You’re Invited to Join the Happy English Teacher

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A Public Facebook Group, where we can talk shop and share war stories, syllabi, unit assignments, pedagogy, announcements and other resources pertaining to our mission as postsecondary English teachers and scholars (YES, even multimodal and New Media assignments!) It’s a bare bones site that will be developed and curated by its membership.

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The Mediated Action in the Composition Process

In Chapter 2, Shipka creates a framework to examine the social and individual variables that influence the composition process. She argues that the individual and the sociocultural settings are interacting to influence each other. When we compose a text, these cultural tools or meditational means shape our process and final composition product. Shipka synthesizes Wertsch’s work to create four characteristic of mediated action. They are:

  1. Composers of texts have multiple purposes. Students can compose to please themselves and/or fulfill the class assignment.(44-45)
  2. An action is simultaneously enabled and constrained by the meditational means or cultural tools employed (46).
    • These constraints  are only visible in retrospect. Through innovation, a new tool appears and we see the constraints of the first generation of the tools. As we examine the new tool, we also realize how the older tools may have limited an action. (47).
    • Meditational means also carry with it power and authority. Shipka argues that many academics hold academic writing as sacred in order to maintain power (47-48). 
  3. Tools or agents are developed from the past. There is a link to the past.
  4. Mediated action is transformed by the introduction of new meditational means (49). How does innovation change the composition process? The example of the writing by hand and with computer changes the act of writing. Shipka has an interesting example when she says that the desktop computer limits writing because it confines the writer to the space. Since the publication of her book, we can write on our phones either through typing or even scribbling and have a program transcribe it (50). Even Shipka didn’t anticipate how outdated her commentary could be.

Shipka says that this framework affords us the opportunity to examine both the final product and process. We also see literacy as more nuance. We also give more attention to the tools used and how it affects the composition process and composition product.

I think Shipka has a great point that technology can begin to seep into our everyday practices such that we begin to see it as normal and we fail to examine the complexity of literacy. We can take these technologies for granted,  only reflecting when the technology fails us or when the old technology is eclipsed by the new technology. I love how she says that we need to be more in the moment and reflect about current technology. Maybe it means we slow down and examine our processes for composing a text.

The problem is that instructors must also value the tools used and validated the importance of the process for composing a text. The instructors also need to make it transparent to the student so that they value the tools used. As Shipka says, there is power in maintaining the status quo and I wonder how many instructors would truthfully give the process or the tools used as much credit as the final product. The process is unique for each student and it can be hard to evaluate the myriad of tools used.  In some cases, the students may have greater understanding of the process or the tools and that would mean the student would be in control. Would instructors be comfortable with that?

 

 

More Thoughts on Shipka

I echo some of the thoughts on the previous post on Shipka.  I think it deserves further discussion.

I appreciated today’s discussion on Shipka because I had mixed feelings about her argument, although I still have some concerns: exactly what kind of “changes” is she proposing be made to the composition curriculum? I understand that she urges us to think about assigning multimodal assignments instead of more traditional essay tasks. She claims that the same SLOs can still be met by assigning multimodal assignments. It sounds great to me, and I liked some of her own examples of such exercises, but why must the field of composition become obsessed with multimodality? What is wrong with a healthy, diverse curriculum that may include some multimodal and some traditional assignments, depending on who is teaching it? While Shipka is definitely an accomplished writer, and she expertly positions her part of the conversation among so many other voices, I’m not sure I get the urgency of her argument. I think what she has to say has considerable value; I just don’t see if the “reform” or “revolution” she’s calling for be beneficial, if even possible. I mean this earnestly, please, somebody tell me what it is that I’m missing. Maybe I don’t get it because I only read one chapter (plus the intro and the conclusion).

Here’s an example of what I mean from Chapter Five. These are the SOGC Questions she proposes:

  1. What, specifically, is this piece trying to accomplish— above and beyond satisfying the basic requirements outlined in the task description? In other words, what work does, or might, this piece do? For whom? In what contexts?
  2. What specific rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological choices did you make in service of accomplishing the goal( s) articulated above? Catalog, as well, choices that you might not have consciously made, those that were made for you when you opted to work with certain genres, materials, and technologies.
  3. Why did you end up pursuing this plan as opposed to the others you came up with? How did the various choices listed above allow you to accomplish things that other sets or combinations of choices would not have?

 Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2059-2066). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me.

Now, these are the questions that she’s compiled from more “expressivist” scholars about self-reflection:

  • What did you try to improve, or experiment with, on this paper? How successful were you? What are the strengths of your paper? Place a squiggly line beside those passages you feel are very good. What are the weaknesses, if any, of your paper? Place an X beside passages you would like your teacher to correct or revise. What one thing will you do to improve your next piece of writing? What grade would you give yourself on this composition? Justify it (Beaven 1977).
  • Have you written a paper like this one before? Have your ideas about the topic changed since you started writing the paper? How? Have you made changes in your paper during or after writing a draft of it? What are the three most important changes you have made? In the process of writing this paper, did you do anything that was different from what you have done when writing papers in the past? What was it? (Faigley et al. 1985).
  • What do you see as your main point( s)? How did this process differ from your usual writing? Did you write things that surprised you, things that you did not know you were thinking and feeling? Which parts went well or badly for you? (Elbow 1999).
  • • Where were you challenged? What did you risk in writing the text in this way? What did you learn about yourself as a writer and/ or writing in general while drafting this piece? If you had three more weeks, what would you work on? Estimate your success with this text (Bishop 1997).
  • You’ve given this text to a friend and he or she gives you four ideas for making it stronger and/ or more accessible to a general audience. What would those four things be, and how would you feel about doing them? How would each change improve your paper or ruin what you have been attempting? (Bishop 1997).

Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2118-2133). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me too!

I do understand that her SOGCs are more analytical in nature and the other ones are more process oriented. But I don’t see why we can’t just use them all, depending on the needs of the assignment, the philosophy and personality of the teacher and the relationship that teacher has with her students?

I do appreciate all the care she takes in explaining the importance of multimodality, new media, etc. Yes, this is something that the field of Composition must include in its curriculum.   But why is it important that we only teach toward multimodality? Why can’t some of us sometimes still teach using some “more traditional” kinds of assignments? As far as I am concerned, we should teach it all, but not all the time. The personality and individuality of a teacher are key qualities that students latch onto – this is how students connect with their favorite teachers. Maybe I am ignorant, but it seems that teaching a multimodal-only class would be a forced and foreign proposition for me, and I fear that my personality and individuality would be sacrificed in service of a compulsory multimodal composition world. I like to use a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I like a little Elbow to balance out my Bartholomae. I feel the need to rein in my Donald Murray with a loose lasso of Stanley Fish. And, certainly, Shipka is invited too.

 

Multimodality in the Composition Classroom

 

In Towards a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka argues that we should reconsider college composition. In Chapter 1, she begins her argument by summarizing the traditional approach to teaching writing in college. Shipka argues that multimodal assignments should be a part of composition classrooms to make the learning relevant to students. She says that tools like social network and editing software can promote a multimodal learning experience. At the same time, she wants to avoid defining multimodal as strictly the technological tools that we use. Instead she argues that students can have a true multimodal learning experience “negotiat[ing]– an interplay of words, images, sounds, scents and movement (21). She supports this definition because it reflects students’ out of class literacy practices, one that is dynamic and reflective of their unique discourse communities.

 

In addition, Shipka notes the traditional practice of teaching college composition often alienates students and she says instructors can overcome this perception by transforming writing as a process for creating authentic communication. She argues that the traditional way of teaching freshman composition creates an artificial corridor around the skills developed in a classroom, hard to acquire and just as difficult to employ outsides the classroom. Instead, Shipka encourages instructors to equip students with an “experimental attitude” so that they see that literacy is context dependent and part of a social practice. To accomplish this lofty goal, instructors should be mindful of helping students develop transferable skills, by weaving students’ out of school writing practices into their teaching while shepherding students through a process to tailor their writing to fit their audience, purpose and genre.

 

I am glad that Shipka clarified what multimodal assignments should be. I initially thought that it should be about the use of technology or the use of visual images. I think my initial definition of multimodality was underdeveloped. I agree with her that we should help our students negotiate and mold different texts and have them interact with one another. We do live in a dynamic world with technology disrupting our very conception of writing. I think it would be useful to incorporate multimodal texts into the classroom so that students see that composition can include a lot of different mediums.

