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CHAPTER VIII

THE FUTURE OF PERSON-BASED RESPONSE

 

Overview

In this dissertation I have attempted to present person-based response as an alternative to text-based teacher comments. I have done so by

In this final chapter I look at the future of person-based response beginning with the most promising research, connecting these strategies with the writing apprehension construct. In addition, I suggest assessment of various vehicles for person-based response, a study of the relative effectiveness of person-based pedagogies, and a look at future possibilities for the concept of group consubstanciality.

 

A Synopsis of the Writing Apprehension Construct

As stated at the conclusion of Chapter VI, my student survey, showing the correlation of person-based response with student motivation, needs to be linked empirically to a time-tested construct. The theory of writing apprehension, with the accompanying Daly and Miller scale, seems to promise the best answer to this need. Since this connection is so crucial to the credibility of my own research, what follows is a brief yet detailed synopsis of the writing apprehension construct.

 

Initial Studies

Citing Royce, Steve Walsh ("Subtleties of Writing Apprehension") says that the negative feelings that people have about writing have been the focus of academic studies since the late 19th century. However, it was not until 1975, when Daly and Miller developed the 26-item Writing Apprehension Test ("Empirical Development"), that empirical research of the phenomenon proliferated. Between 1975 and 1989 nearly 50 studies were conducted, a 500% increase from the 10 conducted during the first 75 years of the century (Walsh "Subtleties of Writing Apprehension"). Today, in addition to Daly and Millerís scale, there are the Writing Anxiety Scale (Petzel), the Writerís Block Questionnaire (Rose "Writer's Block"), and the Mass Communication Writing Apprehension Measure (Riffe and Stacks).

Initially, Daly and Miller ("Empirical Development") defined writing apprehension quite simply, as a description of "those who find the demand for writing competency exceedingly frightening" (244). They predicted that people high in writing apprehension (high WAs) would fear evaluation of their written words, would avoid the activity whenever possible, would expect to fail and, therefore, would rarely engage in it. In their early empirical research, Daly and Miller found high WAs used less intense language ("safe" language that varies little from neutrality) ["Apprehension as Predictor"], chose academic majors and careers that required little writing ("Further Studies"), and, actually entered those careers that required less writing ("Empirical Development").

 

Corollaries

Subsequent research has established copious corollaries for writing apprehension. High WAs consistently score lower on standardized writing tests. They do not equal their low WA counterparts on the SAT verbal section nor the ACT subject test (Daly and Miller "Further Studies," Dickinson); they show less developed writing skill including punctuation and spelling (Reese), and they make lower grades in classes that require writing (Powell). High WAs write fewer words on their papers (Daly "Effects on Message Encoding"), three times less than low WAs (Book); they spend less time on editing and revision (Selfe "Composing Process of Four," Composing Process of High and Low"); they take longer to complete writing assignments (Hayes), and their work shows less readability (Burgoon and Hale), and less organization, style, logic and insight (Daly "Quarterly Judgments").

As one would expect, high WAs show less confidence in and enjoyment of their writing (Selfe "Composing Process of Four," Composing Process of High and Low"), and their negative expectations are shared by their teachers. Teachers, prior to viewing student work, judge low WAs better writers, a bias that extends to gender because females are consistently and significantly less apprehensive than males (Daly "Teacher Explanations," "Writing Apprehension in the Classroom"). Teachers, too, suffer from writing apprehension, a condition that affects their own writing assignments (Claypool, Daly and Witte).

Underlying all the research on writing apprehension is a very practical concern. As John Daly puts it,

How one writes--indeed, whether one writes--is dependent on more than just skill or competence. The individual must also want to write or, at the very least, must also find some value in the activity. An individualís attitude about writing is just as basic to successful writing as are his or her writing skills. For no matter how skillful the individual may be as a writer, without a willingness to engage in writing one can expect little more than the atrophying of composing skills. A positive attitude about writing is associated with, and may even be a critical precursor of, the successful development and maintenance of writing skills. ("Writing apprehension" 44)

 

Thus researchers have sought to discover both the causes and solutions to writing apprehension.

