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CHAPTER III

A HISTORY OF RESPONSE THEORY: FOUNDATIONS FOR

PERSON-BASED RESPONSE

 

Overview

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that it is presumptuous for an author to call his words "mine," since there is usually in those words much more of other people's thoughts than the author's own. Certainly, such is true of this dissertation, and so I use this chapter to acknowledge those who gave birth to "my" thoughts. Specifically, in this chapter I will:

 

Rhetorical Theory: From Ethos to Consubstanciality

Person-based response is not simply a product of the relatively new discipline of composition theory, but of the more ancient study of rhetoric. For if the question for the postmodern composition theorist is "Can the text be viewed separately from the persons behind the text?" then the question for the classical rhetor is "Can rhetoric be viewed separately from the rhetor?" In The Antidosis, Isocrates says good speech is the "outward image of a good and faithful soul" (50). Similarly, the noble lover in Plato's Phaedras is born with a noble soul like that of the philosopher or lover of beauty (125). If Richard Weaver is right about Plato presenting an allegory in this address, then the noble rhetor seeks the best for his audience, not as a matter of appearance only, but because he is predisposed to do so by his very nature. Plato does not believe such a quality can be taught. It is a product of nature not nurture.

Later, Aristotle in The Rhetoric, gives this concern for the nature of the rhetor a name: ethos, which is, according to Aristotle, the controlling factor in persuasion (I.ii.4). It is Aristotle's concern for ethos that drives his audience analysis. Aristotle wants to know what kind of person a rhetor must be to persuade various audiences, so he discusses the differences between the young, the old, and the middle-aged, observations stereotypic by modern standards, but actually quite insightful. The old, he says, are those who "live in memory more than in hope; for what is left of life is short, and what is past is long, and hope is for the future, memory for what is gone" (II.13.12). In addition to age differences, Aristotle draws distinctions between the rich and poor and between rulers of democracies and oligarchies. Unlike his mentor Plato, Aristotle believes ethos can be taught to aspiring rhetors.

Other classical rhetors relate the speaker's ethos more to style, a more text-based approach. Demetrius (or whoever authored the style manual bearing his name) sees good rhetoric as tied to good subject matter: "to choose a great subject is in itself no small part of the painter's art . . . great subjects have their own impressiveness" (80). To Demetrius, the rhetor with good ethos must have good thoughts, thoughts Longinus refers to as "pregnant in suggestion" and the "true Sublime" (90). Loginus's "first and most important" source for sublimity is "grandeur of thought" (91). Like Aristotle, Longinus thinks this mental state can be taught. Rhetors can "train up our souls with sublimity" and "make them as it were ever big with noble thoughts" (92). And less one think that such thoughts are purely cerebral, Longinus offers as the second source of sublimity a "vigorous and spirited treatment of the passions . . . . Nothing is so conducive to sublimity as an appropriate display of genuine passion" (92). Cicero, too, connects the rhetor's own passion with the successful attempt to produce the same in one's audience:

It is impossible for the listener to feel indignation, hatred, or ill-will, to be terrified of anything, or reduced to tears of compassion, unless all those emotions, which the advocate would inspire in the arbitrator, are visibly stamped or rather branded on the advocate himself . . . . I never tried by means of speech, to arouse either indignation or compassion, either ill-will or hatred, in the minds of a tribunal, without being really stirred myself, as I worked upon their minds, the very feelings to which I was seeking to prompt them. (II.xlv)

 

Perhaps the greatest advocate for ethos comes nearly a century and a half after Cicero. "Some think it possible even for bad men to have the name of orators," writes Quintilian, "while others (to whose opinion I attach myself) maintain that the name, and the art of which we are speaking, can be conceded only to good men" (II.xv.1). Thus, Quintilian sees rhetoric as the art of "good men speaking well," and so he answers the question posed at the first of this discussion: One cannot separate rhetoric from the rhetor. Quintilian is especially important to contemporary composition theorists because he is the first to emphasize skill in writing as the first step to skill in speaking (X.3) and because he sees revision as a necessary element of good writing (X.4). He is especially important to person-based response because he emphasizes the ethos of the rhetor/teacher both negatively ("good [habits] are easily changed for the worse, but when will you turn bad ones into good?) and positively ("How much more readily we imitate those whom we like can scarcely be expressed" [II.2,8]). When, in my quantitative research project, I seek to find out if student views of teachers affect their subsequent views of teacher comments, I am following Quintilian.

