Trading 8s

Return to ENGW 1302 Syllabus

Trading 8s: What Are They?

I’m no musician, but I do know that when jazz players are on stage improvising, they will trade back and forth, usually in 8 bar segments. When students read for my classes, I want you all to trade off ideas and understandings, which is why you’ll be trading off with another group of students—exchanging ideas, thinking through the implications and connections of a reading assignment, and extending the “summary” work we need to do in order to understand what we’ve read.

These exchanges are public, meaning you’ll read each other’s writing, and my comments to you about your entry will also be public because I believe we can all learn by paying attention to what other writers are doing. Sometimes we can learn more from someone else’s writing than from our won. My goal, in sharing what I say to you about your entry, is not to embarrass you; instead, I hope we can all see how these exchanges are “static” conversations.


Leaders, Followers, and Recorders should think of their jobs as heuristic in nature. A heuristic is generally referred to as “strategic thinking for rhetorical inquiry,” but if you Google the term, you will likely find a definition that describes a heuristic as an “educated guess” or even common sense. We’re going to fall somewhere in the middle. The goal of the Trading 8s is for each student to spend time responding to each of our readings. These discoveries in, responses to, questions about, arguments with our readings will serve as a springboard for class discussions and help guide you through your larger writing projects.

We’ll draw numbers during Week 1 to establish a Trading 8s schedule. Again, you’ll be rotating as Leaders, Followers, and Recorders, and it is your responsibility to keep track of your role as final grades are tallied differently for each assignment.

RECORDERS, tips & strategies

In order for you to move forward with your writing projects, you need good notes about what we discuss and think through as a class. When you’re a Recorder, you should take detailed notes of our class discussion. What do I mean by “detailed notes”? You should track the kinds of questions I ask as well as those generated by your colleagues. You should note some of the answers we consider or other sources we consult to answer these questions. On your Recorder days, you should think of yourself as a court reporter—try to capture as much of the highlights of the conversation as possible. Participating in the class discussion yourself is optional on this day; however, if you do participate, make sure you are able to keep up with your note taking duties. You can take notes by hand, type on a laptop, audio-record the class session, take pictures of the board, etc.; whatever method works best for you is fine with me.

Using the deadlines in your calendar (usually before the next class session), you’ll post those notes for everyone to see (even if your colleagues never take the opportunity to review your Recorder notes). You should type up your notes and organize them into a coherent report of the day’s discussion (i.e., not just a raw transcript or data dump). Finally, because you likely didn’t speak up much in class, remember to offer your thoughts about the day’s discussion clear to me.

LEADERS, tips & strategies

I believe students learn best when they are able to explore and investigate questions that matter to them, but asking questions isn’t always easy, and learning to ask questions of people we consider “experts” (authors of the texts we’re reading) is even harder. This is why Leader posts will do a couple of things. First, you’ll respond to the content of the reading, providing a summary of the key points and ideas. This summary should be no more than 300 words because you’re looking to capture the main ideas and arguments, not detailed nuances.

After the summary, however, comes the important piece of the puzzle: you’ll include a question you have about reading. Maybe your question will reiterate and explore a question posed by the researcher, or maybe you have a question about the research s/he conducted and/or the implications and results of her/his work. Maybe your question will be focused on the validity and application of the idea. If something doesn’t make sense to you or doesn’t match your experiences, then you have a starting place.

Summarizing and asking a question are just the first steps. I also want to see how you think about problems, and this is why I ask you to answer you own questions. You can think of these answers as more of a response, if you’d like. The goal here is for us to see you thinking through a question you posed and responding to the ideas your question raises. The goal is NOT to get the answer right but to show how you think about difficult questions.

If you are a Leader, then you must complete all three of these tasks before your post is considered complete: again, it’s a SUMMARY, one QUESTION, and a thoughtful ANSWER. 

How do Leader’s ask a question?

I can’t know what kinds of questions you will want to raise in a Trading 8s post, but I can tell you that your questions should always come from your understanding of the reading as a communication: remember that someone is sending a message to someone for a reason. That said, try applying different reading strategies you’ve been taught over the years. For example, my first year students read an essay by Margaret Kantz in which she offers these questions for readers to consider:

  • Who are you (i.e. Writer)?
  • What is your question about this topic?
  • What are the text’s important features?
  • Am I your intended (primary) audience?
  • What do I think about this topic?
  • What context affected your ideas?
  • What context affected your presentation?

