College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Andrus et al. Teaching for Transfer at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC Sept. 2019. Posted 12/13/2019.

Andrus, Sonja, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg. “Teaching for Writing Transfer: A Practical Guide for Teachers.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.1 (2019): 76-89. Print.

Sonja Andrus, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg report on participating in a study to examine the effects of Kathleen Blake Yancey et al.’s teaching-for-transfer curriculum (TFT) across a range of institutions and student populations. Andrus et al. applied the curriculum from Writing across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing at three community colleges, one “small, rural,” one “suburban,” and one “urban” (77).

The study group consisted of nine writing professionals at different institutions who taught “parallel courses” in fall 2017. The curriculum from Writing across Contexts had been deemed useful in first-year writing courses at a “large research university”; the study considered how the assignments and scaffolding materials could be effectively adjusted for a wider sample of settings (77).

Arguing for the importance of helping students understand the usefulness of their learning beyond the college-writing classroom (76), the authors note the students who are likely to enroll in community-college courses may differ in age, experience, and life situations from students at four-year institutions. They write that differences in institutional structures, such as class sizes and higher class loads, can also affect the efficacy of the transfer curriculum (77).

Andrus et al. report that the TFT curriculum includes three components: key terms, reflection requirements, and four major assignments (77). The key terms, which are meant to provide students with “a single vocabulary for talking about writing in the classroom and for thinking about writing,” are

  • Audience
  • Genre
  • Rhetorical situation
  • Reflection
  • Discourse community
  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Knowledge (78)

The authors endorse the reflection component for its power to “slow student writers down” so they can become more “self-aware” and develop metacognitive sensibilities that will allow them to understand the process of writing as well as themselves as writers. All assignments come with reading lists and reflective elements that act as “perpetual glue” supporting the curriculum’s scaffolding (80).

The authors explain how they believe that each of the first three assignments leads students toward the final task, which is

[a]reflective composition, in a genre of the student’s own choosing, . . . [that] state[s] a fully developed theory of writing drawn from the course’s key terms and grounded in the course’s readings, a theory upon which students may draw when asked to write in new contexts. (80)

The first assignment is a “source-based definition and synthesis essay” (78) in which students apply the terms genre, rhetorical situation, and audience to assigned readings and in the process “describe the relationship among the terms” (79). The rationale for basing an assignment on sources early in the term is to introduce students to addressing varied perspectives “from the start” (79).

This assignment, the authors aver, is “daunting” and “unfamiliar” for students and for instructors, who, like Tinberg, may be unsure their classes are ready for the synthesis required (84). The requirement to relate the unfamiliar terms to each other and apply them to a challenging reading, the authors believe, immediately confronts students with the need to explore “what writing is and how it works” beyond the basics of a specific college requirement (84).

The second assignment also “flips” traditional practice by asking for research into “large, genuinely interesting questions rather than simplistic thesis-driven answers” (79). Andrus et al. state that teachers may need to support students in a process that not only presents the basics of research writing but also confounds their expectations by asking them to explore an issue rather than working to support a preconceived opinion (85). Included in this assignment is an emphasis on a key term, “discourse community,” as students are asked to see research and writing as important elements of knowledge-making in context (85).

In the third assignment, students recast their prior work in three different genres (79). The authors caution that it may be tempting to limit students with tight semester schedules to a single genre, but they argue that “at least planning the work for multiple genres is significant here” (86). One recommendation is to allow students to work in genres they already understand so that students who may be disoriented by college have a “stable” starting place for the new learning required (87-88).

The authors encourage instructors to prepare for a range of responses to the final assignment, noting that some students may repackage the reflections they have already completed while others may try to frame the assignment in more familiar forms (86-87). They provide an excerpt that they believe illustrates a student “conspicuously and knowingly deploying critical terms from the course” in which she articulates increased awareness of the importance of audience, genre, and rhetorical context (87).

The authors discuss ways they adjusted the TFT process to serve their community college environments. They emphasize the importance of conferencing and illustrate ideas for managing the time demands of one-on-one interaction with students (80-81). The assignments differ from those students have experienced previously, and both the cognitive load and pace of the work can benefit from enhanced “reassurance” and “direction” (81), in the authors’ view.

