individual speech or thought. Most theorists and teachers of written composition still unquestioningly emphasize a direct connection between thought and spoken-to-written language. Many lament the difference between 'authors' and the halting textual voices of imitative ... student writing. They aim to produce 'student writers' who write and read 'for themselves,' assuming that a thesis may be 'stated' with discernible clarity, coherence, and completeness. Composition, more than any other textual study, necessarily confronts writing as discovery, as play, and as process because it faces unstable student texts that have been written by those who seem to know only their own oral culture. But common practices in the field persistently honor oppositions to discovery, play, and process: product, seriousness, and perfect communication. Even the most enlightened often relegate the instabilities of writing to 'pedagogy' while retaining in their descriptions of 'rhetoric' an ideal of assertive and stable texts.

Alternatives to these tacit assumptions and their results depend on reconceiving both student writers and the act of writing." (150)
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I think the missing link, or undeveloped promise, of Miller's book is its application in the classroom. She does a lot for the scholarly study of written communication, but only holds out a changed premise for writing teachers. It is up to the writing teacher to see where this new premise--the reconception of student writers and the act of writing--will take their pedagogy. From the quote above, it appears she offers a solidly "process" pedagogy as an alternative to current-traditional pedagogy by opposing process vs. product, play vs. seriousness, and discovery vs. perfect communication (if this last pair fit). From my perspective in 2008, I find this a disappointing way to reduce her thoughts on teaching. It is her enhances sensitivity to what is involved in the act of writing, her presentation of an expanded picture of the writer and writing with a long tradition behind it, that makes her book important. I keep coming back to Foster's "networked subjectivity," and I think that Miller would probably like Foster's notions of the writer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Electronic Writing Workshop and the e-Rhetorical Forum

I talked previously about the importance of choice for student writing in our classrooms. I want to discuss now the difference that using technology can make for conducting our "writing workshop" where students write on topics of their choice. I have taught in a teaching context where students shared and responded to each other over electronic networks for over fifteen years, and in that time I've noticed some important differences from what we might call a "traditional" classroom learning environment (i.e. non-mediated).

The first set of differences is merely a matter of mechanics. An electronic network makes a writing workshop work so much better. Student writing posted to an online setting is instantly available to everyone in the class. When doing peer response, there is no need to make multiple copies for the whole group to read, nor is there the need for turn-taking in the act of peer response. Multiple readers can be responding to the same text concurrently. Lastly, the electronic writing workshop explodes the walls of the classroom so that students can access and respond to this writing outside of class.

The next difference in the Electronic writing workshop is really in degree not kind. One of the strengths we know of writing workshop is the peer and collaborative nature of the classroom ecology. Students don't just feed all their writing to the teacher but share their writing with their peer or response group. This peer influence is crucial to the difference writing workshop makes for student writers. The electronic writing workshop heightens this peer and collaborative influence significantly. I believe sharing and responding to writing within an e-Rhetorical forum--a recurring place for posting and sharing writing--positions student into a unique dual role I call the "role of the spectator-participant." My meaning, however, does not imply the objective distance that term implies from ethnographic methodology. Within a learning context where students are posting and responding to each others writing over an online network, the students posting writing are all participants; however, at the same time they are spectators because they are reading and watching the posts of their peers. Each role has what we might consider a symbiotic relationship to the other role. The knowledge that one's writing will be going in front of the entire class influence our participation; likewise, since we are observing the performance of others we see things that influence what we decide to do when it is our turn to perform and put our writing in front of the group.

I have defined six key influences that this role of the spectator-participant has on student writings within an electronic writing workshop:

Peer Influence/Membership: Students experience a sense of common identity and common activity. Within this group they look to each other for support, ideas, and examples. The sense of membership fosters an interest for the spectator in the activities of the other members and stimulates the participant into more engaged participation in the group.

Audience: Because students know that their writing sent to the group in the network will be read by the others in the group and that their writing will be compared to the writing of their peers, students experience a greater sense of audience. Although participants don’t have a uniform reaction to this awareness of audience, many student/participants experience a feeling of engagement, an openness and comfort to try more things with their writing, and a pressure to make their writing better and fit more into the “normal discourse” of the group.

Multiplicity: One of the chief experiences for the spectator is a sense of multiplicity. They are exposed through the network to many viewpoints and ideas. Through the exposure to different ideas and perspectives (the “other”), students are given an expanded base of information and they experience a sense of displacement from their original viewpoint.

Comparability: Multiplicity stimulates an experience of comparability for the spectator. The students compare their writing to the writing of their peers and they compare the writing of their peers to each other.

Orientation/Perspective/Normalizing: What the spectator experiences and then the participant attempts to incorporate into their participation is a sense of orientation or perspective. If multiplicity exposes the spectator to new ideas, comparability and evaluation of that multiplicity help to form a new sense of where they fit in to the larger discourse of the group.

Disembodiment/Virtual Time/Objectivity: The computer interface makes the sharing and responding to texts different. Because the spectator-participant reads and shares writing through the computer (disembodied and in virtual time), participants experience distance from the person they are responding to, free from the social dynamics of face-to-face communication. For spectators and participants, the computer interface also can lead to more deliberative communication.

Students placed into the learning context of the electronic writing workshop are placed into a different position, a different dynamic than the traditional classroom writing workshop that influences their learning and engagement in the writing classroom. I'd like to say this context is qualitatively better, but I can't. I energy of a face-to-face writing group is very powerful, so I think we need to take a critical look at the electronic writing workshop to see the gains and losses. My belief is that the electronic writing workshop is broader and potentially deeper, but not necessarily so (just as the traditional writing workshop is no guarantee). The greatest loss is the body--the voice and flesh of face-to-face interaction. The impact of this loss should not be slighted; however, there are gains in the online setting, especially regarding multiplicity and comparability.

