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Date Reviewed: April 16, 2018
This brief handbook and reference work was designed for college and university students interested in doing research. Charity Hudley, Dickter, and Franz present scholarly research as an exciting way for undergraduates to make the transition from students who learn to scholars who join an ongoing conversation as “masters of knowledge and challengers of the status quo” (5). The authors purposely construct the guide to serve not only as a resource but also as a model of a research-based approach to scholarly writing; they frequently comment on their own working methods and the research process that went into the composition of this text. The resulting book effectively demystifies the world of academia and the work of scholars, making research approachable and appealing.
Throughout the guide, the authors encourage students to pursue their academic and personal interests by becoming researchers, and they provide an impressively comprehensive roadmap for the research process. The book takes a special interest in guiding first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented populations. The tone is collegial, and the text abounds with concrete advice about navigating the concomitants of scholarly research, from how to email a potential research mentor (80) to how to identify and access campus resources that can assist with time and energy management (49). Chapter 2, devoted to getting started, describes what research looks like across several academic disciplines and details ways different schools support and reward undergraduate research. Personal accounts from student scholars provide additional relatable voices and create the sense of a broad academic community into which readers are invited. The authors also emphasize the importance of sharing research results with a variety of audiences; Chapter 5, “Writing and Presenting Research” (91-116), describes different venues for written and oral communication that increase the impact of a student’s project, including conferences, articles, books, and social media.
A particularly valuable contribution of this book is its focus on empowering students from underrepresented populations. In addition to devoting a chapter to describing challenges that students from minority populations face and some tools for overcoming those challenges (“Underrepresented Scholars in the Academy: Making a Way,” [117-142]), the authors consistently highlight the value of diverse voices and backgrounds, and especially of the new questions such diverse viewpoints can generate. They frame the importance of greater academic inclusiveness and equity in a larger conversation about the powerful impacts researchers can have on their communities, emphasizing the value of interdisciplinary scholarship and community-based research.
Although the book is addressed directly to an audience of undergraduates who are or who seek to become researchers, the authors also model numerous ways to offer such students practical support. Therefore the text may also serve as a valuable resource for teachers, mentors, and advisors who assist student researchers and ensure their success.
Recently, my burden, challenge, and task was to write my father’s obituary. Obituaries typically allow 800 to 1,200 words to depict and describe a person’s entire life. As a writer, this was a daunting task. As a daughter, it was impossible. How to proceed? After reading the obituaries of other ...
Date Reviewed: September 19, 2016
Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely collaboratively addresses teachers who want to know about how to give feedback on digital writing. The book provides six digital writing protocols used to give feedback to teachers about student learning. The authors of the protocols are teachers themselves; Erin Klein, Julie Johnson, Jeremy Hyler, Bonnie Kaplan, Jack Zangerie, Christina Puntel and Stephanie West-Puckett wrote this book as a part of the National Writing Project in Berkley, California.
Each teacher in this project uses a digital format to teach a specific lesson. At the end of each chapter the teacher discusses the implications of the digital process for instruction and assessment. At the end of the book the editor discusses broad themes and issues about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This discussion is based on the study of student work in the writing as shared through conversations among the various authors and teachers of the project. As stated earlier, this book is a collaborative work and evidence of this is seen throughout each chapter.
A weakness of the book is that it may be difficult for those who are just entering into digital writing because of the use of many technical terms associated with web-based learning. Although in general I find this book very valuable for gaining a better understanding about digital learning, I would like to see more information about the students who were part of the writing.
The book is intriguing because of its focus on youth and their learning through digital writing methods. It is also timely in that it gives rise to more conversation about the remnants of the No Child Left Behind era and the very present views on Common Core State Standards that are sweeping across K-12 public education in the United States.
Additionally, the rise of many digital formats for classroom teaching gives one reason to take the book seriously. As the author points out, this conversation is even more in vogue because of the accessibility of teachers and students to web-based services such as Google Docs, Wikispaces, and Voicethread. All of these services can be accessed on digital devices that are mobile. I can personally relate to what the authors are saying because I am presently teaching in an online platform that pushes me to look at digital writing very seriously.
Furthermore, the book is interesting because the voices of the teachers in conversation about student learning are present throughout the book. I find this to be important in a time when much effort is made to assess student achievement where it seems student learning is not at the core of the assessment concern, although on the surface it may seem to be. Overall, this book is a valuable asset especially for those interested in assessment and digital writing.
