WIDE recently announced that we were interested in generating and sharing a set of idea documents that proposed innovative approaches to a set of writing program issues that took into consideration the severe economic conditions that higher education must navigate over the next many years and our best thinking for how to structure compelling, world-class programs given these economic conditions. These idea documents are intended to raise issues of general concern by exploring the particulars of our own scene here at MSU. This is a tall order, and we will do our best to avoid the purely local but rather use our context as a heuristic for thinking about issues that we believe that many of us face.
In this first paper, WIDE has asked Julie Lindquist to think aloud about the problem of English Education in relation to rhetoric and composition. In this idea document, she takes up the problem of how best to prepare English teachers for the challenges of teaching in a world shaped at the same time by narrow conceptions of literacy (via high stakes testing) and open notions of literacy (e.g., new literacies and multi-modality).
We hope that you will interact with these ideas. At the end of this piece, you will have an opportunity to push comments via Facebook Connect. If you are logged in to Facebook, your comments will show up in Facebook and here on our website (you can login below). You can also Tweet thoughts as well. Want to do this old-school? Please email Jeff Grabill at firstname.lastname@example.org and this feedback will be aggregated and made available at a later date.
By Julie Lindquist
What follows is a vision statement for English Education at MSU that is motivated by two things: 1) an understanding (grounded in current research) that that the demands for language and literacy instruction are changing and that the education of teachers charged with delivering that instruction must change accordingly; and 2) the conviction that MSU is well positioned to create a model of what English Education for the new century should look like. This vision statement is shaped both by constraint and opportunity. As is detailed below, the education of English teachers, both undergraduate and returning professionals, must change to meet the needs of a new era. This is the opportunity. The constraint is how to do this at a time of resource limits and within an institution (the university) where changing established practices is difficult, even when those practices are no longer optimal (or even viable). We see great promise for rhetoric and composition’s ability to help transform English and language arts instruction in US schools.
We know that a twenty-first century English Education program must be responsive to various contexts in which teaching and learning take place and where the outcomes of education are high-stakes. As the needs of learners in these contexts make clear, the communication imperatives of new century make instruction in English more important than ever, yet the teaching of English and the training of English teachers has not changed significantly for some time. A new approach to English Education therefore needs to be calibrated to the professional needs of its target audience, responsive to changing student demographics, and attentive to community needs.
Over the past few years, a good deal of work has been done at MSU to imagine what such a program might look like—for example, by faculty from English, Writing and Rhetoric, and teacher Education working as part of the Literacy Team on behalf of the Teachers for a New Era (TNE) Initiative. Recommendations from that work were the result of six years of careful study of current practice, current research and scholarship, and data from existing programs, courses, and the experiences of Language Arts and English Education majors at (and graduates from) MSU. To quote from the Preface to the redesigned language arts/English Education curricula proposed by Literacy Team for the TNE Initiative, the program was revised to
re-conceptualize the language arts to reflect current theory and research on language and literacy and offer a richer experience for students than the previous requirements did. These requirements focus on both how pre-service teachers know the subject and how they experience learning in the subject. For example, these requirements focus not only on how pre-service teachers understand concepts of writing and writing instruction but also on how they understand themselves as writers and their experiences with writing.
Our proposed vision for English Education at MSU is informed by this work. Such a program would
• Reflect and deploy wider disciplinary knowledge beyond traditional English Studies, focusing in particular on research on writing and writing instruction and knowledge about discourse, rhetoric, and compositional practices.
• Respond to and engage digital literacies
• Educate teachers in pedagogically viable uses of technology
• Develop students’ understandings of literacy as something that is culturally situated and culturally variable.
• Include a robust education in writing and rhetoric, including opportunities to practice and develop writing
• Offer alternative instructional models and delivery systems for working teachers.
• Be vertically integrated with graduate programs in Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy.
Each of these points is elaborated below.
English Education at MSU should reflect and deploy wider disciplinary knowledge beyond traditional English Studies, focusing in particular on research on writing and writing instruction and knowledge about discourse, rhetoric, and compositional practices.
