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

Leave a comment

Wilkinson, Caroline. Collaboration in Dual-Credit Programs. WPA, Spring 2019. Posted 07/14/2019.

Wilkinson, Caroline. “From Dialogue to Collaboration in Dual-Credit Programs.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 42.2 (2019): 80-99. Print.

Caroline Wilkinson addresses tensions that arise when universities implement dual-credit courses (credit-bearing college courses taught in a high-school environment). She draws on the experiences of two high-school teachers involved in a dual-credit program at the University of Louisville, a large Midwestern/Southern institution (83).

Wilkinson cites statistics showing that nationally, 1.4 million high-school students take dual-credit courses, with 77% of these courses taught at the high school and 45% of those located at the high school taught by high-school teachers (80). She attributes “a real anxiety” to “[m]any composition educators” with regard to staffing dual-credit courses with secondary teachers (80). Having taught dual-credit courses herself, Wilkinson had “observed the very real differences in the contexts and cultures” that separate high school and college (83). Research indicates that the quality of dual-credit programs varies and that the benefits to students depend on various factors; “nonwhite” and female students seem to gain from the experience (81).

Acknowledging that composition scholarship has begun to consider the roles of the high-school teachers recruited to teach these courses, Wilkinson writes that scholarship specifically dealing with these teachers’ experiences is “limited” (81). Among her goals is to bring teachers’ voices into the discussion.

Students accepted into dual-credit courses at the University of Louisville met a number of criteria, including a 3.0 GPA and minimum entrance scores on standardized tests; they had to be nominated by their English teacher and approved by a counselor (83). “Most” teachers in the program had a Master’s in English or 18 hours of graduate English credit. “Emma” and “Daphne” were the only teachers at their high school to meet these criteria (84).

Instructors also took the university’s “Teaching College Composition” course and to attend the summer orientation. In addition, they taught a standard syllabus and used pedagogical materials, including major assignments, provided by the university (83).

An important question for Wilkinson is “Can dual-credit courses be equivalent without being identical?” (88). She notes scholarship addressing the contextual differences between high school and college. Dual-credit students attend a year-long course with peers they already know rather than a semester-long course requiring them to build community with new acquaintances through the course itself (87-88). Daily class meetings also allow students more contact with instructors (84).

Wilkinson notes ways in which Emma and Daphne’s need to function within the full-time environment of the high-school community contributed to these differences. Differences in academic-year start dates meant that the two high-school teachers could not attend the full summer orientation (83). Similarly, the longer academic year meant that the graduate teaching assistants who attended the practicum course with Daphne and Emma completed the curriculum in less time than they did, a difference that made it hard for Daphne and Emma to make the best use of information covered in the fall semester but applied later in the year (85). The high-school teachers lacked the contact with other instructors teaching the same material and could not fully avail themselves of office hours and other support from the university writing program administrator (86). These teachers found that their workload made it harder for them to give the kinds of individualized responses they felt the college work called for (87). For these reasons, Wilkinson concludes that the courses were not “identical” (88).

However, she argues that they were “equivalent” (88, 94). The high-school course followed the same syllabus and used the same materials as the university-based version. The teachers received the same training as on-campus graduate assistants and “had a supportive WPA” (88). Both teachers and students recognized the unique features the college course offered, such as many useful materials and a more interactive environment (84, 86). Moreover, the high-school students had access to the university library and writing center and met new requirements, such as the use of outside sources, for their assignments (87).

Wilkinson expresses concern that “equivalence” in these respects does not align with scholarship that urges universities and high-schools to see dual-credit programs as a “partnership” (88). Instead, in Wilkinson’s view, the relationship is “unidirectional,” with the university setting the contexts and terms (89).

