Tag Archives: transfer

Core Concepts, FYC, and Intertextuality

Influenced by a visiting speaker, Kara Taczak, I’m making some changes to how I teach First Year Composition to promote transfer. Drawing from both Writing About Writing and Teaching for Transfer, the new model will focus on threshold concepts or core concepts of writing to strengthen what students know about their own writing process to help students successfully transfer ‘good’ writing to new writing situations.

 

When I taught a 200 level Rhetorical Theory course we learned a lot of concepts, key terms if you will, that related to rhetoric and why rhetoric as a theory and field of research survived. Even during the Dark Ages when learning, knowledge, and schooling were very limited, rhetoric continued to be taught to Catholic Priests to help convert and deliver sermons to constituents. One of the key concepts that remained, and became a stronger aspect of theory, is the idea of intertextuality.

Teaching the idea of intertextuality from Smith’s Rhetoric and Human Consciousness is difficult. Smith focuses on Biblical intertextuality and the ways the Church interpreted the theory to benefit their Priests and constituents (it’s much more involved than this, but this summary serves my purposes here). Literature students recognized the concept and drew connections to how intertextuality operates in literature. Non-literature students never seemed to understand Smith’s discussion. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (#2 in the Dark Tower series) and the characters referenced The Shining in a discussion – basic intertextuality, but it’s engrained in the story so readers don’t recognize the moment as intertextuality (why did King reference The Shining at THAT moment? why not The Stand, etc.). But, intertextuality exists far beyond literature and novels, and some of the most popular television shows and movies use intertextuality in important ways.

After watching Game of Thrones (the episode that aired on Sunday 8/16), I read a blog by Erik Kane (he presented at the Undergraduate Videogame Symposium at my previous institution about blogging as a career post-English Bachelor’s – the students loved his candor) about intertextuality in GoT that could help a viewer make educated guesses on the direction of the show (there’s also compelling arguments for the need for viewers to recognize most of the intertextuality to follow the storyline development – cognitive requirements of modern viewing and fandom). While his post is looking at literary intertextuality in the television show, the use of text and a multimodal YouTube clip as support for his claim struck me as ridiculously helpful to teaching academic intertextuality – the dreaded citation.

Returning to the idea of selecting key concepts, for Fall 2017 I’ll focus on discourse community, audience, purpose, and ethos. I’m using They Say/I Say as the course textbook. As I’m finalizing the design for my internet-theme’d, Teaching for Transfer influenced pedagogy, i’m working in a way to use a blog post (internet-based reading and writing, with all it’s messy author-audience relationships and imaginings) to help students understand why citations matter (ethos, discourse community). In the GoT post, Kain uses a few interesting rhetorical moves that are helping me work through the connection to be made between theme (internet) and key concepts (learning about writing to write better).

First, the post begins with an image (yes there is a title, but i’m choosing to begin with the image) of The Magnificent Seven (his term). For those who watch, GoT has an endless supply of story lines and tons and tons of characters (i’m not a lit major so excuse my lack of literary terms to describe this). In using an image of the exact group he’s discussing, he focuses the reader’s attention on the small portion of the HUGE GoT world he’ll discuss in this post. This is such an important move in academic introductions. We humans have been discussing and theorizing since before the Ancient Greeks (the Greeks happen to be the most well preserved recordings). In selecting a topic for an essay, the hardest concept to teach students is how to enter that HUGE conversation and focus the point. Blogs, by including multimedia, allow for images to do much of that work for the author – IF the correct image is selected. From a Pfannenstiel’s key concept point of view, this allows Kain to focus his discussion on the purpose of his conversation within the larger discourse community.

Next, Kain establishes the background knowledge necessary to understand his claim – he contextualizes the mission and the characters involved. Again it speaks to the discourse community, establishing the necessary background information needed for the post without assuming too much or too little about the reader of the post (ethos and audience). The attention to audience here is really important, he makes educated guesses about how to introduce this information so his audience appreciates the information without feeling like he’s belittling their knowledge of GoT.

