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Addison, Joanne. Common Core in College Classrooms. Journal of Writing Assessment, Nov. 2015. Posted 12/03/2015.

Addison, Joanne. “Shifting the Locus of Control: Why the Common Core State Standards and Emerging Standardized Tests May Reshape College Writing Classrooms.” Journal of Writing Assessment 8.1 (2015): 1-11. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Joanne Addison offers a detailed account of moves by testing companies and philanthropists to extend the influence of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) to higher education. Addison reports that these entities are building “networks of influence” (1) that will shift agency from teachers and local institutions to corporate interests. She urges writing professionals to pay close attention to this movement and to work to retain and restore teacher control over writing instruction.

Addison writes that a number of organizations are attempting to align college writing instruction with the CCSS movement currently garnering attention in K-12 institutions. This alignment, she documents, is proceeding despite criticisms of the Common Core Standards for demanding skills that are “not developmentally appropriate,” for ignoring crucial issues like “the impact of poverty on educational opportunity,” and for the “massive increase” in investment in and reliance on standardized testing (1). But even if these challenges succeed in scaling back the standards, she contends, too many teachers, textbooks, and educational practices will have been influenced by the CCSSI for its effects to dissipate entirely (1). Control of professional development practices by corporations and specific philanthropies, in particular, will link college writing instruction to the Common Core initiative (2).

Addison connects the investment in the Common Core to the “accountability movement” (2) in which colleges are expected to demonstrate the “value added” by their offerings as students move through their curriculum (5). Of equal concern, in Addison’s view, is the increasing use of standardized test scores in college admissions and placement; she notes, for example, “640 colleges and universities” in her home state of Colorado that have “committed to participate” in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) by using standardized tests created by the organization in admissions and placement; she points to an additional 200 institutions that have agreed to use a test generated by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) (2).

In her view, such commitments are problematic not only because they use single-measure tools rather than more comprehensive, pedagogically sound decision-making protocols but also because they result from the efforts of groups like the English Language Arts Work Group for CCSSI, the membership of which is composed of executives from testing companies, supplemented with only one “retired English professor” and “[e]xactly zero practicing teachers” (3).

Addison argues that materials generated by organizations committed to promoting the CCSSI show signs of supplanting more pedagogically sound initiatives like NCTE’s Read-Write-Think program (4). To illustrate how she believes the CCSSI has challenged more legitimate models of professional development, she discusses the relationship between CCSSI-linked coalitions and the National Writing Project.

She writes that in 2011, funds for the National Writing Project were shifted to the president’s Race to the Top (3). Some funding was subsequently restored, but grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation specifically supported National Writing Project sites that worked with an entity called the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) to promote the use of the Common Core Standards in assignment design and to require the use of a “jurying rubric ” intended to measure the fit with the Standards in evaluating student work (National Writing Project, 2014, qtd. in Addison 4). According to Addison, “even the briefest internet search reveals a long list of school districts, nonprofits, unions, and others that advocate the LDC approach to professional development” (4). Addison contends that teachers have had little voice in developing these course-design and assessment tools and are unable, under these protocols, to refine instruction and assessment to fit local needs (4).

Addison expresses further concern about the lack of teacher input in the design, administration, and weight assigned to the standardized testing used to measure “value added” and thus hold teachers and institutions accountable for student success. A number of organizations largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promote the use of “performance-based” standardized tests given to entering college students and again to seniors (5-6). One such test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), is now used by “700 higher education institutions” (5). Addison notes that nine English professors were among the 32 college professors who worked on the development and use of this test; however, all were drawn from “CLA Performance Test Academies” designed to promote the “use of performance-based assessments in the classroom,” and the professors’ specialties were not provided (5-6).

A study conducted using a similar test, the Common Core State Standards Validation Assessment (CCSSAV) indicated that the test did provide some predictive power, but high-school GPA was a better indicator of student success in higher education (6). In all, Addison reports four different studies that similarly found that the predictor of choice was high-school GPA, which, she says, improves on the snapshot of a single moment supplied by a test, instead measuring a range of facets of student abilities and achievements across multiple contexts (6).

