Sophie’s response

I want to respond to a few of the ideas raised in Bean’s “Helping Writers Think Rhetorically.” I really enjoyed some of his thoughts, and could easily see how they already fit with/will enhance my own writing pedagogy. One of those ideas, for example, was his suggestion of having students verbalize their readers’ “Before Reading/After Reading” thoughts; this is just another way of verbalizing the “so what” portion of the thesis (which is the way I’ve always taught it). If I was going to incorporate this idea into my own pedagogy, I would definitely use it as a scaffold to approach the “so what”: students must answer the “Before/After Reading” questions before they verbalize what their “so what” is, and then finally construct their whole thesis.

But I was less sure about other ideas of Bean’s, in particular his discussion of audience. He maintains that having students think about their audience helps them to write more rhetorically relevant essays, instead of just writing for their teacher. However, I have found time and again—including in the first essay I assigned here at Queens—that whenever I provide students with a nonstandard (i.e. not the teacher) audience to write for, their writing automatically becomes more conversational and less academic; I think perhaps it’s because there’s a sort of creative writing feel to a prompt that includes a nonstandard audience.

However, I agree that considering one’s audience is necessary when writing a paper. Questions like the ones Bean provides in his “Sample Questions to Spur Rhetorical Thinking” are ones that I ask myself in my own writing process without even thinking. I wonder, then, if this goes back to our discussion of providing students with tools that they can take with them beyond the classroom. The questions that Bean poses seem to me to be broadly relevant ones, that apply in various writing circumstances; they model the thinking that students should be having as they’re going through the writing process, regardless of the topic or genre they’re writing in. Perhaps my reticence to teach writing for an “audience,” as opposed to this more scaffolded, modeled format of teaching, is an unformulated urge to teach students broader critical thinking, and not just a single discrete skill, which the term “audience,” and students’ response to it, seems to be.

I think this goes back to our discussion of transparency as well: I think some people, including Bean, see teaching students to write for an “audience” as an effort to be transparent. Students should be aware that they’re asking themselves these questions as they’re writing so that they know what audience they’re writing for; it’s an effort to get students to see the connection between the process and the purpose. And while that’s certainly a noble goal, and in general I do applaud and aspire to pedagogical transparency, I wonder if perhaps in this case transparency overshadows true pedagogy; in other words, in trying to be transparent, we distract the students from their writing. I suppose Bean’s article has illustrated for me the breaking point of transparency. I still feel that transparency is necessary, especially if we are to provide students with transferable skills, but I don’t think that the transparency itself should ever overshadow or distract from the skills themselves, which is what we’re in the classroom to provide in the first place.

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