 

At the same time, I am also mindful that many of us operate in an academic setting where there are certain conventions that give students power and access. In that case, I believe that it is still important to teach students how to write for an academic audience. Shipka says instructors can be comprehensive by incorporating multimodality into their instruction and teach academic composition. Shipka says there is enough time to do it all but I question her stance. There are Student Learning Outcomes to follow and I will be evaluated based on my ability to meet these standards. I am afraid that privileging multimodal assignments leaves me little time to meet my SLOs. I see multimodality as text to introduce to the class but I would not assign the production of a multimodal assignment because I don’t know how valuable it is for their academic experience. I can have my students write a visual essay but what happens when they go to their history class and they are asked to write a research paper? Have I failed my students if I don’t teach them how to write a type of paper that is privileged in academia?

 

 

 

 

Motivation and Composing Tools

After reading Derek Ittersum and Kory Ching’s webtext, Composing Text / Shaping Process: How Digital Environments Mediate Writing Activity, and Paul Prior and Jody Shipka’s article, Chronotopic Lamination: Tracing the Contours of Literate Activity, I became interested in the different accounts of motivation in regards to writing or process. From what I gathered from the texts, there are several primary categories of motivation: distraction-free environments, games and playfulness, negative reinforcement, and collaboration/community. Because I have used a composing tool that practices positive reinforcement (Written? Kitten!), I will also add this motivation to the list of categories and elaborate on this in a moment.

Motivation – Distraction Free

Ittersum and Ching address David Allen’s notion of “distraction free;” Allen states that “stress-free productivity” has two components:

  1. It has a method for capturing and organizing any information competing for one’s attention, with the goal of removing distractions that hinder productivity.
  2. The second part is identifying, and then either doing, delegating, or deferring the very next action that needs to be taken on any given project.

He continues defining “distraction free” by arguing that, “The distraction-free writing tool not only removes obvious distractors, like system trays and browser windows, but also somehow removes the distracting temptation to revise and edit on-the-fly”. This makes programs like Word Processor seem like the ultimate distraction filled tool – allowing writers to jump into the editing or formatting phase before having a fairly solid draft.

Some of the composing tools highlighted by Ittersum and Ching include Writeroom and OmmWriter. Writeroom utilizes “old-school” features like a “green-on-black aesthetic and limited view, [which] signals to potential users a promise to reconfigure writing activity so that there is less distraction.” Ommwriter attempts to create a relaxing minimalist environment with “audio-visual features that contribute to an immersive and motivating experience for some users.” In both programs, the writer is focused on just getting words on the page, rather than tasks like editing and formatting that would distract the writer from “higher-order concerns” or initial critical drafting stages.

The lack of distractions within the writing environment act as a motivation to start and continue the writing process.

Motivation – game

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Screenshot of Write or Die

Another motivation noted by Ittersum and Ching is the element of “play” and the feeling that writing is more of a “game.” They suggest that writing with composing tools such as OmmWriter is “not just writing; it is also a game, or an immersive experience that potentially motivates a writer in unexpected ways.” I think tools with game-like features motivate the writer through their process by making their experiences more enjoyable – I know I would much rather play a game like Alien Isolation or Dead Space than work on my essays for class. However, if my writing process consisted of game-like elements, I can weave these actions together, making the experience much more interesting and potentially fun. For the “Composing Tool Reflection” assignment, I initially wanted to use Write or Die because I could see the game-like appeal. It provides objectives, consequences, and rewards throughout the writing process using the tool – similar to the games that I play in my free time. I think there could be an interesting relationship between writing and games that result in a weird but positive genre collision.

Motivation – Negative Reinforcement

Ittersum and Ching discuss Write or Die further in regards to its use of negative reinforcement. The notes that, “On its surface, it might seem like the polar opposite of an application like OmmWriter. It, too, is billed as a distraction-free writing tool, but […] Write or Die employs a graduated system of potential negative reinforcement to prevent users from not writing.” I think this is an interesting motivation, but I have some tension when it comes to employing writing tools that provide negative reinforcements. This is mostly attributed by my experiences tutoring for Fullerton College – one of the things we did in the writing center when we didn’t have an appointment was create “how to” worksheets and templates for students. I remember making a template once that attempted to explain how to create creative titles. I wrote a couple “don’t do x,y,z” statements down, and an instructor was pissed, saying that it’s better to note “to do’s” and “you’ll get an A if’s” than providing examples that hinted at wrong-doings and elements of negative reinforcement.

