College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Borgman & McClure. Advantages of Online Teaching and PhD Studies. FORUM Fall 2019. Posted 10/30/2019.

Borgman, Jessie, and Christine I. McClure. “The Ultimate Balancing Act: Contingent Online Teaching and PhD Coursework.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 23.1 (2019): A3-A8. Print.

Jessie Borgman and Christine I. McClure recount how the opportunity to both teach and take courses online allowed them to develop professionally and pursue rewarding careers.

The writers are long-time contingent teachers with wide experience in online environments. Both are pursuing PhDs in technical communication programs. MClure takes both face-to-face and online courses, while Borgman’s are all online (A3). As they pursue their graduate studies, they have both experienced teaching full loads as contingent faculty, taking on multiple courses at a range of institutions (A4-A5).

They note that they encounter negatives common to contingent positions, such as pay levels not commensurate with their professional standing (A4), “identity issues,” and “lack of professional development opportunities” (A5). They report heavy workloads, including the need to read and respond to a huge amount of student work, to keep with their own coursework, and to continue their own research and writing (A4). They write that this workload has affected their stress levels, their abilities to find time for their families, and their health (A4).

However, the authors contend that their strategies for dealing with these characteristics of their teaching jobs as well as their PhD coursework have allowed them to pursue career directions that would not have been possible without online education. Acknowledging literature that claims that online teaching is more time- and energy-intensive than face-to-face work (A4), Borgman and McClure simultaneously find the ability to work online both as teachers and as students “freeing” (A3).

A strategy they cite as both freeing and enabling is the recognition that they are not tied to “9-to-5 lives”: they “must always be prepared to do what [they] can when [they] can.” They characterize this situation as “a new fluid workspace” that has allowed them to meet demands that would otherwise be impossible (A4).

They also note personal characteristics they believe contribute to their achievements. These include being “extremely organized,” “highly motivated,” and possessed of “excellent time management skills” (A3). They have developed the ability to use synched calendars to coordinate the many intersecting threads of their job, coursework, and home requirements (A5-A6).

The lack of professional development led them to accumulate their own strategies over their years of teaching; they cast their decisions to enter PhD programs as a desire for “more” (A5). They also find that their coursework has led to networks and collaborative alliances that allow them to grow “more confident” about their career trajectories (A5).

One advantage they cite for their online trajectories is the ability to avoid heavy debt loads. They find that flexibility in their programs and employment allows them to take time off as needed to accumulate funds and that financial assistance may often be available from institutions where they work and study (A6).

Borgman enjoys the freedom afforded by contingent work, as well as the opportunity to teach at a wide range of institutions; she does not seek tenure-track employment. McClure notes the value of the benefits she now receives in her current full-time position as an instructor, but is pursuing her research agenda to work toward a tenure-track job (A6).

The authors stress that working online as contingent faculty and studying online need not, “at least for some,” be a “disadvantage” (A6).

Being online students and educators has been more of a blessing in both our lives than a hindrance; we have been able to pursue more opportunities than we had imagined. (A6-A7).

 


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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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Lillge, Danielle. Conflicts in Professional Development for Writing Teachers. RTE, May 2019. Posted 07/02/2019.

Lillge, Danielle. “Uncovering Conflict: Why Teachers Struggle to Apply Professional Development Learning about the Teaching of Writing.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.4 (2019): 340-62. Print.

Danielle Lillge examines conflicts that can affect how teachers charged with teaching writing in the schools apply professional development. She notes that such teachers are often pressured to improve student performance while feeling that their training has not been adequate (340). Teachers often turn to “disciplinary literacy professional development” programs (PD) (340). Lillge reports on what she calls “telling cases” of two teachers’ experiences participating in and applying such PD (341).

Writing that PD programs for literacy professionals emphasize “integrating literacy modes (e.g., reading and writing) in cross-disciplinary instruction” (341), Lillge focuses on her subjects’ encounters with Reading Apprenticeship (RA), a program notable for its concerns with both reading and writing and for its provision of a research-sanctioned PD experience: RA is “sustained over time” with a focus on collaboration and a “cohesive unifying framework” (344). Her two subjects, Abigail and Heloise, are white English teachers in a midwestern urban high school that is 95% African American (343). Lillge is also white, and is a professional in literacy instruction and professional development, with “[v]arying degrees of participantness” in RA programs. She represents her positionality as both ethnographer and participant-observer, and as both insider and outsider (345).

