2013 journal round-up

My annual notes on what interested me in r/c journals during the past year will be much shorter this year, a reflection of how busy I’ve been this summer (mostly with taking over editorship of the journal Composition Studies–a much longer, more complicated process than I thought it would be). This will probably read more like notes to myself than anything else. Considering that I’m the main reader–this thing is my own little r/c pinterest–maybe that’s to be expected.

I focused my energies on the following journals: College English, CCC, WPA, Composition Studies, and RSQ (also browsed online journals: Kairos, C&C Online, & Enculturation).

from WPA 36.2 (2013)

Mark Mullen’s “Students’ Rights and the Ethics of Celebration” is much more than a cranky reading of celebrations of student writing (though that tone is certainly evident). Raises some good questions about the use of student writing in public “celebrations” and links those questions to the scope of SRTOL. Tone and style is colorful, as when Mullen claims 4Cs has done little “more than pose with the [SRTOL] resolution for a touching family portrait” (101) or charges that celebrations are more about teachers and their need for affirmation than students/student writing. Who owns student writing? When “celebrating” it, are faculty doing so in an ethical way that attributes writers? > some questions this piece evokes.

from Composition Studies 41.1 (2013)

Christine Denecker’s “Transitioning Writers across the Composition Threshold” explores a dual-enrollment program in a way that made me check my knee-jerk reactions to/against DE. If there’s no avoiding these programs–if they come down from state mandates–then this is a must-read. Really thoughtful conversation about the value of creating better communication and partnerships between high school and college writing teachers.

from College English

Who hasn’t sat through a pedagogical workshop in the past five years that required participants to begin with outcomes? You know, build-it-backwards course creation? Start with what you want the students to be able to do by the end of the course and then work backwards from there? Chris Gallagher’s “The Trouble With Outcomes” (75.1) helped me figure out why I’m usually so annoyed and even slightly offended by this seemingly universal approach to course design. My sense is that a course has goals that guide curricular choices, but it’s also an exploration, even an art, that depends on the students in the room, the cultural moment, the latest article that just came out on X, Y, or Z, and in general a sort of ecology of flux. Outcomes-driven course design always strikes me as terribly presumptuous in its adherence to predetermined goals and outcomes that end up bracketing what can’t easily be known in advance: how you will come together with a particular group of people and what will come of that interaction. I know, I know, they’re just templates; they’re meant to be adapted…and yet, they are so central that we can’t possibly think of course design without starting here first. Of course, Gallagher develops a much more nuanced, eloquent, and convincing (and 100% less whiny) argument about the impoverishment of outcomes obsession than I do here. The gist of his argument is that outcomes limit and compromise the learning experience for teachers and students, while a focus on “consequences” does a better job of enhancing that experience. If you’re sick to death of outcomes as the determining sign of “best practices” (help, I’m stuck in this terminology, and I can’t get out!), then you’ll get some affirmation reading this one.

Amy Winans’s “Approaches to Engaging Difference” describes teaching multicultural lit classes to primarily white students in a segregated college setting. She offers a compelling case for addressing race and identity as embodied and emotioned experiences/encounters. Focus is on emotional literacy and contemplative approaches to emotion, drawing from mindfulness as a framework for cultivating the latter (related note: Gorzelsky draws from Nhat Hanh’s guided meditation process in her discussion of literacy practices that instigate change (75.4)–definitely something going on in the culture and the field reflected here).

Difference emerges again in Horner and Lu’s “Translingual Literacy” (75.6), in which they argue that language differences aren’t deviations from “sameness” but are “the norm of language use” (584). Their goal is to remove the burden on students marked as linguistically different and to refocus teaching strategies on language–and this is my view–as that which is always deviant. In 64.2 of CCC, Sullivan, Zhang, and Zheng look at student writing samples from the U.S. and China and discuss how culture and rhetorical traditions inform writing instruction–very pragmatic and interesting study that in some ways grounds the more theoretical discussion forwarded by Horner and Lu. Another grounded study of language diversity appears in CCC (64.3). Perryman-Clark presents a case study of African-American student writers and their use of Ebonics-based phonological and syntactical patterns in fyc assignments.

