The Art of Feedback & Assessment

This week’s articles were very interesting, and they made me remember the times when I was in elementary to high school. Oh, the writing experiences I had! Well, let’s begin with John Bean’s Writing Comments on Student Papers. Even though I work as a substitute teacher and have experience student-teaching as well, this article connected with me more as my past self, as a student of grade school. Written feedback on papers weren’t my favorite things to read (unless of course it was for a good reason). It was this following statement that irks me even to this day if I see it on a student’s paper: “You haven’t really though this through.” As the article states, how does the teacher know what the student thought, or how much? Maybe whatever they have written, is all they have to say. Why force the student to write more when it’s not genuinely coming out of them? It’s sad when that’s a comment considered to be put importance on. The point of feedback, in this case written, it to facilitate improvement which is done best via mitigated comments. Don’t hide the truth of what isn’t good, but don’t overshadow the positive elements in the work. The teacher should point out and emphasize the abilities of the student and not diminish their potential of becoming a wonderful writer because of a simple yet powerful mistake. Bean outlines the dual role of a writing teacher: first, coach and then, judge. It is a big responsibility to provide the appropriate criticism for students in the beginning to encourage them to do better and to make sure they understand their errors. They don’t know any better, and even if they do, make them act on it but as a positive coach, not as an obsessive perfectionist. When the final product is produced, the judging hats can come out because now the work will be graded based not only on what they knew, but based on what you taught them. Have they learned well? Only the final essay will tell. And like Bean suggest, this should be supported with a rubric so that the format and details of a well-written essay are specified to each student; they know what is expected of them.

The article also emphasized how grammatical errors are considered “lower-order concerns” for writers, but “high-level concerns” for readers. When I was in Middlesex County College, there was a professor who dropped my grade by one letter because of my grammatical errors on every paper. Was it my fault? No, because I wasn’t really taught grammar in school. It was skimmed over but not focused on. When I used to re-read my essays before submission, it seemed all right to me. But whenever I would get every paper back with a “B-/B+” with comments “Excellent content, but many grammatical errors. Overall, well-written,” I would be filled with frustration. Coming to Kean, I had my first and only class exclusively in grammar. Throughout, I wished I had this subject in elementary school. All my life I was never corrected by any of the teachers, and I was used to getting A’s. But I guess it’s like they say, there’s a first time for everything, and my first time not getting an A was thanks to a lack of understanding in grammar.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Our next topic is Peter Elbow’s Ranking, Evaluating and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment. First off, this article really took me back to my high school days, of watching cheat groups being honored and revered by the rest of the class. But that will be touched upon later. From the beginning of this article, it discusses how professionals are very fickle about their views on large-scale testing and assessment. And I can’t agree more. As a student, I was sick and tired of new forms of testing and grading criterion being thrown on me every year by different teachers. I would wonder “What do these teachers want from us? Why is it something new every single time?” But now I realize, it’s not always in teachers’ hands. In fact, most of the time it isn’t. They have to follow administration rules and I am 250% sure that they got more tired of it than I did as a student. When junior year of high school came along, GPA’s and class rankings were starting to become a big deal. But I didn’t think it was fair. All four years of work, plus everything I did to pass and reach that point, was summed up in one number? How is that “one number” supposed to properly represent me as a student, especially for college? And I was the one who had to do all the adaptation in school. Every year, the new English teacher (or whatever subject) would start off saying, “Whatever you learned last year, forget all that. This year, I will teach you the right way.” So, basically I wasted a whole year because they happened to be wrong and you’re my savior? It just never made any sense.

As the article progressed, I got reminded of my class’s cheat group. They were the ones who cared more about scores than learning. They didn’t work honestly and made sure that the ones who did, wouldn’t be included in their group, like me. It was U.S. History 1, a subject I thought I was horrible at because of how badly I did exams. But I realized later on, my teacher failed, not me. He would let us take tests on iPads and 95% of the class would Google answers and ace every exam. But I never approved of cheating and no matter how hard, I would study and get C’s every time. He never tested us on things we talked about in class, but yet, he had the nerve to tell my father during parent-teacher conferences that I wasn’t doing well in his class; like it was my fault, not his. Even to this day, his students get extra credit by bagging groceries at Shoprite because they do so badly in his class. Additionally, Elbow states that more cheating occurs by students who get high grades than those who get low grades. And I saw it in real-time. They cheated their way through every class, graduating school with the top ranks. I was #15 in my class senior year, but I was happy because I worked honestly. The valedictorian Googled her way through all the tests, but stood up there proud that she was #1.

All in all, these two articles really hit a note with me. It was personal, it was relatable and it really made me eager to implement the strategies used for successful and honest criticism, feedback and assessment. I have seen teachers fail because of their lack of know-how in these topics and it bothered me a lot as a student. I wouldn’t want to fail my students when I start teaching full-time. I want to be someone who will use these skills of coaching, judging, assessing and evaluating to help and encourage my students, not to hurt and frustrate them. I don’t believe in ranking, so I wouldn’t use that in my class. Similar to C.S. Lewis, I want to be someone who would describe my reason for approval or disapproval rather than just express it. Making someone a better writer is not just telling them what’s wrong; it’s showing them a destination and guiding them in getting there.

Apprehending the power of rhetoric

I think it is safe to say we are now officially gaining some “learning momentum” since yesterday was our third class together in “Writing Theory & Practice” – the foundation course for your MA in Writing Studies degree.  Your blog posts continue to enlighten and instruct, and you are making strong connections to the readings as well as to your experiences and innate wisdom.   Keep that up each week, and we will all marvel together at the learning “take-aways” once the semester comes to a close.