Now comes the intertextuality (with some ethos thrown in when he includes both the show and the book). We (readers) are being asked to re-examine existing information from the show as evidence for Kain’s analysis. After including the originals (again, the video clip and the passages from the book), Kain analyzes the information by explaining the clips along side his analysis – let me say that again in case any of my students read this post, by explaining the clip along side his analysis. He doesn’t assume the readers will draw the same connections, so he includes the original source, then analyzes it and adds his point.

The goal of this post isn’t to explore GoT theories, but to consider how the video clip functions as an academic citation – through intertextuality. While intertextuality isn’t a key term (it’s a difficult idea to grasp), it is influenced by and influences discourse communities and practices within discourse communities.

To develop a connection between the Magnificent Seven and GoT lore, Kain includes a video link with a clip from season 1. This is an expected rhetorical blogging move – include the thing that you reference for readers to know especially in the form of a video. This is also, essentially, a citation. Here is where my information comes from. Citations and intertextuality help an author establish ethos, they lend credibility to a discussion and claim by referencing other sources in very specific ways.

The specific clip selected is a choice to present the findings from the original in a very specific way. When I search on YouTube for “Old Nan tells a story” I have approximately 5,300 results. While yes, many are commentary and fandoms (so easily excluded) – this is the same situation student writers often find themselves in, wading through massive amounts of text to find the one that properly supports their point. What’s so important for comp instructors (and librarians) is the information literacy skills required/developed to wade through these videos. It’s the same required of wading through sources to find ones that actually support and develop the student-author’s text. If we consider any of the other videos in the YouTube list of 5,300 we can discuss all the reasons those videos would support Kain’s argument less well than the video he included. This is a real, lived citation making intertextual claims, embedded within a blog argument, to support Kain’s analysis of the episode.

Importantly, students read posts all the time that require them to understand these videos as citations, as intertextuality. They experience, analyze, and judge posts daily that rely on their ability to understand intertextuality and citations in writing. Will finding and analyzing such everyday lived posts help them transfer what they know from everyday sense-making to the academic essay, or will they still see citations as a ‘chore’ and ‘requirement’ of writing that simply make their lives hell?

Now, we’ll see if this focus on rhetorical moves of an existing blog post helps students understand the key concepts as they move through their academic papers this Fall……… show of hands for who watches Game of Thrones! 

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Book Review

Copyright Clarity: How fair use supports digital learning by Renee Hobbs

Hobbs overview of copyright law, specifically as it pertains to education (primarily K-12 but also very applicable to higher ed), is incredibly helpful to understanding what instructors and students can do with digital media. Her inclusion of examples, examples that included the ‘can we digitally publish this’ were so helpful to all grade levels, with various levels of technology access.

This book can be a quick read. I’ve previously read Hobbs’ Digital and Media Literacy text so some of the text was carry-over from media literacy ideas, but there is a need to read both texts as the focus on copyright raises important questions to help students understand their freedom in copyright (hint: it’s not everything, but it’s pretty darn close). The quick read comes from the overlap in chapters 1 and 2 – these were fairly repetitive with so much “we’ll deal with this specifically in chapter 3 (or 4 depending on the concept)” that I breezed through the chapters in 30 minutes. Similarly, I spent little time with chapter 5 as it deals specifically with film. I use videogames more frequently in my work, and the required play of videogames shifts this conversation significantly so I didn’t find helpfulness. However, this is a really helpful chapter for other scholars and teachers.

The focus in this book is on the idea of transformativeness, attention to the creative process and how the original was was used, repurposed and reused as it relates to Fair Use. What I found most important from this are the questions that educators should be asking about their use of media – AND teaching to their students.

Hobbs wants educators to consider (paraphrased from page 48):

  1. Did their use (their = student/educator) ‘transform’ the work for a different purpose – or did it copy the original intent and value?
  2. Was the amount of the original material used appropriate given the copyrighted work and original use?

