Author: Chris

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.

Remember to Check

Remember to check this website and all the menu items above for what’s due by the end of the semester.

Here’s a rundown from this week’s update:

  • Drop-In will be on Thursday. It’d be great to see some of you, now that we’re reaching the end of the semester.  And it is the best way to get straight on what we need to do by end of semester, and reconnect with people from class.
  • The final assignment is a brief reflection in which you write about what you’ve learned in this course that could apply to future tutoring or mentoring.  Still worth ten points, and it can be in any medium.  Take a look at it—on the Assignments page.
  • The Commonplace Book is done!  I will wait until the end of the semester to read them.  
  • Paper One (Being Tutored) may be revised until the end of the semester.  If you received an “R,” please email me for hints, tips, or suggestions about getting started revising.  Or we can talk sometime!  Let me know.
  • The gradebook in BBL is being populated with scores.  Papers that receive an “R” won’t register a score yet; when you revise them, they will!
  • The What is Good Writing in _______ project is happening, and so far all but ten people have signed up.  Please post your ideas to the link above, but check back later to see what others are doing and what kind of feedback I left for you.  One major, unit, discipline, or program per team.  Goal is to produce a “What We Learned” paper and a one-page Writer’s Guide.
  • Revising is also happening.  Chances are you’ll need or want to revise the first paper, and that’s great.  But please don’t wait!  Procrastination kills!  (If you wait until week 15 to submit revisions to me, I might not have a chance to read them quickly, or at all—because I’ll be reading a flood of work from people.  But submitting now until the end of April means a quick turnaround, like one day.) 
  • If you would like, please consider setting up a one-on-one conference with me between now and end of semester.  Optional, but it would give us a chance to talk about things: revisions, projects, life.  If you’re interested, please follow this link and pick a date and time that works for you.

From General to Specific and Back Again

With this final reading, we come full circle on the idea of specialized discourse communities. We started back in January with an idea that academic languages were “specialized”: that how one writes in biology may not be in any way related to or aligned with how one writes in English, Sociology, or Engineering. And in class, as you know, I presented you with a few scenarios in which we as tutors would be unfamiliar with the language practices of a “foreign” discipline. This happens all the time! A tutor meets a student with a writing assignment from a course the tutor has never worked with before and really has no idea about. So they infer quite a bit: not just about the language or formatting for a paper from a “foreign” major but also about the values, assumptions, and ways of thinking that this discipline might embody.

With this reading, however, at least some of these presumptions about language are dialed back. The authors don’t reject the idea of specialized discourses–far from it. But they do bring forward research of their own that suggests that the differences in some cases might not be that large, and that tutors still prefer the stance of “interested outsider” that comes from being a generalist than attempting to be a specialist tutor.

Why does this debate matter? As we’ve seen across these readings, there could be a healthy amount of overlap in some courses, with quite a few assigning (or expecting) some form of generally academic prose. For example, lower-division or GE courses might more often assign “generalized” writing than specialized or professional prose. Or “big” universities, what we often call research universities, may do much more than small, liberal arts colleges to advance students’ thinking about disciplinary or professional requirements for writing. “Writing in general” may not exist, but general writing could, and often does. And what is that general writing? Think of the “meta-genres” that were mentioned early on in this article: “moves” in writing that seemed ubiquitous across different college courses, those of “problem-solving, empirical inquiry, research from sources, and performance” (4). Or the discourse types these authors found:

We hoped to learn disciplinary secrets by observing differences in assignments across the disciplines and different genres and styles of student writing in response to them. Instead, we saw surprising similarities among assignments that came from multiple departments in the College. Like the assignments of Hedley and Parker (1991) and Wardle (2004), most of them called for similar tasks and skills: textual analysis, textual synthesis, textual comparisons, application of course concepts to real-world situations, or a personalizing of course knowledge (Davis & Shadle, 2000) that demonstrated empathy with the real or fictional groups of individuals studied in the course.  (9)

With your final project, I hope the reading and research you do engage some of these questions of generalized vs specialized writing! You don’t need to “take a side” in your research narratives unless you want to. But I do hope that whatever major or program you pick, you learn enough about the writing that goes on in it that you can say with confidence: “Here are some uses of language we’ve seen before, some moves or techniques or assignments that seem common in other classes or contexts. But here are some others language conventions or genres that may be unique to this discipline, that clearly have special meaning or relevance to majors and practitioners.” That is, I hope you’ll get close enough to this major or program to say what may be general and specific about the writing people do there.

