On Micciche’s and Carr’s “Toward Graduate-Level Writing Instruction”

I guess I’m trying to make up a little for my tardiness with scholarship reviews by posting a second (or third?) review in less than a week, but it’s also an effort to keep up a bit.  I finished reading “Toward Graduate-Level Writing Instruction” by Laura R. Micciche and Allison D. Carr at the gym the other day and I don’t want to fall behind on this stuff again.  (For the citation-minded, this was in College Composition and Communication 62:3 February 2011).  The general topic of the article is on my mind because I will be teaching what is sort of the “capstone/before you do a project of your own” course in our MA program next year, “Research in Theory and Practice in Writing” and I want to try some new things.

On the one hand, I think that Micciche and Carr are right on track in that I think there is a need think more about writing pedagogy at the graduate level– heck, at all levels beyond freshman comp.  Micciche says she is trying to “demystify scholarship” by trying to bring the messy process out in the open, to more or less show how the trick works.  Along the way, I think she is emphasizing that it is good habits and practices and not “inspiration” that are what leads to scholarship, and no brilliantly thought-out and imagined piece of scholarship began as perfectly formed.  Carr is credited as a co-writer here, though her contributions (we are told) are mostly limited to the textboxes that appear throughout the piece, more or less in response to Micciche’s writings.  I think this is the most insightful one:

I have learned that badness is just part of my process, and I love the badness for helping me get to better-ness.  If I want to accomplish anything, I have to allow myself to have bad ideas, to write bad sentences, and to make bad claims.  Badness, I think, is my first language.  The fun is in the process of sorting it out, translating, recomposing in a more artful language others can understand and appreciate. (491)

Well said.  I’m always trying to beat perfectionism out of my students, which I think is sort of like embracing the badness.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure how much of Micciche’s approach is translatable/useable by others– or at least by me.  She’s teaching this course for all MA students in English at the University of Cincinnati, and I don’t think that would ever go over here.  It is more or less a “writing workshop” approach, which I know from past experiences is a mixed bag sort of affair:  while it can be productive and insightful, it can also produce a sort of “group-think.”  And I think that some of what Micciche is talking about here with a “pedagogy of wonder” is a little fuzzy for my way of thinking of these things.

Anyway, this article and/or some elements of its approach might find its way into ENGL 621 this fall.  It’s a tricky course in that it is supposed to be teaching students about research methodologies, about the logistics of our MA projects, and about IRB stuff, which is to say there’s too much going on in the course as it is.  At the same time, I don’t think it has done as much as it should do to show students the workings of presenting and publishing scholarship in the field– you know, conferences, articles, books, etc.– and it seems to me that even though 621 is already a pretty crowded course, it wouldn’t be a bad or difficult addition to have some discussion about what it is scholars in the field do.  And it also wouldn’t be a bad to have a discussion about some of the necessary habits of good writing and good scholarship, things that I think often trip students up when they are trying to finish those pesky graduate projects.

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