Thus, despite administrative support, the two teachers felt “separate from” and “different” from the teaching community embodied by the Teaching College Composition course (90). Operating on a different time schedule, which meant separation into a distinct “mentoring group” (90), was one factor in this sense of isolation; another important factor, for Wilkinson, is that the course addressed issues faced by graduate assistants as first-time teachers, while Daphne and Emma had many years of teaching experience behind them and had very different needs (89). Wilkinson calls for a more explicit “bilateral” partnership in which the expertise of the high-school teachers is recognized and drawn on in the design and implementation of a dual-credit course (91).

Wilkinson considers taking the Teaching College Composition course “formal professionalization” into composition studies for the high-school teachers (92). In her view, this professionalization process creates problems for both the teachers and for composition as a field. Because of their inability to develop community within the university program and their earlier professionalization as high-school English teachers focusing on literature rather than writing, the teachers did not see themselves as true college instructors (91). Wilkinson raises concern that positioning high-school teachers as competent to teach college writing may mean that “the long-fought for professionalization of the field is at risk” (93). First-year enrollments that form the staple of many writing programs may also suffer, resulting in fewer composition jobs. Finally, composition scholarship may cease to address first-year writing if it is delegated to the schools (93-94).

Wilkinson addresses remedies for WPAs dealing with dual-credit pressures. Noting that programs vary in the amount of resources they can devote to developing a successful dual-credit partnership (95), she urges that universities designate specific faculty as point-people for such efforts (96). She writes that mentorships can be more accommodating to the teachers’ schedules, but must be paired with coursework that introduces composition theory (93). Mentorships between new dual-credit teachers and more experienced ones can provide a stronger sense of community (96). Importantly, in her view, the teachers themselves can be included more fully in the development and implementation of these programs. Ideally, “dual credit programs provide an access point where high school and college instructors can work to collaborate on writing pedagogy and professionalization” (97).

Leave a comment

Schell, Eileen. On Being a Woman Department Chair in RCWS. Peitho, 2019. Posted 04/20/2019.

Schell, Eileen E. “Is It Worth It to ‘Lean In’ and Lead? On Being a Woman Department Chair in Rhetoric and Writing Studies.” Peitho Journal 21.2 (2019): 308-33. Web. 4 Apr. 2019.

In her contribution to the Special Cluster on Gendered Service in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the Peitho Journal, Eileen E. Schell draws on the feminist scholarship of gender and academic labor as well as her own experiences to address the challenges of serving as chair of a large writing program (309).

Schell contends that scholarship on academic leadership does not adequately take into account the different positions of the many laborers, particularly women, who are involved in supporting an academic unit (311). Any leadership role, she argues, depends on many actors and stakeholders whose contributions and influences may not be uncovered when the focus is purely on the “relative privilege” that is afforded leadership positions within “institutional hierarchies” (311).

Schell advocates “intersectionality” as a more productive lens (310). For example, she cites the work of Mel Michelle Lewis and Shannon J. Miller, who examine how their “intersections as Black queer women” (qtd. in Schell 310) inform their leadership roles. She presents her “embodied” position as an “able-bodied, cis-gender, white academic woman on the tenure track” as one window on the effects of taking on the role of department chair (311).

Schell provides a list of important questions, including “what is gained or lost” in accepting the many challenges of a chair’s role (309). She frames her own discussion “around timing, dual academic career couple issues, and family formation issues” (311).

The discussion of timing recounts how Schell was asked to take on the chair role far ahead of the schedule she had negotiated on being hired but was able to defer the appointment until a more logical point in her career (314). Issues included the importance of a developing research agenda and the need for tenure before taking on such extensive administrative duties.

Schell reports that saying no to service appointments can be an effective strategy, but it carries a burden in that many female academics see “service work as vital to the functioning of academic units and the institutional mission of colleges and universities” and feel a sense of obligation to their colleagues (314). Accepting other administrative and service duties while deferring the chair’s role allowed Schell to serve her institution and program as well as develop her scholarship toward tenure and promotion while resisting an early commitment to the chair’s role (314).

