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A map to what we value: Dynamic Criteria Mapping and the written word

Two men stand a podium and address an audience seated in an art gallery.

(Standing) Bob Broad (right) and Mike Theune talk about their book We Need to Talk: A New Method for Evaluating Poetry. Photo courtesy of Illinois Wesleyan University.

headshot of Bob Broad

Bob Broad

We are the sum of our lived experiences, often in ways we neither recognize nor understand.

This is a premise Bob Broad knows well. “Our experiences influence how we see the world, and what we bring to our writing,” he said. A professor of English at Illinois State University, Broad developed a way for those who critique writing to discover what they value in the written word.

“When we talk about values, we are talking about ‘rhetorical values,’ or what people like and do not like in writing,” Broad said, noting rhetorical values can influence how someone critiques a piece of writing. “Many of these values are hidden to us, and when we evaluate writing, we bring them along for the ride.”

Many of these values are hidden to us, and when we evaluate writing, we bring them along for the ride. — Bob Broad

In order help those who teach or examine writing to understand what they value, Broad created a process called Dynamic Criteria Mapping.

It begins with a group of people gathering and all reading the same material. “Simply put, they have conversations about what they like and don’t like,” said Broad. He offered an example of an editorial board for a poetry magazine. “They may say they encourage ‘all kinds of poetry,’ but in truth there are some elements they value more than others,” said Broad. “It could be humor, moral significance, or correctness of formal technique, but something calls to them.”

Broad then takes the data from the conversations and helps the group map their values. “It can be complex, but it is an effective way to identify rhetorical values,” said Broad, who added, “It’s not meant to change values, but to offer a self-awareness of the process.”

Serving as a high school English teacher for several years before earning a doctorate, Broad focused his research on writing assessment, rhetoric, and composition. He joined the faculty at Illinois State in 1994, and is a former director of the University’s Writing Program and English Education program. “It’s rare to find a spot as perfect as Illinois State that has serious expectations of both excellent teaching and prominent scholarship,” said Broad. “I never had to give up teaching for my research.”

Broad has led dozens of sessions across the country on his Dynamic Criteria Mapping technique, including for the University of North Carolina, Bowling Green State University, the University of Washington at Tacoma, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Small Liberal Arts Colleges (SLAC) Writing Program Administrators, and school districts across the state of Illinois.

His research has led to several books, including What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing and the co-authored Organic Writing Assessment: Dynamic Criteria Mapping in Action. Broad’s newest work, We Need to Talk: A New Method for Evaluating Poetry teamed him with a partner across Bloomington-Normal’s Division Street, Illinois Wesleyan University’s Professor of English Michael Theune.

“I’m just a guest in the world of poetry,” said Broad, calling Theune the expert, “but it is great to see how Dynamic Criteria Mapping can address poetic concerns.” Broad noted the mapping could be utilized by workshop leaders, competition judges, and journal editors to gain a deeper understanding of how they judge and value poems.

“Poetry often is shrouded in mystery—even sometimes an intentional mystification—and so it takes commitment and work to examine poetic values,” said Theune, who added he was glad to be working with Broad. “I’m eager to see what happens as dynamic criteria mapping enters the conversations of contemporary poetry. I think it has great potential to better attune assessors—including poets themselves—and their evaluations.”

Broad plans to continue leading sessions on Dynamic Criteria Mapping, including one in Santiago, Chile, in the fall. He hopes the book with Theune will lead to a volume of case studies in the future.

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