Book Review: James J. Brown, Jr’s “Ethical Programs”

Ethical Programs: Hospitality and the Rhetorics of Software (Review)

James J. Brown, Jr.’s 2015 book, Ethical Programs: Hospitality and the Rhetorics of Software is part of The Digital Humanities series from The University of Michigan Press which is targeted more towards rhetoric and computation scholars under the umbrella of DH scholarship. Although the text is established in Derrida’s work on hospitality, Bogost’s procedural rhetorics, and general network and ecological theories, Brown does a great job of explaining the more difficult concepts through repetition and four major case studies which would put the average academic at ease. I did find myself looking up some acronyms and software terminology from time to time—I would have killed for a glossary of terms or a hyperlinked text—but the main concepts were more or less thoroughly explained. Continue reading “Book Review: James J. Brown, Jr’s “Ethical Programs””


“Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy” – Zepke

“Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy” by Nick Zepke

Article Citation: Zepke, Nick. “Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy.” Teaching in Higher Education 19.6 (2014): 697-708. Web.

Abstract (From Source):

This article suggests that student engagement research is not often investigated critically. It attempts to change this. After briefly outlining a conceptual framework for student engagement, it explores three critical questions about it. First, it asks whether in trying to be all things in teaching and learning, student engagement focuses too much on an engaged generic learner that neglects the impact of specific contexts. Second, it asks whether engagement research, with its focus on identifying engaging classroom practices, has come to emphasise pedagogy at the expense of curriculum, which is a more philosophical and political understanding of purposes, knowledge and values in higher education. It asks, third, whether student engagement has gained its high profile because it aligns with and supports a neoliberal ideology that has an instrumental view of knowledge and emphasises performativity and accountability.

Keywords: student engagement, higher education, pedagogy, accountability, performance, student investment

Further Reading: 

  • Fredricks, J., P. Blumenfeld, and A. Paris. 2004. “School Engagement: Potential of the Concept, State of the Evidence.” Review of Educational Research 74 (1): 59–109.
  • Higher Education Academy. 2010. Framework for Action: Enhancing Student Engagement at the Institutional Level.
  • Kuh, G. 2009. “The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations.” New Directions for Institutional Research 141: 5–20.
  • Lam, S., B. Wong, H. Yang, and M. Liu. 2012. “Understanding Student Engagement with a Conceptual Model.” Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, edited by S. Christenson, A. Reschly, and C. Wylie, 403–420. Heidelberg: Springer

Key Quotes:

“Behavioural engagement relates to participation in academic and social activities leading to positive academic outcomes. Emotional engagement is about reactions to and relationships with teachers, classmates and administrators that encourage a love of learning. Cognitive engagement points to investment in deep learning of concepts and skills” (698).

“In the UK the emphasis seems more on facilitating a student’s own sense of what learning is in a constructivist framework, whereas the American view fits more with facilitating learning within a predetermined and generic pedagogical framework” (699).

“The surveys conceptualise engagement as a technical construct focusing on behaviours. Monitoring the quality of engagement is measurable, objective and universal” (700).

“Students must have control of and autonomy in their learning. They must also be encouraged to take a critical view of their learning and be able to disengage without being characterised as alienated” (700).

“Student engagement research, with its focus on ‘what works’, takes a lead role in how pedagogy is constructed. This renders wider concerns such as purposes, knowledge and values of higher education largely invisible” (701).

“student engagement describes a learning fashioned to actively commit to a task, to problem solve and to feel a strong sense of belonging” (701).

“According to neoliberalist ideology, knowledge is a commodity. Higher education is a market where knowledge and skills are traded. Universities offer marketable knowledge and skill as as well as supplying marketable services” (702).


Further Questions:

  • If engagement is generalist and is used more as a buzz word or assessment tool for students, instructors, and the institution, then would investment be a better term for the research of the student?
  • It is made clear that engagement is not just on the instructor, but also the student. However, it is important for the instructor to get the students to invest in their education and be given the tools to hack their education–become agents to their education. Not every instructor does this, and it is very difficult to do this in a large lecture. Even though the article doesn’t specify disciplines, are FYC instructors in prime position to do this?

“Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write” – Bergmann and Zepernick

“Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write”  by Bergmann and Zepernick

Article Citation: Bergmann, Linda S., and Janet Zepernick. “Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write.” Writing Program Administration 31.1-2 (2007): 124-149. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Abstract: Writing instructors from the University of Missouri-Rolla conducted focus groups of students from FYC and upper level discipline classes to find out how students could talk about disciplinarity, rhetoric, and writing process. The school is invested in a strong WAC and writing center program that values writing intensive classes and has a high concentration of students in the sciences. They were also looking for transfer from FYC and English literature classes and other disciplines. Their findings were that the students talked about writing in a basic rhetorical manner, however, their attribute most of their writing skills to their discipline’s classes instead of the FYC and literature classes. The students typically found their science based classes gave them real world application and did not see the English classes as having a discipline.

Keywords: Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Studies, Disciplinarity, Rhetoric, Composition

Key Quotes:

“The terms students used to characterize the kind of writing they did in FYC and other courses in the English Department included ‘fluff,’ ‘b.s.,’ and ‘flowery,’ whereas in talking about the writing they did in other classes, students used descriptors such as ‘concise,’ ‘to the point,’ and ‘not a lot of flowery adjectives'” (125)

“We suspected that students grouped everything they were taught about academic writing in FYC under the heading of ‘How to b.s. your way through an English paper with a lot of flowery adjectives and other fluff,’ and therefore failed to perceive the transferability of most of what these courses purported to teach them about writing” (125)

“Students’ conceptions of learning to write are composed of some combination of individual experience and peer culture” (126).

“We were particularly impressed by the students’ perceptions of themselves as agents of their own learning, rather than as recipients of an imposed curriculum” (128).

“Before students arrive n college writing classrooms, they already share certain preconceptions about writing and what it means to learn to write; and that those preconceptions limit students’ ability to recognize, understand, or, finally, make use of most of the skills that composition teachers are trying to teach” (128-9).

“Students tend to think of writing in English classes as personal and expressive rather than academic or professional, and therefore think that teachers’ comments and suggestions represent an unwarranted ‘intrusion’ into students’ own personal and intellectual territory” (129).

“It is not surprising that students could suppose that the institution as a whole did not place a high value on the content of the FYC course compared to writing in the disciplines), particularly since so many students met the FYC requirement through SAT or other test scores or dual-credit high school programs” (130).

“they feel this ownership and because they perceive no discipline behind English teachers’directions and comments,t hey take writing teachers’ suggestions as meddling rather than teaching or coaching” (132).

“Students freely admitted to mechanical carelessness in writing for faculty outside the English Department on the grounds that teachers in other content areas only care about facts and ideas, not the surface qualities of writing” (132).

“Several students argued that FYC does not do enough to teach and enforce grammatical correctness and editing skills, skills that they believed to be of primary importance in the workplace, and the only skills our respondents seemed willing to allow English faculty to teach them” (133).

“Study participants showed their conviction that he purpose of school writing is to get a grade, that the audience is the teacher, and that a successful paper must take into account both stated constraints (length requirement, number of sources, and sometimes even sentence types that must be included) and unstated (a teacher’s known preference for papers that exceed the length requirement, or a teacher’s obsession with what students typically see as meaningless details)” (133-4).

“Students seemed to be completely unaware that the purpose of FYC might be to help them turn their rhetorical ‘street smarts’ into conscious methods of analysis–of situation-specific audiences, discourse communities, rhetorical situations, and relevant textual models–that they could then apply to writing situations in other contexts” (134).

“[Students were] highly product-oriented, believing that the final product of any piece of writing in school is the grade it received, and that the final product of a piece of writing at work is the extent of its acceptance or approval by their supervisor” (136).

Further Questions:

  • This study was conducted at a school with higher than average standardized testing scores with the affinity for the sciences AND most of the FYC classes were taught by literature professors without a rhetoric and composition background. Would the students that took FYC feel differently about what they learned in their writing classes if the instructors were engaging the students in multimodality, genre studies, genre transformation, etc?

“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” – Rouzie

“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” by Albert Rouzie

Article Citation: Rouzie, Albert. “Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” JAC 20.3 (2000): 627-58. Web.

Abstract (From Source): “I argue that the dichotomy between work and play in our culture continues to contribute to our alienation from creative connection to both work and play and that this dichotomy in English studies is further institionalized <sp> in composition studies. Although play may appear to exist outside the realm of rhetoric, where it is limited to “creative” or “expressive” writing, I argue that certain forms of play are highly rhetorical and that an emergent form of literacy must include fluency with the play element in the writing of both traditional and electronic discourse. Furthermore, in discussing play in the context of critical postmodernism, I argue that play does not
have to be apolitical, that its dialectical qualities can make it a powerful force for resistance and change” (629, emphasis mine).

