Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kempian thoughts

Post for class wiki:

To say that I have been influenced in my own pedagogy by Fred's notions of the social construction of knowledge and how we implement that philosophical understanding within our classroom pedagogy, especially within a networked writing environment, is an understatement. Fred and I go way back to 1987-88 when I was a TA in the CWRL at UT-Austin when he was finishing his PhD. I heard then and then in the years that followed as I used the Daedalus Integrated Environment about the blending of notions of collaboration and social construction as talked about by Kenneth Bruffee and Mikhail Bakhtin with ideas and practices of writing process. The enactment of these ideas within a networked environment was a perfect fit--like chocolate and peanut butter going together.

I want to in this post share just a few of my own takes on these notions of how we learn, the nature of writing, and how we teach writing. At one point in my own quest about how to teach writing in the computer classroom, I studied a description of an "essay cycle: that Fred has used in numerous faculty training sessions and that became published in the 1998 book The Dialogic Classroom. (You can see my own summary of this sequencing of an assignment sequence in an article I wrote: available at ).

What I saw happening was this "feedback look" happening. I talked about the "shared discourse" within a networked environment and how this discourse and the learning that emerged from it became extended through a repeated sequence of **''invention--reflection--reinvention''** Here are just a few quotes from this article talking about this dynamic:

"Extending the shared discourse is like a house of mirrors, with each act of reflection leading to a new act of invention and learning which leads to more reflection.
Paolo Freire in his essay “The Banking Concept of Education” captures the possibilities when this shared discourse is extended: “Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (213). Students’ learning and expression grows as the discourse is extended; however, managing this extended discourse, encouraging it, fostering it, setting it in motion takes a great deal of preparation, as well as tasks and topics which move the students naturally down the slope of interacting with and learning from each other.
(see full article

My own teaching practice has been shaped by encouraging this dynamic of "loop learning." Since that time, I have zeroed in much more on reflection as the key mediating influence in action and learning (heck, it's become my dissertation). The writing feedback loop, for me, connects directly to David Kolb's notions of experiential learning and constitutes a theoretically significant grounding for process as a theory of writing. Here is a graphic of the Writing Feedback Loop I put together:

My own hunches are that in-task reflection, done between iterations of the writing feedback loop (i.e. between the drafts) represents a heuristic (by that I mean a deliberate, conscious, and strategic act for generating and negotiating ideas) reactivation of invention. Invention too often gets pigeon holed into "pre-writing" and then forgotten in any pedagogical sense after the first draft; reflection has been framed thanks to portfolios and assessment too much as a post-task activity. What is lost it the inventive power of reflection done within the act of writing. It is in these reflections between drafts that I have discovered student writers negotiate their own "rhetorical stance" or as Helen Foster has described it in a recent book Networked Process, "networked subjectivity." Here is another graphic I have put together depicting rhetorical stance and the dynamics a writer must negotiate as he or she writes:

I'm going on far too long on this topic. I want to make one last point and it interests me greatly--and that is the notion of articulation. Articulation as a theory of language and learning is based on this notion that we frame our reality and construct our own meaning by using our own language, but putting things into our own words. Within the feedback look, I know that Fred sees Peer Response and Reflection (or Writer's Reviews) as two acts of articulation that constitute two sides of the same coin. You articulate what you see in other's writing and seek to use and form knowledge and understanding related to the goals and context of the writing task through peer response, and through reflection in writer's reviews you articulate what you see in your own writing.

Where I am at in my own pursuit of my dissertation work is how to research this theoretical idea about how articulation in the form of reflection works and what influence it has on writer's working within a pedagogical context implementing the writing feedback look. (any ideas are welcome!)

Please pardon this long post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Tennis Ball

A Class Activity About Language Use

Many metaphors exist to describe language and its use, but I want to explore a classroom activity that gets across one view about language--the tennis ball.

Bring a tennis ball to class.
Start throwing it to students and having them throw it back to you or to each other.

What does this show or do? How is this a metaphor for language?

Throwing a tennis ball is a metaphor for what has been called the "transmission" model of communication. Another metaphor I have used is th UPS model of communication. Thought gets packaged and shipped from sender to receiver. The tennis ball is the thought which is sent between sender and receiver. The idea is that the thought is somehow static and real--it is a thing itself. It is an encapsulated form of reality. We wrap it in good language and then send it as clearly as we can. In this case how we throw the ball refers to how well we wrap this thought in language. Errors would equate to a mis-throw. The receiver or reader's job is to unpack or catch the ball. By catching the ball they are receiving that packaged ball of thought and reality. It is a one-to-one interchange ideally. The ball is unchanged and the reader/receiver's job is to catch it. They have to learn to be good catchers (close readers), though it is also the job of the writer/thrower to throw the ball well.

What is the relationship between reality and thought?
What is the relationship between thought or knowledge of reality and language?

To a large extent, we operate upon this Proficiency model of communication. This myth of immediacy, this transmission model. It rests on the idea that reality is out there as an objective presence AND that our language can capture this or equate to this reality. The alternative view, I think, is found in this one line: "Man is the measure of all things."

Next--an alternative metaphor for communication.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

It still comes down to methodology

"Corresponding to theories in a field are methods of research and analysis, ways that a given discipline characteristically employs to study its chosen objects and topics. Method is in a sense the dynamic or processual counterpart to theory ... . Any comprehensive theory in composition studies implies a corresponding research method that defines a field of knowledge and the terms of a project for deriving knowledge about objects and events in that field." (Ann Wetherbee Phelps, Composition as a Human Science, p. 183)

I want to start with Phelps' contention that a "theory of composition" implies a research methodology. In my own search for a research methodology (how in the world am I going to study post-draft reflections?), I need to begin with my understanding of a "theory of composing." Phelps seems to imply that if you have the theory then BOOM you also have the research methodology. I'm not so sure.

