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


2 Comments

Shepherd, Ryan P. Facebook, Gender, and Compositon. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/06/2016.

Shepherd, Ryan P. “Men, Women, and Web 2.0 Writing: Gender Difference in Facebook Composing.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 14-26. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Ryan P. Shepherd discusses a study to investigate how gender differences affect the use of Web 2.0 platforms, specifically Facebook, as these differences relate to composition classes. He argues that, although a great deal of work has been done within composition studies to explore how gender manifests in writing classes, and much work has documented gender differences in online activities in fields such as psychology, education, and advertising (16), the ways in which gender differences in Web 2.0 affect students’ approaches to composition have not been adequately addressed by the field (14).

Shepherd notes that discussions of gender differences risk essentializing male and female populations, but cites research by Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher as well as Nancy K. Baym to contend that evidence for different behaviors does “persist” across studies and should be considered as composition teachers incorporate digital practices into classrooms (15). Without attention to the ways online composing relates to “aspects of identity and how these aspects shape composing practices when integrating social network sites (SNSs) into FYC [first-year composition] classes” (15), composition teachers may miss opportunities to fully exploit Web 2.0 as a literacy experience and meet student needs (15, 24).

The data come from a survey of FYC students about their Facebook activities and attitudes toward Facebook as a composing platform. Developed through multiple pilots over the course of the 2011 academic year, the survey gathered 474 responses, mostly from freshmen enrolled in some form of FYC at Shepherd’s institution and at other “large, doctoral-granting institutions” from which Shepherd solicited participation via the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ listserv (17). The survey is available as a supplemental appendix.

Shepherd argues that Facebook is an appropriate site to study because of its widespread use by college students and its incorporation of “a number of literacy practices,’ in particular what the 2004 CCCC Position Statement on digital writing calls “the literacy of the screen” (15). Shepherd first explores discussions of Facebook as it has been recommended for and incorporated into writing classes since 2008 as well as studies of student use of the platform (16). He then considers comprehensive work outside of composition on gender differences in the use of Facebook and other SNSs.

These studies vary in their results, with some showing that men and women do not differ in the amount of time they spend on SNSs and others showing that women do spend more time (17). Some studies find that women use such sites for more personal uses like email, compared to the finding that men are more likely to “surf” (17). Women in some parts of this body of research appear to engage more in “family activity,” to provide “more personal information in the ‘about me'” areas, and to worry more about privacy (17). Shepherd discusses one article about student use of Facebook that reveals that women use varied media more often; the article expresses concern about student comfort with online spaces and urges careful scaffolding in incorporating such spaces into classwork (17).

Shepherd presents his findings in a series of tables that reveal that gender had “a more statistically significant effect on more questions and often with more significant differences than any other independent variable” (18). The tables focus on the aspects in which these differences were evident.

In Shepherd’s view, gender difference significantly affected participants’ “rhetorical purposes,” their “different view[s] of audience,” and their varying “rhetorical stance[s]” (21). In general, he states that the data suggest that women are more concerned with “communicating with a broad audience,” while men appear more likely to see Facebook as a way to engage in “direct, personal communication” (22). Evidence for this conclusion comes from such data as the degree to which women and men invested equally in comments and chat, but women were more likely to post status updates, which Shepherd suggests may be a type of “announcement . . . to a large group of people at one time” (22). Women are also more likely to visit friends’ pages. Shepherd’s data also indicates that women think more carefully about their posts and “were more mindful” about the effects of photos and other media, even to the point that they might be thinking in terms of visual arguments (22). Shepherd believes these findings accord with conclusions drawn by Linda A. Jackson, Kevin S. Ervin, Philip D. Gardner, and N. Schmitt in the journal Sex Roles, where they suggest that women are more “interpersonally oriented” while men are more “information/task oriented” (qtd. in Shepherd 23).