In the Medieval era, considerations of audience are practical. To Augustine the rhetor's job of instructing, pleasing, and persuading is predicated on a basic understanding of the condition of the audience (knowledgeable or ignorant, hostile or sympathetic). And the writer of the Rationes dictandi is concerned with the identities of sender and receiver. For the Pope's universal salutation is different than the one addressed to monks, which is different from that addressed to noblemen or friends. This practical orientation produces little theoretical change in the concept of audience for Medieval rhetors. Similarly, in the Renaissance, scholars such as Erasmus will lay the groundwork for new theory (if "nature delights in variety," then should not audience as well as style be multifaceted?), but major innovation in audience analysis awaits the Enlightenment writers.

Both Bacon and Locke divide the mind into two faculties: understanding and will. To Bacon rhetoric is applying reason to the imagination to move the will (624), which sets the stage for new psychological definitions of audience that will consider mental and emotional as well as corporeal identities (actually, Aristotle had bordered on the psychological with his lengthy explanation of pathos). Eighteenth-century views are set forth best by George Campbell who adds three new faculties to reason in the human mind: imagination, memory, and passions. "These are not the supplanters of reason, or even rivals in her sway; they are handmaids, by whose ministry she is enabled to usher truth into the heart . . ." (The Philosophy of Rhetoric VII). Campbell's rhetor must learn to engage each of the faculties to achieve his purpose, but especially passion for "when persuasion is the end, passion also must be engaged. If it is fancy which bestows brilliancy on our ideas, if it is memory which gives them stability, passion doth move: it animates them . . . . Thus passion is the mover to action; reason is the guide" (VII.4). Similar to Quintilian, Campbell influences my quantitative project. Specifically, his delineation of passion and reason causes me to ask both if students find comments helpful (reason) and if they are motivated by them (passion). In addition, Campbell hints of a 20th-century approach to audience when he suggests that hearers be divided into two categories: "as men in general, and as such men in particular" (VII introduction).

In the 19th century, American rhetoricians Henry Day and David Hill continue Campbell's emphasis on the psychological and the particular in audiences. Day speaks of the "mind addressed" (869) and reminds rhetors that they must know both the logic and aesthetics of their addressee's mind: "The first principle to be observed in all oratory or address [is] that it ever respect the mind of the hearer . . ." (870). David Hill, on the other hand, writes of the "Laws of the Mind," a science of mental laws that govern the effects of discourse (879). The question is, however, are the mental laws universal? Are they equally and identically present in all audiences?

Twentieth-century rhetor I. A. Richards says that some are and some are not. Richards, who says that rhetoric should be a study of misunderstandings and its remedies, points out that information or sense data does not "stand on its own" (175). Rather all perception is "tied to our past histories" (175). And since all humans have distinct histories, audience must be perceived in terms not only of universals but particulars. According to Kenneth Burke, this difference in hearers/readers is part of the human condition: "If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity. If men were wholly and truly one substance, absolute communication would be man's very essence" (22). Burke's solution to this separation is to bring speaker and audience together in an act of consubstanciality, where the substance of the rhetor is identified with the substance of his or her addressee: "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his" (55).

Yet, the process is not all that easy. Not only must one first analyze the audience to discover areas of potential consubstanciality; one also must decide on which of these areas he or she will place emphasis. For, as Chaim Perelman says, " the opinions, convictions, and commitments that an audience might share are both vast and indeterminate" (293). Thus, if the rhetor wants to effectively communicate with the audience (to persuade through identifying with them), Perelman says this rhetor "must select certain elements on which he focuses attention by endowing them, as it were, with a 'presence'" (293). In the next chapter, I will consider what presence teacher-commenters might establish with their student-audiences. For now, it is important to note that 19th and 20th century rhetors place emphasis on the mind or perception of the audience, a principle that is foundational to my own research, as the quantitative project examines not a teachers' words on a page, but the perceptions of those words in the minds of students.