Addison attributes much of the movement toward CCSSI-based protocols to the rise of “advocacy philanthropy,” which shifts giving from capital improvements and research to large-scale reform movements (7). While scholars like Cassie Hall see some benefits in this shift, for example in the ability to spotlight “important problems” and “bring key actors together,” concerns, according to Addison’s reading of Hall, include

the lack of external accountability, stifling innovation (and I would add diversity) by offering large-scale, prescriptive grants, and an unprecedented level of influence over state and government policies. (7)

She further cites Hall’s concern that this shift will siphon money from “field-initiated academic research” and will engender “a growing lack of trust in higher education” that will lead to even more restrictions on teacher agency (7).

Addison’s recommendations for addressing the influx of CCSSI-based influences include aggressively questioning our own institutions’ commitments to facets of the initiative, using the “15% guideline” within which states can supplement the Standards, building competing coalitions to advocate for best practices, and engaging in public forums, even where such writing is not recognized in tenure-and-promotion decisions, to “place teachers’ professional judgment at the center of education and help establish them as leaders in assessment” (8). Such efforts, in her view, must serve the effort to identify assessment as a tool for learning rather than control (7-8).

Access this article at http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=82


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Sullivan, Patrick. Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Class. CCC, Sept. 2015. Posted 09/15/2015.

Sullivan, Patrick. “The UnEssay: Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 67.1 (2015): 6-34. Print.

Patrick Sullivan urges composition scholars to embrace creativity as a fundamental component of an enriched writing curriculum. In Sullivan’s view, although researchers and scholars outside of composition have steadily moved creativity to the core of their models of cognition and of the kinds of thinking they feel are needed to meet 21st-century challenges, writing scholars have tended to isolate “creativity” in creative-writing courses. Sullivan presents a “most essential question”: “Might there be some value in embracing creativity as an integral part of how we theorize writing?” (7).

A subset of questions includes such issues as current definitions of creativity, emerging views of its contribution in myriad contexts, and the relationship between creativity and important capacities like critical thinking (7).

Sullivan surveys works by educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and others on the value of creativity and the ways it can be fostered. This work challenges the view that creativity is the special domain of a limited number of special people; rather, the research Sullivan presents considers it a “common and shared intellectual capacity” (12) responsible for the development of culture through ongoing innovation (9) as well as essential to the flexible thinking and problem-solving ability needed beyond the classroom (8-9, 15).

Scholars Sullivan cites position creativity as an antidote to the current focus on testing and accountability that promotes what Douglas Hesse calls the “extraordinarily narrow view of writing” that results from such initiatives as the Common Core Standards (qtd. in Sullivan 18). Sullivan draws on Ken Robinson, who contends that current models of schooling have “educated out” our natural creativity: “[M]ost children think they’re highly creative; most adults think they’re not” (qtd. in Sullivan 9).

Other scholars urging the elevation of creativity as central to cognition include intelligence researcher Robert J. Sternberg, for whom creativity entails three components: “synthetic ability (generating ideas), analytical ability (evaluating ideas, critical thinking), and practical ability (translating ideas into practice and products)” (10). Sullivan compares models of “habits of mind” developed by other scholars with the habits of mind incorporated into the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” collaboratively generated by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project; he notes that many such models, including the “Framework,” consider creativity “an essential twenty-first-century cognitive aptitude” (12). He recommends to composition scholars the international view that creativity is equal in importance to literacy, a view embodied in the Finnish educational system and in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which would replace testing for memorization with testing for students’ ability “to think for themselves” (Amanda Ripley, qtd. in Sullivan 13).

Importantly, Sullivan argues, incorporating creativity into classrooms has crucial implications for overall cognitive development. According to the researchers Sullivan cites, expanding the kinds of activities and the kinds of writing students do enhances overall mental function (14), leading to the “rhetorical dexterity” (Shannon Carter, qtd. in Sullivan 20) essential to negotiating today’s rapidly changing rhetorical environments (21).

As further evidence of the consensus on the centrality of creativity to learning and cognition, Sullivan presents the 2001 revision of Bloom’s 1956 Taxonomy. This revision replaces “synthesis and evaluation” at the pinnacle of cognitive growth with “creating” (19). Discussing the revised Taxonomy to which they contributed, Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl note that the acquisition of the “deep understanding” necessary to “construction and insight” demands the components inherent in “Create” (qtd. in Sullivan 19-20).

