Volume 13, Number 3, February 1995
James Brown, Mary-Louise Craven, Tom Greenwald, Jan Rehner,
Ron Sheese, John Spencer, Leslie Sanders and Gail Vanstone
from the Writing Programmes at York University
(including the Faculty of Arts' Centre for Academic Writing, The Computer-Assisted Writing Centre, and Atkinson
College's Essay Tutoring Centre)
% Mary-Louise Craven
530 Scott Library
York University, 4700 Keele Street,
North York, Ontario M3J 1P3
South Slave Divisional Board of Education,
Mount Saint Vincent University
University of Texas
University of British University
Russell A. Hunt
St. Thomas University
University of Winnipeg
Assumption Catholic High School
Richard M. Coe
Simon Fraser University
James A. Reither
St. Thomas University
Bank of Canada
Inkshed provides a forum for its subscribers to explore relationships among research, theory, and practice in language
acquisition and language use. Subscribers are invited to submit informative pieces such as notices, reports, and
reviews of articles, journals, books, textbooks, conferences, and workshops, as well as polemical discussions of
events, issues, problems, and questions of concern to teachers in Canada interested in writing and reading theory
Inkshed is published five times during the academic year. The following is a schedule of submission deadlines and
approximate publication dates:
15 September, for 1 October 1 February, for 15 February
15 November, for 1 December 1 April, for 15 April
This newsletter is supported financially by the various Writing Programmes at York University, and by its subscribers.
Make cheques for $27.50 payable to Inkshed at NSCAD, c/o Kenna Manos, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 5163
Duke Street, Halifax, N.S. B3J 3J6
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Canadian Caucus at CCCC in Washington
All those heading to Washington for the CCCC-don't forget to come to the Wilson Room of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in
Washington, from 6:45 - 7:45 on Thursday March 23. What follows is a brief description of the Canadian Caucus sessions
submitted by Anthony Paré:
- CC at CCCC I'll report on result of a "paired" course, in which I taught a section of first-year
comp to students all registered in a European history course. I hope to compare results of history students registered
in both classes with results of students registered in history alone.
University College of the Cariboo
- Twice now I have taught "Advanced Composition" in a language laboratory, using a system of networked
computers linked to a central console, and individual electronic mail accounts. The experience has significant
differences in set-up and results from those reported of other computer writing classrooms, but is still worth
Mount Saint Vincent University
- When the College's Art Education Division was threatened with closure last spring, we mounted a two-day letter
writing campaign. Over 300 letters, as well as hundreds of postcards, were hand delivered by human chain from the
College to the Legislature. The project connected the writing programme with the College as a whole, and successfully
merged art and writing--together with a good bit of lunacy--with political action. I shall, of course, come with
pictures. (The performance artist, dressed as Queen Elizabeth, who declaims the importance of the arts from the
steps of the Legislature is splendid.)
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
- The teaching idea I would like to describe is, in fact, conservative(in the non- political sense of that word).
It involves preserving the dialectic between spoken and written discourse. When a student who is contemplating
a writing assignment comes into the Writing Lab, our conversation begins with connecting ourselves to the subject
matter on the human level of memory and experience. Then I begin a more structured Socratic type of questioning
to lead the student's mind towards a focused and logical approach to the subject. I usually take notes on the student's
responses and give him/her these notes at the end of the conference. The same process can be used in small groups
in the writing classroom. When students are at the prewriting stage, they can question one another in this same
matter and take notes on responses(after some instruction on how to do it and why). Finally, having students read
their finished essays aloud to the class with no ulterior motive--simply for enjoyment--can further maintain the
balance between the oral and the written.
University of New Brunswick - St. John
- Recent calls within the field of professional and organizational writing have argued for the need to include
political and cultural critique within ethnographic and "on-site" research and pedagogy. This presentation
responds to that call by arguing that the not-for- profit sector, as a dynamic mix of ideological and political
action and everyday business practices, can offer teachers and researchers of "workplace writing" a rich
and provocative ethnographic resource. By recognizing the unique and diverse organizational contexts not-for-profits
work within, we can begin to develop important ways of integrating and addressing cultural and political issues
within our composition scholarship.
University of Utah
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As you know, membership in CASLL allows you to receive, each year, the Inkshed Newsletter and two volumes put out
by Inkshed Publications. We've had quite a number of requests for information on how to order individualcopies
of the monographs for friends, libraries, research associates, andothers interested in the series.
