Blog Post for May 3 Readings

As an English 103 TA, I gravitated towards Dobrin’s Don’t Call It That: The Composition Practicum this week. I did not know there was a battle in composition programs to define what function and purpose the introductory, graduate-level composition course serves. I also did not know the larger political questions associated with such programs, especially thinking about the role of WPAs from some of our past readings. Dobrin poses important questions about some of the problems associated with a required composition course for all English graduate students saying, “composition, in general is equated with FYC…as understood to be the goal of the practicum…is the idea that training to teach composition is training to teach FYC” (23). This connection certainly raises many questions as to if the course actually only serves this purpose, or if the course has other pedagogical purposes? I think Dobrin’s connections between the undergraduate required FYC and the graduate required “practicum” composition course problematize the function of both courses in terms of students and how the university views the course. I think Dobrin’s final statement leaves the reader with even more questions, “For me, this collection stands as a call to research, as a call to ask and answer more questions about the politics and power of the practicum” (31). Prior to reading this piece, I had not known the ways colleges have debated and discussed the purpose of the “practicum” graduate course. The fact that the legitimacy of the course has been questioned and both students and teachers face even the possibility of not receiving credit for the course, creates a new understanding of the politics involved in the course. If most college campus require an introductory graduate composition course for English majors, what is the main purpose of the course? How does the course transfer for English majors who are not teaching the FYC and are planning to get their degree in literature? Are these some of the questions facing professors in the field when discussing the function of the course?

Class Synthesis 2/22

We started our class discussion by summarizing, providing a thesis statement, and generating keywords for four of the weekly readings. The “Ethics of Plagiarism” article by Rebecca Moore Howard describes patchwriting as a way for some students to enter into the discourse community. Howard calls for change against the discrimination imposed by the institutional hierarchy. Nick Mamatas’ personal narrative about his experience working for PaperMill in “The Term Paper Artist,” provides an overview of his clientele and a strong argument suggesting that students do not understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, and proper citations; the American education system does not prepare students to participate in the academy. In “Taking on Turnitin,”writing center tutors challenge Turnitin plagiarism detector after having complaints from students. This article raises the question, “What will the technological innovations look like in the future?” Relating to the ideas of plagiarism and patchwriting, “Sexuality, Textuality: The Cultural Work of Plagiarism” by Howard suggests a metaphorical masculine dominance, historically found, in the term plagiarism. She believes that the term plagiarism should move to “less culturally burdened terms,” specifically “fraud, insufficient citation, and excessive repetition” because they provide more context to the situation (487).

All of these articles address a greater question, “What constitutes plagiarism?” and as Dylan suggests, “Do you see yourself as a patchwriter?” As a class we began addressing these questions and generating more in response. How can a teacher determine intention, especially through their own possible biases as an instructor? How does one take intentionality out of the equation? The criminalization attached to plagiarism creates a barrier between students and teachers because technologies, such as Turnitin, assume that the student is automatically plagiarizing. In this day and age how does one say something that has not been said before? Going back to Howard’s discussion in “Ethics of Plagiarism,” would summarizing information be patchwriting? Is this blog post then a form of plagiarism in the eyes of society? Our discussion shifted to the ethics behind teacher feedback and the expectations that come from comments on student papers. Nancy Sommers argues that students should write for an audience and enter into a conversation. She also says that instructor feedback is often written to the paper rather than the student directly which does not always lead to constructive criticism. If teachers want students to learn from instructor feedback, students should mimic their language: Does this result in patchwriting? This brings us back to the question, “What constitutes plagiarism?” Should we continue using plagiarism as a catch-all term?

Class Synthesis 2/15

by Miranda, Lindsay, and Nick H.