Such deep understanding, Sullivan argues, is the goal of the writing classroom: “[I]ts connection here to creativity links this luminous human capacity to our students’ cognitive development” (20). Similarly, concern about students’ transfer of the intellectual work of academic writing to other domains and a recognition of the importance of metacognition to deep learning link the work of creativity scholars to recent composition theory and applications (20). Sullivan suggests shifting from “critical thinking” to “creative and critical thinking” because “[a]ll good thinking . . . is creative in some way” (16).

Sullivan sees the increased focus within writing studies on multimodal and other diverse uses of writing as a move toward reframing public conceptions of academic writing; he presents “desegregat[ing] creative writing” as one way of “actively expanding our definition of academic writing” (21). He lists many ways of incorporating creativity into classrooms, then provides the unit on creativity that he has embedded in his first-year writing class (22). His goal is to “provide students with an authentic experience of the joys, challenges, and rewards of college-level reading, writing, and thinking” (22-23). To this end, the course explores what Paul Hirst calls “knowledge domains,” specifically, in Sullivan’s class, “traditional assignments” examining how knowledge functions in history and the human sciences (23-24), with the unit on creativity “[s]andwiched” between them (24).

In this unit, students consider the definition of creativity and then write poems and stories. The centerpiece is an individual project in which students produce “their own work of art” such as “a sculpture, a painting, a drawing, a photograph, a collage, or a song” (24). Sullivan furnishes examples of student work, including quotes illustrating the metacognitive understanding he hopes to inculcate: “that creativity, and the arts in particular, provide a unique and important way of looking at the world and producing knowledge” (25).

The final assignment is an “unessay,” which bans standard formats and invites students to “[i]nvent a new form!” (26). Sullivan shares examples of student responses to this assignment, many involving multimodal components that gesture toward a more inclusive embrace of what Kathleen Blake Yancey calls “what our students know as writing” (qtd. in Sullivan 28). Ultimately, Sullivan contends, such diverse, creatively rich pedagogy will realize David Russell’s hope of casting writing not as “a single elementary skill” but rather “as a complex rhetorical activity embedded in the differentiated practices of academic discourse communities” (qtd. in Sullivan 29), and, importantly, Douglas Hesse’s hope of communicating to students that writing is not an isolated academic exercise but rather “a life activity with many interconnected manifestations” (qtd. in Sullivan 18).


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DeStigter, Todd. Critique of Argumentative Writing as Dominant Academic Mode. RTE, August 2015. Posted 09/02/2015.

DeStigter, Todd. “On the Ascendance of Argument: A Critique of the Assumptions of Academe’s Dominant Form.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.1 (2015): 11-34. Print.

Todd DeStigter raises concerns about the predominant focus on argumentative writing in college and increasingly in high school, as the authors of the Common Core State Standards join composition scholars in declaring argumentation an essential skill.

DeStigter’s response to the emphasis on argument grew out of his experiences at a high school in a Mexican/Mexican-American area in Chicago. An English teacher/assistant principal there enlisted DeStigter’s help in an initiative to require all students to take AP English and Composition; in the teacher’s view, this curriculum revision would address the inequity faced by students who historically had not had adequate preparation for college. DeStigter’s involvement developed into “three semesters of ethnographic research,” including observations and tutoring in two AP classes (12).

DeStigter recounts that the high school’s effort to better prepare the students for college and careers reflected national trends in emphasizing argumentative writing. He quotes the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, authors of the Common Core State Standards, as they urge attention to “students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues” (qtd. in DeStigter 12). Research by James Warren supports DeStigter’s claim that argument is becoming “the dominant mode” in both high school and college (qtd. in DeStigter 12). DeStigter argues for a shift from asking how to teach argument more effectively to asking why argument is given such prominence and what follows from this emphasis (13).

Although agreeing that compositionists recognize the diverse forms argument can take, that argumentative writing is not per se “harmful,” and that no “either/or choice” is called for (13; emphasis original), he reports detecting three assumptions about such writing: that it “promotes clear and critical thinking,” that it develops skill in the “rational deliberation . . . essential for a democratic citizenry,” and that it provides “a form of cultural capital that facilitates [students’] upward academic and socioeconomic mobility” (13). Though noting the “irony” that he is using the conventions of argument to challenge the “overemphasis on argumentative writing” (31n3), he critiques these assumptions.