After that experience, among others, I have a hard time applying negative reinforcement to writing tasks. Oddly enough, when it comes up in conversation, more often than not, students use negative reinforcement to get them through their tasks or obligations – “I need to do this. If I don’t I’ll get an F and have to take the class over;” “I should keep drafting so I don’t get behind.” If negative reinforcement is so negative in an academic setting or for academic tasks, then why the hell do students feel so much more comfortable using it, including myself? Weird.

Motivation – Positive Reinforcement

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Screenshot of Written? Kitten!

I didn’t see anything on positive reinforcement in the texts, but I have experienced using a composing tool that utilizes this as motivation to write. For the “Composing Tool Reflection,” I used a site called Written? Kitten! – for every X amount of words you write, a picture of a kitten pops up to keep you going. I set the word count to 100 words. For every 100 words written, a new kitten popped up on the right hand side. For me, a self-identified cat-lady, this was incredibly effective. I wanted to write more and more for the sake of seeing another kitten (and finishing the writing task, of course…but mostly kittens). I can see game-like elements in here as well.

I wonder what other composing tools use positive reinforcement as the main motivation.

Motivation – Collaboration/Community

Prior and Shipka discussed the use of social networking and collaboration as a main motivation for writing. In their article, they observed that:

Neuman sought out friends who would not only help her to generate a diverse list of values, but who would also help sustain her motivation. When her classmates told her the word jumble was inefficient and would not be graded well, she sought out friends from home, other voices, who would shore up her courage. Her account then displays intentional structuring of the social as well as the physical and symbolic environment. Seeking out particular social interactions was, in fact, a common feature for all four writers.

I think this is an important motivation that most (from what I’ve observed) writers practice. In our classrooms, peer review and writing workshops are frequent practices. However, after reading this article, I now look at these class activities or practices as more than just ways for students to get constructive feedback. Collaboration and exercises that highlight community do more than provide students with revision suggestions, they encourage students on a more personal level by evoking feelings of support, camaraderie, empathy, and inspiration.

Given this list of different motivations, I wonder what other ones there might be that haven’t been discussed in the readings. I would be interesting in discovering and exploring more motivations and how they contribute to the writing process or other composing tools.

SIDE NOTE:

Can we take a moment to feel how real this shit is; the experience of receiving “paralyzing” feedback and somehow making it work:

Taken from Prior and Shipka’s article:

Narrating the process drawing, Kazmer described completing the first draft, getting written responses from her advisor, and then a scene so traumatic she had not even drawn it.

I finally did get something that looked more like a workable draft— something on the order of thirty pages, I sent that to her [Kazmer’s advisor] and she came back with a page of comments guiding me about what I should do next … and this cost me—when I first read it I was really,really happy. I was like, “Oh great! She read it, she understands where I’m trying to go, she’s giving me specific things that I need to do to fix it. I know exactly what I need to do.” When I sat down to try to implement this into this text, I actually wound up here again [Kazmer points to the image she drew of her sitting, not writing, in her apartment], but it was so much more traumatic that it’s not even in the picture. This was me writing and this is me with all these bazillion drafts. And I just really—totally left this part out. Because this had me absolutely paralyzed for about two weeks. I mean, paralyzed. I sat in front of the computer and would cry. [Shipka: “the fact that you couldn’t incorporate”] Yeah. [Shipka: “what she had sent.”] I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate and she’s really busy and, and I had met with her once about it, face to face and I was just like, I was just like, “I can’t do this. I can’t go and talk to her again and I can’t write this!” And I tried. I mean, I wrote all over this stuff! I wrote here what her notes are. She had notes in the document. I went back in and, and interpolated my own notes in the document, trying to figure out how to do all these things to this. It never, it never happened!

She went on then to describe how she got past this serious block.

