Archive for the ‘I'll never be able to say this as well in class as I can write it here on the blog.’ Category

I want to clarify a question I’ve been getting about the portfolio. The synthesis revision should be included in the multigenre remix. You can also include earlier versions of either project 1 or project 2 or both, if you feel they are your best work.

Read Full Post »

When reviewing, examining and assessing a portfolio, specifically a multigenre portfolio including meta-writing, I find it useful to use the following criteria, so I thought I would include some of the questions I ask myself when assessing texts as published products:

  • Conceptual Core: What is at the center of your writing and your portfolio? What is the essence of the work you’ve done? What is the topic and purpose?
  • Specificity/Creativity/Originality: What makes your writing unique and uniquely yours? Are you specific?
  • Completeness/Cleanliness/Attention to Detail: Does your portfolio fulfill the requirements of the assignment? Is your portfolio manuscript clean and neatly produced? Does the manuscript “sweat the details” and take care of the little things?
  • Audience: In your estimation, who is your writing for, both real and imaginary groups? Who is your ideal reader, the single person who may be the perfect person to read your work? Why?
  • Research/Credibility: How well have you supplemented your work with research (I consider research to mean not only supplementing your work with the facts and quotes of others but also having self-awareness and doing reflective thinking)?
  • Genre(s): How does your writing fit with conventions of the genre(s) you write in?
  • Arrangement (form/content): What arrangement method(s) did you use? How does the arrangement enhance the conceptual core and purpose of your portfolio?
  • Forum: How have you chosen to present the work to the reader and why did you choose this method? For example, did you print out a manuscript in MS Word? Did you create a book, chapbook, or fascicle? Did you publish your work as a blog? Did you take a risk and make something outside the box like an audio recording? A video?
  • Context: What kinds of relevant experiences and encounters with people and texts influenced your collection, either positively or negatively (i.e. what’s going on in your life, either locally or globally, that you feel affected this collection during its creation or over the course of the semester)?
  • Revision/Changes: What texts have changed? How have they changed? Why did you revise them in the manner you did?
  • Acknowledgements: Did anyone play a role in creating your collection that needs mentioning?

Read Full Post »

Arrangement is one of the five tradition canons of classical rhetorical training, and it is important to think about once you begin to assemble a body of works. How will this group of texts communicate with each other?

While brainstorming, I came up with a number of ways that I think about arranging a body of works, a taxonomy of arrangement techniques. I categorize the arrangment strategies as either pragmatic or aesthetic, although there may be other categories that can be separated out from these. These arrangement styles can be involved in any arrangement of texts by single authors or multiple authors: books, periodicals, blogs, films, portfolios, etc.


  • alphabetic: arrangement by name, typically the author’s
  • genre: in a multigenre work, things may be arranged by the genre classification
  • rank/cachet: by perceived importance
  • chronological: arranged by date order
  • historical/periodical: grouping works together by literary period or school i.e. Victorian, Postmodern
  • geographic: by location
  • race
  • class
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • ability
  • age
  • mode/media: technological mode of production used to arrange i.e. oral traditions separated from printed separated from hypertextual, etc.
  • stylistic: the ways an author or authors use language


  • melodic: a musical grouping intending to achieve beauty
  • communicative: a grouping devised so that the pieces speak to one another (also: conversational, dialogic)
  • juxtapositional: a grouping strategy that puts unlike pieces together to create a jarring, surprising effect (also: dialectical arrangement)
  • rhetorical: uses pieces in a tactical way to make a larger argument or persuade
  • harmonic: uses pieces in unison like a chord blends notes on a piano or guitar
  • dissonant: uses pieces in unresolved, indeterminate, or discordant ways to create an effect, often confusion or displeasure
  • collagic: applies the tenets of collage or cut-up; often shows the rough edges and “tape” between pieces in an arrangement
  • narrative (master/meta): using small pieces to tell a larger story, think chapters in a book or sections in a longer poem or interrelated short stories or poems in a collection or journal
  • confrontational: an arrangement in which the pieces are at war with one another or the audience
  • hybrid: an arrangement based on blending, either of different genres or of different arrangement styles
  • interactive/hypertextual: an arrangement style that allows the audience freedom when interacting with the work (difficult to do in print medium although not impossible)
  • logical/mathematical: using classical logic or numerical formulas to dictate arrangements of works e.g. Fibonacci sequences, if/then, syllogisms, etc.
  • chance/indeterminate/constraint-based: using a devised process of operations to dictate arrangement e.g. dice, I Ching hexagrams, coins, Tarot cards, etc.

