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ENG 1020, Reflection

“Watch and Wait”: Some Thoughts About the End(s) of Reflection in an ENG 1020 Semester

The first year of blog posts have started a conversation that has helped me feel more connected with other teachers and more deliberate and informed in my own day to day teaching. The longest thread on reflection was an interesting and appropriate starting point for this blog too – giving insight into not only into the departmental scaffolding being assembled during assessment projects researching issues about transfer, reflection and pedagogy, but into how other buttresses put in place in recent years now seem to have cohorts of GTAs and teachers under better guidance from faculty, mentors, workshops, extended practicum work, teaching circles etc. All of this seems to have made this kind of focus on reflection already seem natural to a program.

After reading both Derek and Latoya’s posts late in the academic year, I’d like to keep this thread going and bounce some ideas off Derek’s concern about “what it might mean to teach to conflicts relating to audience and authority” following Bartholomae, and Latoya’s point of concern about style and voice as a response to writing deemed (on occasion) ‘soulless’. With six sections of 1020 under my belt last year, I think our intro-to-college writing classes might be putting students in a good position to reflect on not only their core learning objectives, but on some of the core conflicts Derek and Latoya raised. This is the time of year we often ask students think about their work in relation to broader institutional, social and rhetorical concerns, which can be intimidating given it can be a challenge to have students connect their analytical work to contextual matters at all points in the semester, and perhaps even harder for many of them to embed their arguments meaningfully in a conversation that either addresses or invokes an audience. I have of course been working on such issues, working on having students discover particular audiences to address, or working on invoking audiences by creating a rhetorical public sphere of sorts through a blog (and reflecting briefly on their particular audience rapport as part of their final assignments).

After reading these posts I think that I may still be missing an opportunity to cast a wider net that emphasizes voice and authority in both their final argument papers and their final reflective arguments. Now I may sound reactionary a little already here, piecing together diverse concerns from late in the semester during hectic weeks, and re-piecing them together in the new year, but that’s just the initial jarring of a more peculiar response that might show a larger conversation emerging. After reading these posts I couldn’t shake some thoughts about arbitrary conference talks and papers read in recent years arguing about the “death” of expressivism in composition studies. That’s right; I walked and thought about the forever out of favor expressivism: where we discuss notions of freewriting to listen to the voice inside and access a personal voice through some natural reservoirs of language. And I thought walking was supposed to help you think. Of course it’s not as vulgar as that, and after a semester where I was wheeling and dealing more rhetorical tools and tricks with students than I may ever have in the past, there was something about that Ken Macrorie type of approach to emphasizing voice and authority that seemed to re-address my recent teaching and some of these recent concerns we are blogging about. In Telling Writing he says: “Good teaching in any field isn’t a matter of employing gimmicks and choosing from a damnfool encyclopedia of tricks to play on students . . . but a matter of setting up a climate friendly to learning and then challenging learners to connect their experience and ideas with those of the accepted authorities or producers. Students can’t become truly educated unless they grow out of and beyond themselves . . .” Though I’m pretty sure I’m now addicted to rhetorical tricks and won’t let go of this bag for the foreseeable future, the central challenge raised here is still apt for any 1020 student working towards some cumulative kind of reflection on their learning — and I thought maybe the questions about voice and connecting student experiences with those of authorities might still be good ones, if perhaps returning to us with a difference.

First, it’s a pretty conventional dynamic that we want our students to think about. On one hand, there is their current position (or Relation, Location, Position as one Comp-essay-collection puts it), which includes their recent ability to develop a voice of sorts, to make rhetorical choices and to perform genre conventions. On the other hand, there are the broader implications of their evolving writing practices that must deal with some of the conflicts about audience and authority that these invoke. Even a better than average final project with components of argument and analysis that shows critical thinking and writing skills, or a rhetorical analysis that weaves together several discourse communities and maps important concepts across these can, as Latoya suggested, end with a focus on analysis for analysis’ sake, or argument for argument’s sake – and miss this larger dynamic almost completely.

One initial way of addressing authority, might be to (as Derek says in so many words) step up and be the authority they are writing to (again) late in the semester. Now I can only speak for myself, but I think I would ask students to consider the role of their argument in two registers (seems manageable) and to prove to me as an authority that they’ve found a voice and style that suits their desired argument’s purpose (as Latoya aspires for in so many words). At the end of term, when writing is most closely related to an action, perhaps the reflection of an author (now = praxis) might also consider (1) the social/political consequences of their style of argumentation on their audiences, perhaps only in binary terms of whether their argument’s goal is to ‘win’ in a more agonistic style, or whether it is more collaborative, Rogerian, or invitational, and (2) whether they’ve given adequate attention to the voices of discourse communities invested in the arguments (two or three discourse communities perhaps) and what they think about their responsibility to know how to do this.

