ELPC Part 2: Inching towards a more charged focus question

So. Here I am, at the coast on my own for three days. Time to think and read and write. Bliss. It’s 7.30 at night and I’ve finished dinner (but still got my apron on); a salmon and bean frittata with an avocado, pea and olive salad. A glass and a half of cheap but pleasant red wine. I’ve been for a walk on the beach during a break in the wet weather, there’s a fire on, and I’m like a pig in poo.

I’m planning to write a short blog post each day. I’m here to sort out the focus and structure of the second half of our ‘literacy across the curriculum’ unit which I wrote about in my last post. The focus for our final four weeks is writing.

I’ve just re-read the post, and Teresa’s comment.  She wondered about my proposed research questions, and very politely suggested that they didn’t quite hit the mark. She’s right. They lack punch. They have no real charge, they don’t challenge pre-conceived assumptions. I need to work on them.

My students come from all the secondary disciplines, and they’re in the middle of a five week block in schools, where I’m guessing some of the bigger educational questions will be subsumed by concerns about classroom management and finding the time and energy to prepare properly.  Some of the students may well be wondering about the relevance of four weeks back at university thinking about writing.

And while they’ve been out in schools, I’ve done my own wondering. I’ve been thinking and writing about the many different tacks that we might take when we’re looking at writing.  What is the function of writing? Does writing imply an exclusive focus on the written word? What about multiple modalities? 21st century literacies?  Literacies in the digital age? There are so many potential tacks that it’s easy to get lost.

So today I’ve been trying to find a charged and challenging question that cuts through some of this. Something that takes us into the heart of all this complexity and tension.

How about something like this:

Writing-as-composing, Multiple-modalities-in-writing, writing-for-web-2.0. What Now? What Next? Is all this distracting me from my core disciplinary business?

I like that this one acknowledges the skepticism, then asks us to examine it. I also like the way it invites us to think carefully about what our core business is, and to see if re-thinking aspects of writing fit into this core.

And it doesn’t have a simple answer, like my earlier version. There’s a strong debate going on in educational circles about this very question.

How does it sound to you Teresa? Others? Better?


Finding the right words for our focus question is just one part of the planning. There’s also the students’ reading (I’m going to adapt Michael Wesch’s idea on ‘how to get my students finding and reading 94 articles before the next class‘); the development of a composing skill (I wrote about this in my last blog post);  the way we might use the University Moodle and a Ning; the content of the tutorials; and so on. In some ways, the precise wording seems such a small part of what needs to be done. But (because I’m going through a bit of a Dickens-phase in my reading at the moment), I’m reminded of the way Dickens used to spend weeks playing with titles for his books before he could begin the real creating. The title often held some kind of essence for him. That’s how I feel about the focus question.

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4 Responses to ELPC Part 2: Inching towards a more charged focus question

  1. Steve, thanks for sharing your thinking during your time away, this respite from the real world. I don’t have any suggestions as I am struggling with writing questions myself. But I appreciate being able to follow along with you. We have had discussions between the history and English departments along the same lines: who teaches writing? what’s the purpose? how do we move students beyond the 5-paragraph essay in any discipline?
    Thanks, too, for sharing the tidbit about Dickens. Now I can share THAT with my students!
    Enjoy your days.

  2. I enjoy your blog posts. I think reflection is at the heart of most of what we do as teachers, whatever we teach. I think it is important to reflect on why we employ cross-disciplinary strategies in our classrooms, what is the point of it, what messages are we sending to our students, and why are these messages important? When I assign a student an analytic essay I want them to employ some of the skills that they learned in algebra and geometry class, when they are tackling a literary problem I want them to use something like the scientific method when they attack the problem by considering what works and what does not in their analysis. I want students to understand the historical and the cultural settings and contexts of the stories they read and what is being suggested by these contexts and settings.

    I think it is important for students to see that though we teach one discipline, the other disciplines are still important to our lives and practice. I think the most important question you ask is about each teacher’s core disciplinary practice and if the cross-disciplinary stuff gets in the way of what is the focus of what they teach. I think as teachers we have to be clear about why we are using cross-disciplinary practices. Keep up the great work.

    J. D.

  3. I find a useful (and challenging) question format starts with ‘what’ and is open-ended. Here’s a very rough example– I have no idea if it gets at your intention, but hey, what the heck?

    What is the impact of the current debate (multimodalities, etc.) on traditional working definitions of literacy, conceptions of writing and writing pedagogy, and conventional views of core curriculum?
    What implications do these have on my philosophies and pedagogy?

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