Soliday Brings the Tea

I hope you’re watching these videos? Or will soon? I’m looking at my YT uploads page and the number of views is pretty small–like 2 or 3 people per video. (And a “view” on YouTube doesn’t mean you watched the whole thing, or even a big part of it.)

Is there something that would “work” better, or be more useful to you? Let me know, seriously! We have time left in this course–and all your courses. And I really want to be helpful. I’m having fun making these videos and saying silly things for 15 minutes, rapid-fire style! But if you don’t want to watch, or can’t, we could use other platforms to have discussions about readings.

And to answer the obvious question, YES, I do think they’ll advance your thinking for this final project. They’re more than a rationale for doing the work, they’re also offering a nuanced recognition of the value having content knowledge could have for tutoring. You don’t need to be an “insider” to be a good tutor, but you do need both general and specific strategies for helping writers write in disciplines.

Hope to see a bunch of you tomorrow! Maybe plan on showing up if you want a partner or team for this project and haven’t found one yet? Or bring questions about how to get the research portions of this work done. See you then!

Genre and Creativity, Genre “Moves”

Wow, this video was long! 18 minutes. Watch what you can? Turn on the sound and do some ironing, or clean the kitchen?

In any case, I hope these videos are helpful in getting your mind straight on this next project. As I flesh out an assignment sheet for us, I’m hoping we can get a useful understanding of several terms:

  • Genre as a typified social action involving audience, situation, textual conventions, and a purpose
  • Transfer, as the process by which writers repurpose writing moves from familiar genres to unfamiliar ones
  • Genre Expectations, or how audiences expect a piece of writing to unfold
  • Genre “Moves,” the paragraph- or sentence-level authorial conventions of writing in a particular genre

Let’s talk tomorrow about how you can use these ideas in a (collaborative) project! Eager to see you wonderful human beings.

“Mutt Genres” and Mentoring/Tutoring

Every Tuesday and Thursday during classtime we’ll have a Drop-In in Google Hangouts. Check out the email I’ve sent about it, and add it to your Google calendar so that you get a reminder! I’ll be there for a while, ready to talk with you about whatever.

Remember: These hangouts are totally optional, and there’s no “attendance” in them required for the rest of the semester. Still, they could be useful: come chat with me and others when you have questions about a paper, a reading, a project, or anything else. Or just to see a friendly face.

With Wardle’s “Mutt Genres” there are SO MANY interesting things to discuss, even if it seems at first glance a bit far afield!

Perhaps the first is Russell’s original “ball-using” metaphor to describe the goals of FYC (first year composition, called “Academic Writing” here at Chico State), which Wardle refers to only in passing.  Russell asks: in terms of activity theory, does the FYC course make any sense at all?  Is there such a thing as “writing in general”?  He says no.

Russell starts off by saying that courses like ENGL 130 are often focused around what he calls “general writing skills instruction”: courses in general academic writing whose stated goal is to prepare students to write in other college courses.