Our agenda slides from 9/28/20:

Lauer’s “Introduction to Writing Studies”

It was wonderful to start our discussion this week with some reflective freewriting (a low stakes write-to-learn approach) while connecting with our own memories of how we learned to write, as well as how we were taught to write.  I think this is an important reference point to keep in mind as we embark on the journey of considering theory & practice today (and how an understanding of writing has indeed evolved).  I am also pleased that we had a chance to apprehend the formal field of Rhetoric & Composition in order to understand our own place in an ever-growing field.   Some key issues that reverberate for me based on our reading of Lauer’s ‘Rhetoric & Composition”:

  • The fact that in the past rhetoric and reasoning functioned at the center of civic culture (Consider the peril of our working democracy today….what role does rhetoric and reasoning play in civic discourse?)
  • The complex relationship between reading & writing (…I think we will turn to this complex relationship over and over again with questions of our own);
  • The politics of Literary Studies research/scholarship vs. Writing Studies research/scholarship within the “umbrella” field of English Studies;
  • Does writing construct or merely transmit knowledge?;
  • Is writing social or individual?;
  • The disciplinary politics of writing – how writing is often understood as a teaching practice verses a research pursuit.

Kicking off the #Unboundeq discussion

Equity Unbound (aka @UnboundEq or #unboundeq) is an emergent, collaborative curriculum that aims to create equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries, and contexts.  As an #unboundeq connected course, we will participate in a networked conversation with other thinkers, activists, artists, scholars, educators, and students around the globe.  Along the way, we will also focus on issues that are critical for every writer in the digital age.

In the past week, you engaged with some early “Equity Unbound” shared content when you read the article “Othering & Belonging”.  We thought about the power of rhetoric to define, like “an invisible hand that has been sculpting our perception of self and others” (a quote from Kefah’s blog).  “Rhetoric is an act of consequence, ….breaking down and building up knowledge” (a quote from Amber’s blog).

We spent a bit of time at the close of class acclimating to the backchannel platform of twitter by participating in the Equity Unbound twitter scavenger hunt.  Equity Unbound is always a  “growing” conversation that we will continue to have beyond the four walls of our literal classroom each week.  We will discuss many important issues regarding writing and learning in the digital age with the #unboundeq network.  **Please remember to complete your #unboundeq scavenger hunt “tasks” this week – this is a great way to jumpstart the growth of the open online community, as we make some initial contact with educators and students from around the world through this opening activity.

What to anticipate for next week’s class?

We will start to build on this momentum for our class.  Our first theme for presentations will be “Feedback on Writing” and our presentation/discussion will be lead (in the first half of class) by Ryan & Sun.  They have asked us to read three articles in preparation for this discussion:

Your “to-do list”:

  1. Finish the opening “Twitter Scavenger Hunt“;
  2. Read the above articles.
  3. Post your Blog #3 which should be a thoughtful and synthetic reflection on these two readings from this week.  You are also welcome to include thoughts on the start of our Equity Unbound activities.  **Please remember to tweet your blog post after publishing it!

Next week in class, after Ryan & Sun’s presentation(s) on “Feeback on Writing,” the second part of our class will include a return to our online network with another Equity Unbound activity.  We will watch and reflect together on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The danger of a single story.  This will be done “synchronously” (that means in class when we are gathered together).  In class, we will also use the #unboundeq twitter hashtag to respond and share thoughts about this meaningful talk.

Have a great week, and hang in there, I know you are tired.  – Dr. Z

Ps.  Here are some tips on how to prepare for your ENG 5020 presentation:

Art of Critiquing

From the start it was clear that both assigned readings – Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgement and Writing Comments on Student’s Papers – were about beneficial and helpful methods one could consider when evaluating one’s work. It’s an interesting subject to think about because it is easy to judge a piece of work at any level, but to properly provide necessary feedback and create discussion is a skill that must be honed.

What I mean by that, is that a more effective way to analyze someone’s work is to find areas of where improvements are needed, but not forgetting to add positive feedback and ways for the writer to self-identify their own errors. Writing Comments on Student’s Papers made an excellent point of considering emotions with the phrase “Negative comments, however well intentioned they are, lend to make students feel bewildered, hurt, or angry. They stifle further attempts at writing”. That is important to consider because I think as humans, there is an innate feeling of wanting to ‘fight back’ against something that is perceived negative, so any type of well-meaning criticisms may fall on deaf ears if not delivered in a meaningful matter.

As I browsed online for other examples of negative effects, I came across a blog named Criticism and its Negative Effects, and I found a supporting claim, which states “Most psychologists agree that criticism does not lead people to change behavior. Instead it creates anger and defensiveness on the part of the person criticized.  Communication between the parties is shackled, and positive relationships impeded.” This statement ties back into critiquing student works because it helps illustrate that positive reinforcement is helpful in the long run to encourage writers to improve their content.

I have a long history of critiquing in my years at Mason Gross. Every single one of my classes ended each unit with a class-wide critique session. It didn’t matter what kind of class was being taught, they were all necessary for our grades and our development of a keen eye. All of them had the same general rule – that every student were meant to provide both a positive and negative critique on the works being displayed. This method helped to ensure that the artist in question had an idea on where they could improve, and at the same time feel motivated by what was done well. It fostered a well-meaning community of artists that strongly encouraged working together to bring out the best of each other’s works, and it’s a sentiment that I feel helps the field of writing as well. In fact it is no different from how I was evaluated in my creative writing / literature analysis courses in my undergrad years.

Connecting these ideas with the other article, there is a point to be made about the idea of grading through the idea of ranking, or ‘letter grades’. One line that I fought interesting to observe is “Of course our first reactions are often nothing but global holistic feelings of approval or disapproval, but we need a system for communicating our judgements that nudges us to move beyond these holistic feelings and to articulate the basis of our feeling”. It echoes the same sentiment as the first article in that proper evaluation needs to provide a way for students to expand their minds and receive a sort of guiding path to their true potential, rather than worrying about what numerical value they receive. There isn’t room for a discussion, it is simply the act of receiving a grade and leaving it at that.

