Russell A. Hunt and James A. Reither
St. Thomas University
Rather than explain or demonstrate, the following workshop enacted a method for embedding real-world reading and writing in virtually any kind of course. The method is one we have come to call "collaborative investigation." To enact it, we conducted a collaborative investigation. Our goal was to engage the participants in the process so that they would come to understand what it entailed. Just so, this paper will not so much explain the principles on which this workshop was constructed as attempt to recount the event from which, we hope, people learned some things about reading, writing, and learning -- not by talking or writing about it, but by doing it.
We began by arranging for workshop registrants to be given two written documents (reproduced below) at registration. We told them to read the documents before the first conference session, Elaine Maimon's keynote address [chapter 1]. What we intended, as we'll explain, was to arrange things so that the workshop participants would use the conference itself as an occasion for collaborative investigation.
More concretely, the workshop was organized as a research project in which the participants would constitute a "task force" who would listen in on, find out more about, and take a turn in, the conversation which was taking place in this conference's corner of what Kenneth Burke (The Philosophy. . . ) characterized as a parlour -- what we might call the disciplinary dialogue of those interested in the teaching and learning of composition and in Writing Across the Curriculum programmes. Before our first formal session, at 1:30 Saturday, participants had attended two "keynote" sessions; in addition, of course, we assumed, on the grounds that they were prompted to attend the conference in the first place, they would already know something about writing (and Writing Across the Curriculum). Because what we do with our experience is make sense of it, participants naturally come into such a workshop not only with knowledge, but also with questions that can prompt further learning. In this workshop we attempted to create a situation in which participants could articulate those questions, try to find (at least tentative) answers to them, write responses to them, and "publish" those responses so that they could contribute to the oral and written conversation of the conference. Our aim was to enact the way in which we achieve such goals in our classrooms.
In other words, we would treat the conference as text. We would 2engage the participants in producing a group of documents which would take their dialogic turns in the written and oral conversation that constituted the whole Conference on Contextual Literacy.
The difference between this workshop and others we know about is that we did not design the workshop to teach anything in any discursive way; we intended neither to deliver a message nor to conduct a lesson. We proposed things for people to do (in Frank Smith's phrase, we set up an enterprise); we assumed -- or perhaps hoped -- that through doing them they would draw their own lessons and construct their own discursive meanings.
Michael Polanyi observed that we always know more than we can say. Our governing conviction -- in our teaching, in this workshop, in this chapter -- is that certain things are in and of themselves worth doing; and that to do them is itself to learn things we think are valuable. Doing them, and making meaning from having done them, is more powerful than being told about the process or the meanings. "Reflective practice," in the phrase of Donald Schön, works most powerfully, we believe, when the practice is engaged, authentic, real: when people are doing things they believe in. In fact, we are convinced the doing is more important than the reflection. We prefer discourse to metadiscourse, cognition to metacognition.
Just as the workshop attempted to enact rather than describe the kind of teaching and learning we're interested in, what we propose to do here is to give you the materials to create a model of what happened as the workshop unfolded. Thus, just as a series of handouts to participants carried the explanatory weight of the workshop, here we present the same handouts to carry the same weight. In other words, the documents (we call them "prompts") reproduced below aren't merely illustrations, they are an integral part of our text. We print them exactly as the participants in the workshop saw them.
We do so because reading them seems a good way to get some concrete sense of what our participants were faced with. They (like students in collaborative investigation classes), were put in the position of reading a document with immediate, practical social consequences.
It is worth considering some of the things we were trying to accomplish by means of these handouts. By asking the participants to do some specific research, reflection, and writing before they came to the actual session we were attempting to dramatize not only the principle that most learning occurs outside the classroom (in this case, the workshop session), but our conviction that the classroom should not be a place disconnected from authentic experience of the world outside: that classroom learning should not be metastasized into a self-referential process involving only the teacher, the students, and a textbook.
We have already hinted at another goal. Because writing and reading are inseparable, we see ourselves as teachers of reading at least as much as teachers of writing or of "disciplines." Our students (and, we infer, those of most other teachers) have had little experience reading complex texts on academic subjects which are immediately consequential -- that is, which demand a response. Usually, course descriptions, assignments, and so forth are read aloud or interpreted when they are handed out (students in the early stages of our courses often glance over the texts and then wait for the oral version -- which, in our courses, does not come). The consequence of our refusal to read these texts aloud or summarize them is that some members of the class have to take time to explain the assignment to those who don't read them for themselves (a task they soon tire of). More important, the consequence of misunderstanding these texts is that meanings must be negotiated; they are not legislated by an author. This is far from a trivial issue.
