Sunday, January 28, 2007

Possible questions???

sorry if this is cheating, but i'm cross-posting a section of something i wrote over at my place. i was doing some thinking today and came up with some stuff that i'd put out there for you, my fellow dissertators, to possibly comment on. here goes:

so, anyway, i finished reading the final sections of PITF [Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson] today and it got me a thinkin about possible diss r-s questions i could realistically aks. i want my inquiry to be both simple and useful/applicable to pedagogy. i'm not abandoning the student-athlete ideas. however, the questions i came up with today while musing in the aftermath of PITF had little to do with student-athletes. the questions are just rumination residue, so i shouldn't worry that my student-athletes are going to be left in the dust (right?). well, i don't know. anyway, the subject pool shouldn't/doesn't matter as much as the usefulness of the question guiding my research (i think). especially if i'm able to construct a study that investigates my hypotheses about physicality and effective learning (phenomenological learning practices). here's what i came up with:

Is there a relationship between the amount of writing done in high school and the level of achievement reached in fyw?


Is there a relationship between the physical act of composing and writing ability?


Does one have to physically compose a text in order to acquire an understanding of how to successfully navigate a written discourse community?


What is the relationship between actually composed text and achievement in college-level writing courses (FYC)?



Basically, the idea is based on an epiphanal moment while reading Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations wherein she discusses the discrepancy in the amount of physical engagement with writing texts between “traditional” and “open admissions” high school students. Of course we know that there are correlations between the amount of responded-to-writing that one does and their improvement as a writer over time. (We do know this, right?? Or is this simply an assumption??) My argument, before beginning the research anyway, is that the writing improvement comes as much from the feedback as it does from the phenomenological experiencing – i.e. the physical act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. How I could test for this (experimentally) could be by assigning one group of students a shit-load of writing that gets no feedback, no grade, simply writing (e.g. frequent posting to blogs such as I assigned last semester) viz. a more traditional classroom wherein there is no blogging, only 4 major papers plus the process-writing documents associated with such writing. The measure would be a pre- and post-test in the form of in-class or take-home essay assignment… btw, the difference between the control group and the blogging group would be, simply, the blogging requirement.

this is all still pretty fresh and i still have two huge chunks of PITF to read. i'll decide what to make of this in the moments/days to come. in the meantime, i think i'll cross-post this over at dissertation boot camp to see if any of my fellow dissertators have any thoughts on the matter. in the meantime, as usual, i welcome the insights of you sage folks out there being all lurkerly.


Suzanne said...

Chris, though this is not my field, isn't it arguable that blogging and journal writing are different kinds of writing than structured papers? So you might be comparing apples and oranges unless you had one group blogging and being grading on it, and one group blogging with no feedback. Anyway, it seems like your reading and thinking are bringing up a lot of important issues for your project.

Abby said...

Hmm, I think I agree with Suzanne here. It's also tough to make a case for having a class (is this in a classroom) full of writing with absolutely no feedback. Well, it might be hard to make such a case. You have to make sure that one class wouldn't actually NOT progress in their writing, because that would be detrimental to that class. That's a serious risk for students (in IRB terms).

On a not so related note, I was wondering if you've ever looked at Metaphors We Live By? I recently bought that and PITF, though I haven't actually read either of them. Part of my own work is in embodied rhetoric, so I'm dealing a bit with the body too, but in a different way (I think). Anyway, Metaphors We Live By seemed like it might be something that could contribute.

chris said...

suzanne - you raise a fine point, indeed. i think that these are two different kinds of writing. but then, we do lots of practice or play type activities that aren't the "real" thing as a way to practice or build copia. playing basketball on the playground or even playing during a structured practice isn't the same as playing a "real" game. but they're necessary to one's growth and improvement as a player.

i actually have a lot to say about this, as well as a few anecdotes/hypotheses about students being allowed to "play" (a Vygotskian and Deweyan notion that they believe is essential to concept development) around with writing without having to worry being graded.

having said all that, i still don't have the perfect defense for this idea, so your questions force me to continue to think about this. thanks!

abby - i have read MWLB. in fact, i'm considering revisiting it to do a review essay along with PITF and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Perceptions. PITF has a great section on concept development that would go great with a discussion of Vygotsky. as well, Merleau-Ponty has a book called Consciosness and teh Acquisition of Language that, if memory serves, will be a great seque from Vygotsky to M-P's PP.

as for the NOT progressing thing - yeah, you're right. that idea was one that just kinda popped in my head. so i jotted it down. obviously it's not very well thought out at this point.

Suzanne said...

Chris, your point about play is interesting. I didn't mean, though, to identify formal writing as 'the real thing.' But for students who hate to write, how can even ungraded freewriting become play? As someone for whom writing was always second nature, this is fascinating stuff. Keep us updated!

BTW, there's
an article in the Chronicle today, wherein a professor talks about how her (graded) student blogging project failed last semester, and offers suggestions for making student blogging successful.

chris said...