My recent reading of Ann Bertoff's The Making of Meaning has been enormously helpful in thinking and rethinking about my theory of composition. I'm easily influenced by the scholars I read, but I find myself in full agreement with her notion of composing being a forming, shaping process--the making of meaning. It aligns with my notions of "constructionism" and writing and learning. I found a surprising echo of Berthoff in Phelps in this line: "The notion of writing as a discursive practice--the composing of meaning--becomes the abstract principle of reflection" (76). Without doubt, my own theories of composition and thus reflection are built on the discursive nature of writing, that language shapes and constitutes our understanding and interpretations.

Berthoff herself directly address the question of research methodology (or what she calls REsearch). She makes what I think is a startling statement: "The notion that 'research' can provide direction is absurd" (30). The absurdity comes from the equating of "basic research" in science fields like physics with research in education. In the hard sciences, basic research is needed to "advance" learning. However, Berthoff says that education is not comparable to the natural sciences. Here's here answer why: "Because education profoundly and essentially involves language--and language is not a natural process but a symbolic form and a social process" (31). Since we study language, we must adopt research methods appropriate to our subject. Phelps I believe says something similar in her book about how language as the subject of our study essentially distinguishes our type of research from the hard sciences. She states these methods as appropriate for composition studies: "I see composition as favoring hermeneutical and dramatistic methods of inquiry because it is primarily interested in the terms that make events and processes of literacy or reflection intelligible to their participants" (77). By these terms, I hear her saying qualitative methods would be more appropriate or fitting.

Berthoff makes an interesting statement that gives me an idea for a research project. She says, "if the questions and the answers [of research] are not continually RE-formulated by those who are working in the classroom, educational research is pointless" (31).

Study Design #3: Casting reflection to the winds
This study would not study any narrow practice of using reflection between drafts (as in specific prompts). This, in a way, is the problem with Beach's study of self-evaluations because it is a study of his particular use of self-evaluations in that one context. Instead, what if I were to formulate general principles and theories of rhetorical reflection, perhaps with some examples of use. If I then shared these principles and theories with teachers who would then adopt them into their classroom practice. They would follow the general principles but adapt them to their teaching context. These teachers would collect data and I would interview them and perhaps their students and study the students' work. I can forsee this being a kind of case study research design along the line of Hillocks study of different teachers teaching methods. What would be interesting is not just the "results" of their practice, but their customizing of this practice to their environment as well as their perceptions of their students results.

This study seems like a design more suitable to my subject. I sounds complicated to administer or manage however, and would I face the problem that these teachers practices might be to varied. How large would my sample need to be? Hmm...

I think that I need to go back to the starting point: What is my theory of composition? What is my theory of language? What is my theory of learning? What is my theory of knowledge? ...Then methodology will fall into place, right?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Research Thinking (again)

I've been re-reading my annotated bibliography of reflection research and begun thinking again about how I will research for my own dissertation. All the complicating factors of this research are a muddle in my mind, and I won't try and sort them out right now. The important thing is that I am thinking about this research again. How I define my own questions, goals, and context will determine a lot. I just want to feel out freely the possibilities for this research to see what seems interesting before I work within my box.

One of my goals for this January is to submit a preliminary preliminary dissertation proposal to my committee along with a preliminary book list. This will take a fair amount of work, but I want to get started on this now. Part of my problem in conceptualizing the dissertation project is that I conceive it as a research study. The dissertation is based upon the emperical study of some question. Hence, until I know what my research study will be then I don't know exactly what my dissertation will be focused upon. I know that it most likely will focus on reflective writing activities as a pedagogical technique. How far this teaching technique could be considered a "discursive tool" for the activity of writing is a big question (especially since it is not a "tool" commonly used by most writers). Can I write a dissertation in today's composition context that seems to focus on a teaching technique useful for a GWSI (General Writing Skills Instruction) context?

I still come back to a number of key notions
--reflection has a mediating influence on learning and action
--reflection is the heuristic extension of invention within the activity of writing

From those two general assumptions flow my interest.

For now, I will chart out two research study ideas that I had while reviewing the bibliography and doing some recent reading. I'll add them to my list of research designs later:

Study idea #1: Could student self-evaluations/reflections index their growth as writers? Could students growth in meta-cognitive skill be charted over time, and could that growth be matched to their growth as writers? Could you examine a student's reflections over time to see if they indicated growth in writing?

This might be a longitudinal study tracking a student from Eng 0301 to 1301 to 1302 and perhaps even into Soph Lit. I don't like the idea of a longitudinal study for my diss (because of time), but it sounds like an interesting project. You could go down even further into high school or middle school, but it would be hard to get much of a sample over time. This study would be based to a degree upon the correlation between the ability to reflect productively with good writing performance. It would dig more deeply into this correlation to see how this correlation might be developed. The implication is that reflection has a role in good writing, so going back and starting with poor writers might unpack the place and influence of reflection in this writing development. This study would have the large task of validly and reliably measuring writing across time. Hmm...

Study idea #2: How does the influence and sticking power of post-draft reflections compare within an academic and non-academic writing environment? We "think" reflection benefits writers and their ability to revise within a school context--does that same benefit show up in a work-writing environment? Does reflection lead to "double-looping" in terms of learning and writing development?

I got this idea while reading Helen Foster's summary of some post-process critiques of General Writing Skill Instruction and writing process pedagogy in her book Networked Process. She brought up the question of how well the discursive tools we champion in school circulate outside of school. Well, if reflection is a discursive tool we champion that we could examine how it works in school and out of school and compare them.

That's it for now.