Let us turn to the concrete example at hand. What we were trying
to accomplish through the first handout -- a general description
of the workshop and its strategies -- was to lay out some of the
theoretical groundwork for what we proposed to enact during the
rest of the conference. It is a statement, in other words, of our
aims and methods.
and Other Content Courses
Conference on Contextual Literacy:
Writing Across the Curriculum
Sudbury, Ontario 12-14 October 1990
Overview. Rather than demonstrate, this workshop will enact -- is enacting, as you read this -- a method for embedding real-world reading and writing in just about any kind of course. The workshop does not have a subject so much as it has a project whose subject is the conference as a whole. Rather than tell you about or show you what we do, we will engage you in a process whose outcomes will be a group of documents that will take their dialogic turns in the written and oral conversation that is this Conference on Contextual Literacy.
Method. The method is collaborative inquiry. The workshop is organized as a research project in which the participants constitute a "task force" whose aim will be to (1) find out more, and (2), on the basis of that learning, take a "formalized" turn in the conversation taking place in this conference’s corner of the parlour. 2Before our first formal session, at 1:30 Saturday, participants will have attended two "keynote" sessions; in addition, of course, they will have learned enough about writing and WAC that they were prompted to attend the conference in the first place. Because they make sense of their experience, participants will come into this workshop not only with knowledge, but also with questions that can prompt further learning. In this workshop we will articulate those questions, try to find (at least tentative) answers to them, write responses to them, and "publish" our responses so that they take their place in the oral and written conversation of the Conference.
At the same time, we handed out what we called "Prompt #1." Here,
our intention was to turn the participants in the conference into
active researchers, engaged inquirers: both participants AND
One important part of the method we want to enact with you involves using writing and reading to get things done. The sentences you are reading at this moment both enact this process (in that we are using written language to begin this workshop) and provide groundwork for a further enactment, beginning at 1:30 Saturday.
As you attend this conference on Friday and on Saturday
morning, take notes. Take special note of authors,
articles, and books that strike you as particularly
interesting, helpful, and relevant When you do, connect
the authors, articles, and books with the knowledge
claims, ideas, problems, and issues they are addressing.
Write comments and questions on handouts, specifying,
again, the contexts of ideas, problems, and questions
that provoked your interest. You’d probably be doing
this in any case, but we're asking participants in our
workshop to make a special point of noting, in writing,
such matters as these: which authors seem to be major
participants in the larger conversation going on outside
the conference about writing across the curriculum and
writing as social process; what texts are referred to
that ought to be looked up and consulted; what important
ideas are raised that might be explored further; what
questions are raised that are either not answered or
':only partially answered; what gaps in our (and
other's) knowledge and understanding are exposed (what
we need to know that we seem not to). Participants in
our workshops should then bring with them a page or two,
either directly from such notes or digested from them,
that would be readable and comprehensible by someone
else. You may find that a couple of pages of the notes
you've made while attending sessions can simply be
brought along; or you may find it necessary to
transcribe onto a couple of pages notes from different
sessions. In any case, feel free to bring notes rather
than considered prose.
As we have said, these were handed to registrants who had signed up for the workshop. We did no more to assure they were read and acted upon before the first sessions opened than to make one oral announcement at the first session that workshop participants should read the handouts early.
On Saturday afternoon, as the registrants arrived, each was given a copy of the next handout, "Prompt #2." We allowed some time for questions after it had been read, but, as before, we did not paraphrase or summarize it.
One goal of the next prompt was to turn participants' notes into materials for a dialectic. Ordinarily, students' notes have no consequence beyond their function as aids-to-mastery: note-taking is for them a way to record and commit to memory materials they will be tested on. Rarely, however, do non-students find themselves in that situation, and we wanted to engage participants with a means by which notes could be used as textual responses to the conference conversation. Personal notes, observations, and queries were to be made into new initiatives, new utterances, anticipating new responses in changed circumstances. In reading each other's notes, then, the participants see the kinds of things some others found interesting, important, worth remembering, worth questioning, worth knowing more about. The process is a synergistic one, wherein each participant's knowing is shaped, extended, and enriched by the knowing of the others in the group; and the group's knowing is made "more complete" than the knowing of anyone member's knowing can be. One frequent consequence of this kind of process is that a strong sense of what Burke termed "identification," and of community, develops: the members of the groups engage with each other's thinking processes, and in this way they come to know and understand one another better. Another related consequence is that an aggregate of conference and workshop participants become transformed into "working groups" who share knowing, questions, and a project.
Finally, the work participants undertook in response to this
prompt served the most important need of moving the project
forward. What they did as members of small groupsled them to
questions that, if answered, would help them do two things: first,
better understand the field's conversation; and second, strengthen
their sense that they had something to say in that conversation.
|Prompt #2 (1:30-2:45)
After a few introductory remarks we'll begin this workshop by organizing people into groups of four or five. Each group should begin by circulating among its members the notes on the conference which each person brought to the session. As you read each set of notes, mark with a vertical line in the margin (as we've done next to this passage) anything that strikes you as important, questionable, striking, or susceptible of further exploration. If you find a passage marked that you also think should be marked, mark it. If you think there are questions the writer might answer that would help you in seeing what she was getting at, write them in the margin. This should take ten or fifteen minutes.