The goal with these questions is to highlight the necessary ambiguity in copyright law to allow intellectual sharing and protection – while also highlighting the important work education and assignments (therefore students) can and should do with cultural material.

There are several things happening here of incredible importance. The first, and Hobbs notes this in chapter 1, educators need to engage students with cultural materials. Students engage with culture everyday, mostly unconsciously, we are in an excellent position to help them consider the ways they engage culture, the ways the create (and can create) culture, the ways they need to be critical of their own cultural engagement.

Second, for this to work students need to think critically. I had a class in the Spring that struggled with critical engagement. They wanted the right answer – in a composition course. Then tried to write 5 paragraph essays for their final research essays. None of my examples resonated with this group – they continued to culturally turn off. I have ideas for using Twitter more effectively in future semesters to ask students to bring the culture for critical engagement. My only criticism for Hobbs would be – every example included shows things going so well. What happens when we have the off-teaching day where the critical engagement for the entire class isn’t there. For higher education educators one day can be such a huge portion of the curriculum. (The Digital and Social Media text had a few examples of things not working and on the fly decisions that went well – but sometimes even those on the fly don’t work, what then???? How do we reengage? a timeless pedagogy question I know!)

Finally, students have a lot freedom to use existing media (as long as they critically consider the use). We need to empower them to understand this! I love this concept – I will rely on this concept in future semester. But, I worry about the transfer of these skills. Do I think students who get it can successfully navigate these questions and consider Fair Use – absolutely. But from a book littered with examples of teachers setting strict boundaries on use due to their misunderstanding of Copyright law – what happens when I send my student out into the world and their Physics teacher considers their Fair Use of a Schrodinger Cat meme plagiarism? I understand this example is borrowing trouble (use of colloquial saying intentional) – but as I transition my composition syllabi to a more obvious Teaching for Transfer model, I’m stating the underlying goal as the transfer of understanding of writing (and digital media) practices. I want students to actively and consciously transfer good writing practices developed in my class. But what happens when good digital media practices are considered plagiarism?

Overall, I found much to enjoy with this text. As I began this review my intent was to focus on transformativeness. I see so much possibility for this in the composition classroom. But, as I began writing about this idea I also have so many questions. I look forward to exploring this further as I put together my composition syllabi for Fall semester.

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STEM to STEAM

While I was teaching at NAU we developed an undergraduate videogame symposium to support undergraduate research in a topic they loved – videogames. During the second year we ran the event we used the idea of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math – as the guiding theory for the event, drawing the humanities into discussions of technology.

The push for STEAM education has continued to grow since our conference two years ago. I just saw a webinar hosted by Ozobots on using Ozoblockly (their programming app) to foster STEAM classrooms. What caught my eye about their webinar sign-up is the reduction of STEAM to “art and technology” as they relate to their programming color commands.

I personally love the Ozobots because of their color coding – these color codes do support easy learning of programming basics (I haven’t played around with the Ozoblockly app since I don’t have a tablet). I also love that the Ozobots light up with so many different colors – the programming of personality is really engaging.

What i’m not understanding is how this use of colors means Art. I also missed the webinar, so i’m sure it was more engaged than I’m discussing here, but honestly the Ozobot webinar description is just the starting point for my thought pattern here.

As a Humanities faculty member, when I discuss STEAM I see “Art” as the stand in for Humanities in general, more specifically Humanities based critical thinking, critical reading and critical writing. There is a ton of important criticism on the inclusion of just the A and the collapse of all Humanities fields into Art, there is also important criticism on reading the A as Art and not understanding the depth of opportunity available from a more nuanced understanding of Art. I am not going to include these discussions here, they are easily available to those interested.