Keywords: Play, Computers and Writing, Technology, Writing Studies, Ludology, Taylorism, serio-ludic (633), Rhetoric, composition

Further Reading:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of
    Play in Work and Games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975.
  • Dryden, L.M. “Literature, Student-Centered Classrooms, and Hypermedia
    Environments.” Literacy and Computers: The Complications of Teaching
    and Learning with Technology. Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe and Susan Hilligoss.
    New York: MLA, 1994. 282-304.
  • Gibson, Walker. “Play and the Teaching ofWriting.” The Play of Language. Ed.
    Leonard F. Dean, Walker Gibson, and Kenneth G. Wilson. New York:
    Oxford UP, 1971. 281-87.
  • Runciman, Lex. “Fun?” College English 53 (1991): 156-62.


Key Quotes:

“Progressives who land in between [the two extremes] view play as the natural mode of cognitive development through which intrinsically motivated activity can free us from the oppressive, authoritarian traditions epitomized by the conservative approach” (628).

“The deeply entrenched divisions between work and play, seriousness and frivolity, and order and chaos inherited by educators ultimately impoverish our culture’s approach to literacy. By now it is a truism that computer technology has added new dimensions and requirements to our concept of literacy” (628-9).

“Despite the emergence of computer technology and its potential for enhancing the play element in literacy education, a normative ideology of work, reality, seriousness, practicality, and adult behavior continues to rule post-secondary institutions” (629).

“Even though the complexity of the word play itself suggests considerable slippage across the binary oppositions between work/play and seriousness/frivolity, the prevailing dichotomy between seriousness and play has been our culture’s most persistent approach to defining play” (630).

“We construct reality on the basis of work versus play, the elective versus the required, as if our attitudes and performance were prescribed by these categories: now we play; now we work” (630-1).

“If, in our work, we are alienated because we are not engaged in creative activity, we are likewise alienated from forms of play offered by the leisure industry in which we are mere consumers of prefabricated presentations. If one connotation of play is the freedom to engage in creative activity, the leisure industry offers not the freedom to be creative, but the freedom from the control of the work environment” (632-3, emphasis in original).

“Play’s rhetorical power lies in part in how it can reflect our most serious activities, but with a parodic twist, as in a funhouse mirror” (633).

“Play parodies not reality itself but an idea or image of reality held by players, participants, and audiences. Reality then, is put into play and reframed in the context of the rhetor/player and the audience” (634).

“Walker Gibson sees the writer as a ‘play-actor’ assuming various roles and masks in ‘dramatic play through language’ and thus functions as an antidote to the model of the writer as objective mapmaker (284-86). Both play and writing can, in this view, be seen as forms of ‘symbolic action’ through which individuals encounter and negotiate socio-cultural structures of meaning” (634).

“The process approach supports the practice of playing around with ideas by viewing writing as provisional, deferring performance anxiety by involving students with the associative, constructive, and discursive process of writing in the hope that they feel a sense of intrinsic motivation” (634-5).

“Serio-ludic play calls attention to itself as play while achieving rhetorical purposes by conveying content of a serious nature through playfully stylistic means” (635)

With the shift to the “process approach, a student subject has emerged: seemingly for the first time students might focus on the intricacies of their experiences of writing rather than solely on the fetishized product” (638).

“Computer technology, according to Lanham, returns rhetoric to a fruitful oscillation between truth and style that has always been one of its disturbing and enabling tensions. Western thought has been constituted by ‘two clusters of motive’ (game/play and ‘being serious’) that the computer’s liquid interface keeps in productive oscillation in a more or less sustained and self-conscious way (57)” (641).

“It is not underlife itself that must be overcome but the alienated nature of academic ‘gamesplaying’ that results in cynical manipulation of classroom behavior and writing for external rewards that prevents the commitment to examining roles and identity necessary for growth as a writer” (644).

“Underlife and, more broadly, serio-ludic play are not inherently disruptive of the social order; rather, they open up a space, an opportunity for critique, while they help to connect that process with what we think of as “real life” and help make the work of composition less onerous, alienated, and drudgelike. From this perspective, play does not stand in
the way of critical agendas; rather, it is a necessary but not sufficient element of social change. Play can, of course, be a force for containment rather than subversion, since, as Sutton-Smith points out, “games of disorder” are balanced out with “games of order.” The outcome of play depends on what you do with it, on your goals and values, as well as on the cultural and material conditions within which it is enacted” (645).

