Rhetoric. Invention. Aristotle wrote much about it; his thoughts are still argued, mulled over, used, or ignored. He was not the first, and will not be the last. But what exactly is it? Janice M. Lauer explains the three primary Greek interpretations of rhetoric or “invention.” Her research suggests that Sophists focused on the early parts of any discourse known as “Kairos” or the opportune moment, and believed in the “dissoi logoi” or arguing for both sides of an argument. Plato instead, emphasized the “inventional” role of dialogue but numerous reviewers remain undecided about his reasons as well as his epistemology. Aristotle developed the most explicit theory of “invention” in the Rhetoric providing a clear conception of its nature and his view of its purpose.
Though most agree that for the Sophists, conflict triggered the discourse, the question remains—did Kairos (opportune moment) control the discourse or did the discourse control Kairos? That opportune moment should prove something right or wrong; the concept of dissoi logoi (arguing on behalf of both sides) displays the powerful effects of rhetoric as an art of persuasion with potential for disastrous effects, if held in the wrong hands. Because of differing opinions on both Kairos and dissoi logoi, Lauer affirms that there remains controversy among a lengthy list of scholars as to aspects of rhetoric or “invention.”
Between the mythos/ beliefs and the logos/ discourse there lies the nomos or “that which is assigned.” This exemplifies thinking strategies of the rhetoricians during Greece’ Golden Age. Their goal: “…a self-conscious arrangement of discourse to create politically and socially significant knowledge” (16). Plato’s views of invention illustrate rather than systemize topics while Aristotle delineates inventional issues, strategies, and principles for analyzation of discourse. He also prompts the rhetor to find appropriate content, and frame the rhetorical epistemology, aided by the enthymeme or “body of proof.” Scholars argue effectively, on rhetoric’s art, use, and validity. Their discourse proves theirtruths through invention.
Similar methods of looking at multiple perspectives are evidenced by Kathleen Blake Yancey as she questions herself, her teaching approaches, the importance of reflection, and the methods course. Opening with her concerns, she theorizes about how she can most effectively run a Methods Course, and which practices work best for her students “who-will-be-teachers.” She also hopes to bridge the gap between these by using reflection-in-action to shape her model as she helps students become teachers who learn with their students.
Yancey defines reflective transfer as: “the procedure that enables us to learn from and theorize our practice” (235). Its four steps are clarified simply: observation and examination of one’s practice, hypothesis regarding ones successes and failures, planning the next attempt using all one has learned, and finally, starting over. Through this exercise, teachers can begin to grasp how students learn, and which assignments prove beneficial to that process. Results place one on the path of thinking like and becoming that future teacher.
Reflection in this context becomes collaborative; Yancey plans and delivers the lessons that her students experience. Through this process they connect. She knows this transfer of knowledge may result in something other than her original intent, but that will provide new insights—collaborative learning—to their methods class. Her implementation of reflection throughout this course offers numerous contexts to encourage and inspire learning.
The focus is to shape her course as the most effective tool for this diverse group of students, hoping to soon be teachers. The two aspects of development she addresses are helping prospective teachers see their prospective students as both like and unlike them, and helping those “almost-teachers” explain their own learning process thus enabling them to better teach and direct their students learning skills in the near future.
Yancey speaks of invention, not for the purpose of rhetoric or discourse, but through a process called cubing to reveal the many perspectives of any subject. Her lesson is unique and inspired as she gives them the opportunity to “invent” their model classroom, complete with students. She asks them to decide who these “students” are, how they will cooperate and also, how they will resist. This process requires thought, reflection, honesty, and the applied insight from the cubing exercise.
The exercise of literary analysis forces students to think and react like teachers as they study a high school student, “Ryan’s” portfolio. Guided by simple questions, the students supply more than enough responses. According to Yancey, they did what she does for every student: “read the data, reflect upon it, make meaning” (241). Differing feedback, interpretations, and recommendations evidence each student’s position on their journey to become the “teacher.”
Leaving behind the role of student to become “the teacher” is discussed by Yancey. Perceiving her students concern about this transition, she points out that “good teachers are always students” (242). Yancey reminds them that teachers are working in communion through many worthwhile venues, like the NWP and NCTE towards clearer student understanding, enrichment, and to insure that the circle of learning never ends.
Yancey has students work in groups for a non-graded curriculum project which requires different thinking, strategies, and seeing themselves as learners. She stops them midway and has them implement “reflection-in-action” using three simple questions: How’s it going, what’s left, and what are you learning? The reactions differ as each student offers their perspective, but Yancey can assess individual progress through these replies. They have learned about voicing opinions, the sequence of texts to goals, and the flow of knowledge through timing and directions. Mostly, they have started to think like teachers, which was the original intent.
Finally, Yancey gives her class questions to ponder that may help them further move into the role of teacher. She reminds us of the two questions with which she began her “reflective quest” and reviews the success of the semester’s exercises. Because reflection-in-action worked well she hopes to unearth a link from this to reflective teaching in the future. She believes teaching the course reflectively will create knowledge. Yancey always strives for improvements as she reflects on her teaching practices. She reminds us that when reflection works it not only answers questions but creates many more. But that is what learning is all about, isn’t it?
1. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and, effectively used, can bring an audience to believe—or disbelieve—almost anything; good and truthful to bad or evil. Grasping the power of this art, and given the role of educator, how might one use this powerful tool for the best possible results in a classful of impressionable writing students?
2. Yancey is notably pleased with her students’ ability to articulate their learning experience through metaphors. Their unexpected use of figures of speech indicate to Yancey, “…a developmental mark of teacher identity formation” (239). Why do you think she feels this way? Do you think this is a deciding indication of readiness?
3. Yancey uses reflection effectively in many aspects, and encourages her students to do the same. She implements it into her exercises and classwork to enable this process to reach some level of success. She now wants to teach reflectively, tying it in with reflection-in-action. In your opinion(s), can this be done and might it create a better learning experience for both Yancey and her students?