In sum, the direction in audience analysis from Aristotle to Burke and Perelman is a move from physical things such as age and political affiliation to psychological ones, such as one's beliefs and values. Also the change is from the general (categories such as old and young) to the particular (individual histories that affect things such as one's interpretation of a metaphor). And both of these changes require more specialization in the rhetor. Modern rhetors can no longer speak (or write) generally to a common audience but must find ways to create a presence with widely diverse ones--a difficult task indeed in such an increasingly multicultural world. Finally, the move from classical to present-day rhetoric is a move from ethos to consubstanciality. "What kind of a rhetor can persuade an audience?" asks Aristotle. "One that establishes areas of commonality with them," answers Burke, a key concept of person-based response that will be discussed at length in the next chapter.

 

Composition Theory (1880-1970):

From Raters to Readers

Paralleling the modernist paradigm and its emphasis on scientific objectivity, English teachers before 1950 tend to respond to objective texts rather than to readers behind the texts. In 1993, as a prelude to their own quantitative study, Connors and Lunsford offer the best brief history of teacher commenting strategies in this era. Citing Copeland and Rideout, they point out that studies of 19th-century student themes at schools such as Baylor and Harvard show teacher comments mostly concerned with formal and mechanical corrections. By the 1880s the teacher's most important task seems to be rating rather than responding rhetorically to themes. Connors and Lunsford go on to say that between 1900 and 1925, professors such as Hillegas and Thorndike develop scales to rate students' rhetorical effectiveness. Yet while the effort pursues a lofty goal of objectivity in grading and an equally impressive concern for good rhetoric, it is soon abandoned as simply too complex and time-consuming to be practical (201). Thus, for the first half of the 20th century, rhetoric continues to take a back seat to more formal concerns so that "the most widely accepted idea was that the teachers' jobs were to correct, perhaps edit, and then grade student papers" (201).

According to Connors and Lunsford, it is only with the advent of the communications' movement of the late '40s that a new generation of writing teachers propose comments that stress purpose (and, thus, persons) in student themes. In 1951, Fleece writes, "the teacher should react to the content in some way, to guarantee the student's continued confidence in his interest" (qtd. in Connors and Lunsford 465). In 1954, Collins adds, "Though it may be hard to credit, I am a real human being, and so I am naturally interested in what my students say in their themes . . . " (qtd. in Connors and Lunsford 465). Thus, Connors and Lunsford say that by the mid-1950s educators are "more and more expected to try to address their students' essays as 'real' audiences and to write long personal comments . . . [and those] who gave no rhetorical advice along with their formal corrections did their work with a certain guilt" (204). This personal emphasis in commenting continues through the 1960s, gaining support from expressivistic composition theorists such as Elbow, Macorie, and Rohman.

Composition Theory (after 1970): From

Text-Based to Person-Based Issues

In this section I briefly summarize the research on response theory conducted by composition theorists from 1970 to the present. With nearly 100 sources cited, my goal is to be representative and thorough if not exhaustive. In the next chapter, I take a more narrow, detailed, and analytical look at the same subject.

The 1970s

Perhaps in response to Lauer's 1972 appeal for composition researchers to break out of their disciplinary ghetto and incorporate some of the research theories and methodologies of other fields (80), the 1970s issue in what has become a flurry of research into teacher commenting strategies in the form of both qualitative (mostly case studies) and quantitative (mostly surveys) projects. At the same time, perhaps in response to Mina Shaughnessy's groundbreaking Errors and Expectations in 1977 (which emphasizes the personal processes of basic writers), or perhaps because postmodern thinking in these years is beginning to permeate higher education as a whole, these projects tend to highlight postmodern concerns with current teacher practices. Succinctly put, theorists after 1970 tend to focus on person-based as opposed to text-based issues.

