College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Nazzal et al. Curriculum for Targeted Instruction at a Community College. TETYC, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/11/2020.

Nazzal, Jane S., Carol Booth Olson, and Huy Q. Chung. “Differences in Academic Writing across Four Levels of Community College Composition Courses.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.3 (2020): 263-96. Print.

Jane S. Nazzal, Carol Booth Olson, and Huy Q. Chung present an assessment tool to help writing educators design curriculum during a shift from faculty-scored placement exams and developmental or “precollegiate” college courses (263) to what they see as common reform options (264-65, 272).

These options, they write, often include directed self-placement (DSP), while preliminary courses designed for students who might struggle with “transfer-level” courses are often replaced with two college-level courses, one with an a concurrent support addition for students who feel they need extra help, and one without (265). At the authors’ institution, “a large urban community college in California” with an enrollment of 50,000 that is largely Hispanic and Asian, faculty-scored exams placed 15% of the students into the transfer-level course; after the implementation of DSP, 73% chose the transfer course, 12% the course with support, and the remaining 15% the precollegiate courses (272).

The transition to DSP and away from precollegiate options, according to Nazzal et al., resulted from a shift away from “access” afforded by curricula intended to help underprepared students toward widespread emphasis on persistence and time to completion (263). The authors cite scholarship contending that processes that placed students according to faculty-scored assessments incorrectly placed one-third to one-half of students and disparately affected minority students; fewer than half of students placed into precollegiate courses reach the transfer-level course (264).

In the authors’ view, the shift to DSP as a solution for these problems creates its own challenges. They contend that valuable information about student writing disappears when faculty no longer participate in placement processes (264). Moreover, they question the reliability of high-school grades for student decisions, arguing that high school curriculum is often short on writing (265). They cite “burden-shifting” when the responsibility for making good choices is passed to students who may have incomplete information and little experience with college work (266). Noting as well that lower income students may opt for the unsupported transfer course because of the time pressure of their work and home lives, the authors see a need for research on how to address the specific situations of students who opt out of support they may need (266-67).

The study implemented by Nazzal et al. attempts to identify these specific areas that affect student success in college writing in order to facilitate “explicit teaching” and “targeted instruction” (267). They believe that their process identifies features of successful writing that are largely missing from the work of inexperienced writers but that can be taught (268).

The authors review cognitive research on the differences between experienced and novice writers, identifying areas like “Writing Objectives,” “Revision,” and “Sense of Audience” (269-70). They present “[f]oundational [r]esearch” that compares the “writer-based prose” of inexpert writers with the “reader-based prose” of experts (271), as well as the whole-essay conceptualization of successful writers versus the piecemeal approach of novices, among other differentiating features (269).

The study was implemented during the first two weeks of class over two semesters, with eight participating faculty teaching thirteen sections. Two hundred twenty-five students from three precollegiate levels and the single transfer-level course completed the tasks. The study essays were similar to the standard college placement essays taken by most of the students in that they were timed responses to prompts, but for the study, students were asked to read two pieces and “interpret, and synthesize” them in their responses (272-73). One piece was a biographical excerpt (Harriet Tubman or Louie Zamperini, war hero) and the other a “shorter, nonfiction article outlining particular character qualities or traits,” one discussing leadership and the other resilience (274). The prompts asked students to choose a single trait exhibited by the subject that most contributed to his or her success (274).

In the first of two 45-minute sessions, teachers read the pieces aloud while students followed along, then gave preliminary guidance using a graphical organizer. In the second session, students wrote their essays. The essays were rated by experienced writing instructors trained in scoring, using criteria for “high-school writing competency” based on principles established by mainstream composition assessment models (273-74).

Using “several passes through the data,” the lead researcher examined a subset of 76 papers that covered the full range of scores in order to identify features that were “compared in frequency across levels.” Differences in the frequency of these features were analyzed for statistical significance across the four levels (275). A subsample of 18 high-scoring papers was subsequently analyzed for “distinguishing elements . . . that were not present in lower-scoring papers,” including some features that had not been previously identified (275).

Nine features were compared across the four levels; the authors provide examples of presence versus absence of these features (276-79). Three features differed significantly in their frequency in the transfer-level course versus the precollegiate courses: including a clear claim, responding to the specific directions of the prompt, and referring to the texts (279).

Nazzal et al. also discovered that a quarter of the students placed in the transfer-level course failed to refer to the text, and that only half the students in that course earning passing scores, indicating that they had not incorporated one or more of the important features. They concluded that students at all levels would benefit from a curriculum targeting these moves (281).

Writing that only 9% of the papers scored in the “high” range of 9-12 points, Nazzal et al. present an annotated example of a paper that includes components that “went above and beyond the features that were listed” (281). Four distinctive features of these papers were

(1) a clear claim that is threaded throughout the paper; (2) a claim that is supported by relevant evidence and substantiated with commentary that discusses the significance of the evidence; (3) a conclusion that ties back to the introduction; and (4) a response to all elements of the prompt. (282)

Providing appendices to document their process, Nazzal et al. offer recommendations for specific “writing moves that establish communicative clarity in an academic context” (285). They contend that it is possible to identify and teach the moves necessary for students to succeed in college writing. In their view, their identification of differences in the writing of students entering college with different levels of proficiency suggests specific candidates for the kind of targeted instruction that can help all students succeed.


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Bunch, George C. “Metagenres” as an Analytical Tool at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/24/2020.

Bunch, George C. “Preparing the ‘New Mainstream’ for College and Careers: Academic and Professional Metagenres in Community Colleges.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.2 (2019): 168-94. Print.

