College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Wood, Tara. Disabilities and Time Management in Writing Classes. Dec. CCC. Posted 01/18/2018.

Wood, Tara. “Cripping Time in the College Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.2 (2017): 260-86. Print.

Tara Wood proposes that the field of writing studies can productively use the concept of “crip time” to rethink the ways in which normative assumptions underlie many routine activities in writing classrooms.

Wood’s qualitative study, conducted at a large Midwestern research university, began with twenty students with “registered disabilities” but expanded to include thirty-five students because of the interest her work generated (266). She notes that her final study population included not only students registered with the university disability office, but also students registered with other official offices who might or might not have registered at school, students who chose not to register, and students in the process of registering. Some registered students did not request accommodation (282n1).

Wood gathered more than “2,000 minutes of audio” and transcribed more than 200,000 words (267). She avoids identifying particular students by their disabilities, but her notes reveal the range of situations covered by her research (282-83n3).

The data allowed Wood to meet a primary goal of letting the students speak for themselves. She cites scholarship on the challenges of “speaking for” others, particularly groups that have traditionally been silenced or unheard; many scholars report a “crisis of representation” as they consider their own positionality in studies of such groups (265-66). Wood indicates that in some cases the wording of her interview questions shaped responses, but notes that the focus of her article, issues of “time,” was not a topic introduced by any of her questions; rather, it arose as a concern from the students’ own discussion (267).

Reviewing scholarship in composition on “the intersection of disability studies (DS) and composition studies” (261), Wood notes that writing theorists have long been concerned about access but, in some cases, may have assumed that the process- and discussion-oriented pedagogies common to most writing classes do not pose the same problems as do lecture-based classes with heavy test-taking components (261). Wood contends that such assumptions elide the myriad ways that time affects students with disabilities in composition classes (261). Wood’s premise is that “time” as structured in writing classrooms reflects largely unexamined ideologies of normativity and ableism.

Quoting Margaret Price, Wood says of “crip time” that it is “a concept in disability culture that ‘refers to a flexible approach to normative time frames’” (264). As an attitude toward time, it “avoid[s] rigidity and lower[s] the stakes of writing” (270). Wood distinguishes such an approach from the kinds of responses to disability most common in academic settings, which focus on individual and sometimes “ad hoc” solutions (263) burdened by connection with “medical and legal models” (262). Wood presents crip time as a more systemic, philosophical response to the complexities presented by disability.

For Wood, the assumption that individual fixes devised by disability-service offices are adequate is one of several flawed approaches. She found a subset of instructors who deferred to the expertise of disability professionals rather than expressing a willingness to negotiate with students (271). Similarly, she reports a “disability myth” that students given extra time for assignments will “take advantage of an accommodation,” creating a situation that isn’t “fair to other students” (263). In contrast, the study explores students’ conflicted responses to the need for accommodation and the “pedagogical fallout” that can result (269). Wood also discusses “the tacit curative imaginaries” that cast disability as a “disease or illness” (270) and its correction as “compulsory,” with “able-bodiedness as the ultimate, ever-desirable end” (264).

Wood’s account focuses specifically on two components of writing classes, timed in-class writing and time requirements for assignments. Her interviewees reported on how their disabilities made producing “spontaneous” writing within set boundaries (267) a source of serious anxiety, which, in the views of some scholars, has itself been defined as an illness that “teachers must ‘treat’” (270). Wood quotes Alison Kafer to argue that teachers must become aware that their normative expectations for “how long things take” are “based on very particular minds and bodies” (268). In Wood’s view, crip time applies a sensitivity to difference to such assumptions (264).

Wood further details how some participants’ situations affected their handling of assignment deadlines. Students with OCD, for example, might resist handing in assignments because they need to “make [them] perfect” (275). Some students reported finding it difficult to ask for extra time (274). Students recounted a range of attitudes among their instructors, with some willing to negotiate time frames and other less willing (274).

Wood cites Patricia Dunn to contend that students with disabilities often display “a sophisticated metacognitive awareness of how to navigate the strictures they face in the classroom” (272). Some students in her study explain their strategies in working with instructors to plan the timing of their assignments (276-77). Others set their own deadlines (279), while one plans for the inevitable delays of illness by trying to “get ahead on writing assignments” (qtd. in Wood 273).