The following monographs are currently available:
WRITING INSTRUCTION IN CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES, by Roger Graves
CONTEXTUAL LITERACY: WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM, edited by Catherine Schryer and Laurence Steven
Individual copies of these books can be ordered from the Canadian Council of Teachers of English Language Arts
(CCTELA) at the following address:
The Canadian Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (CCTELA)
c/o Ray Lavery and Marita Watson
340 Education Bldg.
University of Manitoba
The cost for each volume is $16.95.
Libraries may purchase the books either from CCTELA or from John Coutts Library Services. Your library probably
subscribes to their catalogue. Libraries may get the books at a slightly discounted rate from Coutts. The address
John Coutts Library Services Ltd.
6900 Kinsmen Court
P.O. Box 1000
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Your library can also set up a standing order with John Coutts Library Services for all Inkshed Publications' books.
This year's monographs will include a book on gender and academic writing and a book on the rhetoric of Kenneth
We hope that you have found these books useful in your own work. Please support the continued publication of these
monographs by encouraging your library to purchase them.
If you would like any more information concerning Inkshed Publications, contact any member of the editorial committee
listed below. Also, for anyone on the list who is not a CASLL member and who has not seen the books, I would be
happy to forward a table of contents for each of them to you upon request.
Inkshed Publications Editors:
Stan Straw, Neil Besner, Pat Sadowy, Laura Atkinson, Sandy
340 Education Bldg.
University of Manitoba
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(to get a recent listing of all CASLL members and their email addresses:
In the message type: REVIEW CASLL
If you want to subscribe to CASLL:
In the message type:
subscribe CASLL your real name
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What Happens After You Say, "Please Go to the Writing Centre."
Jan Rehner, Centre for Academic Writing
A few months ago, a colleague at York who teaches history and is very supportive of writing programmes confessed
that he had no clear idea of what students actually do, or of what instructors actually do during one-to-one tutoring
sessions. I wrote the following article in an effort to answer his questions--I hope you might find it interesting
to read my response, perhaps to add to it, compare it to your own approach, or pass it on to your own colleagues
who are curious about how some of us, some of the time, teach the writing process. . . . . .
First, let me try to anticipate a few basic questions you might have about how the Arts Centre for Academic
Writing is structured. CAW is an autonomous teaching unit within the Faculty of Arts with its own tenure stream.
Our mandate is to teach writing across the curriculum to students who enroll voluntarily. Faculty may recommend--even
urge--that their students attend, but enrolment is not mandatory, nor does CAW report back to faculty on a student's
progress in any formal way. Students improve their writing skills by working on papers assigned to them in their
Arts courses. Although the Arts writing programme is varied, our main form of instruction is one-to-one. Finally,
the CAW faculty is a mix of full and part-time instructors, the majority of whom have been with the Centre for
at least ten years and most of whom also teach discipline-based courses in the Faculty. We do not use peer tutors,
though each year we do have a professional development programme for about a dozen Teaching Assistants who are
assigned to CAW from a range of academic departments.
Many of my colleagues outside the Arts Centre for Academic Writing sometimes confess that they have no clear
image of what happens once their students enroll for one-to-one writing instruction. How, they ask, does one-to-one
teaching differ from the individual conferences they often hold with students during office hours? Why, they wonder,
do some students already enrolled at the Centre still hand in flawed assignments and how can course directors and
writing instructors work together to help students articulate their ideas in clear and persuasive ways?
Perhaps context is the most significant difference between one-to-one tutoring sessions and the individual conferences
which many faculty have with students in their discipline courses. While instructors and students in the latter
instance share a frame of reference grounded in the content of a particular course, the context of the writing
instructor is grounded in the writing process as it applies to all of the student's courses. For example, while
students in my own Arts courses will often use office hours to ask me to clarify a particular assignment or read
an initial thesis, their questions are invariably focused on how to express the content of the single course we
share and on determining what I will be looking for when I evaluate their papers. In the Centre for Academic Writing,
however, I am very seldom dealing with my own assignments and I am not likely to be grading the final essay produced.
Thus students can be much freer in expressing their concerns about writing for a particular course (or instructor),
about the differences between writing a history paper and an English paper, and about the individualized process
they actually engage in when they write.
The foregrounding of the writing process is also, I think, vital to the special context provided by one-to-one
tutoring. Students who come to me in the Centre expect me to be an expert in writing; they do not expect me to
necessarily be an expert in sociology or philosophy or geography. In other words, I can help the student learn
strategies for generating ideas, for developing their ideas in analytical ways and for communicating their ideas
clearly, but the student is essentially the "expert" in terms of content. This shift in status can be
extremely empowering for students, but while it happens often and almost necessarily in one-to-one tutoring, it
seldom happens during individual conferences with students in my own course. I teach the course; I grade their
papers. No matter how earnestly I try to empower them, to convince them that I know the content of the course but
not their interpretations of it, that structural reality is still there.