What I want to focus on instead are the underlying questions:

  • Why did the advocates of shifting from STEM to STEAM (a lot of the research points to changes beginning at RISD) focus specifically on Art? Is the goal artistic creativity, tinkering, critical engagement, or something more specific to art? Since creativity and tinkering have existed in other humanities fields (remember Social Studies classes in Junior High with the student video assignments, debates – that’s one example of creativity and tinkering in the Humanities most of us experienced), why Art – basically was “Art” selected for a cool acronym, or is there something specific that has been left out of subsequent discussions?
  • Why should STEM education see a need to include Art? What is happening, maybe not well, that drives this need?
  • While STEAM is becoming more popular, why isn’t this acronym also addressed at the collegiate level? We required curricular general education requirements to support a broadly educated student (breath is the horizontal bar in a T diagram) and a major/minor for a deeply educated student (depth is the vertical bar in a T diagram). But when makerspaces and digital labs are created, discussed, funded, why aren’t humanities faculty included in those discussions?

I have a whole slew of reading to accomplish this summer to help me address these ideas. This is partly for a Graduate seminar this summer and a Graduate seminar in the Fall (which will include a publishing opportunity – former grad students let me know if you want to be involved because I know i’ll need more authors). This is also partly for a conference in October – Feminism and Rhetorics (I was accepted, YAY).

How can feminist pedagogy help STEAM? How can feminist pedagogy (i’m starting with bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress) help curriculum design that both supports student learning/engagement, and supports student critical learning/engagement with technology. I want students to develop critical reflection on their technology choices, by using technology to learn composition – to develop their own working ideas of writing (#teachingfortransfer).

As a first step, these are the questions I have at this point. I’ll continue to develop the underlying questions about STEAM which influence the approaches used by technology companies to aid teachers in integrating technology in the classroom – to find ways of disrupting the expectations for college classrooms.

 

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Let’s Talk About Grammar

I know the research on direct grammar instruction shows it has no effect, sometimes even a negative effect when it takes away from composition instruction (NCTE affirms these findings here).

As I read Warner’s piece on Inside HigherEd (here) about pushback comments to direct grammar instruction I considered the times when I’ve lectured on grammar.

Style

When discussing rhetorical moves made by academics in different disciplines, part of the discussion looks to grammar structure too. The passive construction of methodology details provided in the sciences is very important to that field, so it needs to be discussed as part of the style of the discipline. In understanding style and noticing these choices, the complexities of audience become more clear.

Well, let’s be honest, the goal of this conversation is to help students realize there are different grammatical values in different disciplines. All disciplines care about presentation, academic support, proper use of MLA/APA/AP/Chicago/IEEE/etc., argument support, clear argument development, consistent format and organization. The problem is, the grammatical details catch faculty members, so their significance to writing takes on more weight.

When discussing this with a freshmen class, it’s necessary to provide an example. So I use my son.

Marshall was accepted to [insert prestigious school here].

[insert prestigious school here] accepted Marshall.

These style choices rely on some element of grammar knowledge – students must identify the subject of the sentence, the verb, and the object to understand how the style choice significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.

This first step is where many students often struggle. They struggle to identify the parts of the sentence.

After I help them with the first sentence they are rockstars with the second. BONUS: I can see learning transfer across a short time period – which is amazing.

Grammar versus Style

At this point I often wonder, am I directly lecturing on grammar with this style example. Will this style example/discussion carry weight in their learning so they access these ideas in new writing situations.

It’s such a small part of the overall curriculum (again, focused more heavily on the argument presentation ideas above) that I doubt it carries – but it holds so much significance. While it’s grammar, I’m imparting knowledge on basic grammar functions, the real focus of these discussions is style. What is the place of style in composition teaching?

Based on disciplinary feedback, my department has considered the idea of creating stand alone style courses (there are amazing books on style that can be incredibly helpful). But not all students will volunteer for this approach to writing.