George C. Bunch, describing himself as a “relative ‘outsider’” who has been studying English learners and the “policies and practices” affecting their experiences as they enter and move on from community colleges (190n1), writes about the need for frameworks that can guide curricular choices for the “New Mainstream,” the students with diverse backgrounds and varied educational preparation who populate community colleges (169). He suggests attention to “metagenres,” a concept advanced by Michael Carter (171) as an “analytical tool” that can provide insights into the practices that will most benefit these students (170).

Bunch contextualizes his exploration of metagenres by reporting pressure, some from policymakers, to move community-college students more quickly through layers of developmental and English-as-second-language (ESL) coursework. Such acceleration, Bunch suggests, is meant to allow students to move faster into college-level or disciplinary coursework leading to transfer to four-year colleges or to career paths (168).

Bunch reports a study of ten California community colleges he and his team published in 2011. The study revealed contrasting orientations in approaches to developmental writing students. One endorses a skill-based curriculum in which students acquire “the basics” to function as “building blocks” for later more advanced coursework (172). The other promotes curriculum leading to “academic pathways” that encourage “opportunities for language and literacy development and support in the context of students’ actual progression toward academic and professional goals” (172). Bunch contends that in neither case did his team find adequate discussions of “the language and literacy demands of academic work beyond ESL, developmental English, and college-level composition courses” (173; emphasis original).

Bunch writes that scholarship on the role of writing instruction as students prepare for specific professional goals follows two divergent trends. One approach assumes that literacy instruction should promote a universal set of “generalist” competencies and that writing teachers’ “professional qualifications and experience” make them best qualified to teach these practices (173). Bunch points to the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” developed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project, as well as work by Kathleen Blake Yancey, as exemplifying this approach (173-74).

At the same time, he notes, the later “WPA Outcomes Statement” illustrates a focus on the specific rhetorical demands of the disciplines students are likely to take up beyond English, asking, he writes, for “guidance” from disciplinary faculty and hoping for “share[d] responsibility” across campuses as students negotiate more targeted coursework (174). Bunch expresses concern, however, that faculty in the disciplines have “rarely reflected on those [literacy practices] explicitly” and tend to assume that students should master language use prior to entering their fields (174).

Bunch suggests that the concept of metagenres can supply analysis that affords a “grain size” between “macro approaches” that posit a single set of criteria for all writing regardless of its purpose and audience, and a “micro-level” approach that attempts to parse the complex nuances of the many different career options community-college students might pursue (175).

To establish the concept, Carter examined student outcomes at his four-year institution. Defining metagenres as “ways of doing and writing by which individual linguistic acts on the microlevel constitute social formations on the macrolevel” (qtd. in Bunch 176), Carter grouped the courses he studied under four headings:

  • Problem-Solving, most apparent in fields like economics, animal science, business management, and math
  • Empirical Inquiry, which he located in natural and social sciences
  • Research from Sources, visible in the humanities, for example history
  • Performance, notably in the fine arts but also in writing coursework (176)

Bunch notes that in some cases, the expected definitional boundaries required negotiation: e.g., psychology, though possibly an empirical discipline, fit more closely under problem-solving in the particular program Carter analyzed (176-77).

Bunch offers potential applications at the levels of ESL/developmental/composition coursework, “[w]riting across and within the disciplines,” “[c]ollege-level coursework in other disciplines,” and “[i]nstitution-wide reform” (177-79). For example, writing students might use the metagenre concept to examine and classify the writing they do in their other courses (178), or faculty might open conversations about how students might be able to experience discipline-specific work even while developing their language skills (179). Institutions might reconsider what Thomas Bailey et al. call the “cafeteria model” of course selection and move toward “guided pathways” that define coherent learning goals tied to students’ actual intentions (179).

Bunch and his group considered coursework in nine programs at a “small community college in the San Francisco Bay Area” that is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (180). In selecting programs, he looked for a range across both traditional academic areas and career-oriented paths, as well as for coursework in which minority and underprepared or minority-language students often enrolled (180-81). Primary data came from course descriptions at both class- and program-levels, but Bunch also drew on conversations with members of the community-college community (180).

He writes that “the notion of metagenres” was “useful for comparing and contrasting the ‘ways of doing’ associated with academic and professional programs” (181). He writes that history, fashion design, and earth science (meteorology and geology) could be classified as “research from sources,” “performance,” and “empirical inquiry,” respectively (182-83). Other courses were more complex in their assignments and outcomes, with allied health exhibiting both problem-solving and empirical inquiry and early childhood education combining performance and problem-solving (183-86).

Bunch states that applying the metagenre concept is limited by the quality of information available as well as the likelihood that it cannot subsume all subdisciplines, and suggests more research, including classroom observation as well as examination of actual student writing (186). He cites other examinations of genre as a means of situating student learning, acknowledging the danger of too narrow a focus on particular genres at the expense of attention to the practices of “individuals who use them” (187). However, in his view, the broader analytical potential of the metagenre frame encourages conversations among faculty who may not have considered the nuances of their particular literacy demands and attention to writing as part of students’ progression into specific academic and career paths rather than as an isolated early activity (174). He posits that, rather than trying to detail the demands of any given genre as students enter the college environment, institutions might focus on helping students understand and apply the “concept of metagenre” as a way of making sense of the rhetorical situations they might enter (189; emphasis original).

Ultimately, in his view, the concept can aid in

providing more specific guidance than afforded by the kinds of general academic literacy competencies often assigned to the composition profession, yet remaining broader than a focus on the individual oral and written genres of every conceivable subdiscipline and subfield. (189).


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Jackson et al. HBCUs in the Composition Conversation.CCC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/09/2020.

Jackson, Karen Keaton, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari. “We Belong in the Discussion: Including HBCUs in Conversations about Race and Writing.” College Composition and Communication 71.2 (2019): 184-214. Print.

