Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I had a positive experience in reading the first couple chapters of Bawarshi's book. It helped me better understand the text book Scenes of Writing: Strategies for Composing with Genres (co-authored by Bawarshi) that Dr. Stacey is using in his English 100 class and has me thinking about ways in which I can introduce ideas around genre into my own classroom.

Getting students to consider genre, in Bawarshi's sense of the concept, seems to be a practical way to get students, especially those who are not as passionate about English/writing as we may be, to approach composition. It allows them to apply a concept with which they have constant interaction to writing tasks in the classroom. I think that the examples that were used in the book that emphasized the small nuamces of language and its effects on genre were powerful and would make a great addition to my collection of classroom lessons and techniques. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I imagine a vast majority of students would appreciate the exposure.

Autoethnography assignments, analytical writing, exercises with Burke's Pentad, writing lessons for law students, music reviews . . . I can easily imagine how genre can fit into any of those. I am, however, having trouble envisioning myself using the approach for an entire semester as Dr. Stacey is. I will be curious to not only read further in this book but also to watch the English 100 class unfold over the semester and see if there are differences in the writing of Dr. Stacey's students and students of other instructors.

I didn't see "audience" discussed anywhere in the first two chapters. How does imagining the audience feed into a genre approach? Is it just an assumed part of genre?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Improvised Posting

Even though we have no Nice Net posting going on this week, I'd still like to add a musical element. The following video is an improvisational jam from a German band called Can. They were part of the Krautrock music scene in Germany that began in the late 60s and early 70s.

Also, I was quite interested to read Adorno's take on jazz and improvisation and felt that he had some pretty valid points. I was surprised to find myself in semi-agreement with him, as his distaste for jazz was already known to me. When he says that improvisation is "the more or less feeble rehashing of basic formulas," (Jarrett 76) I have to admit that based on the jazz to which he was exposed, there may be an element of truth there. I really wish that he bothered to become familiar with jazz beyond 1938, for I would have liked to hear his take on the late 60s free/avant-garde jazz movements. Adorno's claim (or is it Jarrett's take on Adorno's claim?) that "Improvisation within the realm of mass culture is impossible. Hegemony- hierarchies of power- simply won't allow the flexibility that jazz claims it has" (Jarrett 77) makes sense when one considers that the alleged "death" of jazz occured sometime in the middle of the aforemntioned free/avant-garde era of the late 60s. Coltrane and a host of others were bringing improv to extremes and it seems like the entire jazz world collapsed on itself. Why? Hegemony was not going to allow jazz to grow in that direction as it had been for the previous 60 years. Mass culture began to reject jazz and its status (sales) took a hit. I suppose the fusion era of the 70s is the exception, but its not like that hybrid genre went much beyond 1980.

Anyways, I am just free thinking here. I'm sure my limited knowledge of jazz history is distorting some of my views. I suspect that if I read the full Adorno essay on popular music I would have some different insights. I actually think that the hit that jazz took coming out of the 60s and 70s is a good thing. It has forced much of non-traditional jazz back underground and has given it potential to become a threat or countercultural movement some time in the future. Hip-Hop has seemed to fail in that regard. There's no hope for rock or country. Radical metal bands are too often stuck in nationalist and nihilist tendencies. And if punk isn't going to actually be punk, then why not put the responsibility of subversive music creation into the hands of envelope-pushing jazz musicians that exist off the corporate grid and build community networks in order to provide an outlet for their art?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Naked City Improv

Growth and Maturing

Response to pages 35-90 of Richard Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing

Reading this week's chapters, and not being deathly ill, have made Haswell's direction and focus much more clear. I am also thrilled to be reading perspectives on the assessment of student writing to which I have never been exposed. I am certainly guilty of having worked with and participated in, possibly even promoted, many of the ungrounded English-teacher visions. Obviously much of that has to do with being involved in a faulty education system, but I definitely have some guilt working into my head as I realize the other angles I missed in my study of writing assessment and instruction.

It's easy to teach in Richmond and be "the portrait painted by the English-teacher perspective [that] reflects moral stagnancy or loss" (42). Even while working with the idea of pushing these kids up the ladder and providing them with tools that will make them more competitive in the outside world, I found myself at times making comments about the erosion of literacy and the hopelessness of the situation.

Haswell, while discussing the false grounds of some advanced writing courses, point out "The older student's growth in writing (which is there) teachers cannot see, the growth that teachers expect (which is not there) they cannot find" (44). I realize that Haswell's focus in on writing instruction at the college level, but I'm wondering if the high school writing programs could benefit from keeping students with the same writing instructor for consecutive years. I know that it is not a brand new idea, but i think it's usually considered by schools as a way of "monitoring" behavior, attendance, and academic standing and not with the explicit purpose of putting a more developmental spin on student writing.

When Haswell says "that the myth of decline has roots in a political conservatism blind to certain facts and opposed to mass eduction and open admissions" (51), am I going to far to think that he is linking the hysteria behind the deteriorization of writing skills to those who decry multicultural education, English as a Second Language programs, and equal access entrance policies?

I find it ironic that the ideal tale of growth comes from West Point Academy. Keep education student-centered. I like it. "The focus is on the protagonist rather than on the event, but the plot is not static and picaresque. It is progressive" (54).

Haswell's third chapter blows me away. The set up of his writing group, the observations in the writing, and new standards were awesome and eye-opening. And again, I know this is geared towards college writing, but I'm wondering how to successfully introduce and implement ideas of concision, productivity, flow, expandability, maneuverability, and adaptability can be used at the high school level. I know the easy answer is to "just do it, Mannix." But it's not that easy. Administration from the school site to the district to the state is placing specific demands on educators and success is being measured by standardized tests. How do these six qualities make their way down to that level and get taken seriously?

