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
- Rhetorical situation
- Discourse community
- 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).