 

Causes

Perhaps the most important thing that can be said about the reasons for writing apprehension is that, so far, there has been little research in the area (Daly "Writing Apprehension"). Researchers know far more about the consequences than they do about the causes of the phenomenon. What is known about the causes of writing apprehension encompasses both psychological and pedagogical concerns. High WAs have been found to possess grandiose and unrealistic expectations about writing (Jones) as well as mythic beliefs about the characteristics of good writers (Bloom "Myths and Master"). High WAs suffer from poor self-perception, inadequate role models (Daly "Teacher Explanations"), and what Daly calls comparison deficiency:

As writers compose and review what they have written, they go through a process of comparing their intentions with their actual products. Apprehension in part arises and is maintained when writers consistently believe that what they have written inadequately matches what they had in mind when they composed . . . . The writer learns to avoid writing in order to avoid the resulting sense of inadequacy. ("Writing Apprehension" 63)

 

Pedagogically speaking, high WAs consistently report frequent negative feedback from teachers and a corresponding lack of positive reinforcement (Aldrich). They fear ridicule and embarrassment from their teachers and are especially susceptible to negative teacher reaction to their lack of mechanical skills (Daly "Teacher Explanations"). Thus, high WAs tend to fixate on grammatical issues, a condition Mike Rose ("Rigid Rules") calls "rule rigidity," which inhibits and blocks student writing.

Building on an earlier study by Daly and Hailey, Donlon lists five situational variables that cause writing apprehension: high conspicuousness, the intensity of proposed evaluation schemes, the novelty of the particular writing assignment, the ambiguity of directions for writing, and prior negative experience. Finally, Hunzer says that teachers who give students too much freedom and too little guidance can raise their writing anxiety.

 

Solutions

Cognizant of these causes of writing apprehension, researchers have begun to create experimental designs to test solutions to the problems. For instance, Donlon created two distinct classroom environments for secondary school students, one apprehension producing (AP) and one apprehension reducing (AR). After a pretest confirmed equivalency between groups, and after the experimental designs (AP and AR) were applied, a post-test showed mean WA scores of 76.2 for the AP and 73.17 for the AR (p<.05). Donlonís conclusion identified the pedagogies that seemed to make the difference:

If a teacher publicly identifies students with their written products, stresses extensive and continual evaluation procedures, and introduces new assignments casually without sufficient enabling instructions, the result will be increased writing apprehension on the part of the students. If, on the other hand, teachers allow students to use pseudonyms when submitting papers, de-emphasize extensive evaluation strategies, provide segues between one assignment and the next, and give clear, helpful instructions, studentsí attitudes toward writing will improve. (14)

 

Similarly, Steve Walsh ("Subtleties of Writing Apprehension") randomly selected 202 students from five southern California campuses to whom he administered the WA test. At the same time he asked each student to respond to two open-ended questions designed to identify the things that made writing easier and less fearful. Analysis of the results showed that students found writing easier when it involved letter writing, journals, relevant subjects and a positive teaching environment.

Focusing more on teachers and teaching styles, Davis compared the writing apprehension of students in classes taught by seven different professors, who each completed an "opinionnarie" designed to identify their basic teaching philosophy. Statistical analysis showed three teacher practices accompanied lower writing apprehension in their students. Teachers who accepted "personalization of writing and grammatical flexibility," who emphasized "the personal and rhetorical aspects of writing, de-emphasizing grades and evaluative comments," and who worked to facilitate studentsí "self-actualization and freedom rather than their linguistic sophistication" (13) consistently ended the semester with students who scored lower in writing apprehension than their counterparts.