The trend toward postmodern and person-based issues is apparent from the outset, as in the early '70s Gee finds that students praised for their writing have better attitudes and write longer papers than those receiving primarily criticism or no comments (as the next chapter will show, text-based response is preoccupied with formal correctness, and praise is limited). At the same time, Murray (arguably the paragon of person-based teacher-responders) points out that this preoccupation with critical analysis is a result of teachers' training in literary criticism, especially that of the New Critics (the literary equivalent of the scientific method, and thus a legacy of modernism). In the same vein, Reising urges teachers to "move from butchery to surgery" and "control the bleeding" on student papers. The latter part of the decade produces the most work in the area, prompted in 1977 by Mina Shaughnessy's book. Shaughnessy's concern with the individuality of basic writers, her refusal to demean or marginalize them, and her efforts to understand and implement their own learning strategies represent a clear postmodern shift from the more standardized pedagogies of the modern era (where students differences are seen more as anomalies to be "standardized"). Also in 1977, Harris finds that, while teachers consistently rate student content and organization as more important than mechanics, their marking of papers gives a contradictory message (postmodern and person-based theorists are having trouble becoming postmodern and person-based practitioners). The following year (1978) Kroll and Shafer, along with Lynch and Klemans return to Shaughnessy's subject of basic writers, Kroll and Shafer developing the concept of "error-analysis," and Lynch and Klemans finding basic writers overwhelmingly willing to read and respond to teacher comments, but often confused by and frustrated with comments that are unclear (again the emphasis is communication that is context-specific and subject to personal interpretation, both postmodern and person-based ideas).

The decade concludes with several important articles in 1979, including a piece where Gibson suggests that students consider the teacher as a "dumb reader" (a postmodern concern with the receiver of the message) and a study where Freedman shows teachers focusing on syntactic and mechanical problems rather than content and organization (text-based response is still popular but it is under attack). In the same year, and in a similar vein, Linda Flower recommends "writer-based prose" as an essential first step for students who must learn to write for readers (an approach which values individual student differences and works with rather than against these tendencies), and Donald Murray stresses the importance of listening before commenting in a writer's conference--"I thought a teacher had to talk. I feel guilty when I do nothing but listen"(235). Murray's essay is important because of its postmodern de-emphasis of traditional teacher-student roles, as will be shown in the next chapter, a key element in person-based response. Similarly, in a 1979 article in College Composition and Communication, Lees reminds teachers that commenting involves emoting, describing, suggesting, questioning, reminding, and assigning, as well as correcting. Finally, Beach chronicles a study of 103 Minneapolis high school students. In Beach's empirical project, he contrasts students who received between-draft teacher response with those who conducted a guided self-evaluation or who received no evaluation at all. The results: those receiving teacher response scored significantly higher than the other groups in degree-of-change (global or local, extensive or minor), fluency, and support for their ideas (Beach and others who emphasize drafts will become part of the writing-as-process movement so important both to postmodern composition theory and person-based response).

 

 

The 1980s

If the 1970s initiated an era of response research, the 1980s proliferated such inquiry. Between 1980 and 1982 alone there were over 20 major articles, including Nancy Sommers' "Responding to Student Writing," which continues to be the most quoted work in the field. In 1980, Gere, sounding very postmodern, says that "communication intention" ought to be part of evaluating student writing, Lamberg suggests both self and peer-provided feedback, and Searle and Dillon recommend modifying response to allow more attention to content rather than form (note how each of these strategies emphasize persons over text). In the same year, Bartholomae writes that comments should show respect for and create confidence in basic writers; and Dillman, suggesting an Adlerian approach to commenting, says that overcorrected students become "teacher-deaf" (both of these theorists are used in the next chapter to articulate the tenets of a person-based response strategy). Similarly, in 1981, Duke focuses on student perception of teacher comments: "If the students cannot read or understand the comment they cannot learn from it" (my empirical project takes a similar approach when I study not what teachers say but what students hear them to say), and Greenbaum and Taylor show instructor inconsistency in identifying usage errors (an implicit critique of text-based methodology). Also that year, Maxine Hairston argues that not all student errors are created equal and calls for restraint in correcting basic writers, and Joseph Williams sounds the same note in "The Phenomenology of Error," arguing that, if teachers fixate on student error, they will find what they seek (Williams' article, especially, shows the postmodern contention that meaning rests with readers as much as with writers). In addition, Knoblauch and Brannon recommend that teachers give comments early in multiple-draft assignments, another reminder that papers (and students) are always in progress and need to be treated accordingly.