In addition, the authors changed some of the required readings, emphasizing their efforts to meet the goals of the curriculum while finding a balance between readings that were too long or dense and those that were too “short and easy” to accomplish the curriculum’s goals (81). These decisions, they write, allowed students to address readings in more depth (82). Andrus et al. analyze the effects of some of the listed readings, including students’ resistance to articles that cast them as “objects to be studied” and their appreciation of works in which the challenges they faced as community-college students were seen as “important and central to the course” (83). The authors also provide ideas for increasing the reflective writing considered essential to the course goals (83-84).

A list of recommendations includes as well the importance of being “frank and upfront” with students about the course and of being flexible and innovative within the bounds of the curriculum goals in order to make the course more effective for the particular students involved (87-88).

 

 


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Wilkinson, Caroline. Collaboration in Dual-Credit Programs. WPA, Spring 2019. Posted 07/14/2019.

Wilkinson, Caroline. “From Dialogue to Collaboration in Dual-Credit Programs.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 42.2 (2019): 80-99. Print.

Caroline Wilkinson addresses tensions that arise when universities implement dual-credit courses (credit-bearing college courses taught in a high-school environment). She draws on the experiences of two high-school teachers involved in a dual-credit program at the University of Louisville, a large Midwestern/Southern institution (83).

Wilkinson cites statistics showing that nationally, 1.4 million high-school students take dual-credit courses, with 77% of these courses taught at the high school and 45% of those located at the high school taught by high-school teachers (80). She attributes “a real anxiety” to “[m]any composition educators” with regard to staffing dual-credit courses with secondary teachers (80). Having taught dual-credit courses herself, Wilkinson had “observed the very real differences in the contexts and cultures” that separate high school and college (83). Research indicates that the quality of dual-credit programs varies and that the benefits to students depend on various factors; “nonwhite” and female students seem to gain from the experience (81).

Acknowledging that composition scholarship has begun to consider the roles of the high-school teachers recruited to teach these courses, Wilkinson writes that scholarship specifically dealing with these teachers’ experiences is “limited” (81). Among her goals is to bring teachers’ voices into the discussion.

Students accepted into dual-credit courses at the University of Louisville met a number of criteria, including a 3.0 GPA and minimum entrance scores on standardized tests; they had to be nominated by their English teacher and approved by a counselor (83). “Most” teachers in the program had a Master’s in English or 18 hours of graduate English credit. “Emma” and “Daphne” were the only teachers at their high school to meet these criteria (84).

Instructors also took the university’s “Teaching College Composition” course and to attend the summer orientation. In addition, they taught a standard syllabus and used pedagogical materials, including major assignments, provided by the university (83).

An important question for Wilkinson is “Can dual-credit courses be equivalent without being identical?” (88). She notes scholarship addressing the contextual differences between high school and college. Dual-credit students attend a year-long course with peers they already know rather than a semester-long course requiring them to build community with new acquaintances through the course itself (87-88). Daily class meetings also allow students more contact with instructors (84).

Wilkinson notes ways in which Emma and Daphne’s need to function within the full-time environment of the high-school community contributed to these differences. Differences in academic-year start dates meant that the two high-school teachers could not attend the full summer orientation (83). Similarly, the longer academic year meant that the graduate teaching assistants who attended the practicum course with Daphne and Emma completed the curriculum in less time than they did, a difference that made it hard for Daphne and Emma to make the best use of information covered in the fall semester but applied later in the year (85). The high-school teachers lacked the contact with other instructors teaching the same material and could not fully avail themselves of office hours and other support from the university writing program administrator (86). These teachers found that their workload made it harder for them to give the kinds of individualized responses they felt the college work called for (87). For these reasons, Wilkinson concludes that the courses were not “identical” (88).

However, she argues that they were “equivalent” (88, 94). The high-school course followed the same syllabus and used the same materials as the university-based version. The teachers received the same training as on-campus graduate assistants and “had a supportive WPA” (88). Both teachers and students recognized the unique features the college course offered, such as many useful materials and a more interactive environment (84, 86). Moreover, the high-school students had access to the university library and writing center and met new requirements, such as the use of outside sources, for their assignments (87).

Wilkinson expresses concern that “equivalence” in these respects does not align with scholarship that urges universities and high-schools to see dual-credit programs as a “partnership” (88). Instead, in Wilkinson’s view, the relationship is “unidirectional,” with the university setting the contexts and terms (89).