Lillge finds Erving Goffman’s theory of “frames” useful in understanding how Abigail and Heloise negotiated their use of the RA program. A frame, Lillge writes, is

a cognitive structure that reflects the “subjective context” whereby people work with and in relation to one another to interpret interactions by answering the question “What is it that’s going on here?” (342)

Frames, she contends, are social rather than individual, created through interaction, and can be invoked “both explicitly and implicitly” (342). Her study is meant to elicit how “framework conflicts” that teachers may not even be aware of can facilitate or hinder the application of professional development (342).

Lillge’s main consideration is how assumptions about teachers’ self-identity and positionality built into the PD framework may fail to accord with the frameworks the teachers actually bring to the experience (341). She contrasts her two cases, arguing that differences in the degree to which the two teachers’ frames aligned with the frames presented by the RA sessions affected their ability to make full use of the experience.

Both teachers were “eager learners,” were “acutely aware” of the challenges in their teaching environments, and reached out for additional guidance in order to improve as teachers of writing (343-44).

Lillge attributes some of Abigail’s personal frameworks around writing to her participation in a National Writing Project program and her own time in a college continuing education class; both of these experiences led Abigail to hope she could take students beyond “formulaic” writing, which she had found personally frustrating (350). However, in Lillge’s view, Abigail’s framework made it difficult for her to see herself as a writer and to feel confident in her understanding of “what good writers do” (348). Abigail wanted specific guidance to help her achieve her teaching goals and felt that the integrative approach of the RA materials foregrounded reading and in fact barely addressed what she saw as writing (348).

Heloise, as a drama teacher and playwright, could draw on “sustained involvement in disciplinary discourse communities” (355) in order to make use of opportunities for experimentation and integration suggested by the RA approach. She was able to choose specific ideas and adjust them to fit her students’ needs, revising as needed through her understanding of the different kinds of writing possible within an English classroom (352). Lillge presents Heloise as already aligned with an “experiential learning” framework that allowed her to see the “unifying rationale” in RA that connected particular writing activities to a more interlocking approach to writing and learning (352).

In Lillge’s account, Abigail struggled to see how a specific activity, such as students annotating their own texts, supported this broader philosophy and therefore found the outcomes disappointing, whereas Heloise, informed by the larger framework, was able to critique and modify her own applications in light of the unifying rationale (353-54). Heloise’s literacy experiences allowed her to draw on “multiple frames” that addressed her role as a white teacher in a largely African American community as well as “interanimated” the RA frames (354).

Lillge questions what she sees as the assumption in many PD programs that “teachers merely need help transferring their own experiences as writers to their writing instruction” (355-56). In her view, the diversity of the frameworks teachers bring to PD requires facilitators to actively address the differences among these frameworks and make potential conflicts more visible (357). She also challenges the “myth of English as a single discipline and writing as serving a set of commonly agreed-upon purposes” (356). Integrative approaches like those of RA, she contends, risk “artificially unify[ing] English subfields and . . . conflat[ing] purposes for writing,” in the process working against teachers’ efforts to introduce students to a range of writing genres and situations (358).


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Schell, Eileen. On Being a Woman Department Chair in RCWS. Peitho, 2019. Posted 04/20/2019.

Schell, Eileen E. “Is It Worth It to ‘Lean In’ and Lead? On Being a Woman Department Chair in Rhetoric and Writing Studies.” Peitho Journal 21.2 (2019): 308-33. Web. 4 Apr. 2019.

In her contribution to the Special Cluster on Gendered Service in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the Peitho Journal, Eileen E. Schell draws on the feminist scholarship of gender and academic labor as well as her own experiences to address the challenges of serving as chair of a large writing program (309).

Schell contends that scholarship on academic leadership does not adequately take into account the different positions of the many laborers, particularly women, who are involved in supporting an academic unit (311). Any leadership role, she argues, depends on many actors and stakeholders whose contributions and influences may not be uncovered when the focus is purely on the “relative privilege” that is afforded leadership positions within “institutional hierarchies” (311).

