WR122 is an course in argument, style, and research. One of the most difficult aspects of teaching argumentative writing is getting students to re-think what it means to “argue.” The in U.S. most people view arguments within the framework of a war metaphor. This sets up writers to think that their “goal” in argumentative writing is to “be on target,” “shoot down others’ ideas,” “prove their ideas are the strongest,” and “win the argument.” This mentality does not lend itself to quality academic arguments, especially for beginning college writers, who have not had enough time and experience arguing or sufficient exposure to the various arguments surrounding a topic/field to “beat” other writers/arguments within the field.
So the first thing I do in all my argumentative writing courses is work with students to redefine argument–to think of it more through metaphors of conversation, dance, dialogue, collaboration, and learning. I begin this process by showing them Daniel Cohen’s TED Talk “For Argument’s Sake”. Then students read and discuss Rebecca Jones’ OER article “Finding the Good Argument or Why Bother With Logic.” Finally we discuss some of the ideas that George Lakoff and Mark Johnson raise in their book Metaphors We Live By. After we’ve look at all these texts together, students work in small groups to “map” argument using a metaphor other than war. Though this process we, as a class, create a body of language that we can use to talk about argumentative writing in the course through lenses other than that of war and battle.
This iteration of the course will be similar to the iteration taught in Spring 2014. However there will be some changes. One of the changes I’ve made is switching out some of the readings. I’ve done this for two reasons. The first is to better streamline the reading materials. I spent a lot of time between the Fall 13 and Spring 14 iterations of the course streamlining the assignments and overall student workload. So it seemed a logical next step to work to better streamline the reading assignments this term. The second reason I made this change was to update the course. Language, rhetorical systems, and minority rhetorics are quite fluid and change regularly. Since I’m entering my third year of teaching the course, I felt it was time to re-think whether or not the readings I was including in the course were still the “best,” most relevant choices. Many of the readings remain from Spring 14, but others have been replaced/omitted to make room for more contemporary information that will allow the course to remain current.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the shift in reading materials shifts the overall content of in-class discussions and of the writing students produce this term.
That’s the best way I know to describe what happened in this course during Fall term. While I saw a few students demonstrate amazing growth in this course, growth that several students told me was life-changing, I also saw a good number of students who were failed by this course this term. I was told I was a “kickass multicultural superhero” and that my course was “impossible and unrealistic” all in the same week.
These mixed reviews resulted in me spending a lot of time critically thinking about and reflecting on what was happening in this class this term, and considering the “best” thing I could do for this course and for the students who will enroll in this class in the future. And this resulted in my spending several days crafting a blog to try to articulate the realizations that came from this reflection. So instead of rehashing parts of that blog here, I will simply provide the link to that blog, where you can read my in-depth reflection in its entirety.