"as participants we APPLY our value systems, but as spectators we GENERATE and REFINE the system itself." --James Britton, "Spectator Role and the Beginnings of Writing"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Choice and Writing Instruction

Who likes to be told what to do? Who likes to have little or no choice in what we do? No one, of course. What did William Blake say? Why is it that everyone is born free but everywhere in chains.

Choice has the connotation of "freedom" while the lack of choice gets lumped into slavery or oppression. I don't think this dichotomy fully gets to the matter of choice. If we once admit that by definition and by nature we live within structures (variously called ideologies, genres, terministic screens, conventions, traditions), then we can see that choice in an ultimate sense is a fiction. Our choice to a degree is always circumscribed by limits we may not be aware of. Yet, we have choice. Choice exists, even if it is only a choice between this and that.

As I examine the subject of choice in writing, I believe it is essential to make choice a substantial option available for writing students. Perhaps it is a strawman argument, but many teachers offer little or no choice to their students just as teachers often limit the kinds of audiences and purposes for which students write (i.e. only to them and only to be graded). See Elbow's Map of Writing:
Thinking in parallel to Elbow's assertion that writers need to write all across this map of different locations related to audience and response, I came up with what I refer to as the Continuum of Choice and Writing

----- Student choice of subject, form and purpose
----- Student choice of subject and purpose;
Teacher choice of form
----- Student choice of subject;
Teacher choice of form and purpose
---- Teacher choice of subject, form, and purpose

I know that I tend to reside in the middle with my writing assignments. I may choose the form and the purpose, but let students find their own topic to write about. Or perhaps I come up with the form (say the Illustrative Essay) but let students determine their own subject and the purpose for why they are writing. What would it be like to let students entirely choose their own subject, form, and purpose? I don't know. I know it would have me think more deeply about the ultimate goals of what I wanted to teach (probably in a positive way).

Fletcher and Portalupi in the 2001 Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide say this about the importance of choice in writing (which is how writing workshop operates in its orthodox form):

“Why is choice so important? ...while teachers may determine what gets taught, only students can determine what will be learned. This is true for learners of any age. We learn best when we have a reason that propels us to want to learn. When students have an authentic purpose for their writing—whether to document an important event in their lives, get classmates to laugh, or communicate a message that matters—they pay attention differently to instruction. Our students know best which topics and purposes for writing matter most to each of them. Letting them choose their own topics and set their own purposes makes it a lot more likely they'll be engaged and receptive.”

I think the key here is when students take ownership themselves of their learning. This is often a rare phenomenon in a school setting, so to find a way to broaden and deepen this kind of learning I think is fabulous. Isn't that what we want? But is this self-sponsored learning what students want or are ready for? This question reminds me of Sheridan Blau's notion of "interpretive dependency" where students come to lean of the teacher to interpret for them and give them the answer. The same holds true for writing instruction and what we might call "productive dependency." Students depend upon their teachers to do the writing for them, to fix it to make decisions about what makes the writing good or bad.

Choice then puts a responsibility on the student's shoulders. It makes them responsible for their own decisions and work. The teacher, then, has the tough job of supporting this growing responsibility without squashing it with criticism. All of this thinking on choice in writing is pushing me toward incorporating it into my curriculum in a more radical way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Genre and the Invention of the Writer

Bawarshi, Anis. Genre and the Invention of the Writer. Logan: Utah State Press, 2003.

It has been my contention that when writer's reflect between drafts that the predominant thing that they do is “negotiate their rhetorical stance.”  Bawarshi's book is a significant support for this theory. She looks to Richard Young, Alton Becker and Kenneth Pike's assertion in Rhetoric: Discovery and Change (1970) that “invention involves a process of orientation rather than origination” (6). For Bawarshi, genre's represent one of the most (if not the most) important factors writers consider as they examine a rhetorical situation and write. 

Bawarshi's book reads as if it had been a dissertation. It has a beautiful laser-like focus on an idea that gets repeated over and over again as that idea is considered in multiple ways. To her credit and to the credit of her main idea, she never gets old or uninteresting in her discussion of this idea.  Her basic assertion is this: “Writers invent within genres and are themselves invented by genres” (7). But what is a genre, in her view?  She builds from Carolyn Miller's notion that genre's are not predominantly forms but are typified rhetorical ways of acting in recurring situations.  Bawarshi would give a large degree of agency to genre's themselves.  She looks to Pierre Bourdieu's notion of “habitus” as a parallel definition for genre's.  “Habitus” for Bourdieu are “structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (qtd. in Bawarshi 8). As such, genre's function as a kind of “topoi” plus: “Like habitus, genre both organizes and generates the conditions of social and rhetorical production” (8). It isn't that genre's structure and to a degree determine rhetorical action alone; genre's also have an epistemological or ideological component. Using the notion of the “rhetorical ecosystem,” Bawarshi argues that “genre's maintain rhetorical conditions that sustain certain ... ways of discursively and materially organizing, knowing, experiencing, acting, and relating in the world.”  Bawarshi interestingly moves in the same direction as Louise Cowans in her essay “Epic as Cosmopoesis”  
(http://lonestar.texas.net/~mseifert/epiccosmos.html) where Cowan asserts that genres present an ontological position, a kind of way of being that each form of literature presents to the reader. We recognize a genre, she says, not so much by its form, but by this ontological position.  Bawarshi's point is that genres are “discursive and ideological conditions that writer's have to position themselves within and interpret in order to write” (170).  As ideological structures they generate a particular knowledge, world view, motive to act or desire, as well as particular kind of articulation: “Genres are places of articulation. They are ideological configurations that are realized in their articulation, as they are used by writers (and readers). Genres also place writers in positions of articulation” (9). Cutting to the chase, we can use Bawarshi's own ending to summarize her main thesis: “By encouraging student writer's to recognize beginnings as genred positions of articulation, and by teaching students how to inquire into these positions, we enable them to locate themselves more critically and effectively as writers within those beginnings” (170).  What a beautiful quote! I would agree with everything she says here.