There would of course be many paths to doing this, but if I could cram in 8 classes in my last 2 weeks last year I might have emphasized these two components much more, especially given that I do emphasize the importance of common ground and middle ground in arguments much more than our textbooks, and note distinctions about Rogerian Arguments, Invitational rhetoric and Classical arguments on several occasions. Something like Denis Lynch’s 1997 C’s article “Moments of Argument: Agonistic Inquiry and Confrontational Cooperation” which “attempts to work out a way of understanding and teaching argument that prepares students to participate in serious deliberations on issues that face them every day” might have been very useful in setting up a student reflection, since he examines two contrasting styles of argument, competitive and collaborative, and locates where the middle ground between the two lies. More generatively perhaps, these issues would allow for us as teachers to do what Burke aspired to do with dramatism in some of his introductory classes, to turn an analysis of (or reflection on) language into an analysis of “human relations generally” (264). In a 2004 article “Becoming Symbol Wise” Jessica Enoch charts how Burke’s teaching inspired many in composition and rhetoric (looking at letters of correspondence in what would prefigure a teaching blog of sorts) and tracks an inspired conversation about ending a course by focusing on how students would end by not by judging or arguing or “heckling”, but by “stepping back from a text and ‘systematically letting the text say its full say’” (270). Burke saw this as crucial to a course that would be “‘central’ or ‘over-all'” and a kind of “‘synoptic’ project” that taught students how to approach “first the rest of their courses and then the world outside the classroom” (274). There should be a “watch and wait” (271) approach while they examine their own language, and the challenge is not “not just that [a point] may be approved or disapproved, but also that it be considered as a challenge to [their] prowess in placing it within the unending human dialogue as a whole” (273). There are interesting and odd moments in Enoch’s article, but the focus on a first year class that reflects on student language within a broader context (for Burke it was the cold war in this conversation) that challenges students to think about the repercussions of “the art of verbal combat” but also refuses an “I’m ok; you’re ok” attitude is one I found worth thinking through again (Enoch 11). This ultimate goal would be to ask “students themselves to think of their various courses in terms of a single distinctive human trait (the linguistic) that imposes its genius upon all particular studies” (274).

On the more personal side, students might negotiate a final challenge about voice, one which would also require some scaffolding. Like many other teachers I have moved away serious questions about voice, though it’s not off my radar in class entirely, as we do a couple workshops in line with Elbow’s distinctions about “Audible voice” in a text that controls objectives and research questions in drafts which allows for an ‘honest start’ of conversations with research. Of course, Elbow was more seriously interested in voice, and started with voice as ‘energy’, in that: “Texts with audible voice give us the sense of a sound coming up from the page by itself, and they seem to give us energy rather than requiring energy of us” (212 “The Pleasures of Voice in the Literary Essay“). He had students think about absence of voice in government documents, army manual instructions, bureaucratic memos (heavy nominalization, passive voice, etc.), and this is something I mention (briefly) as we look at student examples in text books, where my students always seem to admire the personal narratives. Elbow also distinguishes “Dramatic voice” where we question what kind of speaker or writer is implied in the text, and how vividly it is cast by the writer, saying that it is a responsibility to discern these other voices and give them their due. “This is voice as character, ethos, persona, mask, or implied author” (217). Of course, in the characteristic turn of expressivism, these two distinctions return to the self and “one’s own voice”, as they might lead writers to “self-consciously hear many dimensions or sides of a complex character, a polyphonic self”. While you could quibble with the undertones of this being romantic or “true”, it is still maybe a savvy rhetorical move as a teacher, as this ‘own voice’ is one that can be thought of (perhaps in more concrete terms) as a voice that emerges in the relation of the text to the actual writer reflecting on their work. Elbow raises three levels of the personal voice as recognizable/distinctive, as having authority to speak, and as having resonance or authenticity. As far as I can remember in studying for QE’s (and in reviewing my panicky notes attempting to capture every detail possible), the last distinction has been re-thought several times as an act of finding a personal voice that is a socially responsible politicized act (and I’m thinking of threads in both Francie’s Feminist Rhetorics class and when I met Gwen and read Mary Rose O’Reilley). Admittedly, this seems to us to be part of a romantic vision, bearing an element that aims at keeping things grounded in the personal, but this also seems to be the kind of thing a great many of my students are looking for and exactly what inspired me most as an 18 year old.

Jared Grogan is a PhD Candidate in the Department and joined the faculty as a lecturer in Fall 2011. His research interests include Rhetorical Theory, Ecology and Sustainability, Eco-Composition, and Pedagogy. He currently teaches English 1020.

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  1. Pingback: Talking About Teacher Reflection « WSU Teaching - October 17, 2012

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