When you've got your own text back, take a look at it. If there are questions you can see that could easily be answered, and whose answer would help a further reader understand, write out an answer to them. In fact, add whatever you'd like at the bottom of the text. This should take another five minutes.
Then each group should exchange its texts with those of another group. Read the new texts quickly, looking for ideas, positions, questions, problems, proposals that didn't appear in the first set. When you've finished this, you should have a pretty good idea of some of the important ideas that are "on the floor" among the participants. (Fifteen minutes or so.)
As a group, take another fifteen or twenty minutes to come up with two or three immediate questions, problems, ideas which you think could be usefully pursued if someone gave you an hour in the library. This is obviously a radical limitation: there may be many important questions or ideas which would take much longer than that, or wouldn't entail a trip to the library, and which thus have to be eliminated. This limitation should, however, help in narrowing down or refining the kinds of questions a group might come up with to ones that we can usefully address in the time we have. The kinds of questions most useful to the process we're all engaging in will be factual ones ("What does a source someone referred to say?" "What can we find out about a term or idea someone used?" "What else has someone published on this subject, and what did they say there?" "What else has been written on some particular problem or idea?")
When your group has decided on two or three questions
or ideas, we'll share the questions among all the
groups, eliminate duplications, and decide on a few
questions which we'll pursue during the rest of the
The process took participants longer than it would have taken a group in our classes (who have become quite proficient at such behavior), but ultimately the groups produced a dozen or so questions on the blackboard -- two or three from each group. As in our classes, many of the questions were unanswerable, rhetorical, or trivial. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of this process is the opportunity it gives our students to learn how to pose useful questions. It is true, though not often observed, that most "school questions" are useful (if they are useful at all) only for purposes of assessing something which has happened in the past or for stimulating internal reflection, not for generating new knowledge or structuring new learning. This is very unlike the questions which drive research and learning among participants in academic professions. This is why, in our handout, we specifically acknowledged the "radical limitation” imposed by the requirement that the questions be ones which "could be usefully pursued if someone gave you an hour in the library." A question like "How can we morally justify the assessment of student writing in content courses?" -- however important it may be -- is not an instrumental or immediate one; whereas one like "Who is Stanley Fish?" is one that can immediately drive a learning process.
Whether or not they were instrumental or immediate, the questions generated by participants in this workshop expressed important needs and interests. Since the workshop had enrolled enough participants to allow for five small subgroups, we combined, revised, and eliminated questions until we had five. All five would be, we hoped, (1) answerable, given the time allowed and the facilities available to us, and (2) worth answering, in that the answers would enrich the knowing of those who took part in the workshop, to give them something to say in writing that could enrich the knowing of others at the conference. Here are the five questions the group finally settled on:
This "final list" of questions should allow us to do some focused library research -- research that will allow us to know more and that will thus prepare us to contribute more formally to the conversation taking place at (and outside) this conference.There's this to say about expression: We are all alike, so we can understand each other; and we are all different, so we have things to tell each other. The sameness makes communication possible, and the difference makes it worthwhile. -- David Vestal, The Craft of Photography, New York: Harper (1975): 304.
After dividing into new groups (according to who's interested in what question, problem, idea), we'll take a five-minute walk to the library. Your goal, once you get there, is to find something to read that might give you the further information you would need to begin answering the question your group has taken on. As we walk, talk with the other members about how you will proceed once you get to the library: How will you divide the labour? Who will do what?
When we get to the library, go do your stuff. That is,
figure out the library, find what you have to find, read
what you need to read -- with the aim of coming away
with something you feel canusefully be added to the
conversation. Take some notes. Write with a view to
reporting what you've found to the rest of your group.
Participants chose a question they wanted to explore. The act of choosing was at the same time an act of joining with others who shared interests to form a research team. The groups conferred for a few minutes, to formulate a research plan -- who should look where for what -- and then dispersed into the library, to the stacks, the computerized catalog, bibliographies, computer terminals that would access the ERIC database, and so on. For everyone involved, the library bustled with activity and movement, and we spent forty-five minutes or so scurrying about, following leads, looking for new sources of information, meeting others in the workshop as they, too, moved through the library's resources, tracking down fellow researchers with leads we'd come across that they might be able to use. Working together like this -- as a small group, as a participant in the workshop, as a conferee -- is a process of community-making.
Working with others on a project such as this, when other research teams are also working on their projects, gives group members a powerful sense of identity with one another -- and of difference from the other teams. The best result of this sense of shared purpose is what Burke calls "co-operative competition" ("Rhetoric -- Old and New" 203), wherein "the dialogue seeks to attain a higher order of truth, as the speakers, in competing with one another, cooperate towards an end transcending their individual positions" (Rhetoric of Motives 53).