In his view, the idea that reasoned argument reflects the clearest thinking derives from Descartes and Kant and their contentions that it is possible to arrive at knowable truth outside of context and contingency via evidence and logical connections. DeStigter links this belief in the efficacy of formally structured argument to lead to best decisions to the “coherence theory of truth,” which valorizes discourse that meets agreed-upon standards of self-consistency and integration, and to the “correspondence theory of truth,” in which a well-formed discursive product is assumed to mirror an autonomous entity out in the world. DeStigter argues that decisions as to what counts as reason and effective structure are themselves discursive products, Foucauldian “regimes of truth” (18) created and valorized by people “who are in a position to make and enforce such designations” (19).

He again cites Kant as a source for the view that “rational deliberation” is the ideal process to further democracy. He reviews philosophers and critics like Hannah Arendt, John Rawls, and Jurgen Habermas (22) who posit that a society in which individual interests can be bracketed and all stakeholders can participate as equals results in the “egalitarian reciprocity” necessary for democracy (Seyla Benhabib, qtd. in DeStigter 22). DeStigter responds that people do not have equal access to the public sphere and that even “overwhelming evidence” routinely surrenders to the “values and prejudices” through which people filter claims (22).

Moreover, DeStigter maintains, true change seldom follows from deliberative discussions but from activism and solidarity. He introduces the concept of “democracy’s edges proposed by Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón (23): This concept attempts to identify those forced to the margins of the democratic process, but for DeStigter, it also refers to what kinds of action and speech get defined out of the process. He gives examples of actions that approach “a line” that, if rational deliberation is the standard, renders them “irrational, and therefore illegitimate,” like refusing to move to the back of the bus or occupying government buildings. “[M]ore agonistic or even revolutionary models” of interaction, he contends, may be necessary to bring about changes that will truly foster democracy.

Finally, he challenges the contention that learning to write arguments will promote students’ social mobility. He details two students at the high school who, although excellent argumentative writers, find college costs daunting and the job market unresponsive (25). These examples and others illustrate DeStigter’s resistance to the long-lived idea that more and better education will spur a stronger economy (25-26). While acknowledging that individual students may escape poverty through education, he argues that for most students like those he studied, “being prepared for higher education is not the same as having a realistic opportunity to attend college” (26). But even if cost were no issue, he maintains, the possibility that a college education will provide the “cultural capital” necessary for socioeconomic mobility is based on “educators’ widespread misappropriation” of the work of Pierre Bourdieu (26).

According to DeStigter, Bourdieu recognized three kinds of “capital”: cultural (knowing how to behave), social (having access to opportunities for advancement), and economic (having money) (26-27). Central to DeStigter’s critique is Bourdieu’s clear assertion that “economic capital is at the root of all other types of capital” (qtd. in DeStigter 27), and thus that possession of economic capital determines people’s ability to acquire the other kinds. In contrast to the idea that providing students with literacy will open the door to the “culture of power” (Lisa Delpit, qtd. in DeStigter 28), DeStigter cites Bourdieu’s claim that hope for a more egalitarian society depends on subverting dominant power structures rather than emulating them (28).

Accepting the view that schools can influence “systemic” economic dysfunction, DeStigter contends, feeds a tendency to “blame schools” during downturns and invites privatization (29). Further, assigning such power to education encourages the meritocratic view that economic hardship results from a lack of individual intelligence or effort in school (29).

Finally, DeStigter concludes that

the ascendance of argument limits our understandings of who we humans are and what we are capable of because it attends to only a tiny part of the communicative spectrum we occupy. . . . [W]e writing teachers must safeguard opportunities in our curricula and pedagogy to gather ourselves and our students into conversations in which we seek not just to scrutinize, critique, and refute, but to share and be receptively present with others. (30-31)


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Brearey, Oliver. Two-semester Sequence for FYW. TETYC, March 2015. Posted 05/12/15.

Brearey, Oliver. “Understanding the Relationship between First- and Second-Semester College Writing Courses.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.3 (2015): 244-63. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

Oliver Brearey contends that escalating pressures from such initiatives as competency-based education and the Common Core State Standards risk putting composition scholars and instructors in a “reactionary position” (245); proponents of such initiatives propose standardizing college writing and linking it with outcomes developed outside the university, forcing writing professionals to defend the diverse practices and structures that currently characterize college writing curricula (244-45). For Brearey, clarifying the relationship between first-year writing and writing at other academic levels can allow compositionists to demonstrate the coherence of and need for college writing curricula designed in the service of a rhetorical education as imagined by David Fleming in his 2003 essay, “Becoming Rhetorical: An Education in the Topics” (257).