Another blog post I found reinforces the need to reconsider the concept of letter grading. A passage in The Problem with Letter Grades and How It’s Affecting Our Education System reads “As a society, we need to shift our emphasis from letter grades to actual learning. Too many of the problems include students interested in a particular subject, but not willing to take the risk. This behavior stems from the fear of failing. We need to encourage our students to welcome failure and see it as a learning experience rather than utter defeat.” I can’t say for sure if providing two blog posts as references is ideal in this situation, but I feel they both – including the one I just referenced – add quite a bit to the overall discussion. There is a universal ‘fear’ among students in classes, and it shifts their focus away from developing to being concerned about satisfying a rubric.

Ranking Evaluation reaffirms the concern of obediently following a guideline when it says “I’m doing this because I’m so fed up with students following or obeying my evaluations too blindly – making whatever changes my comments suggest but doing it for the sake of a grade…) It creates a stagnated feeling in learning, which is detrimental to everyone involved.

That isn’t to say that we must abolish the idea of practical grading and critiquing, but to consider what more can be done when assessing a piece of work. It needs to expand beyond the idea of plainly pointing out the mistakes and add ways to nurture ideas and let them blossom to their full potential.

Overall, I had a great time reading both articles as I learned a lot more about the ideas of critiquing. It helps to look at these and consider how much I am developing as a writer, think about what direction I might want to push towards as a writer, and to find ways to improve on what I can. I wasn’t sure how much of my artistic background would assist me in my writing education, but I’m happy to report that they aren’t as different as I initially thought.

Links to the blogs I’ve mentioned earlier:

Rhetoric and Composition, and so much more!

Truthfully I never pondered the history of writing, but after reading Janice Laure’s “Rhetoric and Composition,” I can say that I have missed out on a lot of information. Rhetoric and composition have evolved throughout the years, and to my surprise, there once a time when “the graduate study of rhetoric had disappeared from English studies.” Immediately, I asked aloud, “how does that even happen?” Statements like these allowed me to keep reading and stumble upon topics that I could not only agree with but think more in-depth about and reflect on my experiences.

Let’s us begin with my favoprite secotion of the reading, Style, Voice, Ethos, Ethics, and Affect. I find writer’s voice interesting as everyone has a different voice in which I do not think students in grade school understand. Students can quickly copy and paste from Google or change the sentence structure, not realizing the teacher knows. Many English teachers provide their students with a writing activity during the first week of school to see their writing capabilities. The reading states that “Walker Gibson demonstrated how every writer’s choices (of words, sentence structures, and other features) create a personality or voice.” From one assignment, one can determine the writer’s style; therefore, when students begin to use other’s work, the voice of the writing gives it away to let the teacher know that it is not the student’s original work.

 Studies of Composing Process is where Laure touches on prewriting in which I have a love-hate relationship. Throughout grade school, my teachers would require their students to prewrite. I can recall sitting at my desk, not writing anything down until the teacher permitted us to begin writing our essays. For some odd reason, I believed that prewriting was a waste of time. Although I still do not enjoy it today, I cannot write an essay without sitting down and outlining my ideas. I find that getting into the prewriting habit will assist students’ writing as they will be more focused and will not lose track. This also leads to students answering the assignment question. After outlining one’s ideas for their paper, they should be able to go back to the assignment question and say, “yes, this makes sense, and yes this answers the question.”

Evaluating and providing feedback to student’s work is another vital topic. During my undergraduate studies, I enrolled in the course of English Education K-12. From this course, I was able to comprehend the importance of providing feedback on student’s assignments. Merely writing a grade on a student’s work is not enough. Educators should provide students with comments on what they did well with and what they may need to work on and/or additional detail. With this comes revision. I believe that students should be granted the chance to revise their work, but I have also learned that teachers should provide students with a rubric on how they will be graded. The rubric should be given to students when the assignment is given along with reading through the rubric. By doing this, there may be fewer students who need to revise their work as they understand how they will be graded and knows what is expected of them beforehand. 

Now on to a similar yet tricky section of the reading. Along with feedback and revision, one will state that students should also collaborate when writing. I must admit that I hate group work and/or collaboration. How many times has a classmate read a paper of yours and gave it back with little to no comments while saying, “this is great!” That comment does nothing for me or my writing. While taking Shakespeare Survey, I can recall my professor collecting our papers, making copies of everyone’s writing, and distributing them to the class. Although it was frightening initially, we could read aloud everyone’s writing and provide meaningful feedback. This course is also where I learned how to appreciate our classmate’s work instead of giving a simple compliment of “that sounds good!” Having peers and teachers provide meaningful feedback is what makes a difference. When done correctly, group writing permits students to share their ideas while receiving feedback from their peers. 

Overall, this reading was insightful! Laure’s work allowed me to learn about the past histories and how there is so much more to learn and grow from! As a future educator, I aim to take many of these topics into my own classroom to improve students’ writing and allow students not to dread writing!  

Reading Response

Rhetoric and Composition

Janice M. Lauer looks into rhetoric and composition as ideal types of writing that could influence writers in developing content for the workplace, civic and cross-cultural. A learner experiences different levels of English studies from language arts curricula in primary and middle grades to advanced composition at the college level. Few students major in English studies due to its perception of being a basic subject, but Lauer points out that it goes beyond learning literature to developing an ideal discipline for rhetoric and composition. The reading focuses on rhetoric and composition writing, whereby Lauer looks at their relationship and disciplinary status. When one has a broad perspective on rhetoric and composition, it becomes easier for them to decipher past rhetorical texts such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria and Cicero’s De Oratore. Ideally, Lauer takes the reader through the importance of rhetoric and composition as an ideal type of writing for skilled writers.