Let me add to her thinking my own thoughts related to reflection. If invention is a form of orienting and positioning (as well as being oriented and positioned by the genre), we would both agree that this dialectic process of invention doesn't just happen within pre-writing but is an on-going dynamic that occurs throughout the activity of writing.  As teachers, then, how do we “teach students how to inquire into these positions” and “enable them to locate themselves more critically and effectively as writers” within these genres? Of course, we would do multiple things like the heuristic exploring of a genre that she includes at the end of the book. We would model a critical examination of a genre. We would make considerations of genre part of the language of our course. In peer response we would ask students to consider notions related to genre in students' examination of each others' writing.  But if this orienting and locating is as she repeatedly discusses, a form of negotiation (similar to Flower's construction of negotiated meaning), then where and when does this negotiating happen.  Bawarshi answers this question, in part, herself: “The rhetorical art of adaptation or repositioning should become central to our teaching of writing, especially our teaching of invention, which would then become the art of analyzing genres and positioning oneself within them” (156). By highlighting adapting and repositioning” as the essence of the rhetorical art (finding the available means, but more), she is touching on the ancient notion of to prepon, appropriateness, as well as decorum.  

But where and how to we encourage this “adaptation and repositioning?”  Surely all this positioning doesn't just happen at the beginning of writing, but must be encouraged throughout the activity of writing. It is my belief that reflection is one powerful way that teachers in a structured and prompted way can encourage students (novice) writers to “adapt and reposition”--to invent their rhetorical practice as they negotiate their rhetorical stance.  Where we as teachers can help these student writer's become more adept at this negotiation and positioning until it becomes a tacit skill in their own rhetorical practice. Where Bawarshi and I might diverge is the degree to which she considers that genre dominates this rhetorical stance. Perhaps she is right, but I think the writer is also negotiating a whole host of complex considerations that might fall outside the world of genre including the task, their self-image, their knowledge, their audience, the text they have on the page vs what they intend. Bawarshi argues for a BIG GENRE (like Big Rhetoric) such that everything folds into the world of genre—everything is a genre—so from her perspective she may be right.  

Below will follow a number of snippets or jewels from her text.  

“I am interested in the synchronic relationship between genres and writers, especially the ways this relationship gets enacted during the scene of invention, where genre knowledge becomes a form of what Berkenkotter and Huckin call 'situated cognition'” (10). 

“Genres themselves take place within what Bakhtin calls larger 'spheres of culture' (1986), what Freadman calls 'ceremonials' (1988), and what Russell, borrowing from activity theory, calls 'activity systems' (1997). Within these larger spheres of language and activity, writers negotiate multiple, sometimes conflicting genres, relations, and subjectivities” (11). 

“We cannot, I argue, full understand or answer the question 'what do writers do when they write?' without understanding and answering the question 'what happens to writers when they write?'” (13).
production of the text – production of the writer

A Burkian definition of genre: “Genres are discursive sites that coordinate the acquisition and production of motives by maintaining specific relations between scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose” (17). 

“genres are not only typified rhetorical responses to recurrent situations; they also help shape and maintain the ways we rhetorically know and act within these situations. In other words, as individuals' rhetorical responses to recurrent situations become typified as genres, the genres in turn help structure the way individuals conceptualize and experience these situations, predicting their notions of what constitutes appropriate and possible responses and actions. That is why genres are both functional and epistemological—they help us function within particular situations at the same time as they help shape the way we come to know and organize these situations. ... To argue that genres help reproduce the very recurring situations to which they respond (Devitt 1993) is to identify them as constitutive rather than as merely regulative” (24).

“It is the genred positions, commitments, and relations that writers assume, enact, and sometimes resist within certain situations that most interest me. In particular, I am interested in the way these positions, commitments, and relations inform the choices writers make during the scene of invention” (45)
---and I would add “during the scene of reflection”

“We can learn a great deal about how and why writers invent by analyzing how writers get positioned within genred sites of action” (48).

“By focusing mainly on the writer as the agent of his or her cognitive processes, the writing process movement has provided only a partial view of invention. While the writer is certainly an agent of writing, to locate him or her as the prime agent of writing is to ignore the agency that is already at work on the writer as he or she makes decisions, shapes meaning, and reformulates it” (68).

“Following Ernst Cassirer, LeFevre argues that language does not mirror or copy an external reality; it helps constitute that reality” (70).
“Le Fevre calls for a continued inquiry into 'the ecology of invention--the ways ideas arise and are nurtured or hindered by interactions with social context and culture'” (71).

“it is perhaps more accurate to say that invention does not so much begin in the writer or even in some abstract social collective as it begins when a writer locates himself or herself within the discursive and ideological formation of a genre and its system of related genres” (72). 

