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What Glynda Hull and Mike Rose Learned from Researching Remedial Writing Programs

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Humanities, Information Design, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Teaching, Writing on July 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Based on their research of remedial writing programs, Glynda Hull and Mike Rose conclude in “This Wooden Shack Place” that students of writing often offer arguments that at first seem wacky or wrong, but that are actually logical and coherent. These students give unique and insightful interpretations that teachers, fixed in their privileged and heavily conditioned interpretive communities, cannot always realize or appreciate. Hull and Rose treat this student-teacher disjuncture as revealing as much about the teacher as it does about the student. Finally, Hull and Rose conclude that student readings that seem “off the mark” may be “on the mark” depending on where the interpreter—the teacher or student—is coming from or aiming. 

Along these lines, Hull and Rose describe “moments of mismatch between what a teacher expects and what students do.” These moments demonstrate that teachers and students come to writing with different values and assumptions shaped by various experiences. Hull and Rose focus on one student, whom they call “Robert,” to substantiate their claims that students respond to literature based on cultural history and background.

Robert and his peers read a poem that Hull and Rose have reproduced in their essay: “And Your Soul Shall Dance for Wakako Yamauchi.” Working together, the student-readers agreed on certain interpretive generalizations but failed to reach consensus about particular lines and meanings. Some students “offered observations that seemed to be a little off the mark, unusual, as though the students weren’t reading the lines carefully.” Robert, a polite boy with a Caribbean background and Los Angeles upbringing, was one of these students. He commented about the poem in a way that troubled Rose—until, that is, Rose pressed Robert about the poem during a student-teacher conference, which Rose recorded. Robert challenged and surprised Rose at this conference by offering a plausible reading, which Rose had not considered. Read the rest of this entry »

Erie Doctrine Flowchart

In Advocacy, Civil Procedure, Communication, Humanities, Law, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Semiotics, Teaching on June 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Jonathan Board lives in Northern Appalachia with his wife and three children.  A graduate of West Virginia University College of Law, he has also attended Harvard Extension School, Fairmont State University, and the University of Cincinnati. Beyond legal commentary, he enjoys civic and community volunteerism, theological and ethical discourse, technologies, and athletic coaching.

The Erie doctrine vexes law students year after year.  For that reason, Mr. Board created this flow chart to help struggling law students through their Civil Procedure courses.

Writing, Workshopping, Emulation

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Teaching, Writing on May 13, 2011 at 9:49 am

Allen Mendenhall

I remember trying to write a paper for my high school English class and sitting in the library for what seemed like hours, looking at my blank sheet—we didn’t use laptops in those days—and thinking, “How am I going to write six pages about this book.”

The book was Wuthering Heights, and I was, I think, sixteen.  I had written papers before, but never one this long.  I was stuck.  I had writers’ block.  All I could think about was thinking about finishing the paper as soon as possible.

Eventually, I jotted down something that led to something else that led, in turn, to something else, which became the bulk of my paper.  I don’t remember what my paper was about, or the grade I received for my efforts.  All I remember was the panicked moment in the library when that blank-white paper stared back at me and seemed to demand that I fill it with words.

I was angry because I felt helpless.  My high school “not-gonna-do-it” attitude was much like the attitudes I sense in my college students.  Frustrated, I convinced myself that I didn’t need to write about Wuthering Heights because the book was old or for girls or whatever.  The problem was, I liked the book and wanted to write about it.  I just couldn’t.

“If we are going to teach our students to need to write,” remarks James A. Reither, “we will have to know much more than we do about the kinds of contexts that conduce—sometimes even force, certainly enable—the impulse to write.”

Reither is spot on.

Today, I can hardly restrain my impulses to write.  I write all the time.  I feel that I’m always learning how to write—and to write better.

What happened between my junior year of high school and today?  I can’t reduce the explanation to a single cause.

The best answer is probably that many things happened between then and now, each of them influencing me in some way.

As Reither claims, “writing processes and written products are elements of the same social process,” by which he means the social process of immersing ourselves in discourse communities and becoming fluent in the language and cultures of our audience.  Writing is not easy.  It involves repetition, experiment, experience, and mimesis.

Reither submits that “[m]ost of us learned to do what we do on our own—perhaps in spite of the courses we took—and some students continue to do the same.”