From the reading, one has a broad perspective of rhetoric and composition with its influence of written English. One learns and understands the value of ideal types of writing especially towards the composition of texts. Moreover, the skill proves to be ideal for people that seek to analyze the writing process. As per Lauer’s depiction of rhetoric and composition, English stands out as an art that one could major in and develop a keen eye on writing processes. Lauer highlights the need to nature and emphasize different writing pedagogies for it to evolve with time (112). The process fluctuates, rises and declines with different scholars, who seek to recycle principles developed for writing pedagogies. Contributions to its advancement saw rhetoric and composition develop scholars’ approach to critique previous work and challenge underlying arguments and claims. Therefore, the need to restore rhetoric and composition in literature remains a fundamental part of its evolution and influence on written English.

The reading opened my perspective on the discipline with the main focus being rhetoric and composition. Understanding the vital structures of English seem ideal in developing one’s literature and poses a major boost in one’s eloquence in written English. As an intermediate learner, the skills discovered from the work allows one to branch out further by integrating ideal types of writing, which will enrich one’s content. Furthermore, it offers one the chance to explore the subject by understanding previous examples of rhetoric and composition principles and how one can integrate it into their studies. Building upon the current skills in literature, one can explore different features of writing to enrich one’s content. One question that arises is how can scholars package the information as per different academic levels to help young people to develop the skills throughout their academic lives. It makes the teaching process easier as students will be conversant with the subject.

The Problem of Othering

Stephen Menendian and John A. Powell look into the overwhelming challenges and conflict across the globe as a result of othering. Othering refers to the practice where a person or group characterize negative sentiments on another person or group and set them apart as a representation of what is different from them. Racism is a good example of othering, whereby one’s complexion or race affects their status in society. Menendian and Powell explore effects of othering in the society by providing examples such as the ethnic conflict between Muslim and Burmese Buddhist in 2012 (par 7). The authors identify othering as a trait passed on from one generation to another with little or no basis of conflict. It stems from personal rage or sentiments on another’s race or religion and the need to be even or better than the other. In the article, Menendian and Powell focus on group-based othering as it represents various vices that affect a large group or society.

The article’s main focus on group-based othering allows the reader to explore different perceptions of society’s norms. Menendian and Powell give an example of American politics, whereby President Donald Trump used resentment, stoking anxiety and fear of the other as his electoral strategy. The group-based othering encompassed Trump’s racist and nativist nature for the better good of the nation (Powell and Menendian par 14). The article terms the practice as demagoguery and it can be a catalyst for future conflict within the society or nation. The authors believe demagoguery stems from unconscious bias, where one inclines to ideas that please them without considering its negative effects. Ideally, how one perceives a particular race or religion will always affect their judgement on them. Based on the analogy, despised outgroups refer to social groups with low competence and warm in society. Social groups with high competence and low warmth are envied outgroup and remain dominant over the other outgroups.

The article opens one’s mind to the effect of othering in society and how people fail to understand society’s norms or privileges. As a learner, understanding the vices of group-based othering allows one to align themselves with the norm. However, there is room for one to provide their sentiments through freedom of speech, which allows one to be independent. The article details the vices associated with othering and how American society continues to stand behind their common practices. Change in the society and government will require intervention from various bodies that will uproot the evil vices and set the stage for a better future. One thing that stands out from the article is the need for one to understand their surroundings and focus on issues that affect people in different capacities.

Works Cited

Lauer, Janice M. “Rhetoric and Composition.” McComiskey, Bruce. English Studies: An Introduction to The Discipline(s). Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. 106-152.

Powell, John A and Stephen Menendian. The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging. July 2016. Accessed on 26 September 2020, <www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering>.

The Training Wheels are Coming Off: Following a Trail into Rhetoric and Composition, and “Othering”

Royalbaby 16 in.Stargirl Girl's Bike with Training Wheels ...
Here’s what I started out riding.

My playlist has once again struck witty gold by having “Express Yourself” begin to play as soon as I open a fresh document; it’s an aptly fitting song since the two readings for this week, “Rhetoric and Composition” by Janice M. Lauer and “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging” by John a. Powell and Stephen Menendian made me feel polar opposite feelings and definitely made me feel like I was chasing my own tail more than a few times. Nevertheless, this was a healthy and necessary exercise in diving into the unknown and working towards getting it. In true Sun fashion, it’s only fair to give you my most authentic narration, so I’ll walk you through how I, for the most part, felt about these selections, the information I gleaned, questions I formed, and criticisms that I think are worthwhile. 

I decided to start off with the more arduous looking of the readings with Lauer’s piece. Initially, the time was 2 in the afternoon, I had on my usual Levi’s and a Kermit-green crewneck, and had with me my notebook, a fresh cup of coffee, and a bright, open mind, and was listening to “Two Princes.” I was only seven pages in by 4:30 and decided to quit out of sheer frustration because I felt like I just couldn’t get it. 

In retrospect, I can comfortably say that Lauer’s work can best be described as a very comprehensive, contemporary history of how the discipline and study of rhetoric and composition were born out of literary studies and finally given merit in the 1960s. A key point of interest for me from the start was this idea of the multimodality of rhetoric and composition in terms of the various ways someone could use different methods of inquiry, such as a series of observations to begin investigating their point of interest within the discipline, and how it relates to the interdisciplinary aspect of this subject-matter, as they play a pivotal role in tying together reasoning and arguments. As an avid fan of both positive and social psychology (which was super prevalent in both readings!) I was glad to see that two of my interests are going to overlap at some point in my studies. It was also a nice touch to mention there is an active effort to recover the work of women and minorities that may have either been marginalized or misattributed; it is slightly scary to think this is an issue that plagues a discipline that really came into its own only ~50 years ago. 