Wood quotes Robert McRuer’s contention that “being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor” (279). She argues that such links between assumptions of normativity and the power structures arising from capitalist valuations of productivity make it imperative that instructors recognize how such assumptions impede access (280-81). Wood attributes to Paul Heilker the view that subscribing to crip time is a way of promoting “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (278), since a more flexible classroom structure permits “disabled students to compose in their own ways” (281), thus affirming important components of their personhood (278, 281).

Wood qualifies her recommendations by stating that she is not arguing against deadlines per se but rather asking that teachers be “mindful” about the power dynamic in a writing classroom and the consequences of rigid time boundaries (275). In this view, decisions about time can best be made by listening to students (281) and working collaboratively with them toward strategies that, in the case of one student, are essential to “sustain[ing] her presence in academia” (277).

Ultimately, Wood contends, awareness of the possibilities opened up by concepts like crip time enrich the democratic, inclusive environment that educators can support when they follow Tony Scott’s advice to examine the “ideological assumptions” underlying their responses to pedagogical challenges (qtd. in Wood 281).

Leave a comment

Hayden, Wendy. Archival Research as Teaching Methodology. CE, Nov. 2017. Posted 01/11/2018.

Hayden, Wendy. “AND GLADLY TEACH: The Archival Turn’s Pedagogical Turn.” College English 80.2 (2017): 133-54. Print.

Wendy Hayden proposes archival research as a pedagogical method to help undergraduates develop a nuanced understanding of academic research. She writes in response to accounts of student research from both students and faculty that depict the usual research process as one of collecting information from sources and reproducing it with attention to mechanics of documentation and organization but with little input or engagement from the student writer (133). Hayden cites scholarship advocating assignments that foreground primary research as a way to address this problem. In her view, archival research is an important form of such primary research (134).

Hayden anchors her discussion in a course she taught for upper-level majors in English, education, and political science. The specific topic of the course was “the archival turn in rhetoric and composition studies” (140). Hayden discusses the challenges of covering all aspects of archival research in a single semester, arguing that even including such research in a single unit provides many benefits. In her own case, she was able to supply an “immersion” experience by focusing on archives throughout a semester (140). She reports that she decided to “survey the field’s archival turn and then throw everything I could into the course to see what happened” (141). Students explored both physical and digital archives, met with guest speakers, visited repositories, and created final projects that followed up on some aspect of their research experiences (141).

According to Hayden, a major benefit of archival research is that it casts education as an “inquiry-based” activity (135). This inquiry, she contends, allows students to enhance their close-reading skills and to develop projects that move beyond “rehash[ing] existing scholarship” (135). Archivists and faculty incorporating this methodology report “increased student engagement” as students find themselves able to contribute to knowledge in a field (135).

Hayden stresses that archival pedagogies inculcate feminist values of collaboration, cooperation, and invitation (135-36) as well as activism (140). Citing a number of practitioners who have published about archival methodologies in the classroom and including many examples of assignments, Hayden proposes three components of this research: recovery, rereading, and creation of new archives (136).

Students exploring archival material to recover forgotten voices and missing histories can be encouraged to see research as an “ongoing endeavor rather than a set number of citations” (Tom Keegan and Kelly McElroy, qtd. in Hayden 136). Hayden argues that experiences in digital archives foreground the collaborative nature of such research, especially when students can annotate or contribute to the materials (137). Digital archives, which can be defined either narrowly or broadly, can be connected to local issues that enhance student engagement (137). Recovery assignments include opportunities for students to share their findings with larger publics, building their confidence in the value of their own voices (137).

“(Re)reading the archive” (138) encourages student attention to the constructed, partial nature of the materials as they begin to question why some things are included and others left out (138). Hayden writes that such questioning leads to an understanding of “public memory as a process” that, in the words of Jane Greer and Laurie Grobman, reveals “the fluidity of our shared memories” (qtd. in Hayden 138). According to Hayden, this understanding of the rhetoricity of archives inspires what Jessica Enoch and Pamela VanHaitsma call an “archival literacy” (138) that points to the archivist’s responsibility in assembling the components of memory (140).

Creating their own archives, as in the assignments Hayden reports, further emphasizes for students the complex decisions and ethical challenges of joining an archival conversation (139). Students’ agency in collecting and organizing materials of interest to them permits increased connections between history and the students’ own lives while also providing opportunities for the feminist value of activism (140). Hayden cites Tarez Graban and Shirley K. Rose to propose a “networked archive” in which the feminist practices of collaboration and invitation are paramount (140).