Read Full Post »

Revision occurs all around us in the world, yet do we really understand it in texts? As you’ll recall, revision can be divided into two main subcategories: local and global.

Local Revision

Local revision deals with surfaces and appearances. In the world, an example of local revision would be painting a room of your house. The room is essentially the same: the same walls, function, space and flooring, but the surface of the walls has been changed. Another example can be seen in graffiti. Graffiti revises the surface it is affixed to, whether train car or wall. Cleaning up or painting over graffiti is another local revision.

In composing texts, we also deal with surfaces. Change a word in an alphabetic text, and you’ve changed the surface appearance: Suzy ran to the store. Suzy sprinted to the store. The same action is taking place, but the verb “sprinted” clarifies the running action. Sprinting connotes more urgency than just running. How would jogging change the same sentence? These are word-level issues we can choose to pay attention to in our writing.

Here are some things to keep in mind for local revision:

  • Read the text aloud or have someone read it to you! You process information differently when you read to yourself and when you read aloud. You will often “hear” errors through stumbles in speaking. Reading silently is more like writing, and your brain will often not “see” errors just like when you composed them.
  • Polish the surface of the text you are working on
  • Spelling/Grammar/Punctuation
  • Usage: Are you using the right word for the right circumstance?
  • Paragraph Unity: is your paragraph a coherent structure? Does it have random sentences that should not be there?
  • Transitions: between paragraphs and between points within paragraphs
  • Is your paper properly formatted? Font, spacing, page numbers, heading, citations, works cited, etc.
  • Thesis Statement
  • Topic Sentences
  • Introduction/Conclusion
  • Fulfill PURPOSE of assignment

Global Revision

If local revision deals with surface, then Global Revision concerns substance. To reuse the previous metaphor: now we are remodeling the entire house, rather than painting a room. We knock down walls, put in new toilets and granite countertops, etc. You are literally making what you had new and, hopefully, better than it was before. We will talk about several strategies and examples.


This revision strategy literally means what you think. You have a base text, and you improve it by adding more information and expanding.

Example: The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Think about peer reviews and teacher comments where it seems like your reader needed or wanted more information. Pay attention to moments in the text where you were tired, like the end paragraphs or conclusion. The conclusion is an especially rich place to locate possible additions because the text, for you at that point, is essentially finished, and the pressure of making the text is lifted in favor of closing up points and restating ideas. This is often where what you really want to write about emerges. Keep this in mind for later.


The opposite of addition. Keep what you need and cut out what doesn’t make sense or is irrelevant.

Example: Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane”

Pay close attention to paragraphs or sentences that do not relate to the topic at hand and either cut them or rewrite them to make them fit.


Changing the order of things to suit your needs better.

Example: The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (lyrics)

Transposition will be especially important for you if you feel like you make a mess first and clean it up later. If you are truly freewriting and not editing yourself as the words come out, you often give up the ordering, controlling part of your brain in order to get things on paper. In American writing, we prize a linear order in writing and public speaking (Write what you are going to write about, write about it, write what you just wrote about), but not everyone’s mind works that way on first composition and in fact, other cultures’ writing is much different, circling a point or going into narratives, tangents and explanations before getting to the point. Many of you will find your work has most of the main points you need, but they might not be in the right order.

Synthesis and Remix

Blending together texts to make a new document.