What we were trying to accomplish in the next phase of the
workshop is rather complicated. As in our classes, the immediate
intentions are fairly obvious. Collaborative authorship -- while
it is, as Reither and Vipond have pointed out, not the most
important or most common or even most useful form of collaboration
in writing -- is a remarkably powerful tool for helping writers
see what they believe, what they know, what they care about. As
collaborators of long standing, we speak from experience when we
say that there is no test of what you believe anywhere near as
effective as trying to wedge your words into someone else's mouth.
To come up with even minimally coherent documents, we hoped, our
workshop participants (like our students) would have to hammer out
wordings of important ideas, transitions between sections written
by different people, beginnings and endings and rhetorical forms.
Once we're back to our workroom, you can sit down with the others in your group to pool research findings. A good way to do this is to read over the reading--research notes of the others in your group. As you read, draw vertical lines in the margin (as you did before) next to anything that strikes you as consequential, useful, insightful -- anything, in other words, that you think ought to be drawn to the attention of your fellow conference-goers, and that could be useful in buttressing claims you'd like to advance in the conversation. (This should take perhaps fifteen minutes.)
When everyone in your group has read and marked everyone else's notes, use the remaining forty-five or so minutes of our time for this part of the workshop to write up a short, pointed, collaborative report to the rest of the group (and, through them, to the conference as a whole ). We see virtually no restrictions here, beyond the criterion of relevance. You can add new information and ideas; that is, you can inject new knowledge claims into claims already advanced at the conference. You can challenge what others at the conference have said. You can suggest ways others at the conference ought to revise what they have said. You can point to an issue or question that should have been, but was not, addressed at the conference.
Once these documents have been written, the process is all but over. If there's time, we'll ask each group to read aloud what it has written. If there's not, we'll simply go to what is always the next step in this process: we'll "publish" what you've written. If necessary, we'll transcribe them. Certainly, we'll photocopy and distribute them for all the conference participants to read. They'll be out tomorrow morning.
What remains for this workshop, then, is to reflect
upon our practice.
Like the library research, this process took rather longer than we had anticipated, even though the conference organizers had arranged to make available a bank of microcomputers and word processing software. One of our clearest memories of the workshop is of the bank of computers, each with a group of workshop members clustered round it, one at the keyboard and others leaning over her or his shoulder, dictating phrases and revisions, arguing about transitional phrases, debating the relevance of quotations, disputing whether lists of references were important in this context. One group worked independently, writing their own segments of the report and taking turns keying them in to a laptop portable set up in a neighbouring room. The process steamrollered on into the afternoon, well past the official ending time for the workshop, and dangerously near the opening of the bar which was to precede the conference dinner that evening. Dark closed down on Sudbury and still the debates, the rekeying of important ideas, the editing of transitions, continued.
As groups completed their work, or as individuals decided that
they couldn't contribute any more, we handed people the last
prompt, explaining that we had intended for there to be a time for
reflection, but that we hoped the reflection could come later in
the conference, or when participants got home and began going
through their notes and handouts from the conference-or even,
perhaps, years from now, when a new situation calls up the memory
of the struggles over the ERIC system or whether a report should
include a description of Erika Lindemann's bibliography of
We now have only a few minutes left for active reflection on what we and you have done in this workshop; we presume you've been reflecting as you worked, and that you will continue to do so beyond 5:15 p.m. We will take these few minutes now to invite your reflections and to offer some of ours. We will also give you some written material which may help your reflections -- and your inquiry -- in the long run.All real and integral understanding is actively responsive, and constitutes nothing other than the initial preparatory stage of a response (in whatever form it maybe actualized). -- M. M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Austin: U of Texas P., 1986: 69.
Here we want to say only that we've tried to enact in this workshop the sort of learning process which occurs in our classrooms and which arises out of our engagement with learning and teaching. We think there are implications in what we've been doing together for teaching just about any kind of subject matter at just about any level. If we had another half hour, we'd probably invite you to write for a few minutes about ways your engagement in this process might be used to help your students learn some of whatever it is you want them to learn; we'd then ask you to share your writing with five or six other people; and then we'd discuss the ideas which seemed to be most prevalent in our written conversation. Since we are not likely to have so much time, we invite you to reflect now, orally, and later, in writing.
You can write us at
James A. Reither and Russell A. HuntOr you can contact us through BITNET/NORTHNET at INKSHED@UNB.CA or HUNT@UNB.CA
We'll try to understand (really and integrally) by
It is important, we believe, that learning be seen as a long-term process. We all know that reflection on practice, and thus learning from experience, goes on long after experiences are "complete," and that "flashbacks" of understanding, often years later, are a common experience. Education is not, that is, an "instant breakfast" to be consumed before "application" begins. And yet teachers regularly expect immediate closure: insisting on reflection which begins ten seconds after the experience is over, and occurs on demand. We believe, on the contrary, that a rich experience may not percolate up into conscious reflection for a long time, and that it is nonetheless rich, nonetheless a learning experience, for that.
