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Lance Massey and Richard Gebhardt offer in this collection many signs that composition again faces a moment of precariousness, even as it did in the 1980s—the years of the great divorce from literary studies. The contours of writing in the university again are rapidly changing, making the objects of scholarship in composition again unstable. Composition is poised to move not from modern to postmodern but from process to postprocess, from a service-oriented "field" to a research-driven "discipline." Some would say we are already there. Momentum is building to replace "composition" and the pedagogical imperative long implied in that term with a "writing studies" model devoted to the study of composition as a fundamental tool of, and force within, all areas of human activity.
Appropriately, contributors here use Stephen M. North's 1987 book The Making of Knowledge in Composition to frame and background their discussion, as they look at both the present state of the field and its potential futures. As in North's volume, The Changing of Knowledge in Composition describes a body of research and pedagogy brimming with conflicting claims, methodologies, and politics, and with little consensus regarding the proper subjects and modes of inquiry.
The deep ambivalence within the field itself is evident in this collection. Contributors here envision composition both as retaining its commitment to broad-based, generalized writing instruction and as heading toward content-based vertical writing programs in departments and programs of writing studies. They both challenge and affirm composition's pedagogical heritage. And they sound both sanguine and pessimistic notes about composition's future.
Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration
Employing case-study research of student reading practices, Keller explores reading-writing connections in new media contexts. He identifies a culture of acceleration—a gathering of social, educational, economic, and technological forces that reinforce the values of speed, efficiency, and change—and challenges educators to balance new “faster” literacies with traditional “slower” literacies. In addition, Keller details four significant features of contemporary literacy that emerged from his research: accumulation and curricular choices; literacy perceptions; speeds of rhetoric; and speeds of reading.
Chasing Literacy outlines a new reading pedagogy that will help students gain versatile, dexterous approaches to both reading and writing and makes a significant contribution to this emerging area of interest in composition theory and practice.
A Source Book
A collection of orginal essays by scholars from a variety of fields-- includng American studies, folklore, anthropology, pyschology, sociology, and education---Children's Folklore: A Source Book moves beyond traditional social-science views of child development. It reveals the complexity and artistry of interactions among children, challenging stereotypes of simple childhood innocence and conventional explanations of development that privilege sober and sensible adult outcomes. Instead, the play and lore of children is shown to be often disruptive, wayward, and irrational.
A Personal Journey
In Coal in Our Veins, Erin Thomas employs historical research, autobiography, and journalism to intertwine the history of coal, her ancestors' lives mining coal, and the societal and environmental impacts of the United States' dependency on coal as an energy source. In the first part of her book, she visits Wales, native ground of British coal mining and of her emigrant ancestors. The Thomases' move to the coal region of Utah—where they witnessed the Winter Quarters and Castle Gate mine explosions, two of the worst mining disasters in American history—and the history of coal development in Utah form the second part. Then Thomas investigates coal mining and communities in West Virginia, near her East Coast home, looking at the Sago Mine collapse and more widespread impacts of mining, including population displacement, mountain top removal, coal dust dispersal, and stream pollution, flooding, and decimation. The book's final part moves from Washington D.C.—and an examination of coal, CO2, and national energy policy—back to Utah, for a tour of a coal mine, and a consideration of the Crandall Canyon mine cave-in, back to Wales and the closing of the oldest operating deep mine in the world and then to a look at energy alternatives, especially wind power, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
A New Framework for University Writing Instruction
Composition research consistently demonstrates that the social context of writing determines the majority of conventions any writer must observe. Still, most universities organize the required first-year composition course as if there were an intuitive set of general writing "skills" usable across academic and work-world settings.
In College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction, Anne Beaufort reports on a longitudinal study comparing one student’s experience in FYC, in history, in engineering, and in his post-college writing. Her data illuminate the struggle of college students to transfer what they learn about "general writing" from one context to another. Her findings suggest ultimately not that we must abolish FYC, but that we must go beyond even genre theory in reconceiving it.
