Brearey, Oliver. “Understanding the Relationship between First- and Second-Semester College Writing Courses.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.3 (2015): 244-63. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Oliver Brearey contends that escalating pressures from such initiatives as competency-based education and the Common Core State Standards risk putting composition scholars and instructors in a “reactionary position” (245); proponents of such initiatives propose standardizing college writing and linking it with outcomes developed outside the university, forcing writing professionals to defend the diverse practices and structures that currently characterize college writing curricula (244-45). For Brearey, clarifying the relationship between first-year writing and writing at other academic levels can allow compositionists to demonstrate the coherence of and need for college writing curricula designed in the service of a rhetorical education as imagined by David Fleming in his 2003 essay, “Becoming Rhetorical: An Education in the Topics” (257).
Brearey especially focuses on the two-semester first-year sequence. His article examines the relationship between these two courses, culminating in proposed “composite description and competency documents” for first- and second-semester writing courses that can serve as “a set of reference materials” for faculty and administrators who may find that broad guidelines help them locate their own local curricula in a broader context (247). This need is particularly intense, he contends, for two-year colleges, which may feel especially strong pressure to streamline their curricula in the name of efficiency (245).
Brearey sees the NCTE/NWP “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” and the “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition” as initial steps in responding to such pressures, but feels that they, as well as the extant literature on outcomes and writing curricula, fall short of providing the necessary guidance for programs developing a two-course FY sequence and needing to demonstrate the efficacy of such a sequence. Such documents, Brearey contends, see responsibility for designing and articulating the courses as a local responsibility and thus fail to specify how the outcomes can be effectively achieved through choices in course design (248). Other sources similarly fail to offer adequate blueprints for how concepts and learning activities can be ordered and articulated (248). A comprehensive overview of how the two first-year courses can complement each other, moreover, allows educators to tie such introductory courses into “vertical curricula” of writing courses beyond first-year writing. Brearey finds that extant literature on “advanced writing courses” fails to account for the relationship of these later courses to the first-year sequence (249). The literature he examines promotes “theoriz[ing] the design of composition course sequences” but provides no “practical approaches” to doing so (249).
In moving toward his recommendations, Brearey proposes that the terms “horizontal expertise” and “generalization” supplement the idea of a vertical curriculum (250). He argues that, while a second-semester first-year courses is often seen as more advanced or more difficult than the earlier course, the reality is that the relationship between the content of the two courses functions more nearly in “parallel,” with similar abilities developed at different levels of priority through different sets of applications. He writes that generalization does not mean that students “transfer” skills from semester 1 to semester 2; rather, they apply them in new contexts that broaden the concepts’ meaning and rhetorical usefulness (250-51).
To develop his composite curricula for first- and second-semester first-year sequences, Brearey gathered course descriptions, competency documents, and syllabi from “the six highest-enrollment two-year colleges in the U.S.” (252). He coded the language in these documents by comparing it to the language of the NCTE “Framework,” and the “WPA Outcomes Statement,” as well as to language delineating the structure and outcomes of two “vertical curricula”: Appalachian State’s award-winning “WAC Vertical Model for Writing Skills” and IUPUI’s “Goals for the IUPUI’s Writing Courses” (252). Four tables result. Table 1 compares the course materials from the community colleges to the Framework/Outcomes Statement. One finding from this comparison is that the outcomes are similar in the two courses, but vary in the priority the two courses assign to them. Brearey calculates how often an outcome appears in the course materials; he finds that, while the outcome of “[d]eveloping critical thinking through writing, reading, and research” is mentioned most often in both the S1 and S2 course, it is mentioned much more often (39.2 to 62.1%) in the S2 course. In the S1 course, the next most frequently cited outcome is “[d]eveloping flexible writing process,” while in the S2 course this outcome is mentioned by only 6.1% of the documents, and “[d]eveloping rhetorical knowledge” becomes the primary means by which the critical thinking outcome is met. These data ground Brearey’s claim that the tasks of the two courses are not different in kind but rather are practiced and reinforced with different emphases and applications (253-54).
Tables 2 and 3 examine the relationship between outcomes for first-year courses and those for upper-level writing curricula at Appalachian State and IUPUI, respectively. Brearey argues that the outcomes in these “vertical curricula” closely parallel those in the Framework/Outcomes Statement documents; the upper-level courses mirror the S2 curricula he finds in the course materials in significant ways. This finding again demonstrates that more advanced writing classes expand on the range of contexts and the level of detail included in course activities (255-56). Drawing on Fleming, Brearey contends that showing how students’ facility with the concepts develops through the extended practice afforded by a two-course sequence helps to
justify two-year colleges’ S1 and S2 FYW courses not only as discrete entities but also as a two-semester curriculum that emphasizes the development of novice students’ writing and rhetorical abilities. (257-58)
Such justification, he writes, is needed to sustain the authority of writing professionals to design effective writing curricula (257). His composite models include outcomes, methods for achieving those outcomes, and a framework of goals for each part of a two-semester first-year sequence (258-60).