Karen Keaton Jackson, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari note that scholars in composition have written about issues in African-American higher education, but they write that the voices of compositionists who teach at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “are most noticeably, and perhaps ironically, absent from this conversation in any consistent way” (185). They note scholars writing about the black experience in higher education are “well-meaning,” but that “very few” have actual experience in HBCUs (185). In the authors’ view, this absence casts HBCUs as “the well-mannered Other” referred to by Jacqueline Jones Royster in her 1996 article, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own” (186).

The authors write to make the voices of HBCU faculty, especially female faculty, heard in the composition conversation, making visible the value to the field of HBCUs as places where black students are centered and the African American experience is “fully integrated and a part of the curriculum and campus life itself” (188).

Reporting the history of HBCUs, the authors explore the differences between HBCUs and other “minority-serving institutions” (MSIs). They write that only HBCUs and “tribal colleges” serve specific populations as their mission; in other cases, the colleges may be designated as MSIs based on enrollment and this designation may change as enrollments vary (187). The first HBCU, they write, originated in Pennsylvania in 1837 to serve African Americans who could not enroll in white schools; these institutions proliferated during reconstruction. At present, there are approximately one hundred HBCUs designated as such by a 1965 act of Congress (186). In 2015, 76% of HBCU enrollees were black (187).

Elaborating on Keith Gilyard’s 1999 article, “African American Contributions to Composition Studies,” the authors argue that the contributions he notes come largely from HBCUs in existence before the civil rights movement, whose faculty were “vocal, prominent, and actively engaged in discourse about the teaching of writing to our students” (190). They reiterate Gilyard’s reference, for example, to Melvin Butler, chair of the committee that drafted “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” in 1974 (191).

Jackson et al. write that students at HBCUs differ from African American students at primarily white research universities in that they are more likely to be first-generation college enrollees, come from lower-income households, and have experienced under-funded schools. Importantly, in the authors’ view, these students are less likely to have heard Standard English used frequently and are “more likely to speak AAVE [African American Vernacular English] consistently, with little experience with or awareness of code-switching or code-meshing” (189).

Acknowledging work by scholars who do address effective pedagogies for this population, Jackson et al. state that much of this scholarship appears in “‘special’ issues” rather than in the “normative” conversation in “mainstream” journals (192). The authors critique examples of this scholarship as “incomplete” in that it often involves very few students over short periods of time. Moreover, in one case they cite, they argue that including code-meshing in the curriculum as exemplified leaves out the facility with Standard English required if AAVE speakers are to successfully combine the two languages (193-94). In their view, research conducted by and with HBCU students and faculty would come closer to producing a “complete” picture of how such pedagogies work (195).

As an alternative, Jackson et al. discuss the 2014 HBCU Composition Symposium at North Carolina A&T State University, at which HBCU faculty and students collaborated with “nationally recognized faculty and scholars” (195). From this event, the authors recount two “unwelcome stories” (David Wallace) or “hiccup[s],” moments that illustrate the nature and challenges of “cross-boundary discourse” (196). In one example, an HBCU faculty member was invited to participate in a CCCC panel but was unable to attend because of lack of funding, a barrier that the authors argue is a pervasive limitation on the participation of HBCU faculty in matters in which their voices should be foregrounded (196). In the second unwelcome story, an HBCU student challenged a presenter who advocated for code-meshing, “critically interrogat[ing] the benefit” of this strategy in her context (199).

The authors contend that this exchange illustrates the concept of a “hush harbor” (199), a space in which the students in their population are able to speak freely and examine issues affecting them without being judged. Other concepts that the authors identify as guiding effective pedagogy for their students include “othermothering,” in which female HBCU faculty can mentor and nurture students as they enter larger contexts (205).

Similarly, they present “discursive homeplacing” as a process through which students in their classrooms can “explore language as a tool,” again without being judged (202-03). The authors present examples in which the students examine the role of code-meshing and Black English in events such as the George Zimmerman trial and in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Other pedagogical choices include the use of narratives to permit “double-consciousness writing” as students consider their “collective knowledge” about their complex environments. In the “safe harboring” provided by an HBCU, the authors write, students can practice complex cross-boundary discourse as they challenge teachers’ assumptions about their learning (202-03). Jackson et al. further illustrate their use of students’ social media skills and their strategies to provide literacy options for students for whom cost may be a factor (204).

In the authors’ view, HBCUs furnish students a “unique” environment: “the safe space or hush harbor to freely be themselves without feeling judged or attacked” (204). They illustrate the value of HBCUs by providing data on the prominence of HBCU graduates among African Americans who go on to distinguished and successful careers in science, engineering, and the humanities (209).

Concluding that the voices of HBCU faculty and the educational space they represent are essential if the field of composition is to fulfill its mandates of inclusion and empowerment, the authors propose resolutions to enhance their ability to participate in the professional conversation. Funding support to attend conferences and conduct research, as well as representation and designated board positions on national and regional organizations, they propose, would result in the kind of cross-boundary collaboration and discussion that would bring their students from the periphery of college writing education into the mainstream (206-09).


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Obermark, Lauren E. “Misfitting” and Disability in English Graduate Studies. Nov. 2019 CE. Posted 01/28/2019.

Obermark, Lauren E. “Making Space for the Misfit: Disability and Access in Graduate Education in English.” College English 82.2 (2019): 173-203. Print.

Lauren E. Obermark examines the English graduate school experience through the lens of disability studies, incorporating the concept of the “misfit” to analyze responses to a survey she conducted at the “midsize regional public university” (179) where she is an assistant professor.

She reports that her own graduate education, where she regularly felt she “did not fit the graduate school mold” (173), aroused her interest in issues of access in English graduate programs like the one she attended and the one in place at her institution. To key concepts of access and disability, Obermark adds “wonder,” which she draws on Tanya Titchkosky to define as “a multipronged and exploratory orientation” (177) that can be “uncomfortable” because it is “outward-facing and change-focused” (178). She describes her survey as an act of wonder; her grounded-theory approach to the responses leads her to conclude that many assumptions underlying common models of graduate education create unacknowledged “pedagogical misfits” and diminish access in these programs (176).