“Each textual instantiation of a genre is a result of a unique negotiation between the agency of a writer and the agency of a genre's conditions of production. ... It is within the discursive and ideological space of genre—which I will later describe as the intersection between a writer's intentions and the genre's social motives—where agency resides” (79).

“Every time a writer writes within a genre, he or she in effect acquires, interprets, and to some extent transforms the desires that motivate it. As such, every articulation necessarily involves an interpretation” (91).

This quote about says it all:
“invention does not involve an introspective turn so much as it involves the process by which individuals locate themselves within and devise ways of rhetorically acting in various situations. In this way, invention is a process that is inseparable from genre since genre coordinates both how individuals recognize a situation as requiring certain actions and how they rhetorically act within it. Genres, thus, are localized, textured sites of invention, the situated topoi in which communicants locate themselves conceptually before and rhetorically as they communicate” (114).

“The primary goal of such a FYW course would be to teach students how to locate themselves and their activities meaningfully and critically within these genred positions of articulation. ...It is in the ability to teach students how to locate and invent themselves rhetorically within various sites of action (a rhetorical, metacognitive literacy)--an ability to heighten awareness of disciplinarity and rhetoric—that the future of FYW is most promising and justified” (154).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Judging the Quality of Development

Boxer, Philip. “Judging the Quality of Development.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 117-127.

Boxer is a scholar and teacher in the field of Business Management from England who has worked on helping managers develop the quality of judgment. He mentions an interesting evolution in his work. Originally, he was after helping managers become strategic in their choices within situations. He shifted, though, to define strategic in relation to the manager's self—meaning, as he explains, “judging the quality of development is something for the manager to do and not me” (117). I can't say I fully understand this “inversion” as he describes it, but part of it is empowering the manager to achieve a new framework or sense of self from which to make decisions and judgments.

Boxer describes “reflective analysis” as falling within a number of teaching paradigms. In particular, it is part of the conjectural paradigm.
--instructional paradigm: traditional classroom situations
--revelatory paradigm: presents a picture about which certain things are known but encourages the manager to make sense of the picture themselves
--emancipatory paradigm: provides the manager with a particular tool to be applied to a range of problems
--conjectural paradigm: differs from the other paradigms in that it seeks to leave the manager free both to choose how he makes sense of things and also what he makes sense of

He goes on to define what reflective analysis broadly as a “process for enabling personal revelation” ... and as a “technique through which the manager can examine the way in which he frames his experience” (119). The technique appears to have two main approaches. The first is “past reflection” which engages the manager in reviewing past situations similar to the present one. The second part of the technique is “option analysis” which involves reflecting on the present choices available to the manager. He sums up the technique: “[it] enables the manager to examine the ways in which he frames his own experience... [and] presents the manager with a new issue: on what basis is he to choose how to frame his experience?” (121). The article goes on to detail some of the difficulties managers have in engaging with this process, as well as some of his evolution in applying it instructionally.

Assessment
I don't think the author did the best job doing justice to the work he has done with managers. This article represents an example of how reflection is used in different disciplines to promote the “reflective practitioner.” However, his technique seems almost like psychoanalysis. The other interesting thing is that it contains two of the three moves that Yancey says reflection contains: looking back, looking at, looking forward. Boxer's technique misses the “looking at” part, but his “past reflection” and “option analysis” are definitely the Janus-like backward and forward nature of reflection. Interestingly, also, his reflective analysis doesn't have the element of tapping in to emotions in the process.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reflection and the Self-Organized Learner: A Model of Learning Conversations

Candy, Philip, Sheila Harri-Augstein, and Laurie Thomas. “Reflection and the Self-Organized Learner: A Model of Learning Conversations.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 100-116.

This article discusses work undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Human Learning at Brunel University started in 1968 on “developing a model of 'learning to learn' using a range of approaches which help people to become reflective self-organized learners” (101). Using as an analogy the growth in sports of using video tape to help athletes improve their performance, the authors' main point is that getting students to examine and reflect upon some record of their behavior or performance is important: “In each case, the learner has access to a behavior record—a sort of reflected image—on which to base future improvement. The idea in each situation is the same: if people are aware of what they are presently doing, and can be encouraged to reflect on it and to consider alternatives, they are in an excellent position to change and to try out new ways of behaving” (100). The authors stress that the learner should be independent and given the responsibility to learn.

The article describes various techniques and devices to help learners examine and review their learning (which they acknowledge is not an easy activity to capture). One such technique is “Learning Conversations” which sounds very similar to Knights ideas about listening and “free attention” as well as “thinking aloud.” This conversing, they believe, will help the learner internalize what they have talked about so they are able to review and reflect on these experiences themselves. They point to studies that show how difficult it is to change patterns of behavior. After training there is often a drop in competence, and, unless there is the right support or persistence, the performance will return to the old level. Hence, the importance of internalizing the new skills to reach a higher new level of skill. The authors believe in “the need for different types of dialogue at different points along the learning curve” (104).

The authors also describe other techniques for providing a learning record: The Brunel Reading Recorder, The Flow Diagram Technique, The Structure of Meaning Technique, and The Repertory Grid. The authors provide a good summary at the end of their position and their technique, so I will quote it in full:
“Our experience leads us to believe that much potentially valuable learning is 'lost' because learners have not developed the skills of recreating or reliving learning episodes which they experience. For most people, their responses to learning events tend to be habitual and unquestioned, and practice (even repeated practice) does not allow them to make explicit the connection between what Argyris and Schon (1974) call their 'theory in use' and their actions. What is required, it seems to us, is the opportunity for learners to reflect on their performance, but reflection is not facilitated simply by allowing time for it, or even by offering questions to encourage thinking and critical self-awareness. No, in the first instance, reflection is facilitated by providing some sort of behavioural record (such as a video tape, an observation sheet or a computer analysis) of the learner in the learning situation” (114-115).

