Teaching “the analytic life”?

Brian Jackson’s (2010) “Teaching the Analytical Life” has been on my mind lately. I admit to stumbling upon this article just recently, about a month ago, although it’s been out for nearly three years now. Essentially, Jackson argues that teachers of FYC need to be more conscious–more deliberate–in how they teach analysis if they expect it to be a transferable skill.

Jackson does an excellent job bringing up the issues with teaching writing as a transferable skill–beginning with the fact that writing decontextualized is largely meaningless and thus cannot be transferred because it cannot be taught. Those who think writing can be taught in a vacuum are sorely mistaken, and teaching writing works best when students are already in their intended careers (yes, you heard me, careers, not majors because most of students’ learning about complex writing skills are career specific, meaning they learn on the job, not necessarily in school–which brings me to a side tangent about how, then, do academics learn to write if they are always writing in isolation and not being mentored? does reviewer feedback really count as mentoring? probably not). Compositionists like Elizabeth Wardle have taken up this argument and suggested that FYC stop being a “teach for college” course and start being an “introduction to writing studies” course, just like any other introductory level disciplinary course would be (I love this argument!). Now, that isn’t likely to happen on every campus across the nation any time soon. What can be done, then, if we can’t teach writing without context and FYC is largely void of context? 

Many teach within subject content–take Princeton’s Writing Program, for example. There courses are subject specific, intro-level writing courses for FYC, but they also have a WAD program where writing–discipline-specific writing skills–is taught within different departments. I like these ideas, to an extent, but I also feel a little bit as Aristotle felt. Studying rhetoric is the content. That’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? We are teaching them to work with rhetorical skills to write in any situation they’ll ever write in. However, I wonder if students are capable of thinking this broadly–I mean en masse. The way most FYC programs and courses are set up, the college itself is trained to think of the course as one that “has” to be taught and students “must” take. The rhetoric is one of swallowing disgusting medicine, not coming into an interesting teaching and learning experience. That rhetoric has to change if we want student buy in–if the college and faculty teaching the course doesn’t buy in, why should students?

Further, Jackson’s main argument is about teaching analysis as a genre. Why do we teach it? Because it is, by and large, the most transferable genre our students will be exposed to and will be utilizing. Jackson has this great point though: teach the analysis in context. We tend to ask our students to step back when they analyze: find the “intended/target audience” and imagine how they would react to the piece; we don’t ask them to see themselves as the target audience and react from there, but Jackson’s point is that maybe we should. He offers an example of talking with students in class about an opinion piece in the school newspaper about facebook. He asks students to critically evaluate it, and they end up analyzing it! Imagine that! Then, I think, the next step is to say, “WOW, look, guys, you’re analyzing!” That’s how they get it.

One thing I can’t quite figure out, though. Is Jackson advocating that we stop having students write analyses and that we instead only have students engage in analytic discussions? I’m not sure how I feel about that, if he is indeed making that claim.


Jackson, B. (2010). Teaching the analytical life. Composition Studies, 38(2): 9-27.

Refreshing myself in background readings

This week has been full of substantial mental work for me.
First, let me thank and congratulate one of my students, Allyson Hoffman, for her excellent work through Hope College  and the Mellon Scholars summer research program over the last two months. She has completed the amazing first steps of an ongoing research project analyzing the relationship between AP English courses and First-Year Composition courses. For now, you can see her research and an archive of resources she’s compiling here on her excellent website (which she created herself!). Further, she has submitted a write-up of her research to Young Scholars in Writing. If you’re interested in her work, you can tweet her here.

Congratulations, Allyson! You’ve done some great work, and I am very proud of you!

As Allyson’s research comes to an end for the summer, I’ve been reading more and more writing center scholarship as I revise one writing center article with a colleague and prepare to begin my next long-term research project. Some of the research I’ve come across is more recent than other pieces, but all of it has helped to jump-start my engine.

First, refreshing myself on Hemmeter (1990), Carino (1992, 2002), and Wolff Murphy (2003) has given me a new hope for bringing discourse analysis to bear on my own writing center research. My research interests rest heavily in the development and evolution of subfields, And I find empirical methods are nearly always necessary to study such areas. Even qualitative methods can be empirical, and discourse analysis is one such way this can be done. Unfortunately, Hemmeter and Carino don’t spend enough time describing their methods for me to truly understand them, so I’m unsure what types of discursive analyses they’ve employee. Wolff Murphy (2003), on the other hand, is careful to explain her methods of data collection and analysis. I don’t mean to suggest her methods are “better” or “stronger;” rather, I simply understand more easily what she did to arrive at her results and conclusions. As my dissertation committee would tell you, I highly value transparent methods.

