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Hergenrader, Trent. Creative Writing as Academic Discipline. J of Creative Writing Studies, Mar. 2015. Posted 04/03/2016.

Hergenrader, Trent. “Making Space for Creative Writing Research in the Academy.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies 1.1 (2016): 1-6. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Trent Hergenrader argues that in order for creative writing to thrive as a component of the 21st-centry academic environment, it must develop a serious academic research agenda. Hergenrader’s exigency for this claim is the degree to which “corporatization of the university” (1) has led to increased public scrutiny of courses and programs and to a devaluation of coursework in the arts and humanities. In such a climate, Hergenrader contends, even though creative writing courses tend to be popular with students, other stakeholders increasingly expect disciplines to demonstrate their value (1). In Hergenrader’s view, the lack of a committed research agenda is one of the factors that make it hard for creative-writing professionals to do so (2).

Hergenrader writes that traditional justifications offered for including creative writing in an academic program will not address the concerns of skeptics. Arguing in favor of “art for art’s sake,” he contends, will not fare well with administrators needing “a more concrete justification” (2). Moreover, arguing that creative writing classes improve reading skills, enhance appreciation of literature, and develop “facility with language” does not adequately address the counter that literature and composition courses already do this work, often in ways that prepare students for recognizable career tracks (2). Hergenrader worries that universities will not be able to justify hiring creative writing professionals if these courses come to be seen as “expensive electives—’fun’ courses that no employers desire” (2).

For Hergenrader, the approach of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), a “wildly successful” (4) organization representing the enterprise of creative writing, is ineffective in establishing creative writing as a valued academic discipline. He takes issue with claims on the organization’s History page, which states that creative writing should be taught by writers just as other disciplines like economics are taught by economists: “the understanding and appreciation of literature could be enhanced by having practitioners of that art teach that art” (qtd. in Hergenrader 3). The comparison doesn’t hold, Hergenrader argues, because, unlike creative writing, the disciplines cited “map directly onto specific careers” (3). Moreover, according to Hergenrader, AWP ignores the prominent writers who resist the idea that creative writing can be taught and who see coursework in creative writing as useless (3).

Further, Hergenrader contends, the organization promotes a specifically non-academic view of creative writing. He describes its publications as “virtually indistinguishable from . . . other popular magazine[s] targeting writers” and its annual conference as “a hodgepodge of readings, events, and panels with no dedicated track for academic presentations” (4). According to Hergenrader, AWP dismisses the need for creative writing teachers to have an academic degree and simultaneously recommends the MFA as suitable, depicting the MFA as “almost entirely craft-based” with “no mention of pedagogy, teaching experience, or theory beyond that of craft” (4).

The success of the AWP approach leads Hergenrader to imagine critics asking why students should be taking creative writing in college at all when they can get the same instruction from popular media without the financial burden of a college credit (4). The solution, in Hergenrader’s view, is for university courses to “deliver experiences that students can’t get anywhere else” (5). This goal, he states, will require articulating the “tangible benefits” for students taking creative writing; a more substantive investigation of pedagogy; a proactive exploration of the many writing platforms now available to writers; and collaboration across the academy in order to make the value of creative writing visible in and integral to the academic environment (5).

Hergenrader points to publications and organizations in the U.K. and Australia that have incorporated an academic focus into the discipline (5). He advocates for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies as a new forum for “the research-minded subset of creative writers in the academy who want more disciplinary coherence than what AWP currently provides” (6). The journal’s goals include making the larger academic sphere aware of creative writing as a discipline and increasing appreciation for the “thoughtful and practical value of the skills” creative writing teaches (6).

The journal’s founders are planning a conference in Fall 2016 and are developing the Creative Writing Studies Organization, “not to compete with, but rather complement” AWP’s efforts (6). They hope the opportunities offered by the journal will encourage upcoming creative-writing graduate students to “change the conversation” about creative writing as an academic discipline (6).

Access The Journal of Creative Writing Studies here.

 

 


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Tinberg, Howard. Transfer at Community Colleges. TETYC, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/16/2015.

Tinberg, Howard. “Reconsidering Transfer Knowledge at the Community College: Challenges and Opportunities.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.1 (2015): 7-31. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Howard Tinberg argues for the value of studying “transfer” from first-year writing (FYW) to future academic work and career, particularly at the community-college level. He acknowledges the impediments to fruitful study of this phenomenon while demonstrating what he learned through a “naturalistic” study of transfer at the community college where he teaches (10). Among his findings is the conclusion that community-college curricula may not provide students with opportunities to engage in the kind of complex writing, including metacognitive components, that will serve them well in more advanced college work and in the workplace.

Tinberg reviews scholarship on the function of FYW and on transfer, noting that the course is often assumed to provide “generalized writing skills” that will be useful in a variety of contexts (7). Skeptics referenced by Tinberg claim that it is impossible to assume that such a thing as transfer exists because the specificity of each writing experience requires learning completely new practices (9).

Tinberg argues that such skepticism, which dismisses the possibility of explicit instruction for transfer, must fall back on “‘[t]he Bo Peep’ theory of transfer: somehow, as if by magic, knowledge needed to address tasks will ‘come home’ to assist students” (9). In Tinberg’s view, such hopes are not realistic for the community-college population. Encouraging transfer is especially important as pressure mounts to increase retention and to demonstrate learning (10, 28).