Writing Program Issues

  1. No agreed upon standard of teaching writing
  2. SWE what makes good writing? Teaching writing?
  3. Macro vs. Micro (binary but complex)
  4. Are students reading essays that raise critical consciousness, own writing, or both?
  5. Infamous labor problem
  6. Who are the specialists?
  7. Why the one course? (FYC)
  8. 103 divorced from other sources (next level)

The class period centered around bridging the gap between pedagogies to writing programs. Dr. Campbell posed the question, “Can writing be taught?” This question led to a lengthy discussion about “authentic voice,” and “can you teach authenticity?” After discussing the Newsweek article, “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” we questioned when writing should be taught to students, especially considering common core standards in high school. In response, WPA specialists commented on if the author knew that experts in the field of composition research the topics discussed in his article.

One of the intractable issues of the writing program, macro and micro levels, is a key issue in the field. The macro level refers to those who know how to teach writing but cannot get it into the classroom. And the micro level refers to the classroom. In our class discussion, we specifically focused on the 103 FYC at SU. Along with the politics of administration, we discussed the issue of the writing specialists and how they become qualified as writing experts. Is it research and reading about other’s research that leads to writing expertise? Or should teaching and classroom experience (interaction with students) lead to one being considered an expert in writing? Perhaps a combination of both.

We also discussed the issue of the senior in her/his last semester who requests to be exempt from taking the FYC. Questions surrounding this issue include: Why was this student able to progress to her/his final semester without taking the FYC? Should this student be able to skip the class because s/he has a B+ average? Why is the FYC viewed differently from other entry-level courses in other disciplines?

As we began to discuss the text on Writing Program Administrators (WPA), we talked about how informal and conversational the style of the writing is compared to other types of research and scholarly articles. The second-person point of view positions us in the position of a WPA. The section, “What Are Students?” reminds us to remember that we were also students at one point. We also discussed the rise in dual enrollment students and how money and financial issues factor into the world of the FYC, the writing program, and higher education as a whole.

Transfer knowledge is another big problem that WPAs must address. Transfer knowledge leads to the assumption that all students come to class with a prior knowledge of writing. This is not always the case, which is why it causes controversies among WPAs and writing teachers across the discourse. This unexamined assumption stems from wishful thinking that students have the ability to acquire short-term knowledge and then apply it to a long term scenario. Wardle states: “basic skills do not come close to fully compromising writing knowledge; the entirety of writing-related knowledge is complex and its use in new settings is complex” (144). This statement gives insight to the root of the problem: students cannot be expected to transfer old knowledge to continuously evolving, new rhetorical skills. Furthermore, as teachers and WPAs, we must consider ways to successfully implement effective transfer of prior writing knowledge or, at the very least, consider if this is even possible.

The question of “what constitutes a good assessment?” is another major aspect for a WPA to consider. It seems that the first year writing courses are prime targets for assessments due to their generally small class sizes and the abundance of instructors who teach the FYCs. Harrington suggests that the most crucial moments are those that follow the assessments (160). Assessments become largely important when deciding what needs to be changed in the curriculum, or as we discussed in class, asking: “are the students picking up what we [instructors] are putting down?” The moments that follow the assessment should answer: why the assessment was done and what can be improved upon. The goal of any “good” assessment is aimed at moving the curriculum’s progress forward, in hopes of benefitting the students as well as the university.

Writing Center Pedagogy

Writing center pedagogy addresses the individual needs of the student while utilizing various resources such as trained tutors, technology, and collaborative learning. There seems to be a debate among writing centers about addressing the problems students have with reading comprehension. G. Travis Adams in, “The Line that Should Not Be Drawn: Writing Centers as Reading Centered,” uses his own personal experience as a writing center administrator to discuss the problems students face when reading college level texts. As the writing center administrator, Adams’ best tutor posed the question, “What am I supposed to do when a student has an appointment with me and she’s written nothing and has not even done the reading,” (Adams 73). How should tutors help students with reading comprehension questions? Should tutors even help with reading comprehension? Adams argues that tutors in writing centers should have resources available to address such concerns; however, many instructors disagree. To my knowledge, the debate continues…