Assessment
This article is significant for two reasons. First, it advocates verbal discussion as a valid form of “articulation” (a la Eisner) to promotes reflection. Here we have the possible conflict between verbal vs written reflection, but the key for each one is self-expression in language. The second interesting thing about this article is its belief that reflection only really happens when the reflector has some objective representation of themselves to reflect upon (like watching the video tape of themselves). These author's approach seems right in line with Dr. John Tenny and his 7/29/08 comment to one of my blog posts. As the head of the Education Program at Willimette University, he developed what he calls the Data-Based Classroom Observation Method. Here is one comment from his blog post: “I found that when I shifted from feedback in the form of anecdotal notes to providing objective data on what was happening in the classroom, the students/student teachers shifted from a defensive/deflective or accommodative response to one of independent reflection (definition above), problem solving, and change.” He goes on to contend, “I believe that 'reflection' is shallow and surface when the person does not have the factual basis for understanding what occurred.” (http://thespeculum.blogspot.com/2008/06/pre-dissertation-proposal.html) Tenny and the authors of this article agree that learners to engage in what we might call productive reflection or deep reflection need that objective, factual record or representation to reflect upon. The challenge is how to generate such records/representations.

Reflection and the Development of Learning Skills

Main, Alex. “Reflection and the Development of Learning Skills.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 91-99.

This article is about the role reflection can play in helping students learn to learn. The author is a counselor who helps students with their study skills and learning habits. Many times advice from text books or teachers on how to study or learn have no affect and are not taken by the student. The author implies that deeper techniques need to be employed to affect change. Graham Gibbs (1981) believes students struggle because they “lack any proper reflection on their learning” (92). Engaging students in reflective activities help students generate their own knowledge: “he [Gibbs] is advocating that reflective techniques allow individual development, individual choice and a matching of learning methods and study techniques to individual needs and perceptions” (93). Here is a summary of one such learning exercise detailed in the article:

Exercise on “How do we learn best?”
1. 3 min. write on bad learning experience; 3 min. on good learning experience
2. 10 min. in pairs relating experiences—id main similarities and differences
3. 24 min. in fours id themes
4. 20 min. + plenary share themes, discuss

The author goes on to discuss how counseling techniques of reflective listening (different kind of reflection) help individuals to reflect. The overall goal is to generate a more reflective learner able to make individual choices that fit and are productive for them. There are three key issues in counseling learning: opening up, creating self-concepts, and developing trust in reflection (96-97). The first two of these techniques or issues align with Bouds elements of the reflective process—attending to feelings and re-evaluating experience.

The third element—developing trust in reflection—had an interesting section on student resistance to reflection: “If reflection come slowly to some people because they have little sense of involvement in their own learning, it comes unwillingly to others because they have little belief in its value for them” (97). The author explores some possible causes: introspection is unpleasant, examining learning processes empty and unproductive, or reflection has been done for them (c.f. Interpretive dependence Sheridan Blau). The author offers no ideal way to deal with this common problem. He believes, however, that for these reluctant reflectors providing lots of opportunities to reflect may lead to a chance breakthrough: “By offering students number of opportunities to reflect... I have usually found something that has triggered a rewarding experience. Simply persevering in the setting up of opportunities for reflection has worked” (98). The author closes the article by pointing out that most evaluation activities are opportunities for reflection, especially the use of open-ended questions.

Assessment
I fit this article within the category of “reflective practice.” Instead of developing the reflective practitioner in say business or in writing, we here have discussion of developing the reflective student/learner. The other significant thing about this article is its frank discussion of reluctant reflectors—students who resist or can't reflect. Often this gets blamed on developmental or learning style/personality factors. This author posits other possible reasons that are interesting more from a psychological position, and he holds out the hope that persistent opportunities to reflect often lead to this kind of reluctant reflector to engage in the activity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reflection and Learning: the Importance of a Listener

Knights, Susan. "Reflection and Learning: the Importance of the Listener." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 85-90.

In this article, the author brings a technique from psychology called "co-counseling" into the classroom and positions it as a powerful form of reflection. Jackins (1978) discusses one technique of co-counseling called "free attention" where students break up into pairs and give each other their full attention for equal amounts of time, say three minutes each. The listener is not supposed to interrupt or question in any way--just give the person his or her full attention and listen as that person talks aloud for the full time. The author points out how rare it is for us to experience this situation of having someone's full, undivided attention without the possibility of interruption. In the classroom setting, the author notes, it is usually only the teacher that gets this free attention.

The author at one point in the article postulates that "very few people, however highly qualified academically, have confidence in their capacity to think" (88). Fear of being interrupted, questioned, countered or "knocked back," the author says, inhibits participation and "discourages private reflection" (88). The author believes that providing the space where one's thinking is getting listened to uninterrupted without being questioned or beaten down increases a person's confidence in his or her ability to think. Pointing to the work of Jerome Liss, the author highlights this point about the value of uninterrupted attention: "Uninterrupted attention is an essential human need and helps the working out of any problem" (89).

The author's own summary is so good that I will quote it in full:
"For the reasons discussed above, talking through one's ideas with the thoughtful attention of another person is a powerful way of clarifying confusion, identifying appropriate questions and reaching significant insights. Argument, evaluation and constructive feedback also have their place in the process of course, along with lectures, reading, group discussion and practical experience, but much of their value can be lost without the opportunity for all students to process the input in their own way, check it against previously acquired information and make it their own" (90).

