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CASLL-L  May 2002

CASLL-L May 2002

Subject:

FW: Authentic writing (or, is this horse really dead?)

From:

Roger Graves <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CASLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 28 May 2002 12:22:52 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (119 lines)

Here's a suggestion: why don't we try to answer Russ' questions by
describing situations in which students have or have not seen situations as
desiring responses (#2 below)? Here's one I'm working with tonight (still
teaching on the quarter system):

A student in my technical writing class is writing a manual for writing
center tutors. She herself is a writing center tutor (undergrad student,
peer-tutor), and the document she is writing responds to a situation she and
other tutors perceived as a problem in the writing center: that first
tutorial comes up way too fast and tutors don't feel they are prepared for
it. So she is writing this document in response to that felt need. In the
process of writing it she has interviewed other tutors, had those tutors
read the draft and respond to her efforts, and has been revising it based on
those responses. Ultimately it will be used next fall as one of the
documents used to train the new tutors as they start their careers in the
writing center.

In answer to Q3 below, I've been trying to construct assignments that put
the onus on the student to identify what *they* regard as a genuine question
and then support them as they work from that question out into some kind of
discursive process and product. It doesn't always work in the sense that
some students fail to take up the conversational gambit, but it does attempt
to situate the writing as purposeful and important beyond context of the
class assignment in a way consistent with Russ' paraphrase of Patrick's
re-statement of Roberta's comment (below).

Roger Graves

--------------------
This gets us away from the distraction of whether the words "real" or
"authentic" are
appropriate, and takes us to what I think is the heart of the matter. And I
want to raise three
ancillary questions, ones that have been bothering me for some time.

1. Can we make a principled distinction between "a response" and a
reaction -- in the sense
that there's a distinction between what I might do when someone said,
"produce a sentence with
a nominative absolute in it" and what I might do when someone said "wait a
minute, I don't know
what you mean by 'nominative absolute'?"  I'm trying to find a way to phrase
the way in which
the discourse produced in the two cases is likely to be radically different.

2. Assuming there's a dramatic difference between (a) perceiving a situation
as desiring a
response and (b) seeing that an assignment to produce an example of
discourse has been given,
is it reasonable to think that a student could, _in the context of a formal
course_, ever see a
situation as the first and not the second?  And by "see" I mean there
something more than
"accept as a true statement"; I mean treat the situation as one in which an
actual interlocutor
asked a genuine question, or one the student perceived as genuine.

3. To what extent is it reasonable to imagine what students need to learn to
do _as students_
is to put themselves, or allow themselves to be put, in a position where
although no one has
actually asked a genuine question, they can imagine the situation as one in
which someone has?
In other words, to engage fully in what is finally ("really") at best a
simulation?

My bottom line seems to be this hypothesis: participating in rhetorical
transactions which are
(or are seen to be) "real" in just this narrow sense is the strongest
possible support for
learning how to participate in such transactions.  All the evidence from
oral language
development suggests that it's by using language to get important stuff
done -- like getting
fed or changed or hugged -- that children learn to use language in the
remarkable ways we all
use it.  All the evidence from early childhood literacy suggests that it's
by seeing that
written language serves immediate felt purposes (like knowing which is the
toothpaste or
getting _Goodnight Moon_ read again) that produces literacy development.

All the research from studies of workplace writing suggests that when
learning happens in
workplaces it usually happens according to that model: Odell & Goswami's
insurance executives
learned the sophisticated rhetorical strategies they were deploying from the
situations around
them, and it seems pretty clear something like that is going on throughout
_Worlds Apart_.  As
Anne Hungerford pointed out during the discussion that Sunday morning,
workplaces aren't always
such great learning environments, but but they do have one thing we normally
don't offer our
students -- or I don't see that we do: situations which are "perceived by
the writer as
demanding or desiring a response."

(My own suspicion is that Patrick's paraphrase of Roberta is right: "we need
to get out of the
way, not front and centre, not the primary audience, and then at least,
writers will attend to
finding, discovering, what it is they want to say, what matters and what is
realizable given
constraints of time and other commitments. It is in such contexts that we
learn whatever we
learn as writers.")

-- Russ

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