Friday at NeMLA2016: Evaluating Writing Roundtable

I’m excited to be chairing a roundtable on evaluating student writing today, Friday March 18 at 1:15pm, for the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference in Hartford. We have a great line-up of presentations and hope to see you in Capital 3!

7.17 Evaluating Student Writing I (Roundtable)

  • “Using Genre Studies and Rhetorical Analysis to Evaluate Student Writing” by Whitney James
  • “Feedback in the Electronic Writing Classroom” by Joseph Gansrow
  • “Training the Student to be Editor-in-Chief”  by Jayanti Tamm
  • “In-Conference Writing Assessment” by Maureen McVeigh
  • “Terms of Assessment” by Lisa Blansett (@Prof_Blansett)

  • “Numberless Ways: Dialogue and Reflection for Developing Writers” by Paul Graves

If you can’t make it to the panel, here is a copy of the take-away we created that covers the key points and reminders: NeMLA_2016_Eval_Writing_Takeaway

 

Friday at NEMLA2016: The Student as Writer

I’m proud to be chairing a panel on embodiment and disability in the college writing classroom today, Friday March 18 at 11:45am, for the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference in Hartford. We have a great line-up of papers and hope to see you in Marriott A!

The Student as Writer: Embodiment, Mindfulness, and Disability in the Composition Classroom (Panel 6.21)

In this session, we review ways to approach the First Year Composition and other writing classrooms by focusing on the students as embodied writers, taking student-centered pedagogy to a new level. A combination of theoretical and practical perspectives will be employed to locate the student as embodied writer within the disciplinary tradition.

  • “In Body and Mind: Re-embodying Reading in the Composition Classroom” by Carolyne King, University of Delaware.
  • “Embodied Pedagogy: Silence, Energy, and Everything in Between” by Hilarie Ashton (@HilarieAshton), Graduate Center-CUNY.

  • “Ableism and Attendance: Making the Writing Classroom Accessible to all Students” by Catherine Prendergast (@cjprender), University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

 

If you can’t make it to the panel, here is a copy of the take-away we created that covers the key points and reminders: NEMLA2016_Embodied_Writing_Takeaway_Cover

Calling all writing instructors in the Northeast!

There are just ten days left to submit a proposal to the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference to be held in Hartford, CT in March 2016.

I’m chairing one panel and one roundtable focused on teaching writing and while there are some great submissions already, I’d love to hear from more of the scholar-practitioners doing the innovating in the classroom. Please consider submitting a proposal to one or both of these sessions. And if neither of these grabs your interest, take a look at the other awesome Rhetoric and Composition sessions being offered this year.

The Student as Writer: Embodiment, Mindfulness, and Disability in the Composition Classroom (Panel)

In this session, we review ways to approach the First Year Composition and other writing classrooms by focusing on the students as embodied writers, taking student-centered pedagogy to a new level. Areas of interest for papers include, but are not limited to, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and disability studies. A combination of theoretical and practical perspectives will be employed to locate the student as embodied writer within the disciplinary tradition.

Evaluating Student Writing (Roundtable)

Have you ever wondered, “How on Earth can I grade this poem? Can creativity even be quantified?” Or, “how should revision fit into the overall course grade?” In this roundtable, writing instructors from a variety of fields (rhetoric and composition; technical writing; creative writing; and more) will discuss their systems for assessing and evaluating student writing in the college classroom. Both conceptual and pragmatic concerns will be addressed for making the evaluation and feedback process an integral part of our writing pedagogy.

End to the Summer of Upheaval

So what have you been doing for the past month?

It’s been nearly five weeks since my last post and I’ve spent that time closing on, painting, and then moving into a townhouse in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. With lots of help from family and friends, nearly every wall has been repainted, new rugs have been installed, and the “must haves” have been put in place (including my massive desk, Star Wars posters, and a print of a painting that includes my elementary school from Aldan, PA in the background).

A little bit of Delco in Massachusetts

A little bit of Delco in Massachusetts

When I accepted my new position with the English Department at Fitchburg State University, I knew that I was in for a lot of upheaval, especially when I decided that I would make the leap and become a homeowner rather than renting a place.

New job, new state, and new home.

It’s been a lot and for someone like me who finds comfort in routine and familiarity, I’m definitely ready to be done with all of it.

But the transition back to that routine hasn’t been anywhere near as simple as I expected. And I realized that’s mostly because of the vastly different types of mindsets involved between the “move” mind and the “writing” brain.

The “move” mind required short-term, immediate decision-making involved in setting up a house, unpacking belongings, and placing furniture. I spent hours one day, for example, dashing between rooms, up and down stairs, answering questions and making decisions as my awesome family members were tackling projects like unpacking my kitchenware, painting the main bathroom, and assembling, then placing, the new cabinets in my amazingly large new home office.

The “writing” brain, on the other hand, is also the mindset I need for syllabus planning and my research (including the paper I’m going to be presenting at LoneStarCon 3 at the end of the month). Before the move preparation, this was my default mindset and that was actually problematic as I tried to be so strategic when I packed that I got in my own way at times.

But once I was (mostly) settled, and my family returned to their own homes, it took me nearly a full week to re-set my brain. I quickly realized that it was going to take a deliberate effort to make the switch and that I had taken for granted the time and attention I typically have for such thinking. I am lucky that I’m able to control a great deal of my time and environment to create and maintain (even nurture) that reflective, writing mindset.

Throughout this process, I have been reminded of Virginia’s Woolf’s classic essay A Room of One’s Own, which I first read many, many years ago in college. Now that I have a great space to call my own, I also have the additional obstacle known as “the joys of home ownership” to get in the way of achieving the mental and physical space I need to write. For example, tasks like waiting hours for a plumber to arrive and changing addresses online do not lend themselves to recapturing the sustained attention required for longer-term projects (even for relatively short pieces like this blog post).