Discussing her own class, Hayden finds that “the central question and focus that emerged . . . was the nature of academic study as a personalized inquiry and how undergraduate scholars are central to that inquiry” (141). She recounts extensive collaboration with a librarian, with guest speakers, with archivists throughout the city, and even with authors of texts on archival research (141-42). In the process, all participants, including the students, cooperated as “agents” in exploring, documenting, and building archives (142).

Hayden’s students read archives she made available, pursued questions of individual interest that arose from this exploration, and completed a final project of their choosing, reflecting on each step in blog posts that themselves became a class archive (143). Hayden found that students were more comfortable in physical archives than digital ones, which students reported finding “overwhelming” (142). The author notes students’ discovery that acquiring information was less challenging than selecting and organizing the voluminous material available (142).

Throughout her discussion, Hayden provides examples of student projects, many of which, she argues, deepened students’ awareness of the rhetorical and activist nature of archives and the work involved in exploring and creating them. One student, for example, collected voices of women who had returned to college and “advocat[ed] for resources based on what these women need to succeed” (145).

Hayden writes that uncertainty inherent in archival research encouraged students to be open to “shifts” in the direction of their discoveries as they found some searches to be “dead-end question[s]” (145). These experiences further led students to often see their course research as a component of a larger, ongoing project, deflecting the purpose of research from a finished product to a process and therefore permitting them to take more risks (146). In turn, this experience, in Hayden’s view, engaged students in a more authentic scholarly conversation than that often depicted in textbooks, which might rely on sources like newspaper op-eds rather than actual academic exchanges (147).

An additional value Hayden cites is the way that archival research defines scholarly research as “about people” (147). Thinking about their obligations to their subjects personalized the process for students; among the results was an increased tendency to develop their own ideas and values through their work, as well as to accord more interest and respect to the contributions of peers (148). Students became excited about publishing their work, in the process moving beyond the “more traditional scholarly paper” (148).

Hayden closes with the voice of student Julie Sorokurs, who writes, “I marveled at how easily and effectively an academic pursuit could become a project of love and genuine curiosity” (qtd. in Hayden 149).

Leave a comment

Lawrence, Ann M. Teacher-Educator Identity Work in Doctoral Programs. RTE, Nov. 2017. Posted 01/04/2017.

Lawrence, Ann M. ‘(Dis)identifying as Writers, Scholars, and Researchers: Former Schoolteachers’ Professional Identity Work during Their Teaching-Education Doctoral Studies.” Research in the Teaching of English 52.2 (2017): 181-210. Print.

Ann M. Lawrence reports a longitudinal study of the ways in which teacher-education doctoral students specializing in language, literacy, and/or literature education at a Midwestern research university constructed identities as writers, scholars, and researchers. Lawrence’s fieldwork over 16 consecutive semesters (185) gathered data from doctoral students who were previously PreK-12 schoolteachers (189) working toward professional positions as “university-based teacher educators” (182; emphasis original). Lawrence’s research suggested that these students were reluctant to accept the identities of writer, scholar, or researcher for themselves.

Lawrence investigated the process of identity formation in two contexts, the doctoral program itself and extracurricular writing groups. Her data consisted of narratives on the semester evaluation forms for the writing groups, which she facilitated as “writing coach” (195). She focused particularly on “quick-write[s],” which she defines as “10 minutes of continuous, stream-of-consciousness writing” in response to the terms “writer,” “scholar,” and “researcher” and the question, “What criteria are you using to evaluate your writing/research?” (190). The prompts were designed to avoid “assuming connections between participation [as writers, scholars, and researchers] and identification” (190). Follow-up interviews and conversations also supplied data.

An important concept to Lawrence’s theoretical design was that of “figured worlds,” a term drawn from the identity-formation work of D. Holland, W. Lachicotte, D. Skinner, and C. Cain (183-84). In such worlds, participants identify “figuratively in terms of “available cultural associations with the personas” involved in that world, as well as “idealized versions of those characters and familiar plots of their activities” (183; emphasis original). For example, “academia” is a figured world; Lawrence casts the doctoral program and the writing-group environment as “localized figured worlds” in which

particular characters and actors [were] recognized, significance [was] assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes [were] valued over others. (Holland et al., qtd. in Lawrence 184; emendations in Lawrence)

Both Holland et al. and Lawrence integrate this concept with Bakhtin’s theory that “authoritative discourses” can become “internally persuasive” as people develop identities voa the discourses, which direct activities and perceptions within figured worlds (Bakhtin, qtd. in Lawrence 184).