In general, women were “more aware of audience on Facebook” (23). Shepherd cites their tendency to consider their privacy settings more often; he proposes that women’s tendency to post more personal information may account for some part of their concern with privacy (23). Moreover, he found that women were more likely to be aware that employers could access information on Facebook. In short, it may be that women “tend to have a greater awareness of people beyond the immediate audience of Facebook friends than men do” (23).

Shepherd sees differences in “rhetorical stance” manifested in the ways that men and women characterize Facebook as a location for writing. In this case, men were more likely to see the platform as a site for serious, “formal” writing and argument (23). The data suggest that men saw many different types of Facebook activities, such as posting media, as “a type of composition” (23). Shepherd posits that because women tend to do more multimodal posting, they may be less likely to think of their Facebook activities as writing or composition (23). He urges more investigation into this disparity (24).

Gender is just one of the differences that Shepherd contends should be taken into account when incorporating Web 2.0 into writing classrooms. His study reveals variation across “age, year in university, language, and attitude toward writing” (24). He suggests that women’s tendency to reflect more on their writing on Facebook can be helpful in course work where reflection on writing is called for (22); similarly, women’s use of multiple forms of media can be leveraged into discussions of visual rhetoric (22). In particular, he writes, students “may not be aware of the rhetorical choices they are making in their Facebook use and how these choices relate to the audience that they have crafted” (24).

Attention to gender, he contends, is an important part of making exploration of such choices and their effects a productive literacy experience when Facebook and other SNSs become part of a composition class (24).


Leave a comment

Dush, Lisa. When Writing Becomes Content. CCC, Dec. 2015. Posted 02/21/2016.

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (2015): 173-96. Print.

Lisa Dush compares the concept of “writing” that has historically grounded writing studies to the new forms of written communication engendered by technological change. In these new forms of communication, what has always been thought of as writing must now be understood by keeping in mind its nature as “content.” Extant ideas of what “writing” means, she contends, should not “be erased”; rather, the field should understand and acknowledge the tensions created by writing’s migration into new spaces and forms (183).

Dush argues that “writing” and “content” are metaphors with “attendant bundles”; those surrounding writing can be hard to identify (179). For Dush, writing implies an “agentive composer” producing what Jodie Nicotra calls a “discrete textual object” (181); an audience that can be analyzed and known to some degree (177); specific spaces; and specific and known social and professional roles such as “author, editor, and publisher” or relationships such as “famous author to fan, good writer to bad” (179-80). For Dush, this metaphor does not capture the emergent features of writing for digital spaces and does not furnish the conceptual tools to adequately critique or respond to the changes (181).

Dush defines “content” as “conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (176; emphasis original). “Conditional,” she writes, refers to the degree to which creators of texts cannot easily know exactly where and how their work will be used; content is “characterized not by being finished or published, but rather by [its] availability for repurposing, mining, and other future uses” (176). It is “computable” in the sense that it is composed of numeric data, a form that allows “machine audiences” to “mine, rank, process, match, reconfigure, and redistribute it” (176); its format may change and fragments might appear in such places as search-engine lists (177).

“Networked” denotes the relationship of content not to the “speaker-audience dyad of classical rhetoric” but rather to audiences so vast as to call for machine analysis; because the audience cannot be authoritatively known, texts must tend toward “adaptation” to various audiences rather than “prediction” of an ideal fit (177). Dush cites Clay Shirky to note that the networked nature of content favors the production of more rather than less text, and “more arguably, democratic participation over hierarchy” (177).

Finally, content is “commodified.” Dush builds on John Trimbur’s distinction between “use value— . . . how well a thing meets human needs— and exchange value—value based on profit” (178; emphasis original). She illustrates this feature by noting that a tweet is not valued for its utility but for “the number of clicks and retweets it accumulates,” thus metamorphosing into advertising revenue (178).

