Week of Feb 13th:A Rhetoric for WPA’s

Please post your responses here so we can keep our class organized.

dr. c


8 thoughts on “Week of Feb 13th:A Rhetoric for WPA’s”


    Demographics, community, and culture are three variables inevitably ascribed to the climate of a writing program. But why are writing programs so concerned with these issues in their curricula? As my Master’s program nears an end, I find myself considering these three concerns more than ever. With the possibility of moving hundreds of miles away from where I have been groomed as an educator and as a student of literature, I am increasingly more concerned with the challenges that may arise as demographics, community, and culture change according to new and distant schools or areas.

    In Chapter 18, “What is a Writing Program History?,” Shirley K. Rose discusses how writing programs are each unique to their institution, and their location. For this reason, keeping a “writing program history” is essential in building and supporting a thriving program. In the same way, program histories can be beneficial for all subjects, whether it be writing, literature, history, or others. Chapter 18 further discusses how studying the past efforts of a program—such as its policies, curricular models, and structure—can create a better understanding of the program’s mission, and also aid in “understand[ing] as well why current practices that might seem problematic were initially put in place” (240). Therefore, new instructors entering a university (or even a high school) program can look to the history of a program to educate themselves about the purpose of present curricula.

    Because demographics will change according to a university, there may be certain policies in play, which cater specifically towards the student needs, and approaches, prevalent in their institution. For instance, student needs in inner city schools may differ wildly from those in suburban areas. These same differences can be found in colleges and institutions. This echoes the sentiments of Chapter 1 when it discusses the diversity of students, their rights, and their feelings, saying as administrators and educators “your responsibilities are to all the students and the whole system…students embody systems, and systems represent students (17). So if the responsibility lies on the administrator, the administrator must become increasingly aware of both the students and the system. Neither can succeed without the other. Thus, when entering a new institution, it is important for all new instructors to educate themselves about the surrounding community, the culture, and the people. If they do not, the students and the system are both at risk. Referring back to Ch. 18 again, one simple way to delve into these cultural differences is to study the history of the programs in which they enter, be it oral history (as told by others in the department), archival history (taken from collections or documents in an archive), or documentation from a variety of sources (242). Planning to enter a new institution, in an entirely different area, as an instructor in the near future it will be important that I refer to the program’s history to better equip myself with the tools necessary in teaching the system’s students. Though Rose’s chapter emphasizes using history specifically for writing programs, her strategy can be useful for all types of programs.

    How might an institution’s demographics affect the best practices used in teaching their students?

    When might it be appropriate (if ever) to revisit failed curricula found in the history of a writing program, and why?


  2. A Rhetoric for Writing Program Administrators – The Role of Graduate Instructors

    The readings from our first class as well as many of the chapters in A Rhetoric for Writing Program Administrators discuss the purpose of a first-year writing course, and one of this week’s chapters simply explores the question “What is First-Year Composition?” and what it means to the many stakeholders involved. These discussions not only bring to light the pedagogical divides within our own field, but also the divides with those outside the immediate comp/rhet world who conceptualize the first-year writing course. The author of the “What is First-Year Composition?” chapter explores a number of issues within the conceptualization of the field, such as seeing it as a hoop to jump through, as well as courses only teaching, “genres students will encounter nowhere but FYC – the very opposite of its mission” (56). He then stresses that writing should be taught as “actual genres written in the situations they’re intended for,” focusing on the rhetorical foundation of composition. The responsibility that is put on FYC is looked at again in the “What is Transfer” when Elizabeth Wardle discusses the various views of how a student’s skills worked on in FYC should transfer to other areas, and how it often does not seem evident that they do transfer at all (especially to those outside of the comp field).