Schell advocates “intersectionality” as a more productive lens (310). For example, she cites the work of Mel Michelle Lewis and Shannon J. Miller, who examine how their “intersections as Black queer women” (qtd. in Schell 310) inform their leadership roles. She presents her “embodied” position as an “able-bodied, cis-gender, white academic woman on the tenure track” as one window on the effects of taking on the role of department chair (311).

Schell provides a list of important questions, including “what is gained or lost” in accepting the many challenges of a chair’s role (309). She frames her own discussion “around timing, dual academic career couple issues, and family formation issues” (311).

The discussion of timing recounts how Schell was asked to take on the chair role far ahead of the schedule she had negotiated on being hired but was able to defer the appointment until a more logical point in her career (314). Issues included the importance of a developing research agenda and the need for tenure before taking on such extensive administrative duties.

Schell reports that saying no to service appointments can be an effective strategy, but it carries a burden in that many female academics see “service work as vital to the functioning of academic units and the institutional mission of colleges and universities” and feel a sense of obligation to their colleagues (314). Accepting other administrative and service duties while deferring the chair’s role allowed Schell to serve her institution and program as well as develop her scholarship toward tenure and promotion while resisting an early commitment to the chair’s role (314).

One aspect many women face in relation to the timing of demanding administrative appointments is family formation. Schell recounts the challenges of caring adequately for her young daughter, for example, the need to bring her to work (316). She cites scholarship showing that, for many women, working toward tenure and being asked to take on more institutional responsibilities tend to coincide with the years they want to begin a family; some research suggests that the struggle for tenure actually affects women’s ability to start families (315).

A third timing issue for Schell was coordination with her partner’s career. Originally forced to commune long distances, by the time Schell accepted the chair appointment, he had earned tenure in an institution that was much closer, easing this burden (314).

Schell draws on work by Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Kelly Ward to argue that institutions should not force faculty to negotiate each situation individually but rather should recognize that, for women especially, barriers to effective participation in leadership as well as teaching and scholarship should be systematically addressed by the institution. Policies should serve all “pre-tenure professors (both male and female) with family demands” by meeting needs such as those for “tenure stop clock policies, lactation support, access to affordable day care, family leave” (315). Schell notes how work by her fellow faculty to install a family leave policy helped her in the early months of her child’s life (315). Similarly, her institution passed a “tenure clock flexibility proposal” that, among other provisions, addressed the effects on the tenure path of extensive service (316).

During her appointment, Schell noted the number of women chairs increasing despite ongoing dominance by older white men (317). Though she could draw on her experience working with female leaders in the writing program, Schell contends that the chair’s role encompassed a much larger set of exigencies. “Guidebooks” on the chair position she consulted featured “a masculinist dominance-based model” that did not deal with the issues that she specifically faced as a female chair (318-19); her discovery of “interdisciplinary scholarship on intersectionality and department leadership” finally gave her needed direction (319).

Crediting her leadership experience “both inside and outside the department and in the community” (319), Schell lists some of the initiatives she was able to implement, while also acknowledging failures (320). The ongoing task of “Mentorship and Advocacy” involved such efforts as “negotiating for the resources” faculty members needed to do their work and scholarship and clearing the “backlog” of women who had not been promoted to full professorship (321). “Assigning Service” included determining how to allocate committee work effectively while keeping in mind equity in workloads and compensation (321). Schell recounts extensive interpersonal engagement as one of her “most favorite and challenging duties”: acknowledging colleagues’ accomplishments and empathizing with as well as helping to address their daily and professional struggles (322).

Schell notes that the “scope and scale” of the chair’s duties exceeded those of other academic positions: “the work touched on all areas of the department and the lives of every single faculty member” (322; emphasis original). She explores issues such as the need to prioritize interactions and the exigencies of the “second and third shift[s],” such as dealing with her family’s needs and then returning to administrative duties late at night in a “job [that] never turned off” (322-23). Effects on her health led her to address the difference between “work-life balance” and a “sustainable schedule and life” (323-24; emphasis original). Keeping up with scholarship (324) and insisting on “self-care” such as scheduled work-outs were among Schell’s strategies (329).