Other researchers have found that writing apprehension is reduced by student-centered, sequential workshops as opposed to instructor-centered classrooms (Fox), by emphasizing learning-centered writing (Walters, Weiss, and Maggitti), by employing a language-study approach which encourages "personal writing rhythm" (Zimmerman and Silverman), by prewriting, expressive writing and positive evaluation (Zimmerman and Silverman), by designing assignments that fit with student interests and by publishing the best of these pieces (Craven), by meditation exercises to prompt freewriting (Campbell), by using inductive exercises for basic writers to demystify the style of strong writers (Sledd), by developing better reading skills and responding to readings (Bloom "Myths and Master"), and by peer assistance, daily writing and skill enhancement in a non-threatening fashion (Bloom "Myths and Master").

Perhaps the most promising solutions for writing apprehension approaches the problem from the perspective of its opposite, an enjoyment of writing. Richard Leahy writes of "flow" and "liking" in writing suggesting that the best writers develop an "autotelic," or "self-goal:" The "act of writing becomes a goal in itself" (155). Leahy has his writing center instructors begin with the question "What did you enjoy about writing this draft?" (155). Rather than focusing on their apprehension, writers learn to discover and build on their own strengths in writing. Leahy believes this is what professional writers do, and not only poets and novelists: "I have been to gatherings of technical writers and witnessed the pleasures and pride they often take in their work" (160).

Leahy is not the only researcher to find models for overcoming writing apprehension among professional writers. Rinehammer looks at the experience of working journalists and suggests that a strong knowledge of subject, frequent practice in freewriting, and pleasure in both reading and writing lowers the anxiety of these professionals. Similarly, Walsh writes, "There is reason to believe that business writing with its concentrated focus on specific situations, audiences, and purposes may have value in overcoming student writing apprehension" ("New Directions" 6). Using Janet Emigís term, Walsh says that business writing is "reflexive writing--a process which generates more personal care and concern:"

Businessmen do not write term papers and answers to essay questions. They write letters, memos, and reports that are directed to a specific individual or group of individuals within a particular context to accomplish a particular purpose--to advise, persuade, demand, conciliate, etc. . . . . If students can be permitted to function in an academic setting as they would in real-life situations by employing an individualized approach, then they may learn more than just the customs and conventions of business communications within their rhetorical dimensions. Such an approach could have an unfettering effect on student confidence and creativity, resulting in both a marked improvement in composition quality and a corresponding decrease in writing apprehension--changes that would be extremely gratifying for student and teachers alike. (5,6)

 

 

Confounds

There are some dissenting opinions about the validity and reliability of the writing apprehension scale. Pajares and Johnson, following Bandura, believe that self-efficacy is a better predictor of writing performance: "Peoplesí judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances" (Bandura 391) "is the most influential arbiter in human agency" (Pajares and Johnson 2). Pajares and Johnson define writing self-efficacy as "individualsí judgments of their competence in writing, specifically their judgment of their ability to write different writing tasks and their possession of varying composition usage and mechanical skills" (9).

In their empirical study these researchers found that a studentís self-efficacy regarding writing tasks was a better predictor of writing performance than the Daly and Miller Writing Apprehension Scale. The argument is basically a matter of causality, a chicken or the egg discussion. Pajares and Johnson contend that confidence rather than lack of anxiety precedes better writing performance. They urge teachers to build "competence through confidence" (17). Yet while the argument has face validity, Pajares and Johnson employed too small a sample (n=30) to argue convincingly. In addition, although their study showed the Daly and Miller scale an inadequate predictor (certainly less than their own self-efficacy scale), the Writing Apprehension Scale has been used hundreds of times with radically different results and has been shown to correlate with such reliable instruments as the SAT and ACT tests (Daly and Miller "Further Studies"). Pajares and Johnson will need to replicate their results many times over to offer a serious challenge to the writing apprehension construct. Besides, their argument begs the question. One would expect self-efficacy and low writing apprehension to covary, so it makes little difference whether teachers seek to raise the former or lower the latter. Either will affect both, and either should increase writing performance.