Dush argues that recent attention to multimodal composition has not abandoned the metaphorical implications of “writing” as opposed to “content” (181), an approach that is not attuned to “what Jim Ridolfo and Danielle Nicole DeVoss call ‘rhetorical velocity'” (qtd. in Dush 182): that is, the rapid circulation of material via the manipulation of managers and strategists, both human and machine. Dush points to the ways in which this shift from “writing” to “content” risks a “disempowered” view of writers (183). She quotes Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina, authors of Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits, who recite a list of the ways that “[w]riters can’t be expected to be experts” and should therefore be subordinated to managers versed in content manipulation (qtd. in Dush 184). Dush responds that writing-studies professionals should take up this challenge: “[T]o avoid being written out of the work of writing, perhaps writers must indeed become experts at working with writing-as-content” (184). Such a focus, she argues, should be part of the curriculum at all levels of writing instruction (184).

This refocus, she writes, should embrace the fact that some of this approach already appears in some writing curricula, and, moreover, central aspects of writing-as-content lend themselves to applications and critiques grounded in rhetorical theory (184-85). She examines the “quad,” a figure from Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web, that surrounds a “core strategy” with four quadrants: substance, structure, workflow, and governance (185-86). Substance, Dush states, involves choices about the appropriate information in a message; she relates structure to James E. Porter’s arguments addressing the relation of circulation to delivery and cites work “in writing studies about composing in networked space” (187). Workflow and governance are the “people components” that echo writing studies’ emphasis on the “social and material nature of writing” (188).

Dush suggests that in considering where elements of content management are already being taught, for example in technical communication and in courses such as Writing for the Web, compositionists can move beyond document design to considerations of platforms and the rhetorical concerns that arise as information moves across them (188). Course designers should consider including more “content” vocabulary both in curricula and in course titles in order “to better signal to employers that our students are prepared to do content work” (189). Multimodal courses can move beyond applications that limit students’ ability to apply strategies central to content creation like tagging and search-engine optimization (189).

Dush addresses challenges raised by the shift to “content” such as inadequate working conditions imposed by the need to be constantly connected to social media and the disparity between the “humanistic” values of writing studies and the profit- and efficiency-driven impulses of the content-oriented workplace (191). She sees as important concerns the degree to which writing itself may be “devalued” and the possible corollary that writing as traditionally understood will no longer be “a feasible profession” (191).

For Dush, in order to foster the values of writing studies while addressing the shift to content, the field should determine appropriate “core strateg[ies]” to place at the center of Halvorson and Rach’s quad. Using knowledge of content management to further humanistic organizations and causes, developing critical language to interrogate such phenomena as the effects on working conditions and consequences for users, and resisting the naturalization of the changing relations between writers and industry should direct the field’s response to the shift (192-93). Ultimately, Dush writes

the risks of ignoring writing-as-content or, likewise, dismissing it, are that we may miss an important opportunity to expand the conceptual, research, and pedagogical purview of writing studies in ways that are appropriate to the digital age. (193)

 


Leave a comment

Anderson et al. Contributions of Writing to Learning. RTE, Nov. 2015. Posted 12/17/2015.

Anderson, Paul, Chris M. Anson, Robert M. Gonyea, and Charles Paine. “The Contributions of Writing to Learning and Development: Results from a Large-Scale, Multi-institutional Study.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.2 (2015): 199-235. Print

Note: The study referenced by this summary was reported in Inside Higher Ed on Dec. 4, 2015. My summary may add some specific details to the earlier article and may clarify some issues raised in the comments on that piece. I invite the authors and others to correct and elaborate on my report.

Paul Anderson, Chris M. Anson, Robert M. Gonyea, and Charles Paine discuss a large-scale study designed to reveal whether writing instruction in college enhances student learning. They note widespread belief both among writing professionals and other stakeholders that including writing in curricula leads to more extensive and deeper learning (200), but contend that the evidence for this improvement is not consistent (201-02).

In their literature review, they report on three large-scale studies that show increased student learning in contexts rich in writing instruction. These studies concluded that the amount of writing in the curriculum improved learning outcomes (201). However, these studies contrast with the varied results from many “small-scale, quasi-experimental studies that examine the impact of specific writing interventions” (200).