Example: Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

When synthesizing or remixing texts, you are combining two or more texts to create a new document. An example of this is creating a custom playlist in iTunes or another music program. You are pulling music out of its original context and placing it alongside other songs it was not necessarily written to be heard with. Girl Talk does this, but his remixes interweave other artists songs to make something new and totally different from the original. This is one of the goals of researched academic writing, to use the research and inquiry of other scholars who come before us and to synthesize their quotations and ideas with our argument.


This is not what you think—writing in another language. In composition, we can translate our texts by changing rhetorical situations.  An easy example of translation, in the sense I’m using it, is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. All of these have been translated into movies. People usually fight over which version they like better, but the truth is each genre has its own conventions that need to be looked at on their own terms. For example, the book provides more space for vivid description through writing, while the movie is often forced to condense a paragraph or even a chapter to a few minutes, whereas we might take an hour to read it.

Example: Buffalo Springfield “For What It’s Worth”/Public Enemy “He Got Game”

In this class we have worked in several modes, genres and forums, and sometimes what we composed could be better composed in a new genre. For example, a paper might be better as a series of visuals or vice versa. The best practical way to translate what you’ve done is to rewrite an existing text in a new way by changing the rhetorical situation, especially the ones listed above. When you translate, there are always things that are untranslatable, which is why there is no English word for schadenfreude and why we have the expression lost in translation.


Sometimes when you re-approach an older text, you have changed or your beliefs about your text have changed to the point where you disagree with what you’ve done. Maybe small parts or fragments still ring true for you, but you mostly need to rewrite the entire thing.

Example: Led Zeppelin “The Ocean”/ Beastie Boys “She’s Crafty”

As intimidating as it sounds, this is the revision strategy I use most often. For me, the impulse to create a certain text in a certain way does not remain over a long period of time. I change, learn more, and my skills as a thinker and writer improve, and I suddenly need a new text based on the old, ineffectual text.

Sometimes glimmers of what you really want to write show up in a text you are not satisfied with, and you can reinvent the old text, making something completely different and new. Freewriting while holding the old text in mind can be an effective strategy to begin reinvention.

As with the example, reinvented texts often begin with someone’s else thought or something you learn or run across that catches you attention. Train yourself to be aware of those inspiring moments because they can lead to texts that satisfy you personally, which many people say is when they like writing best.

Read Full Post »

As I said in class, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a difficult book, a work of pedagogical theory central to critical pedagogy or the “teaching for change” in the subtitle of Gregory Michie’s See You When We Get There. All of the teachers in that book, whether or not they’ve read Freire’s work, practice his ideas in some way.

To make the urban educational content of this course more meaningful, it is important to me that this course strike a balance between idealism and reality, between myth and fact. An work of theory is, in a sense, a work of idealism that offers new concepts and provides the groundwork for people to move in directions they may not have considered. Having read See You When We Get There, which narrates the way teachers practice a pedagogy of change, it makes good sense to me to also study the theory as a necessary corollary; we need to know why teaching for change is a necessary and vital practice in urban education, both in the United States and the greater world.

That said, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed might also be considered a work of Postcolonial Marxism, a way of critiquing the power structures of the status quo in so-called “third world” countries after their colonial parent countries left out. In Freire’s case, he is writing out of his experience in Post-colonial Brazil, but also about all of America proper (North and South), as the book was published in Portuguese in 1968 with translations in Spanish and English following in 1970.

At this point, I imagine many of you, good citizens that you are, might be uncomfortable with reading a Marxist text, associating, possibly, the Marxism of critical theory and philosophy with the problematic embodiments of Communism in the USSR, China, and Cuba.

This is actually a difficulty I myself have had in the past, but I spent some time learning about what Marxist thought is actually about, as opposed to how it is instantiated in Communist regimes, and now find it to provide a rich vocabulary for speaking about what ought to be changed in the way things are right now.

A friend of mine and fellow instructor at ISU, Melanie Goss, prepared a concise guide to key terms from Marxist thought, and I feel it might be worth it to reprint some of these here:

Means of Production

The tools and raw materials needed to create a product, regardless of whether it is a physical artifact, service, or idea.