Finally, the last report was complete, the last disk was brought to the computer where the files were being combined for printing, and the participants drifted off in ones and twos toward their rooms and the conference dinner. Meanwhile, we found a handy photocopier and with the continuing help of Wayne Fulks, the director of the center which had provided the computers, ultimately produced enough copies of the five reports so that each registrant in the conference could get one the next morning. We reproduce them here.
In reading these documents, it's important to bear in mind that they do not aspire to the status of public, edited, refined, published prose: they were (are) working documents, feasibility studies, probes, drafts, baggy camels designed by a committee, exploratory writing: essays -- in the original meaning of the term. Moreover, when we ask students (and when we asked these participants to research and write in new and unfamiliar disciplines) we aren't trying to "teach them how to write," we are trying to help them learn how to learn, using writing as a tool -- perhaps the most powerful tool, but nonetheless merely a means to an end -- for that learning. What we want our students to become aware of (and what we wanted the participants in the workshop to become aware of) is the collaborative nature of the process, and the way that the synergy provided by that collaboration can enrich (see Burke on the dialectic of "cooperative competition").
We want them to understand how knowledge builds on knowledge, texts arise out of the ground of other texts; to see how any piece of knowledge is simultaneously something known and something advanced in anticipation of response, contradiction, support, confirmation. As Bakhtin pointed out, any text is a response to a move in a conversation, and becomes part of the conversation to which other, future texts can be responses.
In reading these documents, then, the appropriate stance is that
of a listener to a piece of a tape-recorded conversation. In so
far as the conversational discourse was effective in its
situation, it furthered the common endeavour of coming to know
something more about the terms and ideas which were the linguistic
currency of this conference.
This document is the product of the conference's workshop, which enacted the collaborative teaching methods we use with our classes. Read them as what the workshop participants intended them: attempts to enrich the discussion of this conference by adding the fruits of some collaborative investigation of questions which the participants thought might stand some further inquiry. They are, of course, rough drafts, attempts to use writing in an immediate and transactional way: to invent genres which serve our immediate purposes. We hope you find them at least useful.
-- Jim Reither, Russ Hunt, and the participants
We have been struggling with the general assumption of people at this conference who have used the phrases "contextual literacy" and "writing across the curriculum." Our general struggle has been to rethink, rewrite, and thereby redefine these phrases. When writing is taught for its own sake and is thus regarded as an object unto itself -- as for example when teachers ask students to write themes (even when they include instructions about multiple drafts, exchanging drafts) -- we are talking about a "skill." When writing is taught as an object (even within the context of a process-oriented classroom) we have "skill teaching." When, on the other hand, writing becomes the tool through which knowledge is constructed and exchanged, then writing is subsidiary to larger issues and we have contextual literacy.
We have found the following definition: "Man, like other animals, interacts through communicative behavior by means of signs used conventionally. The term conventional implies that the signs or symbols, when used by some individuals, have the potential for being understood and reacted upon by individuals receiving the communication." This definition points us away from defining writing as a "skill" and toward issues involving interaction and understanding. In other words, such a definition takes us into the area of language as idea generation, meaning making, and community building. Such activities cannot be accounted for in a model of writing as a skill.
Where writing is focal, skill is focal. We think writing and skill should be subsidiary, so that meaning, interaction, understanding, communication, and knowledge generation become focal.
Given these considerations, we think teachers should be rethinking the whole notion of "contextual literacy." If literacy is going to be truly contextual, it must be situated in various authentic rhetorical contexts. When teachers can find ways to get their students to use writing interactively to change, add to, support, 149 believe -- when we can create these kinds of situations for our students, then we have a chance for true contextual literacy.
-- Alayne Sullivan, Jim Reither, and Louise Young
Stanley Fish, a professor of English literature at Johns Hopkins, has become an exponent of reader-response criticism. A quotation from the preface of his study of Milton, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in "Paradise Lost," gives a tacit definition of his "discourse community": "I owe much to the Miltonists whose opinions are recorded in the text. They are the best of Milton's readers."
His 1980 work Is There A Text in This Class? privileges the subjective reading of texts in the context of shared and public meaning. Some of the following quotations give an overview to this viewpoint:
". . . the identification of what was real and normative occurred within interpretative communities and what was normative for the members of one community would be seen as strange (if it could be seen at all) by the members of another. In other words, there is no single way of reading that is correct or natural, only 'ways of reading' that are extensions of community perspectives."Although these later quotations seem at odds with his hierarchy of Milton readers, Fish is not promoting the equality of all readings. A reader who is able to persuade other readers to share his or her way of seeing creates a community that constructs and shares interpretive meaning. This is substantially what Fish implies in the following passage:
"In short, we try to persuade others to our beliefs because if they believe what we believe, they will, as a consequence of those beliefs, see what we see. . . Indeed, this is the whole of critical activity, an attempt on the part of one party to alter the beliefs of another. "
We, in our community, are having difficulty talking to our colleagues in other communities about literacy. As educators in a variety of disciplines, we need to develop our language so that we can create a conversation in which all of us can be engaged. Our question is, which metaphors could be useful to create this common conversation? David Bleich's title Double Perspective offers a potential starting point. Stimulated by the phrase "double perspective," we thought of composite images (composing, too), superimposition, and translation (carrying across, two ways of meaning). While questioning why merely double, we were also drawn to the possibility of the empowerment of having a double perspective, of the sort fostered by Writing Across the Curriculum. This growing self-awareness allows one to adopt different perspectives and personas, in short, to gain power or "rhetorical consciousness," in Joe Comprone's terms.