She offers “general advice and lessons of survivance” she gathered during her tenure as chair (326). Citing research showing that few chair receive adequate professional development for their roles, she urges networking and workshops (326). Further, she reminds potential chairs to be sure to arrange adequate compensation and manageable teaching loads (327). Under “Developing a Sustainable Work Plan,” she discusses establishing a well-functioning program infrastructure to accomplish departmental goals (327-28).

Schell reports being “surprised” to find herself advocating strongly that women take on leadership appointments such as chair (325). In her view, such roles allow women to pursue a “progressive feminist agenda” that can improve the lives and work of all faculty, promote diversity, and strengthen curricula (327). Ultimately, she writes, she hopes that

more feminists in rhetoric and writing studies will lead our academic departments . . . and that when we attend chairs’ meetings at our colleges and universities, we will look around the table and see a more diverse and inclusive cast of institutional leaders who also said yes. (329).

 


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Larson, Holly. Epistemic Authority in Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Dec. 2018. Posted 02/13/2019.

Larson, Holly. “Epistemic Authority in Composition Studies: Tenuous Relationship between Two-Year English Faculty and Knowledge Production.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.2 (2018): 109-36. Web. 9 Feb. 2019.

Holly Larson questions the relationship between community-college faculty and the larger field of composition studies. Based on data showing that in 2016, 49% of first-year college students attended a two-year institution, Larson argues that community-college exigencies should be “central” to the field’s mission (111). Larson builds on Howard Tinberg ‘s designation of community-college faculty as “border crossers” or “mestizas” (109) to claim that these faculty do not function as “thirteenth- and fourteenth-grade” high-school teachers, yet, despite their centrality to composition’s mission, are not recognized as full members of the university community (111).

Larson draws on “standpoint theory” to note with Marianne Janack that two-year faculty are not granted “epistemic authority” by their university-level counterparts (111). This theory, which she characterizes as growing out of feminist scholarship,

examines how a group of people with socially constructed identities views and experiences the world differently and highlights the social conditions a group encounters in power relations, thus emphasizing its shared common experiences. (112)

In this view, dominant groups look down from a standpoint above, a position that makes it impossible for them to recognize the complexities below them and thus allows them to shut these complexities out. In contrast, groups lower in the hierarchy, looking up, see the many different points of view and confront the necessity of interacting with them (112-13). The standpoints thus constructed are not “objective and universal” (112); rather, they are the partial views of those who occupy the relevant spaces. For Larson, composition faculty in the traditional university culture claim the dominant standpoint and therefore fail at the kind of inclusive vision necessary to understand standpoints below them (113).

Larson argues that this failure manifests in both graduate preparation and in scholarship and publishing. She cites her own experience in assimilating theory during her preparation and then, as she moved into her first professional position at a community college, “spen[ding] the semester constantly translating the theory into a practice that is realistic and achievable for my students” (118). What she calls “canonical literature,” while providing rich insights into the history of the field and its guiding ideology, turned out to be “tone deaf to my students’ reality” (118).

Larson cites other compositionists calling for the inclusion of preparation for teaching at a two-year institution (116) and notes that the TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College emphasize how “notions of professionalism are distinct at community colleges, with teaching, service, and scholarship valued in different configurations than at most four-year institutions” (qtd. in Larson 119; emphasis Larson’s). In this view, theory derives from a “pedagogical imperative” that serves students’ needs (119).

Mainstream scholars in the field, Larson argues, do not recognize community-college practice as making knowledge (120). Meanwhile, constraints of time and energy prevent faculty like her from “disciplin[ing] our teaching experiences into theory” (119), as the exigencies experienced by writing teachers in general are exacerbated in a community-college environment (120). Not only do these faculty have limited time to develop standard academic essays, their time constraints make it difficult for them to cite widely and demonstrate deep acquaintance with the theory and research that scholarly reviewers expect (121).

In fact, Larson writes, she and her colleagues do not necessarily have degrees in rhetoric and composition (121-22). While acknowledging the pressure on composition to establish itself as an academic field with a “common body of knowledge” (122), Larson notes that scholarship grounded in practice will not be accepted into this body of knowledge if it is seen as “too general or anecdotal” (121) or unoriginal (123). She contends that the kind of knowledge produced in two-year settings fits Gloria Anzaldùa’s definition of “kitchen-table conversations,” a form of knowledge that is “devalued in academia unless some critical theorist validates it” (121).