Lawrence notes that in both the doctoral program and the writing groups, participants produced academic research writing, in many cases successfully submitting to conferences, journals, and books—even “compet[ing]” with faculty mentors (189). She reports that in the doctoral-program figured world, the participants were cast as students under the directorship of an authoritative faculty supervisor. In contrast, in the voluntary writing groups, which met both face-to-face and online, participants were considered colleagues and collaborators (184, 187).

Comprehensive tables track the shifting identifications of the participants across semesters as they worked on a variety of scholarly and professional products. Lawrence’s analysis of the quick-writes of the 10 woman and single man in the study revealed “a genre of (dis)identification narrative recounted by the women” but not by the man (194).

The narrative, Lawrence writes, developed through three “plot points” (195). The women recognized the “figural” personas associated with the terms writer, scholar, and researcher: “literary authors, discerning individuals, and meticulous investigators” (196). In the second plot move, the women distanced themselves from such figures, whom they saw as hierarchical and elite, characterized by “exclusiveness” and, in the depiction of one student, “superiority” (197). Finally, the women “revised their initial images of writers, scholars, and researchers to evoke more of their own values, practices, and goals,” creating

a revised figurative identity that did not require publication, privileged the self as audience, and promoted the aesthetic experience of “spontaneous” composing, rather than adherence to genre “conventions.” (quotations from study participant in Lawrence 197)

In Lawrence’s view, with these moves, the women recognized “figurative identities” affiliated with the figured world of academia but refused “positional” identifications that would have required them to accept the relations of power, authority, and privilege associated with their perceptions of these figures (196). The women opted to recreate the figures into “amalgams” with limited expertise and authority that they were then willing to claim (197).

In contrast, the male participant aligned himself with the conventional academic identities, displaying little of the conflict evident in the women’s narratives (200-01). However, he subsequently revealed to Lawrence that his portrayal of himself concealed responses similar to those of the women that he had felt “inhibited from sharing” because of “sociocultural norms” dictating masculine expressions of weakness or doubt (202).

Lawrence indicates that the voluntary writing groups introduced many of the skills necessary to successful academic research and publication, but that the study participants struggled to accept the role of authoritative colleague that these groups offered, opting more often for the role of “student’ encouraged by the doctoral figured world (202-03), thus, in Bakhtin’s terms, finding the “schoolishness” (A. E. Whitney, qtd. in Lawrence 206) of the program’s “authoritative discourses” more “internally persuasive” (203). For Lawrence, these choices may be related to an “imposter syndrome” derived from the widespread lack of authority granted to schoolteachers and even to teacher-researchers in general, especially to the women who most often occupy these roles (204-05).

Lawrence stresses the importance of teacher-education programs that encourage developing faculty to recognize and act on their authority as researchers and colleagues. She notes that in later correspondence, her participants reported that their tendency to avoid these roles affected their ability to earn promotions and assert their expertise in their later careers (204-05).

In her discussion, Lawrence explores how the figured worlds of the writing groups and the more formal doctoral program might work together more effectively to encourage professional identity formation among students like her participants. Because the groups, as voluntary and extracurricular activities, did not command the “institutional authority” of the program itself, their influence on identities may have been undercut (206).

Lawrence suggests that program faculty might become more proactive as participant-facilitators in these groups by acting as colleagues rather than supervisors and sharing their own experiences as writers and researchers (207). Although faculty might fear “potential risks to faculty authority” (207), Lawrence argues that such roles can lead faculty to explore their own roles as educators and allow group members, including faculty, to analyze their trajectories through different identities, including that of “schoolteacher,” which Lawrence sees as an important springboard for the study of writing education (182). Such interaction, Lawrence contends, can make the doctoral program itself more conducive to collegial interaction (206-07). Lawrence urges more research into the development of faculty identity with attention to gender and to the productive intersection of possible figured worlds (205-06).

Leave a comment

Blatant Self-Promotion: King of the Roses 99 cents at Amazon next week!


Mystery and romance at the Kentucky Derby!

“An impressive debut by a superb writer!”–Publishers Weekly

Buy at Amazon

Leave a comment

Limpo and Alves. Effects of Beliefs about “Writing Skill Malleability” on Performance. JoWR 2017. Posted 11/24/2017.

Limpo, Teresa, and Rui A. Alves. “Relating Beliefs in Writing Skill Malleability to Writing Performance: The Mediating Roles of Achievement Goals and Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Writing Research 9.2 (2017): 97-125. Web. 15 Nov. 2017.