Disability scholarship leads Obermark to argue for understanding disability studies as a form of inquiry into concerns that affect everyone as these studies consider how the “collaboration and interdependence” that improve conditions for people with disabilities can enhance everyone’s lives (176). Such an approach, she contends, makes questions about access “generative” rather than casting access as a way of correcting a specific problem through “accommodations” that can create more obstacles than they remove (174, 193-94).

Noting that institutions implement procedures that attempt to resolve access problems, Obermark describes many such efforts as part of a “disability bypass,” which renders people needing different forms of access invisible as their needs have supposedly been met. In graduate schools, she argues, this bypass takes the form of insistence that no student succeeding in academia meets the definition of disabled (182). Obermark’s survey examines the ways she believes the university and the students alike bypass or deny the existence of students for whom extant forms of access mean struggle (181).

For the concept of “misfitting,” Obermark turns to the scholarship of Elisabeth L. Miller and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. Quoting Garland-Thomson, Obermark writes that “a misfit is a result of incongruence or ‘awkward’ juxtaposition” and therefore “does not imply a problem with the environment or with an individual” (177). A premise that emerges from the survey data is that misfits occur when established norms are wrongly assumed to work well for everyone. In Obermark’s view, such misfitting can affect access, especially as it often goes unnoticed (177).

Obermark’s institution offers an MA and an MFA, which feature many overlapping classes for students working toward a number of goals, such as credentialing for their secondary teaching jobs or preparing for PhD work. Of the ninety-five students offered the survey, thirty-two participated(179). Opening questions asked about the “most common in-class approach and the most common assignment” in the students’ experiences (183). By wide margins, students reported that whole-class discussion was the most common approach and an academic essay the most common assignment (183).

From open-ended comments, Obermark concludes that many students question whether the class discussions really serve either the learners or the course goals as effectively as they might (184). Student comments note the tendency for a few students with strong oral skills to control discussion, in one case describing this environment as “repetitive and even a bit intimidating for those not ‘in the loop’” (184). Another called such discussions “unstructured and random” and not clearly aligned with assigned materials (185). A student who found the reading challenging wrote that the discussion did not provide the access to the material that she needed (185).

Student comments about the essay assignments, in Obermark’s view, constitute “a deeply enculturated essay allegiance,” with students contending that only the traditional essay correctly showcases graduate-level skills (188). Obermark counters that much recent scholarship in digital and multimodal communication suggests that a wider range of options might be fruitful (188).

For Obermark, students’ sense that they are expected to succeed in these situations even if they are not comfortable with them suggests that students have internalized a message that those for whom the accepted process is not the best fit are not actually “fit” for graduate school (185). She characterizes “reverse accommodation” as a common assumption on students’ parts that it is “their job to figure out and work through” any issues they encounter with the teaching methods considered the norm (190; emphasis original). Rather than questioning how the norms could change, Obermark argues that students see adaptation as their only recourse. The ability, in the words of one respondent, to “just muddle through and figure it out on our own” is seen as the duty of a graduate student in English by students and professor alike (191). Misfitting, in this view, is the misfit’s fault.

Maintaining with other disability scholars that “accommodation” is not “access,” Obermark argues that accommodation as generally provided “requires a great deal of emotional labor from students,” making it their responsibility to inform and educate their instructors individually about their needs, thus “reliev[ing] the professor (or the institution) from making a wider change” (192-93).

For Obermark, the students’ struggles to accommodate the traditional academic assumptions raise the question of what the field of English studies really wants. She responds to “water cooler” assertions that graduate school should be rigorous and the material difficult with the contention, quoting Anne-Marie Womack, that “The way to teach difficult material well is always to make it more accessible” (194). The failure to provide this access leads Obermark to wonder whether the field “really want[s] [graduate education] to be accessible or inclusive in meaningful ways” (195).

Acknowledging that colleagues may see student struggles as “an ongoing reality” (195), Obermark asks questions about her respondents’ attitudes toward disability. She reports that for students currently teaching, learning about disability issues makes them more aware, not just of specific disabilities, but also of difference and diversity generally in their own classrooms (196). Such awareness, she contends, suggests that the teachers acknowledge their responsibility to change rather than requiring their students to adjust when their fit to norms is not perfect (196).

Obermark writes that examining how graduate students manage their fit in current graduate-school culture might encourage an open-ended and ongoing conversation, perhaps triggering small changes in the pedagogical practices that are often taken for granted (195). She offers examples of alternative practices that can welcome other ways of learning rather than promulgating what she considers a “take it or leave it” message (177), which she believes drives students out of graduate programs when they perceive that their abilities are not those the field requires. Thus, in her view, awareness of misfitting is a step toward creative thinking: improving access generates new approaches that she believes enhance access for everyone.


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Boler, Megan. Affect and Media Literacy. RTE, Nov. 2019. Posted 01/09/2019.

Boler, Megan. “Digital Disinformation and the Targeting of Affect: New Frontiers for Critical Media Education.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.2 (2019): 187-91. Print.

Megan Boler contributes a “provocation” to an “In Dialogue” section of Research in the Teaching of English focusing on “Media.” She calls for attention to the influence of emotion in rhetorical communication, particularly in social media (187).

Boler argues that media literacy scholars and educators “lag behind advertisers and tech companies” in understanding the power of emotion to elicit responses (188). Social media, she writes, have enabled propagandists with this kind of understanding to target and manipulate public opinion in new and more powerful ways. In her view, such agents deliberately stoke emotional responses in order to create anger and division as well as distrust of public fora (187). In today’s media, Boler argues, “emotion and affect have become central currencies” in today’s “(digital) attention economy” (188).