The key religious, political, and legal systems that exist within a society. This is the way the means of production is maintained. Since the ruling class owns the means of production, they also must supply the justification for how the means of production is used. The status quo is established as the natural way of things, and the potential for rebellion or uprising is quashed before it begins because it seems unnatural or undesirable.


Classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production. The most well-known classes include the proletariat (those who do not control the means of production and must therefore sell their labor) and the bourgeoisie (those who control the means of production and buy labor from the proletariat). Also, the petit bourgeoisie (such as small-business owners who both buy labor from others and sell their own), the lumpenproletariat (social outcasts like criminals who don’t have much stake in the economy and so sell themselves to the highest bidder), and landlords.

Exploitation (correlation to Oppression)

Since the worker does not own the means of production, they must knowingly enter into an exploitative scenario in order to earn a living. Since the worker must either agree to established conditions or not get paid, the exploitation is inevitable.


History is created through a series of conflicts between opposing ideas and conflicting needs of different social classes. Hegel defines the funtion of the dialectic as the process by which thesis (an idea) and antithesis (its opposite) breed synthesis (a hybrid of the two ideas) and ultimately social change.

Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)

Theorized by Louis Althusser, the state apparatus is a tool of the ruling class to maintain the existing social structure. Ideological State Apparatuses include churches, schools, and media. The ISA is a source of indocrination rather than violence, and it works to convince people that the way things are is the natural way of things. Freire critiques schools as instantiations of this.


The process through which existing capitalist power structures maintain their dominance over the masses. The goal of interpellation is to make the existing power structure appear to be the only possible power structure and to make the general population believe they have chose (or have the power to choose) for things to be the way they are.


Literally: “leadership.” The processes by which dominant culture maintains its dominant position: for example, the use of institutions to formalize power; the employment of a bureaucracy to make power seem abstract (and, therefore, not attached to any one individual); the inculcation of the populace in the ideals of the hegomonic group through education, advertising, publication, etc.; the mobilization of a police force as well as military personnel to subdue opposition.

If you want to investigate Marxist thought and thinkers further, information can be found here.

As I’ve said, these terms provide a language for critique, nothing more. You are not an evil commie pinko if you are conversant in Marxist terminology. In some respects, it is not much different from learning rhetorical situations as a vocabulary for critiquing writing. The terms are useful, but whether you are an official, card-carrying rhetorician or Marxist is another matter entirely.

Read Full Post »

It occurred to me that in all the time I spent articulating what to do for project three, I never really stated why I think it’s important. So, here goes.

First of all, in learning about reading and writing, the visual is often overlooked. Advertisements, billboards, web banners, and other visual texts all use rhetorical situations and design techniques to make meaning and messages that we are exposed to daily, often without conscious consideration. This project, then, hopes to get us engaged with reading (and responding to) visual texts (phase one). This step asks us to be critical consumers of visual texts (specifically Ad Council PSAs that have links to education awareness initiatives), and a lot of class time will be spent using tools that give us ammunition to be critical of the visual texts we read.

The second phase of the project, watching the film, is a way to meet with a group of emerging experts to see and discuss how Hollywood portrays or engages some of the issues that have been currents in our discussion of Gregory Michie’s See You When We Get There and the teacher narratives located in the book.

The third phase of the project switches your role from critical consumer of visual texts to producer of visual texts. In projects one and two, it was, perhaps, easy to imagine ourselves producing these teacher genres (or approximations of teacher genres) in the future. Designing visual texts, however, is something I think of as a hidden teacher genre. As a teacher, you will to use design and technology, from things like setting up or decorating the classroom space to designing activities for students displayed through an LCD projector. You will often not have instruction on or support for using technology in the classroom but will be expected to learn it anyway through a process of trial and error (at least, that was my experience). Even PowerPoint presentations (which have become a ubiquitous classroom technology) blend visual and textual elements, and I’m sure you have seen certain PowerPoint presentations and lectures that wow you with their design and others that are barely functional within that genre. To the best of my knowledge, pre-service teachers (and those of you entering other fields) do not get much experience in composing with technology because the status quo in universities is still print, alphabetic text.

