The following was written by Adrienne Jankens (1020 Lecturer):
I’m going to jump off of one of the points from Karen and Luke’s conversation last month to explore my question. In their posts, Karen and Luke address, in part, whether we need to use the terminology of rhetoric when we discuss concepts of genre analysis and rhetorical situation with 1010 students, or whether it is valuable to help them do genre analysis (etc.) without being concerned with adopting the language we might use as teachers/rhetoricians/researchers/assessment gurus/etc. Their conclusion is, essentially, that supporting students’ practice with this kind of analysis is more important than using the terminology. This approach reflects how I tend to think about the value of terminology versus practice in my teaching. When I taught AP Composition, for example, I often told students it was more important that they could describe what was happening in a text, and what impact it had, than it was to be able to label what was happening. And I think this approach holds true in the way I work with students on rhetorical and genre analysis in our courses. That is, I work to get them to center on the kinds of questions they should be asking and answering about the texts they’re looking at, over and above gaining proficiency with rhetoricky jargon. If they understand the how and the why of a text, then the what, or the naming of a rhetorical move or genre feature has more meaning.
But then I go and create this complex grade contract, wherein I have listed several ideals for what learning behaviors students should demonstrate or develop in the course, and I find it, at some points, laden with pedagogical jargon. In an effort to make this document more meaningful to students, I have provided an annotated version that explains some of the statements in more detail. In a previous blog post, I stated that this semester I would spend some more time thinking about one part of the grade contract especially: what it means for students to exercise “reflective and responsible rhetorical choices”. Here we are seven weeks into the semester, about to embark on collaborative proposal projects, and I suddenly find this piece of the contract crying for attention. Students’ attention, and mine, has been largely focused on the more straightforward and individual-centered parts of the contract—submitting all homework and drafts, attending conferences, coming to class—and suddenly here we are, about to start collaborative writing projects, where the need for reflective and responsible rhetorical choices is, arguably, most tangible. How will students work to listen to and respond to others in their writing groups? How will they think about what they’re bringing to the table, what they should be offering, and when they should hold back a little? How will they understand and approach conflict? This seems like a really important time to return to this phrase and to highlight its meaning to students.
In class the other day, I asked students to share, among other things, what they can offer to a group and what expectations they have of other group members. I encouraged them to be honest—tell us if you procrastinate, but also tell us what helps you focus on getting things done. Everyone shared a couple of thoughts about themselves as we went around the room:
I expect everyone to hold up their part of the project.
I don’t want to let my group members down, so I try harder in group projects.
I cooperate with everyone and do my part, but I also like to have fun and goof around when we work together.
If you try to contact me, I get back in touch with you right away.
After this, I asked students to talk with each other and get into groups. They did this fairly quickly, and the social bonds were obvious. I was done with class, but they were not. Their group discussions—about potential proposal topics, about group dynamics—went to the final minute of class, and I had to interrupt them to close our session.
What I saw as I watched them talk with each other was that they take this responsibility to others seriously, but they take just as seriously the hope that others are responsible to them—to their time, to their efforts, to their ideas. Our initial conversation coupled with their prior experiences with group projects may have laid the groundwork for this sense of responsibility, but as we head into the next four weeks of collaboration, class time and online interactions will tell the truth about the degree to which such responsibility (social…rhetorical…) plays out. And it is in those classroom moments that I can observe that the grade contract’s language comes into play.
Our next class session will begin with some discussion of what this phrase “reflective and responsible rhetorical choices” may mean, and this discussion will be important for students to make connections between the grade contract and their choices in class. But I also wonder how this concept plays out in other courses where collaboration is emphasized. In students’ 3000-level composition courses, for example, what do instructors do to support collaboration that is both productive and responsible? How is reflection being used to prompt students to think about the choices they make in these settings? And in what ways do our efforts to support students’ collaborative writing in ENG 1020 shape the work they end up doing in these later courses? How can we do it better?