Further Questions:

  • If the serio-ludic approach to composition studies is delicate, but will bridge the gap between work and play in academia, is game-based pedagogy the answer to its implementation?
  • There is a large focus on hypertextuality and digital compositions as being the playful options in the composition classroom. Rouzie stresses that the networked-classroom should be the focus of composition, but does this privilege those that have access to technology and previous technological skill?
  • I agree that bridging the gap between work and play is important in academia and the workplace, but is there an inherent balancing act that needs to be engaged in order to make sure writing instruction doesn’t fall in favor to experimentation and style? Don’t we have to help students understand disciplinary genres before we deconstruct them with technology?

“Wampum as Hypertext” – Haas

“Wampum as Hypertext: An American Indian Intellectual Tradition of Mulimedia Theory and Practice” by Angela M. Hass

Article Citation: Hass, Angela M. “Wampum as Hypertext: An American Indian Intellectual Tradition of Multimedia Theory and Practice.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 19.4 (2007;2008;): 77-100.

Abstract (from source): “This essay traces a counterstory to Western claims to the origins of hypertext and multimedia by remembering how American Indian communities have employed wampum belts as hyper textual technologies—as wampum belts have extended human memories of inherited knowledges through interconnected, nonlinear designs and associative storage and retrieval methods—long before the ‘discovery’ of Western hypertext. By forging intellectual trade routes between Tehanetorens, Wallace, Williams, and other wampum historians with the work of Western hypertext theorists, such as Bush, Nelson, Bolter, and Landow, this essay positions American Indians as the first known skilled multimedia workers and intellectuals in the Americas” (77-8).

Keywords: Wampum, hypertextuality, American Indian, Memex, Xanadu, networks

Further Reading:

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The computer, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.


Key Quotes:

“Wampum strings and belts served to engender further diplomatic relations, and their presentation was a gesture that required reciprocity on the part of the recipient. Consequently, accepting a gift of wampum meant that the recipient accepted its implied message and responsibility…a wampum is a living rhetoric that communicates a mutual relationship between two or more parties, despite the failure of one of those parties to live up to that promise” (80).

“Wampum embodies memory, as it extends human memories of inherited knowledges via interconnected, nonlinear designs with associative message storage and retrieval methods. And it is this complex rhetorical functioning that first engaged my thoughts on how Indians have always been hypertextual” (80-1).

“The Memex was described in [Dr. Vannevar] Bush’s 1945 Atlantic Monthly articles as an instrument designed to extend human memory by allowing us to associatively store and retrieve memories through nonlinear trails, or a webbed network, of interconnected scientific knowledge and data” (81).

“[Ted Nelson’s] dream of the Xandu ‘Docuverse’ has been partially fulfilled vis-a-vis the World Wide Web, despite the fact that the Web does not currently make all published information available nor do we currently have a system for ensuring hypertext copyright holders are paid whenever their intellectual property is used” (82).

“Given the preceding origin story, I posit that the ‘history’ of hypertext is a Western frontier story, a narrative that most often begins with the exploration of the land of Xanadu and the Memex and eventually leads to the trailblazing of the World Wide Web” (82).

“This essay demonstrates how wampum is an example of a pre-Memex, pre-Xanadu, and pre-Internet American Indian technology that was not only imagined but became a reality and that not only works like hypertext but in fact extends those capabilities beyond the current capacity of interconnected hypertexts we see on the ‘World Wide’ Web” (83).

“[based on treaty belt] the two rows symbolize two paths or two vessels, and though the two parties will travel together side by side, they will do so in their own boat. ‘Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel’ (74). Such everyday practices of digital coding result in culturally saturated visual rhetorics that signify meaning to those who revisit wampum treaties–not to mention the visual mnemonics associated with the subsequent rereading of wampum belts” (85).

“A wampum hypertext constructs an architectural mnemonic system of knowledge making and memory recollection through bead placement, proximity, balance, and color. Like colors are employed in Western visual design to signify certain moods or readers, the color usage of wampum reminds its ‘reader’ how to organize and read the story woven into the material rhetoric” (86).

“In order to memorize the belt and its story, the trained individual would impress in the mind the visual representation of the belt and subsequently forge mnemonic associations between the visual representation of the belt and the accompanying story” (89)

Further Questions:

  • The hypertextual maps (83) show the connections between the different nodes as outlined by Memex, Xanadu, and wampum models. Are these good representations? Wouldn’t the wampum–since it is culturally situation–be better served by a more ecological model? If it is being referenced to as a system without an end or a center with multiple layers of meaning at each node, would ecological models help to show the impacts and connectivity of this mode of communication?