To examine how media literacy education addresses the sophisticated use of emotion she describes, Boler’s team did a “preliminary review” of nine media literacy handbooks from 2017 and 2018 (188). She finds that these handbooks exhibit a consistent “cognitive bias,” focusing on fact-based critique including the recognition of “questionable URLs, . . . biased language, or missing sources” (189). Only four mention emotion at all.

She reports on one of the latter that provides guidance on recognizing “intentional” emotional appeals in fake sources but, in her view, absolves consumers of responsibility for their own emotional engagement. Another provides classroom activities that encourage students to “identify how the source affected their emotions” (189). While a first step, this approach, Boler feels, isolates emotion as an individual response (189).

Boler suggests a “pedagogy of discomfort” that asks students to examine the effects of identity, peer pressure, and other “unconscious emotional habits, patterns, and assumptions” that influence responses to media (190).

Emotion, in this view, is “not merely an ‘add-on’ that can be understood through a checklist.” Instead, emotion and affect are “fundamental,” Boler contends, and should be central to media literacy scholarship and education (190).


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Andrus et al. Teaching for Transfer at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC Sept. 2019. Posted 12/13/2019.

Andrus, Sonja, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg. “Teaching for Writing Transfer: A Practical Guide for Teachers.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.1 (2019): 76-89. Print.

Sonja Andrus, Sharon Mitchler, and Howard Tinberg report on participating in a study to examine the effects of Kathleen Blake Yancey et al.’s teaching-for-transfer curriculum (TFT) across a range of institutions and student populations. Andrus et al. applied the curriculum from Writing across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing at three community colleges, one “small, rural,” one “suburban,” and one “urban” (77).

The study group consisted of nine writing professionals at different institutions who taught “parallel courses” in fall 2017. The curriculum from Writing across Contexts had been deemed useful in first-year writing courses at a “large research university”; the study considered how the assignments and scaffolding materials could be effectively adjusted for a wider sample of settings (77).

Arguing for the importance of helping students understand the usefulness of their learning beyond the college-writing classroom (76), the authors note the students who are likely to enroll in community-college courses may differ in age, experience, and life situations from students at four-year institutions. They write that differences in institutional structures, such as class sizes and higher class loads, can also affect the efficacy of the transfer curriculum (77).

Andrus et al. report that the TFT curriculum includes three components: key terms, reflection requirements, and four major assignments (77). The key terms, which are meant to provide students with “a single vocabulary for talking about writing in the classroom and for thinking about writing,” are

  • Audience
  • Genre
  • Rhetorical situation
  • Reflection
  • Discourse community
  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Knowledge (78)

The authors endorse the reflection component for its power to “slow student writers down” so they can become more “self-aware” and develop metacognitive sensibilities that will allow them to understand the process of writing as well as themselves as writers. All assignments come with reading lists and reflective elements that act as “perpetual glue” supporting the curriculum’s scaffolding (80).

The authors explain how they believe that each of the first three assignments leads students toward the final task, which is

[a]reflective composition, in a genre of the student’s own choosing, . . . [that] state[s] a fully developed theory of writing drawn from the course’s key terms and grounded in the course’s readings, a theory upon which students may draw when asked to write in new contexts. (80)

The first assignment is a “source-based definition and synthesis essay” (78) in which students apply the terms genre, rhetorical situation, and audience to assigned readings and in the process “describe the relationship among the terms” (79). The rationale for basing an assignment on sources early in the term is to introduce students to addressing varied perspectives “from the start” (79).

This assignment, the authors aver, is “daunting” and “unfamiliar” for students and for instructors, who, like Tinberg, may be unsure their classes are ready for the synthesis required (84). The requirement to relate the unfamiliar terms to each other and apply them to a challenging reading, the authors believe, immediately confronts students with the need to explore “what writing is and how it works” beyond the basics of a specific college requirement (84).

The second assignment also “flips” traditional practice by asking for research into “large, genuinely interesting questions rather than simplistic thesis-driven answers” (79). Andrus et al. state that teachers may need to support students in a process that not only presents the basics of research writing but also confounds their expectations by asking them to explore an issue rather than working to support a preconceived opinion (85). Included in this assignment is an emphasis on a key term, “discourse community,” as students are asked to see research and writing as important elements of knowledge-making in context (85).

In the third assignment, students recast their prior work in three different genres (79). The authors caution that it may be tempting to limit students with tight semester schedules to a single genre, but they argue that “at least planning the work for multiple genres is significant here” (86). One recommendation is to allow students to work in genres they already understand so that students who may be disoriented by college have a “stable” starting place for the new learning required (87-88).

The authors encourage instructors to prepare for a range of responses to the final assignment, noting that some students may repackage the reflections they have already completed while others may try to frame the assignment in more familiar forms (86-87). They provide an excerpt that they believe illustrates a student “conspicuously and knowingly deploying critical terms from the course” in which she articulates increased awareness of the importance of audience, genre, and rhetorical context (87).

The authors discuss ways they adjusted the TFT process to serve their community college environments. They emphasize the importance of conferencing and illustrate ideas for managing the time demands of one-on-one interaction with students (80-81). The assignments differ from those students have experienced previously, and both the cognitive load and pace of the work can benefit from enhanced “reassurance” and “direction” (81), in the authors’ view.

In addition, the authors changed some of the required readings, emphasizing their efforts to meet the goals of the curriculum while finding a balance between readings that were too long or dense and those that were too “short and easy” to accomplish the curriculum’s goals (81). These decisions, they write, allowed students to address readings in more depth (82). Andrus et al. analyze the effects of some of the listed readings, including students’ resistance to articles that cast them as “objects to be studied” and their appreciation of works in which the challenges they faced as community-college students were seen as “important and central to the course” (83). The authors also provide ideas for increasing the reflective writing considered essential to the course goals (83-84).