It is much more difficult to foreground process when I am dealing with students in my own course, because they
know that I know what might be missing in terms of content. So, if one of those students brings me a draft and
I suggest that the thesis is not clear, the student is often in some doubt as to what that suggestion might mean.
Is this a writing problem, or a content problem? Do I have problems with how the thesis is phrased or with the
argument of the thesis? We all know, of course, how closely form and content overlap, but I find myself inevitably
teaching content when I have conferences with the students in my course. In the Centre, the student and I still
talk about what the student wants to write, but how to write it, or discover it, or organize it takes precedence
more easily because I am not perceived by the student as having a dual and potentially confusing role. In other
words, my responsibility, clearly seen I think by both participants, is to teach a range of writing, reading, and
thinking strategies that will help the student not only with the assignment at hand but also with future assignments
and assignments in other courses and disciplines.
In the Centre, I need to diagnose the particular process a student engages in when she writes, make that process,
with its strengths and weaknesses, explicit to the student, and determine with her a set of writing priorities
and strategies that will help her gain more control over or at least comfort with that process as it is applied
to a range of academic disciplines over a period of time. It would be nice if the writing process were simple or
if every student wrote the same way or if every discipline had the same methodology. Then I could be relatively
assured that the advice I give to students writing assignments in my own discipline course could be generalized
to all their other courses. Since none of this is so, one-to-one instruction tailors writing priorities and problem-solving
strategies to individual student needs. This strikes me as a very different teaching task than giving the same
general advice about, say, developing a thesis to large numbers of students. What works for one student may not
work for another. There are just too many kinds of theses and too many styles for developing one. To help students
write clearly and critically in the short time allowed between all their assignments in all their courses during
an academic year, I have to know what strategies they are already using, what is working and what is not working
in the writing process, what strategies may need to be learned or altered, which strategies can be transferred
across disciplines, and whether the student understands differences in methodology across disciplines.
If I am doing my job and all of this exciting stuff is being communicated, how is it that students enrolled
in the Centre might still be submitting flawed papers to their course instructors? Well, first, and most obviously,
it takes time to master the complexities of the writing process. There are no quick fixes. Secondly, in our teaching
at the Centre, my colleagues and I usually give priority to high level thinking tasks such as analysis and organization
before discussing patterns of error at the sentence level. For this reason, grammar is usually not a central concern
until an individual has satisfactorily completed the larger tasks of an assignment. It would be easy for us to
edit such essays but then we would not be teaching students how to write independently nor would we be ensuring
that the ownership of the paper remain with the student. Further, in setting writing priorities, it would be irresponsible
of me to spend an hour on teaching subject/verb agreement if the larger problem experienced by the student was
failure to understand the assignment task or an inability to develop an argument. The key point, here, is not to
assume that a student's writing is not improving on the evidence of a single paper. It may well be that the essay
you are asked to grade, however flawed, is still much better than the first draft seen by the writing instructor.
Finally, remember that students write to learn even though it sometimes seems they write only so we can measure
learning. Students write economics papers to learn how to think like an economist, or philosophy papers to learn
about how philosophy works. Course directors and writing instructors are partners in this learning process, each
with a particular expertise. Our intentions and our pedagogy should as clear as possible to each other and to the
students. So, if you really want to know what happens after you send your students to the writing centre, feel
free to drop by, meet some of the instructors, and perhaps arrange to observe a few tutoring sessions.
This is the Poem
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wrapped in my green
reach across and
hug a greeting
expansive flourish hesitant
happy holidays anyway
sea of seasonal activity emotion
the crumbs behind
my garbage can
in the kitchen
(I'll get to you
when I damn well please)
sea green coat removed
some important organ
I listen over and over
each stilted greeting
sets me further apart
a flush of isolation
spreads through me
(hot water I sink into
every morning in the
eyes focused on a mouth
lips smiling disoriented
heads floating above
the fireplace logs
I shiver as the warmth
radiates its glow
odd woman out
just the dust debris
of the day
flat calm buried
second skin of discomfort
a part of the familiarity
apart from the warmth
an existential fur coat
wrapped in sensibilities
that which sets me apart
this voyage of
lets the words out
my head aches
the effort of dreaming
this is the poem
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Making Beds of Poetry
(and Lying in the Words)
I'm just going upstairs to write poetry and make beds.