When I finally got started working again, it was not with this… It started out with this draft actually. But, not these comments… So, this is when I wound up splitting the thing into the multiple files and, and really sitting there and just trying to hash out—I mean I, I had all these techniques for getting yourself un-panicked and, and one of the things that worked was that this is me breaking up into the three files and the time with each one and the, and the continuing things and what really helped me was, um, just focusing on, like, a little tiny thing. like, okay, one thing I know I have to do with this is I have to go through it paragraph by paragraph and make it less chatty. Okay. I can do that. I can turn something that sounds chatty into something that sounds academic.

Interestingly, Kazmer found that changing the tone of the language revealed content issues she had not recognized.

But what happened from there was that I started realizing whether there was content missing. Because when I flopped it from a chatty style where you can get away with saying things like bleah-bleah-blah blah blah and you try to turn it into very specific academic type writing you start to notice content missing. Well, that’s okay. I can fill in missing content! OOH! And then, it’s, then it started to go together!

Sorry for the long post:

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For Writers, Technology Matters, but So Do Peace and Quiet

I really enjoyed reading Jim Porter’s text, “Why Technology Matters to Writing: A Cyberwriter’s Tale.” His recounting of how his writing changed due to the technological advances he experienced between 1960 and 1995 was really helpful in keeping my (tired) motor running while working on my final project.

grad-student-brain

My brain is currently looking something like this; hence, my motor’s running out of gas…

My project explores the following questions: “Do new media and technologies have an effect on our students’ writing?” Dennis Baron’s book, A Better Pencil, features heavily in my project, so I especially appreciated the fact that Porter maintains a conversation with Baron in “Why Techology Matters.” Specifically, Porter quibbles with Baron (whose argument is that today’s new writing technologies are no more groundbreaking than older technologies, such as the pencil and typewriter): According to Porter, these newer technologies aren’t just “another pencil,” but rather quite revolutionary. Why? They’re changing the way human beings relate to one another in unprecedented ways; for instance, today’s new media connects people who are further apart, and with a serious quickness. No typewriter or pencil can pull that off!

Reading Derek Van Ittersum’s and Kory Lawson Ching’s “Composing Text/Shaping Process: How Digital Environments Mediate Writing Activity” made me reconsider how technologically advanced I really am (okay, that and the fact that I have yet to obtain a smart phone, even though my moderately tech-averse Baby Boomer mom finally broke down and got one!). After all, for well over a decade, academics have been moving away from paying attention to traditional word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word. Instead, Google Docs (which I do use) and Open Office are what’s “on fleek,” as the young, tech-savvy whippersnappers would say. However, what I found especially interesting was Van Ittersum’s and Ching’s discussion of distraction-free writing tools, which I never heard of until taking this class:

Many of these tools eschew what is sometimes called the “feature bloat” of mainstream word processing applications, and favor instead more streamlined experiences and environments (Van Ittersum & Ching).

In addition, the simplicity of these tools is encouraging us to focus more intently on the tasks at hand. This makes sense to me; after all, one of the major changes new media have brought into our lives is this: serious, constant distraction.

Focus, Kitty

Granted, distractions have always existed, even during the Typewriter Era. However, today’s new technologies are a lot like a needy, barking dog: awesome, but constantly and aggressively drawing our attention away from our tasks. Generally, our society is geared towards using new technologies for multitasking instead of focusing, but multitasking is a big-time enemy to writing, which requires quiet contemplation and focus. For this reason, I’m going to consider integrating this tool into my own composition classroom. Perhaps this tool can help my students learn yet another way to work effectively with new technologies.

 

A Grammarian’s Love/Hate Relationship to Microsoft Word

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OK, I am by no means “perfect” at grammar and style (who is?), but having tutored for a long time, taught English to speakers of other languages, and endured the misfortune of having a penchant for foreign women whose secondary and tertiary languages are English, which, admittedly, somehow results in a grammar lesson at least once a week, I think I know a bit about grammar.

Even when I write paragraph-long sentences.

And fragments.

Because I know the rules, such as not beginning sentences with “because,” that Word somehow doesn’t flag for some reason unbeknownst to me, yet watch it squiggly-underline any nonrestrictive relative clause using “which” that is lacking commas or recommend the deletion of a comma before “that,” for “that” should be used for restrictive clauses.