In 1982, in addition to Sommers' article, Freedman finds that weak students are discriminated against in writing conferences; Griffin provides a good summary of the material on teacher response to date, and Hillocks ties effective commenting to effective in-class heuristics (a concern for rhetorical invention is both postmodern and person-based since both theories emphasize the student's right to create new meanings). Wall shares Hillocks' concern, questioning whether teachers are able to help their students really understand revision as an opportunity for invention. Also in 1982, Hunt argues for group feedback that includes both other students and teachers, and Robert Miller lets students choose whether to receive teacher comments (note the emphasis in both studies on student control). In addition, Susan Miller evaluates professional writers to see how they evaluate themselves; Murray, also citing the experience of professional writers, says that students need to write first and foremost for themselves, and Raymond points out that, since writing is perception, it will never submit entirely to objective, quantifiable observation (these theorists each point out both the theoretical and motivational limitations of text-based response). In the same vein, Alan Rose demonstrates how conferencing can improve the clarity of teacher comments (important since postmodern thought has problematized the reception of messages), and Siegel shows that inexperienced teachers are not as skilled at commenting as more seasoned ones (they tend to overmark formal errors, appropriate student voice, and not respond as much to content --all affronts to person-based theory). Finally, in 1982 Sommers writes, "The news from the classroom is not good. For the most part, teachers do not respond to student writing with the kind of thoughtful commentary which will help students engage with the issues they are writing about or which will help them think about their purposes and goals in writing a specific text" (154). This observation is especially troubling to classroom teachers since, as Sommers puts it, "more than any other enterprise in the teaching of writing, responding to and commenting on student writing consumes the largest proportion of our time" (148). Sommers concludes by challenging researchers to "develop comments which will provide an inherent reason for students to revise" (156--notice the postmodern emphasis on revision or writing-as-process).

In response to Sommers and others, the mid-'80s continues to be a prolific time for response research. In 1984, Purves looks at the many, sometimes conflicting roles of teacher-responders (another postmodern problematizing of communication), while White applies post-structural literary criticism to teacher response: "No text utters its truth; the truth lies elsewhere--in a reading." In addition, Horvath offers a synthesis of and an extensive list of annotated references for current response theory, and Newkirk claims that students and teachers are different interpretive communities and that writing for one might conflict with writing for the other (again there is both a postmodern issue of power and a person-based concern for a genuine reader). Also, in a challenge to a major tenet of person-based response, Burkland and Grimm question whether students desire teacher praise over criticism: "Our students expressed a strong preference for criticism and an ambivalence about personal response and compliments" (19--I point out some methodological weaknesses of this study in the next chapter). On the other side of the theoretical spectrum, in1985 Sam Dragga's "Praiseworthy Grading" offers a system of response that improves student writing by drawing attention to their successes rather than their failures. Dragga's treatment of students as persons receives more support in 1986, including copious words from Donald Murray in A Writer Teaches Writing (which will be discussed in detail in the next chapter) and a piece from Leonard and Joanne Podis, who emphasize a process-oriented approach to commenting that views student weaknesses as potentialities and tries to discover the writer's own intentions rather than following the teacher's "ideal text." Also in 1986, a short article by Michael Robertson emphasizes the need for more human responses to students, and a similar piece by Russell Hunt dramatizes this need (both are discussed in detail in the next chapter). The year concludes with Beach and Klein, continuing to place value and importance on student writers by suggesting that students become their own best readers.