Anderson et al. examine attempts to perform meta-analyses across such smaller studies to distill evidence regarding the effects of writing instruction (202). They postulate that these smaller studies often explore such varied practices in so many diverse environments that it is hard to find “comparable studies” from which to draw conclusions; the specificity of the interventions and the student populations to which they are applied make generalization difficult (203).

The researchers designed their investigation to address the disparity among these studies by searching for positive associations between clearly designated best practices in writing instruction and validated measures of student learning. In addition, they wanted to know whether the effects of writing instruction that used these best practices differed from the effects of simply assigning more writing (210). The interventions and practices they tested were developed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), while the learning measures were those used in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). This collaboration resulted from a feature of the NSSE in which institutions may form consortia to “append questions of specific interest to the group” (206).

Anderson et al. note that an important limitation of the NSSE is its reliance on self-report data, but they contend that “[t]he validity and reliability of the instrument have been extensively tested” (205). Although the institutions sampled were self-selected and women, large institutions, research institutions, and public schools were over-represented, the authors believe that the overall diversity and breadth of the population sampled by the NSSE/CWPA collaboration, encompassing more than 70,000 first-year and senior students, permits generalization that has not been possible with more narrowly targeted studies (204).

The NSSE queries students on how often they have participated in pedagogic activities that can be linked to enhanced learning. These include a wide range of practices such as service-learning, interactive learning, “institutionally challenging work” such as extensive reading and writing; in addition, the survey inquires about campus features such as support services and relationships with faculty as well as students’ perceptions of the degree to which their college experience led to enhanced personal development. The survey also captures demographic information (205-06).

Chosen as dependent variables for the joint CWPA/NSSE study were two NSSE scales:

  • Deep Approaches to Learning, which encompassed three subscales, Higher-Order Learning, Integrative Learning, and Reflective Learning. This scale focused on activities related to analysis, synthesis, evaluation, combination of diverse sources and perspectives, and awareness of one’s own understanding of information (211).
  • Perceived Gains in Learning and Development, which involved subscales of Practical Competence such as enhanced job skills, including the ability to work with others and address “complex real-world problems”; Personal and Social Development, which inquired about students’ growth as independent learners with “a personal code of values and ethics” able to “contribut[e] to the community”; and General Education Learning, which includes the ability to “write and speak clearly and effectively, and to think critically and analytically” (211).

The NSSE also asked students for a quantitative estimate of how much writing they actually did in their coursework (210). These data allowed the researchers to separate the effects of simply assigning more writing from those of employing different kinds of writing instruction.

To test for correlations between pedagogical choices in writing instruction and practices related to enhanced learning as measured by the NSSE scales, the research team developed a “consensus model for effective practices in writing” (206). Eighty CWPA members generated questions that were distilled to 27 divided into “three categories based on related constructs” (206). Twenty-two of these ultimately became part of a module appended to the NSSE that, like the NSSE “Deep Approaches to Learning” scale, asked students how often their coursework had included the specific activities and behaviors in the consensus model. The “three hypothesized constructs for effective writing” (206) were

  • Interactive Writing Processes, such as discussing ideas and drafts with others, including friends and faculty;
  • Meaning-Making Writing Tasks, such as using evidence, applying concepts across domains, or evaluating information and processes; and
  • Clear Writing Expectations, which refers to teacher practices in making clear to students what kind of learning an activity promotes and how student responses will be assessed. (206-07)

They note that no direct measures of student learning is included in the NSSE, nor are such measures included in their study (204). Rather, in both the writing module and the NSSE scale addressing Deep Approaches to Learning, students are asked to report on kinds of assignments, instructor behaviors and practices, and features of their interaction with their institutions, such as whether they used on-campus support services (205-06). The scale on Perceived Gains in Learning and Development asks students to self-assess (211-12).

Despite the lack of specific measures of learning, Anderson et al. argue that the curricular content included in the Deep Approaches to Learning scale does accord with content that has been shown to result in enhanced student learning (211, 231). The researchers argue that comparisons between the NSSE scales and the three writing constructs allow them to detect an association between the effective writing practices and the attitudes toward learning measured by the NSSE.