To argue for the value of these conversations, Larson cites an approach in social science in which theory and practice are more firmly integrated (122). She questions why community-college faculty must follow the standard academic form for their work to be valued (124). Sharing their knowledge through course materials and accounts of classroom experience, she argues, should be a way for these faculty to enter the larger conversation (125). In addition, she suggests that programs can build in important concepts from the larger body of theory in order to make them useful and meaningful in the specific settings of the community-college classroom (125).

Larson sees this grounding in actual classroom practice as especially important because, for the many students who inhabit these classrooms, the community-college setting is “the only academic space they belong to” (125-26). The two-year institution, in this view, functions as a “third space” that can encourage a sense of “belonging and investment” that students will not get in any other place (126). Community-college faculty, Larson writes, are the only faculty who will “see [these students] on a regular basis”; therefore, the field must commit to the “diverse ways of knowing” that will welcome both these students and non-traditional knowledge-making based in their classrooms (126).

Larson lists venues where community-college faculty can “submit all these diverse ways of knowing intimately about the third space” (127). Contending that these are “still limited,” she proposes two specific actions that she believes will facilitate the efforts of two-year faculty to enter the field’s scholarly conversation. “Acknowledging Alternative Knowledge” includes adjusting the “hierarchical professional ladder” from “vertical to horizontal” so that it allows for more inclusive formats (130). Part of this adjustment for Larson would be the recognition that “lore,” as described by Stephen North, is more than an assertion about “what works for me” but is rather the result of ongoing conversations in which theory is collaboratively built from practical experience in ways that are endorsed within feminist thought (130).

Second, Larson recommends “Shifting Peer Reviewers’ Role from the Gatekeeper to the Gateway” (130). She envisions a relationship between a four-year faculty member and a community-college faculty member in which the mentor would shift from the “punitive and judgmental” practice Larson attributes to the usual review process to an effort to provide an “entry point into the theoretical conversation on the topic” (131; emphasis original) as well as an incentive to two-year faculty to invest their limited time in scholarship. Larson asks that work of this sort on the part of the mentor be valued and rewarded; she quotes Lisa A. Costello in calling for “a radical revision of the institution itself to include different kinds of knowledges and ways of being” so that theory and practice can become symbiotic components of the field (qtd. in Larson 131).

 


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Worthy et al. Teacher Educators’ Perspectives on Dyslexia. RTE, Nov. 2018. Posted 01/05/2019.

Worthy, Jo, Catherine Lammert, Stacia L. Long, Cori Salmerón, and Vickie Godfrey. “‘What If We Were Committed to Giving Every Individual the Services and Opportunities They Need?’ Teacher Educators’ Understandings, Perspectives, and Practices Surrounding Dyslexia.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.2 (2018): 125-48. Print.

Jo Worthy, Catherine Lammert, Stacia L. Long, Cori Salmerón, and Vickie Godfrey discuss a study on approaches to dyslexia in teacher education. The authors note that while research has not been able to clearly define dyslexia or agree on an ideal intervention, many states are passing legislation that treats dyslexia as a specific condition with specific treatment protocols (125).

Worthy et al. address the discourse surrounding dyslexia through the Bakhtinian categories of “ideological becoming” and “internally persuasive discourse” as opposed to Bakhtin’s understanding of “authoritative discourse” (AD) (126). “AD” consists of dicta handed down by those claiming expertise; it tends to take over conversations and silence those it does not credential to speak (127). In the authors’ view, AD surrounding dyslexia is based on a medical model in which dyslexia is a narrowly defined “deficit,” which is described in medical terms and which can only be treated by those specifically trained to do so (127). This discourse, the authors state, views educators as inadequately informed and unqualified to deal with students diagnosed with the condition (130).

The authors, in contrast, address the issue through the “field of disability studies in education,” which sees “variation among learners as natural,” as well as “socially constructed” and influenced by “context and social interactions, as well as social, political, and historical systems and discourse” (127). “DisCrit” scholars or those practicing “disability critical race studies” further note the degree to which matters of “race, class, privilege, and power” affect how labels are assigned and addressed (126; 127-28).