In 1987, Jenkins reaffirms the importance of teacher comments, finding "clear comments, clearly located" (84) most appreciated by students. In the same year, Dodd discovers that teacher enthusiasm affects student response, and Danis suggests that paper-marking as "conversation" is a more effective metaphor for response (notice again the elevation of students, who are now participants in their teachers' conversations rather than mere audiences for their authoritative decrees). Echoing similar postmodern concerns, Sarah Warshauer Freedman says that successful teachers see themselves as the most useful responders to student writers, focus attention on process rather than product, and de-emphasize response on final drafts. In addition, Freedman combines with Sperling to show how teachers can appropriate student voice, especially with compliant students (appropriation of student voice is a large concern for both postmodern theorists and person-based responders and is dealt with at length in the next chapter). Finally, in 1988, Dragga tests his theory of Praiseworthy Grading empirically and finds that praise does make for better student writing, and Connors and Lunsford do a content analysis of over 20,000 teacher-marked student essays finding, among other things, that teachers mark only 43% of errors (Connors and Lunsford are here concerned with formal errors, a text-based issue; in their follow-up study, they will deal with the more postmodern issue of the rhetorical elements in teacher response).

The 1980s conclude with two important books published in 1989, both collections of essays on responding. Encountering Student Texts, edited by Lawson, Ryan, and Winterowd, includes such postmodern concerns as feminists perspectives on responding, intention in student texts, and the rhetoric of paper grading. Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research, edited by Chris Anson, features essays of 22 composition scholars, including Carnicelli who looks at writing conferences, Daiker who reexamines the place of praise, and Hunt who shows how language acquisition theory illuminates response theory. Perhaps, Anson's final words in the book's introduction summarize not only the thoughts of his writers but all the theorists to this point in the history of teacher response:

Throughout this book is an underlying belief in the importance of response, in all its forms, to the development of writing abilities. Clearly, no single method, no set theory, no specific research findings, no matter how conclusive, will provide everything we should know about or act upon in this rich and complicated process. But in gathering together the opinions, speculations, methods, and findings of twenty-two scholars and teachers who find the issue of response a constant source of interest and challenge, it is my hope that this volume moves us a little further toward a more complete understanding of the relationship between response and students' development as writers. (11)

 

 

The 1990s

 

What Sommers' 1982 article is to the '80s, Connors' and Lunsford's 1993 piece is to the '90s. It is truly a landmark study, one which sets the stage for future research, and one which frames my own project. So to this study, I will return, but first I examine other representative articles from the decade. The era begins in 1990 with Leki who notes the schizophrenia that often affects teachers trying to play all the roles of a teacher-responder (a condition especially harmful when one tries to react as both a person-based and text-based responder), and Elbow who wonders out loud if present grading systems subvert both teacher comments and student learning (grading is problematic for person-based responders and will be dealt with at length in the chapter to follow). Leki and Elbow are followed in 1991 by Doher, who questions whether teacher comments really help and concludes that those which only justify grades do not (another implicit attack on text-based response). 1992 articles include ones by Thompson, who uses the Myers-Briggs personality test to show that comments are affected by teacher personalities; Auten, who notes that the majority of students like teacher comments and plenty of them; and Dickinson, who says that her computer-generated responses allow her to write longer and better comments (in the next chapter, I show that Dickinson also is concerned with more human responses, a tenet of person-based response). Similarly, Greenhalgh reaffirms the postmodern, person-based concern with teacher appropriation of student voice and says that students should become their own best readers. Besides the Connors and Lunsford study, in 1993 Huyett shows the advantages of portfolio grading, including making the teacher more than just an evaluator and allowing students to take more risks in their writing, both important strategies in person-based response. Also in 1993, Thompson shows how teacher expectations conflict with those of their students: "They want responses that will help them get better grades. We want responses that will help them become better writers" (7); and Zak, advocating making students responsible for their own learning, suggests that less response can become more.

In 1994, Kathryn Evans demonstrates in case studies that student-teacher conferences can yield different interpretations (something postmodern theorists would expect), and in 1995, Carney advocates using audio cassettes to respond to student writing (a technique he says, among other things, makes his response more human). In the same year, Dawkins suggests comments that will help students see punctuation as a rhetorical tool (clearly a postmodern concern, not rules for rules sake, but rules as a part of rhetorical appeal), and, in a survey of 155 ESL students, Ferris finds that 93% of students feel that teacher feedback helps them improve as writers. In addition, Leahy shows that positive student attitudes ("flow" and "liking") have a positive effect on their writing performance (note the emphasis on attitude, important in person-based but not text-based response), and Zhu shows that students trained in peer response write more helpful comments.