    With so much pressure put on FYC from standards of general education, expectations of parents, and expectations of non-composition faculty, as well as the various competing pedagogical standpoints in the field, it is interesting that such a large portion of the FYC workforce are novice graduate instructors (like myself). With FYC often coming under criticism, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to leave most of the actual instruction up to those who are just learning the techniques and scholarship of the field. This is especially true in light of E. Shelly Reid’s statement in the “What is TA Education” chapter, where she states “our TAs will need to spend several years in a learning mode for new concepts and strategies to take hold. Jo Sprague and Jody D. Nyquist describe an arc of four stages – unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence (a natural point of frustration and perhaps ‘resistance’), conscious competence, and unconscious competence” (203). It is understandable to have graduate students involved in teaching FYC, especially if they are entering the field of Composition, and it definitely makes sense from the institution’s economic standpoint, but in a field so dedicated and focused on a single course, it almost seems irresponsible to rely so heavily on graduate instructors to put the scholarship to practice.

    What role do you believe graduate instructors should play in shaping the praxis of the Composition field?

    How can WPAs assist graduate instructors in not wrecking the lives of their students during the stages of “unconscious incompetence” and “conscious incompetence” outlined by Jo Sprague and Jody D?


  3. t is First-Year Composition?”

    Downs’ chapter was incredibly interesting to me, and he addressed many of the issues that appear to be common for everyone involved with first-year composition courses. To put my own (lack of) expertise and experience in place with many of the other people in class, I don’t teach any of the ENGL 103 sections, so I am sure my opinion is skewed and may differ drastically from others. That said, my point-of-view comes more as a student (who took a first-year comp class seven years ago) and not as someone who teaches these classes.

    Many of the points that Downs makes throughout his chapter seem to be inherent, but they deserve much more recognition and exploration. The passages that I found most interesting focused on the fact that many first-year composition courses worry much more about form than they do about function. He writes, “Another implication: If FYC teaches only transcription of existing ideas into print, its focus can be on form (grammar); but with invention in play, FYC must also consider content” (Downs 55). While I agree that it is absolutely necessary for MOST freshmen to clean up grammatical and stylistic errors, this cannot be the only focus of the class. Freshmen need to learn how to write about a topic (whether it interests them or not, which I am sure comes up quite often regardless of the material that students are assigned) with clarity and succinctness.

    To put what I am saying in a more palpable place: the professor who taught my FYC class basically had the class mapped out and did not allow the students to actually grow as writers. What I mean is this: on my first paper, I got a C. On the second, I got a B. And on the final paper, I got a B+. Truth be told, I don’t think my writing improved. I didn’t approach the second and third assignments with the intent to “write better” and implement what I had learned, which wasn’t much. Many of the other students in the class noticed the same trend in their grades: they started off doing “good enough” work, and finished up the course with a high “B” or B+…but never an A, because we were freshmen in an FYC class who did not write well enough to merit an A–yet.

    This approach ruined the class for me. It was formulaic and bland, and I genuinely felt that there was nothing I could take from the class except the necessity to try harder on the next paper simply to improve my grade. This is a dangerous position to put students in, and I think that this professor ultimately failed at making me a better writer–or prepared to write papers in different disciplines throughout my undergraduate career.

    Downs also points out that having a set approach to teaching a FYC course is dangerous and could limit a student’s ability to grow. He writes, “FYC is meant to teach universal rules for good writing, stable and immutable” (56). If a professor does take this kind of approach, they are already limiting the product that a student may be able to produce, because any writing that does not fall within these sets of rules may be punished with a poor grade.

    What Downs seems to be getting at is that these classes HAVE to prepare freshmen for the writing they’ll need to do over the next four years, regardless of the nature of the assignment or the subject matter. For me–again, from an outsider’s perspective–this chapter was incredibly interesting and raised many questions and concerns that I would never consider about FYC.


