The WRAC department had the pleasure of putting on the first conference for First-Year Writing (FYW). It was held from 1 PM to 5 PM at the MSU Business Complex this past Saturday, April 21st.
Dr. Julie Lindquist, Director of First-Year Writing, gave the keynote speech, in which she presented an overview of the program (the number of FYW students, course options, assignment sequences, and shared learning outcomes). Lindquist also discussed how the FYW courses at Michigan State highlight both inquiry (asking questions as a key move toward learning and discovery) and rhetoric (understanding how writing, reading and research are connected to specific situations, audiences, and purposes).
The 2012 FYW conference showcased students’ presentations from the classes of Stephanie Amada, Kate Fedewa, and Steve Lessner. It also offered opportunities for presenters and attendees to participate in roundtable conversations to discuss teaching and writing.
This semester the First-Year Writing program (FYW) welcomed a new director, Dr. Julie Lindquist, who has a promising and unique vision for the program’s future.
At the center of Lindquist’s vision is the idea that good instruction in writing is enabled by teachers who continue to learn about what it means to teach, and who work in a dynamic professional community. Lindquist strives to create a viable community of teachers that offers support and nourishes conversation about teaching. “People who teach writing are doing important work, and we should make sure they have the resources they need to do this work,” she says. “These resources should include other teachers.”
Lindquist’s first priority is to create a dynamic pedagogical culture within WRAC, but she ultimately envisions a writing program that is nationally known for its approach to professional development.
Lindquist is assisted in program development and operations by Matt Novak, a third-year PHD student in Rhetoric and Writing. Novak, who has been appointed as Lindquist’s research assistant, is currently working on exploring possibilities for an online resource repository for teachers in WRAC. As part of this effort, Novak is researching models for such a repository by speaking to teachers and administrators across the country as well as to MSU faculty associated with the Writing in Digital Environments Center (WIDE). “For now, we’re looking at how we can make ANGEL–the course management system we’re currently working with– better serve the needs of teachers in WRAC.” says Lindquist. “But we hope to develop something more flexible, something with a capacity for discussion and networking as well as document storage.”
Lindquist is also working alongside Dr. Joyce Meier, who has recently been named assistant director of First-Year Writing. “Joyce brings a good deal of experience and vision to the position,” Lindquist said. “I’m very lucky to have her working with me.” This year, Meier has been busy organizing a series of workshops and conversation groups for writing faculty and meeting regularly with her colleagues to learn about the concerns of faculty charged with teaching first-year writing, and to advise teachers new to MSU on matters of curriculum and course delivery.
Lindquist, Novak, and Meier meet weekly to brainstorm ideas for program development, to identify areas for improvement, and to assess progress. The three of them also meet regularly with Jeff Grabill and Leonora Smith, faculty currently serving as mentors for graduate students teaching first-year writing, for the purposes of coordinating the mentoring experience for TAs.
More than anything, Lindquist thinks of her administrative position as pedagogical, and discovering what first-year writing faculty and students need is at the top of her priority list. “I want there to be a real investment in first-year writing by everyone involved in the program, and for there to be wide participation in decision-making,” Lindquist said.
While Lindquist says she has had to exchange her regular teaching load for administrative work, she still feels she is teaching–just in a different role. She continues, for example, to mentor teaching assistants. She also helps faculty and students teaching writing to solve problems related to teaching and learning writing, and to educate others at MSU and elsewhere about the mission and goals of the writing program.
For more information regarding the FYW program, visit the program’s website.
For WRAC department faculty, the goal is to teach their students not only to write but to write well. Two professors, Bump Halbritter and Julie Lindquist, felt that they didn’t know enough about their students to teach them well. So they decided to do something about it.
“The project started as two teachers who were skeptical about how well they knew their students, and who wanted to figure out better ways to learn about this,” Bump said. “We wanted to know how much we could learn from students by talking with them.”
As a result, they launched LiteracyCorps Michigan, a series of interviews with students from across Michigan, to explore that question.
The project consists of four phases: first, they contact a student to do an interview and ask the student to bring in three artifacts – one each to represent their past, present, and future selves. The interview is based on the student’s artifacts, and from there some kind of story or narrative is created that serves as the foundation for inquiry throughout the rest of the process. At the end of this interview, they ask the student to choose a location that is of some significance to them for the next interview.
During this second interview, they discuss why the student chose this location and what it means to them, and they also watch some of the footage from the previous interview. At the conclusion of this interview, the student is given a camera and told to film in another location that is important to him or her. Thus far, most of the students have chosen their hometowns. While there, they shoot various scenes and interview family, friends, and members of the community.
After reviewing the footage filmed by the student, Bump and Julie plan with the student which stories to pursue. Then they return as a group to the area, and again, they film various scenes and interview family, friends, community members, etc.
LiteracyCorps Michigan is “helping to make visible the kinds of lives students live. Students have talents and abilities that aren’t recognized as relevant to their lives as students.”
The project has been going on for almost five years and so far Bump and Julie have presented films and talks at local, national, and international venues about Liberty Bell, from Flint, MI, the first student to have completed all four phases of the project. Here is a short clip of some of the footage from their work with Liberty:
Bump and Julie continue to recruit new participants and film interviews with existing participants, each in various stages of the study. Julie said the project has been on hiatus for the moment while she and Bump juggle other responsibilities. (Julie, for example, begins an appointment as director of the First-Year Writing program and Bump is editor of CCC Online). It’s also been a bit of a challenge to find the money and time for both of them to pursue the project with sustained effort. That said, Bump and Julie continue to work on the project whenever they can. They have even begun a collaborative study that combines data from LiteracyCorps Michigan with data from the Stanford Study of Writing, headed by Andrea Lunsford.
Bump said, “It’s the most drafts I’ve done for something. We’ve been revising this for four years.”
Julie added, “It takes time, not only to conduct the interviews but also to process what we already have. It’s a project that explores meanings and experiences of literacy–it’s about discovery, and that process can take a long time.”
If you or someone you know is interested in working with LiteracyCorps Michigan, either as a participant or an assistant, please contact Bump (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Julie (email@example.com).
This weekend, many WRAC faculty and graduate students will be attending and presenting at the Thomas R. Watson Conference held at the University of Louisville. This year’s conference is titled “Working English,” aiming to explore the many meanings of the terms “work” and “English” as they appear in American rhetoric and composition. The questions the conference plans on addressing include: “How might we work English (that is, employ, construct, and redesign it) in the process of learning and using it? How might rhetoric and composition disrupt binaries such as language/parole, global/local, native/foreign, standard/dialect, spoken/written, official/vernacular, private/public, and functional/critical literacy?”
WRAC faculty and students will be presenting many panels and individual sessions over the course of the weekend:
Elizabeth Keller, How to Establish Student Ownership Within the Composition Classroom