In college, I read unassigned essays just to get a feel for how authors conveyed their thoughts and feelings, for how they punctuated their sentences and toyed with syntax.  I underlined vocabulary that I wanted to use in my own papers.  I suppose this method of learning could be called emulationRead the rest of this entry »

Truth and the Virtue of Candor: Advocacy as Art

In Advocacy, Arts & Letters, Communication, Information Design, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Writing on February 21, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Jonathan Board lives in Northern Appalachia with his wife and three children.  A graduate of West Virginia University College of Law, he has also attended Harvard Extension School, Fairmont State University, and the University of Cincinnati. Beyond legal commentary, he enjoys civic and community volunteerism, theological and ethical discourse, technologies, and athletic coaching.

Truth and the Virtue of Candor: Advocacy as Art

The truth is that no law student in America receives competent training in the art of advocacy.  [] Generations of students [have been produced] who at graduation were utterly unqualified to do anything except what their professors did—study the law.[1]

The art of warfare is defined as deception. Sun Tzu said, “When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.  Hold out baits to entice the enemy.  Feign disorder, and crush him.”[2]  Similarly, the art of legislation, as John Quincy Adams observed, is the ability “to do a thing by assuming the appearance of preventing it.  To prevent a thing by assuming that of doing it.”[3]  The art of business is that “set of dynamic, integrated decisions, that you must make in order to position your business in its complex environment.”[4]  Surprisingly, the art of advocacy, which, unlike war and, to differing degrees, legislation and business, affects every aspect of life. Yet, it is left without scholarly definition, thus begging the question: what is it? I submit that the art of advocacy is a combination of many elements—storytelling, play-acting, artistic expression.  As the opening quote suggests, the legal education system today focuses almost entirely on the methods and techniques of legal research, not on true advocacy.  This is due, at least in part, to the adoption of the “case method” style of study.  Case methodology was developed by Christopher Columbus Langdell during his professorship at Harvard over a century ago.[5]  This style of study is infused with pragmatism, and focuses almost entirely on legal research and teaching through the process of inference.  Although research is arguably one of the more important aspects of the profession and practice of law, it is, in fact, only one aspect.  Langdell’s technique overlooks the fact that advocacy is an essential aspect of the practice of law, and, as such, requires the mastery of numerous oratory skills.  However, Langdellian theory has infected the legal profession to the point that many legal scholars consider the teaching of these oral advocacy “arts” as nothing more than juvenile exercises—something that must be shunned in the hallowed halls of legal academia.[6] Read the rest of this entry »

Drafting and Revision

In Communication, Information Design, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Writing on December 21, 2010 at 10:45 am

In their article “Drafting and Revision Using Word Processing by Undergraduate Student Writers,” Anish M. Dave and David R. Russell attempt to refigure theories of drafting and revision in light of technological advances altering writing processes since drafting and revision became touchstones of composition pedagogy in the 1980s.

Process pedagogy prizes drafting and revision.  Since its inception, however, process pedagogy has undergone many changes.  Composition scholars and teachers have institutionalized the once novel and controversial process pedagogies; and subsequent trends—referred to as post-process pedagogies—have called into question several premises of the process movement.

The authors of this piece rethink concepts of drafting and revision by researching empirical data about pre-computer and computer eras of writing.  Presupposing that drafting and revision demand social as well as cognitive theoretical frameworks, the authors show that research in the late 1980s and early 1990s tended to dismiss word processing as ineffective or irrelevant to the revision process.  Studies from these years also suggest that multiple drafts benefited students, that students preferred hard-copies to computer screens, and that students viewed concepts of “drafts” differently than they do today.  Read the rest of this entry »

Being John Hagerty

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Creative Writing, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on November 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm

It’s early on a Tuesday morning when I walk into John’s classroom, a cup of coffee in my hand, my too-heavy bag draped over my shoulder.  I gain the nearest desk and sit down.

Outside the leaves are beginning to change, and a cool air whistles through a crack in the window.  “Smells like football season,” I think, even though the room is choked with chalk and dust.  Inside the classroom the students stare at me, the new guy, the stranger, and they look away when I acknowledge their glances with my own.

I probably look funny in this desk on which I’ve arranged various papers: John’s syllabus, his assignments, his pop-quiz for the day.  I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m., reading and rereading my students’ essays, so I’m not a little fatigued when class begins and John introduces me as “a new teacher” and “a lawyer.”  I smile and mutter “hi.”  I even manage half a wave.

