Readings for 8011 for November 29

This week we’ll have a visit from Drs. Tom Reynolds and Patrick Bruch to talk about research in pedagogy. We had several readings to prepare for this discussion. Here they are:

Herndl, C. G. (2004). Teaching discourse and reproducing culture: a critique of research and pedagogy in professional and non-academic writing. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central Works in Technical Communication (illustrated edition., pp. 220-231). Oxford University Press, USA.

Young, I. (1990). Introduction. Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton  N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Connors, R. J., & Lunsford, A. A. (1993). Teachers’ Rhetorical Comments on Student Papers. College Composition and Communication, 44(2), 200-223.

Reynolds, T. J., & Bruch, P. L. (2002). Curriculum and affect: a participatory developmental writing approach. Journal of Developmental Education, 26(2), 12-20.

The Herndl and Young pieces are conceptual ones. Young’s is an intro to her book on justice. Herndl’s, written about the same time (early ‘90s, the cite above is to an anthology), makes an argument for research into the cultural and ideological issues in technical communication.

Iris Young’s intro chapter makes the argument that discussions of justice need to move away from questions of “distributive justice” (who gets what) to discussing questions of “social domination and oppression,” which impact folks who exhibit differences particularly. She claims that she is not offering a theory of justice, that to do so she would have to decontextualize justice (3-5). She presents her view of critical theory (5-7), but also critiques views of some critical theorists (7-8). She outlines what she’ll do in the rest of her book. Some claims she plans to make and support:

  • Chapter 1: She argues for the move from distributive justice (the “primacy of having”) to questions of oppression and domination (the “primacy of doing”).
  • Chapter 2: She defines oppression and puts it in the context of “politics.”
  • Chapter 3: She takes up the (de)politicization of social issues. She offers Pitkin’s and Unger’s definitions of politics.
  • Chapter 4: She argues that “impartiality…denies difference.”
  • Chapter 5: She discusses “some implications of modern society’s denigration of the body.”
  • Chapter 6: She argues for “principles and practices that… identify liberation with social equality that affirms group differences….”

Questions/comments: Why can a theory of justice not account for contextual matters? I’d like to read Chapter 5, as I think the academic mindset also denigrates the body. (The notion that all knowledge is mediated by language denies embodied knowledge and emotional knowledge, which are rarely articulated.)

Herndl’s article also embraces critical theory. He repeats that mantra that “knowledge is socially constructed or legitimized (an important distinction) through language and rhetorical activity” (p. 221), without discussing the important distinction he pointed out. His article discusses the tension in technical communication between reproducing dominant discourse. He argues that TC research should address power and ideology issues in the contexts of TC work; he singles out McCarthy’s study of DSM-III (not the later one) for talking about how DSM III shapes psychiatric discourse without addressing the power and ideology that inform that discourse. Herndl adds his own (purely speculative) thoughts: that the DSM III is motivated by power of insurance companies and legal concerns.

Herndl acknowledges that teachers of technical writing cannot set up their resistance against students’ instrumental intentions: Students believe they want to enter the professional discourses that their courses purport to prepare them for; they do not want the teacher telling them to resist those discourses.

Question/comment: This seems to me to be the central issue. Why can’t we show them all the doors, and let them decide which to walk through?

The Reynolds/Bruch article recounts survey research they did with students in a “developmental writing program” at the University of Minnesota’s (now defunct) General College. They discuss their approach of making “literacy work” of the class, where the students write “full-length essays” but also “study the place of writing in creating academic and other kinds of knowledge” (p. 13). “[A]n integral assumption of the curriculum is that student writing is real writing, that is, it is a part of the larger society and its various social forces and opportunities” (p. 13).

They administered a survey to students, asking them what they thought the focus of their class should be and what they thought the focus of it was. The three categories were “critical thinking,” “academic writing skills,” and “writing process and problem solving.”

This study was interesting in that it married quasi-quantitative methods (there are issues with any effort to generalize these results to students outside the U of M) with critical theory; I presume the journal in question favors educational research (which is often pretty quant or qual/quant oriented).

Question: The questions on the survey instrument appear inconsistent. Why?

The Connors-Lunsford article presents the results of a review of teacher’s “rhetorical comments” on some 3,000 student papers. This descriptive study suffers from a few methodological flaws (representativeness of sample, no accounting for intercoder reliability, etc.), but it provides an interesting picture. In a way, it’s a bit like the Reynolds-Bruch study: Connors and Lunsford examine the quantitative results, describing the “central tendency” of the sample they reviewed. But they also have the coders give an impressionistic review of the papers they looked at; that results in some understanding of the “tails” of the bell curve, including some extreme examples of nice and nasty instructor comments.

Question: Has this study been reproduced? Why not do it now? It would let us see whether their results hold true now (more than 20 years later).

Note to Lee-Ann: I forgot to post this before class today. Only doing it at 5:44p.m. I would not object to being docked for points on that basis. -BNL

1 thought on “Readings for 8011 for November 29”

  1. You raise a good question about possibly reproducing the Connors/Lunsford article. This topic frequently comes up on list servs to which I belong. Many people hold up the article as an example that needs to be revisited; however, as you can see, doing a writing assessment study of any time requires a lot of people, time, and money, which makes it so difficult!

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