Anderson et al. provide detailed accounts of their statistical methods. In addition to analysis for goodness-of-fit, they performed “blocked hierarchical regressions” to determine how much of the variance in responses was explained by the kind of writing instruction reported versus other factors, such as demographic differences, participation in various “other engagement variables” such as service-learning and internships, and the actual amount of writing assigned (212). Separate regressions were performed on first-year students and on seniors (221).

Results “suggest[ed] that writing assignments and instructional practices represented by each of our three writing scales were associated with increased participation in Deep Approaches to Learning, although some of that relationship was shared by other forms of engagement” (222). Similarly, the results indicate that “effective writing instruction is associated with more favorable perceptions of learning and development, although other forms of engagement share some of that relationship” (224). In both cases, the amount of writing assigned had “no additional influence” on the variables (222, 223-24).

The researchers provide details of the specific associations among the three writing constructs and the components of the two NSSE scales. Overall, they contend, their data strongly suggest that the three constructs for effective writing instruction can serve “as heuristics that instructors can use when designing writing assignments” (230), both in writing courses and courses in other disciplines. They urge faculty to describe and research other practices that may have similar effects, and they advocate additional forms of research helpful in “refuting, qualifying, supporting, or refining the constructs” (229). They note that, as a result of this study, institutions can now elect to include the module “Experiences with Writing,” which is based on the three constructs, when students take the NSSE (231).

 


3 Comments

Combs, Frost, and Eble. Collaborative Course Design in Scientific Writing. CS, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/12/15.

Combs, D. Shane, Erin A. Frost, and Michelle F. Eble. “”Collaborative Course Design in Scientific Writing: Experimentation and Productive Failure.” Composition Studies 43.2 (2015): 132-49. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Writing in the “Course Design” section of Composition Studies, D. Shane Combs, Erin A. Frost, and Michelle F. Eble describe a science-writing course taught at East Carolina University, “a doctoral/research institution with about 27,000 students, serv[ing] a largely rural population” (132). The course has been taught by the English department since 1967 as an upper-level option for students in the sciences, English, and business and technical communication. The course also acts as an option for students to fulfill the requirement to take two writing-intensive (WI) courses, one in the major; as a result, it serves students in areas like biology and chemistry. The two to three sections per semester offered by English are generally taught by “full-time teaching instructors” and sometimes by tenured/tenure-track faculty in technical and professional communication (132).

Combs et al. detail iterations of the course taught by Frost and Eble, who had not taught it before. English graduate student D. Shane Combs contributed as a peer mentor. Inclusion of the peer mentor as well as the incorporation of university-wide writing outcomes into the course-specific outcomes resulted from a Quality Enhancement Plan underway at the university as a component of its reaccreditation. This plan included a special focus on writing instruction, for example, a Writing Mentors program that funded peer-mentor support for WI instruction. Combs, who was sponsored by the English department, brought writing-center experience as well as learning from “a four-hour professional development session” to his role (133).

Drawing on work by Donna J. Haraway, Sandra Harding, and James C. Wilson, Frost and Eble’s collaboratively designed sections of the course were intent “on moving students into a rhetorical space where they can explore the socially constructed nature of science, scientific rhetoric, and scientific traditions” (134). In their classes, the instructors announced that they would be teaching from “an ‘apparent feminist’ perspective,” in Frost’s case, and from “a critical gender studies approach” in Eble’s (134-35). The course required three major assignments: field research on scientific writing venues in an area of the student’s choice; “a complete scientific article” for one of the journals that had been investigated; and a conversion of the scientific article into a general-audience article appropriate for CNN.com (135). A particular goal of these assignments was to provoke cognitive dissonance in order to raise questions of how scientific information can be transmitted “in responsible ways” as students struggled with the selectivity needed for general audiences (135).

Other components of students’ grades were class discussion, a “scripted oral debate completed in small groups,” and a “personal process journal.” In addition, students participated in “cross-class peer review,” in which students from Frost’s class provided feedback on the lay articles from Eble’s class and vice versa (136).

