Happy New Year: A Look Back in Books!

I genuinely wish I read more books in any given year. Since my doctoral studies, I have not pushed myself to read as voraciously as I always intend. One of my resolutions this year is to change that and in general read more books for both edification and pleasure.

Still, I read my fair share of interesting books that I am sharing in my first post of 2019 along with a brief sentence review for your consideration. Read on to check out the books, and here is to all of us reading more this year!

Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

Image result for hector and hummingbird

So turns out having a toddler changes you. Who knew? I wanted to start with one of the most charming children’s books I read to my daughter (over and over again) this past year. The artwork is unique and the story is a wonderful tale of how important friendships we may take for granted really are. I recommend this for any elementary teacher’s library and certainly for the home of anyone with a child to read to and with!

The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns

While I do not talk about religion or my own affiliations on this blog, I mention Enns’ book because it is the one that resonated me unlike anything else I read. In a nutshell, Enns argues readers, interpreters, and followers of the Bible have to see the text as one that had a very specific audience and context for its time as it was assembled, and that acknowledging that there is metaphor, symbolism, and borrowed cultural experiences in it does not diminish or invalidate Christianity. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a refreshing way to wrestle with what appears to be the Bible’s inconsistencies.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

I know, I know, two books about the Bible in a row. What can I say, as a someone who considers himself a believer and someone who wrestles with doubt, Enns’ and Evans’ books were two of my most interesting reads. Evans has a similar take on discussing the Bible as Enns does; however, while Enns is a Bible scholar who blends history and scholarship effortlessly, Evans writes as a memoirist does, blending personal story telling, with contextual history, and re-imaging of some of the most brutal and difficult to reconcile stories in the Bible. I recommend this text really for the same reason as I recommended Enns’.

Image result for literacy engagement through peritextual analysis

Literacy Engagement through Peritexual Analysis edited by Shelby Whitte, Don Latham, & Melissa Gross

This will seem like a selfish plug, but it’s not. I genuinely feel this is a great collection of chapters showcasing the benefits of looking at, wrestling with, and leveraging peritext, or the text that surrounds the text proper (i.e. glossary, index, dedication, book jacket, etc.). I recommend this book to just about any media specialist, but also to teachers–ELA or otherwise–who want to help students make deeper connections to how text interacts and is informed by the text surrounding it that is often taken for granted.

Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Greater Power by Jason Latour & Robbie Rodriguez

One of my favorite early reads of the year was the collection of comics that make up the first volume of Spider-Gwen comics. Now after seeing Into the Spiderverse at the movies, I have even more appreciation for the text and art created by Latour and Rodriguez. The collection is a refreshing take on Spider-man origin story with a unique, yet familiar heroine who has both depth and kick-ass qualities to keep you reading. I highly recommend for a high school or older audience, but especially anyone who loves the Spider-man or saw Into the Spiderverse and want to learn more.

Gnomon

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This monster of a book ends my little list this year. Complex, compelling, and nearly impossible to finish my be the best way to explain my feelings about my one standout fiction text of this past year. The book takes on the survellance state in a way that is both jarring and, at times, unreadable. This is one of the most challenging narratives I’ve read in a long time, but it has elements of great storytelling throughout. I would recommend this for any reader looking for a challenging read, rife with diction not often used in fiction writing, and anyone who loves a good sci-fi detective story!

I wish I had more worth sharing, but beyond the texts above my reading this past year was both limited and maybe not as thrilling as I hoped. Here’s to a better year of reading ahead.

Singular Texts/Plural Authors: A Book Review

9780809314478_p0_v2_s260x420This was originally an assignment from one of my doc classes this summer; however, due to my high interest in collaboration in learning, I thought I’d share my review here. The book, Singular Texts/Plural Authors by Lisa Ede and Adrea Lunsford, was originally published in 1992, but what struck home with me is how relevant a read it is still today for educators and researchers in the field of writing collaboratively. Enjoy!

——————————————————————————————————————-

When originally published in 1992, Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing was considered groundbreaking in the field of writing processes and instruction by placing an onus on considering how workplace collaboration on high stakes projects relates to writing pedagogy. Ede and Lunsford have spent a professional lifetime together writing in tandem, which helps to originally inspire their research on collaborative writing that is presented in this text. Both had concluded that writing, especially in the United States, had been observed as a solitary act of individuals. They point out in the first chapter, “Old Beginnings”, that what little research had been afforded to collaborative writing, whether it be Flower and Hayes, Bereiter and Scardamalia, or Bruffee, showed the final act of writing as being done by an individual– alone. Seeking to understand the limitations of this previous research, the realities of collaboration in the workforce, personal experience, and a strong desire to develop collaborative writing pedagogy is what drives Ede and Lunsford’s research narrative. Each chapter of the book attempts to set a historical and concurrent context for collaborative writing, weaving a narrative through various quoted intertexts and essays that culminates in a revisioned understanding and perspective on research on collaborative writing pedagogy that is still relevant to today’s understanding of writing practices in schools.