Similarly, Engelmann questions the methodology of administering the Writing Apprehension Test. Using a case study approach, Engelmann demonstrates that student levels of writing anxiety depend not only on a teacherís pedagogical approach but on other things going on in studentsí lives at the time of testing (such as the nature of their writing project, grades they have received, mid-term exams, pressures in other classes, and personal problems that have nothing to do with the present class). Englemann argues for repeated tests during the semester to more accurately reflect the ebb and flow of writing apprehension. Yet, while there is validity in Englemannís argument, the use of large numbers and different samples should mediate outside influences on Writing Apprehension testing. If large numbers of writers, tested at different times and different places, all confirm the effect of a particular pedagogy on reducing writing apprehension, it is probably the pedagogy and not outside concerns that is responsible for the outcome.

 

Person-Based Response as a Predictor

of Writing Apprehension

Since, confounds notwithstanding, the writing apprehension construct and the accompanying Daly-Miller scale have proven so reliable, I propose research to link it with my own theory. If my survey, along with the Daly-Miller instrument, can be administered together to a random sample of students, and if the scales can be shown to demonstrate strong correlation (if levels of writing apprehension among students can be predicted by their teacher's use of person-based strategies), then the theory of person-based response gains much credibility in the research community. However, I do suggest a modification in the Daly-Miller instrument, not affecting the 26 statements themselves but their coding. Since person-based response claims to positively correlate with student motivation, I suggest recoding the statement values to measure the degree of positive rather than negative attitudes. Thus, the scale becomes a measurement of student enjoyment or liking of writing rather than their apprehension of it. Once studies are conducted to establish this correlation, that person-based response does correlate with students' increased enjoyment of writing, then teachers could use this recoded survey to measure student attitudes at the beginning and end of the semester, thereby assessing the effectiveness of both their responding strategies and in-class pedagogies.

 

Vehicles for Person-Based Response

Conferencing

Given that person-based response strategies are useful for motivating student writers, what is the best forum for practicing them? Do such comments work best when a teacher writes them on student essays and drafts, or would they work best in, say, a student-teacher conference? One of the best examples of a person-based responder, Donald Murray, likes conferencing, a method, he says, brings eagerness to his teaching:

There must be something wrong with a fifty-four -year-old man who is looking forward to his thirty-fifth conference of the day. It is twelve years since I really started teaching by conference. I average seventy-five conferences a week, thirty weeks a year, then there's summer teaching and workshop teaching of teachers. I've probably held far more than 30,000 writing conferences, and I am still fascinated by this strange, exposed kind of teaching, one on one. ("The Listening Eye" 232)

 

Murray's success as a teacher is probably due to more than the use of conferencing (his remarkable talent as a writer and his personal relationships with students must help), yet conferencing does have its advantages. The most obvious seem to be a personalized response and the opportunity for immediate two-way conversation. But the fact that dialogue is instantaneous and verbal certainly does not guarantee success, as Kathyrn Evans has pointed out. Evans observed two teachers and two students at a large midwestern university to examine student-teacher communication during writing conferences. Her study shows significant differences in perception and interpretation between the two participants. She writes, "That this communication is by no means perfect--even in Conferencing--suggests that no matter how we respond to our students, the potential is always there for meaning to be constructed in ways that we never intended, expected, or imagined" (8). So if understanding is not automatic in conferencing, the same could hold for student motivation in person-based response. Thus, the question becomes, "Is it more likely that successful person-based response strategies occur in conferencing as opposed to written teacher comments?" Does conferencing make it easier to, say, respond as genuine reader than in the traditional on-paper response? Future studies could examine these questions. An experimental design might survey two classes with the same teacher, one with conferencing and one with only written comments. Or a large sample of students surveyed could include conferencing and non-conferencing classes to look for significant differences in student perceptions of teacher comments.