Assessment
This article provides an interesting counterpoint to the argument that reflection should be done in writing, that the act if written articulation (Eisner) in language has an epistemic nature. It also confirms my own thinking about the usefulness of reflection being done in a social rather than individual context. Knight's method of free attention, though, is much more social. It also shares what we might call the magical thinking assumptions underlying both the written and here verbal power of reflection/articulation--just by expressing one's thinking leads to something valuable. That is the constructivist learning assumption too, right? Here the author made a big leap to assert that this form of thinking aloud in a context of free attention leads to "clarifying confusion, identifying appropriate questions and reaching significant insights" and helped them make learning "their own." These assertions seem to large to me, and would need to be validated through careful research (like grounded theory). We have another example, then, of a classroom practice leading a scholar to make sweeping assertions about the theory of reflection and learning based upon their own observations and theorizing, without being grounded in adequate research.

The author also has what we might call a loose definition of reflection. It combines a Rogerian-like "reflecting" (the author does bring in Carl Rogers at one point!) in the sense the "just listening with full attention" is a form of reflecting. The listener is a quiet and present mirror for the talker. But it also meshes in reflective thinking by saying that what the talker is doing as they ramble on and on for the full allotted time is a form of reflection; however, this labeling of simple articulation as reflection is pretty loose and unsystematic. It seems to me that the "talker-reflector" would need to be prompted and led to a greater degree toward reflective thinking in a Deweyian sense. It is an interesting technique, though, that I may try in my classroom.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Debriefing in Experience-based Learning

Article summary

Pearson, Margot, and David Smith. "Debriefing in Experience-based Learning." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 69-84.


In this chapter, the authors detail their philosophical and practical approach to debriefing, a formal method of processing experience. It seems to be directed toward workshop leaders who might be called on to lead debriefing sessions. They acknowledge the roots of the term and technique in military practice. Here is the author's simple rationale for debriefing: "Simply to experience, however, is not enough. Often we are so deeply involved in the experience itself that we are unable, or do not have the opportunity, to step back from it and reflect upon what we are doing in a critical way" (69). They contend that debriefing has a "central importance" in experience-based learning.

The authors detail important characteristic of debriefing--things like debriefings are underlain by intent related to learning, that they can come soon after the experience or later, that it means the cessation of the experience, that it often takes and needs as much time or more than the experience itself, that there is formal and informal kinds of debriefing.

Three stages in the debriefing process are identified and discussed:
1) What happened--describe what happened
2) How did the participants feel?--explore personal and interpersonal feelings
3) What does it mean?--involves generalizing from the experience (72-73)

We can see a direct relation of these three phases of debriefing to the three stages of Boud, Keogh, and Walkers Reflective Processes within their model of reflection: 1) Returning to experience, 2) Attending to feelings, 3) Re-evaluating the experience. Interesting.

The authors have an interesting section on "Debriefing, Knowledge and Ways of Knowing." They provide a brief taxonomy of epistemology--of the different ways of knowing. Referring to Habermas, they talk about three ways in which we come to know: 1) empirical observation, 2) conventional knowledge, 3) through language (or dialectic). They go on to describe a fourth way of knowing that they say "concerns knowing about ourselves, our theories and our actions within the context of the wider world." They label this as "critical knowing" and say it depends upon meanings though language, but it is more than interpretive understanding: "Critical knowing is concerned with a critical understandings of the self, the manner in which we act, and the personal theories that inform our actions. ... The result of critical knowing is a more conscious awareness of why certain actions have taken place, the ideological or theoretical basis of the actions and whether there are more appropriate or effective action strategies that might be used" (74, 75). This critical knowing seems to be the goal that Schon seeks for the "reflective practitioner" and could be called practical wisdom or phronesis. The authors discuss that the debriefing process should know what kind of knowledge it is seeking to achieve and adjust its activities to meet that learning goal.

Assessment
I had not thought of the term "debriefing" before, but it fits as another term to describe post-experience processing that Boud labels as reflective by its nature. I can see how his article would be important in Service Learning as well as in critical incident processing such as in nursing education. It also relates to the "constructive reflection" represented in a portfolio letter. It differs because debriefing by its nature is facilitated and social, whereas portfolio letters tend to be assigned (but not facilitated) and private. I believe that Linda Adler-Kassner conducts a reflective debriefing with her teachers after each semester that fits with what this article is about. The article points to the importance of this processing of experience and the importance of careful leadership by the teacher or facilitator.

Writing and Reflection

Article Summary

Walker, David. "Writing and Reflection." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 52-68.

The author describes his evolving use of portfolios in a program for teaching church and spiritual leaders in Australia. The portfolio as he designed and used it resembles a log and dialogic journal--he calls it a "work book." Students record whatever they choose during the course of their involvement in the program and are encouraged to return to what they have written and reflect on it more and discuss it with classmates. He refers to the portfolio as a "method." The article provides elaborate "how to" instructions and advice for keeping such a portfolio. We can distinguish this on-going, journal-like portfolio from the end-of-course collection of selected works often used for course or program assessment.

The author points in particular to the value of the portfolio's written nature. He identifies these values as objectivity, the ability to share experiences, and the ability to clarify. Here is a quote from one of his students: "Once you've written something down--one views it more clearly. Once it's brought out in the open it loses its power and you are able to look at it and say 'Well, there it is, this is part of me!'" (58). Writing helped bring a sense of distance and objectivity that helped the learner see that experience more clearly. Walker's notions here coincide directly with Phelp's discussion of "distantiation" achieved through reflection.

