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September 9, 2015 Previous day Next day

Another year and I’m once again humbled by our new TAs—how intuitive WAW work is for them, the ideas they contribute to our program for teaching WAW approaches, the possibilities they see for it. Concurrently, our second-year TAs have come back to their third semester of teaching with tweaks, new assignments, and ideas for how to better teach existing assignments. Last spring, a group of our senior adjunct faculty held an 8-week salon series on developing WAW pedagogy. Everyone’s ideas for where to take their courses were different.


On other fronts, I’ve been peer-reviewing a number of journal submissions, as well as drafts for an edited collection, that in one way or another focus on WAW. It’s both wonderful and amazing to see some of the emerging scholarship making its way to print, especially the breadth of approaches to WAW being described. Elizabeth and I have also begun developing the third edition of Writing about Writing.


Amongst all this intellectual fecundity, occasionally—both in my own program and in the literature on WAW—a troublesome question arises: “Is what you’re describing really ‘writing about writing’?”


These moments make me squirm, for two reasons. First, the question gestures toward a “core” of principles underlying the purposes and configurations of WAW approaches. Having to ask if an approach is “really” WAW suggests those deep values are somehow being confounded. Second, and more uncomfortable, the “really WAW” question foregrounds ownership: who gets to call what WAW? If an approach is inconsistent with the core that most instructors of writing-about-writing would recognize, do we really have grounds to say “this isn’t that”? Does it matter? Does having a name risk creating a diversity-crushing monolith?


What distinguishes writing-about-writing, across the hundreds of programs and instructors using some version of it, seems to be

  • Purpose: teaching declarative knowledge about writing in order to enhance metacognition, vocabulary, and writing processes and behaviors—for the purposes of shifting conceptions of writing to more accurate and effective ones, strengthening learning transfer to future writing scenes, and shifting epistemologies (particularly in relation to sources and contingency).
  • Methods: reading scholarship in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies; creating writing projects whose themes interrogate various aspects of the same subjects; intensive, iterative reflection on students’ own literacy and writing experiences ; and, frequently, conducting primary research projects on questions related to writing, literacy, and rhetoric.


This is a quite small set of limits on what “counts” as writing-about-writing; these scripts are what making a given instructional approach recognizable as writing-about-writing. It seems to me that the only reason this name—or any other for these approaches—matters is because of the function of names as shorthand, a “handle on a briefcase,” for identifying the underlying philosophy of instruction. In the moments where it occurs to anyone to ask “You’re calling this approach writing-about-writing, but is it really?” part of the concern is simply, if someone looks at what you’re calling writing-about-writing, will they think that WAW is something other than these purposes and methods?  Is what your students are writing actually about writing? And if not—why bother to call the approach something it’s literally not?


Ultimately, though, the name simply offers a reminder to ask what the focus and purpose of a given course truly is. What is truly neat to see is the wealth of ways people are expanding on those very basic scripts to do WAW.

Barclay Barrios

Teaching Trump

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Sep 9, 2015

As I write this, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He’s also a lightning rod for all kind of criticism across multiple fronts.  One thing is for sure: people are talking about Donald Trump, good and bad. Of all of his polarizing remarks, Trump’s statements about immigration seem to have provoked the strongest reactions. I thought I would offer some insights on how to teach Trump, with a focus on immigration.


By Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Julia Alvarez, “Selections from Once Upon a Quinceañera.” Alvarez’s essay is a useful antidote to some of the notions about immigrants circulating out in the ether.  Her portrayal of the economic challenges of the quince offers a particular understanding of immigrants in relation to work and economics.


Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation and The Primacy of Practice.” Central to Appiah’s notion of cosmopolitanism is the idea that in a very crowded world we will need to find a way to get along.  Appiah reframes some of the challenges around immigration and, in particular, suggests that isolationist maneuvers (wall building, literally and figuratively) really are no longer realistic given how interconnected the world is today.


Manuel Muñoz, “Leave Your Name at the Border.”  Muñoz is a great shorter piece for considering the forces of assimilation that face immigrants.  He helps students think about the costs and benefits of fitting in as an immigrant.


Jennifer Pozner, “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas.”  Given Trump’s experience with reality TV, I think Pozner would be a particularly interesting choice since her work examines the intersection of reality TV and ethnic/racial stereotypes.


Thomas Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention.” Friedman’s essay is useful for thinking about global economic connections, which explains (for example) why the line of suits with Trump’s name on them is manufactured in Mexico. Friedman’s central point is that global economics and global politics are centrally linked; Trump is an interesting test case for further examining Friedman’s ideas.


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