September 2, 2010

What We Talk About When We are Talking About Pedagogy II

Filed under: pedagogy,writing — jrice @ 9:04 am

We find another relevant question regarding pedagogy when we examine the Expos model. Spellmeyer does an excellent job explaining the logic behind the course:

Teaching Expos 101 from Expos the Movie on Vimeo.

The process approach detailed makes sense in many ways. Still, what we are hearing is the conflation of a few practices. Among them:

  • The legacy of Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Ways of Reading. Cultural studies inspired analysis – close readings of texts – accompanied by some element of “finding the conversation” at stake.
  • Expressivism. All the answers are unto me.

I say this because if you look closely at the sequence Expos teaches, you’ll see that, at first, the only way to do a “close analysis” is to look within one’s self. In later parts of the sequence, there is some opportunity for context (two texts, three texts) but is still limited in focus and depends greatly on a student looking within for ideas.

Writing Exercise: One Text, Close Reading

The first assignment of the semester focuses on a “close reading” of a single text—an article, essay, or book chapter. A “close reading” is a response that requires more than a cursory summary. Close reading asks students to explore the specific details of the text’s argument as well as the larger implications. Even though many of the readings assigned in Expos are challenging on the first try, students can improve their understanding through class discussion, writing, re-reading, and revision.

Students are asked not to do a summary, and Spellmeyer details the pedagogy of throwing out parts of a paper that are summary as opposed to analysis. “90 percent summary, 10 percent argument,” he notes regardingt he average assignment turned in early on. One has to ask, however, how a student can do work that is not really summary or that is more than “cursory” by only examining the text itself. First year students – and undergraduates in general – come to the classroom with limited cultural capital, or what we might call a limited database of information to draw upon. In doing a close reading, then, a student looks deep within herself, and finds some type of response (“I think….”). Without context or sources, that response can easily be cliche or commonplace. For this reason, William Coles yells at his students in The Plural I for their lack of understanding of the amateur. Coles is mistaken in his disappointment; what else can the students do but look within? They have not yet been given the opportunity to do the in-depth work he wants. Coles believes that these databases are natural, rather than built.

For me to use terms in this short post such as:

  • Ways of Reading
  • Expressivism
  • William Coles
  • Database

I have to have some level of cultural captial regarding rhetoric and composition or some type of database to draw upon. I have a PhD, so this process is not as difficult for me. I can trace a network of information without consulting sources first (and if my mental tracing is not detailed enough, I know where to look quickly). Those who are being interpellated into academic or school thinking are not yet at that level. They are left with the methodology folks like me spend much time trying to break: the writer writes based on what she already knows. What she already knows, in many cases, is limited. Writing does not become a vehicle for learning, then, but becomes a confirmation of what is known unto me. This was Expressivism’s greatest fault as a pedagogy.

This is not an argument agaist Rutgers or its own challenges regarding teaching writing across what is likely over 100 sections taught by graduate students and maybe non-tenure line instructors. I don’t believe the pedagogy I’m critiquing here is unique to Rutgers. It’s here at Missouri as well.

1 Comment

  1. I’m getting ready right now to watch the 35 minute “The Expos Five” movie (while multitasking/getting some stuff done around here), and one of the things that I find striking is that the description of the “Expo” class is extremely traditional, the sort of writing class I took as a college student 25 years ago. Maybe I’ll see something different with the movie, but this clip is in some ways disappointing. The movie is compelling and interesting and, as you point out, Spellmeyer is compelling and interesting in this scene (and it’s a “good tip” to mark the “summary” and “argument” passages in peer review). But as far as an approach to writing goes, it’s not exactly “innovative,” is it?

    Comment by Steve Krause — September 3, 2010 @ 8:17 am

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