These concepts are the rationale behind creating a visual textual project for a composition course:

  • engage with visual texts, visible rhetoric, and design elements as consumers and producers of these texts
  • learn to use low-tech or high-tech technological devices and design through trial and error that may affect your teaching practice later on
  • continue to engage with currents and issues in urban education
  • have fun and try new things

Read Full Post »

At the end of the day, cliches are as American as apple pie. My writing teachers used to tell me, “when stuck between a rock and a hard place, don’t beat around the bush, use cliches.” At the time I was wet behind the ears and waiting for the cows to come home when pigs fly, so I felt dumber than a box of rocks when I tried to get down to brass tacks. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t tell my ass from a hole in the ground, so I was glad to learn every gray cloud has a silver lining. Writing is feast or famine, so it’s best to just go with the flow.

I felt like a fish out of water when I first put pen to paper, but from humble beginnings come great things. I said to myself “don’t put the cart before the horse, go at a snail’s pace.” Even if your nutty as a fruitcake, there’s nothing new under the sun to write, especially if you’re stone cold sober.

I learned if I just keep on  truckin’, I’d soon have more writing than you can shake a stick at. If you just take it one day at a time, eventually you’ll hit paydirt and write something that will make others green with envy.  If not, shit happens.

So don’t just sit there looking as useless as tits on a bull; there’s no time like the present to try your hand at writing. Then again, maybe cliches are not my cup of tea, and perhaps I’ve only opened a can of worms by giving cliches a place in the sun. Anyhoo, I’ve never been too good at seeing the forest for the trees. Perhaps it’s best to just wash my hands of the whole thing, but you can bet your bottom dollar that every bump in the night can turn an armchair quarterback into an old pro when it comes to writing.

Read Full Post »

If I’m asking everyone to write about and consider their encounters with writing assessment, it’s only fair if I put my two cents in on the subject.

Englishes and Writing

First of all, grading writing is a slippery issue because language itself is a slippery issue. Many of the writer’s inventories on your blogs brought up the notion that there is not one standard American English that everyone speaks but rather a number of Englishes based on factors like language community, geographic location, and socioeconomic class, among other things. Many of these Englishes have structural differences (or differences in grammar; grammar is another name for the structure of langauge).

What’s more, many of us intuitively perceive these structural differences and are able to use language fluently in a number of different Englishes (a handy example is Text-speak compared with what you might turn in for a paper in this class or the way you might address a close friend compared to an authority figure you are meeting for the first time). This is called code switching.

Politics and power also involved in language use. Unfortunately, it is not democratic. Corporate English can arguable be called the standard version of written English (If you don’t believe me, try to turn in a resume and cover letter full of errors and see if you get called for an interview). In many respects, ideas of a Standard version of written English is a function of gatekeeping, which privileges certain varieties of English over others based on race,  socioeconomic class, and geography, among other factors (If your home language happens to be a version of English that is not privileged, things become difficult in school and subsequently in the real world).

Prescription or Description?

The above explanation of language is a long way of saying that writing assessment, traditionally, also privileges certain kinds of writing. And grading writing often has to do with differences between student writing and the idea of Standared American written English. This kind of writing assessment can be called prescriptive (think: prescription), offering fixes for the errors in student writing that makes it different from the writing instructor’s notion of the Standard. This writing assessment is problematic for me because it assumes a student text is inherently flawed because, in reality, no one speaks and therefore no one writes in Standard American English. Teaching writing as a set of rules and errors to be avoided can also stifle writing as writers focus on avoiding those errors at the expense of actually writing what they need to write.

Descriptive assessment, on the other hand, focuses on describing what a text is doing. For me, this is where the idea of rhetoric (the best use of the available means of persuasion) and the use rhetorical situtations (audience, purpose, ethos, exigency, kairos, forum, technology) becomes valuable. We can use the rhetorical situation to critically describe whether and how  a piece of writing is successful in making the argument it posits.