Two important pieces in 75.3 on basic writers and issues around remediation. Very timely discussion of underprepared students at American institutions. At my university, these students have been essentially deposed to the school’s branch campuses (except for international students and athletes, who are getting “basic” instruction but through back-channels that aren’t terribly public). “Digitizing Craft” (75.4) is an “it’s about time!” kind of article. Writer Adam Koehler urges creative writing practitioners/theorists to acknowledge that digital technologies have “reshaped genres, contexts, and even authors of imaginative texts,” amounting to transformed understandings of acts of composing (383). 75.5 is a special issue on intellectual property and western cultures–for a dandy overview of some of the pressing questions/problems around intellectual property, DeVoss’s review is a great place to start.

Moving on to CCC…

In terms of weight, I was surprised by how heavy and over-loaded 64.1 is (252 pages plus a Forum insert). As a bright-eyed journal editor, I’m looking at this and thinking that major conversations don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, largely take place in one journal. How to generate a more dispersed scholarly output? I recognize that my reading and reporting is selective and that folks are obviously publishing in other venues, but can’t help but interpret the sheer mass of this issue as significant…plus the fact that nearly all of the contributors are established scholars. If the names are recognizable, we’ll read the journal; if they’re not, will we? File this under “more to say.”

And so, THIS ISSUE is all about research practices in the field. David Gold offers a really useful overview of r/c historiographies, connecting new research questions to the body of historical research that spans radically local to alternative sites of study. Followed up by Gaillet’s solid piece on archival research methodologies–thinking I might have to teach this one, particularly because archival research seems to be hitting a high-water mark in the field as of late (another essay on archival research in 64.2; this one positions archival work as a valuable form of professional development). This is an exciting turn, particularly because of the changing state of archives. No longer brick-and-mortar sites exclusively, digital archives have changed the landscape (and so, the methods) pretty significantly.

When I was in grad school in the mid 90s, there was a lively conversation around doing rhetorical histories, and much of the research was textually based (analyses, rereadings, recontextualized descriptions, reconstructed texts, etc.). This was good work, to be sure, and has stuck with me, informing my view of the field. It’s also the case, though, that I find it refreshing to see so many scholars engaged in active, creative research projects that seek to reach beyond conventional texts and sites of study. As Gaillet’s title indicates, researchers are “performing” research, not just writing/reporting it (if anyone ever really did this at all, that is–still, the intentional shift in vocabulary resonates). Other pieces in this issue go on to discuss ethics and archival research; the importance of local research, particularly in places where formal archives don’t exist, and of developing archives for future use; engaging in institutional ethnography, which shifts focus from sites to how people co-create sites, to conduct writing program research; the promise of eye-tracking technology for understanding reading and writing (definitely assigning this one in class on theories of composing); data-mining as a valuable research tool; and more.

There’s too much–just want to give (myself and other random readers) a sense of what’s bubbling to the surface.

Running out of steam, but just want to note that 64.4 features pieces on MOOCS and on digital humanities. We seem to be late to the party, but at least we arrived.

My reading practices privilege a small number of hard copy journals. While I do consult online journals, I tend to read hard copy much more carefully than I do electronic sources. Blame it on old eyes or old heart; not sure. Based on this selective reading, my impression overall is that we are in a research-rich period in composition studies. Archives, field research, local research, classroom and program research–hot spots right now. This is most definitely a good thing, as writing specialists will never be able to answer, once and for all, how and why people write, compose, engage in rhetorical activity of one kind or another. We’ll always seek out better ways to teach, theorize, and “capture” writing practices through various frameworks of understanding. Another theme throughout is the emphasis on classroom practices and materials, especially as they relate to language diversity.