Teresa Limpo and Rui A. Alves discuss a study with Portuguese students designed to investigate pathways between students’ beliefs about writing ability and actual writing performance. They use measures for achievement goals and self-efficacy to determine how these factors mediate between beliefs and performance. Their study goals involved both exploring these relationships and assessing the validity and reliability of the instruments and theoretical models they use (101-02).

The authors base their approach on the assumption that people operate via “implicit theories,” and that central to learning are theories that see “ability” as either “incremental,” in that skills can be honed through effort, or as an “entity” that cannot be improved despite effort (98). Limpo and Alves argue that too little research has addressed how these beliefs about “writing skill malleability” influence learning in the specific “domain” of writing (98).

The authors report earlier research that indicates that students who see writing as an incremental skill perform better in intervention studies. They contend that the “mechanisms” through which this effect occurs have not been thoroughly examined (99).

Limpo and Alves apply a three-part model of achievement goals: “mastery” goals involve the desire to improve and increase competence; “performance-approach” goals involve the desire to do better than others in the quest for competence; and “performance-avoidance” goals manifest as the desire to avoid looking incompetent or worse than others (99-100). Mastery and performance-approach goals correlate positively because they address increased competence, but performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals also correlate because they both concern how learners see themselves in comparison to others (100).

The authors write that “there is overall agreement” among researchers in this field that these goals affect performance. Students with mastery goals display “mastery-oriented learning patterns” such as “use of deep strategies, self-regulation, effort and persistence, . . . [and] positive affect,” while students who focus on performance avoidance exhibit “helpless learning patterns” including “unwillingness to seek help, test anxiety, [and] negative affect” (100-01). Student outcomes with respect to performance-approach goals were less clear (101). The authors hope to clarify the role of self-efficacy in these goal choices and outcomes (101).

Limpo and Alves find that self-efficacy is “perhaps the most studied variable” in examinations of motivation in writing (101). They refer to a three-part model: self-efficacy for “conventions,” or “translating ideas into linguistic forms and transcribing them into writing”; for “ideation,” finding ideas and organizing them, and for “self-regulation,” which involves knowing how to make the most of “the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of writing” (101). They report associations between self-efficacy, especially for self-regulation, and mastery goals (102). Self-efficacy, particularly for conventions, has been found to be “among the strongest predictors of writing performance” (102).

The authors predicted several “paths” that would illuminate the ways in which achievement goals and self-efficacy linked malleability beliefs and performance. They argue that their study contributes new knowledge by providing empirical data about the role of malleability beliefs in writing (103).

The study was conducted among native Portuguese speakers in 7th and 8th grades in a “public cluster of schools in Porto” that is representative of the national population (104). Students received writing instruction only in their Portuguese language courses, in which teachers were encouraged to use “a process-oriented approach” to teach a range of genres but were not given extensive pedagogical support or the resources to provide a great deal of “individualized feedback” (105).

The study reported in this article was part of a larger study; for the relevant activities, students first completed scales to measure their beliefs about writing-skill malleability and to assess their achievement goals. They were then given one of two prompts for “an opinion essay” on whether students should have daily homework or extra curricular activities (106). After the prompts were provided, students filled out a sixteen-item measure of self-efficacy for conventions, ideation, and self-regulation. A three-minute opportunity to brainstorm about their responses to the prompts followed; students then wrote a five-minute “essay,” which was assessed as a measure of performance by graduate research assistants who had been trained to use a “holistic rating rubric.” Student essays were typed and mechanical errors corrected. The authors contend that the use of such five-minute tasks has been shown to be valid (107).

The researchers predicted that they would see correlations between malleability beliefs and performance; they expected to see beliefs affect goals, which would affect self-efficacy, and lead to differences in performance (115). They found these associations for mastery goals. Students who saw writing as an incremental, improvable skill displayed “a greater orientation toward mastery goals” (115). The authors state that this result for writing had not been previously demonstrated. Their research reveals that “mastery goals contributed to students’ confidence” and therefore to self-efficacy, perhaps because students with this belief “ actively strive” for success (115).

They note, however, that prior research correlated these results with self-efficacy for conventions, whereas their study showed that self-efficacy for self-regulation, students’ belief that “they can take control of their own writing,” was the more important contributor to performance (116); in fact, it was “the only variable directly influencing writing performance” (116). Limpo and Alves hypothesize that conventions appeared less central in their study because the essays had been typed and corrected, so that errors had less effect on performance scores (116).