In his article "Reconceiving Literacy," Bleich writes about the "large-scale cultivation of literacy." We found the growth metaphor to be preferable to a mechanical "skills" metaphor. The connotations of cultivation, such as the reciprocal relation between the farmer's nurturing and the plant's self-definition reflect the seasonal, organic growth of literacy, rather than the On/Off, presence or absence of a set of skills.
A Brief Bibliography of David Bleich
The Double Perspective. Oxford, 1988.
Readings and Feelings: An Introduction to Subjective Criticism. Urbana, Ill.: N.C.T.E., 1975.
"Subjective Criticism." Four Studies of Literary Response: Inquiry into the Nature of Reader Subjectivity. Ed. Deborah F. Rubin. (M.S. Thesis, University of North Carolina).
"Cognitive Stereoscopy and the Study of Language and Literature." Convergences: Transactions in Reading and Writing. Ed. Bruce T. Peterson. Urbana: N.C.T.E., 1986.
"Reconceiving Literacy: Language Use and Social Relations." Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Ed. Chris M. Anson. Urbana, Ill.: N.C.T.E., 1989.
-- Jane Ledwell-Brown, Graham Smart, Tom Gerry
In dealing with the question of evaluation in Writing Across the Curriculum programmes, we decided to consider both what considerations might be kept in mind in evaluation, and some ways of finding out more about what has been said about evaluation in such situations.
In Writing Across the Curriculum programmes, two approaches to the evaluation of writing are required. These approaches correspond to the different purposes of evaluation.
The first purpose of evaluation is to determine whether the students have attained a predetermined standard of writing competency. If the students' writing competency is considered 151 acceptable, no further formal writing courses are required. However, if the students' writing competency does not meet the predetermined standards, then further work on improving written language skills becomes necessary.
This leads us to the second purpose of evaluation, which is to assess improvements in students' written language skills and to provide them with useful feedback.
The question of evaluation in Writing Across the Curriculum programmes is not one that can be dealt with immediately or simply. Teachers who are teaching both a discipline and writing may well ask whether it is necessary to learn some special kind of evaluation peculiar to Writing Across the Curriculum courses. The best advice we can offer is that if you want to find out more about this question there are some research strategies that will help you find out what scholars in the field are saying about this question.
One of the most productive such strategies is to use the ERIC bibliography. This data base is comprised of documents from the field of education, both articles published in journals and copies of conference papers and other materials preserved in the ERIC database (copies of these are available on microfiche). The best way to find out what's in the database is to use the CD-ROM disk system, which allows one to search the entire database by subject. So, for example, searching WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM produces roughly a thousand items; adding AND EVALUATION brings it down to 399; and adding AND HOLISTIC produces six, all of which include references (of varying value, interest, and relevance, of course) to articles on evaluating writing in Writing Across the Curriculum courses. Abstracts of most items are included, so that even if (as is likely) your library doesn't have the journal you can get some idea if it is worth ordering through interlibrary loan.
Among the items turned up in our search, for example, are a description of a writing across the curriculum project at Eastfield College in Texas, with a consideration of "grading techniques"; an American Educational Research Association presentation on a staff development programme in the Minnesota Community College System "to determine the effects of a 3-year Writing Across the Curriculum programme," and 26 other items any of which might help a teacher get a sense of the major issues in evaluation of student writing.
One workshop participant decided to offer the following observations:
As a volunteer W.A.C. programme participant J. K. has been using, up to this point in time, a combination of a holistic approach and the 7 criteria evaluative tool provided by the Laurentian University W.A.C. programme. The holistic component of his evaluative strategy is based on a 9-year teaching experience at the high school level, which included the teaching of English and Social Studies (History and Geography) to pupils of a "technical andcommercial" stream. In his 25 years of university teaching, J. K. has offered, consistently, to those students who showed interest, help with their written work in his courses.In a brief library search, occasioned by the workshop, 1. K. uncovered sources which will be, no doubt, helpful to teachers within the WAC programme, or functional literacy projects. C. R. Cooper, ed. The Nature and Measurement of Competency in English (Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1981) has several chapters with good materials regarding evaluation of writing, specifically #1, C. R Cooper, pp. 1-20; #2, J. Mellon, pp. 21-64; and #4, L. Odell, pp. 95-138. There is a useful bibliography appended to Odell's chapter.