Hemmeter and Carino already demonstrate the writing center community obsession with self-definition relatively early in the field’s history. Hemmeter argues it is not necessary to keep calling for a theory or definition of the community. Instead, he argues that a careful analysis of our publications shows we already have several. Carino takes up Hemmeter, suggesting that we actually need more definitions because the community’s selfness (my term) is always shifting because it is grounded in our language and therefore needs continual redefinition. Although I ground my new undertaking in such discussions, I don’t see a definition of the discourse community as being the same thing as a community’s self-definition. Are these two things substantially different, or am I just making it all up? I’d appreciate interested conversations and discussion on the matter.

As for more recent scholarship, I am particularly fascinated by Bailey’s (2012) of generation 1.0 tutor training manuals and his suggestions for 2.0 manuals. I find I largely agree with his sentiments that 1.0 manuals are Caucasian-upper-middle-class-America centric. There is no diversity in these manuals, and tutors are assumed to be of a particular race, class, ethnicity, and academic standing. This is infuriating. Bailey argues new manuals need to open up and embrace the diverse tutors in the writing center community. I agree and further argue that, as I stand up on the same old soapbox, age also needs to be taken into consideration. As I have found in two separate studies (click here to see one of them), tutors rarely consciously think about how age (both theirs and the ages of the writers with whom they work) affects the writing conference, but the results of my studies show that even though tutors are consciously unaware, age relations clearly do effect–both positively and negatively–writing center conferences. Such age-related effects have been studied in regards to composition, so why do so many people in the writing center community choose to ignore or avoid the subject?

Here I am, getting all uselessly fired up over something I have very little power to change. Regardless, the readings have been good for me, and it’s refreshing to put my mental energy back into the area where I first discovered my vocation rather than having my attentions severely divided as they no doubt will be again by the time the new week begins.


Bailey, S. K. (2012). Tutoring handbooks: Heuristic texts for negotiating difference in a globalized world. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 9(2). Web.

Carino, P. (1992). What do we talk about when we talk about our metaphors: A cultural critique of clinic, lab, and center. Writing Center Journal, 13(1): 31-42.

Carino, P. (2002). Reading our own words: Rhetorical analysis and the institutional discourse of writing centers. In Gillespie, P. et al. (Eds.). Writing center research: Extending the conversation. (pp. 92-110). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Hemmeter (1990) The Smack of Difference: The language of writing center discourse. Writing Center Journal, 11(1): 35-48.

The Wonderful World of Writing Centers…

Well, it has been a little while since I have immersed myself in writing center research and scholarship. This is an area very dear to my heart, so it pains me to admit that I haven’t had a lot of time to read a lot of the new pieces that have come out. In working on a new manuscript with a colleague based on a study we did and presented at NCPTW in 2011, I was reinvigorated, though. I am heartened to see Praxis’s new issues lately. The scholarship on Praxis moves the community closer to a field of researchers and less a field of “lore-ists.” It’s heartening to see. After all, there are only so many times we can read about best practices based on one center’s work or one center’s experiences or workshop series.

I have recently read a few articles in Praxis that jumped out at me. Some of you may know of my work on writing centers and the age-related contact zone (click here for my Praxis article), and this is work with which I am currently re-engaging. There is a really interesting article about Generation 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 by Bailey (2012) tutor training manuals that we all need to pay more attention to. Bailey argues that Generation 1.0 and, more particularly, 2.0 tutor training manuals position tutors instinctually as native English speakers with a Euro-American background. This is especially problematic, not least because it is not true but also because it homogenizes a very diverse group of people–making them all seem to fit one particular mode when we all know that our school settings alone make each tutor a very different kind of person, not to mention their home language experiences and their life experiences. I think of my research as a different branch of what Bailey is talking about: I’m thinking about how we position peer tutors as undergraduates and tend to think of them that way. We also tend to think of our student-writers as undergraduates, but the problem is that many Euro-American, native English speaking writing center scholars think not just about our tutors as Euro-American native English speakers but as traditionally aged 18-23 year olds! This is simply not the case at many, many campuses across the country. It’s high time we start incorporating difference into our tutor training–not just difference of language and skin color but of sexual orientation, age, and life experiences, as well. We do tutors a disservice by not helping them see, understand, and negotiate the full spectrum of contact zones that surface in the confines of the writing center.


