Bazerman/Bruffee

This brief essay was based on the readings of Charles Bazerman's "What Written Knowledge Does" and Kenneth Bruffee's "Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind." I am constantly trying to discover new pedagogical approaches for my classroom and attempted to frame these essays with classroom application in mind. Although I have not fully developed my thoughts on these two essays and the possible intersections they have with other writers in which I have interest, I think this exercise was valuable as a springboard for further thought.   

The most significant discussion I see rooted in these two articles revolves around the potential connection that that can be made to student literacy. The observations that both writers make seem to create a sort of blueprint that could be developed into a literacy plan that allows students to analyze reading and writing much more thoroughly and allows them the opportunity to become part of a larger conversation. I see Bazerman’s essay as the literacy component of such a plan and the Bruffee essay as the pedagogical component.

 

Both Bazerman and Bruffee recognize writing as social activity, conversations that create and internalize meaning. Bazerman’s examination of the three essays in “What Knowledge Does” emphasizes the importance of understanding how these conversations operate. Each essay belongs to its own genre, treats knowledge differently, and contains a set of rhetorical markers and strategies that are unique to its own discipline or community. His observations prove crucial in the interests of improving literacy because familiarity with such characteristics and frameworks will lead to increased student achievement. Bazerman states, "The regularization of writing genres and situations within specific communities can increase the likelihood of successful, forceful communication" (Bazerman 23). From a literacy standpoint, this regularization is integral to the development of student writing and reading comprehension. 
 
According to Bruffee students need occasions in which to practice such conversation so they can learn the “normal discourse” of their peers. After all, acceptance into their field or community relies on the strength and validity of their knowledge. For Bruffee such opportunities are best presented in collaborative learning situations. He contends, “Collaborative learning provides the kind of social context, the kind of community, in which normal discourse occurs: a community of knowledgeable peers. This is one if its main goals: to provide a context in which students can practice and master the normal discourse exercised in established knowledge communities in the academic world and in business, government, and the professions” (Bruffee 90). In a way, the collaborative classroom is a sort of “rite of passage” in which students must partake before entering the next stage of their lives. It makes sense to perform these rituals collaboratively, for it reflects the communities that these students are hoping to enter, communities that rarely rely on individual efforts. 
 
Outside of an AP English classroom in high school, I have not witnessed an analysis of genre as is performed by Bazerman. I am sure that such genre study is addressed within the English major and in the graduate work of various disciplines, but I doubt that even there it done in the interests of studying knowledge formation via written discourse. His methods seem to redefine the scope of literacy, widening it from traditional read, write, and think approach to a much deeper analytical process. Bruffee’s commitment to collaborative learning in the interests of preparing students for conversations within their professional and/or working communities provides the ideal arena in which to present elements of genre theory. Carried over to my interest in teaching writing in lower achieving communities, the combination of Bazerman and Bruffee seems to become revolutionary, invoking Paulo Freire’s ideas about the dialogic classroom, Mikhail Bakhtin’s observations of the tension of voices, and Mary Louise Pratt’s concept of contact zones. I feel that teaching the conventions of normal discourse, particularly in a classroom that brings together a variety of world views, not only enhances student literacy but also allows students to participate in conversations that will allow them to create new meaning and knowledge that potentially subverts authoritative discourse.