 

Audio Cassettes

Another method of responding, which perhaps represents a middle ground between conferencing and written comments, involves the use of audio cassettes. Working with 115 first-year composition students at Fergus Falls Community College, Paul Carney began using the audio cassette to record a sentence-by-sentence assessment of each student's work. At the end of the semester, an overwhelming majority of his students said the audio cassette was "very helpful" both in helping them recognize strengths and weaknesses in their writing and as guidance for improving on their next essays. In addition to efficiency, Carney says that his method is more clear (he is able to elaborate more and avoids the traditional "hallway conference"), and more personal than written comments (I found myself talking to the student rather than grading the paper"). He also makes a case for the "visual integrity of student papers," which he says is vandalized by "grade-justifying graffiti" (6). Carney has some valid points, but one also senses that his new method had as much an effect on him as his students, and this may be the reason for better student response to his comments. For instance, he says the cassette recorder "tamed the predatory impulse" (7) in his pen and fostered a "kinder, gentler demeanor" (6). Certainly, these attributes are not inherent in spoken responses as opposed to written ones. What happened to Carney, it seems, is that he took on the role of a real reader, not only an evaluator. By his own admission, he began to see student faces as he spoke, and he talked to them as people. But again, maybe this is the point of the methodology. Perhaps, any commenting method that humanizes the teacher-student relationship is good for person-based response.

 

Computer-Generated Comments

What about written teacher responses? Is their room for innovation in this more traditional approach to commenting? Patricia Dickinson thinks so. Dickinson, who teaches a composition and computers in writing course in Buffalo, New York, uses the computer to generate her comments to students. She says that she can create more and better text this way, something her students appreciate:

After the initial shock of receiving so much printed material attached to their corrected papers wore off, my students told me that the fact that I had invested so much time seemed to give their own efforts validity and made them feel that their work was meaningful. They also said that having a guide for their revisions made them feel less apprehensive and far more confident. ("Feedback That Works" 5)

 

Dickinson warns that her approach is not a short-cut but rather an opportunity to produce pages of conversation which "shift from `correction' to more of a `response'" (7). To those that argue that typed comments seem impersonal she says that her responses are genuinely interactive, more expansive and more personal than many longhand comments. "I often spend time talking about my feelings, how the essay has affected me" (7). And, even though she says she can generate more copy with her computer, Dickinson warns against giving too many comments (students cannot process too many suggestions) and reminds teachers to include positive reinforcement ("I always begin by pointing out some good in the paper" [10, 11]). So Dickinson also seems to have discovered a strategy that helps her to be more human in her response. Certainly, there is room for other studies like hers and Carney's that give teachers new methodological choices for person-based response.

 

Pedagogies that Support Person-Based Response

Teacher comments do not appear in a vacuum, but are mixed liberally with their various classroom pedagogies. For instance, in the previous chapter I discovered that creating friendly classes can lead to a kind of group consubstanciality. Thus, the question becomes, "Do some pedagogies support person-based response better than others?" Discovering which ones do so and thereby increase student motivation in the process is another promising area for future research.

 

Authentic Assignments

Joseph Petraglia is concerned with pseudotransactional writing, "writing which is produced for its own sake for the purpose of instructing students in rhetorical response" (21). Since rhetorical exigencies are manufactured and "unauthentic," Petraglia sees this common practice in American college classrooms as an affront to Bitzer's concept of the rhetorical situation. Petraglia sees hope in pedagogies that encourage a more genuine sense of audience and persuasion, among them collaboration, reading-to-write, and writing across the curriculum. Of the three, siding with Kinneavy, Petraglia views writing across the curriculum as holding the best promise since it emphasizes writing in content-rich courses, usually in the area of one's major. However, in a postmodern climate, he admits that, in the final analysis, all audiences are somewhat of a fiction (Ong), and, therefore, rhetors are left to describe the "more real" or "less authentic."

Petraglia's view does reinforce the findings of writing apprehension theorists, that writers tend to write best about that which they know best, which suggests that writing assignments most geared to individual students will be most effective in motivating them to write well. Theoretically speaking, the pedagogy fits well with person-based response, especially as it encourages student voice. Future research might establish this link empirically by including a survey question on types of essay assignments and seeing if students do profit motivationally by projects more authentic in nature.