In their Critical Reflection, Combs et al. consider three components of the class that provided particular insights: the collaboration in course design; the inclusion of the peer mentor; and the cross-class peer review (137). Collaboration not only allowed the instructors to build on each other’s strengths and experiences, it also helped them analyze other aspects of the class. Frost and Eble determined that differences in their own backgrounds and teaching styles impacted student responses to assignments. For example, Eble’s experience on an Institutional Review Board influenced her ability to help students think beyond the perception that writing for varied audiences required them to “dumb down” their scientific findings (137).

Much discussion centers on what the researchers learned from the cross-class peer review about students’ dissonance in producing the CNN.com lay article. Students in the two classes addressed this challenge quite differently. Frost’s students resisted the complexity that Eble’s students insisted on sustaining in their revisions of their scientific article, while students in Eble’s class criticized the submissions from Frost’s students as “too simple.” The authors write that “even though students were presented with the exact same assignment prompt, they received different messages about their intended audiences” (138).

The researchers credit Combs’s presence as a peer mentor in Frost’s class for the students’ ability to revise more successfully for non-specialized audiences. They argue that he provided a more immediate outside audience at the same time that he promoted a sense of community and identification that encouraged students to make difficult rhetorical decisions (138-39). His feedback to the instructors helped them recognize the value of the cross-class peer review despite the apparent challenges it presented. In his commentary, he discusses how receiving the feedback from the other class prompted one student to achieve a “successful break from a single-form draft writing and in-class peer review” (Combs, qtd. in Combs et al. 140). He quotes the student’s perception that everyone in her own class “had the same understanding of what the paper was supposed to be” and her sense that the disruption of seeing the other class’s very different understanding fueled a complete revision that made her “happier with [her] actual article” (140). The authors conclude that both the contributions of the peer mentor and the dissonance created by the very different understandings of audience led to increased critical reflection (140), in particular, in Combs’s words, the recognition that

there are often spaces in writing not filled by right-and-wrong choices, but by creating drafts, receiving feedback, and ultimately making the decision to go in a chosen direction. (140)

In future iterations, in addition to retaining the cross-class peer review and the peer-mentor presence, the instructors propose equalizing the amount of feedback the classes receive, especially since receiving more feedback rather than less pushes students to “prioritize” and hence develop important revision strategies (141). They also plan to simplify the scientific-article assignment, which Frost deemed “too much” (141). An additional course-design revision involves creating a lay article from a previously published scientific paper in order to prepare students for the “affective impact” (141) of making radical changes in work to which they are already deeply committed. A final change involves converting the personal journal to a social-media conversation to develop awareness of the exigencies of public discussion of science (141).


Leave a comment

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).


Leave a comment

Read and Michaud. Professional Writing as Rhetorical Education. CCC, Feb. 2015. Posted 04/21/15.

Read, Sarah, and Michael J. Michaud. “Writing about Writing and the Multimajor Professional Writing Course.” College Composition and Communication 66.3 (2015): 427-57. Print.

Sarah Read and Michael J. Michaud propose an enriched version of the undergraduate professional writing course that will allow students to become more rhetorically “savvy” (432) in negotiating workplace writing contexts and to more successfully transition from school writing to writing in other environments.

Their approach incorporates the tenets of writing-about-writing (WAW), which they argue will move students beyond reproducing the standard forms of more traditional “business writing” courses, such as memos and letters. In order to function successfully in the rhetorical environments they will encounter beyond college, writers must be able to analyze how writing works in specific situations among specific audiences and stakeholders and to adjust their responses across changing contexts. Drawing on the work of Doug Brent and Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle, Read and Michaud posit that such rhetorical flexibility demands that learning shift from “skill transfer,” in which students can produce a particular written artifact, to “learning transformation,” in which the focus is on learning about learning: learning how to study and respond to new contexts as they occur (429, 434). Read and Michaud write that students’ ability to take what they learn in writing classes beyond the classroom is an important outcome for the field of composition studies; they argue that making the study of professional writing a study of how writing accomplishes tasks across diverse environments renders it “a rich pedagogical practice uniquely suited to the [multimajor professional writing] classroom” (429).