I don't know how to
out of fabric springboard stuffing
or write poetry
out of gossamer webbed lace
The sheets are wrinkled
in the stanzas
blood-.stained with lots of fearfulness
I don't want to change them
but I can't seem to pull them up over
images of uselessness
I don't mind picking up the nightclothes
and tossing them into the dirty laundry
it's hard to display them
between the rhythm of the words
everyone is always annoyed
when I return
the special toys and tempo
to the wrong person
Does everyone smooth the bedcovers
wondering where the lines came from
at the quilt
on the page
pleased with restored order
which lasts and stays static
for about two minutes
Am I just fooling myself
into believing that I
need to make the beds of words
I think I should have washed the sheets
and written letters home
(Renee Norman is a graduate student in the English Department at U.B.C.; she teaches part-time in the Vancouver
school district. Her poetry has been published in Inkshed, Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Journal, Common Ground
and English Quarterly.)
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Collaboration On CASLL-L
When I undertook to summarize and edit for this hard-copy medium one part of the flow of conversation which appeared
on the CASLL listserve in November and December of 1994, I thought the task would be a pretty straightforward one.
That I was entirely mistaken began to dawn on me early in the process when I contacted Russ Hunt to see if he could
send me some of his "archive."Ê In the end, I didn't get his record of the postings, but what I
did get from Russ was some good advice on the project: "don't try it--it's a lot harderÊthan it seems."
Unfortunately I wasn't paying attention and the result is as follows.
First, the apologies. I never did manage to collect the whole corpus of texts--so in addition to the inevitability
that this reconstruction is based on arbitrary and idiosyncratic notions of what was significant--(ie. mine), it's
also based on an incomplete record. If this isn't bad enough, many of the postings were forwarded to me by a colleague
at York and in the process, lost their original electronic headers. As a result in many cases, I'm guessing about
the order of the texts; in some I am also guessing about author. In this, I console myself with the now widely
accepted notion that the author is dead.
The background to much of the conversation was provided by an earlier posting from Rick Coe in which he had explored
the utility of practice drills in hockey and swimming for our understanding of learning in general; however, I'll
treat Patrick Dias's posting as the beginning of the conversation about collaborative learning. In a part of his
posting which was later excerpted and elaborated by a number of others, Patrick said:
I believe most collaborative work fails because the task itself does no require collaborative input; in other words,
it CAN be done by one or at most two individuals. I think it is a wise group that allows or even insists that one
or two of the more capable people in the group take on the job and allow the others to get on with other things
with occasional cursory glances at progress.
Russ Hunt commented on Patrick's posting, concluding by saying that collaborative classroom projects are valuable
and stressing the proviso that the collaboration must be "authentic." Authenticity subsequently became
a keynote of the conversation.
The conversations took a major turn with a posting from Marcy Baumann. InÊthe first part of her posting,
she summarized a number of threads that had been developing to that point:
So far, we've said that in order to have a chance at succeeding, [a] collaboration has to involve a task that all
participants recognize as one they couldn't do alone; [b] the task has to be perceived by them as authentically
important; [c] the participants have to feel that everyone's contribution is important and necessary, whether or
not the work is equally divided; and [d] the collaboration has to be subsidiary rather than focal -- it has to
be the means to an end rather than an end in itself.
However, it was the second part, in which she expressed reservations about the pedagogical utility this kind of
taxonomy which turned out to be most generative:
I also think that because the conditions which foster successful collaboration are so dynamic and unstable, we
really need to get good at reading the situation -- at picking up on the cues that tell us how things are going,
and learning to make adjustments as necessary -- if we want to facilitate collaborations. And there, I'm stumped.
I don't know how people learn to do that, nor can I imagine teaching it to anyone . . .
It suggested to Anthony Paré ideas related to "situated learning":
Jean Lave writes that "Developing an identity as a member of a community and becoming knowledgeably skillful
are part of the same process, with the former motivating, shaping, and giving meaning to the latter, which it subsumes"
(p.65; "Situated learning in communities of practice," in Perspectives On Socially Shared Cognition,
edited by L. Resnick, J.M. Levine, and S.D. Teasley, APA, 1991). I don't think we can "teach" brainstorming
as an isolated cognitive skill that students can carry about from place to place and apply, as if it were a tool.
All the cognitive psychologists are scurrying to revise their theories and models to account for this.
And having started with "brainstorming" here, he turned back to Rick Coe's metaphors later in the posting:
And if we do teach students to collaborate on school tasks, are they learning how to collaborate? (That is, are
they learning how to do that social thing in other settings?) And is Rick's analogy to hockey and swimming accurate?
