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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: G 5 Working Across the Curriculum: New Approaches and Communications
Reviewed by: Angela González, a.m.gonzalez3@tcu.edu
Posted on: April 13, 2004

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Chair: Maxine Long

Pleasantly surprised by a captive and rather large audience for an 8:00 a.m. session, Maxine Long, the chair of this of several writing across the curriculum panels slotted for Friday, March 26, welcomed us to a conversation worth waking up early for.

In “History Matters: Drawing on Classical Rhetoric for WAC Faculty Training Workshops,” Nancy Myers offered a new approach to the WAC workshop that utilizes classical rhetoric to provide a heuristic for incorporating writing into a course. Myers shares how she uses classical rhetoric to bring relevance, professional ethos, and reflective practice into the writing-intensive classroom. Invoking a passage from Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, Myers provides a set of questions for a course’s components to be designed around; the questions focus on how assignments or activities reflect curricular requirements of the institution and discipline, reinforce goals for the specific course and for students, provide students flexibility and the freedom to make decisions about their involvement, their forms of inquiry, and their intellectual development (handout).

Myers uses the rhetorical triangle as pedagogical heuristic: the student as audience, the course (content/objectives/relevance) as context, teacher as rhetor, and writing assignment as text. (See diagram below). By illustrating the pedagogical situation as rhetorical situation, instructors can enact their newly developing pedagogical strategies as rhetorical works-in-progress, not unlike student writing. With each student, assignment, and course, the situation may change slightly, but the instructor is more pedagogically, thus rhetorically, sensitive to her situation.  

Each of the parts of the triangle corresponds to particular relationships between student, teacher, content, and context. For example, student as audience refers to student engagement with material, student and teacher engagement with each other, and student demonstration of comprehension of material’s relevance (evidence of their engagement). Myers quotes from Isocrates’s Antidosis to demonstrate these relationships.
The context has to do with course content (what it is and where the course should begin with it; when and how one should introduce writing), objectives (what should the students know and be able to do at the end; size of class and environment and how these affect the class), and relevance (to the program, the university, the discipline, to society, students, to instructor as a professional). She offers passages from Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Quintilian’s Institutio oratorio. I find Quintilian’s especially relevant for me as a student and teacher: For as it is the duty of preceptors to teach, so it is that of pupils to show themselves teachable; neither of these duties, otherwise, will be of avail without the other (2.9).

Next, Myers addresses the writing assignment as text and presents “A Heuristic for Incorporating Writing into a Course.” She asks workshop participants to consider their responses to the heuristic for a course and choose a writing assignment they might incorporate into their course and answer a list of direct questions (adapted from Erika Lindemann’s “Developing Writing Assignments” in A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 213-21.) about what the students are to do in their writing, what the purpose of their writing is, why writing is appropriate, how the writing supports their learning, what the rhetorical approach and means are, how much time the students should invest in the project and when in the term they will do these or this writing/s/, how it will be introduced, how it will be graded and why the evaluation is appropriate to assignment and in relation to others. A quotation from Quintilian’s Institutio oratorio reminds us that writing, reading, and thinking are “inseparably linked” and “that if any one of them is neglected, we labor in vain in the other two” (10.1). A classical forecast for writing across the curriculum, especially as Myers presents it!


Her diagram:
                                                   Course

                    

Content/objectives/relevance


       Teacher                                                                                                        Students



Esther DiMarzio begins “Composition Matters across the Curriculum: Writing to Learn” by having audience members act as faculty members in the disciplines with concerns about incorporating writing into their courses. She offers practical advice and sample assignments derived from her own experience or taken from John Bean’s influential text Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. DiMarzio’s suggestions are targeted to teachers

who have “too many students and too little time” to teach writing,

whose students may resist writing in non-English courses,

who are anxious about covering required content and incorporating writing and

who lack confidence in grading.

She explains that write-to-learn assignments can be formal or informal, exploratory or critical thinking oriented. Exploratory assignments include reading journals, opening “thought question,” thesis statement (student writes a concise statement of main idea of material covered in a class period or week), reader responses, journal writing. Critical thinking assignments include situation assignments (role-playing, case studies), end of class summary/synthesis of information lecture/discussion, summaries of written material, thesis-driven essays, research papers, etc. All of these examples take different amounts of time and energy to respond to or evaluate. DiMarzio emphasizes that in her program at Kishwaukee College she encourages faculty to use assignments that suit their courses, students, and their own abilities. She offers three approaches for creating writing-to-learn assignments:

1. encourage exploration

2. create problem-solving assignments

3. provide a thesis that students support or refute

And she asserts that good writing assignments provide clear instructions and explain evaluative criteria. She distributes a Prompt Sheet she gives to WAC workshop participants that helps faculty plan a writing assignment.
Maxine Long describes her experience writing papers in multiple disciplines to provide models for students in “The Assignment Was Harder Than We Thought: Lessons Learned While Writing Model Research Papers in the Disciplines.” This is one of the smartest ideas I have ever heard! I spoke to Professor Long after her talk and told her I wish I had thought of it. She said don’t we all wish we had thought of it a long time ago?
College students have been writing research papers without important guidance: write a paper, here’s some logistical information (how many pages, how many sources, the font, etc.), but no rhetorical guidelines. And we wonder why these students can’t write?

Long tried to write a criminal justice paper to help out a colleague who came to her saying his students weren’t writing well. He asked for her help in creating writing assignments. She decided to write using his assignment. Now she writes papers in the disciplines, about fifteen papers a year. She and the disciplinary instructor annotate in the margins to help the student see why the paper is successful.
Throughout this process, Long says she had to learn:

to use a variety of sources and learn new research materials (tools, strategies, methodologies)

what is every kind of documentation situation

how to think like a freshman but like a teacher too (what do I want them to learn)

She says she has also started teaching disciplinary faculty how to teach analysis of documents—what makes a good paper, how to discuss what makes a good paper with students, and how to translate this to a rubric. Now some content instructors want to write papers themselves which Long considers a success of her program. But, she says, “sometimes we need to have [students] find their own Eurekas.”

This panel offered concrete ways to incorporate writing into any course and new ways encourage faculty in any discipline to consider the relationship of writing and speaking to learning, researching, and reading. Speakers were engaging and energetic—I’m ready to take these ideas to work with me and to my institution, one that is working on rejuvenating its WAC program. I’ll be looking forward to participating in workshops in any way I can.








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