Reflecting on Explicitness

As I work through this week’s readings, I find I’m struck by the explicitness that seems to (partly) define composition as a discipline. The readings made explicit moves in writing, like Bizzell, who writes, “So now I’m going to do something I find rather annoying when other writers do it, namely quote extensively from my own earlier work…which I will read through a Fish-y lens” (185). Announcing moves in writing isn’t novel to me, but it seems significant in light of this discipline’s insistence on explicitness: of assignments and of the purposes of assignments, of writing practices and what they’re meant to accomplish, of meta-teaching moments. I’m struck by it because it contradicts most of my experience as a student—I never encountered explicit explanations of writing moves or practices as an undergrad—and because it’s something I’m trying to implement as a teacher.

As I read each article, I underlined a new way of being explicit in my own teaching, and another way I feel like I was denied that privilege as an undergrad. By being explicit about the goals of each assignment and activity, students get to know exactly why professors ask certain things of them, why they have to do certain activities, what they’re supposed to get out of each class and each assignment.

I’m particularly interested in the (one-sided) conversation between Bérubé and Hensley Owens. Bérubé opens his essay with an explicit map of what follows, which again, isn’t new to me, but seems relevant in the context of composition as a discipline, and the ways that the practices of composition directly benefit English studies. As I read, I felt like I was starting to get a sense of how pedagogy is actually present in the act of teaching—something I never noticed as an undergrad, either because my professors were more concerned with their own research and writing than with the act of teaching, or because I wasn’t made explicitly aware of the pedagogical aims of my classes/professors. Then, while reading Hensley Owens’s response, I realized just how attuned I am not to the rigors of explicitness. She questioned how his assignments were phrased and what his expectations were, what writing process he required of his students, how he implemented in student responses the “strategies for revision” that he learned from editors of journals (Bérubé, 5). Hensley Owens’s address of these missing points and unfulfilled expectations in Bérubé’s essay and her explicit suggestions for how to avoid the abominable student essays and how better to use strategies for revision in his responses to student drafts seemed so obvious and clear as I read them, but didn’t strike me as missing in my initial read through Bérubé’s essay. It became clearer as I kept reading the texts for this week–very early in her chapter, Bradbury includes one of her first-year writing assignments, with parenthetical explanations for each instruction. The assignment itself is explicit about her expectations, and she makes clear the value of the assignment to her larger pedagogical goals and to her own scholarship.

In my own teaching (at least the first 3 days of it), I’m noticing my students pushing me, through their questions and requests for clarification, to be more explicit. I think one of the values of composition, both as a student and as a teacher, is developing an ear for this kind of explicitness: being able to note its absence and not just recognize its presence, and being able to implement it successfully and make one’s pedagogical aims part of an open conversation in the classroom.

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