Can we break down into parts the complex social activity of collaboration, the way the individual skills of hockey
or swimming can be broken down? If we can, would teaching those parts in isolation allow students to re-integrate
them into Polanyi's "skillful act"? What are the analogues to skating and swimming drills in the area
of language development? . . . In my end-of-weekness, I wonder what the rhetorical/collaborative parallel would
be: having students say over and over again to empty chairs, "you've made a good point there and I think we
can use it in the introduction to our group paper"?
Henry Hubert picked up another facet of the hockey practice metaphor--the idea of completing "drills:"
Rick, for me you're onto something, and as you continue your posts, you elaborate what that is: the horror we have
of "drills" in teaching writing. And your focus on interest and authenticity makes the difference, whether
applied to collaboration or to other learning. Through much of the last century there has been so much drill (probably
because hard work was good for the soul, idle hands turning to devil's work, and so on) that the last decade has
reacted against drills.However, if I were Rick, worried about Bure getting around me, or about missing the net
with my shot from the point, I'm going to practice skating backwards and lining up pucks at the blueline to practice
slapshots. And Anthony may even practice hammering if he hits the wrong nail too often!
Gary Raspberry contributed to this exchange a distinction between the mandated nature of classroom practice and
the desire which, in other more natural situations, leads to practice and drill:
It seems to me, a word that has been left out of the conversation to date (although it has been hinted at or perhaps
called by other names) is DESIRE. I wonder who in their right mind would spend hours shooting pucks at an empty
net without first watching an older brother or sister or (insert favourite high-priced star/role model here) breeze
over the blue line andfire a puck into the top right hand corner. I think there has to be a "higher purpose"
(besides the top right hand corner) to shoot for (for the individual and for the collaborating group).
This opposition between "mandated" and internally desired collaboration branched in a couple of directions.
One was taken by Susan MacDonald who responded to a question about the "mandated" nature of the collaborations
at both the last and the upcoming Inkshed conference:
I'm not aware that the organizers of the next Inkshed have "man-dated" collaboration. I thought they
set guidelines for attending this particular Inkshed, guidelines one can choose to ignore by not participating/attending.
. . Unless the organizers do have positions of authority where they can command and attendance is mandatory? Doug?
Russ? Jim? When you organized Inksheds last year did you have such positions of authority? Is so, I humbly beg
your forgiveness for my rather cavalier attitude towards your postures of power. (Although, I did detect a touch
of arrogance about Doug Vipond, sort of a "Hey, you, I'm the guy in charge" attitude. Did anyone else
This led to an hilarious exchange which is too long to repeat and which neither excerpt nor summary can do justice.
This branch of the conversation started to move toward resolution, with a remark by Roger Graves:
Just a side note: not all collaborations outside the classroom are freely chosen by those involved. Often we get
dragooned into things, sometimes there are subtle but effective ways of being told that participation in this or
that other project is expected, and so on. So if the argument (or part of it) has do do with equating what goes
on in the classroom with what goes on in workplace settings outside the classroom (for example), then we need to
acknowledge that compulsory collaboration is a feature of both kinds of environments. There's really a range from
invitation to compulsion, isn't there?
Graham Smart picked up this "side note" and commented:
I think Roger is right about this. For example, in the workplace people are frequently expected to carry out collaborative
tasks in groupsÊthey haven't chosen to work in. As they are in in courtroom juries, advocacy groups, etc.
I also think Roger's notion of a range, or continuum, could be usefully applied to some of the other notions that
have come up in the discussion/debate on collaboration, such as the "authenticity" of tasks and the degree
of portability of skills learned in one particular context to other contexts.
To Rick Coe, who introduced the hockey metaphor to which so many of the voices returned, the final word:
This notion of authenticity is spinning (to use Kburke's word) or careening intriguingly. Despite the original
phrase ("authentic task"), we seem to be coming round to the idea that authenticity is not a property
of tasks. . . .In any given situation, it seems that some newcomers become "knowledgeably skillful" more
quickly than others. Some people even seem particularly quick and good at becoming "knowledgeably skillful"
in whole categories of situations. Whatever ability (metaskill--ugh) these people have, is it learnable? If so,
can that learning (learnability) be facilitated? If so, is teaching possible? . . .Am I helping them [students]
situate? (Can situation become a verb, can one be helped with it?) The fifth time you live in a foreign culture,
do you situate yourself more quickly or better? Can you tell me how you do it, or do I have to repeat your entire
Readers of Inkshed/members of CASLL will not be surprised that Rick's final word here begins with those of Kenneth