[journal entry] on Lindemann on Cognition

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.

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7 thoughts on “[journal entry] on Lindemann on Cognition

  1. That you found so many students at YVCC hostile to peer workshops surprised me a little. I ask for a lot of peer workshops, and my experience is that the quality of peer review varies, but that by-and-large students like it. They even ask for it, and when I’ve cut back on the number of workshops, I get requests for more of them. I’m wondering now if something else is going on. I always try to put the workshops in context (We do a skit to discuss how best to comment), and maybe that helps? Do you know if my students were resistant too?

  2. Hi, Shannon.

    I wish I could remember which students — which students in which classes, I mean — were more hostile to peer review. I can say, though, that I don’t remember those students being any more or less from one instructor or another. It’s possible in the writing center we heard more complaints than you would in the classroom. And I was GOING to say it’s possible that in the writing center more students came through our doors who were unhappy with peer review than WERE happy with it. But that doesn’t necessarily make sense either, because when those students come to the writing center, that’s more-or-less what they’re getting there, too: more peer review (though with more experienced readers – at least when they work with the student consultants) – unless these students are coming to the center wanting “better” peer review.

    Maybe some students like the IDEA of peer review more than the actual advice a lot of peers give them? I can imagine a student who really likes the idea of getting feedback from ANYone before having to give a piece to an instructor, and who continues to like the idea even after the first two or three times a peer reviews her paper disappoint her. Magolda’s research, if valid, says that 68% of first-year students are still “absolute knowers” (they put little credence in anything a non-authority figure says). Maybe some students sense the need for feedback, so they are at least superficially attracted to the idea of peer response, but in the end find they can’t trust what their peers say because they are still too caught up in the peers-have-no-authority trap (even if only subconsciously). They crave help, but they can’t trust their peers. And if this little psycho-analysis of mine is true (big if), they would be disappointed in the peer review process and would perhaps complain to us writing center folk about it?

    I don’t know. I can imagine, though, that you’d want to know whether your students are being completely honest with you when they say they like peer review. I think definitely to some extent students put a suger-coating on responses to instructor questions – I’ve noticed that here at OSU, too. On the other hand, maybe they ARE being honest. Maybe you’re teaching peer review in a way that makes them buy into it.

    And another thing I thought of: since at community colleges, the age-range of students varies greatly, maybe it simply has been that a lot of your students HAVE BEEN in fact beyond the “absolute knower” stage. And maybe a disproportionate amount of the ones who were still “absolute knowers” — from all the however-many English classes there at YVCC — came to the writing center and felt free to complain.

    Who knows. It’s a hard question. What do you think?

    Laura

    p.s. Thanks for reading my blog! :-)

  3. I like your little psychoanalysis moment. Could be true. [Of course I’m reading a biography of Freud right now on the request of a friend so that we can argue about him, so I’m into psychoanalysis, despite Freud’s flaws. :-)]

    I do think students tend to sugarcoat their experience for the instructor. I try to ask for anonymous feedback, and also beg them to be honest. Sometimes they are, and I always thank them if I know who they are! It’s the fact that they ask for more “peer review” days that flummoxes me. I do a couple of other things, too. I check their peer reviews, and if their peers say something the writer ignores, and it’s good advice, I tell them so! I’ll ask them why they ignored so-and-so’s peer comment. Perhaps that steers them towards seeking advice.

    Also, I absolutely think you might have something in your last paragraph. If the studies were done on traditional college students at a university (I don’t know anything about Magolda myself), then I think that would skew the results, much as Perry’s research on 18-year-old white Harvard males didn’t tell the whole story about the “average” student. So maybe I have a disproportionate number of students beyond the “absolute knower” stage, and maybe they’re the ones who are speaking up and asking for peer review, and maybe the ones who aren’t speaking up don’t like peer review! It’s interesting to think about.

    I like your blog! I read it every day. :-)

  4. Hey, I looked for an email address and couldn’t find one. I was wondering if you’d be interested in talking to (emailing) a student of mine in 102 who’s writing her paper on religious attitudes towards homosexuality. She was raised in a far-right Baptist church (dad a minister), and broke loose. She wants to argue for an attitude change in the way the traditional “Christian” views homosexuality. I know you’re involved in the Rainbow Cathedral, so I suggested she contact you. She’s VERY bright, a superb writer, and extremely well versed in Biblical views. She’s also a blogger, and a blast to have in class. Would it be OK for her to contact you?

  5. Hi, Shannon.
    Yes, definitely — I’d love to talk with (email) your 102 student! You might warn her that sometimes I don’t have much time, but… My email is ldmay7 at g mail dot com (sorry for the code — gotta avoid the “bots” who search the internet for email addresses). I hadn’t realized I didn’t have my email anywhere, so thanks — I added it to my “about” page.

    Re peer reviews, I think that would help a lot, come to think of it — when you tell students, or at least imply, that so-and-so’s comment was worth considering/following. I think I imagined most instructors not really paying attention to the actual comments that come up by peers. Do you think a lot of instructors there do what you do? or are they more just focused on making the peer review happen? or ?

    Laura

  6. I don’t know that other people pay as much attention to the comments as I do. Gordon maybe. We kind of teach the same, I think. I think putting time in to read the comments, and then to note on the comment sheets “This is a great peer review” or whatever, makes a big difference. I also ask for self-reflections where I ask them to describe what happened during the writing process and give them the chance to explain why they didn’t take a peer’s comment, if they didn’t, and I’ll comment on those too. Over and over again they’ll write, “more peer review” in the “suggestions” section. But a lot of them are now preferring computer annotation, where people go from computer to computer and comment on the drafts using the annotation feature in Word. It’s anonymous, so people are honest. The students will request that quite often, and grouse if we don’t get time for it.

    I’ll steer Bethany in your direction. She’s a marvellous writer.

  7. Yep, I think your attention to comments is making a big difference in your students’ attitude toward peer review. How could it not. That’s great. I applaud you for that, because I really don’t think many instructors do that.

    Hmmm, if students are preferring annotating through Word, I’d better get used to doing it myself. I’ve tried it a few times, and for some reason I had trouble with it. Just seemed clumsy. But it’s been a while, so… But, yeah — it’s not surprising the anonymity would help.

    Well, this is all very hopeful! Peer review CAN work really well. :-)

    Laura

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