Beyond this, I thought that the question of whether writing constructed or transmits knowledge was beautifully layered like a wedding cake; personally, I think that the answer to this question hinges upon the readership and the motive of the writer. It’s fickle and situational, but that is what makes it all the more compelling. Looking intrinsically, I would argue that the bulk of my work is to transmit knowledge, as I write papers to prove that I learned the material, not for fun, and I write stories with some sort of underlying message or theme, not just to entertain. Furthermore, the fact that this field studies things that I always thought were commonplace and benign, like prewriting, as having serious implications has me excited to move forward!

I thought that the hierarchical structure of how Flower and Hayes categorized the six distinctive writing features (task environment, long-term memory, planning, translating, reviewing, and monitoring) was curious and definitely worth exploring. At first, I couldn’t help but compare it to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but this model seems far less substantial to me. Additionally, this seems to contradict the dynamic nature of writing that rhetoric and composition had painted so far, making it seem formulaic and boxed in. What if writing begins and ends in two different locations? Is it considered reviewing if I were to utilize a spell or grammar checker during the writing process, and actively take into consideration its suggestions? Is my writing now tainted? Unworthy of examination? 

The social turn of writing was another interesting point in this reading, as I found it interesting that the idea of knowledge as finite was being challenged by previously overlooked ideas about how the community shapes thinking. The idea of computers adding to this social turn in writing is something I see as valid; what are we if not the generation of collaborative Google Docs and self-publishers, always hungering for new readers and fresh critique? I always take into account environmental influencing factors when thinking about anything but writing, but the framework for this argument and the challenge to the objective-subjective binary was well constructed. I guess this is the interdisciplinary aspect of rhetoric and composition at work! Of course, I expected that peer review/editing would fall under this category of being radically different from an instructor reading a text to assess its academic merit, but I never before thought about how someone could write the same piece once, but differently depending on the context of the reader, as the language used could be reminiscent of their own daily discourse or completely alien. All this talk of imitation gave off serious Aristotle vibes. 

Admittedly, the section that dealt with the various ways that rhetoric and composition could be applied in administrative, civic, and academic discourse in the area of women, gender, and race did not introduce to me too much new information. However, that is not to say that it did not bring up connections to my prior knowledge, or invoke some curiosity. Firstly, when I think of women and composition and rhetoric, my mind instantly jumps to Deborah Tannen, a powerhouse female scholar in the area of linguistics who has consistently tracked and proven that there is indeed a poignant difference between the way that women and men communicate, both in written and verbal discourse. (Check out her book But What  Do You Mean?) Looking at the gender component, I found it curious that for such a contemporary article, there was no mention of anything outside of the male/female binary when it came to this section; perhaps this will be a rich, untapped point of research. When looking at the idea of race alongside the other two factors, my favorite word and sect of feminism came to mind: intersectionality. How can all three of these factors work alongside one another, like balls being juggled, to weave an interesting narrative that “stresses the nonlinear, associative, and inchoate”? 

It was interesting to see how there could be a downside to multimodality in terms of how it could completely degrade any sort of disciplinary limitation. What would finally constitute an “out there” research method? What would be an “out there” research inquiry? I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to last Monday when everyone was choosing their reading and presentation dates, and there was a scramble to select the “Death of the Sentence”; it was almost surreal to read that there has been strong opposition to the “full-frontal” teaching of grammar in recent times, but this empirical finding has fallen by the wayside in favor of raising standardized test scores in the K-12 academic arena. I wonder how much the credibility of the original research, as well as the overall reception to the discipline, has suffered in light of this contradiction. (I believe in following the data, so I was not amused by reading this.) 

In terms of the three writing ideologies, I pictured them as the true, neutral, and chaotic good meme, and found that I best align with the chaotic good ideology of the expressives, as I too champion integrity, spontaneity, and originality. (Kudos to you if you have scrolled this far down! I’m almost to the next reading.) The last compelling quote from this reading was the rationale given for why this field of study has endured, which is a question I asked myself while reading this article; “A commitment to helping students and others develop their powers of inquiry and communication in order to reenvision and enrich their everyday, civic, academic, and workplace lives.” What a way to sum up 40 pages worth of academic research! 

As I said, I initially only made it through the first seven pages before getting overwhelmed. All of what you just read was gleaned and formulated after I pulled an all-nighter to read, take notes, and google just about every term, theory, and theorist mentioned once my Dad inspired me by pushing his own limits and doing something that he thought wouldn’t be possible, but ended up working out. (Vijay, you’re my hero!) Also, listening to the Home Depot song on loop all night motivated me to finish, so I could shut it off faster.

Moving on, the second reading for this week, “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging” by John A. Powell and Stephen Menendian proved to be the polar opposite, as I was able to read and grasp the concepts and vocabulary almost immediately. The issue that the authors brought up is something that I not only think about daily, but have experienced myself, and have been challenged to think of ways I can avoid “othering” individuals myself in another class. My immediate thought is similar to a solution that the authors suggested could be viable, only if implemented at the institutional and not expressive level; remind everyone that they belong, and although it may be an uncomfortable confrontation at times, to actively check my own conscious and unconscious biases and judgments about those who differ from me in some way. Sure, I might experience a bit of cognitive dissonance, but that tension can always be resolved and result in a more resolute, enlightened being, 

An interesting point in the article to me at the beginning was how the Dylan Roof situation was mentioned as an instance of othering, and despite the authors not mentioning his name once, my brain auto-filled it in based on the scenario. This is a prime instance of demagoguery, which was also examined as a driving force of “othering.” I think that the authors concisely stated why this type of rhetoric is so dangerous in one statement; “Where prejudice was latent, it is activated. Where it is absent, it is fostered.” The mention of the Robbers Cave experiment and the group position theory also brought to mind how even the Stanford Prison experiment could be considered an exercise in “othering.” Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that Aronson’s Law is right; people who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy. Those who perpetuate “othering” are well aware of their actions, and the consequences of them. The talk of implicit bias reminded me of the shooter test article, which you can read here if you are curious! 