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Yet, as McGee and Ericsson point out, modern style guides are actually far less binary and restrictive (wonk wonk) and it is not uncommon to find professionally published articles whose authors maintain a more flexible view on grammar. In fact, our beloved MSGC (Microsoft Grammar Check) is a bit mysterious in the way it determines the “correctness” of a sentence. Are we talking about Shrunk & White, the “classic”? There is something ironic about every construction of passive voice being flagged by MSGC, even if the passive form isn’t necessarily bad at all. <== Might I note that MSGC failed to notice the passive voice I just used. Perhaps because the sentence was too complex for the program.

However, it DID highlight “…actually far less binary and restrictive” as a “colloquialism.”

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Of course, for those whom “Standard Academic English” is second nature, it is easy to ignore MSGC. If I accidentally overlooked something I wouldn’t otherwise do, or if I hadn’t intended on splitting an infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition, MSGC can point it out and I may consider it. And however you look at it, MSGC can be very helpful because you know what, you might have written something that would make anyone in his or her right mind say:

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Microsoft Word drives me crazy sometimes because it keeps highlighting non-mistakes and what is otherwise perfectly good English.

However, one of the more “serious” issues about MSGC, as McGee and Ericsson mention, is that because it is the dominant word processor on the market, its grammar checker is regulating language and policing the way we write. It is an extension of the “elite.”

For me, honestly, I think its arbitrary, stuffy rules are more troubling than the hegemonic linguistic structures it supports. Modern iterations of Word allow you to determine how formal you want your spell/grammar checker to be, so some of these complaints will eventually be phased out with future releases. I also wonder how dominant Microsoft Word will remain, particularly with Web 2.0 and many of our online activities, not to mention composing processes, moving to “the cloud.”

I wonder if we might have a “transparent” process of spell/grammar checking based on results indexed from the Internet? It sounds like it would be tough, but I think we have the technology to do it. Or perhaps you can download “style guides” into your browser-based word processor and select one based on the genre/audience of the text you’re composing. Or maybe, like Wikipedia, where everyone is free to contribute to articles (creating a democratic, shared body of knowledge – at least in theory), we can have a “worldwide English style guide” that anyone and everyone can add to, reaching a consensus and finding a balance across all Anglophone cultures.

As for why I don’t think MSGC’s enforcement of SAE is that big of a deal, it’s because I think that MSGC is a contributor to the problem, not the source of it. MSGC is simply coding that attempts to “flag” what some old school style guide out there said was “correct” grammar and style. If those style guides were more liberal with which to begin (ha, ha), then MSGC wouldn’t be as much of a pain in the ass as it is. And in some ways, isn’t it helpful? Sure, we ought to be critical of it, but it isn’t perfect, and I’m glad it isn’t, or you and I wouldn’t have tenable jobs!

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Microsoft Word’s grammar check function is annoying, but I could care less.

(Didn’t catch that one, MSGC!)

Relating to “A Cyberwriter’s Tale”

In “Why technology matters to writing: A cyberwriter’s tale,” Jim Porter makes the case of how technology impacts and benefits writing through his personal narrative. He details how technology impacts writing based on the applications of the technology and the disposition of the writer. Each technology has a different purpose, and through his story of developing as a writer, he tracks his development through different composing tools (handwriting, typewriting, and cyberwriting). Porter’s story demonstrates how each composing tool not only influences writer’s practices but congeals to the writer. He asserts that composing tools work with the writer in unison, and therefore he suggests theorist and researchers need to celebrate the “variations of form and the complexity and fluidity of identity” that is being a digital writer (388). His examination ends by pressing readers to shift from a humanist viewpoint of “whether technology is good or bad, useful or not, humanizing or not” to the posthumanist viewpoint of “how we can shape technologies to improve human life” (388).

Porter discusses his early experience with writing teachers and learning” good penmanship (that is, readability) mattered” (377). Albeit my experience was different than his, but I could relate to his “hours and hours of disciplined handwriting practice” (377). I moved regularly as a child, and because of that I never learned how to write in cursive. By the time I reached high school, most of my teachers wrote in cursive on the board or in my feedback and I could barely decipher what they wrote. I spent hours and hours teaching myself to write and read cursive as a teenager so that I could read my others penmanship. Now I look at technology and I work with my old high school teachers who have started doing everything on PowerPoint, and I realize that cursive is becoming less and less a requirement “in terms of the credibility and character of the writer” (377).