 

Invention Heuristics

Another pedagogy that would seem to belong with person-based response (again, because it encourages student voice) is attention to rhetorical invention and, especially, the use of invention heuristics. University of Chicago professor George Hillocks studied 278 junior high students in 12 different classes taught by three teachers. According to Hillocks, "Nearly all the studies of teacher comment and revision share one feature in common: thy ignore or preclude pre-writing instruction designed to prepare students for particular writing assignments" (264). Thus Hillocks designed an experiment to factor in this variable. Students were divided into four groups: those who had opportunity to revise their essays and who took part in prewriting invention activities, those doing invention exercises but with no opportunity to revise, those receiving only an assignment plus revision opportunities, and those receiving only an assignment with no revision. Students wrote essays over a four-week period, and researchers graded each (with high rater reliabilities ranging from .95 to .98) to determine the amount of gain with each procedure. As predicted, each group showed statistically significant (p<.005) gains (measured in standard deviation from the pretest--group one, 2.075; group two, 2.212; group three, 1.925; group four, 2.001). Also as predicted, the greatest gains came in the groups with the heuristic activities. Most pertinent for my study is that the mean gain for students receiving short teacher comments (10 words or less) is the same as for those receiving long comments (1.39). However, the mean gains by instructional activities (invention heuristics opposed to assignments only) differ significantly. Says Hillocks, "Such contrasts indicate that if a choice must be made between providing extended comments and planning instructional activities, the decision should be for planning (276). Similar studies could be conducted with person-based response. Do teachers who offer frequent invention exercises, including such things as prewriting and journaling, rate higher in person-based response and are their students more motivated to write?

 

Portfolio Grading

Of course, a major hindrance to student invention is also a major hindrance to person-based response: the need for teachers to give grades. Grading inhibits person-based response because it forces the teacher to end the paper as an evaluator rather than a genuine reader. It inhibits invention because, in their desire to get good grades, students may be reluctant to take the risks that invention demands. They stay with "safe" ideas and styles of writing that they have learned will merit good grades, and thus the flawless yet shallow essay is born. The problems with traditional grading are why many composition teachers have turned to portfolio grading, a system where students and/or teachers choose representative essays to present at the end of the semester for evaluation, often by a team of graders. Since preliminary drafts are ungraded, the pressure is off to produce a finished product too soon. Students are free to experiment with ideas and styles, and teacher comments on invention are much more likely to be acted on.

A study at the University of Missouri Kansas City solicited comments from teachers who use portfolio grading in their composition classes. One teacher's remarks show how the method frees one from the role of evaluator: "I don't mark papers in order to justify grades any more--and I feel I have more invested in their work, too. I try to look at their papers as a concerned reader" (Huyett 7). Another instructor likes a system that places more responsibility and control with the student: "I like the concept of using a portfolio . . . because it gives the students more control over their grade, their work, and their learning" (6). Still another teacher comments on the portfolio's ability to prompt invention: "I think most of the students feel the delay in grades gives them more space to take some risks, to play with language and ideas, to tolerate the uncertainty generated by feedback" (6). One of the drawbacks to portfolio grading is a tendency for grade inflation, but even this is downplayed by the instructors in the University of Missouri study: "If you think grade inflation is a disadvantage," writes an instructor, "then that's a problem. But I don't see it as a problem, and if I grade a little higher than I did before, then I'd like to think I'm a more effective teacher and that my students really are revising more and therefore doing better" (8). Portfolio grading is a pedagogy that offers promise for research in person-based response. It would be useful to know if empirical evidence suggests that the practice actually causes students to perceive teachers more as readers than graders, and to know if the same encourages more student invention.

 

Collaborative Learning

A final pedagogy that seems to work well with person-based response is collaborative learning. In A Short Course in Writing: Practical Rhetoric for Teaching Composition through Collaborative Learning, Kenneth Bruffee introduces his book by explaining the theoretical basis for adopting the collaborative model:

Composition textbooks tend to proceed on the assumption that reading and writing are solitary, individual acts. This book assures that reading and writing are social, collaborative acts. The aim of the book is to help students learn to write better by becoming members of an active, constructive community of writers and readers. (1)

 

Consequently, to Bruffee, the teacher's most important responsibility is not to personally respond to student writing but to effectively facilitate student responses to peers: "Thinking of writing as social and collaborative implies that teachers help students converse effectively, especially about writing, not with teachers but with students' peers" (4).