One aspect many women face in relation to the timing of demanding administrative appointments is family formation. Schell recounts the challenges of caring adequately for her young daughter, for example, the need to bring her to work (316). She cites scholarship showing that, for many women, working toward tenure and being asked to take on more institutional responsibilities tend to coincide with the years they want to begin a family; some research suggests that the struggle for tenure actually affects women’s ability to start families (315).

A third timing issue for Schell was coordination with her partner’s career. Originally forced to commune long distances, by the time Schell accepted the chair appointment, he had earned tenure in an institution that was much closer, easing this burden (314).

Schell draws on work by Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Kelly Ward to argue that institutions should not force faculty to negotiate each situation individually but rather should recognize that, for women especially, barriers to effective participation in leadership as well as teaching and scholarship should be systematically addressed by the institution. Policies should serve all “pre-tenure professors (both male and female) with family demands” by meeting needs such as those for “tenure stop clock policies, lactation support, access to affordable day care, family leave” (315). Schell notes how work by her fellow faculty to install a family leave policy helped her in the early months of her child’s life (315). Similarly, her institution passed a “tenure clock flexibility proposal” that, among other provisions, addressed the effects on the tenure path of extensive service (316).

During her appointment, Schell noted the number of women chairs increasing despite ongoing dominance by older white men (317). Though she could draw on her experience working with female leaders in the writing program, Schell contends that the chair’s role encompassed a much larger set of exigencies. “Guidebooks” on the chair position she consulted featured “a masculinist dominance-based model” that did not deal with the issues that she specifically faced as a female chair (318-19); her discovery of “interdisciplinary scholarship on intersectionality and department leadership” finally gave her needed direction (319).

Crediting her leadership experience “both inside and outside the department and in the community” (319), Schell lists some of the initiatives she was able to implement, while also acknowledging failures (320). The ongoing task of “Mentorship and Advocacy” involved such efforts as “negotiating for the resources” faculty members needed to do their work and scholarship and clearing the “backlog” of women who had not been promoted to full professorship (321). “Assigning Service” included determining how to allocate committee work effectively while keeping in mind equity in workloads and compensation (321). Schell recounts extensive interpersonal engagement as one of her “most favorite and challenging duties”: acknowledging colleagues’ accomplishments and empathizing with as well as helping to address their daily and professional struggles (322).

Schell notes that the “scope and scale” of the chair’s duties exceeded those of other academic positions: “the work touched on all areas of the department and the lives of every single faculty member” (322; emphasis original). She explores issues such as the need to prioritize interactions and the exigencies of the “second and third shift[s],” such as dealing with her family’s needs and then returning to administrative duties late at night in a “job [that] never turned off” (322-23). Effects on her health led her to address the difference between “work-life balance” and a “sustainable schedule and life” (323-24; emphasis original). Keeping up with scholarship (324) and insisting on “self-care” such as scheduled work-outs were among Schell’s strategies (329).

She offers “general advice and lessons of survivance” she gathered during her tenure as chair (326). Citing research showing that few chair receive adequate professional development for their roles, she urges networking and workshops (326). Further, she reminds potential chairs to be sure to arrange adequate compensation and manageable teaching loads (327). Under “Developing a Sustainable Work Plan,” she discusses establishing a well-functioning program infrastructure to accomplish departmental goals (327-28).

Schell reports being “surprised” to find herself advocating strongly that women take on leadership appointments such as chair (325). In her view, such roles allow women to pursue a “progressive feminist agenda” that can improve the lives and work of all faculty, promote diversity, and strengthen curricula (327). Ultimately, she writes, she hopes that

more feminists in rhetoric and writing studies will lead our academic departments . . . and that when we attend chairs’ meetings at our colleges and universities, we will look around the table and see a more diverse and inclusive cast of institutional leaders who also said yes. (329).


Leave a comment

Gallagher, Chris W. Behaviorism as Social-Process Pedagogy. Dec. CCC. Posted 01/12/2017.