Another value of written reflection mentioned by participants was how writing about the subjects of their learning--reflecting in writing on a lecture or book--helped them to learn the content of the subject. This sounds like Write-to-Learn stuff. Walker believes is was the "personal appropriation of the material that was achieved through the portfolio" (59). He goes on to elaborate on how participants used the portfolio to make their learning more personally meaningful because they were able to record personal connections and express their feelings. Walker cites a number of participants who talk about the value of writing down their thoughts and feelings. Here's one he quotes, "Writing down my experiences, I became more conscious of what I am really feeling, and doing and 'being'--I have found words to describe myself and so it is much easier to speak about myself to others" (60). What Walker seems to be discussing here is the value of "articulation" that Eisner talks about to--getting into language what we think and feel helps to create and shape those thoughts and feelings. Language is epistemic in this way.

Interestingly, Walker ends his discussion by mentioning that this "method" doesn't work with everyone. There always seems to be a number of students for whom the portfolio and this ongoing reflective discipline doesn't work (for various reasons). He says, "Some saw it as a job to be done, so that it lost the aspect of creativity that was an important part of it" (62). To my mind, I am thinking about what the editors of this volume referred to in their first article and the notion of deep learning and surface learning. Reflection seems to help students access deep learning; however, some students seem stuck at surface learning.

Assessment
This article presents a different model of the portfolio that I find interesting. In terms of my focus on rhetorical reflection, I think its greatest value is what it has to say about the value of articulation--of writing down our reflections (as opposed to just speaking them). The article also lends added voice to the idea that reflection is not universally effective.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Promoting Reflection in Learning: a Model

Article summary
Boud, David, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. "Promoting Reflection in Learning: a Model." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. New York: Kogan Page, 1985.

This article is the opening chapter to a collection of essays edited by these authors on what they refer to as a new way to represent the kind of learning they had been promoting in their own practice and inquiry--reflection. They consider reflection as "a form of response of the learner to experience," as the processing phase after an experience occurs (18, 19). Their model is fairly simple. Although they present their model in graphical form, I will do my best to represent it here:

Experience--behavior, ideas, feelings
<> cycling back and forth with
Reflective processes
-->leads to
Outcomes--"may be a personal synthesis, integration and appropriation of knowledge, the validation of personal knowledge, a new affective state, or the decision to engage in some further activity" (20)

In pursuing this model, the authors consider the process of reflection from the perspective of the learner and the learner's intent. When focusing on the learner, the authors stress the significance of past experience, personal constructs, and emotions. Summarizing George Kelly's 1955 personal construct theory, they say: "objects, events or concepts are only meaningful when seen from the perspective of the person construing their meaning. This suggests that techniques to assist reflection need to be applied to the construction of the learner, rather than those of the teacher" (23). The authors point specifically to Mezirow notions of learning as a means of freeing from habitual ways of thinking and achieving a "perspective transformation" (23). The author's go on discuss the learner's intent which to my mind links directly to Jennifer Moon's notion of "frameworks"--that what distinguishes different acts of reflection is not the mental process but the purpose behind the reflection, the intent. In this discussion, the authors point to Entwistle and Ramsden's (1983) distinction between deep and surface learning, Dewey and the goal of resolving uncertainty, Habermas' notion of "critical intent," and Mezirow's forms of "critical reflectivity" (1981).

The rest of the chapter outlines their views on how to promote reflection and lead learners through their model that moves from experience through reflective processes to arrive at outcomes. In this section, they elaborate on the reflective process and distinguish three phases:

1) Returning to experience--the recollection of salient events
2) Attending to feelings--utilizing positive feelings and removing obstructing feelings
3) Re-evaluating experience--"Re-evaluation involves re-examining experience in the light of the learner's intent, associating new knowledge with that which is already possessed, and integrating this knew knowledge into the learner's conceptual framework. It leads to an appropriation of this knowledge into the learner's repertoire of behavior" (27).

The author's note that most notions of reflection jump right to the third element of reflection and skip the first two. They also place special emphasis on the role of the affective in learning through this model. They believe that returning to experience and attending to feelings will help the learner avoid the possible problem of operating on false assumptions or reflecting on information not sufficiently comprehended (30).

The stage of re-evaluating experience, however, has multiple elements that the authors believe constitute a whole rather than a process:
--Association: connecting ideas and feelings that are part of the original experience with existing knowledge and attitudes
--Integration: integrating associations into a new whole or pattern, synthesis, discrimination, drawing conclusions
--Validation: subjecting integrated insights or meanings to reality tests, validation as rehearsal
--Appropriation: the new information/insight must be appropriated in a personal way if it is to be our own

In the section on Outcomes, the authors connect the outcome of reflection with the readiness for new experience or for the next attempt. Mentioning that the benefits of reflection may be lost if they are not linked to action, the authors have an interesting section considering the work of Argyris (who later did work with Schon) and the difficulty of translating ideas into action. Learners may come to new insights through reflection, but they may not be able to put these new insights into action: "Change is hard won; we can desire to do something and believe that it is possible, but still it is difficult to do" (35). Certainly in my own experience as a learner and as a teacher, I have seen this same gap between understanding and practice. The final section of the article discusses the importance of a social context and collaboration for reflective learning.