The section on assimilation definitely had me thinking about rhetoric and composition in practice in classrooms; how sick is it that we indoctrinate students to the same EDNA model (expository, descriptive, narration, and argumentative) for years, but then are astonished that hey all develop similar critical thinking processes and write them off as “sheep?” 

Finally, I find it fascinating that throughout this whole article all of the points made by the authors hinged upon and reflected the principles of intersectionality, but the word itself is not mentioned until three sentences away from the conclusion, and there is no mention of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who originated this idea and theory! (I’m a fangirl for her!) 

Well, my hands hurt from typing to the tempo of 1980s hits, like “Seek and Destroy,” so I’m going to call it a night and put a fork in this blog post! See ya in class tomorrow! 

Here’s what I’ll be (figuratively) riding into class tomorrow!

How do we move forward?

Before reading “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging, I had an idea of what the reading would entail based on the title. With that, why is it that society turns a blind eye and marginalizes individuals that they may not know? Society judges others do to the slightest differences that are not considered the norm. One may believe this exclusion only pertains to personality, race, or religion. Still, the article makes it clear that “it is not just religion or ethnicity alone that explains each conflict but often the overlay of multiple identities with specific cultural, geographic, and political histories and grievances that may be rekindled under certain conditions.” This statement alone lets readers know that one too many differences set individuals apart from the majority. Why is this the case? Do individuals begin to feel inferior?  It is further discussed that othering is ultimately socially constructed. I agree with this wholeheartedly as no individual is born with a hatred of another group. The hatred and stereotypes are learned due to past histories. With these past histories, we run into politics. Should politicians utilize their platform to heighten their beliefs of the “other?” As the article states, this only incites fear and allows individuals to believe in said stereotypes. If our world leaders cannot behave accordingly, do we expect any more from society?

How do we continue to move forward with this matter and solve the problem of othering? It is not a surprise to say that individuals have at least once judged a group of people before knowing them. One may have even experienced being the “other” as we humans find differences and even criticize the individuals in the same groups as us. Sure we have all been excluded from a conversation or not invited to an event, but let’s think about the individuals who have experienced othering on heightened levels. Some individuals have limited access to resources due to othering. The article believes belongingness is the only solution to this problem. Welcoming any and all individuals sound easy, but will this work, and how do we go about it? The author makes a great point that “Widening the circle of human concern involves “humanizing the other,” where negative representations and stereotypes are challenged and rejected.” We cannot move forward if society does not correct and have those educational conversations with individuals who are still marginalizing others. Things will not change if we do not voice our concerns where need be and restructure what past histories have destroyed. 

Oh, Rhetoric and Otherings!

The chapter “Rhetoric and Composition” by Janice M. Lauer outlines and explains the history of conversations surrounding writing and changes in the field of literature, specifically in the area of the rhetoric and the composition of writing. At the beginning of the chapter, she explains the status quo in regard to writing and how it was a “product” of teaching writing for essays. 

As she dives deeper, she explains the lack of existence of programs specified in composition and rhetoric, and how it was treated as a minor chord to be plucked. I find it interesting that it was treated as so when writing is how we even obtain material to read…am I right or am I right? 

Any who, Lauer goes on to write about researchers through the ages who were interested in how rhetoric and composition contributed to texts, and a question began to pose itself in my head: is there a right way to write? I think, to an extent, yes. I think there are certain rules that should apply to writing, especially regarding syntax and grammar, and I believe that those who envision teaching writing believe there to be a set of rules to follow in composition. It was that much obvious in high school, when essays were things you wrote at home and only revised once after the teacher filled it with red x’s. We can admit t ourselves that there is not just one genre of texts, but many; so why is it that we had such a hard time admitting that there are different genres of writing? Writers and scholars alike wondered this and concluded that there were different genres in writing as well as rules to follow those styles. In the past, writers in school were given an essay to write and were unable to make revisions to their writing until the next piece of writing was assigned. Lauer explains that it is due to lack of education of instructors in the area of composition and rhetoric….and I find that to be the most ridiculous yet true thing ever. You would think that rhetoric and composition would be a topic realized and expanded on earlier in our time, especially when works like Shakespeare’s Othello or Faulkner’s Sound and Fury were floating around. Though the works are two completely different compositions from two different genres, the chances of a lesson on rhetoric and composition being on either of the works were slim to none. Nowadays, writing is taught in sections and more in depth. Lauer points out in her article how much the composition of writing has changed, from group revisions to the style in which feedback is left on papers. The conversations surrounding writing lead to a transition from the old paradigm of writing rules to a new era of exploration in literature.

In the article The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging, Powell and Menendian discuss how writing has the ability to mold and control narratives in the media and how “othering” takes place in and disrupts narratives of minorities. Othering is defined as “a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities”. This does not surprise me, as other is the basis in which and how we live our day to day lives. We pick ‘this’ because we do not want to be like those who did not pick ‘this’. We go to war because we do not want to be conquered like the ‘other’ country. We’re like ‘this’ because we’re not like ‘that’. Othering, to be simple and direct, is making the distinct separation between to differing things. Does that make sense yet?