Liking, Responding, Evaluating, & Ranking

These four terms, which are greatly influenced by Peter Elbow’s article “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment,” are different styles of assessment, which I tend to think of as an umbrella term for the ways teachers engage with writing.

Liking is my favorite way of engaging with student writing. Since assessing student work, regardless of subject, is the single most challenging and time-consuming activity of teaching, the simple fact of assessment’s burdens can cause teachers to not like student writing. Liking students writing in the setting of the composition class has a lot to do with the attitude I choose to cultivate as a teacher. Comparing student writing with the work of “professional” writers can also complicate a teacher’s ability to like student work.

This is why I love blogs (ok, so that’s beyond liking). They are a great way for me to read student writing and not get caught up in assessment. Interacting with the blogs with comments as any reader might choose to is enjoyable for me, and what’s more, I learn a lot from them.

Responding to writing means offering feedback and comments in one form or another. The way I respond to student writing changes depending what part of the writing process a student is at (Nancy Sommers has some excellent writing about responding to student writing). For example, I will respond differently to a final-for-now draft, which can be expected to change some for the portfolio, than I will for a portfolio version, which students will not likely revise. In responding to student writing, especially drafts, instructors can fall into the same trap of fault-hunting that prescriptive graders might, so it’s important to balance descriptive praise with critical comments.

I think of evaluating writing as examining writing in relation to a set of criteria. The most common form of this is a rubric, but there are other forms of evaluation like dynamic criteria mapping (which I will be researching this semester). For an evaluation system to work, instructors must be able to codify a set of learning outcomes for a project, foster a situation where they can work with students to help them meet those expectations, and then devise a system of measuring whether or not that has been done. This is the area where I see our work together in co-authoring criteria for projects over the course of the semester.

Ranking, lastly, has to do with putting things in order, and it is the traditional way we think of grading: ABCDF or %. This is where writing assessment gets quite subjective and flawed. Ranking students usually happens in three ways. First, students can be ranked or graded on their work on a writing project in relation to the rest of the students in that particular class. Next, students can be ranked or graded in relation to a global standard e.g. every student this teacher has taught in this class ever or some kind of codified ideal. Lastly, teachers can rank or grade students subjectively based on their whim. The middle system, in my opinion, most closely fits with the grading standards presented in the Course Guide. I don’t feel like the writing I do measures up to those standards, but I digress.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Getting back to the blogs is a great way to explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative assessment in a writing class. The blogs present an easy way to do two things I value as a composition instructor. First, they allow me a way to add a quantifiable objective to writing. There is a required number of posts for the semester (30), and it’s easy to see what percentage of this has been completed. The blog is not assessed based on content, although it does have certain parameters, so it is close to being a free space where we can write about what we want or need to write about.

Quantitative assessment, however, is difficult to extend to writing itself. I prefer qualitative assessment, which uses description and response to gauge where a text is at in relation to the writer’s perception of it within the auspices of the project. These notions, however, do not fit easily into the institutional system of grading, leading me to consider pass/fail grading for writing or (altruistically, maybe) eliminating traditional letter grades and/or percentages altogether.

I value the ability to offer quantifiable tasks to accomplish in a composition course, which can alleviate some of the pressure of writing for a grade. This is also a way of dealing with the question of effort or hard work. Many students say they would like to be graded on how hard they work even though this is tough to measure. A naturally talented writer’s texts or portfolio, for example, can present the appearance of hard work, which makes the effort grade equally slippery to writing.

This text, long as it may be, serves to illustrate how complex writing assessment can be and the multitude of forces that pull me, as writing instructor, in a multitude and compelling and diverse directions.

Read Full Post »

This class operates under the assumptions that the status quo system controlling urban education is flawed and needs change. Teachers and students working together can be the agents of that change, even while fulfilling day-to-day obligations.

Please remember to keep making regular posts to your blog responding to class readings and happenings. I’ve enjoyed reading the writer’s inventories immensely; that writing project changed some assumptions I was making about the your knowledge base regarding language. You can continue to use the 321 Response “micro paper” or write your own system of critical response.

Read Full Post »