Monday, February 20, 2017


I am looking over the list of outcomes I am paid to teach so that I can write up my APR, the annual performance review. OK, fair enough. One has to have a goal when asking twenty-five freshly-scrubbed nineteen-year-olds to point their little brains toward a writing assignment. I read the SLOs, and find that students will "read in ways that contribute to their rhetorical knowledge as writers." Hmmmm. If I put my brain in the head of a first-year student who has had trouble with writing and English classes most of his-her life, I would go stone cold. What the hell does that even mean? I have a PhD in rhetoric, and don't quite see how I supposed to do that. I can only imagine what my students understand from the high order of abstraction. Yes, I see that students should learn to read as writers: look for the strategies and forms in a text, that we would have to practice that, talk through it, work in groups and produce that level of discussion, speculate about the context, but all of that is far less abstract than the stated goal. If we start with what students might already know, if we invite them to "respond" and then to look at "how?" and maybe "why?" with terms like focus, structure, development, then they would have something to hang onto; then we might make a big jump to how that speaks to "rhetorical knowledge" (though that level of abstraction still feels like an upper-division or graduate level goal). I have to say that emphasizing this level of abstraction at the cost of giving students real experience in composing and revising is a recipe for disengagement and frustration. Better would be to let them find a reason for writing and then help them puzzle out which genre works best given their purposes and audience. Once we were in the thick of it, we could look at choices they are making, and introduce the idea of rhetoric. Then some of that abstraction might make more sense. Coming at them with abstractions blazing and telling them to develop the knowledge seems bass ackwards to me. Yes, I have to live within this outcomes and data-crazy teaching world. What's a teacher to do? Write it up and get out, I guess.

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