Thus, despite administrative support, the two teachers felt “separate from” and “different” from the teaching community embodied by the Teaching College Composition course (90). Operating on a different time schedule, which meant separation into a distinct “mentoring group” (90), was one factor in this sense of isolation; another important factor, for Wilkinson, is that the course addressed issues faced by graduate assistants as first-time teachers, while Daphne and Emma had many years of teaching experience behind them and had very different needs (89). Wilkinson calls for a more explicit “bilateral” partnership in which the expertise of the high-school teachers is recognized and drawn on in the design and implementation of a dual-credit course (91).

Wilkinson considers taking the Teaching College Composition course “formal professionalization” into composition studies for the high-school teachers (92). In her view, this professionalization process creates problems for both the teachers and for composition as a field. Because of their inability to develop community within the university program and their earlier professionalization as high-school English teachers focusing on literature rather than writing, the teachers did not see themselves as true college instructors (91). Wilkinson raises concern that positioning high-school teachers as competent to teach college writing may mean that “the long-fought for professionalization of the field is at risk” (93). First-year enrollments that form the staple of many writing programs may also suffer, resulting in fewer composition jobs. Finally, composition scholarship may cease to address first-year writing if it is delegated to the schools (93-94).

Wilkinson addresses remedies for WPAs dealing with dual-credit pressures. Noting that programs vary in the amount of resources they can devote to developing a successful dual-credit partnership (95), she urges that universities designate specific faculty as point-people for such efforts (96). She writes that mentorships can be more accommodating to the teachers’ schedules, but must be paired with coursework that introduces composition theory (93). Mentorships between new dual-credit teachers and more experienced ones can provide a stronger sense of community (96). Importantly, in her view, the teachers themselves can be included more fully in the development and implementation of these programs. Ideally, “dual credit programs provide an access point where high school and college instructors can work to collaborate on writing pedagogy and professionalization” (97).


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Hanson and de los Reyes. Adjunct Identity as “Compositionists.” Forum, Spr. 2019. Posted 05/27/2019.

Hanson, Gina, and Chloe de los Reyes. “Identity Crisis: Daring to Identify as More than ‘Just’ Adjunct Composition Instructors.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 22.2 (2019): A4-15. Print.

In the Spring 2019 Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, included in the March 2019 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Gina Hanson and Chloe de los Reyes discuss the disciplinary identification of adjunct composition instructors. Of concern is the question of which faculty members may call themselves “compositionists” (A4), and what restrictions on the use of this title mean for those who, in the authors’ view, are denied the authority it confers.

The authors are part-time lecturers teaching four first-year-writing courses per semester in the English Department of a large public university in southern California; their experience includes teaching across a range of institutions and programs (A7). They note that the reliance of higher education on contingent labor has long been a topic of discussion, but argue that despite decades of concern, little has changed (A5). While acknowledging the importance of economic issues to part-time teachers, Hanson and de los Reyes focus on the “alienation and isolation” they see as inherent in adjunct status as it is commonly defined (A5).

Quoting Jody Norton, the authors note discrepancies between situations in which composition professionals tell adjuncts that “you are us” and those in which they “remind [adjuncts], in unambiguous terms, that you are not us” (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A5). This distinction, Hanson and de los Reyes claim, derives from what Norton designates as the “uneasiness of what adjuncts represent to the future of higher education” (A5). Citing a 1989 document from the Conference on College Composition and Communication as well as one accessed in 2013 from the American Association of University Professors, the authors argue that a shared narrative casts the prevalence of part-time faculty as a threat to tenure, which is equated with academic freedom, and as a detriment to the “integrity of faculty work,” as the AAUP states (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A6).

They further quote James Sledd that “it is hard to argue that tenure is essential to academic freedom when half the faculty will never be tenured” (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A6). This uneasiness with the presence of adjuncts, in the authors’ view, contributes to the tendency among tenured faculty to marginalize part-time instructors.

Hanson and de los Reyes focus on what they see as the devaluation of teaching as central to the identity discrepancy between “[r]eal compositionists” and part-time instructors (A8). Quoting a line from Chris Gallagher that poses teaching time as “an impoverished metric for either teaching commitment or teaching impact” (A9), the authors also quote Melissa Janetta’s recruiting post for a 2018 CCCC workshop that laments the “under-representation of classroom research” in the literature of the field (A9-10). In the authors’ view, this devaluation separates teachers into “workers” versus “thinkers,” with only those who theorize beyond classroom practice and participate in the development of programs and other work outside the classroom deserving of the title “compositionist” (A8).