Data on the relationship between malleability beliefs and performance-approach or performance-avoidance goals, the goals associated with success in relation to others, were “less clear-cut” (117). Students who saw skills as fixed tended toward performance-avoidance, but neither type of performance goal affected self-efficacy.

Limpo and Alves recount an unexpected finding that the choice of performance-avoidance goals did not affect performance scores on the essays (117). The authors hypothesize that the low-stakes nature of the task and its simplicity did not elicit “the self-protective responses” that often hinder writers who tend toward these avoidance goals (117). These unclear results lead Limpo and Alves to withhold judgment about the relationship among these two kinds of goals, self-efficacy, and performance, positing that other factors not captured in the study might be involved (117-18).

They recommend more extensive research with more complex writing tasks and environments, including longitudinal studies and consideration of such factors as “past performance” and gender (118). They encourage instructors to foster a view of writing as an incremental skill and to emphasize self-regulation strategies. They recommend “The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model” as “one of the most effective instructional models for teaching writing” (119).

Leave a comment

Griffiths, Brett. Preparing Two-Year College Faculty to Think Institutionally. TETYC Sept. 2017. Posted 11/14/2017.

Griffiths, Brett. “Professional Autonomy and Teacher-Scholar-Activists in Two-Year Colleges: Preparing New Faculty to Think Institutionally.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 45.1 (2017): 47-68. Print.

Contributing to the issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College dealing with the preparation of two-year-college faculty, Brett Griffiths discusses the importance of preparing these faculty to advocate beyond the classroom for pedagogical practices grounded in the expertise of writing professionals and the field of composition. Recognizing that two-year faculty face the challenges of “our current teaching context,” which includes “the mass production of knowledge for profit, globalization of economic relationships,” use of contingent labor, and success measured solely by completion (47), Griffiths notes that these faculty are often not empowered within their institutions to act as advocates for theoretically valid teaching (60). Her study examines how two-year faculty in three institutions constructed their professional identities in ways that either helped them position themselves in leadership roles or, conversely, “unwittingly undermined” their potential as leaders (49).

Griffiths studied ten faculty, most holding MAs, from colleges chosen for their differing demographics (“urban, suburban, rural”) (50). In each case, she collected teaching artifacts, observed and videoed a class session, and conducted interviews. Her coding procedure resulted in more than 175 codes; she provides examples in appendices (52). Her goal was to distinguish teachers’ classroom actions, such as “planning the curriculum, conducting a class-length lesson, [and] grading a paper,” from the “pedagogical rationales” driving choices and addressing constraints (50). The specific focus of the cases reported was the “influences on an instructor’s teaching and the tensions they experienced between teaching choices and perceived expectations” (52). This focus allowed her to distinguish how teachers coped with these tensions.

Griffiths draws on the work of “sociologist and professional identity scholar” Magali Sarfatti Larson to consider how professional identity can be consolidated. Sarfatti Larson, she writes, delineates two components of professional authority: “a monopoly of competence,” which means that writing professionals are perceived as most qualified to determine what counts as good practices, and “a monopoly of credibility,” which means that these professionals are believed to implement these practices well (48). Griffiths contends that two-year faculty must be prepared to position themselves to make these monopolies more visible within their institutions and communities.

The author draws as well on Sarfatti Larson’s claim that “control over the regulation of . . . knowledge” is essential to establishing professional authority and autonomy (49). She distinguishes between “control over technique,” which involves specific activities “associated with knowledge of the field,” and “control over scope of service,” which addresses “the knowledge, protocols, and professional theories that shape . . . practice” (49; emphasis original). For Griffiths, this theory indicates that the professional autonomy to affect policy beyond the classroom is built on the ability to develop, assess, and revise professional knowledge and to convey “the value of that knowledge to a broader community—our institutions and the voting public” (49).

Griffiths’s study examines how her participants positioned themselves in relation to “scope of technique” and “scope of service” and how that positioning affected their effectiveness as leaders and advocates for sound teaching in their institutions. Her findings lead her to classify the instructors as either “independent contractors” or “teacher-advocates” (55). She arrived at this distinction through interviews in which many instructors described their freedom to do what they wanted within their classrooms and the tensions that arose when their classroom practices did not accord with departmental directives (56).