In the "Testing, Measurement and Evaluation" section of Erika Lindemann's Longman Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, (1984-1985, 1986), there are some useful sources. No check was made whether these are available at the L.U. Library. Evaluation In dealing with the question of evaluation in Writing Across the Curriculum programmes, we decided to consider both what considerations might be kept in mind in evaluation, and some ways of finding out more about what has been said about evaluation in such situations. In Writing Across the Curriculum programmes, two approaches to the evaluation of writing are required. These approaches correspond to the different purposes of evaluation. The first purpose of evaluation is to determine whether the students have attained a predetermined standard of writing competency. If the students' writing competency is considered 151 acceptable, no further formal writing courses are required. However, if the students' writing competency does not meet the predetermined standards, then further work on improving written language skills becomes necessary. This leads us to the second purpose of evaluation, which is to assess improvements in students' written language skills and to provide them with useful feedback. The question of evaluation in Writing Across the Curriculum programmes is not one that can be dealt with immediately or simply. Teachers who are teaching both a discipline and writing may well ask whether it is necessary to learn some special kind of evaluation peculiar to Writing Across the Curriculum courses. The best advice we can offer is that if you want to find out more about this question there are some research strategies that will help you find out what scholars in the field are saying about this question. One of the most productive such strategies is to use the ERIC bibliography. This data base is comprised of documents from the field of education, both articles published in journals and copies of conference papers and other materials preserved in the ERIC database (copies of these are available on microfiche). The best way to find out what's in the database is to use the CD*ROM disk system, which allows one to search the entire database by subject. So, for example, searching WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM produces roughly a thousand items; adding AND EVALUATION brings it down to 399; and adding AND HOLISTIC produces six, all of which include references (of varying value, interest, and relevance, of course) to articles on evaluating writing in Writing Across the Curriculum courses. Abstracts of most items are included, so that even if (as is likely) your library doesn't have the journal you can get some idea if it is worth ordering through interlibrary loan. Among the items turned up in our search, for example, are a description of a writing across the curriculum project at Eastfield College in Texas, with a consideration of "grading techniques"; an American Educational Research Association presentation on a staff development programme in the Minnesota Community College System "to determine the effects of a 3-year Writing Across the Curriculum programme," and 26 other items any of which might help a teacher get a sense of the major issues in evaluation of student writing. One workshop participant decided to offer the following observations:
As a volunteer W.A.C. programme participant J. K. has been using, up to this point in time, a combination of a holistic approach and the 7 criteria evaluative tool provided by the Laurentian University W.A.C. programme. The holistic component of his evaluative strategy is based on a 9-year teaching experience at the high school level, which included the teaching of English and Social Studies (History and Geography) to pupils of a "technical andcommercial" stream. In his 25 years of university teaching, J. K. has offered, consistently, to those students who showed interest, help with their written work in his courses. In a brief library search, occasioned by the workshop, 1. K. uncovered sources which will be, no doubt, helpful to teachers within the WAC programme, or functional literacy projects. C. R. Cooper, ed. The Nature and Measurement of Competency in English (Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1981) has several chapters with good materials regarding evaluation of writing, specifically #1, C. R Cooper, pp. 1-20; #2, J. Mellon, pp. 21-64; and #4, L. Odell, pp. 95-138. There is a useful bibliography appended to Odell's chapter. In the "Testing, Measurement and Evaluation" section of Erika Lindemann's Longman Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, (1984-1985, 1986), there are some useful sources. No check was made whether these are available at the L.U. Library.
--Denise Merkle, Joseph Konarek, and Russ Hunt
The next morning, before the conference's final "synthesis" session, the photocopied reports were distributed. It was, of course, too late for them to take a very active role in the conference's conversation, as the session was looking for closure rather than for continuing dialogue. But, of course, as Burke (The Philosophy . . . ) observed, "the conversation is interminable." No good conference -- perhaps no conference at all -- ends at the last session.
We had been asked for a contribution to that last session. Rather than offering our syntheses of what the central issue of the conversation had been, we used the opportunity to try to enact even further the embedding of real-world reading and writing in situations, by inviting the audience at the last session to "inkshed" -- that is, to write extemporaneously for ten minutes about their experience, to circulate the writing around the group so that each piece of writing is read by five or more other people, who indicate in the margin ideas or passages which seem of particular note or interest.
As we would in a class, we used the writing and reading as a
basis for a discussion, presuming that, as in our classes, the act
of writing would have stimulated thought and reflection, and that,
further, the act of reading the reflections of five or six other
participants in the conference would have given each person a
wider sense of what issues or ideas were "on the floor." We also
promised to have the most-marked sections of the inksheds
transcribed and distributed after the conference (as we would
usually arrange to do in a class). Here are the most-marked
passages from that set of inksheds:
14 October 1990
I am somewhat hazier than ever about what "contextual literacy" means for the teacher, and place of writing in the classroom.