A list of recommendations includes as well the importance of being “frank and upfront” with students about the course and of being flexible and innovative within the bounds of the curriculum goals in order to make the course more effective for the particular students involved (87-88).

 

 


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Elbow, Peter. Text and Time. CE, Sept. 2019. Posted 11/07/2019.

Elbow, Peter. “We’ll Sing Like Birds in a Cage: Text and the Dream of Eluding Time.” College English 82.1 (2019): 29-40. Print.

Contributing to an issue of College English dealing with the relationship between literacy studies and “text,” Peter Elbow explores the implications of different lenses we can use to look at language: speech, writing, composition, and text.

He prefaces his piece with a quote from the Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus regarding the boundedness of human activities by time and a sections from a poem, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden. Elbow later quotes two lines of this poem: “O let not Time deceive you,/You cannot conquer Time” (37). His article addresses the ties among the four lenses and human attitudes toward time.

Elbow maintains that writing itself arose from the need to cross from the embodied actions of speech to the more distanced communication of the written symbol. All writing systems, he contends, owe their existence to the use of rebuses, “visible pictures that represent audible sounds” (30). He illustrates the use of the rebus technique to convert an abstract word like “belief” into writing through images of a bee and a leaf, then goes on to trace the transition from using the meanings of the pictures to using their initial sounds to represent phonological sounds; thus, the Semitic word aleph, meaning “ox,” led to a drawing of an ox’s head that represented the initial sound of the word and that came to be the letter A (31).

In Elbow’s view, “writing” retains the connection to the embodied through its invocation of the physical actions and environments associated with putting marks on page or screen. However, he states, as writing studies aspired to academic standing, the implication of the “ordinary” and “everyday” inherent in “writing” no longer served and practitioners sought “a fancier word” (32). “Composition,” denoting something that Elbow claims no ordinary person ever sat down to write, does at least, in his estimate, capture the “process” involved in writing (32). However, Elbow claims, “composition” soon became ordinary in its own right and succumbed to an even more erudite term, “text.”

Elbow provides definitions for the three lenses. Text “foregrounds writing as a transaction of pure meaning” that “disconnects writing from persons, bodies, sound, time” (33). The writing lens, in contrast, evokes writing as “action by humans taking place in time,” while composition “ties writing to the classroom,” where it is “an exercise—not the real thing” (34; emphasis original). Elbow discusses a tension between seeing writing as private in that most of what people write, in drafts for example, will never be read by anyone else, and seeing it as public because “in the process of producing anything, we are haunted by that third-grade teacher-reader peering over our shoulder at every word we put down.” He proposes that such oppositions are each, “in a sense,” correct, and the true discussion should focus on “which lens is most useful” in a specific context (35; all emphasis original).

Elbow ties the “text” lens to time with an analogy to King Lear, arguing that Lear’s fatal actions were failed efforts to control and elude time. The effort to “create works that will last,” in his view, is a similar strategy to escape time (36).

Contending that text lends itself to the sense that words can “last forever” as well as to an illusion that we can take in the entirety of a “string of words” simultaneously, Elbow responds not only that texts can disappear physically but that meanings are ephemeral; moreover, reading is an activity bound to the progress through a text in time (37). At the same time, he writes, the success of text ultimately is a function of narrative, which “carrie[s] us forward from word to word” (37). He also finds the imprint of time in intonation, the way even silent readers have been shown to hear emphasis and even musical qualities in what they read, thus returning writing to the space of the body and therefore time (37-38).

Elbow proposes the “voice” lens, which he says reminds readers that “the words emerged from a physical body” (38). “Writing” similarly evokes a living being making choices, while “the text lens downplays time, person, voice, sound, and body” (38; emphasis original). He endorses reading aloud to audiences as a way of producing language that is “clearer and easier to process” (39). Ultimately, he claims, in order to come to life, text must give up “the dream of eluding time” (39).


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Borgman & McClure. Advantages of Online Teaching and PhD Studies. FORUM Fall 2019. Posted 10/30/2019.

Borgman, Jessie, and Christine I. McClure. “The Ultimate Balancing Act: Contingent Online Teaching and PhD Coursework.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 23.1 (2019): A3-A8. Print.

Jessie Borgman and Christine I. McClure recount how the opportunity to both teach and take courses online allowed them to develop professionally and pursue rewarding careers.

The writers are long-time contingent teachers with wide experience in online environments. Both are pursuing PhDs in technical communication programs. MClure takes both face-to-face and online courses, while Borgman’s are all online (A3). As they pursue their graduate studies, they have both experienced teaching full loads as contingent faculty, taking on multiple courses at a range of institutions (A4-A5).

They note that they encounter negatives common to contingent positions, such as pay levels not commensurate with their professional standing (A4), “identity issues,” and “lack of professional development opportunities” (A5). They report heavy workloads, including the need to read and respond to a huge amount of student work, to keep with their own coursework, and to continue their own research and writing (A4). They write that this workload has affected their stress levels, their abilities to find time for their families, and their health (A4).

However, the authors contend that their strategies for dealing with these characteristics of their teaching jobs as well as their PhD coursework have allowed them to pursue career directions that would not have been possible without online education. Acknowledging literature that claims that online teaching is more time- and energy-intensive than face-to-face work (A4), Borgman and McClure simultaneously find the ability to work online both as teachers and as students “freeing” (A3).

A strategy they cite as both freeing and enabling is the recognition that they are not tied to “9-to-5 lives”: they “must always be prepared to do what [they] can when [they] can.” They characterize this situation as “a new fluid workspace” that has allowed them to meet demands that would otherwise be impossible (A4).