John passes out the pop-quizzes, and the students, slightly panicked, seem to forget that I’m in the room.  How nice it is to be sitting here watching students take a quiz rather than taking one myself.   Read the rest of this entry »

Signs Taken For Truths

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Legal Research & Writing, Literary Theory & Criticism, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Semiotics on October 24, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Recently I was reading Erika Lindemann’s book A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).  I was preparing for class and needed some inspiration from someone far smarter. I found that inspiration in Lindemann’s chapter “What Do Teachers Need to Know about Linguistics?”  I won’t go into how I used that chapter for class but would like to expand on what Lindemann calls “graphic conventions” (62).

Focusing on the “role language plays in composing, especially at the writing and rewriting stages,” Lindemann argues that writing instructors need a greater facility with English linguistics to understand the composition process—specifically, to understand how students select and appropriate diction (60).  This premise leads Lindemann into a discussion of alphabets and symbols with linguistic values (62).

Lindemann’s claims about how matters of taste are always braided with “our assumptions about what language should and shouldn’t be” are interesting, but this post discusses what language might be.

Language can become a vehicle for discovering “truth.” Literature, made up of language, can become, to employ Kenneth Burke’s phrase, equipment for living.  By “truth” I don’t necessarily mean moral truth.  I mean physical truth.  Language is a system of meaning that makes truth—the referent—intelligible even if it only signifies or stands in the place of reality.  Read the rest of this entry »

English PhDs and Legal Research & Writing

In Arts & Letters, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric & Communication on October 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Dr. John F. Sase and Gerad J. Senick cite my article in the opening of their piece on legal writing.  Read their piece here.  My article argues that English PhDs–not lawyers!–should teach legal research and writing courses.

Legal Research & Writing, Audience, and Cross-disciplinarity

In Communication, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on September 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Richard L. Larson interrogates the concept of the research paper. He submits that this term (“research paper”) lacks settled meaning because it “has no conceptual or substantive identity” (218). He calls the term “generic” and “cross-disciplinary” and claims that it “has virtually no value as an identification of a kind of substance in a paper” (218).

Despite its ever-shifting meaning, the term “research paper” persists both inside and outside English Departments, both among faculty and among students, at both university and secondary school levels. The problem for Larson is that by perpetuating the use of this slippery signifier, writing instructors mislead students about what constitutes research and thereby enable bad student research.

The term research paper “implicitly equates ‘research’ with looking up books in the library and taking down information from those books” (218), so students learning to write so-called research papers inadvertently narrow their research possibilities by relying on this narrow conception of research as library visitation, cursory note-taking, and so on, without recognition of alternate forms of research that may be more discipline-appropriate: interviews, field observations, etc. (218).

Furthermore, using the term “research paper” to describe a particular type of activity implies not only that other, suitable practices are not in fact “research,” but also that students may dispense with elements of logic and intertextuality and citation because instructors didn’t refer to those things as elements of research papers.

Research papers, properly understood, teach skills that apply to all papers. In a way, all papers are research papers if they draw from sustained observation or studied experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Discourse and Legal Writing Instructors

In Communication, Information Design, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Literary Theory & Criticism, Rhetoric & Communication on August 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

My writing instructors in law school parroted a line that I considered both annoying and at times wrong:  “This is bad writing.”  The criteria for what constituted bad (as opposed to good) writing had to do, invariably, with rigid rules of grammar and syntax.  A sentence was “bad,” for example, if it failed to have a comma following an introductory prepositional phrase; or a sentence was good, even if it sounded awkward, so long as it did not violate any rule of basic grammar.  Such over-commitment to formalism quashed any sense of experimentation or creativity that the students might have had.  Rather than trying out new styles and syntaxes, students confined their writing to short, plain statements of fact and conclusion.  Their papers read like boring how-to manuals: monotone and tedious, never lively and engaging.  The problem, as I see it, is that legal writing instructors have little awareness of audience.  They simply have no notion of what Stanley Fish calls “interpretive communities” and so have no notion of genre (categories of discourse) or performative text (text that mimics or signals certain categories of discourse).  Legal writing instructors locate students within a field of discourse akin to technical writing, but they never explain to students why technical writing is appropriate or even desirable in a legal context.  Instead, they inform students that anything that is not technical writing is bad, and they do so without realizing that different communities may have different expectations or prefer different techniques and vocabularies.  Legal writing instructors never explain that certain modes of writing can be good in other contexts but instead treat all writing as belonging to one classificatory scheme.  They force writing into one of two categories—good or bad—without regard to the quality of writing as contextualized in other communities.  Such habits simply will not do.      Read the rest of this entry »

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