The authors draw off of research conducted as early as the mid-70s. What Ede and Lunsford uncover is a limited assortment of literature that attempted to survey collaboration of any kind and mostly drew on observances of the workplace or even some literature in gender equality. As previously mentioned, what little collaboration research had been done in education only unveiled the reality that students were not truly writing together so much as they were aiding with revision or simple editing that was conducted either before or after a student individually wrote, not during the actual writing process. This becomes problematic to many in academia as the authors cite several sociologists who began arguing that claiming single authorship on a paper that took many to execute is a serious error in judgement and even devalues the research. It becomes clear in the first section of the book that the authors are taking a look at collaborative writing through a very broad spectrum–even saying so themselves–claiming the approaches are literary, sociological, anthropological, and psychological. The duo quickly tries to validate their new point of view on collaborative research by highlighting their understanding of the “dangers” involved in looking at collaborative writing in such a breadth of contexts, divulging that they must be careful not to misinterpret the data to support only their preferences. Their argument for such a broad style of research, however, is clearly stated here: “only such a broad interdisciplinary approach can begin to suggest the implications of interrogating fully our traditional notions of what it means to be an author” (13). Ede and Lunsford posit that with collaborative writing so prevalent in the workforce, shouldn’t teachers be preparing students for such an important part of their future jobs.

The second chapter of the text accentuates collaborative writing in the workplace. The chapter appears at first to meander through various professional contexts where collaboration is a normal function to daily activity but as the chapter finds its close, Ede and Lunsford corroborate these individual instances of collaboration “as models for imitation” (43). Always quick to qualify their claims, the authors highlight that someone reading the chapter’s internal essays might easily gloss over what is most important about these professional practices of collaboration, which is simply a “strong emphasis on efficiency–on collaborative writing as means to an end–as simple point of fact” (43). This idea resonates just as poignantly today as it did two decades ago; isn’t the purpose of collaboration of any kind to efficiently construct a final product? Although not the most pedagogical approach to collaborative writing, the authors present an important aspect as to why students will need collaborative writing skills as they phase into the workforce one day.  Another illuminating observation the duo expounds on is the acceptance of given constraints of a collaborative writing system prevalent in the workplace. In other words, co-workers appreciate and even praise various constraints put on a collaborative model but as the authors point out, not all collaboration is without tension or dissatisfaction and can even pull people apart rather than together.

The chapter culminates in a study using two surveys for seven total professional and academic associations in concern to collaboration. The results articulate an emphasis by participants on writing being highly valuable to the success of their organization, and collaborative writing being a common practice with fifty-eight percent of participants describing collaborative writing as productive or highly productive. The open-ended questioning in the surveys indicated several important points of interest for collaborative writing: time is a commodity, participants may feel a loss of control over personal work time, interpersonal skills and group dynamics play an important role in influencing both effectiveness and satisfaction of the product and process, and a strong desire/need for equitable division of tasks. Ede and Lunsford point out that although collaborative writing in the workplace appears hierarchical in nature, they did find evidence of a more dialogic and fluid process to collaboration amongst professionals. These modes of collaborative writing are important to what they explore through the rest of the book.

The third chapter challenges the DNA of authorship using four distinct sections (The Myth of the Solitary Author, Shifting Conceptions in the History of Authorship, Contemporary Criticism and the Problem of the Author, and Contemporary Discourse Practices and Challenges to the Traditional Concept of Authorship) to reconceptualize the understanding of what constitutes authorship both yesterday and today. Using examples as far back as the medieval  period of Europe, the authors note a desire for writers to protect their texts; they point out that during the Elizabethan period of England, a strong desire to create clear authorship amongst playwrights became a priority. In the end, it was about turning a profit and making a living. Until this time, though, authorship did not have the onus it does today. For a time, defining authorship enjoyed a period of clear understanding with little to no questioning, but Ede and Lunsford point out that since the 1970s, authorship has been problematized. Questions as to what constitutes the self, western feminism, and a dialogic polyphonic self alters the point of view that the author is a singular self or is even simply man by himself. Authorship, it would appear, is complicated. Part of this complication is simply related to recognition; in many fields of research where a team produced the data and prepared the overall report, only one individual is given authorship or no authorship at all is assigned leaving the paper in anonymity. The authors suggest that “these challenges [the nature of constructed authorship] have great suggestive power for writing teachers, who deal every day with student authors producing texts” (102).