Porter also discusses his experience learning to type. He recalls his learning how type on a typewriter, and “typing and retyping the same lines over and over” (378). Although I did not learn to type using a typewriter, my early education placed extreme importance on learning to type. From first to eighth grade I was also forced to retype the same lines over and over again, but I did not get the same experience of “examin[ing], reread[ing], contemplat[ing], and refin[ing] my style” (378) because I was simply reproducing in my typing classes. This made me think how valuable it would have been to practice my own writing in typing courses instead of reproducing sentences like ‘The dog ran up the hill.’ I have also regularly thought about how writing and engaging with process by retyping has dramatically changed in the era of the word processor. I very rarely use things like my spell or grammar check first when reviewing an essay on my word processor because I feel like that distracts from my own reflection and refinement of a text.

While word processor programs make completing writing tasks highly “efficient,” I cannot help but feel like I am missing out on some sort of deeper writing process by always having to engage with my computer. When I was younger, I could not go into a bookstore without buying a journal. I have started countless journals where I have written daily in the first 15-20 pages and then slowly stopped and forgotten about the journal in favor of consuming my time with technology. But each time I return to a bookstore and head for the check out I cannot help but pick up a new journal thinking that somehow, some way putting pen to paper will make me a better or more active writer. It took me years to realize that I was already writing and journaling by emailing, using social media, and keeping up with my school and work assignments. I was already improving my process by using technology despite how the transaction of typing versus writing may make me feel. Composing tools may vary and be ever evolving, but they all improve process if one is still participating in the transaction of creating text.

My Arguments with “The Database and the Essay”

“It is true that neither novelty nor invention is requisite  for copyright protection, but minimal creativity is required” (Bender V West Pub. qtd. In Johnson-Eilola, WNM 206).

 

I am a postmodern by heart, but I don’t understand the meaning of the statement above.  Creativity can be defined as the production or invention of “something that didn’t exist before in the world” (WNM 206), but who is to judge if the production or invention was already in existence before the producer/inventor put it in the world?  Where is the creativity police?  I imagine they must have their plate full.  “Minimal” is a quantifying term, as in “a little bit.”  How can we discern, then, whether a production or invention is only “minimally new?”  Not only would it be difficult, in the first place, to determine beyond the shadow of a doubt whether something is “new” or “old,” but it would seem nearly impossible to determine if it is only “a little bit new.” How “little” is a little bit?  I get a headache just thinking of all the possible and plausible answers to this question.  And I am reminded of John Barth in his seminal essay on (literary) postmodernism, “The Literature of Exhaustion” (yes, this is a “deep link” and I share it unapologetically)  in which he quotes an editor of Jorge Luis Borges: “For [Borges] no one has claim to originality in literature; all writers are more or less faithful amanuenses of the spirit, translators and annotators of pre-existing archetypes” (73).  This sounds like a modest and elegant philosophy; however, even Borges’s works are copyrighted.  In Borges’s most notable book, Labyrinths, I get lost in his wit, and I can’t separate the fact from the fiction, as the author is infamous for blending and blurring reality and make-believe.  So, returning to Johnson-Eilola’s point, what is “truth”?  What is “creativity”? (What’s “new”/what’s old?) And, how can we put a retail price on “little bits” of intellectual property?

But despite our postmodern climate of intertextuality, new media, shared authorship and regulated intellectual property, we still need to take responsibility -and hold our students accountable -for meaning making.  “[C]ommunities create contingent meanings through a process of negotiation, with specific articulations made real only in concrete, specific contexts. So common meanings arise through shared usage, but those meanings are also open to debate and change” (WNM 207).  As far as I’m concerned, Composition is a field in which we teach clear written communication, which goes against the chaotic tenets of postmodern theory.  Even though we are in a postmodern time, we still need to teach our students to make sense of the world, their thoughts and how to go about producing meaningful texts.

