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.

 

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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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