Sept 3: Responses to SMG chp 3 + Lindemann

Reading for class Sept 3: 

St. Martin’s Guide, Chapter 3, “Everyday Activities”; Erika Lindemann, A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, 2nded, Chapter 14, “Designing Writing Courses.”

Please post your response to these texts as a comment on this thread. Weekly reading responses should be approximately 300 words for all readings for the week and should include a brief response and questions the texts raise for you.

6 thoughts on “Sept 3: Responses to SMG chp 3 + Lindemann

  1. I found the course models that are outlined in the Lindemann particularly fruitful for understanding my own current relationship to the classroom environment as well as helping me figure out what kind of class I want to construct for my students. I am not sure if the What, How, or Who centered methods necessarily have to separate and distinct categories from one another. I kind of saw them working in tandem. Additionally, I also found the section on students imitating styles and ways of writing extremely generative. In many ways that’s how I perceived students will respond to texts: they will attempt to imitate them. In fact, I went in with this understanding that in many ways I was to give them “good” examples and they were to mimic them. I never once considered the notion of how to reproduce it. For me, the how to reproduce their own versions of the models given to them is extremely important and I want to make sure that I do my best to give them tools and support in which to not just imitate, but to craft their own styles and versions. Furthermore, I found the section on process extremely useful when Lindemann details how pre-writing should not be something addressed only in the first few weeks but continued indefinitely. I also am trying to imagine ways in which professors have made writing a body of knowledge to be learned rather than process based? If we could go over some examples in class that would be great to make the contrast between writing as process and writing as knowledge more sharp so I can make sure I do not continue the model of writing as knowledge. I desperately want to avoid that since even on the first day students are already expressing that they want to learn and be able to pull of certain ways of writing.

  2. According to, the “centipede’s dilemma” is a phenomenon of paralysis that arises from focusing on the mechanics of an activity that one otherwise performs automatically (like walking with 100 legs). I’ve never taken a writing course other than one on legal writing in law school, and so I’ve never thought much about writing independent from its subject, whatever it may be. How do you structure an essay? Well, you structure it in a way that makes sense, that conveys your argument as coherently, persuasively, and elegantly as you can manage, while having enough consideration for the reader to make it interesting. Ideally, you dust your prose with enough wit and charm to make it enjoyable. No matter how esoteric the subject, I begin every piece of writing as though it’s a New Yorker article, and I allow the writing to become as dense and scholarly as it needs to be to suit the subject. It always seems to work out okay.

    But this is a charmed life. As I’m learning from Glenn and Goldthwaite, teaching writing requires a brave endurance of the “centipede’s dilemma,” particularly given the emphasis on process propounded by Glenn and Goldthwaite and by Lindemann (and, from what I understand, by most of the comp/rhet community). On the first page of Lindemann’s “Designing writing courses,” there is a triangle, the points of which are teacher, subject, and student. This triangle tells me I’m not in Kansas anymore, but have arrived in a world where “designing writing courses” requires direct engagement with decontextualized formulas, general principles set forth in the passive voice and in a numerical list, and a kind of geometric, show-your-work way of thinking. This is a very different mode of scholarship from that of sitting in a tree, reading something fascinating, and then riding a wave of natural curiosity into research, research into opinion, opinion into argument, and finally argument into gradable academic essay.

    I see the value of the prevailing neoclassical approach and I embrace its efficiency. Somehow it’s comforting to recognize that, in fact, it is somewhat mathematical and neoclassical; no wonder it feels a little alien. Yet I also want to convey to my students some of the joys and satisfactions of writing about an interesting subject in context without getting bogged down by the assignment’s identity as a school assignment. Freewriting, group work, and student-driven-topic-choice seem to be the best compromise for the class, at least for now while I figure out how to explain the mechanics of walking with 100 legs.

  3. On the whole, I found Lindemann’s chapter to be a useful guide to the basic structure and management of a writing course, but I’m not sure I fully agree with her minimization of the role of the instructor. I certainly do not see the professor- or lecture-based model as the ideal one for a writing course (or any course, to be frank), but some of Lindemann’s depictions of a process- or student-centered course seem a little unrealistic— at least for a first year writing course, and at this point in our teaching careers. For example, Lindemann describes the student-centered classroom as such: “Groups of students discuss papers. Here and there a student works alone on an exercise which addresses some writing problem. One student consults a shelf of handbooks and dictionaries; another talks out the draft of a paper into a tape recorder; another sits beside the teacher’s desk having a conference” (230). From my admittedly very limited teaching experience, I do not see this scenario playing out successfully in a freshmen composition classroom. The vast majority of the students I’ve taught entered the course with little to no knowledge whatsoever on how to structure an essay, compose a thesis, incorporate research, or simply write a clear sentence. In these cases, it would be hurtful rather than helpful to focus exclusively on the students’ in-class writing without a sufficient lesson beforehand. I recognize, of course, that Lindemann is not proposing to eliminate lectures or lessons altogether, but she does not appear to give them the credit (I feel) they deserve. In-class writing and student-led discussions are absolutely crucial for a productive writing course, but some basic groundwork needs to be laid before the classroom can transform into a writing workshop.

  4. The St. Martin’s take on peer review seems rather traditional to me. I’ve never been the biggest proponent of peer review simply because of my own firsthand experiences with it and my friends’ experiences; all of us had at some point or other expressed the feeling that we felt stifled by peer review and sharing that was forced on us too early on in the semester.