For Hanson and de los Reyes, this distinction is concerning at several levels. They argue that counting on tenured faculty to sustain the vitality of composition puts that responsibility on “a dying breed” (A10). Further, ignoring the knowledge created by classroom practitioners who are charged to “enact” the theories will continue to impoverish the quality of teaching itself (A10). Finally, improving “working conditions” but not the “professional conditions” that exclude classroom instructors from knowledge-making within the profession will further alienate even those who have persisted in the field because they are committed to it and want to contribute, often sending them into “greener pastures in the private sector” (A11).

The authors contend that they do not want to eliminate distinctions between different kinds of research; rather, they argue for recognizing that the two approaches have equal merit (A12). In their view, the claim that adjuncts “don’t research” overlooks not only the research done to produce articles like theirs but also the importance of recognizing that “our classroom practices are often the most useful kind of research in our field” (A12). Stating that teaching is “our community’s defining practice” (A10), the authors write that overlooking this kind of research will divide researchers from teachers and exclude knowledge vital to the field’s success (A12).

They argue that the narrative that casts part-time instructors as detrimental to higher education uses these teachers as a “sacrificial lamb” in the fight to protect tenure. They maintain that characterizing adjuncts as underqualified even as they teach large segments of composition classes leaves the impression that “anyone can do it because some unqualified yahoo just did” (A13), thus undercutting arguments that base composition’s status as a discipline on its members’ expertise.

The authors argue that recognizing the authority and knowledge-making skills of the many committed part-time teachers, fully recognizing them as “compositionists,” will provide a much more sustainable future for the teaching of writing. They write that they have chosen “to see ourselves as compositionists even if others do not” (13), arguing that the label of “worker” who practices what others theorize is a limiting institutional definition based on rank rather than on commitment and ability. Such definitions, they argue, should not supersede

the identity of compositionist [that] can come to mean a person who shares in the give-and-take of a distinct body of knowledge and not merely one who engages in the push-and-pull of academic politics. (A13-14)

 


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Moe, Peter Wayne. The Importance of Ordinary Sentences. Comp Studies, Fall 2018. Posted 03/21/2019.

Moe, Peter Wayne. “Inhabiting Ordinary Sentences.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 79-95. Web. 14 Mar. 2019.

Peter Wayne Moe investigates the rhetorical work of “ordinary sentences” like those in his “collection” from first-year writing students (81). He shares with Jennifor Sinor a definition of “ordinary writing as a text that is not literary, is not noticed, and one that should have been discarded but that instead somehow remains” (qtd. in Moe 92n4). Student writing, Moe contends, meets this definition (92).

Moe builds his argument around the concept of writing as an act of “inhabitation.” He notes that this concept is embedded in “elocution,” the Latin roots of which mean “out of” a “place” (80). Similarly, the Latin sources of “composition” are “to place” and “together” (81). He draws on a number of writers, including both scholars and fiction writers, to demonstrate that the possibility that a writer can “inhabit” his or her prose is widely accepted (79-81). In this view, “location” moves “beyond physical places to include the rhetorical situation, the ways language locates a writer in relation to other people, other ideas, other discourses” (81).

In this sense, Moe argues, ethos becomes a function of the nature of a writer’s location. He cites Kathleen Blake Yancey’s sense that who a writer is will be enabled and constrained by the people and circumstances around her, often in ways that are hard to recognize (80). Moreover, Moe evokes the participation of the reader, who also does the work of “locat[ing] the writer” based on interrelationships between a text and larger contexts that the writer may not control (82).

Moe cautions that his project of developing “a theory of the inhabited sentence” in this larger sense of “inhabitation” is not meant to provide models for imitation because the meaning of individual sentences emerges from the circumstances surrounding them, and therefore the work of any one sentence is “not reliably repeatable or transferrable from one piece of writing to another” (82). He also distinguishes his analysis from the moves of location via metatext highlighted by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein in They Say/I Say. In Moe’s approach, writers are seen to make communicative moves without “heavy-handed metatext” that can be “overbearing” or even “violent” (82). In contrast, Moe argues, sentences in his collection allow readers to construct connections in which they, along with the writers, inhabit meaning (82).

Finally, Moe argues for the value of studying ordinary sentences like those students produce, in contrast to the practice in many textbooks of “[p]lucking ideal sentences by masters,” a practice that Moe maintains delivers the message that ordinary writing, especially that by students, is not “real” writing (83). In addition, in Moe’s view, making extraordinary sentences the basis for writing instruction neglects the need for students and writers to see how their choices in “worker sentences” serve to establish their relationships with others and with issues (91). Students who struggle to note counterarguments or cite sources, he contends, are actually grappling with the problem of locating themselves in and alongside texts (91).