In the 1990s collaborative writing efforts at the college level are likely to be led by teachers using networked computers, a technique referred to as ENFI (Electronic Networks for Interaction) where students carry on a synchronous conversation with one another via the online screen. One such program is that developed by Fred Kemp at Texas Tech University. Kemp is a new rhetorician who practices what he preaches. If meaning is only created in a discourse community with real negotiation and consensus among its members, then why not use the principle to teach college writing? Thus, Texas Tech builds its composition program around small peer groups who read and respond to each other's work at every stage of the composing process. Kemp, who credits Bruffee for giving him the theoretical base for his collaborative approach (164), sees the real reader in his methodology not as the instructor but the student's peers:

Collaborative theory presumes that it is the classroom reader, not necessarily the instructor, who prompts and guides revision. The instructor who retains all the obvious trappings of classroom authority, who emphasizes that peer authority is simply a fiction and that the one reader--indeed the one person--who counts in the classroom continues to be the instructor, undermines the character of peer response. (167)

 

Kemp has a good point. One's peers are a powerful motivating force for writers, both student and professional. An effective instructor will not let his or her own overactive ego negate this appeal. However, teachers do not have to choose one or the other. Certainly, student peer groups do not provide effective response simply because they are student peer groups. Any classroom teacher knows that students themselves can thwart person-based strategies just as much as the most text-based teacher-responder. Students can focus more on formal mechanics rather than content, emphasize their peers' failures over their successes, silence their peers' voices when they disagree with the status quo, and demonstrate a lack of faith in each others' progress as emerging writers. As Quintilian has pointed out, a rhetor's model rubs off on students more than his or her instructions, and one way to guarantee effective person-based peer groups is to have them set in motion by the example of an effective person-based teacher. In addition, training may help. As Zhu Wei has shown empirically, students who receive training in peer revision tend to be "task oriented, focus on global features of writing, provide accurate and specific feedback for one another, and engage in negotiation" (496) more than their untrained counterparts. In my own classroom, I lay down a few person-based rules before beginning each peer review session. Future research might try to determine how effective these are, and how to create greater group consubstanciality in one's classroom.

 

Group Consubstanciality

Finally, I return to this idea of group consubstanciality as a conclusion to both this chapter and the dissertation, for it is another promising concept in the future of person-based response and one that has not been explored to the extent of other theories such as the writing apprehension construct. Certainly, if Burke is right and humans live to mediate through speech the separateness they are born into, and if Baktin is right and persons write for this response, then the greater the consubstanciality, the greater the motivation to write, and the better the writing produced. Thus, future research might look at ways to produce this group connection in the classroom. And as computers-in-writing theorists have suggested, this age of networked computers might be the ideal setting for such to take place.

For the last two years, I have created e-mail accounts for each of my students and a group distribution list where students can send messages to all their classmates with a click of the computer mouse. In beginning composition classes, my students choose from several essays, and then write an analysis to share with the class. In addition, they select one such analysis of a peer, and respond to it via the same distribution list. Thus, a class of 23 students receives roughly 46 messages a week, which form a class dialogue that can, at times, approach this group consubstanciality. In concluding this dissertation, I share an example of such consubstanciality from a class in the fall of 1996, where students responded to a speech by Ronald Reagan on the Challenger disaster. The following excerpts show how the students connected (I have done some minor editing):

This speech by Ronald Reagan brought back many memories. I remember when I first saw the explosion. I was in the first grade and the whole school went in to the gym so we could watch it on live television. We were so excited to see a teacher travel into space for the first time. Almost a thousand kids could be heard in the gym that day. We were so energetic that the teachers had us sing songs to keep us under control. Then air traffic control gave the ready signal. When the count down started are little enthusiastic voices followed. The whole gym was screaming the numbers in descending order, all the way up to the, "blast off". Then just like the turn of a dime the gym was filled with dead silence. The space shuttle Challenger had blown up. Everyone reacted differently. Since I was one of the youngest I didn't really know what happened. Most of the other first graders couldn't relate either, so we just stood there in awe waiting for some sort of an explanation. Some of the older students started crying and the teachers just couldn't believe what their eyes had witnessed. Throughout the rest of my life I will never forget that day. (Mike)

