October 22, 2007
Journal Entry on Lindemann’s “What Do Teachers Need to Know about Cognition?” (86-108)
By far the most interesting parts of this chapter were Lindemann’s discussions of James Moffett’s pedagogical theories and of Marcia B. Baxter Magolda’s research on the cognition of traditional-age college students.
Moffett’s theories may shed some light on the question of what kind of writing assignment is best for particular students. He lays out a continuum of assignments which require increasing amounts of cognitive processing by students: from Drama, requiring the least amount of processing , to Argumentation, requiring the most. I found it interesting that Moffett’s spectrum coincides with the traditional “modes of discourse” (though he uses “drama” instead of “description”). I’ve read a little bit about the modes recently, more specifically about how compositionists have left them behind as too confining and formulaic. So it’s interesting to find them finding a new incarnation in Moffett’s work. It may mean simply that the psychology that informed the modes (i.e., that certain modes of discourse correspond to basic human faculties (understanding, imagination, will, passion)) still holds some water. It’s just that using that insight as pedagogy wasn’t workable in the long run.
I also liked Moffett’s point that we must have students pay attention not just to the “I-it” relationship (reader and experience/information) but also the “I-you” relationship. That’s one reason the modes seem to have become obsolete: they seemed to completely ignore audience. But I’m not sure I completely agree with Moffett’s view, at least as Lindemann describes it, that students should move through assignments that take them, in Lindemann’s words, to “progressively larger or more distant audiences” (100). I definitely understand how more and more distance audiences would help students cognitively: the more abstract that audience, the more sophisticated the thinking and rhetorical skills required (although even that seems open to debate). But I don’t see how increasing the size and distance of audiences has much to do with authentic discourse (99). I would think authenticity could happen whether the audience were close or far. The confusion may be mine (perhaps I need to read Moffett’s book), or perhaps Moffett (or Lindemann) is using a different definition of “authentic.”
I also found Magolda’s research very interesting. Since I want to teach first year composition, I’m definitely going to remember her statistics (on page 106): Of first year college students, 68% were “absolute knowers” (still believing in absolutes and in authority figures), 32% were “transitional knowers” (less emphasis on authority figures), while virtually none reached the third and fourth levels (“independent knowers” and “contextual knowers”). That information will help me a lot when it comes to designing writing assignments, but even more when it comes to assessment.
I was interested also in the way Magolda’s research applies to how students respond to peer work. At YVCC, I saw a wide range of responses to peer review and peer groups, from hostility to excitement, but I think I saw more of the former. Magolda’s discovery that most first-year students are still in the “absolute knowing” stage would explain that resistance to peer work (since peers are not authorities, “absolute knowers” are not interested in what they have to say). But her work also reminds me that we need to use this information to create assignments that stretch the students’ intellectual abilities – to help them move to the next level — but not over-tax them. So, while I would still assign peer work, 1) at least I would know why there was resistance, and 2) I might think twice about requiring peer work too often.