Second Guessing and (Re)Vision

After reading Writing Across the Curriculum: A Critical Sourcebook edited by Terry Myers Zawacki and Paul Rogers, I returned to a “Reading Across the Curriculum” Pearson textbook to look for  juxtapositions among the parts. As you may imagine, there were a host of contradictions beginning with the most obvious–the audience. The Zawacki and Rogers text is meant to be a resource for people interested in cross-disciplinary teaching and learning strategies. The Pearson book is as well, but it is designed for freshmen, or possibly remedial readers. What troubled me with the latter, is that I did identify the target audience with ease. That is, as an introductory textbook, I understand that it is meant to be a broad introduction, but what bothers me is the idea that freshmen need that much remediation to their ability to read rhetorically and analytically. My concern is this: Am I overestimating students’ abilities, and, thereby, not giving them tools needed for success, or is the textbook underestimating their abilities, and, thus, not addressing their needs? I suppose this is a classic conundrum of “to-textbook” or “not-to-textbook.” While I find aspects of the Pearson textbook useful, overall I think it does not suit my pedagogic purpose, which is to help students solve problems and answer questions of their own creating.They need to do their own disciplinary research in order to accomplish this goal. First, however, they need to embrace a paradox (Sommers and Saltz, 297). They need to be novice “experts.” That is, an instructor needs to transmit to beginning students that they are not expected to be experts in a field, rather they are going to have to practice, imitate, and learn. Next, passion, according to Sommers and Saltz’s “The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year” (in the WAC sourcebook), is what helps students become better at writing over the course of their college careers.

It is necessary to separate imitation from a more base form–plagiarism. By imitation, I mean to suggest something more holistic. The imitation exercise is a nuanced form of rhetoric that has origins in ancient Greece and Rome. To my mind, the idea is to mimic a form, but create alternative content.  If I shared with my students a reminder that partially digested work is not, won’t be, and never will be the norm in my classes will they respond with passion (of a positive nature) or will they revert to some other method that has been successful for them in the past.  Put differently, I don’t want a series of decontextualized quotes from “reputable” sources, I’d rather see the “giveness” of though in their efforts. I will ask my students to speak (to the whole group) “about their research journeys, giving presentations on their process and content and twists and turns along the way” (See Inside Higher Ed article comment linked below).  Can students overcome research obstacles that might include reading difficult material, acquiring it, and paraphrasing thoroughly? While it is true that “some students are overworked, sleep deprived, and rushed” (see link), can oral presentations encourage better absorption of what the sources say and also promote creativity and synthesis? Do students readily use their own voices when talking, or does their fear of public “shaming” limit their analytical expression?  When a L2  student sees superb L1 modeling, is that a hindrance or a help?

Today’s post reflects my questioning and my concerns as I think through my pedagogical purpose for the Writing in the Academic Disciplines course. I am thinking though the second phase of my course portfolio, and these questions want answers. Academic freedom permits faculty to address course goals in unique ways. As I notice how other English faculty address this course, I wonder what approach works the best, for whom, and for what purpose.

In my dual role as a student and teacher, I find my course goals shift dependent upon how “selfish” I feel as I am developing my syllabus. On the one hand, as I put on my “Scholarly Hat,” I would like my students to read books that are interesting to me for rhetorical and literary reasons. On the other hand, when I put on my “Faculty Robe,” I would like my students to read, watch, listen, to whatever fuels their own passion within their individual disciplines. I believe that the latter will create the best potential for their learning and writing, but, for me, that is untested territory. Ultimately, I feel that I will learn more from their efforts in the second scenario.

If you are interested in the inspiration for this post, you can read more:
Inside Higher Ed

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