Brearey especially focuses on the two-semester first-year sequence. His article examines the relationship between these two courses, culminating in proposed “composite description and competency documents” for first- and second-semester writing courses that can serve as “a set of reference materials” for faculty and administrators who may find that broad guidelines help them locate their own local curricula in a broader context (247). This need is particularly intense, he contends, for two-year colleges, which may feel especially strong pressure to streamline their curricula in the name of efficiency (245).

Brearey sees the NCTE/NWP “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” and the “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition” as initial steps in responding to such pressures, but feels that they, as well as the extant literature on outcomes and writing curricula, fall short of providing the necessary guidance for programs developing a two-course FY sequence and needing to demonstrate the efficacy of such a sequence. Such documents, Brearey contends, see responsibility for designing and articulating the courses as a local responsibility and thus fail to specify how the outcomes can be effectively achieved through choices in course design (248). Other sources similarly fail to offer adequate blueprints for how concepts and learning activities can be ordered and articulated (248). A comprehensive overview of how the two first-year courses can complement each other, moreover, allows educators to tie such introductory courses into “vertical curricula” of writing courses beyond first-year writing. Brearey finds that extant literature on “advanced writing courses” fails to account for the relationship of these later courses to the first-year sequence (249). The literature he examines promotes “theoriz[ing] the design of composition course sequences” but provides no “practical approaches” to doing so (249).

In moving toward his recommendations, Brearey proposes that the terms “horizontal expertise” and “generalization” supplement the idea of a vertical curriculum (250). He argues that, while a second-semester first-year courses is often seen as more advanced or more difficult than the earlier course, the reality is that the relationship between the content of the two courses functions more nearly in “parallel,” with similar abilities developed at different levels of priority through different sets of applications. He writes that generalization does not mean that students “transfer” skills from semester 1 to semester 2; rather, they apply them in new contexts that broaden the concepts’ meaning and rhetorical usefulness (250-51).

To develop his composite curricula for first- and second-semester first-year sequences, Brearey gathered course descriptions, competency documents, and syllabi from “the six highest-enrollment two-year colleges in the U.S.” (252). He coded the language in these documents by comparing it to the language of the NCTE “Framework,” and the “WPA Outcomes Statement,” as well as to language delineating the structure and outcomes of two “vertical curricula”: Appalachian State’s award-winning “WAC Vertical Model for Writing Skills” and IUPUI’s “Goals for the IUPUI’s Writing Courses” (252). Four tables result. Table 1 compares the course materials from the community colleges to the Framework/Outcomes Statement. One finding from this comparison is that the outcomes are similar in the two courses, but vary in the priority the two courses assign to them. Brearey calculates how often an outcome appears in the course materials; he finds that, while the outcome of “[d]eveloping critical thinking through writing, reading, and research” is mentioned most often in both the S1 and S2 course, it is mentioned much more often (39.2 to 62.1%) in the S2 course. In the S1 course, the next most frequently cited outcome is “[d]eveloping flexible writing process,” while in the S2 course this outcome is mentioned by only 6.1% of the documents, and “[d]eveloping rhetorical knowledge” becomes the primary means by which the critical thinking outcome is met. These data ground Brearey’s claim that the tasks of the two courses are not different in kind but rather are practiced and reinforced with different emphases and applications (253-54).

Tables 2 and 3 examine the relationship between outcomes for first-year courses and those for upper-level writing curricula at Appalachian State and IUPUI, respectively. Brearey argues that the outcomes in these “vertical curricula” closely parallel those in the Framework/Outcomes Statement documents; the upper-level courses mirror the S2 curricula he finds in the course materials in significant ways. This finding again demonstrates that more advanced writing classes expand on the range of contexts and the level of detail included in course activities (255-56). Drawing on Fleming, Brearey contends that showing how students’ facility with the concepts develops through the extended practice afforded by a two-course sequence helps to

justify two-year colleges’ S1 and S2 FYW courses not only as discrete entities but also as a two-semester curriculum that emphasizes the development of novice students’ writing and rhetorical abilities. (257-58)

Such justification, he writes, is needed to sustain the authority of writing professionals to design effective writing curricula (257). His composite models include outcomes, methods for achieving those outcomes, and a framework of goals for each part of a two-semester first-year sequence (258-60).