Monday, January 21, 2013

Kate Kessler's "Composing for Delivery"

Today, I went back through my folders of research, trying to get back in the swing of the semester. I picked up the article "Composing for Delivery" by Kate Kessler. The article was initially published in the November 2005 edition of The English Journal. In this article, Kessler makes a fairly convincing argument for doing what she calls "composing for delivery" or creating "a call to write" for students in a Composition course. Building off the fifth canon of classical rhetoric, delivery, she implements a curriculum that forces students to write for purposes beyond the classroom (which, may I add, she never denotes as "real world"). She finds that as a result of this method students learn to compose with their own purposes in mind while also considering audience and effective rhetoric. In this particular article, Kessler observes how students develop rhetorical sensitivity through letter writing (actually mailed to the intended audience) and proposals. The end result of this teaching style is that "Students are encouraged to know that their compositions have civic as well as academic meaning" (93). They also seem more prepared to shift genres without simply relying on a formula.

I buy into Kessler's theory. I admit that I assign some similar tasks in my classroom and that my motives are the same. I want students to see themselves as engaged in the larger social sphere, as citizens with the necessary tools to make changes. While some might argue that Kessler should be teaching her students to succeed in academia by teaching them how to write academic essays instead, I fully support her methods. I see a greater need for teaching rhetorical sensitivity than academic forms. Students who are rhetorically sensitive will be able to see how to work their ideas into new genres without simply filling in a premade structure. They will see how they want to present their argument and what word choices are appropriate for the audience that they wish to address rather than "Do I have 5 sentences in this paragraph? Is my thesis at the end of the introduction?" And these lessons will translate from the classroom into other areas of their lives, which is what most of them want to recieve a higher education for in the first place.

Finally, what I really love about Kessler's piece is that it reminds us all that educators should adopt pedagogies they can live by. If students see us-- professors, GTAs, writing consultants-- engaged with writing in the way we want to tell them to be engaged with writing, it shows them that writing isn't just a tool for teachers to give grades. And I think it simply makes it easier to go to work, knowing that you believe in and live by the philosophy you present day in and out.