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Showing posts from 2015

Compassion and The Circulation of Grade-less Judgments

As a way to reflect upon my first-year writing course this term, I want to share some student reflections on my class and think about them. All three students quoted below have given me permission to use their words and their names. The class was the first course in a two-quarter stretch sequence, so I'll see all these students in the next class next quarter, which is very exciting.

I've been thinking a lot about the ways in which value and judgments on writing circulate in the writing classroom these days. This thinking began with John Trimbur's good CCC article from 2000, "Composition and the Circulation of Writing." In short, Trimbur argues that writing teachers might pay closer attention to the circulation of writing in classrooms as a kind of commodity. I've taken his ideas a step further and been thinking and finding ways to pay attention to the ways judgments and assessments of student writing circulate in the assessment ecology of my classroom. What ki…

Higher Ed as the Oldest Plantation, Farber, and the Presence of Teachers

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This post is going to sound like an encomium for Jerry Farber, and that's because it is. I've never met him, and as far as I know, he's retired from San Diego State University and now teaches at the University of San Diego. But we would do well to reflect upon some of his words. 

Those old enough to have been writing teachers or grad students in the late 60s or early 70s may recall Jerry Farber's infamous, "The Student as Nigger," which was published first in 1968 in the Los Angeles Free Press, then in various other places. It was a kind of manifesto on the way higher education had failed to do what it proclaimed to do, how faculty had failed, how students fail. There's lots to comment on in the essay, the use of the N-word to make a good point by a white, male academic who participated in civil rights work and the lack of response to this rhetorical move at the time (which Mary Rose O'Reilly mentions in her discussion of it in a College English essay …

On Assumptions of (un)fairness in Writing Assessment

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I'm heading off tomorrow to Auckland, New Zealand to present at the Symposium on Second Language Writing conference at AUT University. My colleague, Kelvin Keown, and I will present an on-going study that we're doing that looks at the effects of the material conditions of multilingual writers in upper-division W-courses (writing in the major courses) on their use of feedback on their writing. Perhaps on my return, I'll give a bit of that presentation here and the feedback we received from those who participated in our session.

For the rest of this post, I'd like to pose a few pedagogical questions to writing teachers, questions I've been thinking about recently while doing workshops and talks at various places on antiracist classroom writing assessment practices. At such events, I urge writing teachers to consider ways to explicitly cultivate antiracist agendas in their writing assessments. I explain the two main assumptions a teacher might hold in regards to the …

Writing is Assessment (A Practice of Selection and Omission)

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Before I begin my post this week, let me emphasize a change to this blog. It is no longer associated with the University of Washington Tacoma or its writing program. This blog was intended to be my personal academic blog, so I've tried to make clear on it now that it and all its opinions are mine as a private academic citizen, and do not necessarily reflect my administrative position as the director of the writing program at UWT. 
Now to what I've been thinking about . . .

Recently, I've found John McPhee's wonderful series of New Yorker articles on writing, called "The Writing Life." The latest is called, "Omission: Choosing what to Leave Out." I'm ashamed to say I just found this series, in which he's already written seven articles dating back to 2011. I'd like to respond to it, as it I think it offers writing teachers of all stripes something worth considering. The essay, as its title suggests, is about -- well, I'll let McPhee exp…

New Year, New Syllabus, New Pedagogical Focus ...

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It's now September and many of us in higher education have already started our semesters, or will begin our quarters near the end of the month. Here at the University of Washington Tacoma, we start our Autumn quarter on September 30. So many of us have been planning our courses, and writing or revising our syllabi (or syllabuses, depending on your feelings about Latin and English's migration of Latin plural endings). This has got me thinking about what makes for good learning, for productive learning, for meaningful and compassionate learning in writing classrooms, or classrooms with significant writing in them. My answer may not be as obvious as you may think.

I've directed several university-level writing programs over the last ten years, from First-year writing  to Writing Across the Curriculum to Early Start programs. What I've seen in student populations are at least three common issues that I believe many college students continually face as writers. I'll off…

How Can We Have Good Assessment in College?

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Assessment is too often a dirty word in education, and for good reason. It's usually bad, done to people, and force upon faculty. It often serves no other purpose than because it is is required by accreditation agencies. Below, I hope to make the beginnings of an argument for why it may very well be necessary for good student learning. 

Recently, Erik Gilbert, an Associate Dean and Professor of History at Arkansas State University, wrote an opinion column in the Chronicle of Higher Education called, "Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Who Knows?" It's a very good question, one I've asked myself several times during my career; however, I've usually asked it in a different way: "HOW can assessment make my college (or program) better? How can I know?" It seems, part of the answer would have to be student participation -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Gilbert begins his piece with his own search for colleges for his sons. The features of any co…

Using Lectio Divina as Assessment

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Teachers of all stripes who assign peer review or peer assessments often complain that students don't know how to give helpful feedback, if they give much at all. Even when we structure feedback by providing rubrics or other heuristics to guide student assessors and what they offer their colleagues, student feedback is often less than helpful, or perceived as such by writers. To complicate matters further, many students just don't trust their peers for a variety of good reasons, (e.g., their peers aren't grading them, their peers aren't experts in writing or the topic of the class, etc.). I have found, however, that there are practices that students can do that provide helpful feedback, and that can encourage a deeper attention to that feedback by writers.

Good Feedback Starts with Good Reading
Every act of judgment must proceed from an act of reading or listening. One measure of the thoughtfulness and helpfulness of any judgment of a text is the quality of the practice…

Thinking about One Point Rubrics, Standards, and Dimensions

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Yesterday (July 30), the UWP's first-year writing teachers got together and discussed the curriculum and changes to our new stretch program (TWRT 120 and 121). Autumn quarter will be the first quarter of the new stretch and stretch plus options for first-year students, which you can learn more about on our Web site. Because the courses are new, we got together to discuss them. We had an engaging set of discussions that ranged a number of topics, from our priorities around our program goals to activities we intend to scaffold our classes around.


But our most interesting discussions, for me, were around grading. The new TWRT 120 course is a pass/fail course that uses a grading contract to determine course grades (CR or NC). I won't discuss contracts here, but save that for another day. During our conversation, one of our teachers, Caitlin Carle, offered us a nice blog post she found on what the post author, Jennifer Gonzalez, calls a "single point rubric." The article i…