Monday, January 08, 2007

Making Moves

A while back now, Dr. Virago did a post on academic writing and suggested a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein called They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. Dr. Virago made the book sound useful, so I sent away for a copy, thinking to use it in my graduate seminar next year on bibliography and research methods. I finished it today while waiting for my car to get its oil changed and such.

And can I just say, wow. Thanks, Dr. V for the suggestion! (I'm not the only one, either. Jane Dark also raves. You've started a movement!)

In a way, the templates are clumsy, but they aren't really the point. The point is that book lays out some explicit ways academics use writing to take part in a conversation about something. And there's even a great bit on using the same strategies in classroom discussion! (Something my graduate classes could have used for SURE!)

I'm not teaching first year writing this coming term, but I'm going to use some bits in one of my other classes, and then plan on ordering it for my first year writing AND graduate class in spring. It's strange for me to think of using the same book in a first year and a graduate class, but it's that useful.

I had some pretty decent training before I started teaching composition, LOTS more than your average English department gives (thank you big urban comprehensive university!), but I worry about not being up on the latest stuff. So I look for suggestions, and appreciate them when they seem really useful. And I haven't seen anything look this useful in years. I feel like it's going to change the way I teach writing on some level.

Since I was trained to do so, I tend to try to be clear and explicit in teaching writing; I try not to assume that my expectations are clear unless I actually talk about them. But Graff and Birkenstein give detailed information that I'd never thought to give in some ways, and it's just eye-opening. I'm the sort of learner who does best when things are broken down and then put back together so I can visualize or imagine them, and G and B do exactly that here, but with arguments. I can see that their book is going to be especially useful in teaching students how to read more critically. So I'm excited!

Any other suggestions for good pedagogical reading I can get to before my break ends?


  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    I was wondering about this book, so I'm glad to know that a *real* writing teacher likes it.

    Some of my favorite teaching books are:
    I'm the Teacher, You're the Student
    Creating Significant Learning Experiences
    Collaborative Learning Techniques
    Classroom Assessment Techniques

    The first one is a memoir (very funny).

    Have a nice semester!

  2. I will simply say that I'm pleased with results from the book so far (of course, we're only a week in). But I think it's making a difference.

  3. Hey, I'm soooo glad I've been a help to you and to Jane! I haven't started to use the book yet -- this semester I'm using it in the midst of my medieval lit course, during the week we spend on the "how to" part of writing a scholarly research paper. That probably won't be a real test of its effectiveness since we'll be rushing through it in a week and applying its wisdom to analyzing one scholarly article, but I still think it will make some difference.

    And prior to that, I just photocopied the part on integrating quotes into one's own language for my lit students, since so many of them just "drop" quotes in with no warning and no subsequent analysis.

    The real test will be with the graduate students next year. My big worry is that they'll think I'm treating them like babies. But boy, do they ever need the lessons in there!