“Why are the Digital Humanities so White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” – McPhearson

“Why are the Digital Humanities so White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” by Tara McPhearson

Article Citation: McPherson, Tara. “Why are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking of Histories of Race and  Computation.” Debates in the Digital Humanities.  Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. 

Abstract: McPherson makes the connection between the modularity of coding and computations in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the civil rights movements and segregation policies of that time. She is not saying that coders and programmers intended to extend modularity to politics and social issues, however, she is making the case that modularity in coding responds to the modularity in politics and vice-versa. She wants to bridge the gap between computation studies and cultural studies that focus on social issues and race.

Keywords: new media, digital humanities, race, computation, modularity, cultural studies

Further Reading:

Golumbia, David. The Cultural Logic of Computation. Cambridge, Mass Harvard University Press, 2009

Hansen, Mark B. N. Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Kinder, Marsha. “Narrative Equivocations between Movies and Games.” In The New Media Book, edited by Dan Harries London: BFI, 2002: 119-32.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.


Key Quotes:

Further, I will argue that the difficulties we encounter in knitting together our discussions of race (or other modes of difference) with our technological productions within the digital humanities (or in our studies of code) are actually an effect of the very designs of our technological systems, designs that emerged in post–World War II computational culture. These origins of the digital continue to haunt our scholarly engagements with computers, underwriting the ease with which we partition off considerations of race in our work in the digital humanities and digital media studies.”

Within American, cultural, and ethnic studies, the temporal touchstones of struggles over racial justice, antiwar activism, and legal history are also widely recognized and analyzed.Not surprisingly, these two fragments typically stand apart in parallel tracks, attracting the interest and attention of very different audiences located in the deeply siloed departments that categorize our universities.”

-Making a case to analyze and discuss cultural studies alongside the technical/technological developments in history due to their interdependence.

Critical race theorists and postcolonial scholars like Chela Sandoval and Gayatri Spivak have illustrated the structuring (if unacknowledged) role that race plays in the work of poststructuralists like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. We might bring these two arguments together, triangulating race, electronic culture, and poststructuralism, and, further, argue that race, particularly in the United States, is central to this undertaking, fundamentally shaping how we see and know as well as the technologies that underwrite or cement both vision and knowledge.”

“In the post–civil rights United States, the lenticular is a way of organizing the world. It structures representations but also epistemologies. It also serves to secure our understandings of race in very narrow registers, fixating on sameness or difference while forestalling connection and interrelation. As I have argued elsewhere, we might think of the lenticular as a covert mode of the pretense of separate but equal, remixed for midcentury America (McPherson, 250).”

A lenticular logic is a covert racial logic, a logic for the post–civil rights era. We might contrast the lenticular postcard to that wildly popular artifact of the industrial era, the stereoscope card. The stereoscope melds two different images into an imagined whole, privileging the whole; the lenticular image partitions and divides, privileging fragmentation. A lenticular logic is a logic of the fragment or the chunk, a way of seeing the world as discrete modules or nodes, a mode that suppresses relation and context. As such, the lenticular also manages and controls complexity.”

“Modules “don’t promiscuously share global data,” and problems can stay “local” (84–85). In writing about the Rule of Composition, Eric Raymond advises programmers to “make [programs] independent.” He writes, “It should be easy to replace one end with a completely different implementation without disturbing the other” (15).Detachment is valued because it allows a cleaving from “the particular …conditions under which a design problem was posed. Abstract. Simplify. Generalize” (95). While “generalization” in UNIX has specific meanings, we might also see at work here the basic contours of a lenticular approach to the world, an approach that separates object from context, cause from effect.”

Modularity in software design was meant to decrease “global complexity” and cleanly separate one “neighbor” from another (Raymond, 85). These strategies also played out in ongoing reorganizations of the political field throughout the 1960s and 1970s in both the Right and the Left. The widespread divestiture in the infrastructure of inner cities can be seen as one more insidious effect of the logic of modularity in the postwar era. But we might also understand the emergence of identity politics in the 1960s as a kind of social and political embrace of modularity and encapsulation, a mode of partitioning that turned away from the broader forms of alliance-based and globally inflected political practice that characterized both labor politics and antiracist organizing in the 1930s and 1940s.”

