The Research

From Pedagogy to Theory with Empirical Results: Writing to Assemble in a Project-based Classroom

For the last two years, along with a small team of researchers consisting of two fellow faculty members and four student research assistants, I have been tracing the experiences of students participating in the BW project-based courses offered at my institution. The results of this study are grounded in a series of interviews conducted with ten students and seven faculty members who completed and taught the course, respectively.  In these interviews students and faculty explore in depth their reactions to assignments, their choices about topics; attitudes toward writing at the outset of the course; their experience of writing during the course; and any shifts in attitude or orientation that occurred to them over the course of the semester.

Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with ten students enrolled in three separate project-based courses and seven faculty members who had taught at least one semester of the project-based course. The study took place over approximately 12 months. Students who participated in the study all completed the course within a year of the study and had received a passing grade. Researchers initiated the study, using a grounded theory method to examine what students and instructors stood to gain from a curriculum rooted in writing theory dismissing the pedagogical imperative to prepare students for their next writing class, per se. Questions elicit general responses to the course overall, the students attitudes toward writing going in, their level of engagement with writing assignments, reactions to choosing topics, their experiences writing in the context of a project chosen by them.

In recounting the stories and experiences relayed via student interviews, the term (project)ing surfaces as a fitting term for what can best be described as a kind of conceptual scheme or shift in attitude toward writing and its relevancy. In response to questions about what they gained, students interviewed commented on experiencing writing for the first time as, “bits and pieces,” linked to something larger—“something of value.” It is through project writing that the individual is afforded an opportunity to experience writing more consciously as an “assemblage.”

Recalcitrance, Continuity and Change: Burkean Dialectics and the Function of  Language and Writing

This current scholarship draws on a 3 year longitudinal ethnography, I completed in 2011, aimed at understanding better how rhetorics of community emerge, are carried forward, and shift. Using multiple methods, including participant observation, interviews, focus groups and rhetorical analysis, I examine what I refer to here as processes in “social recalcitrance,” the complex dialectical processes by which hermeneutical shifts are generated and sociocultural change takes place. The study examines upclose how individuals use language first to negotiate shifts in attitude and second effect change within their home communities. What results from  is a better understanding of how language functions importantly in community to sustain continuity while effecting change.

In a resulting article, I draw on this research in conjunction with the work of Kenneth Burke and his peculiar treatment of the dialectic to argue that we have much to gain in the  writing classroom  by looking more closely at how language functions beyond representation in both conversation and in the writing space itself. This study provides an alternative to the discourse community model, which has so significantly shaped research and theory in education, literacy, and composition and rhetoric, positing instead a rhetorical model for examining the processes by which individuals establish membership in and make transitions across multiple communities. Extending Burke’s concept of recalcitrance through rhetorical ethnography, we can understand better how individuals use language and other modes of persuasion to resolve the inconsistencies and the paradoxes that emerge as they encounter conflicting and competing conceptions of reality, and we can begin to build models for the writing classroom that take seriously the function of language and writing beyond representation.


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