I was just reading Ann Berthoff’s “Is Teaching Possible? Writing, Meaning, and Higher-Order Reasoning” (1984) (for the Ciceronian assignment I have due on Tuesday). Berthoff is basically making the point that we cannot think of our job (teaching writing and reading) as one in which we simply exhort students to move up a developmental scale from simple to more complex thought. That scale is too mechanistically conceived and so it does not accurately describe what is really going on when we use language. That scale assumes that we can separate language from meaning, when in fact meaning and interpretation inhere with language. (That’s a very sketchy summary — honestly, I haven’t finished her article yet.)
Anyway, then it occurred to me that our templates from They Say, I Say do that very thing — they assume a separation of meaning and language. They provide sentence-level moves of academic writing, and they are — to use one of Berthoff’s similes — like so many muffin tins in which to pour the dough of thought. I’m not thinking that these templates are not very helpful. I think they are. But I’m thinking we should also provide students with not just the sentence-level moves of academic writing, but also with the commonplaces, the argumentative moves that help convince an audience.
They already TRY some of these out when they say things like “In today’s society” and “since the beginning of time,” — like Bartholomae points out in “Inventing the University.” But that’s exactly one reason they need explicit instruction in the effective (and more complex and nuanced) commonplaces. They seem to already know they need to make intellectual moves like that, but they don’t yet know what the better moves are. I know, in my experience of learning to write academic papers, I remember reading someone else’s paper or some article and thinking things like, “Oh, I never thought to make the point that way — what a great idea.” I had to pick those up over time, as most of us have. But there’s got to be a good way to help students see those sooner.
Heheh, now I hear ancient Greek and Latin voices saying, “Yo! Been there, done that!” (Yes, can’t you hear Fabius Quintillian talking like that! ;)) So now I’m curious to look into ways to teach commonplaces. And a question: what is the difference between Ciceronian argumentative moves and Aristotlean commonplaces? Just two aspects or angles on the same phenomenon: the ways we make an argument? I mean, there are sophisticated commonplaces (aren’t there?). But maybe it is just that argumentative moves are in general more sophisticated than commonplaces.
Oh, and I was thinking also: what Peter noticed last week when he showed us (in the practicum) the example of a student’s paper which tried to use the sentence-level moves, but didn’t understand them… isn’t that one of the pitfalls of providing students with sentence-level moves without also specific help with intellectual-level moves? That student, for example, used “on the other hand” before she/he had said anything. Or??? Is that something else? I mean, is that something that could be helped by helping the student understand intellectual moves, commonplaces?