Tinberg reports that studies have urged attention to “metacognition as a foundational step to transfer” for both students and faculty (9). He cites scholarship that urges composition specialists to see the FYW course as delivering “rhetorical dexterity” (Shannon Carter, qtd. in Tinberg 9) and “rhetorical adaptability” (Holly Hassel and Joanna Baird Giordano, qtd. in Tinberg 9).

In his study, Tinberg surveyed students at the college who had taken the required ENG 101 “at least a semester before the fall of 2014” and who had been at the college at least a year but not more than two years (12). Of the nearly 4000 students invited to take the survey, 110 completed it, with 80 responding to an open-ended question (12). Tinberg interviewed and solicited writing samples from five students with varied interests and majors; he also interviewed four faculty members, all full-time (16); sixty-six percent of the ENG 101 sections are taught by part-time instructors (12). Faculty areas of those interviewed were psychology, history, economics, and human services (10-11).

The surveys indicated that a large majority of students believed that they had benefited from FYW, that they wrote a lot in subsequent courses, that subsequent courses introduced “new knowledge about writing,” and that writing would be important in the workplace (12). Open-ended responses indicated that the gains students reported most often from their FYW experience were formalistic: citation formats, formats for genres, organization, and grammar and mechanics (16). Tinberg speculates that the lack of a well-developed vocabulary made it difficult for students to interpret or articulate the contributions of their FYW classes and the differing requirements of courses in the disciplines. He posits that “new knowledge about writing” may suggest simply “more writing” rather than specific attention to writing processes or practices (13-14).

Tinberg’s goal in the faculty interviews was to determine what teachers in the disciplines hoped students would bring from ENG 101 and “[w]hat new knowledge sets as expressed in their writing” they hoped to see in their own courses (17). He presents two assignments from the psychology instructor and one from the history instructor.

This component of the study suggests to Tinberg that teachers in the disciplines have an attenuated sense of the content and purpose of FYW, seeing it as primarily focusing on such skills as “proofreading” (17); one instructor, however, mentioned the ability to evaluate sources, while one with writing-center experience “touched upon rhetorical understanding as transferable from ENG 101” (17).

The assignments demonstrate to Tinberg that some, though not all, instructors in subsequent courses design pedagogies to impart concepts important to their fields. These assignments also suggest that critical reading is a central concern to these teachers and that some embed metacognitive awareness in their coursework (19-21). Although Tinberg’s coding of instructor values indicates that “expressive” writing is less privileged than critical reading and writing, “concern with form,” and “adaptability” across situations (20-21), he notes a focus in some assignments on linking coursework to students’ personal experiences, “emphasiz[ing}. . . students’ affective response to the reading . . . rather than deep, exploratory examination of disciplinary concepts and methods” (19).

Student interviews generally bore out Tinberg’s expectation that students would most often cite formalistic concerns in discussions of what they considered transferable knowledge; however, “the need to be analytical and critical readers” and the importance of “writing in different contexts other than ENG 101” also earned support. Students generally did not value the “expression of one’s own feelings” (22).

The article discusses two student interviews and writing samples in detail. In each, Tinberg detects both struggles with adequate vocabulary to describe learning from ENG 101 and how it intersects with later learning and evidence of analytical and rhetorical thinking. Without being able to name genres, “Ann” characterizes writing in English as related to students’ personal experiences and writing in other courses as more content-based (23). The student expresses a wish that her teachers would “push” her more (“Ann,” qtd. in Tinberg 23). Similarly, Tinberg posits from interview and writing samples that the other student, “Ash,” “might very well welcome the challenge of complex and specialized reading and writing tasks,” but “is not being given the opportunity” (27).

Arguing for the importance of such study, especially in the community-college environment, Tinberg reports that teachers and students value ENG 101 and that faculty value critical reading (27). But faculty ignorance about the content of the FYW course, “exacerbated by the increasing reliance on part-time faculty,” means that “bridging” between ENG 101 and other courses “is not explicitly and knowingly done” (28). Tinberg’s research points to a tendency of faculty in the disciplines to advance a “generalized” curriculum (26, 28) that subordinates discipline-specific concepts to efforts to efforts to engage students through personal, affective connections (26).

Tinberg urges support for writing-in-the-disciplines initiatives at community colleges, less focus on moving students rapidly through the curriculum, less reliance on part-time faculty, and broader “cross-disciplinary conversations about transfer knowledge” (28-29).


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Link for Ortoleva and Betrancourt, Journal of Writing Research

Giulia Ortoleva wrote suggesting that I share the link to the article I summarized (articulating vocational and academic learning), since the Journal of Writing Research is an open-access source that others may not be able to locate immediately. I am glad to do so:

http://www.jowr.org/abstracts/vol7_1/Ortoleva_Betrancourt_2015_7_1_abstract.html


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New Feature: Contributor Works in Progress

On the “Contributor Works in Progress” page, I’ll look forward to posting a summary of your work in progress or of studies or research you’re conducting, whether or not you plan to submit your work for publication. Summaries should be 1,000 words or fewer. Send me what you would like me to post using the contact form on the page. In posting, I’ll include your contact information so others with similar interests can hook up. You may also leave comments or updates via the “leave a reply” form. Email and usernames are optional on that form, so be sure to include them if you want others to be able to get in touch.