Each of these questions is not aimed at getting you to understand the content of the reading—that’s the job of the summary. These questions are meant to help you understand that texts are not simply “facts” for you to memorize and regurgitate; these questions are meant to help you find your own way into the conversation started by the writer, other scholars, and other researchers.

How do I, as a Leader, respond to my question?

I don’t know. How do you respond? Your response is your response, and it will depend on your mood and your investment for each reading. If you think what you have to say is weak and uninsightful, it probably is. If you write about something you care about in a reading or set of readings . . . well, I believe that we learn when we care. And I can’t teach you to care; that’s something you bring with you to each class. But the caring will make the writing better, and that’s as good a place as any to begin.

Sometimes we need to just write. Your question and response for a Trading 8s is not a place to perfect your ideas; the point of our Daily Grind work is to explore and generate material, what Peter Elbow refers to as “growing” ideas. It’s a place to discover and unpack them. There may be some rambling. There may be some dead-ends. Like I said before, you can always go back and revise what you write so that it makes more sense than a first draft.

We’re all busy and tired and stressed. We all will have to just get over it and start writing and thinking. But, look at it this way: at least you can write in air conditioning. Lame? Yes. True? Yep. Remember, most of the time, ranting and raging is a first draft. Why? Ranting rarely involves explaining the consequences of your ideas. Really good Daily Grind work involves a bit of all of the above. This means moving beyond just a rant. Ranting is also hard for readers to sort through, so you may find that the feedback and responses you get from your colleague are vastly different if you take a few minutes and read what you wrote as a reader and not a writer.

FOLLOWERS, tips & strategies

I don’t assume that you’ve had extensive experience giving a colleague feedback about his/her writing before. However, if you have experience giving feedback to another writer, then you can probably move quickly through the uncomfortable period that always begins a process of reading, or listening to, someone’s writing before you immediately respond to it. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

The most important things when you’re responding to each other’s writing are DESCRIPTION and DETAIL. There is no right or fool-proof way to respond to each other’s writing in the class—only degrees of detailed response. As a Follower, you want to make sure the Leader understands what idea in the Leader post you are responding to and why. Your description and detail will help the Leader know not only where you agree with particular points but also what evidence helped you arrive at that conclusion.

Even if I am not excited about something I read or listen to, it’s my job as a Follower to (1) be honest about my reaction and (2) explain, in detail, how the Leader’s post prompted me to arrive at this thinking. I will likely even need to reference the writer’s original language and/or quote the Leader directly.

We’re NOT critiquing people when we write for the Daily Grind—we’re looking closely at how language is working to say something, and so we are also trying to understand what a writer wants to do and how we are reading that desire. Some researchers refer to this kind of reading as looking for rhetorical gaps. We are aware that we’re working with real people who put real time into their work and open themselves up by sharing their writing, but if we all focus on how what’s on the page works and doesn’t work first, we don’t run the risk of mistaking the writing for the writer.

Good responding (or Following) is about productive negotiation among the writer, the “page,” and the readers. Anyone who can unpack that nugget of wisdom gets a round of applause and a virtual smiley face for the day. Negotiation does mean there has to be discussion, a back and forth sharing of ideas. Silence, in this situation, means nothing is happening for the writer or the responders.

We don’t talk about grammar, spelling, punctuation. Not in the Daily Grind. We talk about ideas. Unless the surface areas of the writing I just mentioned are creating confusion about ideas, we deal with those later in the writing process (when you are thinking about your Writing Projects).

If you are a Follower, then you must RESPOND to an idea started by the Leader. You may choose to respond to the question posed by the Leader, or reading the Leader’s post may sparked an idea in your mind. In either case, you aren’t simply writing whatever you want. You are working to enter a conversation with the Leader. After all, the goal is for you to learn to read for “gaps” in other people’s writing. This is the hardest thing you’ll learn to do this semester, but reading for a gap means looking closely at what another person has written, so closely that you are helping them make their argument. Using what Stephen King has called telepathy, you want to try and have the exact same idea as the writer so that you can help them see where additional sources or explanation might be necessary. You want to extend their thoughts. In doing this, you’ll also be inviting them in to a conversation with you.

Leaders = 1 Summary, 1 Question, 1 Response
Followers = 1 Response directly to 1 Leader
Recorders = Notes from in-class discussion + personal thoughts