 

I feel that the subject was one of much somberness, and the student who wrote the response, Mike I believe, did an effective job in showing his emotions. I, too, remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was in elementary school and all of a sudden, many of other teachers ran into our classroom crying and told my teacher to turn on the television. For the rest of the day we saw what happened to the shuttle. Even though I was young at the time, I understood what was going on. I felt for everyone on the shuttle, especially the teacher. I feel that I will never forget exactly what I was doing the day the challenger exploded. For my parent's it was the Kennedy assassination, and for our generation, it is probably this Challenger Tragedy. (Selena)

 

I feel that this area in our life is one that will never be forgotten. It is sad that something like this had to happen to all those innocent people. Just like the guy Mike said, I will always remember the day this tragedy occurred. I was in elementary school, and all of us were in my class when a group of teachers ran in crying. They told us to turn on the television to watch what had happened. I was very sad for the next couple of days. I felt for all the people. I have to agree with Mike when he says that he agrees with Reagan. It is sad that something like this had to happen. I have to say, though, that I feel that it is important to continue work in this field. (Callie)

 

When I remember how I felt about the space shuttle explosion it makes me think about my parents. They talk about how they were in school when they first heard about JFK being killed and how that affected them. I think in the same way, the explosion affected me. I guess every generation has a big event that takes place when they are children. (Mandy)

 

I still remember watching the television at I guess it was about 12:30 or 1:00 o'clock. Looking stunned at what just had happened. I couldn't believe it, it all went in slow motion it seemed to me. I remember my teacher start to cry and then the other students, as well as myself. After that my teacher got up whipped the tears from her cheeks and eyes. She began to tell us that the teacher on the shuttle was truly an amazing lady; but she is in a better place and so are the rest of the challengers crew. From President Reagan's speech, he like most of the nation was in great turmoil about what had happened. But like he said they wanted to explore and discover the depths of universe. So for that great ability which they held, we feel as if we lost a brother or sister, mother or father. But, there will be more people and more missions that will live on; as well as the crew from the challenger. They will live on in the hearts of everybody in this great nation. (Chance)

 

In response to everybody that wrote about the Challenger: I think it is cool that people are able to remember exactly what they were doing at the time they heard about the crash. I was in the first grade, Mrs. Cross' class in Corpus. We were watching it on television that day. After the explosion, our teacher turned off the TV and we talked about what happened. It was a pretty complicated thing to understand as a seven year old. I never thought of comparing that event to John F. Kennedy's death. My parents will always remember where they were the moment they were informed of his death. I will remember the explosion of the shuttle as they do JFK. It was a tragic accident, but as I said before, it helped greatly improve our knowledge of space travel and the future experience with shuttles. I will never forget what I saw on TV the day the Challenger came home. (Kim)

 

As these students wrote these responses, I doubt that they were thinking much about formal elements of grammar, or for that matter, of any principles of rhetorical persuasion; however, in their attempt to just connect with their peers, they demonstrate a level of effectiveness in each of these, which is the basic premise behind person-based response. When persons respond to persons as persons, they naturally communicate. It is how we are made. Yet, as simple as the principle sounds, the strategies for putting it in effect are only beginning to be discovered, and this dissertation has provided only a rough sketch of some of them. So this conclusion is more of a beginning than an ending, for many questions are unanswered. Can group consubstanciality be quantified and studied? Can a rubric be developed for person-based pedagogies similar to person-based response? Are there institutional and societal forces at work here? Can a text-based (or thing based) culture produce person-based teachers and students? The ground is fertile for additional studies.

Respond or view responses to my dissertation.