A singular problem – applying “Speculations and Hypotheses” to the student-assembled curriculum

This week, we’re talking assessment in my pedagogy and instructional design course in a run-up to a visit from Dr. Louise Phelps (my personal hero and accidental stalking victim – she and I have haunted many of the same haunts, and it was not uncommon at my previous job(s) to find handwritten Phelps notes and Phelps assessment folders hiding in old drawers and in banker boxes throughout the department).  I’m stoked to hear from Dr. Phelps on this topic this week, so this blog may end up being a little more fangirlish than is usual for me, and a little less topical.  I’ve done assessment readings and work under her previously, but in the context of WPA, and not teacher-level practice.

Also, returning to assessment is always such a treat for me.  I think about it as being one of the questions in the field where there’s still real, hard work left to be done (and where there will always be more work, because feedback and assessment must necessarily be so contextual and responsive).  It’s fun to be elbows-deep (or Elbow-deep! Ah, puns) in the assessment quagmire.

But I know we’re going to spend a lot of time on assessment in class, so I’m going to focus on an issue I noticed elsewhere that I’m hoping to discuss during Dr. Phelps’ visit.

A lot of the readings people are grappling with in blog posts this week are old standards for the returning Phelps student.  I’m happy to revisit them and see what new stuff I can glean from them–and to spend more time in assessment–but I’m especially excited for the early draft of Dr. Phelps’ new “Speculations and Hypotheses.”  (Ed. note: I’m not sure from what we were offered of Phelps’ work that it’s yet appropriate to quote or share any content from this work-in-progress document, so I’m going to be careful and just broadly make references here).

Louise’s argument that the rhet/comp field has neglected curriculum in the face of alluring pedagogy approaches is one that strikes me as necessarily and inherently true.  I have shared her concern for some time that the “ethical commitment” to teaching students may be misconstrued under the ideological frames of current pedagogies which decentralize the curriculum and the work of curricula (Phelps 1).  I’m excited for her active CFP on ideological transparency and classroom practice in Pedagogy–and I’m thinking about submitting a proposal this week.

I’m intrigued by the concept that “curriculum […] designs are typically written and diagrammed” indicating something “systematically structured,” something which exists in a paradoxical linearity which is in conflict with a non-temporality of design (3).  I think one place that Louise fails to expand on this (yet) is the question of student course/trajectory selection–I hope to address this with her this week, but I think one of the great unspoken challenges of broad curriculum design is that we must design a trajectory of learning for unaware students (and sometimes uncaring scheduling advisors) who doggedly insist on signing up for a disciplinary WAC class in the first semester and push their Comp requirement back to the spring to accommodate late sleep schedules, or extracurricular activities, or four day weekends (or legitimate things, I don’t know.  I can be charitable).  I think of curricula as puzzle pieces that are often all shaped exactly the same with different picture faces.  You may have an idea what the final puzzle should look like.  But it’s all too easy to understand how a student perhaps ended up with something different.

It is here that I think we can highlight Louise’s analytic granularity to understand the challenge of “verticle curriculum” design (6) in sequence.  How can we address the modularity of these spaces, even where such modularity is not necessarily “intended” by the original designer?  How can we address the linear temporality, and non-linear non-temporality, at the same time?  When we–given a box of building blocks–see a skyscraper, but our students see a racecar, is anyone right or wrong?

Who, in short, is curriculum “for” in such cases?  I find it to be a fun and impossible question that struggles in the face of much of what Louise offers in terms of development, assessment, value, design, and stakeholder needs.  In this we can also look to Phelps on agency (8-10), but I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to be found.

How do we find “emergent” curricula?  How do we mediate (or advocate for better) student assembly in any meaningful way in the institutional contexts of student success and university-level advising and First-Year Experience and all that jazz?

And when we realize, as Phelps notes, that pedagogy and curriculum are not nearly the same thing, how does our pedagogy have to change to address this?

See you all in class!



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