  4. Who teaches writing? Specifically, who teaches First-Year Writing? I have wondered about the politics of these questions since I signed my contract as a Teaching Assistant at S.U. close to two years ago. What gave me the authority? I had teaching experience, but not on the college level. Something even stranger was that I was only a couple of years older, the same age, or younger than my students. I even ended up teaching someone I graduated high school with. I must have been a decent writer to get hired, but how would I translate my knowledge inside the classroom? In Chapter 13, “What is a Writing Instructor?,” Schell reminds readers that many kinds of writing instructors exist. Each kind of instructor brings different values and experiences to their position. From an administrative standpoint, all instructors should be made aware of “duties and responsibilities” early on (Schell 176). Continuing development and education can aid instructors as well.
    As a fresh-out-of-undergrad literature-centric TA with no experience in rhetoric of my own, I found Composition Theory and TA seminars and workshops extremely helpful in increasing my understanding of the course I was teaching. Being observed and observing other TAs also helped me develop and critique my own pedagogical practices. In Chapter 15, Reid discusses the complexities of TA education. Reid categorizes TA education into three categories: declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and metacognitive knowledge. I would argue most TAs possess a fair amount of metacognitive knowledge to begin with, but declarative and procedural knowledge may be lacking as first-time instructors. I agree with the argument that there are “good reasons to grant first-time teachers less freedom” but as instructors develop and grow maybe by their third year as a TA (even if this is into the PhD) they should be granted more liberties to create their own syllabi while still adhering to a writing program curriculum (206). Writing program administrators may also have to decide on an individual basis when certain TAs may be given more or less freedom.


  5. Hello everyone,

    Like some of the other posts made thus far, I also found the divisions in the composition field to be significant when beginning “A Rhetoric for Writing Program Administrators.” While I recall thinking the field of composition studies seemed quite fractured as an undergraduate in Composition Theory, many of our graduate readings have shown the lack of unity in composition pedagogies and programs to be situated in an even more complex setting than I had previously thought. With this said, it was refreshing to read Doug Downs’ attempts to identify some semblance of a “heart” to first-year composition in his chapter, “What is First Year Composition?” As he argues, the principles of first-year composition are “access, interaction, voices, textual production, [and] rhetoric” (59). While there are always ground for debate over what the core values of a program are, it does seem that most all of the pedagogical approaches we have discussed thus far find these components of central significance, which I find a useful guide in thinking about how to move forward with thinking about writing amidst all the postmodern-pedagogical-confusion.

    I also found Kelly Ritter’s remarks in “What Are Students?” to be very powerful, as she stresses the importance of students finding agencies applicable outside of the classroom. She claims, students “do not simply feel empowered because you give them information and step back from the podium (or sit in circles, or declare the class ‘student-centered’…) They are seeking out communities to give them agency outside your classroom, and they are doing so in droves” (21). In contrast to the central points Downs outlines, Ritter’s statement seems to again highlight the question: for whom and for what purpose are we teaching first-year composition? I find this question increasingly significant to me as I navigate our coursework, question the validity of critical/democratizing classroom efforts, and attempt to understand the history of both composition research and instruction. I am furthermore, and in closing, left with the following questions:

    To what extent can a WPA, in the face of so many programmatic questions (32 according to Malenzenczyk’s text), have the time to allow for the infrastructure of the writing program to remain fluidly informed by the experience of current composition teachers experience?

    If there is dissonance between the mission of a writing program and the pedagogical approach of composition educators, how can or should the classroom respond? Should it shift in favor of the educator’s research and experience based approach? Should it adhere to the claimed goals of the program? Should it embody the struggle between the two in an attempted synthesis?



  6. Chapter 13 of Malenczyk’s book poses the question “What Is a Writing Instructor?” I found this chapter to be especially interesting as it explores some of the issues involved with being a writing program administrator or writing instructor. Some of the tips that the author gives for how to be a successful WPA have a lot of relevance to the teaching of other age groups. For example, the importance of realizing that other colleagues may know more about students and the institution is stressed. By learning from other instructors, a person can learn a lot of valuable information about the program they are a part of. Similarly, Malenczyk stresses the importance of establishing a “shared and mutual pedagogical culture and community that successfully bridges and addresses differences in knowledge, training, and approaches or that at least attempts to do so through conversation and dialogue” (Malencyzk 175). It seems that the author wants to specifically stress that it is a necessity to establish relationships with colleagues that are based on mutual respect. Other points that the author makes include the necessity for teachers to be involved in professional development, have a strong system of evaluation, and avoid falling into the trap of being a typical overworked, underpaid, and disrespected instructor. The points that the author makes seem to have relevance to more than just WPAs. Many of the aspects of writing programs that are explored are also relevant to teachers of high school and even elementary schools. Reading this chapter caused me to realize that many of the issues I see as a writing teacher are ones that are seen across all levels of education. This realization causes some comfort while it simultaneously raises other questions. I am comforted by the thought that the issues I see are ones that are seen across writing education. However, I question whether the tips and solutions that Malenczyk offers are as relevant to other levels of education as the issues are.