The conference did not define "contextual literacy," though some interesting notions of it arose. A recurring one was the need to integrate, or at least discover or forge, bridges between contexts. This raises questions. Is "standard English" that bridge?-- unsigned
The focus on writing is so intense that the interaction between language and writing may be getting lost. But then is an awareness of that interaction necessary? Do we know enough about that interaction to make useful contributions?-- Laurence Steven
We did not succeed in one area -- we did not bring in enough WAC instructors from other disciplines to explain what they do.-- Wayne Fulks
I missed a confirmation that this commitment really spreads across the curriculum. I heard only a few papers and met only a few people from backgrounds other than English.-- Cathy Schryer
I'm still troubled by the problems of converting those other colleagues in other disciplines, getting them to turn their courses into "writing to learn" courses -- what techniques-pragmatic to be sure -- will convince them to restructure their courses, or at the very least, rethink their writing assignments?-- not signed
I wonder whatever happened to the outlandish outlander from _____? [the reference is to an audience member who heckled during Elaine Maimon's plenary address and then left the conference. Ed.] I wonder if he can stand for something, something we heard in the tone of Elaine Maimon's talk -- a sense that all this is so obvious, so easy to understand, and yet so ill understood. It's also something we heard in Joe Comprone's talk -- a sense that what needed to be done was to make the conversation more focused and informed -- more deeply embedded in what is known about language, language use, meaning -- especially about relationships between text and context. I wonder, then, if the outlander isn't important to us "insiders" as someone who "stands for" all those who do not agree with us, who do not see what we see in the ways we see? How can we stretch ourselves beyond those limited little boundaries of shared assumptions and values to find ways to make ourselves clear to others?-- not signed
. . . assuming from the start that I cannot count on Administration support, and that even among my own English department colleagues anything that suggests I am teaching them how to teach will be met with great hostility. This difficulty will be increased outside my own department.-- Jim Reither
I learned that I needn't perhaps fear the onset of WAC at Toronto. I learned too that it could be of utility to us provided we could persuade the devotees of WAC -- if any rear their heads at Toronto -- to downplay their interface with dialogical methodologies. . . . most things that need to be done can be done. And very few here denied that many things needed to be done, which "traditional" English departments either won't do or can't do without help.-- not signed
The potential for using writing as a learning tool particularly in areas where the teacher doesn't see the connection between writing and learning is tremendous . . . One of the concepts we want to introduce to the university is that literacy is everyone's responsibility, not just the responsibility of the English department or the writing teacher.-- Harvey Kerpneck
From my point of view, the most important issue is the question of focal attention to writing itself in courses which traditionally either did not use writing at all or did not attend to it. I am not convinced that focusing attention on writing solves our problems. Indeed, I think it may make them worse.-- not signed
I think that what WAC should be doing is finding ways not to attend to writing in "content courses," but to use writing in content courses. We need to develop ways to employ writing to find, create, and convey knowledge, and also to forge and maintain social relationships, value systems, and discourse communities. We need to find ways to use the power of this tool so that people won't see it as an extra obligation they undertake because they're noble and self-sacrificing; rather, it should be a tool which, once used, could no more be given up than my neighbour's chain saw or my word processor could be given up.
155 How can I make it clear to my students that, whether they're in Humanities or not, reading and writing skills are the way they learn to think and therefore cope with life?-- Russ Hunt
Worries were expressed by many about contextual literacy which becomes occupational specialization and eventually rigor mortis.-- not signed
The study of writing/discourse is inevitably structurally marginalized within the academic community.-- Laurence Steven
. . . the wealth of research opportunities that the concept" contextual literacy" lays open. How does each discourse community use language? What genres does each generate, and why? What are the differences and similarities among communities?-- not signed
We need to deal with the questions James Brown pointed to: When we talk about contextual literacy, we seem to mean discipline -- specific rhetoric and genre. To what extent do we really teach genres that scholars in our disciplines actually engage in?-- not signed
When instructors in a WAC programme aim to help students in a discipline write and read the discourse of that discipline, where is the focus? Is it on the disciplinary discourse of academics in the field or is it on the discourse of people in business, government and industry? Obviously there is some common ground between academic and professional discussion -- but differences as well, e.g., in economics, there's a difference between the discourse of economics professors and the discourse of economists working for a government department.-- not signed
-- Graham Smart
As Bakhtin would have predicted, what we have is not closure. The conversation does not terminate; it continues, conducted by other means. One of those means is this chapter.
1 Earlier versions of the essays in this volume were originally presented to a SSHRCC supported conference on "Contextual Literacy: Writing Across the Curriculum/La Litteracie en Contexte: Langue Integree aux Programmes" at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. It is to this conference that the concluding workshop, conducted by Russ Hunt and James Reither, refers. A second selection of essays from the same conference, entitled Towards Writing Across the Curriculum/Vers Langue Integree Aux Programmes, is scheduled for publication in 1994 as the first volume in Laurentian's Serie monographique en sciences humaines/Human Sciences Monograph Series. [Ed.]