Assessment
These authors present an excellent model of the reflective learning process connected to experience. It has roots in Kolb's experiential learning process, but it is more detailed and expands significantly what we might call the "reflective observation" and "abstract conceptualization" stage of Kolb's model. I believe the ideas presented here have had an impact on how nursing education has used reflection in particular. I don't know the links to Service Learning, but that would be interesting. I have to step back and think about the assumptions and theories that underlie this model, but it is hard to do because they seem so foundational and natural. Of course, we learn from experience. But does reflection enhance that learning process? Is it necessary? If I had to note one significant theme or idea that these author's add to the overall picture on reflection, it would be their emphasis on the importance of emotions and feelings.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

v 1.0 Reading List

I sent off the first version of my reading list, and I want to write for a moment on my thoughts right now. It feels good to pull all these sources together--kind of like corralling the horses in the pen. I know I will bring more in and let some go, but I have the majority of my sources together. It is more of a known universe that I can begin to get a handle on.

The strengths of the list right now is that I think it has a solid number of sources on reflection, and many of those squarely in Composition. The issue of between-the-draft thinking and action has gone by other labels in Composition as well as other fields, so my reading list contains sources on student self-evaluations, revision, and most especially invention. I found a surprising number of sources in nursing education related to reflection, and though I included a good number of sources from that field I definitely could have included a lot more. I tried to find ones that had some connection to action and to writing.

Another strength of the list is that I feel that I have good sources on research and methodology. I could always get more on Grounded Theory, but so far I have five solid books that give me a pretty good idea about how to conduct a grounded theory research study.

Weaknesses and questions:

1. While putting this list together, I went through another phase of gathering and gathering. Again, I tried to be selective, but my worry is that in the areas of learning theory and professional practice that I may be missing some sources that might be helpful. Still, I think I have the big ones that are at least mentioned by others.
2. I'm not certain about the "foundational" texts in the areas of Comp/Rhet, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. I have a number of sources that inform my general understanding of these foundational areas but that don't directly relate to my dissertation focus. Is that OK? Sometimes I feel like the texts I include in that area (particularl Comp/Rhet and Rhet) are somewhat random. I happen to have read them and found them very helpful for my conception of that area.
3. I have a real worry about my Tech Comm sources. I have read a ton of articles, but I'm not sure what to include. I didn't include anything about Usability Testing. (Hmm.... Now that I think about it I should since I have described reflection as a kind of usability testing (or at least a kind of "testing" within a development process. Hmm...). Again, I feel that some of my inclusions are somewhat arbitrary and note "foundational" enought.

Where to go from here?
I need to complete my file catalog of all these sources. For many of them I have the print copy or some notes on the source, so I want to make sure that I get that copy into the particular sources file folder. This is cataloging the universe of sources. Next, I need to get a good list of all the sources I have not read and begin finding those sources and reading them. I would say the number of unread sources on my list is 25%-35%. I haven't figures this percentage out yet.

Then I need to begin going through them. I need to think and strategize how I will go through these sources and what sort of notes I will create for them. Lots to do. Lots more to do.

But this is a start.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Update on diss-related activities

I've had a day devoted to working on diss-related things, so I thought I would share a brief update on where I am and where I am going with my work.

1-First, I renamed my dissertation blog from "The Speculum" to "From the Mirror." The work "speculum" may mean mirror in Latin, but it has other more common meanings in English that I think I probably want to avoid. I asked my wife what she thought of the Speculum as a name for my blog, and she went "Ewww." Name changed.

2--My latest version of the pre-disseration proposal is out to both Fred and Becky for their take on whether it is approved for me to move forward or not. Rich has given his approval at this point. It still has weaknesses, but I believe all the revisions have strengthened it considerably.

3--While I await feedback on the pre-diss proposal, I am charging ahead on working on my Reading List. The first step of this process has involved cleaning up my office where all my papers from course work are located. I have been going through stacks of folders and notebooks and getting things in some kind of order. I just reached the "ordered" stage today, and I began going through notebooks to pull out articles and other sources to enter into my list.

4--If one avenue of pulling in sources to include in my reading list comes from reviewing the work of my courses and what I read, the second avenue is to do some more searching and researching. I have collected a number of folders with results from previous searches for sources, and I plan to go through these citations again to see what I need to look at and possibly include. I also did a search in CompPile for the term "reflection." It came up with 51 screens of hits, and I have clicked through 30 as of right now pulling out ones that look likely. I plan to do more researching also to find more research to include for my 4Cs paper. I will have to follow up on finding these hits and seeing if I want to include them in my list.

My goal is to have a full first version of this reading list completed by Sept. 30.

5--The last thing I have begun is trying to get a better grasp on the methods involved with Grounded Theory in preparation for doing a Pilot Study research study some time later this Fall (I hope). I have found Corbin and Strauss' Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory to be invaluable, but I am also referring to the other sources I have on Grounded Theory. What I want to do is chart out what is involved in the actual coding, so I am creating condensed versions of how to do Open Coding, Axial Coding, and Selective Coding. I have gone through Open Coding and I have yet to start working on Axial and Selective.

6--Where I haven't gone yet in relation to the pilot study and research methods is in the direction of "datagogic" research. Rich just last week shared some sources that Susan may be using in a data-mining class she may be teaching, so I will try to take a look at a couple of these.

7--Lastly, Alec, Janie, and I think Time have formed what we call The Rich Rice Club. We each have Rich as our chair and we each are in the early stages of working on our dissertation, so we are trying to be a support network to each other. We meet each Friday at 9 AM in Rich's room inside TTU MOO. This weekly peer meeting and discussion is really great.