Moe’s collection addresses moves that he feels are both mundane, performed by all writers at some point, and yet important. As one example among eight, he contends that the choice of whether “I” or another writer discussed in the text is chosen as the subject of sentences can map a writer’s changing location with regard to that other writer (84). In another example, he argues that a parenthetical aside “allows the student to speak back to herself, to question what she’s already said” (87). In yet another case, he shows how removing the locative adverbial components leaves a sentence “decontextualized, devoid of urgency, devoid of relevance, devoid of exigency” (88).

For Moe, acknowledging the “rhetorical density of ordinary sentences,” especially through the lens of inhabitation, underscores the degree to which any sentence occupies space, “among other sentences, other clauses, other phrases” (91). This understanding, he argues, is “more important than being able to identify President Lincoln’s use of epistrophe in ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’” (92). Helping students see how their easily overlooked choices locate them among others, in this view, should be the primary academic task (91).


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Estrem et al. “Reclaiming Writing Placement.” WPA, Fall 2018. Posted 12/10/2018.

Estrem, Heidi, Dawn Shepherd, and Samantha Sturman. “Reclaiming Writing Placement.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 42.1 (2018): 56-71. Print.

Heidi Estrem, Dawn Shepherd, and Samantha Sturman urge writing program administrators (WPAs) to deal with long-standing issues surrounding the placement of students into first-year writing courses by exploiting “fissures” (60) created by recent reform movements.

The authors note ongoing efforts by WPAs to move away from using single or even multiple test scores to determine which courses and how much “remediation” will best serve students (61). They particularly highlight “directed self-placement” (DSP) as first encouraged by Dan Royer and Roger Gilles in a 1998 article in College Composition and Communication (56). Despite efforts at individual institutions to build on DSP by using multiple measures, holistic as well as numerical, the authors write that “for most college students at most colleges and universities, test-based placement has continued” (57).

Estrem et al. locate this pressure to use test scores in the efforts of groups like Complete College America (CCA) and non-profits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which “emphasize efficiency, reduced time to degree, and lower costs for students” (58). The authors contrast this “focus on degree attainment” with the field’s concern about “how to best capture and describe student learning” (61).

Despite these different goals, Estrem et al. recognize the problems caused by requiring students to take non-credit-bearing courses that do not address their actual learning needs (59). They urge cooperation, even if it is “uneasy,” with reform groups in order to advance improvements in the kinds of courses available to entering students (58). In their view, the impetus to reduce “remedial” coursework opens the door to advocacy for the kinds of changes writing professionals have long seen as serious solutions. Their article recounts one such effort in Idaho to use the mandate to end remediation as it is usually defined and replace it with a more effective placement model (60).

The authors note that CCA calls for several “game changers” in student progress to degree. Among these are the use of more “corequisite” courses, in which students can earn credit for supplemental work, and “multiple measures” (59, 61). Estrem et al. find that calls for these game changers open the door for writing professionals to introduce innovative courses and options, using evidence that they succeed in improving student performance and retention, and to redefine “multiple measures” to include evidence such as portfolio submissions (60-61).

Moreover, Estrem et al. find three ways in which WPAs can respond to specific calls from reform movements in ways that enhance student success. First, they can move to create new placement processes that enable students to pass their first-year courses more consistently, thus responding to concerns about costs to students (62); second, they can provide data on increased retention, which speaks to time to degree; and finally, they can recognize a current “vacuum” in the “placement test market” (62-63). They note that ACT’s Compass is no longer on the market; with fewer choices, institutions may be open to new models. The authors contend that these pressures were not as exigent when directed self-placement was first promoted. The existence of such new contexts, they argue, provides important and possibly short-lived opportunities (63).

The authors note the growing movement to provide college courses to students while they are in high school (62). Despite the existence of this model for lowering the cost and time to degree, Estrem et al. argue that the first-year experience is central to student success in college regardless of students’ level when they enter, and that placing students accurately during this first college exposure can have long-lasting effects (63).

Acknowledging that individual institutions must develop tools that work in their specific contexts, Estrem et al. present “The Write Class,” their new placement tool. The Write Class is “a web application that uses an algorithm to match students with a course based on the information they provide” (64). Students are asked a set of questions, beginning with demographics. A “second phase,” similar to that in Royer and Gilles’s original model, asks for “reflection” on students’ reading and writing habits and attitudes, encouraging, among other results, student “metaawareness” about their own literacy practices (65).