In respects to writing, othering is an inclusive conceptual framework that captures expressions and behaviors that are prejudice or stereotypical to a group. For example, othering in composition has been used as a mode of separation and fear throughout history. This does not come to me as a surprise, though. It immediately made me think of the us vs. them concept that was discussed in an American Literature class in my undergrad. In early colonial days when settlers/colonizers were moving to conquer America, Native Americans were described as “savages” and “heathens” due to the vast differences that existed between settlers and the natives. This, in part, was how the many crimes committed against the native people of the country were “justified” and reworked in the favor of settlers. By speaking about people in a less than human or equal manner, the human factor becomes less of a factor of importance. Once a label is attached to something, it becomes difficult to detach the label from the actual identity below surface; however, othering has also helped those marginalized and gain recognition and status, which I guess is good to an extent. In another class, we discussed the importance of labels in attachment to those who are noteworthy and whether they are ethical (example: when mentioning Rosa Parks, she is usually mentioned in relation to her success AS an African American/Black woman). In a world with little representation in media for groups underrepresented, one can only hope that there is an autobiography about, let’s say, an Indian ballerina who won gold at the Olympics or an African American who swam across the Mississippi.

Othering also gives grounds for a community to be formed amongst the “othered”. I remember in high school when students were targeted for having “over-exaggerated features” (ex. big lips, big butt…before Kylie made it popular I GUESS) and I was grouped in there. Through that alienation, however, I found people like me who were insecure about being different. It’s not like we wanted to stick out, especially for THAT, but we found a sense of community among each other through our differences. Hell, we were bringing homemade lipglosses to each other and encouraging each other to be confident despite our insecurities.

The biggest down side was having to learn to love those features, but that brings me to a negative point: othering also fosters an environment for self hate. Whew, the trauma of having to forgive yourself for believing what others implicated upon you is real.

 In some cases of “othering”, groups of people will make the move to “take back” a term or concept and creating a new meaning. For example, “the N word” (ending with -er) to the black community was/is an insulting word used to describe a black person in an offensive way. The word was also used to dehumanize enslaved black people and is still used today as a racial slur. There is a lot of weight behind the word, as well as history, but that has not stopped the Black community from taking the word back. While there is still dispute over whether the word can be used (with an -a rather than an -er) by people outside of the Black Community, one thing is certain: the meaning behind the word rings differently when it comes from a Black/African American person. 

If only new rules could erase the use racial slurs in texts just as easily. 

“Rhetoric and Composition” and “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging”

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

9/26/20 

 “Rhetoric and Composition” by Janice M. Lauer provides readers with a comprehensive overview of the history, trends, and power of writing. The text begins with the discussion of contemporary teaching practices and a stroll down Renaissance lane for comparison and growth of the present practice of teaching and learning how to write with purpose. The text also discusses women and minorities’ role in the history of writing. The 1960s thru the 1980s are shown as a transitional period for the teaching of writing and the expression of self through writing. The text points out the flaws in past teaching practice and invites readers to examine their current practice as teachers of writing or being a member of the writing community. The topics discussed in the text are not unknown to educators and writers, yet they are a detailed and concise reminder or how to play with instruction and the pen for purposes beyond the classroom. 

The text brings up many points that will strike various readers based off of their experiences and professions. A part of the text that appeals to the educator who wishes to have an impact on all learners is found in the sections titled, “Invention and Audience,” “Modes of Discourse and Genres,” “Style, Voice, Ethos, Ethics, and Affect,” and “Responding to, Revising, and Evaluating Texts.” These sections cause a self-reflection within the educator in terms of practice and comfortability in the application of a co-creating classroom environment. The text leads readers into reflecting upon the tasks assigned in the classroom and the focus on feedback and process. 

This chapter allows writers to explore the ideal writing situation and opens up opportunities to play with process and develop authenticity in writing. The discussion on diversity in writing purpose and embracing diverse dialects, allows for the reader to feel empowered in their own writing and exploration into the field of writing. When reading about the ideal co-creating writing environment and flexible discovery procedures I am reminded of the writing program at Kean University. The summer courses at Kean were my first experiences being a part of a community of writers where I was able to write for me, share my work, toy with process, learn from peer’s writing, and revise work out loud. I have created an environment similar to this (it is not ideal yet) in my classroom, but I had never been a participant in this learning environment. This learning environment has opened my ideas to the amount of growth one can experience with a writing community.  I have already started making changes to my teaching style and writing process in the classroom and this chapter reminds me of all the work I still have to do. 

Connected Works:

·      Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers

·      Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed

·      Lisa D. Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” 

Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Pexels.com

The article titled, “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging” is an eye-opening piece on the power of words. This article discusses how writing and salacious headlines have the ability to control the world’s narrative and unconscious thoughts. Words have the power to create fear in the minds of others that will influence them to “push back against those who are different.” The article brings to light the need for leaders and writers to have the proper terminology when defining persons who have committed rights or wrongs in our communities. The article offers suggestions for finding a solution to this problem of othering and bringing a sense of belonging to people. Powell and Menendian discuss the dangers of othering and grouping in real life scenarios that have played out on the news and on city streets around the world. The writers are holding a mirror up to the reader and encouraging them to take a look at the social images and messages around them and to make a change in that “shared social meaning.” Attempts such as segregation, secessionism, and assimilation have proved to be flawed and ineffective at bringing a sense of belonging to people who have been othered. The solution that is believed to be most effective is one of inclusion and belongingness. The idea sounds simple, however it will require many years of work in expanding the “circle of human concern,” accepting new identities, and writing inclusive narratives. The authors have made it clear that their message of creating belongingness is rooted in lessening anxieties of “fear and anger” and move “toward empathy and collective solidarity.” (otheringandbelonging.org).