I am highlighting the ways in which the organization of information and capital in the 1960s powerfully responds—across many registers—to the struggles for racial justice and democracy that so categorized the United States at the time. Many of these shifts were enacted in the name of liberalism, aimed at distancing the overt racism of the past even as they contained and cordoned off progressive radicalism. The emergence of covert racism and its rhetoric of color blindness are not so much intentional as systemic.Computation is a primary delivery method of these new systems, and it seems at best naive to imagine that cultural and computational operating systems don’t mutually infect one another.”

Further Questions:

  • On the premise of “lenticular logic is a covert racial logic,” how else can we apply the lenticular logic when speaking about race in society, literature, art, etc.? Does it become a theoretical lens and term to discuss the design of separation, misdirection of the overall image?
  • How can we use computation and cultural systems to discuss education? How does the composition classroom change based on these delivery systems? Is the rise of multimodality a result of this pairing?

“When a College Professor and a High School Teacher Read the Same Papers” by Thompson and Gallagher

“When a College Professor and a High School Teacher Read the Same Papers” by Tom Thompson and Andrea Gallagher

(From What is “College-Level” Writing? Volume 2: Assignments, Readings, and Student Writing Samples).

Article Citation: Thompson, Tom and Andrea Gallagher. “When a College Professor and a High School Teacher Read the Same Papers.” What is “College-Level” Writing? Volume 2: Assignments, Readings, and Student Writing Samples. Eds. Patrick Sullivan, Howard Tinberg, and Sheridan Blau. Urbana: NCTE, 2010. 3-28.

Abstract: Thompson and Gallagher try to exhibit the differences between a high school instructor–focused on the standardized academic rubric for good writing– and the college instructor who is looking for “good writing,” however he/she defines it. They read through a below average, average, and above average papers and describe how they would grade and what aspects of the writing are lacking or exemplary. The two instructors then break down the differences between the two institutions.

Keywords: transition, first-year writing, high school writing, development, academic community, standardization, pedagogy, rubrics

Further Reading:

Mosley, Milka Mustenikova. “The Truth about High School English.” What is “College-Level” Writing? Ed. Patrick Sullivan and Howard Tinberg. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. 58-68

Popham, W. James. Test Better, Teach Better: The Instructional Role of Assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2003. Print

Key Quotes:

“Andrea [hs teacher], who is required to teach to the state standards, and who has therefore internalized those standards, reads with a mental checklist, regardless of (or in addition to) the rubric in play; Tom [college instructor], operating without such guidelines, (unless he imposes his own), is left to read from whatever perspective (or for whatever features) he finds most appropriate or compelling. These differences, we believe, are related to the different worlds we inhabit” (23-4).

“…the high school emphasis on standardization: standardized curricula, standardized tests, standardized rubrics…The goal is to be sure that a student in a given course masters a standard set of skills and knowledge, regardless of the teacher or the school at which the class is offered. This emphasis , combined with high student numbers and demand for accountability, leads to a need to simplify” (24).

“Although (or because) [rubrics] promote standardization, rubrics can lead to boring, overly structured papers. That is, teaching to a rubric can dictate too closely each step of the process, so that writing becomes a cookbook activity” (25).

“college professors hold high school teachers accountable for producing graduates with a standard set of skills, but they feel no responsibility to a similar system of accountability” (25).

“Students generally receive grades less frequently in college, and they don’t always appear to know how they’re doing in a particular course. If they’re not doing well, it’s their responsibility to seek out the extra help” (26).

“[Students] who internalized the descriptors of high performance levels on the standard rubrics–suddenly find themselves facing unknown (and often unpublished) criteria; they don’t know what an A paper looks like, and they might have a professor who won’t (or can’t) provide a clear description the way their high school teachers did” (26).

“While a competent paper doesn’t require rereading, a sophisticated paper invites it: that is, a sophisticated paper is one that the reader wants to reread. Word choice and sentence variety are used to bring out the voice of the writer, ideas are expressed with insight, and the organization subtly moved the reader from one idea to the next” (27, emphasis in original).

Further Questions:

  • I understand the frustration between the standardized vs the fluid teaching methods of high schools and colleges, however, why is there more pressure in this article for the college to be standardized? There are few references to what high school teachers can do to liberate the students and far more push for the colleges to tighten up the writing.
  • This chapter makes no mention of the different modes and genres the colleges require the students to write in, nor do they suggest a benefit either way. Why is there no debate between the usefulness of the writing skills learned? Why is there no mention of the academic prose juxtaposed with the non-academic prose?