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book is an invitation, and is itself a somewhat circuitous reflection on teaching and learning. Directed at writing teachers, much of Danberg’s advice applies to teaching in general, and not just because faculty teach forms of writing in class. The title borrows an image from a famous rabbinic story in which Rabbi Hillel was asked by a nonbeliever to teach the whole of Torah in the time the nonbeliever could stand on one foot. “That which is hateful to you do not do to others,” Hillel instructed, “The rest is commentary; go and learn it” (13). Danberg reminds us that standing on one foot is a posture of instability, the position of both teachers and learners. He encourages teachers to remember their own difficulties in learning. Following Rosenzweig, Danberg suggests that Hillel did not mean “the rest is only commentary… To know Torah is to know the lesson, but also to participate in an ongoing conversation… into the lesson’s value” (14). Students often seek facts, principles, or methods that they can then apply, but good teachers are able to set them on a path of lifelong inquiry. A series of autobiographical vignettes in prose and poetry, the book is punctuated by reflection prompts, or “commentary.”
The author employs several metaphors, but cooking images dominate. A good cook has learned not just to follow a recipe but knows how to see the possibility of a meal in the ingredients on hand; a good cook knows what a dish needs and when it is done. The implied parallel perhaps works best with the craft of writing but the larger point is about what Danberg calls “enfolded knowledge.” Teaching involves confronting the tension “between what we must tell students and what they can only know for themselves” (71).
He offers a compelling description of his own learning disability – his struggles, the strategies he developed, and how teachers reacted to him along the way (47). Danberg laments that schools often define gifts narrowly and he suggests the following exercise: “Spend a couple of days observing the people around you and see how many gifts you can identify… Think of yourself as a zoologist whose great pleasure it is to wait for a butterfly they’ve never seen before” (58). Later, he describes class as “an invitation to inhabit forms of attention and attunement, patterns of caution and regard… If all goes well, it is no more mysterious than the heart and mind, that tangle we are always entangled in” (73).
Danberg invokes the kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, the contraction of the divine making space for creation. (This comes in a piece entitled “Four Principles and a Fifth” – but I counted six!). A good teacher knows when to get out of the way in order to make space for learning: “You can shape the problems and anticipate the obstacles. You can decide what a student encounters and the time it takes. But in the end, you simply must get out of the way, and leave them to do the work of learning” (98-99).
Reading this book is a bit like ruminating on a Zen koan. Danberg contradicts himself and revels in paradox. The bizarre organization and genre shifts can be frustrating. This is a quirky book, but one with many moments of glittering insight into the difficult joys of learning and teaching.
Date Reviewed: June 16, 2016
Jonathan Roach and Gricel Dominguez helpfully remind us that theological writing should be beautiful, compelling, and engaging, but I am not quite sure that I am ready to join their writing revolution. Expressing Theology addresses a broad audience. Epistles to undergraduate students in theology, graduate students, dissertation writers, and “authors in training” dot the text. And the book certainly offers sound advice to writers of theology at any stage in their careers.
Chapters five through seven fill the writers toolbox. Here the reader finds the usual contents of a writing primer. Roach and Dominguez introduce the writing process and discuss each step along the way: from drafting to writing techniques, to grammar, and the all-important revision and editing stages. I like that advice from Strunk and White is mixed with wisdom from Gustavo Gutiérrez and examples come from Martin Luther King Jr. and Qoheleth. Perhaps the best things about these chapters are the pacing and style. The authors move through these technical pieces without becoming nearly as dry as many writing guides.
The more expressly theological material comes in chapters one through four. I think the authors are really smart to begin talking about engaged theology with a chapter on the writer’s identity and location. Writers are encouraged to own their unique perspectives and to write out of their own experiences. The section on sources somewhat predictably uses an only slightly modified version of Wesley’s quadrilateral, but it is not unhelpful. The chapter on audience prescribes writing theology as a conversation rather than a preachment and I could not agree with this sentiment more.
I am convinced! Theological writing should be beautiful and compelling. But I remain a little wary of the revolution that Roach and Dominguez have asked me to join. Throughout the text, the authors attack abstract and “boring” theology as they often repeat the mantra, “keep your feet on the ground.” The theologians among those most often cited are Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, and Thomas Merton, all of whom are beautiful writers to be sure and certainly theologians of a sort, but not really shapers of the history of thinking about God. Of course, I do not want to advocate that theology be ungrounded, but I repeatedly wondered if the sort of exacting, often dense, and sometimes technical theology that I read and write would be excised in this revolution. As I read Expressing Theology, I remembered myself reading Tillich and Whitehead for the first time and pondering the world anew as I read sentence by sentence at a painfully slow pace. I thought of Rosemary Radford Ruether so meticulously uprooting essentialisms and utopias, page after page. I relived the moment that tears came to my eyes, when after two hundred pages of groundwork, Jürgen Moltmann declared “Ecce Deus! Behold God on the cross!” (Moltmann, The Crucified God [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993] 205) as God became the godforsaken. I hope that Roach and Dominguez would agree that these too are beautiful and compelling theologies. Perhaps their advice will lead some authors to engaging, elegant, yet complex and careful writing like these.