The third phase provides extensive information about the three credit-bearing courses available to entering students: the regular first-year course in which most students enroll; a version of this course with an additional workshop hour with the instructor in a small group setting; or a second-semester research-based course (64). The authors note that the courses are given generic names, such as “Course A,” to encourage students to choose based on the actual course materials and their self-analysis rather than a desire to get into or dodge specific courses (65).

Finally, students are asked to take into account “the context of their upcoming semester,” including the demands they expect from family and jobs (65). With these data, the program advises students on a “primary and secondary placement,” for some including the option to bypass the research course through test scores and other data (66).

In the authors’ view, the process has a number of additional benefits that contribute to student success. Importantly, they write, the faculty are able to reach students prior to enrollment and orientation rather than find themselves forced to deal with placement issues after classes have started (66). Further, they can “control the content and the messaging that students receive” regarding the writing program and can respond to concerns across campus (67). The process makes it possible to have “meaningful conversation[s]” with students who may be concerned about their placement results; in addition, access to the data provided by the application allows the WPAs to make necessary adjustments (67-68).

Overall, the authors present a student’s encounter with their placement process as “a pedagogical moment” (66), in which the focus moves from “getting things out of the way” to “starting a conversation about college-level work and what it means to be a college student” (68). This shift, they argue, became possible through rhetorically savvy conversations that took advantage of calls for reform; by “demonstrating how [The Write Class process] aligned with this larger conversation,” the authors were able to persuade administrators to adopt the kinds of concrete changes WPAs and writing scholars have long advocated (66).


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Sills, Ellery. Creating “Outcomes 3.0.” CCC, Sept. 2018. Posted 10/24/2018.

Sills, Ellery. “Making Composing Policy Audible: A Genealogy of the WPA Outcomes Statement 3.0.” College Composition and Communication 70.1 (2018): 57-81. Print.

Ellery Sills provides a “genealogy” of the deliberations involved in the development of “Outcomes 3.0,” the third revision of the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ Outcome Statement for First-Year Composition (58). His starting point is “Revising FYC Outcomes for a Multimodal, Digitally Composed World,” a 2014 article by six of the ten composition faculty who served on the task force to develop Outcomes (OS) 3.0 (57).

Sills considers the 2014 article a “perfectly respectable history” of the document (58), but argues that such histories do not capture the “multivocality” of any policymaking process (59). He draws on Chris Gallagher to contend that official documents like the three Outcomes Statements present a finished product that erases debates and disagreements that go into policy recommendations (59). Sills cites Michel Foucault’s view that, in contrast, a genealogy replaces “the monotonous finality” (qtd. in Sills 59) of a history by “excavat[ing] the ambiguities” that characterized the deliberative process (59).

For Sills, Outcomes 3.0 shares with previous versions of the Outcomes Statement the risk that it will be seen as “hegemonic” and that its status as an official document will constrain teachers and programs from using it to experiment and innovate (75-76). He argues that sharing the various contentions that arose as the document was developed can enhance its ability to function as, in the words of Susan Leigh Star, a document of “cooperation without consensus” (qtd. in Sills 73) that does not preclude interpretations that may not align with a perceived status quo (76). Rather, in Sill’s view, revealing the different voices involved in its production permits Outcomes 3.0 to be understood as a “boundary object,” that is, an object that is

strictly defined within a particular community of practice, but loosely defined across different communities of practice. . . . [and that] allows certain terms and concepts . . . to encompass many different things. (74)

He believes that “[k]eeping policy deliberations audible” (76) will encourage instructors and programs to interpret the document’s positions flexibly as they come to see how many different approaches were brought to bear in generating the final text.

Sills invited all ten task members to participate in “discourse-based” interviews. Five agreed: Dylan Dryer, Susanmarie Harrington, Bump Halbritter, Beth Brunk-Chavez, and Kathleen Blake Yancey (60-61). Discussion focused on deliberations around the terms “composing, technology, and genre” (61; emphasis original).

Sills’s discussion of the deliberations around “composing” focus on the shift from “writing” as a key term to a less restrictive term that could encompass many different ways in which people communicate today (61). Sills indicates that the original Outcomes Statement (1.0) of 2000 made digital practices a “residual category” in comparison to traditional print-based works, while the 3.0 task force worked toward a document that endorsed both print and multimodal practices without privileging either (63).

