Part I "Trends"


The seven minute “Argument” section of Trends and Teaching offers general definitions of argumentation and explains its centrality to writing pedagogy. The consensus among the featured pedagogues (Lester Faigley, Thomas N. Huckin, Davida Charney, Alyssa J. O'Brien, Frank Madden) is that an academic argument is a tool for exploring multi-sided issues using claims and reasons and that arguments are essential for citizens in a healthy democratic society. In these explanations, the scholars distinguish argumentation from the overly generalized notion of persuasion, from the inherent competitiveness of debate, and from over-simplification of pro vs. con. They advise allowing students to focus on issues of personal or local significance and to employ methods of primary and secondary research. For example, Lester Faigley tells how a group of his students aimed to research and propose a solution to a local traffic issue. In addition, the Alyssa O'Brien example video shown here suggests ways that students can find arguments they might want to write about.

Pic of Alyssa O'Brien

See Example Video


All of the scholars provide helpful strategies for beginning teachers to use when commenting on papers. The advice given by the teachers can be broken down into two types: material and pedagogical. The material advice attempts to help new teachers handle responding to a large stack of student papers without spending an inordinate amount of time, and stress the importance of making comments that will affect the overall paper rather than spending too much time editing grammar. The pedagogical advice attempts to show how responding to student writing is another site of teachingteaching. For example, Chuck Schuster outlines his method of finding particular patterns in each student’s writing, and Bill Condon proposes that overworking a paper (making too many comments) is less helpful than giving students a few things to work on at a time and allowing them to revise multiple times.

As with the other sections on the DVD, this one does not seem to be a professional development tool as much as it is a practical starting place for beginning teachers. The advice is given at face value with little theoretical or experimental backing, and thus would seem to be more at home in the second section of the DVD entitled "Teaching" instead of its location in "Trends." None of the scholars in "Assessment" provide anything more than a single anecdote for how their method of responding to student writing was received by their actual students—and all of the anecdotes were glowingly positive about their methods and seem to present an idealistic view of an “eager-to-revise” student, which may not be realistic in certain academic or institutional settings.


The scholars in the “Inquiry” section discuss the pedagogical method in practical terms, exploring both definitions and advice that would be helpful to beginning and experienced instructors alike. The different scholars—Bruce Ballenger, Ann Dobyns, Hugh Burns, David Jolliffe, Linda Adler-Kassner, Frank Madden, and Rick Johnson-Sheehan—offer many different ways to implement an inquiry-based curriculum, all converging on one key point: Inquiry-based practices help students personally engage in the writing process.

Though the “Inquiry” section would be useful to instructors of all levels who are interested in adopting this student-centered approach to teaching, new instructors and graduate students may be left wanting more; other than reiterating that the method involves asking a lot of questions, the section rarely addresses the daily work involved in adopting a pedagogical method that will dictate the entire syllabus. This section could have been improved by pairing the descriptions of individual inquiry-driven assignments with larger concepts and themes that may direct an inquiry-based writing course as a whole.


The scholars who spoke on the topic of portfolios focused on the importance of student self-reflection, the process of writing, and the ways in which portfolios—either in “old school” hard copy or in electronic form—can reinforce these things. Portfolios are an important concept for new instructors to become familiar with in preparation for teaching, and the speakers featured in this section began this conversation well.

One instructor, Rick Johnson-Sheehan, expressed the view that for some students, writing paper after paper can “become factory work,” and that a portfolio can assist students in revisiting their work and observing the ways in which their views have changed over the course of the semester. Most of the panelists (Frank Madden, Christine Alfano, Charles I. Schuster, Robert Schwegler, Michael Day, Robert L. Root) agree that portfolios can be a successful way to allow students to see how her writing has changed, and that by viewing it as a body of text together, students are able to see their own development as writers. The importance of utilizing portfolios as a way to encourage students to think of themselves as writers is also mentioned.

One disappointment regarding this section of the DVD is that more was not said about the logistics, theories, and praxis involved in electronic portfolios. This section of the DVD was helpful for a new instructor; however, it did not offer any new ideas to consider. As a way to begin discussions about portfolios among new instructors in a practicum setting, this DVD could be quite helpful.

Visual Rhetoric

The fifth section of Part One, “Visual Rhetoric,” introduces and briefly discusses several techniques with which instructors of composition can pedagogically approach argument that intertwines images and text. Suggestions from the panel (Alyssa J. O'Brien, Harvey S. Wiener, Shane Borrowman, Christine Alfano) include employing an example image—a picture that students can pass to one another and both individually and collectively explore. One instructor recommends historical images for such exercises so that students cannot rely upon preconceived conceptions of the picture’s rhetorical statement. Ultimately, most of this section’s techniques involve an intensive inquiry into the specific characteristics of an image that convey messages.

While "Visual Rhetoric" addresses a smattering of appropriate access points for teaching visual rhetoric, this section may only be germane to the initial preparations for first-time instructors of composition. The suggestions offered by the scholars are reasonable and appear effective because the panel is warmly convincing of the efficacy of its own thoughts. These ideas, however, seldom break the surface of introductory discourse, serving little purpose for the continuing development of experienced instructors. The panel quickly skims over a handful of methods but provides no elaboration regarding practical concerns—such as how visual rhetoric could be regarded as a major essay component to a writing course.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)

The scholars interviewed in the WAC section offer a simplified explanation of WAC by focusing primarily on its pedagogical component over its thirty-year, politically charged, and theoretically rich history. Pearson’s interview panel (Hugh Burns, Robert DiYanni, Joe Law, Chistine Hult) highlights the pedagogical perspective by defining WAC as a means for students to “learn genre protocols [and strategies]” for their discipline and then shifts quickly to providing assignments for WAC classrooms. This instructional portion elicits a variety of writing assignments from established scholars for new(er) WAC teachers. While the scholars providing assignments—such as the "Believing/Doubting" assignment or the multiple genre assignment—do explain the intellectual work engaged by students, the scholars do not include any theoretical rationale (i.e., the main pedagogical tenants of WAC: writing to learn and learning to write) or political rationale for the assignments (i.e., this DVD assumes a teacher-to-student application when teaching the teacher is another WAC model).

As a result, this section of Pearson’s DVD offers a host of great student writing assignments, but the DVD lacks [1] a brief explanation about WAC politics as it relates to WAC pedagogy and [2] any of the formative WAC voices such as Chris Anson, Susan McLeod, and Charles Bazerman.

Writing from Sources

This section is especially geared toward beginning teachers, particularly graduate students. Though the scholars featured in this section—Harvey S. Wiener, Laura J. Gurak, Christine Hult, and Joe Law—provide some broad theoretical ideas about student research papers, their advice would be less useful to experienced composition teachers. A good portion of this section is devoted to negotiating the use of Internet sources in student research papers, as the participants expressed anxiety about the availability of Internet sources to today’s writing students due to the perception that the Internet makes plagiarism easier.

Anxiety sets the tone for "Writing from Sources," as established scholars offer some general advice about teaching students how to evaluate Internet sources by directly connecting the subject to plagiarism. This section's panel also suggests that teachers apply the same rules for the evaluation of print sources to Internet sources. This advice is straightforward and would be helpful for overwhelmed new teachers, but experienced teachers might want a more current, nuanced discussion of the Internet and other electronic sources.