Update (1/28): Karen’s response to Luke has been added to the end of this post
This is the first in a series of question and response-style conversations from instructors teaching at different levels in the sequence. Karen Springsteen (1010 Lecturer) started the conversation with a query about how the work she’s doing in ENG 1010 translates to 1020. Luke Thominet (currently teaching 1020) drafted a response to her query. If you have a question that you’re interested in posing or if you would like to post a response to Karen and Luke’s conversation, please contact Derek Risse. For your convenience, we’ve included Word versions of the responses for quick download in addition to web text below:
Karen’s query (1010):
Rhetoric has been a backbone of my teaching career. It makes sense since my Ph.D. is in Rhetoric and Technical Communication and since rhetoric is alive and kicking across the diverse forms of communication I have been asked to teach. In some courses—Rhetorical Theory, Technical Writing, and Visual Media Analysis—bringing rhetoric front and center was a no-brainer. In other courses—like First-year Composition, a Writing Center Peer Tutoring Practicum, and “Writing in a Digital Age”—links to the theory and practice of rhetoric needed to be more laboriously forged. Across all these courses, however, questions of audience, purpose, context, ethos, and generic conventions have enriched students’ understanding of how to shape their words (oral, written, and visual) to achieve a variety of effects. The following teaching tool, for example, has been useful all up and down the gamut of courses represented on my vita, for it asks students to think strategically about communicative tasks.
I have a strong sense, then, that rhetoric can be—and, in fact, is—a formative concept for Basic Writers. For example, when I hear instructors note that they are receiving email that goes something like “hey what are we supposed to do for tomorrow,” I think: this is a job for rhetoric. In other words, my impulse is to work with Basic Writers so that they come to see email as an available means of persuasion rather than as something they just do on the fly, with very little thought or crafting. The following class discussion Q&A, for instance, is aimed at moving students in that direction.
- If we took all of our professors and lined them up at the front of this room, what adjectives could you use to describe the group? Based on this, what do you think professors would be expecting to see when they receive email from students?
- How do professors compose the course materials that you read, like the syllabus or messages on Blackboard? What does it seem like your professors value when it comes to writing for the course?
- What’s the power relation between a student sending an email and a professor receiving that email? What kinds of things do you think might be sure to piss a professor off?
- How many emails do we all get per day? Where do we read those emails? Using what technology?
- How fast do we read email? How fast do we expect to get a reply to an email we send? Do we expect some replies to come faster than others? Which ones, and why?
- How is fm7013(at)wayne.edu different from sassyyogateacher(at)hotmail.com? If both were my email addresses, and I am your professor, why would I choose to write to you from one account versus the other?
- What are the parts of an email? Name as many as you can. What’s cc and bcc? What’s a signature line?
- Is an email more like an old-fashioned letter, a business memo, or a text message? What’s its closest cousin?
- If we consider email to be its own thing, then what sets it apart from other forms of communication? Why not just make a phone call?
- When you write an email, can you be more honest or mean or funny or assertive than you would be face to face? How do you get humor or sarcasm across in your messages? When would you use “xoxo” or all caps or emoticons?
Email is a simple example, which is at our fingertips and can be useful for “breaking the ice” when it comes to getting students to think rhetorically. I like to tell students that I once had an advisee from India who began all of her emails to me with “Respected Ma’am,”. I was always quick to open her messages when they appeared in my inbox, not so much for the flattery but because her style and composure stood out in a refreshing way.
As 1010 instructors, however, we have more on our plate than teaching students to compose email appropriate for the academy. Students who go on to 1020, for example, will have a bona-fide rhetorical analysis coming down the pipe. I certainly do not expect to be uttering the words “neo-Aristotelian” or “stases” in Basic Writing; however, I do want to consider how much and how explicitly to teach from a rhetorical framework. On the first day of 1020, for example, should students be able to pronounce the word “rhetoric” and know what it means? Or, if we are seeing serious blocks to invention or issues moving beyond a paragraph in Basic Writing, would it be better to focus on audience, genre, etc. without calling it anything special? What does our experience as 1010 and 1020 instructors suggest about teaching rhetoric to Basic Writers in the composition sequence at Wayne State?
Luke’s Response (1020):
I appreciate Karen’s discussion of the importance of rhetoric in our curriculum and of its place in Basic Writing. I agree that we need to continue to have this dialogue, that we need to carefully consider exactly what students need in order to be prepared for their future writing situations. And with 1010 students, this certainly means that we also need to think about how we can prepare students to succeed in 1020.
I also think that using emails as a means of introducing more generalized communicative principles is a sound method. It allows us to speak of something that we all have some experience with. It also sounds awfully familiar to me. How many technical communication courses over the years have begun with a study of communicative genres like this? Whether it is through focusing on memos, letters, or emails, these classes have asked students to consider a fairly straightforward genre in order to conceptualize communication strategies that will remain integral to more complex writing tasks.
What I particularly like about Karen’s method is that she isn’t truly speaking about teaching students a format or genre. Instead, she is leading them to analyze a genre without ever explicitly stating what they are doing. I particularly appreciate her focus on audience analysis at the beginning of the set of questions as a way to identify how these generic features are both socially constructed and identifiable. And I do agree that this skill or, rather, set of skills–both writing an effective email and actively practicing the analysis of the conventions behind effective discourse–can help students achieve their educational goals in the transition from 1010 to 1020.
I do have a few questions of my own though, questions that I believe are both practical and also that focus more on ensuring that students are prepared to actually practice the activities we want them to pursue:
- To start, I would forward the practical question of the integration of this lesson plan into our 1010 curriculum. Where does this fit into our progression of assignments? Do we want to introduce this at the beginning of the semester, or is it better suited to our later discussion of analysis?
- Furthermore, I also wonder how and when we can start to move our students from relying on our questions to developing questions and concerns of their own. I think that Karen’s description has nice scaffolding, but that it doesn’t quite approach our real goal which is to help students to begin to consider rhetorical features on their own.
- Finally, tied to the last question, I wonder what we can do so that students are able to make connections to this exercise when faced with similar tasks like rhetorical or genre analysis in 1020.
In short, I fundamentally agree with Karen. Rhetoric does have a place in 1010, and it need not be about terminology. And I see how a guided, low-risk genre analysis can be an effective means to move students towards the kind of strategies they will need to succeed going forward.
Karen’s response to Luke:
Luke’s reply made me think of a concern I noted during our December portfolio assessments of 1010 and 1020: When asked to reflect on how the courses will inform future writing situations, many students mustered up only a vague gesture toward the unknown. So what does it take to see them do otherwise? What did the high scoring portfolios demonstrate with regard to this aspect of the learning outcomes?
I am raising this concern because I think it is often easier to answer the “how do we get them to…” questions by looking at concrete evidence from students who have pulled off the moves we want to see.
More generally, I do think that Basic Writing is, at least in part, about access and that some relatively insulated explicit instruction may make newer forms of academic writing more manageable. Yet, I strongly agree with Luke that learning stays limited if there is no simultaneous interrogation of the dynamics of that access or if there is no critical re-framing of abilities for contexts beyond the class or beyond the academy (cf. Cope and Kalantzis 2000).
If we are, as a group, looking for such transfer, my suggestion is that there may be evidence within the portfolios that we can trace to its pedagogical origins.