Surveying research in dyslexia studies, the authors note that none of the “top 10 most published authors, . . . none were educators” (126). According to Worthy et al., research has failed to find any specific causal or measurable factor that separates students believed to be dyslexic from other students in the reading continuum (128). Brain imaging studies have thus far been inconclusive (129).

Worthy et al. report consensus that “there is no best method for teaching reading” (128), yet many state legislatures have mandated specific treatments like the Orton-Gillingham program (O-G), even though its “multisensory” processes have not been shown to be effective (130). Programs that focus primarily on decoding, the authors state, also show little effect in themselves (130) and should be part of, rather than the core of, “comprehensive, meaning-based reading instruction” (129).

Worthy et al. position themselves as experienced public-school teachers and teacher-educators who began to question the current discourse on dyslexia when it failed to jibe with their own experiences. They began to find similar discomfort with the AD surrounding dyslexia among students and colleagues (130-31). For their study, they recruited 21 women and 4 men from a range of universities in Texas; the participants, who had many levels of experience both as teachers and as teacher-educators, engaged in semi-structured interviews (131). The authors explain their coding process, which yielded three “a priori” categories and three “inductive” categories (132).

“A priori” categories were “definitions and understanding about dyslexia”; “compliance with dyslexia policies”; and “confidence about dyslexia” (132). The researchers found that their interview subjects reflected the conflict between the AD of dyslexia and a more questioning stance that recognized that research did not provide the same degree of certainty as the prevalent AD (133). The participants reported increased official attention to the question of dyslexia and increased oversight of curricula (134). They reported complying with mandates but, in some cases, “present[ing] the state’s information about dyslexia with a broader discussion of struggle and literacy, where they could contextualize and complicate it” (134).

Participant response regarding “confidence about dyslexia” varied, with five of the educators “express[ing] unqualified confidence” in their ability to address the condition. The authors characterize the “remaining educators” as questioning their own experience in light of the dominant discourse (135); these teacher-educators “stopped short” of claiming they were prepared to work with students identified with the condition (135).

“Inductive analysis” of the interviews (136) led to three categories: teacher-educators’ expertise in teaching reading; their responses to AD; and their use of “critical perspectives” (132). Participants shared a belief that teaching reading should be an observation- and assessment-based, individualized process (136-37). In this view, decoding was important but only as part of a curriculum that engaged students in the whole process of reading (136). New teachers, the educators agreed, would benefit from a “more nuanced perspective” that would allow them to recognize their own ability to teach reading across many skills levels (137).

Participants challenged “the vague definition and subjective identification procedures” (137) that most felt led to “overidentification” and to early labeling that called for unnecessary interventions (138). Some felt that the dyslexia label could remove a stigma from reading difficulties; others saw being labeled as conveying a judgment of “something wrong” (138). The teacher-educators questioned the efficacy of programs like the O-G method that foreground “skill work” and interventions that remove students from classrooms to receive instruction characterized by “a lack of alignment” with classroom work (140). The authors note that these views accord with DisCrit analysis that favors “inclusion” rather than “segregation,” which AD seems to advocate (140).

Challenges to the exclusion of educator voices informed participants’ critical perspectives, with one respondent calling the medical community’s adherence to medical models “cult-like” (“Patrice,” qtd. in Worthy et al. 141). Participants noted that the problematic claim that dyslexic readers were highly creative and intelligent has actually made the label desirable for more affluent parents, with dyslexia “the socially acceptable learning disability” (141) that can shield children from “probable consequences of low achievement” (142). According to “Marty,” discrimination in labeling results in the view that “White kids are dyslexic. Black kids are stupid” (qtd. in Worthy et al. 142).

The authors argue that despite being positioned by the current AD as unqualified to teach students with identified reading disabilities, the teacher-educators they surveyed “are more than qualified—by virtue of their preparation and experience—to teach reading to all children” (142). They advocate for the role these educators can play in helping their preservice teaching students negotiate the rigid political landscape they will encounter when they take their knowledge about teaching reading into the schools (143).

Worthy et al. also recommend that proponents of critical perspectives adjust their use of jargon to communicate with wide audiences rather than falling back on a “righteous authority” of their own (144). Their hope is that research and practice in teaching reading can align more comprehensively, drawing on the contributions of classroom educators to complicate what they see as an ineffective, limited approach to the wide range of variation in children’s paths toward reading skill.