They also note personal characteristics they believe contribute to their achievements. These include being “extremely organized,” “highly motivated,” and possessed of “excellent time management skills” (A3). They have developed the ability to use synched calendars to coordinate the many intersecting threads of their job, coursework, and home requirements (A5-A6).

The lack of professional development led them to accumulate their own strategies over their years of teaching; they cast their decisions to enter PhD programs as a desire for “more” (A5). They also find that their coursework has led to networks and collaborative alliances that allow them to grow “more confident” about their career trajectories (A5).

One advantage they cite for their online trajectories is the ability to avoid heavy debt loads. They find that flexibility in their programs and employment allows them to take time off as needed to accumulate funds and that financial assistance may often be available from institutions where they work and study (A6).

Borgman enjoys the freedom afforded by contingent work, as well as the opportunity to teach at a wide range of institutions; she does not seek tenure-track employment. McClure notes the value of the benefits she now receives in her current full-time position as an instructor, but is pursuing her research agenda to work toward a tenure-track job (A6).

The authors stress that working online as contingent faculty and studying online need not, “at least for some,” be a “disadvantage” (A6).

Being online students and educators has been more of a blessing in both our lives than a hindrance; we have been able to pursue more opportunities than we had imagined. (A6-A7).

 


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Schey and Blackburn. Queering Normative Literacy. RTE, Aug. 2019. Posted 10/16/2019.

Schey, Ryan, and Mollie Blackburn. “Queer Ruptures of Normative Literacy Practices: Toward Visualizing, Hypothesizing, and Empathizing.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.1 (2019): 58-80. Print.

Ryan Schey and Mollie Blackburn discuss a study of their students in an “arts-focused charter high school in a Midwestern city” (64) as the students responded to Steve Brezenoff’s novel Brooklyn, Burning. The course was an “LGBTQ-themed” (58) literature course for juniors and seniors (64). The authors argue that the book created “ruptures” of normative literary practices, highlighting how readers’ responses to these ruptures could either shut down discussion or provide opportunities for learning (59).

Schey and Blackburn detail their research methodology, in which they combined ethnography and teacher research (63). Schey acted as participant-observer while Blackburn conducted “practitioner inquiry,” designing curriculum and assessment procedures (64). Materials for analysis included curriculum documents and student work, as well as field notes, audio and video recordings, and entrance and exit interviews (67). Thirteen of the fourteen enrollees in the course participated. Schey positions himself as a “white straight cis man” and Blackburn identifies as a “white queer cis woman” (66). Both have extensive experience working in support of LGBTQ groups.

The authors differentiate between LGBT scholarship and queer theory. The former, they write, “tend[s] to characterize sexuality and gender as stable, using positivist and modernist lenses” (60). In contrast, queer studies “destabilize fixed notions of gender and sexuality” (60). The authors review a number of studies that they feel can endorse not only “heteronormativity” but also “homonormativity,” when “binary framings” lead to “oversimplification” of students’ perceptions of sexuality and gender (61).

Literacy, for these writers, is itself ideological, influenced by context and extant power relations; they discuss how differently a student might read a text with friends as opposed to under the scrutiny of teachers (61). Classroom power relations make some forms of literacy response “normative and dominant”; queer theorists like those reviewed by Schey and Blackburn attempt to disrupt such processes and open the way for alternatives (62).

Reading experiences that confront students with ruptures in their normalized expectations, in the authors’ view, force them to attend to inherent possibilities that are otherwise obscured (63). Rather than addressing confrontations with such ruptures as “individual cognitive experiences,” the authors argue for a perspective contextualized within a social environment, an approach that they write requires more attention to race than is often provided (62). They turn to R. A. Ferguson as a scholar who, by “vehemently den[ying] the discreteness of any category such as gender, sexuality or race” offers a lens through which students can encounter generative ruptures (63).

Arguing for their ethnographic approach as a means to address “oppressive power relations,” the authors write that of their thirteen students, one was “white and Asian,” while the rest were white (64). A chart classifies the students, with a caveat that the students’ gender and sexual identities were “mulitiple, variable, and fluid,” with some changing after the study ended. Five were straight and cis gendered; a gay trans man was not named in the study, while another woman identified as queer and another as a lesbian (65). Three of the named students are listed as fluid in gender.

Brezenoff’s book, Ryan and Blackburn contend, functions as queer in that the “ruptures” it creates resist normative modes of literacy. They follow a brief plot summary with the statement that the novel “queers gender . . . but it also queers sexuality, families and homes, and time” (66). The gender of two of the main characters cannot be ascertained, nor can their sexuality. The novel contrasts the heteronormative contexts from which these characters emerge with a context in which characters play changing roles as partners and caregivers; moreover, an unusual chronology defies attempts to impose “order and stability” (66).

In the introduction to the article, Brezenoff suggests that his work reacts to attempts to assign fixed gender and sexuality through stereotypical, sexist characteristics; the authors write that his refusal to gender the two characters “destabilized not only sexist practices and ideologies but also those grounded in cisnormativity” (59).

The authors recount classroom discussions in which students grappled with “seeing” versus “visualizing,” “understanding” versus “hypothesizing,” and “connecting” versus “empathizing.” Some students expressed frustration that Brezenoff’s handling of characters made it hard to “gaze directly at the characters and find them legible according to [their] normative definitions of gender and sexuality” (69). The authors contrast other students who used the textual ambiguity to “visualize alongside” the characters, as if “looking over [their] shoulders,” thereby adopting new perspectives (69). Ambiguity, one student suggests, invites more readers to identify with the characters because they can imagine different characteristics.

Similarly, some students wanted to understand definitive answers to questions raised by the text, such as the cause of a fire (71). The authors contrast this need with the willingness of other students to “hypothesize” alternatives in which concrete characteristics were seen as contextual and fluid rather than fixed in specific bodies (72). According to the authors, the need to reduce ruptures to “fixed, stable, and singular knowledge” cast ruptures as “problems” rather than as “expanded epistemological practices” that invited “different ideas through different pathways” (76).