Bailey, S. K. (2012). Tutoring handbooks: Heuristic texts for negotiating difference in a globalized world. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 9(2). Web.

The End of Days looms near…

T-Rex is a favorite of mine, specifically, this T-Rex (in my opinion, the T-Rex). Because I love this T-Rex, I do, in fact, own one of these. Why am I telling you this? Well, I like to keep this little T-Rex dry erase board in my office, and students love to laugh at it–and sometimes I even let them write the comic. I like to change the comic up every once in a while, and it always relates to my teaching and/or research (both, when I’m feeling like an especially talented writer). What’s the comic that’s on the board right now, you ask? Right now, it’s a comic about the End of Days. Well, it isn’t the End of Days. As Utahraptor points out, it’s actually the beginning of days!

That’s right: it’s the start of the semester. This week, all the first years move in. Thursday is the pre-College Conference, complete with banquets and more meet-and-greets, followed by the Convocation on Sunday. Then, Tuesday, classes begin! Well, my courses won’t begin til Wednesday, which is ok by me.

I’m almost ready to start. Three courses: 1 section of FYC; 2 sections of Workplace Writing.

I’ve been reading, as part of the Initium Program here at Hope College, On Course by Lang. Over all, it’s a great text if you’ve never taught or had any training in teaching college. For others who have been teaching college for 6+ years; however, it’s a little redundant. What I do find refreshing about the book is that Lang includes multiple activities that any teacher would find refreshing. I’m planning on testing one or two of them myself this semester.

I have two other books that I’ll be reading this semester in order to become a better faculty member here, and more importantly, a stronger teacher. The other two books are Susan VanZanten’s Joining the Mission and Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice’s Reconciling All Things. The first is a book about entering into the small liberal arts college. The second is the center piece of this year’s Symposium on Critical Issues. The main topic is reconciliation.

I’m very interested to see how the Symposium plays out. The first year students all have to read the book as part of the first year experience program here, and everyone in the school is encouraged to read the book. Free copies are given out, even! All of the faculty are expected to be a part of the Symposium and participation–encouraging their students to do the same.

I’ll post about these books as I get through. I’m not doing as much reading this semester as I’d like to be, but I will be working on some new (and old) projects. I’ll try to keep you posted.


Defense Tomorrow

Well, the day is almost upon me. Tomorrow it is. May, 2012. The day my last 10 years of education pays off, or the day it ends quite badly. Everyone keeps telling me, “Remember, it’s only a conversation.” The people who don’t tell me this ask, “You’re parents and Brendan will be there, right?”

What a shame. My responses to both of these so-called reassuring statements/questions is negative. I am terrified. I love my committee, and I know that I am the expert of this project. It doesn’t make it less intimidating or more of a “conversation” when you know what each of your committee members’ “thinking faces” looks like. Additionally, the question that is meant to remind me that people I love will be in the audience is not helpful. My parents will not come. They don’t care that much, after all. What is this but the last hoop in a long, unending series of educational hoops that impedes me from currently having a “real job.” As for Brendan, well, he has a fellowship that I am very proud of. Unfortunately, this coveted fellowship does not allow for a Monday off–he is required by contract to be on campus all 5 work days for about 6 hours a day.

To prepare and reassure myself, I’ve gone through my powerpoint several times. I am re-reading some of the things I’ve written, particularly in the introduction and the conclusion. Refreshing my remembrance of semiotics and historiography. Looking at my “intentionality” and my ideas of “historical inquiry.”


I sit and wonder just how flushed I will get as I respond to questions, just how shaky my hands will be. I will remember to wear my hair up. I will remember not to bring out a “clicky” pen or pencil of any kind. I will wear the broach Megan gave me for Christmas so at least I will have someone who really does feel like family there with me. After all, she’s the one who helped me start this journey years ago. What would I do without my roommate? She’s the second sister I never had.

Any my real sister? Sometime this week she’s having a baby. She won’t be coming to defense or graduation.

I know that no matter what happens, I will survive this. It will not kill me. It might embarrass me, but it will not kill me. And then? Then I can get back to telling you about all of the really cool (and not-so-cool) things I’ve been (and will be) reading.

Wish me luck!


Dissertations and Reading

My reading and writing has been a little sparse lately–well, my writing here has been, anyway. I’ve been reading quite a few things as I work on revising my dissertation. The preliminary defense will be soon–the week of the 23rd. So, in the mean time, I’ve been reading a little more here and there, and I’ve come across quite a few things I wish I had read early in the fall 2011 semester. I’ve read some work by Crowley, Vitanza, Piche, and Pennycook, for example, that I find quite intriguing, as well as some things by Kruse, Mike Rose, and more pieces by Laura Wilder. I kind of want to email Prof. Wilder and ask if she’d be interested in collaborating. And there’s a project with CompPile that I’d like to become a part of–professional service in my future, perhaps. We shall see.

