Notes on “What is Not Instutionally Visibile Does Not Count” by Bazerman (2003)

Bazerman, Chartles.  “What is Not Instutionally Visibile Does Not Count:  The Problem of Making Activity Assessable, Accountable, and Plannable.”  Writing Selves/Writing Societies.  2003.

ABSTRACT:This study considers genre and activity analysis as the basis for defining and assessing writing tasks through analysis of materials collected from a complex sequence of social studies writing assignments on the Maya from a sixth grade class.”

SECTION 7.  “Alternative Assessment”

CONCERNS (with assessment in general): The concerns I raise here about assessment are hardly new—

  • • the abstraction of assessment from local meaningful activity,
  • • the separation of competence from situated practice,
  • • the atomization of knowledge within assessment instruments,
  • • the lack of cognitive ambitiousness and challenge of standardized tests,
  • • the skewing of motivation within testing situations,
  • • the distrust and competitiveness behind testing and accountability schemes,
  • • the effect of testing on the curriculum. (454)

SOLUTIONS: Performance assessment (especially via portfolios)

  • Psychometrically identifying non-cognitive aspects of learning:  “Nonetheless, this form of alternative assessment still does not get at the assessment of the use of knowledge, skill, and understanding within situated activities. If we are to understand learning we have to be able to take its temperature where it is happening” (455).
  • Better alternative:  “Performance assessment has come to mean testing which requires a more open-ended and longer response from the person being tested—something more than a multiple choice answer” (455).
    • “The particular tools and criteria are as individualized, focused, and motivating as the teacher can make them with the students and local conditions in mind, within the degrees of flexibility allowed by the local institution” (455).
    • We should consider performance assessment an “organized area for study and development” so that it can be used as a tool (455).
    • “The most ambitious implemented use of performance assessment has been the use of portfolios for statewide writing assessment in Kentucky since the mid-1990’s” (456).  HOLLA!


  • Performance assessment fails under testing conditions, where “the test becomes the context and the discourse is precisely limited by the perceived aims of the test” (457).
  • Grading via rubrics (457-8) limits student-creativity and approach:
    • “Even more seriously, they homogenize the variety of approaches a student could take to the writing prompt, which must be characterized as fitting in one or another of the ideal types. What if a student addresses the persuasive task by framing an extended analogy that taps the common experiences of the audiences, as in the biblical parables? Or presents a compelling vision to evoke a values commitment, as in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? These would fall almost entirely outside the rubrics” (458).
    • “Teaching to the exam leads instructors to teach writing as producing a formal product as described by the rubrics” (458).

SOLUTIONS (to portfolio problems):

  • “The paper, once removed from that classroom dialogue, loses the vitality (that is, the concrete life) it had there, but contains the residue markings of that dialogue. It is those residue marks of thought, learning, and skill that need to be captured if we want to know what the student learned and can now do” (459).
  • We should compare not only final texts, but also situations and activity systems that produce the text (460).

SECTION 8.  “The Need for a New Approach to Assessment”

We need more regularity among alternative performance-based assessments.

  • Seems to reflect post-process pedagogy to me!!!!  See especially pgs. 460-1.  Focus on situatedness of writing.
  • Bazerman believes we should use an activity systems approach to genre to “help us develop regularity, anticipatibility, and focused challenge within motivated real tasks” (462).

SECTION 9.  “Genre and Activity Theory”

Genres as “self-reinforcing forms of communication” that help us “anticipate better what [audience] reactions will be” (462).

  • Our “move” to standardized forms (genres) is called typification (462).
  • Bazerman’s examples of this are extremely situated:  “When you are at a football game and recognize that the crowd is taking up a chant for your team, as you join in you are being drawn into the spectacle and emotions of the community athletic event. As you read and are convinced by the political pamphlet of a candidate for Congress, you are being drawn into a world of politics and citizenship. As you learn to read and use research articles of your field, you are drawn into a professional way of being and work” (463).
  • Genres or genre-forms are “tied up with many other forms, such as newspaper editorials, new stories, political speeches, campaign documents, newspaper subscriptions, and many other elements of the journalistic and public spheres, out of which those spheres are constituted.  Those spheres of activity, or activity systems, having then been constituted, the genres then form modes of participation and motivates for formulating one’s participation” (463).  *This last move reminds me of Bitzer’s exigence.
  • “Bakhtin calls this informational and actional landscape of a genre its chronotope—or time-space (1981)” (463).
  • “Considering the activity system in addition to the genre system puts a focus on what people are doing and how texts help people do it, rather than on texts as ends in themselves” (464).  à Yet what about the value of looking beyond texts?  See Malea Powell.

“We can provide anticipatible pathways into received organized domains of disciplinary knowledge even as we allow students to follow the logic of their inquiry” (466).

About taylo206

I am an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Theories of Composition and Rhetoric. Bookmark the permalink.

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