Response to Michael Bunn's "Motivation and Connection: Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Composition Classroom"

By Balacanao, Darryl J. M. | College Composition and Communication, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Response to Michael Bunn's "Motivation and Connection: Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Composition Classroom"


Balacanao, Darryl J. M., College Composition and Communication


Editor's Note: Darryl J. M. Balacanao has written a commentary on "Motivation and Connection: Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Composition Classroom" by Michael Bunn, which appeared in College Composition and Communication 64.3 (February 2013): 496-516. Michael then responds to Darryl's remarks. The full text of the original article is available at the CCC website: www.ncte.org/cccc/ccc.

Darryl J. M. Balacanao

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

I greatly appreciated Michael Bunn's calling attention to the disconnect between our valuations of reading and writing as connected activities and our pedagogical practices in making explicit those connections. After sharing the results of his study, Bunn concludes with a few initial suggestions as to how we might foreground reading and writing connections in order to better motivate students to read assigned texts. What catches my attention is his third point in which he encourages teaching students how to read model texts so that they can both extract ideas pertaining to writing techniques and genre conventions and more effectively write in those genres. Bunn explains that students usually lack the necessary experience to read texts in this rhetorical manner, and I certainly agree with him on that point; however, could there exist cases wherein we composition instructors, too, lack the necessary experience?

One case that comes to mind is described by Elizabeth Wardle in her article "'Mutt Genres' and the Goal of FYC." Karen, a second-year MA student in rhetoric and composition, designed her FYC curriculum around writing the genres of biology. Despite her best efforts-including collaborating extensively with a biology professor-Karen, at the conclusion of the course, felt she was unable to successfully teach her students how to write biology papers. In an interview with Wardle, Karen admitted to having difficulty in identifying arguments in biology papers. Notwithstanding her background in rhetoric, Karen required a biologist to decipher the texts:

I learned . . . that no [biology] journal [article] was a reporting of fact. To my untrained eye it looked like a reporting of fact but to them [my friends and colleagues working in biology] especially that was argument. Who they cited, who they didn't cite in their research, how they prefaced something meant a lot. So the argument was much finer than standard. (780)

Ostensibly, we might believe that Karen's difficulties stem from the relative inaccessibility of the discipline, biology; had she attempted to teach her students to write in a more accessible discipline, she might have had a better chance at success. Wardle, however, explains that Karen's difficulties-her inability to point out biology arguments but one of many-stemmed not from issues of accessibility but from the fact that both Karen and her students were outside of the biological activity system; to wit, they were trying to write biology papers without actually doing biology. Wardle goes on to explain that the activity system of FYC is unlike those of other courses within the academy: "In FYC, writing is the object of attention and the tool. . . . In most (if not all) of the disciplinary activity systems where students are headed, writing is a tool used to act on any number of other objects of attention and to achieve myriad other goals" (781; emphasis in the original).

This disparity between FYC and other activity systems-namely, FYC's lack of particular content-has been the subject of numerous articles, most notably in David Russell's "Activity Theory and Its Implications for Writing Instruction" wherein he compares FYC to a course on ball handling. Wardle herself, at the conclusion of her article, tackles this problem of FYC by advocating a curriculum about writing, an idea introduced in an earlier article by her and Doug Downs. I, however, am not so much interested here in that specific problem of FYC per se; rather, in light of FYC's problem and Bunn's article, I am interested in finding out what sorts of model texts we can reasonably assign and teach in FYC. …

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