As for the economics of intellectual property in “chunks” as opposed to whole texts, I need to ask this question: is academic conversation and inquiry a commodity or a practice for developing our intellectual lives?  I understand the regulation of paying for rights of use of large “properties” such as textbooks and even hefty college readers, assuming that they present complete works (full articles and essays).  But does this mean that we need to ask permission to quote from other scholarship in our own writings and handouts?  Let’s say I have a block quote of 400+ words that I insert into a writing prompt – should I have to ask permission to use this “property” from the publishers?  Should I be expected to pay for the use?  If this is the direction in which regulation is going, as I am hearing from Johnson-Eilola, then nobody will want to quote “chunks” of other texts anymore.  How will we deal with this?  What materials will we be left with as our teaching offerings?   Somebody please tell me that this regulation won’t also fall onto students writing papers!  How will we teach our students to deal with it?  Many students are resistant to conversing with other scholars as it is – what will happen when they have to seek permission to use every single quote?  Will they wait for a response?  Will they pay for it if required?  Please tell me this isn’t where we’re headed!

Then, there’s the independent scholar who wants to self-publish eBooks and sell them for a buck.  She wants to join in the conversation and will have many quotes from many previous texts in her essays and inquiries.  Does she have to seek permission from every single publisher to reproduce two and three-sentence quotations that are already properly crediting the respective authors of “little bits of creativity”?  What percentage of a book’s one-buck-profit will a publisher expect to get for a two-sentence quotation of a scholarly article published in 1988?  This scenario may seem hypothetical, but it’s not.  I am currently editing an indie book on piano practice, and I honestly don’t know what “fair use” is anymore.  (I would appreciate any advice, if you happen to have it).

“We can’t separate writing from the economic sphere” (WNM 212).  I don’t know what do to with this statement either.  As I read the words and decode their meaning, I say that we must certainly can and even should separate writing from economics (unless you’re writing about economics).  I understand that we must deal with the regulations and restrictions that come along, and we should also pass this wisdom onto our students, but what exactly does Johnson-Eilola mean?  And why does she list this as the first item under “New Responsibilities in Construction?”

Some random final notes:  I found the idea of “writing as architecture” fascinating and, indeed, New Media writing is much more like “building” something than plain text could ever be. I am also indebted to the author for the long section on weblogs, which is a big help for my research project, and for the different digital assignments and exercises we can use in the composition classroom.

Writing Process and Identity

In “Why Technology Matters to Writers: A Cyberwriter’s Tale” Jim Porter narratives his experience using various technologies to assist in writing throughout his lifetime. Porter claims that technology matters because whatever  the tool, it influences the product and process. Humans and technology should not be seen as binary, therefore Porter makes the argument that is this the day of the cyborg and technology is apart of most human interactions. Technology betters society and humankind and is an inescapable process; technology ascends beyond the word computer because it is environment will possibilities, complexity, and variations that betters society.

I am not on Facebook or Instagram but I am Twitter and Reddit constantly. I live in front of my computer. Everything is online and with work, social, personal, and cultural I am online more than anything else. I am very much molded from my online and writing experiences. I have my own process and I even have my own rituals, patterns, procedures, and preferred writing space.

In “Chronotopic Lamination: Tracing the Contours of Literate Activity” Paul Prior and Jody Shipka research peoples’ the environment selecting and structuring writing practices. People in the study were asked to draw an autobiographical picture of their writing process and write about their feelings about writing in general as well as in relation to their personalized writing environment. Then they were asked to write about their regulated patterns of attention and writing actions within said environment making a connection to the social and cultural practices and literary activity. The research concluded that writers strategies for writing varied depending on tasks, lives, work, personalities, and their preferred place. It was analyzed that people organize their writing spaces conducive to their learning needs with three conscious and unconscious factors. First,  social and collective motives of education; industry; labor; historical development of race, genre, sexuality, and nationality. Second, operations with unconscious goals/ ideology such as religion, science, and law. Finally, personal motivation and purpose of writing.

I do most of my writing in cafes- the same two. With the loud background music and the constant flow of caffeine, it keeps in motivated. I cannot work in my apartment or room because I get extremely distracted and start doing other things. I sit in the same spot and lay out all my materials for the compositing process with a to do checklist. Sometimes I put on my head phones and listen to ambient music. My process allows me to have steps and order of operations that help me with the extrinsic process.

The metacognitive activity of composing and writing is interesting. I began to take notice more of my own process.

Questions I have asked myself about the process:

  1. Where do I consistently compose?
  2. Am I sitting or laying?
  3. Do I set up or clean up my area first? Why?
  4. Does my writing environment reflect my process of thinking or writing?
  5. What feels natural and what feels forced?
  6. How does my process benefit the outcome?