Submitted by John W. Pell on December 2, 2011 - 1:54pm
For those of us who teach writing-intensive courses the end of the semester/quarter can certainly be exhausting and frustrating, but also incredibly rewarding. Last night, while returning to my office after a day of student conferences, I found myself making mental notes about the drafts I had been reading and discussing all day. In that moment I was struck by the fact that while talking with students about their research projects, I had, in the course of single day, been challenged to think about international water rights, government censorship, the civil rights of the LGBTA community, the rhetorical problem of naming the Rwandan genocide a "civil war," how social media changes notions of adolescence, and the relationship between food costs and the "Arab Spring."
I can only speak for myself, but, for the most part, my students have fascinating ideas. Certainly their prose exhibit all of the problems we associate with first-year writing, but I am always encouraged by their instinctive pursuit of interesting arguments. That is, many of my students are willing to following their guts - to see a "hunch" through. While this often results in intial drafts filled with unwieldy arguments, they engage the material with curiousity and enthusiasm.
And, while this time of the year reminds me of how much I actually enjoy reading the work of first-year writers, I am also reminded, especially when confronted with research topics that are far from my expertise, that the study of rhetoric does not require the mastery of content. Rather, rhetoric is techne, an art interested in the production of an object, which in the case of first-year writing is often the research-based argument. So, while I don't intend on becoming an expert on international water rights or an economist that studies global markets any time soon, I am (thanks to my students) reminded that I am a rhetorian, and as such enjoy the gift of being challenged at the end of every semester/quarter to put my art to the test. To see, that is, if I am able to help students locate and understand the practices and conventions that count for "good" writing in various disciplines, and help them begin to see themselves as members of those discourse communities.
I would love to hear from others about how student writing impacts understandings of disciplinarity. In other words, what does the writing we receive help us understand about the pedagogical dimension of our work.