The author’s claims are certainly valid and can be seen on the nightly news and on protest banners around the world. The social narrative about others needs to be changed in order for our world to be a more peaceful and inclusive place. The social messages seen on social media networks paint a very unflattering picture of others that does not align with the majority’s beliefs and opinions about the world, however it has a detrimental effect on the unconscious thoughts that are filtered in through the blue screens in front of our faces. The article is eye opening, but not shocking. These messages have been seen in our history textbooks, in our family’s scrapbooks, and now live streamed on Facebook and Instagram. This article makes me feel proud to be in the position of both educator and writer and having the ability to influence a group of writers and my own body of work.

Connected Works:

·      Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis  

·      Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

·      Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture”  

·      Michelle Obama’s Becoming 

 

Blog #2: “Othering”, Power and Humanity.

The article The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging defines an invisible hand that has been sculpting our perception of ourselves and others. In this article, John Powell and Stephen Menendian not only name this invisible insidious hand but also provide a critical approach into identifying it. “Othering”  has become a foundation of human interaction that unless personally  experienced is often invisible to the naked oblivious eye. Its impacts have had immensely catastrophic effects on affected groups. It allows those who have suffered at the hands of “othering” a theoretical approach in explaining something they have felt for centuries but have been unable to name or label.

The fact that “othering” is present at every level of social belonging, from family to political policy, calls for a conscious effort not only to identify it but an obligation as compassionate beings to combat a framework that has proved to have overwhelming negative impacts on societies and their sense of identity. The author states, “In other words, although human beings have a natural tendency to make categorical distinctions, the categories themselves and meanings associated with those categories are socially constructed rather than natural.” (Powell and Menendian) There is no doubt that humans, as social beings, yearn for a sense of belonging but as a collective we must work to ensure that the socially constructed meaning is no longer negative and demeaning. That is the work that needs to be done.  For too long,  entire social institutions and government policies have been based on variables engineered by those in power and completely dependent on elements beyond one’s human control such as race, sex, and ethnicity. 

Powell and Menedian provide various examples of instances throughout history where the processes of “othering” were enforced and embedded in political strategies.  One particular example that stood out to me was in Iraq, where the American political strategies to divide and section off Iraq based on sectarian beliefs created long lasting tensions among Iraqis. As is often the case with colonial powers, they invade a region and divide people into categories that cause resentment and tension that once did not exist. 

The categories of division or “othering” often give one group a sense of superiority over the smaller marginalized groups that exist. Then what often occurs is that those sentiments of either superiority or resentment are carried on from generation to generation. As we know, society is ever evolving, therefore those groups that hold power today may not hold power in twenty years, and the groups that carried that resentment from generations of feeling inferior will in turn subjugate the once “superior” group.  This leads to a vicious cycle of never ending conflict and violence. 

The notion that those in positions of power feel entitled to dictate how to segregate land based on their own accord and very limited knowledge of the region has proven over and over again to have devastating and catastrophic outcomes on the people of the region.  Segregating people did not only physically divide people, but it caused tensions that became ingrained in the fabric of many of those cultures. It stems from an elitist mentality that foriegn forces of powers feel they can enforce “civilization”  simply because they hold positions of power and belong to a dominant group or culture.  The decisions they make are based on detesting the native cultures and personal gain, rather than the overall being of the population they are attempting to “civilize”.

The authors also present a list of proposed solutions to “othering” that have failed over and over again because they lack the crucial element of inclusivity. Most of the proposed solutions have been based on tolerance or completely erasing one’s cultural identity through assimilation. This isn’t a concrete solution for those who have been”othered”, but rather a bandaid to salvage the image of a particular superior group. The author states, “Assimilation doesnt seek to reduce inequality and marginality, it seeks to erase all traces of cultural differences.” (Powell and Menendian) What these proposed solutions are essentially saying is that in order for “othered” groups to be normal and accepting they need to forget and change everything about themselves. 

The author often refreferred to these proposed solutions as “well intentioned”,  I firmly detest the idea that any form of segregation anywhere in the world has ever been rooted in good intention or to “ resolve social tensions and improve outcomes”(Powell and Menendian). That may be the political spin that is labeled by news and media, but the intent always comes down to the subjugation of the group that is deemed subordinate. It is also deeply rooted in the political philosophy of “divide and conquer”. When societies are divided, especially by foreign powers, it is easier to pit them against each other.  The foriegn power then has a justified claim in front of international communities to continue its occupation under the pretense of instability. But the often forgotten truth is that the instability was in and of itself created by the division and “othering” of these societies. 

When the term segregation is mentioned in relation to the united states, the majority of poeple recognize and admit that it was a racisist policy intended on duhumanizing and oppressing black americans, whereas when it is mentioned in relation to other partso of the world, especially the Palestinian-Isreali conflict, many will change their postion and view it as a security measure for Isreal. Completely forgetting the United States implemented segregation with a similar pretense. “Othering” isn’t just a process by which a group is just deemed subordinate, but is often villainized. 

There is a profound connection between “othering ”and fear.  If societies are constantly divided and told horror stories about the “other”, it embeds a notion that the “other” is not only different and less than but also a villain and must be feared. The influence of power and personal gain can not be detached from the framework of “othering”. So long as we live in a profit driven society, “othering” will be a consistent way to impose one groups superiority as a means to control resources. 

I  believe that despite systems of control, human compassion arises from cracks in these social and political “othering” structures.  I believe that despite social constructs meant to subordinate such groups, it has actually afforded them a portal of deep humanity. Years of inherited trauma inflicted upon marginalized and subordinated groups has given them a greater ability to empathize and willingness to understand others.  This is no way defending the years of inequality and racism endured by these groups, rather it is a testament that humanity and compassion prevail despite unjust social constructs.