As I work through final grading for the Spring 2017 semester I begin to plan my next courses. While I’m teaching mostly Grad classes this summer, I will also be planning a curricular overhaul of FYC in the Fall. Is there a place for style discussions? I’ll also be teaching a Junior level composition – are juniors more prepared for this discussion?

Also, if I work it into the curriculum, where would it be 1) the easiest to teach based on surrounding assignments (hello scaffolding)? 2) the most meaningful to students (hello transfer)?

While I don’t think I’ll have THE PERFECT (imagine this in a big booming voice) answer, I will play around with this idea as I create new curriculum.

This might be a bigger project requiring a shift in disciplinary understanding of their own writing practices. While they often point to comma errors and split infinitives, is the underlying concern more one of style, or truly grammar. On a side note –  we all make these grammar mistakes. And may I remind these faculty of the most famous “To boldly go” split infinitive?

Now, on to exploring the place of style in an updated, Teaching for Transfer modeled composition curriculum.

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Motivation and Mindset

I participated in a Faculty Learning Community read of The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. While it’s looking like I’ll miss the last faculty meet discussion of the book, I want to engage with the final chapter of the book, so I’m writing instead.

Additionally, I’m working on a conference proposal for CCCC 2018. Our panel will focus on the idea of transfer. While Writing across Contexts is the focus, I started reading the edited collection Understanding Writing Transfer and want to consider how the discussion of emotions in a curriculum mix well with curriculum design focused on transfer.

One theory discussed by Cavanagh in chapter 5 is control-value (there is tons of research on this – read Cavanagh for the overview I’m not providing here). Essentially educators want students to have a lot of control so they see high value in the assignment to inspire “self-directed learning that results in a shift in how they [students] see the world, and something that lasts for their lifetimes” (Cavanagh 145). While Cavanagh isn’t using the term transfer – what I’m taking away from this discussion is the goal of transfer (i’m also applying this to composition courses).

If I look at just control-value – I do this (as do most composition courses). I encourage students to select a topic that is meaningful to them, and to draw from a discipline that interests them (students also create a project adding a secondary layer of control-value). But, by itself, this assignment isn’t necessarily motivating. Nor, and most importantly, does it inspire good writing, good understanding of writing, reflecting writing, understanding of one’s own writing process, and all the other necessary steps for humans to develop strong writing skills. Cavanagh provides great ideas on scaffolding learning, providing long-term assignments that inspire high control and high value in students – but I struggled with finding the application in [my?] composition course.

Typically, students don’t see the benefit of a composition course. Freshmen often enter college with experiences writing literary analysis in high school English classes. The goal of Freshman Composition is not literary analysis, but a more general ‘academic writing’ that prepares students for disciplinary writing (in all disciplines since their major may change AND they will probably [hopefully] write for gen eds). The goal is to teach students who don’t think they need writing, students who don’t want writing, students who don’t think they’ll ever write in their profession, and students genuinely interested in learning to write. Motivating students to see the control-value situation of a writing assignment so they embrace the learning of writing is difficult (note: i’m not assuming this is easy in ANY class – i’m simply applying to my discipline).

As I read Moore’s “Five Essential Principles About Writing Transfer” I began to see connections back to the control-value theory through principle 3 – the need to develop students habits of mind and identities to help students see their high control and the high value in transferring writing. For so many of the mini assignments I have students engage with this is the underlying theory (I didn’t know I was using) – helping students recognize their previous habits and assemble and remix new knowledge in to transform their prior knowledge of writing. Which helps motivate students to see the purpose in their own learning (developing their own theory of writing – Teaching for Transfer goals) – which helps high control and high value assignments work.

As I move forward with my CCCC 2018 panel discussion I’m working in ways gameplay can help students develop mindset necessary to transform their prior knowledge (principle 1 and principle 3). As I continue to work through new curriculum i’m constantly considering – what does this look like in the curriculum? What flexibility can I design to modify these approaches based on the students IN THAT SECTION?

I also need to read more on mindset – Dweck’s book is in my TBR pile!

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