Graduate Research

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Rhetoric, The Enabling Discipline." Corbett, Edward P.J. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook.

Corbett writes about the theory and practic of rhetoric's "remarkable adaptability ... to the changing spirit and needs of the times" (26). New modes of discourse seem to gain popularity in accordance to the needs of our society, our worlds, and ever-changing decisions about how it is best to communicate.

Corbett looks to Moffett's model of the triadic relationship in communication: the "I", the "it", and the "you", as well as Kinneavy's "triple set": encoder (speaker), signal (the message), and decoder (listener) to try to show how rhetoric has changed. For example, he believes that emphasis on the speaker is expressive discourse, the emphasis on the message might be literary discourse, and the emphasis on the listener is persuasive discourse (27). Writers should learn to write with all of these emphases, deciding which message is most appropriate to the aim of the message. I think writing teachers, with the increasing demands to teach students to write only academically, should keep in mind that students need to learn to communicate for other audiences, and that hte voice changes in accordance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." James Berlin. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edward P.J. Corbett, Nancy Myers, an

"Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." Berlin, James. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edward P.J. Corbett, Nancy Myers, and Gary Tate. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Berlin defines ideology as it pertains to the classroom as "(it) provides the language to define the subject (the self), other subjects, the material world, and the relation of all of these to each other. Ideology is thus inscribed in language practices, entering all features of our experience ... ideology always carries with it strong social endorsement, so that what we take to exist, to have value, and to be possible seems necessary, normal and inevitable—in the nature of things" (11). Power is intrinsic in ideology, dealing with who has, and is given, power. This might be related to the writing classroom because of the choices the writers, and their instructors, choose to make regarding where the power lies within the composition: with the writer? the reader? the society?

Berlin breaks down the rhetorical situations in which these ideologies could be pertinent:

1. cognitive rhetoric: "might be considered the heir apparent of current-traditional rhetoric, the rhetoric that appeared in conjunction with the new Amerian university system during the final quarter of the last century" (11). Cognitive rhetoric strives to define the mental processes of writing (or heuristics) as planning (generating, organizing, and goal setting); translating (thoughts put into words); and reviewing (evaluating and revising) (13).

What is interesting to me, here, is that Berlin relates this cognitive rhetoric to Flower and Hayes' notion that writing is a goal-directed process: "This focus is on 'real-world' writing ... the real world of college and work" (13). According to Berlin, there is little to no emphasis on artistry in this rhetoric.

2. Expressionist Rhetoric: "the existent is located within the individual subject. While the reality of the material, the social, and the linguistic are never denied, they re considered significant only insofar as they serve the needs of the individual. All fulfill their true function only when being exploited in the interests of locating the individual's authentic nature" (16). Berlin points to Peter Elbow's book Writing With Power to state, "Power within society ought always to be vested with the individual ... for both Murray and Elbow this is a function of realizing one's unique voice" (17).

3. Social-Epistemic Rhetoric: Berlin is convinced this is a form of expressionism (19). "The real is located in a relationship that involves the dialectical interaction of the observer, the discourse community (social group) in which the observer is functining, and the material conditions of existence" (19).

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Four Philosophies of Composition" Fulkerson, Richard. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edward P.J. Corbett et al. 2000.

"Four Philosophies of Composition" Fulkerson, Richard. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edward P.J. Corbett, Nancy Myers, and Gary Tate. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Fulkerson looks to M.H. Abrams' The Mirror and the Mask to consider the four "overriding theories of literature and literary criticism": pragmatic, mimetic, expressive, and objective (3). Because "the elements in an artistic transaction are the same as those in any communication," Fulkerson tries to translate those theories as they might relate to composition:

1. expressive: emphasizes the writer. "Expressionists cover a wide range, from totally accepting and non-directive teachers ... to much more directive, experiential teachers who design classroom activities to maximize student self-discovery ... Expressivists value writing that is about personal subjects, and such journal-keeping is an absolute essential. Another keynote for expressivists is the desire to have writing contain an interesting, credible, honest, and personal voice" (5);

2. mimetic: emphasizes correspondence with "reality" (4): "A clear connection exists between good writing and good thinking (such as on propaganda analysis) ... (it) says that students do not write well on significant matters because they do not know enough" (5-6). Mimetic teachers might emphasize research during the prewriting stage, or heuristic systems;

3. rhetorical: emphasizes the effect on the reader. "Good writing is writing adapted to achieve the desired effect on the desired audience. If the same verbal construct is directed to a different audience, then it may have to be evaluated differently" (6); and

4. formalist: emphasizing traits internal to the work (conventions). "Good writing is 'correct' writing at the sentence level" (4).