The problem with that, to Russell, is

The object(ive) of GWSI is most often described as teaching students “to write” or to “improve their writing.” If writing were an autonomous skill, generalizable to all activity systems that use writing, improving writing in general would be a clear objective of an activity system. But writing does not exist apart from its uses, for it is a tool for accomplishing objectives beyond itself. The tool is continually transformed by its use into myriad and always-changing genres. Every text is some genre, to paraphrase Bakhtin (1986), part of some activity system(s). Learning to write means learning to write in the ways (genres) those in an activity system write (though one must remember that this is complicated by the fact that activity systems and their tools—including genres—are always in dialectical change). From this theoretical perspective, the objective of GWSI courses is extremely ambiguous because those involved in it are teaching and learning the use of a tool (writing) for no particular activity system. And the tool can be used for any number of objectives (in myriad activity systems) and transformed into any number of forms (genres).

He continues:

To try to teach students to improve their writing by taking a GWSI course is something like trying to teach people to improve their ping-pong, jacks, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, and so on by attending a course in general ball-using. Such a course would of necessity have a problem of content. What kinds of games (and therefore ball-use skills) should one teach? And how can one teach ball-using skills unless one also teaches students the games, since the skills have their motive and meaning only in terms of a particular game or games that use them? Such a course would have a problem of rigor since those who truly know how to play a particular game would look askance at the instruction such a course could provide (particularly if the instructor did not herself play all the games with some facility). And it would also have a problem of unrealistic expectations, since it would be impossible to teach all—or even a few—ball games in one course. Finally, it would be extremely difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of a course in general ball-using since one always evaluates the effectiveness of ball-using within a particular game, not in general. And ways of using a ball that work well in one game (volleyball, for example) would bring disaster in another (such as soccer).

How about that?  Weird, eh?  Before we continue with Wardle, let’s take on this central analogy, which sets up a number of the claims Wardle makes later on.

Then let’s get into internship teams: people sit with other people in the same kind of internship.  So people in the ESL SS space sit together, people in the SLC sit together, people in sections of ENGL 30 sit together.  And discuss moments we had questions about the article.  What moments or claims left you wondering, or where were the spots you wanted more information?

And what about “genre”?  Here’s Wardle:

Social action reminds us that rhetors do not just “run the genre” (135) without an eye for purpose; rather, we constantly consider “the exigence and what we want to do in the face of it” (135). Exigence, then, plays a central role in recent genre theory. Genres arise when particular exigencies are encountered repeatedly; yet each time an exigence arises, people must be attuned to the specifics of the current situation in order to employ the institutionalized features of the genre effectively—or, in some cases, throw them out.

And from genre into “mutt genre.”

One of the things we can do to get at the notion of “mutt genres” is to think about how and when we work with them in these different internship spaces.  So as a team please do these things:

First, come get a big piece of Post-It paper.

Then talk about the kinds, forms, or “genres” of writing you’ve seen in this space.  Make a list!  And on that big piece of paper, try to answer the following:

  1. What genres (kinds, forms) of writing are appearing in ENGL 130, the Jumbo, the Writing Center, or the ESL Resource Center?  What would you call them?  Give them names, and have a member of your group list them
  2. Represent them somehow on your page so that we see them in relation to each other.  For example, which genres seem aligned with each other?
  3. Are they “mutt genres,” in Liz Wardle’s terms?  Why?  Label them as mutt genres somehow on your chart.
  4. Do members of your group feel comfortable working with these genres?  If not, find some way to label the ones you don’t seem to know very well.

Then we’ll walk around the class like a gallery walk! Purpose here should be to start conversations about the genres you see in your internships.

Then we’ll discuss what you’ve learned:

  • What do students understand about the purpose of these genres, or the role they play in advancing knowledge in a community of practice?  Or is the central point of doing that writing unclear, or merely to HAVE DONE that writing, to get a good grade for it?
  • Could it ever be different?  That is, if we accept Wardle’s claims, how could writing at the freshman level be more meaningful or authentic, more tied to an actual community of practice?
  • We know students write better and more fluidly if they find meaning in their writing or connection to their topic.  What could we do as tutors and mentors to help students find meaningful connections?

I’d also like us to acknowledge that this article has seen a lot of discussion and debate online, as you might infer from even a quick Googling of the term “mutt genres.”  What can we learn from others’ responses to the article?