Ideally, in the interviewees’ views, curricula in keeping with Outcomes 3.0 recognizes composing’s “complexity,” regardless of the technologies involved (65). At the same time, in Sills’s analysis, the multiplicity of practices incorporated under composing found common ground in the view, in Dryer’s words, that “we teach writing, we’re bunch of writers” (qtd. in Sills 65).

Sills states that the “ambiguity” of terms like “composing” served not only to open the door to many forms of communicative practice but also to respond to the “kairotic” demands of a document like Outcomes. 3.0. Interviewees worried that naming specific composing practices would result in guidelines that quickly fell out of date as composing options evolved (64).

According to Sills, interviews about the deliberations over genre revealed more varied attitudes than those about composing (66). In general, the responses Sills records suggest a movement away from seeing genre as fixed “static form[s]” (67) calling for a particular format toward recognizing genres as fluid, flexible, and responsive to rhetorical situations. Sills quotes Dryer’s claim that the new document depicts “students and readers and writers” as “much more agentive”; “genres change and . . . readers and writers participate in that change” (qtd. in Sills 67). Halbritter emphasizes a shift from “knowledge about” forms to a process of “experiential learning” as central to the new statement’s approach (68). For Harrington, the presentation of genre in the new document reflects attention to “habits of mind” such as rhetorical awareness and “taking responsibility for making choices” (qtd. in Sills 69).

Brunk-Chavez’s interview addresses the degree to which, in the earlier statements, technology was handled as a distinct element when genre was still equated primarily with textual forms. In the new document, whatever technology is being used is seen as integral to the genre being produced (69). Moreover, she notes that OS 3.0’s handling of genre opens it to types of writing done across disciplines (70).

She joins Yancy, however, in noting the need for the document to reflect “the consensus of the field” (72). While there was some question as to whether genre as a literary or rhetorical term should even be included in the original OS, Yancy argues that the term’s “time has come” (71). Yet the interviews capture a sense that not every practitioner in composition shares a common understanding of the term and that the document should still be applicable, for example, to instructors for whom “genre” still equates with modes (71).

In addressing this variation in the term’s function in practice, Sills notes Yancey’s desire for OS 3.0 to be a “bridging document” that does not “move too far ahead of where the discipline is,” linking scholarly exploration of genre with the many ways practitioners understand and use the term (72).

Sills considers challenges that the OS 3.0 must address if it is to serve the diverse and evolving needs of the field. Responding to concerns of scholars like Jeff Rice that the document imposes an ultimately conservative “ideology of generality” that amounts to a “rejection of the unusual” (qtd. in Sills 75), Sills acknowledges that the authority of the statement may prevent “subordinate communities of practice” like contingent faculty from “messing around with” its recommendations. But he contends that the task force’s determination to produce flexible guidelines and to foster ongoing revision can encourage “healthy resistance” to possible hegemony (76).

He further recommends specific efforts to expand participation, such as creating a Special Interest Group or a “standing institutional body” like an Outcomes Collective with rotating membership from which future task forces can be recruited on a regular timetable. Such ongoing input, he contends, can both invite diversity as teachers join the conversation more widely and assure the kairotic validity of future statements in the changing field (77-78).


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Sweeney, Meghan A. Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept. RTE, Aug. 2018. Posted 09/18/2018.

Sweeney, Meghan A. “Audience Awareness as a Threshold Concept of Reading: An Examination of Student Learning in Biochemistry.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.1 (2018): 58-79. Print.

Meghan A. Sweeney presents a case study of a basic-writing student, “Bruce,” who grapples with a composition “threshold concept,” audience awareness. The study tracks Bruce across a three-course composition sequence in his first semester, then through his second-semester work in a research-based composition course as well as biochemistry and chemistry classes in support of his planned major, anesthesiology (64). Sweeney argues that Bruce moved from a “pre-liminal” through a “liminal” phase to end with a “post-liminal” relationship to the concept of audience awareness.

The composition sequence emphasized college reading, which Sweeney finds to be undertheorized in writing instruction (58). Sweeney explores scholarship in disciplinarity to suggest that the development of effective reading practices is important to students’ ability to move beyond the writing classroom and enter “communities of practice,” which P. Prior defines as “a continual process whereby newcomers and old-timers reproduce and produce themselves, their practices, and their communities” (59).

