Saturday, June 25, 2005

Geisler on Mental Models

Here, just some old notes on genre from the plane ride to Albuquerque last week.  Clearly, they were written at the choppy altitude of 6,000 feet or thereabouts.

Cheryl Geisler's chapter, "Toward a Sociocognitive Model of Literacy," presents the study of four writers (two experts and two novices) who are charged with producing an academic essay on the ethics of paternalism.  Centrally, Geisler sets out to complicate overlap of academic discourse and conversational models of literacy; she argues that the expert writers (who notably are performing in their primary disciplinary area: philosophy) are more adept than novices at "producing positions" that are better attuned to "specialized contexts."  Geisler advances her claim after referring to Langer and introducing the familiar axes of social and cognitive (which are admittedly too easily split):

"In particular, [the results of my study] suggest that experts at advanced philosophical argument use acts of reading and writing to construct and act upon socially configured mental models.  The presence of such mental models, I will argue, indicates that a purely conversational model of literacy may be missing the point of why individuals propose and maintain written interaction in the first place" (171).

Geisler draws on Scribner and Cole's literacy model and Heritage's conversation model to establish the framework for her hybrid model--a both-and of everyday conversational dynamics and what I will call logo-buffered cognitive activity.  Geisler explains that "researchers in cognitive science now generally believe that knowledge representations in the form of mental models play a central role in defining expertise (Glaser; Johnson-Laird)" (173).  These models are akin to "'mental maps' with which we plan shopping trips and give visitors directions" (173). 

To study the activity of the four writers, she applied three data-gathering methods: 1. speak-aloud protocols, 2. complete collections of produced text, and 3. interviews.  Geisler found that the participants followed relatively similar procedures; their reading and writing sequences, time-on-task and related activity were similar. Distinctive, however, were the experts' attention to authorship.  Both experts engaged the texts as authored and developed well-positioned critiques thereafter.  The novice writers, on the other hand, either forwarded a writer-centered perspective on the idea of paternalism or established two parallel tracks (i.e. "Here's what I think; Here's what they think.").  As a way of explaining what she means with "socially configured mental models," Geisler discusses the differences between turn-taking in conversation and reader-writer dialogism in literacy practices; the activity structure involved in writing includes a different moderation of "reflecting and organizing" (183).  In an echo of her earlier claim, Geisler concludes with an offering of the more nuanced hybrid model; she works through a characterization of expertise "as the construction and manipulation of special socially configured mental models" (184). 

Two amendments to the hybrid model: 1. "advanced literacy practices are embedded in different social contexts than those of standard conversations" (185) and 2. the incorporation of mental models, which "both move away from everyday practice and remain rooted there" (186).  And there's discussion of the configurative force of shared mental models (are they really shared?  how shared are they?): "These mental models create, in effect, a new plane of intersubjective knowledge, a third dimension of culturally shared abstractions" (187). 

Looser still:  What are mental models, anyway?  Are they more than metaphors?  Are socially configurative mental models the same as genres?  And where does consciousness figure in? IOW, must we be conscious of the configurative force of the mental model (its intrusion on our activity)?  In the planning of a shopping trip or the giving of directions to a visitor--take I81 North, exit 23, three rights), the directions and positions are materially distinctive.  The roads and laws allow only so many possibilities.  Different for models?   And finally, Bawarshi would have us teach a composition course attendant to genre awareness; to what degree are socially configured mental models beneath awareness (i.e. the unconscientization in everyday activity? sub-limin(al)ography?  We can perform skillfully without pausing to give conscious attention to the generic pre-configurations of the texts we write, yes?).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at June 25, 2005 2:22 PM to Genre

When I feel happier, I'll delve into my Ayn Rand Lexicon on this one. Philosophy, concept formation, perception, literature and logic - Ms. Rand had these answers 50+ years ago...and I studied them 25 years ago. C R S anymore.

Posted by: Sybel at June 26, 2005 8:29 PM

Well, that or I could start posting fewer hack-notes, more careful entries. It'd only be fair of me to start trying to make some sense here once in a while. Nobody understands=sloppy writing. Yeah?

Or not.

Posted by: Derek at June 27, 2005 10:07 PM