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Cox, Anicca. Full-Time Lecturers and Academic Freedom. Forum, Fall 2018. Posted 10/05/2018.

Cox, Anicca. “Collaboration and Resistance: Academic Freedom and Non-Tenured Labor.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 22.1 (2018): A4-A13. Web. 01 Oct. 2018.

Anicca Cox, in the Fall 2018 issue of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, discusses a case study of her institution’s decision to replace non-tenure-track part-time faculty (PTLs) with full-time, non-tenure-track lecturers (FTLs) on two-year contracts. She interviewed three of the ten new full-time hires and three part-time instructors who taught in the program (A6).

Noting that the percentages of FTLs in higher education is increasing, Cox reports that this change has entailed better working conditions, more access to benefits, and more job security, among other positive effects (A5, A7). She suggests that this trend may reflect institutions’ “response to the increasingly publicized problems of an outsized reliance” on contingent labor that constitutes a “seemingly altruistic move” (A5). She writes that the more stable teaching force provides institutions with more predictable costs than hiring based on shifting enrollments (A5).

Cox focuses on how the PhDs most likely to be preferred for such positions negotiate possible constraints on their academic freedom and professional identifications. The program she studied hired ten new FTLs, nine of which were either literature PhDs or were completing doctorates, as well as a new tenure-track writing program administrator (WPA) to implement a revised first-year writing program (A6). Part-time instructors who had previously taught at the institution were not hired for the new lines.

The new WPA “designed a heavily scripted curriculum” in which all components, including textbooks, were prescribed (A6). The full-time instructors were given office space and professional development specific to the program; they were evaluated much more broadly than the part-time faculty and often included ongoing research in the evaluation dossiers they prepared (A7).

Cox’s study asked how these instructors

perceived themselves fitting into the institution and department relative to their own sense of professional identity, and how those feelings shaped and otherwise intersected with their work as instructors both inside and outside classroom. (A6)

Her study, part of a larger analysis, emphasized both the effects on professional identity of the new context and the question of how collaboration among teaching professionals was impacted by the new alignment (A7).

Interviews with FTLs revealed that they “did not feel like hired mercenaries” but did not feel fully integrated into the department (A8). A focus of their concern was the sense that they were not considered “intellectual contributors” and were enlisted to perform a “role” that did not jibe with their professional preparation (A8). One respondent expressed concern about being issued a “teacher proof” curriculum dismissive of her scholarship and expertise (A8). In comparison, the PTLs, while accustomed to being given scripted curricula, expressed concern that the new program materials were not appropriate for the actual student population they were used to teaching (A9). These teachers felt less conflicted over identity issues because they saw themselves primarily as teachers, not researchers (A9-10).

Tensions in the FTL position also affected collaboration in that the new lecturers felt constrained from “simply asserting their purported academic freedom” and, rather than challenging the program structure, began devising ways to adjust the curriculum without “getting caught” (qtd. in Cox A10-11). Collaboration, in this study, became a way of “spread[ing] the blame” so that renewal at the end of the two-year contract would be less likely to be threatened (A11). Part-time lecturers, in contrast, relied on long-standing patterns of “informal collaborations,” sometimes making “radical changes” in the prescribed teaching materials (A11), despite having lost the opportunity to share practices with many of their colleagues in the new configuration. These teachers posited that the failure to hire from within their ranks reflected a desire on the part of administrators to eliminate “the baggage they carried over from previous iterations of the first-year writing program” (A11); Cox posits that they acted to modify the curriculum despite recognizing the precarity of their situation in the new program (A11).

Cox supports the shift toward more full-time positions but notes that the particulars of the arrangement she studied drove instructors to invest energy in sustaining a coherent professional identity rather than working together to improve student outcomes (A12). She writes that the benefits of the full-time jobs were “not enough to neutralize the frustrations” engendered by the lecturers’ compromised fit within the department (A12). She recommends that should these kinds of readjustments become more common, they be constructed

in a way that recognizes and honors the laboriously forged and deeply felt professional identities of workers by supporting continued professional development and encouraging autonomy in curricular design. (A12)