  7. A Rhetoric for Writing Program Administrators is a collection of essays that gives an overview of the discipline of composition and rhetoric as well as politics of university life. Important to note that this collection gives readers “basis for reflection and action;” it does not attempt to indoctrinate the audience or convince that some of the approaches are better than others. Moreover, the essays point out flaws and underlying assumptions of pedagogies. For instance, in chapter 2, Royer and Gilles call attention to the fact that standardized tests tend to disregard students and teachers; tests ignore “the living, breathing, local contexts” (26). Similarly, in the following chapter, Ashley provides not only the best practices in teaching Basic Writing, but also illustrates how basic writing courses are oriented into production and replication of AWE.
    In chapter 4, Downs drafts FYC’s public charter, which gives readers an overview of stakeholder expectations. After listing those expectations, the author states that, “public notions are critically flawed” (59). Moreover, he argues that writing is situated and “teaching writing outside meaningful rhetorical situations won’t work well; learning transfer from general instruction will be hit-or-miss” (57). So my questions is: What is the purpose of “general instruction” in writing that may or may not help students in their disciplines? To fill in the blanks in grammar and surface features? If composition theorists know that FYC does not help students write in their disciplines why not educate public? How long is it going to take for an educational system to reach the point where students are given effective instruction? While I ponder on these questions, Downs optimistically encourages teachers to “create experiences that might rework [students’] sense of writing, changing their relationships with it for the better” (61).
    While reading “What is a Writing Instructor?” Ira Shor’s article “Our Apartheid: Writing Instruction and Inequality” comes to my mind. Written in 1997, the article not only criticizes “the history and politics of BW/comp,” but also gives an overview of the working conditions of composition instructors. While the two articles differ in goals and styles, they both attempt to incite readers to reflect on the issue of the workplace environment of writing instructors.
    Is FYC still seen as a democratizing force or is it another “gate” in the system that keeps students from graduating? Does the answer depend on a person answering (a stakeholder/an instructor/ a WPA)?
    While the Chapter on BW does provide some strategies and practices for Basic Writing courses, it remains unclear on how a novice TA would deal with a few “underprepared” students, or “basic writers,” in a FYC classroom.


  8. Malenczyk phrases the titles of her chapters as various questions about the subject of writing instruction, and two questions that stand out to me are, “What are students?” and “What is a Writing Instructor?”

    The answer, respectively, is that writing instructors are writers, while students could be writers, or mathematicians, or scientists, or musicians, or disciples of any number of interests and disciplines. The presumption of many writing instructors – once including myself, as an unprofessional tutor – that they can explain and train students in writing as fellow writers undercuts several vital aspects of learning to write. For many uninterested or unskilled writers, quality writing is emblematic of flowing prose, a broad vocabulary, and other cosmetic elements that make the writing sound good. In reality, good academic writing is most often built upon a central argument, with compelling ideas and evidence and a readable logical structure.

    Writing instructors must realize that to teach unskilled writers, they must first understand – and if needs be, correct – the writers’ perceptions of skilled writing, and its most vital elements. A poorly written piece with a successful argument wins over a cosmetically appealing piece written about nothing at all, an idea that must be impressed upon students who are not necessarily writers or writing-minded people.

    Just how central is writing to education in general, concerning disciplines beyond English? Should every student know how to write well? Is every student meant to write well?

    How can the importance and many applications of writing be communicated to uninterested or unskilled student writers?


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