Preparing students to be effective teachers of language and literacy for the 21st century entails working from a substantial body of disciplinary knowledge in order to inquire into the subject matter of “English” and to inform practice. The TNE recommendations include “expanded notions of literacy across modes and cultural contexts” and “more direct experience as writers and designers.” Traditionally, disciplinary ‘content’ for Eng Education majors has aligned closely with courses in literary study, criticism, and some creative writing. However, there is a vital and expanding body of knowledge about writing and learning generated by researchers and scholars in writing and rhetoric studies. English Education students should have access to this knowledge and should be introduced to writing and rhetoric studies as a site where knowledge relevant to their work as teachers is generated. .
English Education at MSU should respond to and engage multimodal, digital, and networked literacies.
Teachers need to know how to work with students whose literacies are already deeply implicated in digital environments, and for whom mediated communications define everyday practice. An English Education program for the 21st century must not ignore the kinds of reading and writing and composing that students not only are already doing, but will continue to do in multiple capacities throughout their lifetimes. It should recognize that composing occurs in multiple modes and contexts. It should include courses that invite learning about design, digital rhetoric, and visual media, as well as those that focus on the analysis and production of traditional print-based texts.
English Education at MSU should educate teachers in pedagogically viable uses of technology.
In addition to having well-developed theoretical understandings of emerging literacy practices in increasingly technologically mediated environments, teachers must also be equipped with repertoires of strategies for teaching with technology. They must also be able to assess and respond to new learning environments and the needs of learners. A viable English Education program should prepare teachers to understand the uses and affordances of various technological resources for literacy instruction. To be effective, such preparation must be both implicit and explicit in students’ experiences of the program.
English Education at MSU should encourage teachers to understand literacy as something that is culturally situated and culturally variable.
Given the widely diverse cultural and technological environments in which language and literacy practices happen, an English Education program should educate prospective teachers not only to understand that literacy is socially motivated and culturally variable, but should also encourage them to inquire into the terms and meanings of particular varieties. This entails educating teachers in the understanding that literacy travels—that it has uses, forms, and applications outside of school. Coursework should include instruction in literacy practices across communities, language structures and functions, language and cultural diversity, and language processes and contexts. It should, ideally, include opportunities to work one-on-one with diverse learners.
English Education at MSU should offer a robust education in writing and rhetoric, including opportunities to practice and develop writing
Content in rhetoric and writing theory and research must be part of the education prospective teachers of language and literacy. Moreover, this education must include literacy practices relevant to the work of teaching in addition to “content knowledge” per se. The TNE Initiative reconceived the English Education requirements to focus not only on how pre-service teachers understand concepts of writing and writing instruction but also on how they understand themselves as writers and their experiences with writing. A program that integrates theories of rhetoric and writing with rhetorical practice and experiential learning could, as an additional means of effecting such an integration, create opportunities for pre-service teachers to mentor beginning college writers.
English Education at MSU should be vertically integrated with the graduate programs in Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy.
The MA program in CSLP has been recently revised to reflect the goals and values articulated here for the English Ed program. The new CSLP MA is designed for teachers who will become leaders in their professions, bringing current research and disciplinary knowledge in language, literacy, and composing to their schools and communities. It assumes that their work as professional teachers will include communications with various audiences and stakeholders (peers and colleagues, parents, school boards, administrators, and legislators), and that their work will also entail curricular design, teacher research, textbook authoring, participation in professional conferences, administration, and making decisions about policy. Those who graduate from the CSLP program will bring MSU’s vision of 21st-century English Education to schools and communities across Michigan where that vision can have immediate impact; those who graduate with PhDs in Rhetoric and Writing/CSLP Concentration will export it to programs and communities across the nation.
English Education at MSU should offer alternative instructional models and delivery systems for working teachers.
A successful English Education program will be responsive to the professional needs, contexts of practice, and work routines of teachers in order to offer learning experiences appropriate for in-service teachers. This entails offering courses at times and in formats accessible to this constituency. It should work in tandem with the professional needs not only of pre-service, but also in-service teachers (offering, for example, in summer workshops for area teachers). It should work from, through, and in response to the working lives of in-service teachers and the needs of area schools.