Fulkerson believes that all of these theories are practiced in the composition classroom, yet that teachers should identify themselves with a theory (or perhaps theories) when teaching so that student can understand what they are to strive for in order to have success in a course.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Elbow, Peter. "The Teacherless Writing Class." Writing Without Teachers. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

"I have been speaking till now as though writing were a transaction entirely with yourself. It is a transaction with yourself -- lonely and frustrating -- and I have wanted, in fact, to increase that transaction: help you do more business with yourself. But writing is also a transaction with other people. Writing is not just getting things down on paper, it is getting things inside someone else's head. If you wish to improve your writing you must also learn to do more business with other people. That is the goal of the teacherless writing class" (76).

Once you figure out what your work is about -- the work's theme or thesis -- writing must be collaborative in order to know if it is effective. If you are just trying to figure out something for yourself, it's OK to journal; the process of understanding your thoughts by putting them on the page is enough. However, when you want someone else to understand those thoughts, you must consider your audience, and how you can relate those thoughts so they are understood and interesting to someone else.

"Writing is a string you send out to connect yourself with other consciousnesses, but usually you never have the opportunity to feel anything at the other end. How can you tell whether you've got a fish if the line always feels slack? ... You need movies of people's mind while they read your words (to improve your writing). But you need this for a sustained period of time -- at least two or three months" (77).

This chapter gives steps in how to create an effective workshop through use of collaboration and constantly creating writing for others to consider. There are several steps and exercises to consider; I'll list a couple of the prompts I found especially interesting here:

1. Describe a person, place, or incident that means a lot to you. (This could work to spark creativity, description, narration, and expository writing.)

2. Describe such a person, place, or incident but from an unfamiliar angle; for example, describe the place a though you were blind and could only know it through your other senses; describe the person as though you had only met him once or as though it were he describing himself; describe the incident as though it had never happened and you were only imagining it (good for writing for the senses, description, and creating character).

3. Describe something while you are in a definite mood. Or pretend to be in that mood describing it. Or write in a particular mood. Don't mention the mood in the writing and get readers to tell you what mood comes through (81) (Good for creating character and voice).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Elbow, Peter. "The Process of Writing -- Cooking." Writing Without Teachers. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

"Growing is the overall larger process, the evolution of whole organisms. Cooking is the smaller process: bubbling, percolating, fermenting, chemical interaction, atomic fusion. Cooking drives the engine that makes growing happen. It's because of cooking that a piece of writing can start out X and end up Y, that a writer can start out after supper seeing, feeling, and knowing things he hadn't thought of before" (48).

When a student approaches a paper with a ready-made thesis, the process of "cooking" isn't allowed to occur. This is especially important to realize when students are writing argumentative and persuasive papers. If the students aren't allowed time to consider both the X and the Y, they aren't allowed to change their positions or to think why they believe X. IF writing is a process, then the writers indeed need to cook -- to be given an opportunity to consider their positions, and other's positions, and why we think so differently about so many issues.

"Cooking is the interaction of contrasting or conflicting material ... cooking consists of the process of one piece of material (or one process) being transformed by interacting with another: one piece of material being seen through the lens of another, being dragged through the guts of another, being reoriented or reorganized in terms of the other, being mapped into the other."

This can also be seen as a writer's opportunity to view other pieces of literature, and to allow that literature to influence his or her own writing. I know that as I write fiction, I read several books -- I've read more than 40 works as I construct my own novel, and oftentimes the points they bring up, or styles they employ, can affect my own writings. I'm forced to consider my message (or theme) from different perspectives of other writers, and how they expressed or interpreted it in their own writing. This can also be considered a collaboration, albeit between texts instead of people.

Elbow reexamines the need for collaboration in writing in this chapter: "If you are stuck writing or trying to figure something out, there is nothing better than finding one person, or more, to talk to. If they don't agree or have trouble understanding, so much the better -- so long as their minds are not closed" (49). Workshopping your writing -- getting feedback, finding out what is working in your work and what isn't clear yet -- is essential. Again, writing is not an isolated event; you have an audience and you have to cater to it, understand how your message works on an intended reader before you know if it is effective.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Elbow, Peter. "The Process of Writing -- Growing." Writing Without Teachers. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

"Most people's relationship to the process of writing is one of helplessness ... People without education say, 'If only I had education I could write.' People with education say, 'If only I had talent I could write.' People with education and talent say, 'If only I had self-discipline I could write.' People with education, talent, and self-discipline -- and there are plent of them who can't write -- say, 'If only ... ' and don't know what to say next" (12).

So who are these people who are successful writers? Elbow says that most people find writing, especially its starting point, to be mysterious: "(We are) helpless before the process of writing because it obeys inscrutable laws. We are in its power. It is not in ours" (13).

Yet is writing that mysterious of a process. Elbow creates a metaphor that says, in essence, many who are able to do it can because they don't try too hard. This might be one of those lines between creative writing and composition: in creative writing, we are taught to "feel" our way through the writing; in composition, we analyze the process of writing.

Elbow believes "the idea of writing is backwards. That's why it causes so much trouble. Instead of a two-step transaction of meaning-into-language, think of writing as an organic, developmental process in which you start writing at the very beginning -- before you know your meaning at all -- and encourage your words gradually to change and evolve" (15). Writers should engage in prewriting and freewriting before even attempting a final product.