In order to develop their proposal for enhancing students’ rhetorical fluency in professional-writing situations, Read and Michaud review two extant models for fostering recognition of the rhetorical nature of professional writing and enabling the transfer of learning across the school/work interface. The “genre-based” model positions students as researchers of professional writing artifacts and how they function socioculturally in use outside the classroom. This model must overcome drawbacks in that analyzing genres in classrooms as isolated objects differs from studying them in authentic contexts, where they are used to accomplish “strictly instrumental” goals (432). Moreover, students may not understand the dynamics of the particular contexts well enough to recognize the nuances of genre use in a given location (432). Genre-based models overcome these obstacles by incorporating activity theory in order to locate the genre in actual use and by incorporating “structured reflection” to draw out students’ awareness of “what they have learned about learning to write” (434; emphasis original).

In “client-based” approaches, in contrast, students occupy a “protoprofessional” role in which they work on specific projects within a workplace context (435). While this approach allows students to experience writing as an authentic professional activity, it must incorporate strategies to make the experience “generalizable” beyond the specific application (435). A strength of this approach is that it allows students to share in a sociocultural interaction that develops rhetorical awareness (436). Read and Michaud argue that WAW integrates the strengths of both these approaches.

They use as a primary source Doug Downs’s “seven rationales for WAW” developed for first-year courses. Of these, the most relevant are those that emphasize “transfer” and “authentic” experiences (436-37). They each provide an overview of a course they have designed that draws on WAW to expand the rhetorical content of a professional writing curriculum.

Read’s course “teach[es] professional writing as a research activity” (438). Students choose a participant in a specific workplace site to study in depth over a semester. They are taught analytical tools used in writing studies as well as field research practices such as interviewing and data collection (440). Read provides them with an online tool, GEMviz, in order to create “genre ecology models” mapping the rhetorical context in which their participant works (441-43). Students are encouraged not only to use the analytical and online tools but also to critique and adapt them, even to the point of “abandoning [them] for a better tool” if necessary. This active critical role “foregrounds how knowledge production is a highly dynamic, recursive, and rhetorical process in both academic and professional environments” (443). Read argues that the three most relevant “rationales” from Downs’s list are difficult to teach: understanding that writing is more than “the transcription of language to print” and casting writing as “studyable” confound students’ expectations for a writing course, while designing truly authentic experiences places complex demands on the course itself (439). Similarly, the two course goals exist in tension with each other: developing “[s]trategies for encountering new workplace writing situations” at the same time students learn conventional forms and practices (440). Read finds that a reflection letter asking students to explore the ways in which they have learned the difference between rhetorical strategies and conventions reveals a heightened awareness of “the nature of learning in general” (446).

In Michaud’s course, students acquire “declarative knowledge” that they then “operationalize” through field research of a particular workplace participant and a particular genre of their choice (449). The course is built around the concept of the “knowledge society” and how writing functions in roles students themselves will adopt in such societies (447). Students read work by scholars of knowledge production like Deborah Brandt, then interview their participant and report via informal assignments and two formal reports on their use of this scholarship to learn about the participant as a knowledge worker (447-50). Reflection built into each report allows students to focus on their discoveries about the transition from academic to professional environments (450). Michaud reports that students enter the course unaware of the concept of “knowledge society” and of the importance of writing in that society (449); their reflections reveal learning not only that “there would be writing after college [but also that] there would likely be a good deal of it” (452; emphasis original), they also learn that this writing as well as the contexts in which it will occur will require “new learning” which they must approach through the application of what Doug Brent calls “flexible general knowledge” (qtd. in Read and Michaud 451). This flexible knowledge allows them to “transform” knowledge to meet new needs.

The practices of both courses, Read and Michaud contend, make a professional writing course a “rhetorical education” that functions as “another site within a liberal arts curriculum for enculturating students into the habits of lifelong learning” (454).