J. Lave and E. Wenger, studying these phenomena, see them “as a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation to other communities of practice” (qtd. in Sweeney 61). Lave and Wenger propose the category of “legitimate peripheral participation” to characterize how students begin their acculturation into such disciplinary sociocultural environments (61).

In studying Bruce’s progress as he approaches the community of practice he intends to enter, Sweeney also draws on the “academic literacies approach,” which emphasizes the ways in which entry into a community of practice involves changes in identity as students begin to see themselves as members of new groups (60). Among the challenges this shift entails are those of transferring practices and concepts from more general academic work to the specialized requirements of the new environment (60-61).

Sweeney’s study examines how such foundational concepts function as students carry them beyond composition. She discusses “threshold concepts” as those that are “potentially transformative” in that, once students grasp them, they begin to think in new ways characteristic of the community of practice in question (63). She gives “opportunity costs” as an example of such a concept in economics (63), advocating more attention to how students introduced to composition’s threshold concepts use these concepts as they transfer their learning into new communities (63).

At the large public research university in the western U.S. where the study was conducted, students deemed underprepared take a semester-long three-course integrated reading and writing combination including “a three-unit composition intensive,” a reading course, and an editing-for-style course (64) before moving on to a second-semester composition course. Sweeney characterizes Bruce, a first-generation Korean American student from a working-class background, as “highly motivated” (64). She quotes B. Flyvbjerg to argue that an atypical subject like Bruce may “reveal more information because they activate more actors and more basic mechanisms in the situation studied” (qtd. in Sweeney 64).

Sweeney observed both Bruce’s second-semester writing course and two sessions of his lecture-style chemistry class, taking notes on Bruce’s involvement and on the ways in which the professors presented the material relevant to their fields (65). Her data collection also included “four semi-structured” interviews in which Bruce provided insights into his reading practices and use of rhetorical concepts across the different classes (65).

Data from Bruce’s work in the first-semester composition combination leads Sweeney to argue that when he entered the sequence, he limited his reading response to summary, failing to engage with audience questions (66). She writes that as the semester progressed, he encountered discussions and readings about how writers differ depending on their situated practice and membership within a field. This exposure, Sweeney writes, triggered Bruce’s deepening attention to audience, and by the end, he

had begun to visualize other readers of his texts, to expect writers to influence others through rhetorical choices, and to expect audiences to keep an open mind while still maintaining an awareness of the choices made. (67-68)

The author describes Bruce’s progress to this point as a transition from “a pre-liminal space” in which the “troublesome” threshold concept of audience awareness posed challenges (67) to a “liminal” phase (68) in which a learner recursively “engages with [the] threshold concept but oscillates between old and emergent ideas” (62).

Sweeney contends that in his second semester, Bruce’s experiences in chemistry and biochemistry classes completed his movement into a “post-liminal” engagement with audience awareness in his new community of practice and with the identity formation involved in this engagement (68). Noting that Bruce learned quickly what information was important to the professor and adjusted his reading strategies accordingly, Sweeney records such moves as the professor’s references to “we” in lecturing, inviting students to see themselves as community members (69).

In biochemistry, Bruce worked with a lab mentor; Sweeney finds it crucial that Bruce recognized that he was not the audience for the technical papers he was asked to read. That realization pushed him to do independent research on Google and other less-advanced sources to develop his acculturation into “biochem jargon” (69).

Sweeney draws on Bruce’s final paper for the course as evidence of his post-liminal growth: she indicates that his exposure to audience awareness in his composition class meant that he “expected a critical reader” (71) and paid attention to the details that would demonstrate to the professor that he had been a strong participant in the class. At the same time, Sweeney notes, Bruce saw the details as “necessary for other scientists who might want to replicate his experiment” (72). Thus he was writing for “dual audiences” but with full awareness of his own standing as a peripheral participant (72). In Sweeney’s view, Bruce’s transformational relationship with audience was further evinced by his assertion that even experts did not read as doubters when encountering new information, and that therefore his strategy of reading new material for comprehension rather than as a critic was appropriate for his early work in science (70).

Sweeney’s study suggests that for students like Bruce who have been deemed underprepared, awareness of audience may drive them to accept this designation (74). She proposes that for Bruce, his struggles to enter the biochemistry community in the light of this designation may have been “generative” because they pushed him to assert agency by developing effective personal reading strategies (76). She argues that actively teaching audience awareness in early composition courses, in contrast to models that assume students will acquire disciplinary identities through “apprenticeship,” can give students a more productive understanding of how they can begin to relate to the communities of practice they hope to enter (75).