What Makes Teaching Good? A book proposal (LONG)

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@pitt.edu)
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 14:31:45 -0400

I've been sitting on this proposal for a day or so and finally decided to
post it in response to Eric's rich reply to Jan about his teaching
practices. Usual apologies for cross posting apply.

Jan Bone recently wrote:
> I'd like to see Eric Crump (and Mike H. and Beth Baldwin) post or send some
> assignments and a syllabus, either on this list, Rhet-net, or privately
> (to janetbone@delphi.com), along with some assessment standards. If Eric
> isn't grading or giving assignments, how are the students demonstrating
> growth or learning? How, in other words, is he justifying their time, and
> his, in the teaching situation? I ask, not in criticism, but from interest
> and the thought that his explanation may trigger new ideas in us for fall
> semester...

Since I began participating on listservs like this one some 6
years ago, I have often marveled at how often participants propose models
of teaching as if they were the right model, or defined composition, or
writing, or pedagogy as if everyone should strike their foreheads and
think aloud, "Why didn't I think of that? Now I know how to teach." If
anything, what I've learned from such discussions is that personal
preference and politics, institutional constraints, and previous
experiences determine what a teacher believes is the right model of
teaching within any given context. I've learned also that we define our
own work in relation to the work of others. This is not to say that
there aren't models of teaching that compete for authority.

Several come to mind immediately: several versions of
rhetorically-based teaching (from tagmemics to modes of discourse),
Peter Elbow-like teacherless classrooms, cultural studies reader-based,
Freirian problem-posing, and the list goes on.

Seems to me that Jan's request is an interesting one. It pushes
at least three teachers to spell out their assumptions about teaching.
More importantly, it challenges all of us to take a long hard look at the
claims we make on a daily basis for the sake of our students. I've been
working on a similar, more formal version of this challenge with a few
others recently, first as a CCCC proposal and now as a book project. I'd
like to take this opportunity to invite others to participate.

I've been wanting to see how the claims that people make about
their students, their teaching, and their assignments are represented in
student writing (defined broadly as any form of presentation or
production). I'm not looking hear for "proof" of the kind that Fred Kemp
is frustrated with providing. I'm looking here for clearly articulated
claims that use student work to demonstrate WHAT the teacher is claiming,
WHY the teacher makes these claims, and HOW a given piece of writing, web,
or other source within its course context demonstrates the what and the
why. Proof is a slippery thing that administrators and skeptics want from
teachers to justify change or expensive updates of equipment. I'm
advocating a close look at disciplinary assumptions. This juncture where
the field of rhetoric and composition is struggling to define itself as a
discipline in the digital age seems a perfect opportunity to examine our
claims, acknowledge the tensions that drive our field, and lay bare our
assumptions so that we carefully articulate why we say what we do about

What do we claim and why? How do my claims stand up against
yours? What are the specific institutional contexts that shape our goals?
What role do new computer technologies play within these aims? Some, for
example, argue that synchronous writing in MOOs, MUDs, IRC, Interchange,
and other forms of chat programs facilitate a Peter Elbow-like,
teacherless approach to writing, which encourages authentic writing tasks
for authentic audiences. Others claim that hypertextual writing
challenges notions of authorship, promotes collaborative work, and
promotes critical and associative thinking which emphasize cognitive
skills. Still others argue vehemently that technology has no place in the
writing classroom, that it gets in the way of the real work of the class.
What values really underlie such claims? What do our courses look like?
How do the assignments build upon each other? What do students produce
and to what ends? And what do we, as teachers, have to say about our
specific practices that make what we ask our students to do important?
These are the kinds of questions that the book project I am imagining here
will take on.

This concept is not new. In 1985, William Coles and James Vopat
published the college composition textbook, What Makes Writing Good: A
Multiperspective. They asked the forty eight contributors to submit: 1)
a piece of college student writing (no more than 1000 words) that
represented "excellence, however flawed or unfinished . . ."; 2) the
assignment on which the paper was based; and 3) a commentary from the
teacher (of no more than 1500 words) explaining why he or she valued
that paper. The purpose of their book was to demonstrate "that
excellence in writing can come in many forms and genres and can be
understood as praiseworthy from various points of view." They posit
further that what one expert values as excellent writing, another may
judge as mediocre, thus dramatizing that "no judgments about writing can
be taken as final or absolute" (viii).

I am adapting this model. Contributors should submit a piece of
college student writing, hypertext, MOO log etc. (no more than 1000 words)
that represents "excellence, however flawed or unfinished . . ."; 2) the
assignment on which the text was based, an explanation of its place within
the course, and a course syllabus/syllaweb; and a commentary from the
teacher (of no more than 2500 words) explaining how s/he defines the work
of composition, what goals the course sets for students and why, and how
the paper reflects these goals.

This collection is directed primarily at college-level teachers
of writing and graduate students who aspire to be professors within an
increasingly competitive and diversifying field. This book/web would
also serve as an historical document for future researchers in our field
who want to assess what claims, assumptions, and practices prevailed
during the shift from print to digital production, distribution, and
teaching. Furthermore, it would serve as the basis for discussions like
those we have had recently on ACW-L and Rhetnet-L, where most of the
intellectual exchange in our field is currently occurring. Most of all,
it would provide a set of contexts to demonstrate that, as Eric Crump
recently said, the teaching of writing is the process of helping students
learn, which "is complex, messy, [and] difficult to document in a
meaningful way" (Rhetnet <RHETNT-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU> 14 Aug 1996).

If you are interested in contributing to this collection, please
submit a one to two page abstract describing the kinds of disciplinary
claims and assumptions you expect to discuss, a representative paragraph
from a paper that you might use as a basis for your discussion, and a
one-paragraph description of the institutional context within which you
teach (e.g. community college or university, departmental expectations,
and teaching facilities).

The deadline for abstracts is OCTOBER 1ST.

Please send them directly to Jeff Galin at galin+@pitt.edu
(subject to change in the near future). After reviewing the submissions,
I'll send out invitations by November 1st.

FULL TEXTS WILL BE DUE JUNE 15TH, 1997. But I invite early submissions.

You should expect to revise at least once next summer and have the FINAL

The amount of material that will be published digitally will
depend on the contract that I negotiate with the publisher. But, you
should expect to provide a syllabus, course description, and set of
assignments (at the very least) that will remain public documents on the
WWW. Please make sure to get permission in writing from any student
whose paper you plan to use and any other institutional documents for
which permission might be necessary. Submit this document with the
first draft of the text.

Please use MLA documentation style and provide electronic versions of all
text in either RTF (Rich Text Format) or MicroSoft Word 5.1.

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