Chapter four finally arrives at pedagogy. Beginning by providing a historical context, the chapter explores cooperative learning’s roots and traces them as far back as the colonial period in America. Here, the duo cites Piaget, Dewey, and others to set up the constructivist model of learning, citing psychology’s attempt at seeing social interaction as the basis for all knowledge, which in turn supports cooperative learning. Ede and Lunsford use this backdrop to give their readers a clear idea that the social context in which students learn matters. The issue, they posit, is that most university and college level courses still see writing in the traditional, autonomous sense, and even more revealing is that “the very writers most often associated with collaborative learning [researchers such as James Moffett and Peter Elbow] hold implicitly to traditional concepts of autonomous individualism, authorship, and authority for texts” (113). This is challenged, however, in the seventies when researchers and instructors such as Kenneth Bruffee devised implementations of collaborative writing in his university classroom and identified the benefits of developing co-constructed knowledge. Traditional writing instruction is criticized as well in the late eighties with researchers citing the mistake of seeing student writers as isolated and disconnected from culture or politics. The authors then proceed to clarify differences in cooperative learning and collaborative learning, which is presented as a clear difference in epistemological basis, claiming cooperative learning has “an extremely verifiable ‘reality’ which serves as stimulus for various responses” (117).  Still, the two try to make it clear that research of cooperative learning has important implications for collaboration and collaborative writing.

The last half of chapter four presents the challenges of collaborative writing and how its been used in the classroom.   There are two major issues the authors present to the reader. One, power in the classroom is almost always still attributed to the teacher and two, many students may have an inherent desire to claim sole authorship despite when collaborating. Still, the authors point out that collaborative writing “holds out the promise for a plurality of power and of authority among teacher and students” (120) and affirms that “real learning occurs in interaction as students actively use concepts and ideas or strategies in order to assimilate them” (121). It is at this juncture in the text where both the author–and even the reader–become frustrated. Ede and Lunsford point out that they had original intentions to develop clear and definite pedagogy for collaborative writing in the classroom, but this goal had to change as more questions of practice became evident. One such question is that of what makes a more effective collaborative writing assignment? One that is specific and carefully constructed to help get the job done, but will most likely stifle or silence student genuine collaboration? Or one that is open-ended and honest, but meanders and may lose focus? These types of questions plague the ability of the duo to develop one precise way of exercising collaborative writing; however, they are able to articulate several criteria for what makes for poor or quality collaborative writing assignments. Page 123 in the text provides a cohesive list of what must happen in order for collaborative writing to occur in the classroom with the caveat that there is no perfect or idyllic scenario. They also call attention to criticisms of such a list that lacks instruction on how teachers should structure collaborative writing and disagreements on the best ways to form collaborative groups. To address this criticism the authors make a call to teachers to find ways with their students to really question collaborative assignments, see their implications, and testing the quality of such assignments thus lending power to students and teachers as well as forming a process to build, maintain, and adapt collaborative writing for a classroom.

The fifth and final chapter of the book is titled “New Beginnings” and clarifies for a reader the true purpose of the text–not to attempt to answer or minimize collaborative writing’s questions and ambiguities, but to call greater attention to them in an effort to spark further research and understanding of research methods used when researching collaborative writing. Ede and Lunsford show a distinct desire to conceive of new ways of “experiencing and representing authorship” (131), not to agree to the end of the author as we know it. They make a plea to pay attention to the questions and difficulties of shifting authority in a classroom and taking a closer look at dialogic collaboration that is meant to alleviate some of the oppressive forms writing can take on various groups such as women. The authors conclude their long, interwoven narrative by illuminating an exciting–but even disheartening–truth: “that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what it means to describe writing as a social or collaborative process” (141). In their final thoughts, the duo reflects on how their personal groundings in writing together brought them to this point of research and realize quite happily that such research and new understanding allows them to appreciate the enrichment of their own voices not only within the multiplicitous self, but with all those in their lives in every faction and notation that lend voices to their writing and others’.

Anyone interested in understanding the complexity of authorship, its changing meaning, and how collaborative writing has become a function of the workplace that can and should be transferred to the classroom would benefit from reading this book. Simply put, Ede and Lunsford’s book is still a valuable commodity to today’s teachers, administrators, and researchers. The book, although not without its criticisms, presents a timeless framework and history of collaborative work and writing that clearly illustrates its complexities and its necessity to not just the teaching culture of the early 1990s, but today as well.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Ede, L. S., & Lunsford, A. A. (1992). Singular texts/plural authors: Perspectives on collaborative writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.