Interviews with instructors working from a “negotiated syllabus” revealed considerable disagreement over many components of the syllabus and their program’s overall design. Griffiths records a determination, in the words of one instructor, to “subvert” elements of the program’s requirements with which he did not agree (qtd. in Griffiths 57). Instructors in this group engaged in “workarounds” and even used “fake” materials to appear as if they were following the departmental requirements when in fact they were teaching according to their own understanding of best practices (57, 58). Disagreements included varying approaches to teaching grammar, the number of required essays, and whether a modes-based curriculum was appropriate (57).

Griffiths notes that these choices made by instructors as “independent contractors” deliver “two narratives for the course outcomes” to the students (54) and, in the case of tensions over the inclusion of “style” as an outcome that no one had been able to define, result in a sense of “normlessness” that, in Griffiths’s view, undermines claims to professional competence and credibility (56-57). She also found that in giving feedback, instructors tended to further provide mixed narratives by applying the departmental rubrics despite their claims to disavow them (55).

She writes that at first she joined these instructors in imagining that they were engaging in “victories of composition soldiers against the omnipresent oppression by an education overlord” with little understanding of teaching practice (59). But she claims that the “freedom” and “independence” these teachers assert differs from professional autonomy as Sarfatti Larson explains it (56).

The independent contractors, Griffiths states, avoided debating and defending their positions with colleagues, choosing instead to “teach outside of the department expectations while appearing to adhere to them” (58) and permitting colleagues the same perceived freedom. However, Griffiths argues that such tactics left instructors working within a system that frustrated them; a teacher who chooses this version of “freedom” “opts out” of more broadly based efforts to improve experiences of both teachers and students alike (56).

Griffiths contrasts these faculty with “autonomous teacher-advocates” who, rather than teaching “as if” they supported departmental outcomes, “assert[ed] control over scope of service to evolve those outcomes based on contemporary research in writing studies” (60-61). The majority of these teacher-advocates taught at a specific institution, which both encouraged and required them to become active, collaborative participants in designing and implementing outcomes and policies (60-61). One instructor at another of the institutions stepped forward on her own in a less-than-inviting environment to direct a textbook review (62).

The author highlights the importance of graduate preparation if faculty at two-year colleges are to embrace these more active roles (62). Most of the faculty she studied “had very limited engagement with the meta-discourses of the profession . . . or with the language of their labor contracts,” and no “clear sense of what footing they possessed to exert change” (62). The failure of faculty to develop this kind of awareness, she writes, “will likely continue to limit the status and autonomy” of two-year-college instructors (63).

She stresses the “responsibility” of moving beyond the apparent freedom of the classroom to the larger context in which instructors should be willing “to assert—sometimes uncomfortably—within their departments and institutions an articulation of the shared norms and practices” that have been developed and promulgated by the discipline (64).


Leave a comment

Webber, Jim. Reframing vs. Artful Critique of Reform. Sept. CCC, 2017. Posted 10/31/2017.

Webber, Jim. ”Toward an Artful Critique of Reform: Responding to Standards, Assessment, and Machine Scoring.” College Composition and Communication 69.1 (2017): 118-45. Print.

Jim Webber analyzes the responses of composition scholars to the reform movement promoted by entities like College Learning Assessment (CLA) and Complete College America (CCA). He notes that the standardization agenda of such groups, intended to improve the efficiency of higher education, has suffered setbacks; for example, many states have rejected the Common Core State Standards (118-19). However, in Webber’s view, these setbacks are temporary and will be followed by renewed efforts by testing and measurement agencies to impose their own criteria for student success (119).

The standardization these groups urge on higher education will, they claim, give parents and students better information about institutions and will ultimately serve as grounds for such moves as “performance funding” (119). The overall goal of such initiatives is to move students through college as quickly as possible, especially into majors (119).

Webber recognizes two prongs of composition’s response to such pressures to portray “college students and parents as consumers” (119). One thread urges “reframing” or “redirecting” the efforts of the testing industry and groups like CLA and CCA. For Webber, this viewpoint adopts a “realist style.” Scholars who espouse reframing urge that compositionists work within the current realities created by the power of the testing and standardization apparatus to “expand” the meanings of terms like “college readiness” (120), adjusting them in ways that reflect composition’s inclusive, humanistic values (122)–that is, in Frank Farmer’s term, “insinuat[ing]” the professional ethos of composition and its authority into the standardization apparatus (qtd. in Webber 122).

