Jigsaw Teaching What We Know

If the last few classes were focused on Bad Ideas in teaching writing, this week is on . . . good ideas?

Naming What We Know seems like another necessary counterpoint to culturally very commonly-held beliefs and values surrounding writing and learning to write.  It’s only a few years old, and once again written by experts for non-experts to understand the depth of research available in the field of composition and rhetoric on a variety of issues.  So like you working in a writing center or embedded in a classroom, its goal is to help teachers and students think differently about what writing entails.  These are the five “concepts”–chapters that structure the book:

  • Concept 1: Writing Is a Social and Rhetorical Activity
  • Concept 2: Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms
  • Concept 3: Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies
  • Concept 4: All Writers Have More to Learn
  • Concept 5: Writing Is (Also Always) a Cognitive Activity

We’ll do things a bit differently this time, more in the spirit of the original “jigsaw method” I discussed last time.  I wrote:

While the strategies we use aren’t super close to those in the original model, our intentions are the same: to work together to construct a “picture” of the book by sharing perspectives on the individual “puzzle pieces.” To do this we’ll get in groups and talk about what we read and then rotate into different groups at least once–maybe twice.

In practice that means the following.  We’ll:

  1. First get into groups with the people who also read your chapter
  2. Take 15 minutes and craft a document of some kind (list, paragraphs, drawing, concept-map, ??) that summarizes what you two think are the most important or relevant parts of the chapter.
  3. Share the doc with the class!  Or send to me and I will.  Seriously!
  4. Then we’ll re-form in four groups of five, with one each of the original pairs, so that each chapter is represented in the new group.

This will take all period.  Wish it didn’t, because I thinkwe’ll have lots to talk about as a result of this.

For starters, I’d want us to wonder what examples you have of seeing these ideas play out in your own writing; ways of working with students to highlight these ideas or practices for them; and what’s keeping people from embracing the claims in this book.

As a followup, I’d wonder what you think about these two methods (“bad ideas” vs. “good ideas”) for persuading people to think differently about writing.  While accepting that the best way to change our beliefs about writing would be to write regularly, share our writing with other people, and reflect on our processes and products, we can also imagine that learning the research on writing could play a role.  In that role, is it better to read about what’s wrong and why (in the form of Bad Ideas) or to read what we the research says and how (in Naming What We Know)?

We’ll do that Wednesday!


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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