I am looking forward to reading more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Status, Standard, and Change

Response to pages 1-34 of Richard Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing

While I do not feel like I have completely grasped everything Haswell has presented in the first 34 pages of Gaining Ground in College Writing, a few points have stuck with me and inspired further thought.

First is the relationship between status, standard, and change, particularly in reference to course learning vs. developmental learning. I feel that the way language arts standards at the high school level encourages a course learning approach, even though the standards themselves present a developmental philosophy. Teachers feeling pressured by state test scores and school rankings seem to take an “academic credit” approach to their teaching and abandon most notions of developmental learning. After all, focusing on academic credit by teaching to standardized tests and incorporating non-academic criteria into the grading system will get faster results than a strictly developmental model. His idea of status has me really reconsidering how I view a classroom of students, especially with ESL factors in the mix. I wonder how status affects an instructor’s view of class that has English 100 and English 100i students in the same section. Is grading different? Is development looked at differently in determining the grade?

Haswell admits that in setting up his observations of student writing that the “student from Greece is too confounding” (21). For simplicity’s sake I understand his motivations. But now that I have seen the results that have come out of these groups that do not write English as a second language, I naturally want to know how his observations would differ if there were several non-native English writers from a variety of language backgrounds and experiences. I’m not trying to find fault with his method. I just think that if I’m going to be teaching in California, a state increasingly growing in its numbers of ESL student entering college composition classes, I would like to see his work now shifted into that direction.

One of the things that I did have a little trouble reconciling was how much “growth” credit I can give to students that play to teacher expectations and schemes her or his way through education. Granted, it is an approach that displays a certain amount of wit, foresight, and well-delivered execution, but I’m not sure that it deserves the title of “growth.” I see it as a survival tactic, one that will eventually expose the weakness and show the lack of growth. Maybe my perspective on growth is biased. I’ll look into it.

I liked the examining of the two essays. Could we do something like that in class?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ellington/ Gonsalves

Just in case you didn't get enough in class...

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Response to Chapter 1 and 2 of David Blakesley's The Elements of Dramatism

Elements of Dramatism That I Can Appreciate
  1. the freedom to play with language in the interests of creating moments of both identification and division
  2. the realization that ambiguity provides opportunity for identification and doesn't have to be a "bad thing" (as the nuns taught me)
  3. the versatility of the Pentad to open readings up beyond my regular scope/perspectives
  4. the idea that Dramatism allows for thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies to continuously change and evolve
  5. the opportunity it provides for self reflection
  6. Dramatism's belief that we should analyze unity and difference in order to forge new identifications
  7. its mission to develop ideas and continue to find reasons for identification, even as our differences grow (multicultural classroom?)
  8. progress should be seen as a result of competitive cooperation*
  9. it exists as an anti-polemical device
  10. its ability to clearly distinguish rhetoric from deception
* While I can appreciate the call for progress to be determined by "competitive cooperation," as opposed to progress being defined by capitalistic or nationalistic interests, I am uneasy with the idea of "competition" being involved with "cooperation." It seems too tied up in Western notions of success and drive. It sounds like one of those terms that corporations have assigned to their workforce. There are no bosses, only "team leaders." We, the low wage employees, are "team members." We do not exist in a cutthroat marketplace; we unite to participate in "competitive cooperation."

Favorite Quotes
  • "Consensus may define and maintain ideology or common sense, but too often consensus is sought for the sake of efficiency, for simply 'getting along' "(17).
  • "...agreement itself can be dangerous because it encourages complacency and even complicity" (17).
I really thought that these quotes were put in the book to speak specifically to me. They both reflect moments I've had in the classroom. The second quote is a good reminder that I do not have to have Utopian standards for my classroom and that a little disagreement and contention, negotiated properly, will be a great benefit to me and the class.

Thoughts, Insights, and Revelations

As I read through the first chapter, and again as I read the second chapter's deconstruction of Hitler's Mein Kampf, I was thinking about the potential of dramatism in the multicultural classroom or even local community. Just as it has the power to dissect large and messy events like the Columbine shootings and Hitler's motives behind his reign of terror, it clearly possess a great deal of constructing power. It seems an ideal strategy to introduce in a racially sensitive inner city classroom in the interests of promoting cooperation. It also affords and opportunity to bring the redwood logger and environmentalist together at the same table in order to have a productive conversation.

The opening pages of the second chapter had me reflecting on my own writing situation (when I write music reviews) and the motives that impact my perspective. Because of the amount of reading, listening, and conversing I do about music, I have constructed a large base for interpretation, meaning my subjectivity is coming out in every sentence that I compose. I have been formed by the symbol systems of my years of exposure to music. I really never thought of it like that before. When Burke says "critical and imaginative works are answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose," I think of my writing process when tackling a review. I usually imagine the album's place in the music world and then develop a perspective and an agenda. I sometimes even seek other reviews of the same album in hopes of finding division that will direct my ideas. Which, when manifested in my review, is done in the spirit of seeking identification with my potential audience. I was motivated by the symbols. I turn around and try to motivate through my writing, and the process goes on to create meaning. I feel a bit shaky, but I believe that I "get it"...sort of. Is this a connection to Jarrett? Is this where his idea that jazzography is made up of many different texts (symbol systems?) comes from?