Scholars who adopt this realist style, Webber claims, “figur[e] public policy as accommodation to the world” (141n5); moreover, in Webber’s view, they accept the description of “the way the world is” (133) put forward by CCA and others as “irreducibly competitive” and thus “[reduce] the scope of policy values to competition, efficiency, and instrumentality” (141n5).

Webber cites scholars in this vein who contend that the protests of scholars and writing professionals have been and will be effectively “ignored” by policymakers (137). More productive, in this view, is collaboration that will at least provide “a seat at the policy table,” giving professionals a chance to infuse the debate with their values (133).

Webber presents the 2011 Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing as an example of how the reframing position “work[s] within the limits established by the dominant discourse of reform” (123). He notes that Bruce Comiskey was unable to discern any “apparent difference” between the aspirations of the Framework and those of the reform movement (125; emphasis original). For Webber, this approach sets up composition professionals as “competition” for the testing industry as the experts who can make sure students meet the reformers’ criteria for successful learning (124). Reframing in this way, Webber says, requires “message management” (123) to make sure that the response’s “strategic” potential is sustained (121).

Scholars who urge reframing invoke Cornel West’s “prophetic pragmatism” (122), which requires them to:

think genealogically about specific practices in light of the best available social theories, cultural critiques, and historiographic insights and to act politically to achieve certain moral consequences in light of effective strategies and tactics. (qtd. in Webber 122)

Webber contends that reframers interpret this directive to mean that “public critique” by compositionists “cannot deliver the consequences they desire” (123; emphasis original). Thus, a tactical approach is required.

The second thread in compositionists’ response to the reform movement is that of critique that insists that allowing the reform industry to set the terms and limits of the discussion is “to grant equivalence between our professional judgments and those of corporate-political service providers” (125-26). Webber quotes Judith Summerfield and Philip M. Anderson, who argue that “managing behavior and preparing students for vocations” does not accord with “a half-century (at the least) of enlightened classroom study and socio-psycholinguistic research” (qtd. in Webber 125).

In Webber’s view, the strands of reframing and critique have reached a “stalemate” (126). In response to the impasse, Webber explores the tradition of pragmatism, drawing on John Dewey and others. He argues that reframers call on the tenets of “melioration” and “prophetic critique” (127). “Meliorism,” according to Webber’s sources, is a linguistic process in that it works toward improving conditions through addressing the public discourse (127). In discussing West’s prophetic pragmatism as a form of “critical melioration,” Webber focuses on the “artfulness” of West’s concept (128).

Webber sees artfulness as critique “in particular contexts” in which ordinary people apply their own judgments of the consequences of a theory or policy based on the effects of these theories or policies on their lives (128-29). An artful critique invites public participation in the assessment of policies, an interaction that, according to West, functions as “antiprofessionalism,” not necessarily for the purpose of completely “eliminating or opposing all professional elites” but rather to “hold them to account” (qtd. in Webber 129).

Webber argues that proponents of reframing within composition have left out this aspect of West’s pragmatism (128). Webber’s own proposal for an artful critique involves encouraging such active participation by the publics actually affected by policies. He contends that policymakers will not be able to ignore students and parents as they have composition professionals (137).

His approach begins with “scaling down” by inviting public inquiry at a local level, then “scaling up” as the conversation begins to trigger broader responses (130). He presents the effects of student protests as the University of Missouri in 2015 as an example of how local action that challenges the power of elites can have far-reaching consequences (137-38). Compositionists, he maintains, should not abandon critique but should “expand our rhetoric of professionalism to engage the antiprofessional energy of local inquiry and resistance” (138).

As a specific application of his view, Webber provides examples of how composition professionals have enlisted public resistance to machine-scoring of student writing. As students experience “being read” by machines, he contends, they become aware of how such policies do not mesh with their concerns and experiences (137). This awareness engages them in critically “problematizing” their perspectives and assumptions (131). In the process, Webber argues, larger, more diverse audiences are encouraged to relate their own experiences, leading to “a broader public discussion of shared concerns” (131).

For Webber, drawing on the everyday judgments of ordinary people as to the value of policies put forward by professionals contrasts with the desire to align composition’s values with those of the standardization movement in hopes of influencing the latter from within. Opening the debate beyond strategic professionalism can generate a pragmatism that more nearly fits West’s prophetic ideals and that can “unsettle the inevitability of reform and potentially authorize composition’s professional perspectives” in ways that reframing the terms of the corporate initiatives cannot (135).