Elbow likens this process to "growing and cooking." In the growing process, "Consider this example. You believe X. You write out your belief or perception or argument that X is the case. By the time you have finished you see something you didn't see before: X is incorrect or you see you longer believe X. Now you keep writing about your perplexity and uncertainty. Then you begin to see Y. You start to write about Y. You finally see that Y is correct or you believe Y. And then finally you write out Y as fully as you can and you are satisfied with it" (22-23).

Growing, therefore, is thinking on the page, and prewriting about it, before attempting to draft a final work. The piece of paper is not sacred; it is a place to put down thoughts and to decide what you might keep, and what you might discard. "My main wholistic advice. Process. Write a lot and throw a lot away ... you're trying to get your material to do some of the steering instead of doing it all yourself" (31-32).

Only after you complete this process are you to worry about editing. "Editing means figuring out what you really mean to say, getting it clear in your head, getting it unified, getting it into an organized structure, and then getting it into the best words and throwing away the rest. It is crucial, but it is only the last step in the complete growth cycle" (38).

Elbow, Peter. "Freewriting Exercises." Writing Without Teachers. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

"The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week. They are sometimes called "automatic writing," "babbling," or "jabbering" exercises. The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing" (3).

Elbow rightly points out that sometimes the greatest writer's block can be the writer's fear of needing to be correct: correct in following a prescribed path and thesis, an outline, a form, grammatical correctness. The writer becomes so obsessed with putting down the "right" word that none come at all. As I tell my students, you have to get the pencil moving for awhile before the final product comes out. Writing can be thinking -- and paper is cheap and can be thrown away. Editing the work can come later -- we have to get our thoughts on paper first. "Editing, in itself, is not the problem. Editing is usually necessary if we want to end up with something satisfactory. The problem is that editing goes on at the same time as producing" (5). We have to learn to think on the page first, and then decide what will ultimately go into the finished work. "The habit of compulsive, premature editing doesn't just make writing hard. It also makes writing dead. Your voice is damped out by all the interruptions, changes, and hesitations between the consciousness and the page" (6).

Elbow, Peter. Preface. Writing Without Teachers. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

In the preface to his book, Elbow talks of how empowering it can be to learn to control or use their words, "especially written words" (vii). This book is meant for practitioners of writing, not writing teachers; however, Elbow professes to use these methods in the writing classes he teaches. He says a "teacherless" writing class can have a teacher "as long as (the teacher) follow(s) all the same procedures as everyone else: I too must put in my piece of writing each week; I too must get everyone's responses and reactions to it; Itoo must give my own reactions to other pieces of writing" (ix). I believe Elbow isn't talking so much about classrooms being "teacherless" as collaborative, then; without one authoritative voice leading the rest. This ties in well with the reading on authority in the classroom I did previously. Teachers must remember that their writing students must go forth and do their work once they are out of the writing classroom: "I think teachers learn to be more useful when it is clearer that they are not necessary" (x).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Swander, Mary. Duck, Duck, Turkey: Using Encouragement to Structure Workshop Assignments. Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom.

This is yet another reading that adddresses how stringent the authority should be in the workshop: Is the teacher a dictator, in a master/pupil setting, a mentor, or a guide? Swander calls the master/pupil or dictator role the "abusive basketball-coach method to teach writing workshops. ...We all know how it goes. The teacher tells the students to go home, write, and come back with a finished piece. Then, in front of the whole class, the teacher rips the piece to shreds. In my very first undergraduate workshop, I knew I was experiencing a strange system" (167).

Swander said this workshop model is detrimental to good learning: "We were to learn through trial by fire, through negativity, through humiliation, through hearing what we and others had done wrong. In any other skills-building class, from foreign language to driver's education, students were asked to practice the basic steps of the craft, carefully mastering one chunk of knowledge before adding another. Why was the teaching of creative writing so different?" (167).

Swander says the "traditional" way of teaching creative writing was adopted from the model set up by Paul Engle, who set up the creative writing program at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The model, at that time, was meant for graduate-level writers, who might have already mastered much of the craft of creative writing; the model was created so "young, polished writers could come for a year or two and have their work critiqued. Engle assumed his graduate students alreaaady knew how to write. What they needed, he reasoned in this post-WWII era, was a kind of bootcamp where they would be toughened up to the brutalityof the enemy: the attacking critics" (168).

However, when these newly-minted MFA students graduated and took their degrees to other universities to start their own MFA programs, they still used the pedagogy used upon them -- but now, on less-polished writers, who might not have mastered their crafts yet. Swander likens this to "poisonous pedagogy" or breaking a writer's spirit (170) in order to teach them discipline. And, of course, creativity doesn't flourish when the spirit is broken, so a new pedagogy is called for when teaching undergraduates or less-developed writers.