The authors recount a single mention of race as a rupture students struggled to address. One of the more resistant students said that he could not deal with ambiguity in race along with his uncertainties about gender and sexuality (72-73). Other students explored various ways of finding empathy across what the authors see as “white homonormative interpretations” (73), but the bell rang and ended the discussion. In contrast, the authors argue that the book’s depiction of a character’s addiction encouraged students to visualize the addiction as only one part of the character’s situation, thus allowing them to empathize in ways a narrower portrayal would have curtailed (74-75). Schey and Blackburn contend that the ability of several students to connect with characters with addictions but not people of color reflects national attitudes that equate addiction with criminality in Black people but with illness in need of care in whites (76).

In the authors’ view, presenting students with texts that create ruptures in their normal reading processes imposes risks, but that such ruptures can become “opportunities” rather “obstacles,” means, they contend, that “reading with ruptures is a risk worth taking” (77).


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King, Carolyne M. Reading as Embodied Practice. Comp Studies, Spring 2019. Posted 09/16/2019.

King, Carolyne M. “The Reader in the Texbook: Embodied Materiality and Reading in the Writing Classroom.” Composition Studies 47.1 (2019): 95-115. Web. 09 Sept. 2019.

Carolyne M. King argues for increased attention to the material aspects of student interaction with texts as they read. In her view, helping students understand how their situated physicality shapes the reading experience will enhance their ability to create meaning (97). She contends that writing pedagogy, particularly as it addresses reading in a pair of widely used readers, takes only “limited” account of the material process of reading (96).

Examining references to reading in a range of textbooks, King notes that they encourage activities such as underlining and highlighting, as well as marginal annotation, but states that attention to the “bodily involvement” and “sensory aspects” of these behaviors is nonexistent (98). She maintains that the textbooks fall short, as well, in considering how different media affect students’ ability to follow standard advice about effective reading; even when new media are addressed, attention to these experiences “largely focuses on changing technologies, . . . subtly giv[ing] agency to literacy tools as they act upon the body” (98) rather than on how students’ meaning-making activities change.

King draws on research by Christina Haas, Kristie Fleckenstein, and Sondra Perl to ground the claim that context and physical involvement, such as Perl’s “felt sense,” affect how readers respond to and make use of texts (97). Disability studies extend this understanding by illustrating, in King’s view, how classroom practice often advances what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls a “normate,” defined in King’s words as “the physical manifestation of the collective, un-stigmatized characteristics of a culture” (101). Normates provide expectations about what students should be able to do with a text without regard for the differences in the lived experience of individual readers, for example projecting a textbook as “an object that all students can carry, hold, and read” (101). King finds textbooks a rich area for study of these expectations because they purport to “describe what students should do when reading” (101).

King develops her argument by analyzing two textbooks that focus on reading but are widely assigned in writing classes (102), Ways of Reading by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky (Ways) and The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty, by Mariolina Salvatore and Patricia Donahue (Elements). As sources of “authoritative instruction in how students should read,” these books, in King’s view, provide opportunities to investigate how they further a normate treatment of the material features of reading (99; emphasis original).

An illustration demonstrates that the two books provide closely spaced text with narrow margins and minimal white space (103). King argues that such formatting choices make assumptions about a reader’s ability to focus on small text and discourage interaction other than underlining and highlighting (103). The texts do not suggest anticipation of a reader who might need a magnifying glass, for example, and could not take in the page “holistically,” as this format invites (104). King suggests that variations in font, unlike the uniform features of these texts, might encourage student awareness of how such features affect their engagement with a text (104).

For King, the metaphors the books use to describe reading also pay inadequate attention to the embodied aspects of interaction with a text. Ways calls reading a “conversation,” but, King argues, does not envision how different bodies might understand or participate in conversation differently and thus respond differently to the metaphor (105). Elements offers a “transaction” as its metaphor, using the embodied language of “voice” but, King contends, focusing on thinking, stating that “reading involves . . . thinking the thoughts of another, inhabiting someone else’s mind” (qtd. in King 105). King writes that readers cannot inhabit the minds of others whose minds may have been shaped by different material experiences (106). Both texts, she argues, portray a sense that “the body can be transcended” and that thinking can exist outside of situated individual realities (106).

She critiques the books’ use of “a real—not hypothetical—student to exemplify their ideal reading process and outcome” (106). The student narrative in Ways “is intended to describe the embodied experience of the common student,” but in order to do so, the authors refrain from naming the student or providing any physical detail of the student’s appearance or of his activities as he enacts the ideal process (107). Similarly, Elements presents a successful student who is given a name but no other identifying details, such as age, race, or college status; according to King, the student’s actual successful strategies are not shared (108).

King draws on other critiques of these narratives to argue that the students in question are presented as having successfully modeled “teacher-sanctioned practices” (108) that they found accessible because “the material conditions of their prior existence most closely align with the classroom” (109). King argues that differently embodied students might interact with the two texts very differently than the “idealized” students in the narratives (107); their different responses, attributable to their different lived realities, risk falling outside the normate established by the texts.

Contending that for students, “the body houses their sociocultural identity,” King suggests principles and strategies for making students more aware of how they physically interact with texts. Encouraging “multiple ways of knowing” (110) and a range of modes and physical activities such as playing with visual elements and fonts (111), King writes, can raise students’ awareness of how different texts make them feel and act, and help them locate their own most effective strategies for reading (112).

When our textbooks privilege a version of reading that is not embodied and which does not emphasize the materiality of reading, our classrooms actively construct barriers for students whose embodied, material realities do not reflect an assumed norm. (112)