So far the leading theorist of the latter half of the decade is Richard Straub, who in 1995 along with Ronald Lunsford writes Twelve Readers Reading, a book that analyzes the responding strategies of 12 successful teachers. Based on the same research, in 1996 Straub looks at the differences between "directive" and "facilitative" control in teacher comments (currently, the most hotly debated issue in response theory and obviously an important postmodern issue), and, in another article, at the conversational nature of teacher response (a concept very close to my idea of teachers as genuine readers, which I put forth in the next chapter as a tenet of person-based response). Finally, the May 1997 issue of College Composition and Communication includes six articles on response, most of which are responses to Straub's piece on teacher control, including a response from Straub to their responses. Important to my study in these pieces is their unanimous call for more research of student perceptions of comments. Writes Chandler, "What is needed is more research on how students 'hear' comments" (273), and Straub, "Do students interpret teacher comments differently than researchers and teachers interpret these comments?" (277).

It is my focus on this issue of student perceptions of their teacher comments that makes my empirical study unique and necessary in current response research. On the other hand, it is my attempt to consolidate postmodern concerns under the rubric of person-based response that makes my theoretical study unique and necessary. I articulate this attempt in the next chapter, but first I offer the following summary of the major findings in response research after 1970. During the last 28 years, the above-mentioned theorists have uncovered the following problems with teacher response:

As stated, each of these topics will be dealt with in detail in the next chapter, but, for now, it is important to notice that the present era of composition theory, especially as it applies to commenting strategies, tends to center around issues which are distinctively postmodern and person-based (a possible exception is the concern for clarity: however, it may be that this issue is important to both modernist and postmodernist, but for differing reasons). And when text-based strategies are mentioned, they are most likely stereotyped (much as the mythical "current traditionalist" pedagogies) and condemned (Sommers writes of comments that can be "interchanged, rubber-stamped, from text to text" [152]).

 

Positioning My Research--The 1993

Connors and Lunsford Study

In 1993, Connors and Lunsford produce a landmark study in what is undoubtedly the most ambitious quantitative study of teacher comments to date. From a self-selected sample of 21,000 teacher-marked essays (collected in 1986), researchers choose a randomized stratified sample of 3,000 for evaluation. Trained evaluators then read and code the comments to determine frequencies of various rhetorical genres. The reported results are completely descriptive. There are no inferential statistical analyses conducted.

Connors and Lunsford instruct the coders to ignore any comments about formal error. Instead, they are to look only at the specifically rhetorical comments (for instance, they can note a comment that deals with a comma splice only if the teacher relates it to an issue like audience comprehension). Connors and Lunsford pose three major questions.

The results of the Connors/Lunsford study bring both good and bad news. The good news is that 77 percent of papers have some global comments dealing with rhetorical issues. The bad news, however, is more extensive. Following are some of the findings:

The overwhelming nature of these shortcomings lead Connors and Lunsford to offer a possible explanation: "A teacher with too many students, too many papers to grade, can pay only small attention to each one, and small attention indeed is what many of these papers got" (214).

 

Strengths of the study

Composition research that uses sophisticated quantitative methodologies is still in its infancy, so the Connors and Lundsford effort is truly a landmark study, an important pioneer effort. They do a number of things right. The use of large numbers, random and stratified samples, and trained coders all help increase the reliability and validity of the data.

 

Weaknesses of the study

However there are three major weaknesses with the this study as noted below:

 

Conclusion

Thus, my studies, and especially my major quantitative project, take up where Connors and Lunsford leave off, by one, starting with a random sample of students; two, attempting to measure student perceptions of their teachers' words; and, three, drawing inferences from these perceptions to discover motivational effects on students. These empirical studies will be presented in Chapters V and VI, but first it is important to explain and support in more detail that which has been only summarily presented in this chapter, the theoretical tenets of person-based response.

On to Chapter IV

Respond or view responses to my dissertation.