Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Advanced First Year Writing & Rhetoric: mandatory 1st year writing class, for which students self-select for regular or advanced placement.
What I Tried To Do
After the initial two-day assessment seminar in January, my main goal for spring semester 2010 was to help my students better meet our PWR first year writing goals, while at the same time to encourage them to take still greater responsibility both for their individual writing process and for that of our larger classroom writing community. To this end, I decided to conduct an assessment survey on the first day of class in order to gain some useful data about my students’ assumptions about their writing and to compare this initial data with a similar end-of-the-semester survey designed to tease out areas of significant growth. A second way of integrating assessment practice as a pedagogical method was to rewrite day-to-day assignments with the goal of underscoring the threshold concepts. Although the course goals were directly presented in my syllabus, my reworking of four main assignments to highlight these concepts was a crucial step in highlighting the main conceptual arch throughout the semester. At a more day to day level, I saw the importance of linking Randy Bass’ notion of “embodying” curricular goals through student-led presentations,” to Lakoff and Johnson’s concept of “embodiment”—from their joint book, Philosphy in the Flesh. Although I have always used student presentations towards the end of the course and in small groups, I felt strongly moved to engage my students at a deeper level. In redesigning small group workshop rubrics with a greater focus on creating an active author-led small group discussion, I believe I achieved this goal. Earlier in the process, I had prepared for this course re-vision in asking students to give brief 5 minute presentations relating to key course concepts such as “Evidence,” “Rhetorical Awareness,” “Research and Citation, ” etc. I quickly learned that to be effective presentations had to go beyond informational content to actual application. In revising the workshop rubrics, I hoped to invite a strong sense of student responsibility for such core goals as artifact creation, thesis-evolution, the logos of evidence, the pathos of persuasion, and the ethos of voice and identity.
The post-course survey gave plentiful data that students had altered their fundamental understanding of key course goals during the spring 2010 semester. Whereas the first-day survey suggested an almost condescending expression of the low importance of such key concepts as rhetorical awareness, audience identity, emotional and logical evidence, process, voice, and ethos & research, the post-course survey demonstrated categorically that these concepts were of vital importance to the students’ understanding of themselves as writers. While this corroboration of successful teaching practice was not available to me until the end of the semester, my use of student-led presentations in small group workshops gave instantaneous feedback that this practice offered a rich pedagogical means for achieving our stated goals. Post workshop oral discussions allowed me to continue to redraft the evolving workshop rubrics throughout the semester, and to eventually encourage students to draft their own rubrics at the end of the semester. It was especially gratifying to see students take a much greater responsibility for their efforts in the small group workshops, and to express their clearer understanding of the course goals through this new practice.
At a broader macro level, I was delighted to find that the use of assessment as pedagogy underscores a commitment to the open classroom, as espoused so strongly by Alfie Kohn and others. Beyond supplying data with which to reject, amend, or otherwise invent new pedagogies, the sincere request for feedback about my teaching practice, and my response to the gathered data during the next class, reaffirms the crucial importance of writing as a social act demanding an awareness of audience concerns. In this sense, using assessment pedagogies in PWR writing courses is not an “add on”—that is something superficial or extraneous to the stated learning goals—but rather a method of engagement that promises an evolving instructional technique guided by the evolving collaboration of instructor and student. If the “genre approach” to the pedagogy of assessment—that is, pre/post surveys, the one-minute paper, and “embodied” student presentations would surely be helpful to any instructor in any classroom, the overall concept of assessment pedagogies as essential to an “open” classroom is no less vital. If I expect my students to at least consider critical feedback from “an objective point of view,” it is essential that I demonstrate the same ability to be curious enough about our instructor/student relationships (and their peer-writer/peer-writer relationships) so as to inquire sincerely about their opinions about the course’s successes and failures, and to creatively make the necessary mid-course and post-course adjustments—often with my students’ explicit guidance.
Contingent on scheduling yet to be determined, the three members of the Program for Writing & Rhetoric plan to present our use of assessment pedagogies to the PWR faculty sometime during the week before classes begin in the fall, 2010. I imagine our short presentation to take up the various genres of assessment pedagogy as related to the field of Rhetoric and Composition, as well as the overarching importance of its ties to the open classroom. If instructors are needed to give short presentations of their use of assessment pedagogies for next year’s FTEP seminar in “Student Engagement and Classroom Assessment” I would be delighted to help out. Thanks for a wonderful learning experience.