Suzanne – while both Vygotsky and Dewey articulate definitions and distinguish between “work” and “play” (though “work” doesn’t get nearly as much attention from either), it’s not really the notion of play that I’m focused on. More, the issue for me is quantitative: how frequently do incoming freshies engage in the physical act of composing; how much writing do they actually (physically) produce? Based on what Lakoff and Joahnson (and Merleau-Ponty to a lesser extent) say about bodily engagement with the world and with language, I’m hypothesizing that students need, simply, to physically compose. Compose anything. Just so long as they’re engaging the technologies of literacy with and through their bodies. This is significant for Vygotsky b/c there’s a direct correlation between the physicality of language use and concept development. Lakoff and Johnson, using cognitive science, argue that there are neurophysiological consequences for using language (their focus is, of course, metaphor). There is a physical effect on the neurons in our brains. L & J, in other words, are demonstrating how the way our bodies experience the world has a direct link to the structure (and restructuring) of our brains and thus our ways of thinking (or, in MP’s case, “perceiving”). Obviously I need to work on my summarization/review of Lakoff and Johnson’s work. However, hopefully I’m getting the point across that whether a student hates writing, whether a student gets feedback, or whether a student considers it play/work doesn’t matter (or so goes my hypothesis based on L&J, MP, and, to a lesser extent, Vygotsky). What’s important is that their bodies physically and actively experience the act of writing.

Am I making any sense? I know I need a lot of work on my explanation of Lakoff and Johnson – and I am working on that, but do you think this application of their research works for application to studying writing? (Again, as I type this, I feel my student-athletes are becoming moot subjects; I have my heart oh so set on using student-athletes...)

This is really great, btw. I’m realizing how much I need to really get L&J’s work down. Also, I checked out the Dawson piece. I use blogging extensively in my classes. I’ll have to comment on that another time... :)

Suzanne said...

Chris, this is much more clear to me now, thanks.

...whether a student hates writing, whether a student gets feedback, or whether a student considers it play/work doesn’t matter... What’s important is that their bodies physically and actively experience the act of writing.

But I think I'm missing some basic assumption here (and maybe it's a basic assumption of rhet/comp that I just don't know about). What is this important to?

Here, too:

I’m hypothesizing that students need, simply, to physically compose. Compose anything. Just so long as they’re engaging the technologies of literacy with and through their bodies.

What do they need to compose for? To become better writers?

So your quantitative questions would address whether students who physically wrote more became what? More comfortable with writing? More likely to do it in the future?

I'm enjoying talking about this. It's a nice change from my chapter on medical advertising.

chris said...


you aks if there's some basic assumption about the physicality of writing in comp/rhet that you're missing. no. i don't think there is. to be honest, beyond Mina Shaughnessy's reference to it in her book Errors & Expectations (which i'll be quoting momentarily), i'm unfamiliar with any extensive study of any connections b/n improved writing and qualitatively increased amounts of physical engagement in the act.

there's a chunk of text from Shaughnessy's book that addresses the questions you have. maybe this will assist in clearing them up. so, here is Shaugnessy in the opening chapter of her 1977 book:

The single most important fact about BW students is that, although they have been talking every day for a good many years, they have been writing infrequently, and then only in such artificial and strained situations that the communicative purpose of writing has rarely if ever seemed real. Compared with the 1,000 words a week that a British student is likely to have written in the equivalent of an American high school or even the 350 words a week that an American student in a middle-class high school is likely to have written, the basic writing student is more likely to have written 350 words a semester. It would not be unusual for him to have written nothing at all. He is often therefore still struggling with basic motor-mental coordinations [sic] that have long ago become unconscious for more practiced students. And as long as the so-called mechanical processes involved in writing are themselves highly conscious or even labored, the writer is not likely to have easy access to his thoughts. Thus matters like handwriting and punctuation and spelling become important, if only because without some measure of ease, without being able to assign some operations to habit, or even to indifference, the novice writer is cut off from thinking. (p 14)

now, of course she is refering to BW (basic writing) students here. but, having spent some time substitute teaching in high school, my impression is that, whether basic or not, most students arrive at college having produced a minimal amount of formal, responded-to writing. i'm sure there is data on this; i need to look this up.

what i'm hoping to get at is in part related, as you point out, to the following: comfort level and improved writing skills. as well, i think that my question would have implications beyond just writing instruction. i'm interested in a distinction in learning practices that James Gee identifies - "learning" viz. "acquisition." Literacy Studies scholarship suggests (very implicitly, i should say, b/c mostly it's how i've been reading/interpreting some of the materials from this body of literature) that learning new literacy skills is enhanced when there is some kind of (sensory) engagement beyond the normal classroom model.

my investigation as i have painted it here isn't all that radical and doesn't do much to restructure/reconfigure classroom spaces. however, i'm hoping, as i've said before, to keep it simple. so, i may be hoping for more from these questions that is possible to actually squeeze from them. i don't know. either way, i think this is good practice for spelling out and attempting to defend/explain the project i'm trying to piece together. who knows, maybe these comments will end up in the diss prospectus...