The Shape of the Thing

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The one is coming straight from the trenches, Bitsters! This summer I'm teaching a grad class on Monday and Wednesday evenings, which means I have class tonight, which means I am thinking about what the heck I'll be doing. The first thing I learned when teaching grad students is that in many ways they're just like students in my FYC classes: they too are learning new ways of writing, they too are encountering new kinds of difficult readings, and they too don't always do their homework. What that means for me is that all the tools I use in FYC I use in my grad classes and when I find a new tool in my graduate teaching, I get to put it in my big ol' pedgaogical toolbag. The new tool, in this case, is the shape of the thing. The course I'm teaching right now is titled Principles and Problems of Literary Study, "P&P" for short. It's a basic introduction to graduate research and writing, which makes it all the more like FYC. Tonight we'll be looking at some standard academic genres: the proposal/abstract, the conference paper, and the seminar paper/proto-article. I was hoping to find some way for the students to get a general feel for the shape of these rhetorical forms, a sense of what they look like. I have samples of each for us to read, but I already stressed that our goal is not to read them for content but for form (aye, a sticky wicket there I know). I've decided that tonight I'm going to adapt an exercise I've used to great success in FYC. That exercise is drawing an author's argument and if it's not somewhere up here in Bits-land it will be soon enough. But so far I've only used it to have students draw the content of an essay. Tonight I will ask them to draw the form by asking them, in small groups (which, thankfully, work as well with grad students as any students), to draw the shape of each of the genres. Then each group will put these on the board for discussion. WARNING! This is an as-yet-untested, available only in beta version tip. But I have a hunch it will work. Here's why. First, I find that all students respond well to anything that smacks of arts and crafts. I think it taps into some deep near-genetic memory of early schooling, when they could put the books away and have fun with macaroni, glitter, and glue. Second, I like switching registers--from the written to the visual--because it offers literally a new perspective on the object of study. Third, in getting them to focus on shape I'm hoping to get them away from the specific arguments of the samples papers we're reading. If this works tonight (and I will let y'all know how it goes) then I'll bring it into my FYC classroom too. I can imagine asking students to draw an outline, draw a paper, draw the shape of the essay and not just its argument. Hmmmm.... possibilities. Me likes possibilities...
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.