    The St. Martin’s talks about sharing even before whole class workshops (which is another thing that I feel is counterproductive to the writing process) and establishing peer review groups. The idea itself seems good on paper, but from experience I’ve seen it limit the student’s thought process and make them highly self conscious of both their writing and even themselves as a person. Writing, even academic writing, is a very personal thing. It puts the reader or audience into the writer’s mind; outsiders can get a glimpse of the machinations of the author’s thoughts and interior. It’s daunting, particularly as a freshman, to stand in front of the room, share what you think is good about a piece, and then have people ask questions about it. Later on in their writing careers, the students may feel more comfortable and may have grown a thicker skin that would allow them to see these questions as helpful; in my experience, though, young students view these questions as attacks.

    The peer review process introduced early on could be detrimental to writing. I do like the idea of collaborating and think that, done the right way, the collaborative activities the St. Martin’s text proposes could work. Instead of having the students put their fingers into each other’s work too early on, I would instead think about assigning writing groups for the students. These are people they can work with outside of class, write with maybe at the library or a coffee house, and bounce ideas off each other, but not edit just yet. By writing within the same vicinity and talking to each other, they are building trust and comfort, just as the St. Martin’s suggested, but they are not impeding the creative process by already saying what doesn’t work and what does. That can come later on once all the thoughts are on paper and ready to be whittled down.

    I think the peer review process is helpful, but I also think that when used too much, it can hamper a student’s writing and almost ruin a paper. I will be using it, but using it carefully with guided questions, just as St. Martin’s suggested, and sparingly so that the students do not feel under attack or judged too early in the semester.

  5. One idea from the Glenn and Goldthwaite that stayed with me was, “Inclusivity is one of the most important reasons to stress attendance: Your class needs everyone, every day” (60). When encouraging students to attend class, I have tried to emphasize the ways being present will benefit the students. I thought that “You can ask questions on the material,” “You’ll understand the expectations for the exam or for the essay,” “You’ll get feedback that will help you improve your writing,” and “You’ll get a higher grade!” were all useful sentiments. After all, I was talking about students, wasn’t I? I realize now that even though I was saying, “you,” I was still creating a relationship where the class did something for the students. What about what they could do for the class? I’d left that out. I was missing what G&G stress; It’s not just that the student depends on the class, but that the class depends on the student. Yes, if we think something relies on us, then we might make more of an effort. If it can go on without us, then why should we care as much?

    G&G also made me re-examine my experience in certain undergraduate classes that I disliked. I remember one history class where the instructor spent the entire semester standing at a podium and summarizing our textbook readings. There was no class dialogue, no in-class activities, no in-class writing, and no student sharing of ideas. Nothing other than the summary of the reading. My dislike of the class has always been focused on what role I thought the instructor should play. I thought, why do I need you if you serve the same function as my textbook? I still think this is true (sadly, he was boring), but now my interpretation of the class has broadened. The professor frustrated me not just because his style of teaching made him seem irrelevant, but because it also made us, the students, feel irrelevant. I remember he didn’t even take attendance. Instead, he passed around a sign-in sheet the entire semester (which I understand is necessary in some cases, but on top of everything else this created more of a distance between students and professor). If we are only as good as our names on a sheet, if you have no connection to us as individuals, then why must we be physically present? Why are we here? Had our presence been made more important, then I might have enjoyed the class more.

  6. Something about these readings mustered blurry, dusty, memories of my high school writing courses. The “writing scene” in this environment is constructed as follows: the instructor assuredly presents what it means to write an argumentative essay, gives you all of the key words and steps. I, in turn, write these things down in my notebook: consider the audience, pathos, logos, ethos, etc… then I am asked to write following these rules. I don’t remember really using any of the rhetorical concepts in any meaningful way until much later in my life when I took the initiative to write FIRST and considered the structure later. It is possible that I intuited the information fed to me in high school writing and unconsciously put it to use one sunny day but it is also possible that I finally had the right combination of confidence, interest, and motivation to really feel out what the writing process would look like for ME.
    Now, standing on the other side of the classroom, I sometimes find myself puzzled. How do I convey the real world importance (not to mention the social and cultural significance) of rhetorical modes AND at the same time allow my students the space to, as Lindemann says, “become conscious of their own writing behaviors” the way I feel was most effective for me?
    I think an answer can be found in the place where both the St. Martin’s Guide and Lindemann’s chapter on classroom design converge. Both texts place an emphasis on making the classroom space into a workshop and allowing that space be part of the writing process. Collaboration not just among the students but also including the instructor is vital to creating this space. Making a group ethos, a small Foucauldian heterotopia if you wish, can foster an engagement that doesn’t feel forced; where the professor or instructor isn’t imposing a fixed structure or system for conceptualization but rather takes part in a process during which the students come to an understanding about their relationship to writing.
    Rhapsody and idealism aside, in praxis, this space can be slow to coalesce. A goal of mine this semester is to really work on creating the workshop structure within my classrooms and as a practical question I wonder what is the most effective way to facilitate a whole class workshop that gives students an opportunity to discover aspects of their own writing but also is organized enough that it actually works? ( I feel like it is hard to balance the two and actually creating this “unstructured” space in fact requires a great deal of planning and guidance)

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