My copy of A Room of One’s Own, complete with the “vintage” GSC (Glassboro State College) used book sticker.

My copy of A Room of One’s Own, complete with the “vintage” GSC (Glassboro State College) used book sticker.

I’m still considering how to incorporate this experience into my teaching and writing but one of the great advantages of my job is the synergies among my teaching, writing, and thinking. As my students in First-Year Writing at Fitchburg State this fall are making a huge transition, I will still be adapting to my own and I definitely plan to be open about my own struggles setting up my writing space, and recapturing my writing mind.

On “Rights”: Speech, Opinion, and Harassment at Conventions

I owe a lot to fandom and the con-runners who organize conventions like the World Science Fiction Convention. My first two books, Plagues and Writing and the Digital Generation, were directly inspired by World Cons and I tested and refined the ideas in Reboot at several others. The pros who attend these events, from Greg Bear to David Brin to John Scalzi to Mary Robinette Kowal and many others, have influenced my career in both subtle and overt ways since my first con in 2001. And, of course, I have started many wonderful friendships over these weekends as well.

Needless to say, over the past few weeks I have watched the unfolding online debate regarding sexual harassment at conventions with (self) interest and trepidation. For those unfamiliar with recent events, see this post on MRK’s site from Elise Matthesen, this response from Maria Dahvana Headley I reblogged earlier, and this page that summarizes and collects other reactions.

As both a fan and a rhetorician, these reactions fascinate me. I was particularly intrigued (and frustrated) by the responses to Scalzi’s Convention Harassment Policy, which I co-signed here. Scalzi posted a fairly lengthy response to the responses to his policy here and MRK similarly identified, and spectacularly dismantled, one particular type of response here.

I won’t quote from Scalzi or MRK’s posts here, though I’d like to, because I try to keep my online presence at a PG-13 rating, at most, and these pieces use expletives to stunning effect. I recommend readers follow the links to read for themselves, so long as you know what you will find.

But to summarize the particular line of response I want to focus on in this post, several commentators and respondents condemned those like Scalzi and MRK on “free speech” grounds. This argument (if you can call it that) rests on two inter-related premises:

  1. Such policies infringe on the right to free speech of con-goers and therefore asking creepers/harassers to curb their behavior (since there is a substantial verbal component to harassment) is unacceptable.
  2. Those who object to and/or reject policies and stances like Scalzi’s cannot be criticized themselves because they are simply exercising their own rights to free speech.

Now, the response to these responses also breaks down along two paths:

  1. The First Amendment to the US Constitution only protects us from the government putting us in jail or otherwise punishing us for the words we use and this right is not absolute.
  2. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences or criticism for what spews out of our mouths. If and when others use their own right to condemn or reject our speech, we can’t object on “freedom” grounds.

Over the past week, these responses have been rattling around in my head (an occupational hazard for writers) and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much these debates reminded me of conversations I have with my students every semester.

I teach First-Year Writing at the college level and students often struggle with the nuances and complexities of the concept of “opinion,” and understandably so. We use this term in so many different and conflicting ways that it has essentially become, I tell them, meaningless. After all, we can hear “opinion” being used to describe everything from the Brown v. Board decision in 1954 (or the more recent Shelby County v. Holder or United States v. Windsor rulings) to Mike Golic’s take on whether or not the Kansas City Chiefs used the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft wisely.

I watch and/or listen to sports commentary quite a bit, especially during football season, and I hear two phrases that invoke opinion so often that I can completely understand my students’ confusion: “Hey, that’s just my opinion” and “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

Putting aside the usage error of “everyone” and “their” in the latter phrase, this combination of ideas leads to several rhetorical problems whenever we try to have a complicated debate, like the one currently going on in fandom.

The first is that we’ve beaten any sense of meaning out of the word opinion and rendered it useless for communication in many instances. What most people mean when they use the word “opinion,” I’ve noticed, is instead a conclusion or judgment that they’ve reached based more or less on an analysis of evidence. Or, on the opposite pole, they mean a gut response or knee-jerk reaction that involves little thought, if any. Using “opinion” to cover both of these situations is an obstacle to say the least.

The second is that the “just my opinion” construct is used as a trump card to end all conversation. After all, if we are all entitled to our opinions, then how can we move beyond that? We’re entitled. This is similar to the free speech objection above.

Finally, just like the limits on speech rights, we are not entitled to turn our “opinions” into actions that harm others and then weasel out of the consequences because we have a “right to our own opinions.” This is the sentence I was most scared to write in the entire piece, and why it took me almost a week of thinking to actually do it. Even now, after all that pondering, I almost typed qualifying phrases like “could harm others” or “we must be careful when we turn our opinions into actions.”

But this point in my career, and my fandom, is not the time for equivocation so here it is again: It is not okay to turn our opinions into actions that harm others and then weasel out of the consequences because we are “entitled” to such opinions. In terms of the current fandom debates, this means that if it is your opinion that con-goers who dress in any sort of hall costume (read, women cos-players) should expect to be harassed because they “ask for it,” and then you act on that opinion either by being a creeper, ignoring a creeper, or refusing to institute a harassment policy at a con you run, then that is not okay. And the same applies to so many of the other “opinions” so thoroughly dismantled by Scalzi and MRK.

Moving beyond conventions and fandom, though, we also need to consider those times when our opinions turn into actions that can harm others. For example, if we form an opinion based on bad information or faulty “science” or some unexamined ideology, and then vote for a referendum and/or a lawmaker who will pass laws that hurt others (but not ourselves), that is not okay either.

To invoke a familiar, and perhaps over-used, geek maxim: with great power comes great responsibility. The same applies to our rights, whether to speech or our own opinions. We must take more care with how we exercise each.