Accordingly, Beaufort would argue that the FYC course should abandon its hope to teach a sort of general academic discourse, and instead should systematically teach strategies of responding to contextual elements that impinge on the writing situation. Her data urge attention to issues of learning transfer, and to developmentally sound linkages in writing instruction within and across disciplines. Beaufort advocates special attention to discourse community theory, for its power to help students perceive and understand the context of writing.
A Theory of Writing Assessment
In a provocative book-length essay, Patricia Lynne argues that most programmatic assessment of student writing in U.S. public and higher education is conceived in the terms of mid-20th century positivism. Since composition as a field had found its most compatible home in constructivism, she asks, why do compositionists import a conceptual frame for assessment that is incompatible with composition theory?
By casting this as a clash of paradigms, Lynne is able to highlight the ways in which each theory can and cannot influence the shape of assessment within composition. She laments, as do many in composition, that the objectively oriented paradigm of educational assessment theory subjugates and discounts the very social constructionist principles that empower composition pedagogy. Further, Lynne criticizes recent practice for accommodating the big business of educational testing—especially for capitulating to the discourse of positivism embedded in terms like "validity" and "reliability." These terms and concepts, she argues, have little theoretical significance within composition studies, and their technical and philosophical import are downplayed by composition assessment scholars.
There is a need, Lynne says, for terms of assessment that are native to composition. To open this needed discussion within the field, she analyzes cutting-edge assessment efforts, including the work of Broad and Haswell, and she advances a set of alternate terms for evaluating assessment practices, a set of terms grounded in constructivism and composition.
Coming to Terms is ambitious and principled, and it takes a controversial stand on important issues. This strong new volume in assessment theory will be of serious interest to assessment specialists and their students, to composition theorists, and to those now mounting assessments in their own programs.
Alternative Rhetoric in Theory and Practice
David Wallace argues that any understanding of writing studies must include the conception of discourse as an embodied force with real consequences for real people. Informed in important ways by queer theory, Wallace calls to account users of dominant discourses and at the same time articulates a theory base from which to interpret "alternative rhetoric."
“What any body is—and is able to do—cannot be disentangled from the media we use to consume and produce texts.” ---from the Introduction.
Kristin Arola and Anne Wysocki argue that composing in new media is composing the body—is embodiment. In Composing (Media) = Composing (Embodiment), they have brought together a powerful set of essays that agree on the need for compositionists—and their students—to engage with a wide range of new media texts. These chapters explore how texts of all varieties mediate and thereby contribute to the human experiences of communication, of self, the body, and composing. Sample assignments and activities exemplify how this exploration might proceed in the writing classroom.
Contributors here articulate ways to understand how writing enables the experience of our bodies as selves, and at the same time to see the work of (our) writing in mediating selves to make them accessible to institutional perceptions and constraints. These writers argue that what a body does, and can do, cannot be disentangled from the media we use, nor from the times and cultures and technologies with which we engage.
To the discipline of composition, this is an important discussion because it clarifies the impact/s of literacy on citizens, freedoms, and societies. To the classroom, it is important because it helps compositionists to support their students as they enact, learn, and reflect upon their own embodied and embodying writing.
A Contextualist Research Paradigm for Rhetoric and Composition
Cindy Johanek offers a new perspective on the ideological conflict between qualitative and quantitative research approaches, and the theories of knowledge that inform them. With a paradigm that is sensitive to the context of one's research questions, she argues, scholars can develop less dichotomous forms that invoke the strengths of both research traditions. Context-oriented approaches can lift the narrative from beneath the numbers in an experimental study, for example, or bring the useful clarity of numbers to an ethnographic study.
A pragmatic scholar, Johanek moves easily across the boundaries that divide the field, and argues for contextualist theory as a lens through which to view composition research. This approach brings with it a new focus, she writes. "This new focus will call us to attend to the contexts in which rhetorical issues and research issues converge, producing varied forms, many voices, and new knowledge, indeed reconstructing a discipline that will be simultaneously focused on its tasks, its knowledge-makers, and its students."
Composing Research is a work full of personal voice and professional commitment and will be a welcome addition to the research methods classroom and to the composition researcher's own bookshelf.
2000 Outstanding Scholarship Award from the International Writing Centers Association.