For now, back to dissertating. Perhaps soon I’ll be able to update you on the exciting texts I’ve been reading this semester.


Definitional Irony?

How very odd that I should be looking up definitions of non-English, commonly used phrases (vis-a-vis, tete-tete, i.e., e.g., etc….) in order to be most effective in a chapter about definitions.


I’m highly amused, actually. It struck me as I was reading Dictionary.com that these definitions are the definitional facts of essence Schiappa (2003) describes, because they certainly are not facts of usage…



Maureen Daly Goggin

I have come upon Daly Goggin’s (2009) Authoring a Discipline: Scholarly Journals and the Post-World War II Emergence of Rhetoric and Composition. Somehow, this slipped by my notice while collecting sources on disciplinarity for my exams list. Unfortunately, my advisers forgot to mention it as well, which is why I’m reading it now!

I’m also thankful that my loving parents gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas–it is a wonderful, wonderful machine. Even better is the fact that Daly Goggin’s book is a little less expensive for the Kindle than it is for my physical (non-new media) bookshelf.

Well, I’m currently reading it: honestly enjoying the experience so much that I’m not simply skimming for relevant information. Daly Goggin has quite a way with words. Her literature reviews, for example, are impressive. Concise, poignant, insightful, exciting. I found myself telling Brendan, “She’s writing about everything I’m writing about! Her prose is so beautiful. I hope when I’ve had as many years of experience as she has, my literature reviews will be as beautiful.” He reminded me that she has an editor and a publisher; I have my own revisions and an adviser on sabbatical.

The piece is interesting and useful, but I haven’t yet gotten to anything new. I did look ahead to a section on the history of the discipline as seen through the lens of editors. Daly Goggin analyzes the editors of the journals she reviews–CCC, WC, RTE, RR, RSQ–to see what types of programs they came from, what their dissertations were written on, and what areas of the country they are from. All of this is interesting to me, except that I’m also a bit irritated by her methods. Mostly because I’ve been so immersed in trying to understand methodology (on a conceptual, theoretical level) lately. For example, she briefly discusses her methodology and methods, claiming to have reviewed her data for salient patterns.

At this point in my dissertation and my career, I’m frustrated and pained by this sort of pin drop. Yes, this is an expected method to utilize; yes, this is the type of methods discussion the discipline often uses. However, it is enough to send me over the edge.

What does it mean?

I’m thinking of Peter Smagorinsky (2008), who says:

“I have only the vaguest sense of what the author is doing with the data in order to render it into results. If I don’t know pretty clearly how the researcher is conducting the study, then it doesn’t matter much to me what the results are because I have no idea of how they were produced” (p. 393).

These are the same sorts of thoughts I have every time I pick up an article or a book. I certainly would like to stop seeing vague descriptions of studies I could never possibly replicate even though I’d be quite interested to replicate them. I’m especially prone to perturbance because various editors have instructed me to be more specific about my methods for replicability’s sake. Yet, I see this is not across the board, but dependent on a great many things.

Although I think her initial discussion of her methods is flawed, Daly Goggin still has interesting information to present. She also has what I would call a compelling argument. She argues for journals as being a major force in the creation and development of rhetoric and composition as an academic discipline. This is definitely an argument I can and will draw on, and one with which I and numerous sociology of science experts agree.


Plugging Away

Well, the new year has started, and so has my next round of work. Yes, I’m plugging away at all of the things I should be plugging away at. I’m having a great time writing and thinking. Doing a little bit of new reading here and there, adding some things here and there, nearing final revisions here and there.

Lots of here and there right now. And we’re gearing up for CCCC! Today, Dee and I were working on it, re-reading some old favorites and finding some new things. Our research involves relating tutor speak and netspeak, so we’re looking specifically at definitions and theories like those presented by David Crystal. We’re having fun working on it, and are looking forward to presenting in March. All of the writing center work I’ve been doing this semester has been very refreshing. I’m really getting to integrate all of my research interests in projects like this, which is so rare for scholars with a wide spectrum of interests (new media, history of rhetoric, writing center studies, science fiction, rhetorical theory, etc).

Anyway, that’s just a brief update. I’ll have more as the semester progresses.