Gallagher, Chris W. “What Writers Do: Behaviors, Behaviorism, and Writing Studies.” College Composition and Communication 68.2 (2016): 238-65. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Chris W. Gallagher provides a history of composition’s relationship with behaviorism, arguing that this relationship is more complex than commonly supposed and that writing scholars can use the connections to respond to current pressures imposed by reformist models.

Gallagher notes the efforts of many writing program administrators (WPAs) to articulate professionally informed writing outcomes to audiences in other university venues, such as general-education committees (238-39). He reports that such discussions often move quickly from compositionists’ focus on what helps students “writ[e] well” to an abstract and universal ideal of “good writing” (239).

This shift, in Gallagher’s view, encourages writing professionals to get caught up in “the work texts do” in contrast to the more important focus on “the work writers do” (239; emphasis original). He maintains that “the work writers do” is in fact an issue of behaviors writers exhibit and practice, and that the resistance to “behaviorism” that characterizes the field encourages scholars to lose sight of the fact that the field is “in the behavior business; we are, and should be, centrally concerned with what writers do” (240; emphasis original).

He suggests that “John Watson’s behavioral ‘manifesto’—his 1913 paper, ‘Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It’” (241) captures what Gallagher sees as the “general consensus” of the time and a defining motivation for behaviorism: a shift away from “fuzzy-headed . . . introspective analysis” to the more productive process of “study[ing] observable behaviors” (241). Gallagher characterizes many different types of behaviorism, ranging from those designed to actually control behavior to those hoping to understand “inner states” through their observable manifestations (242).

One such productive model of behaviorism, in Gallagher’s view, is that of B. F. Skinner in the 1960s and 1970s. Gallagher argues that Skinner emphasized not “reflex behaviors” like those associated with Pavlov but rather “operant behaviors,” which Gallagher, citing psychologist John Staddon, characterizes as concerned with “the ways in which human (and other animal) behavior operates in its environment and is guided by its consequences” (242).

Gallagher contends that composition’s resistance to work like Skinner’s was influenced by views like that of James A. Berlin, for whom behaviorism was aligned with “current-traditional rhetoric” because it was deemed an “objective rhetoric” that assumed that writing was merely the process of conveying an external reality (243). The “epistemic” focus and “social turn” that emerged in the 1980s, Gallagher writes, generated resistance to “individualism and empiricism” in general, leading to numerous critiques of what were seen as behaviorist impulses.

Gallagher attributes much tension over behaviorism in composition to the influx of government funding in the 1960s designed to “promote social efficiency through strategic planning and accountability” (248). At the same time that this funding rewarded technocratic expertise, composition focused on “burgeoning liberation movements”; in Gallagher’s view, behaviorism erred by falling on the “wrong” or “science side” of this divide (244). Gallagher chronicles efforts by the National Council of Teachers of English and various scholars to arrive at a “détente” that could embrace forms of accountability fueled by behaviorism, such as “behavioral objectives” (248), while allowing the field to “hold on to its humanist core” (249).

In Gallagher’s view, scholars who struggled to address behaviorism such as Lynn Z. and Martin Bloom moved beyond mechanistic models of learning to advocate many features of effective teaching recognized today, such as a resistance to error-oriented pedagogy, attention to process, purposes, and audiences, and provision of “regular, timely feedback” (245-46). Negative depictions of behaviorism, Gallagher argues, in fact neglect the degree to which, in such scholarship, behaviorism becomes “a social-process pedagogy” (244; emphasis original).

In particular, Gallagher argues that “the most controversial behaviorist figure in composition history,” Robert Zoellner (246), has been underappreciated. According to Gallagher, Zoellner’s “talk-write” pedagogy was a corrective for “think-write” models that assumed that writing merely conveyed thought, ignoring the possibility that writing and thinking could inform each other (246). Zoellner rejected reflex-driven behaviorism that predetermined stimulus-response patterns, opting instead for an operant model in which objectives followed from rather than controlled students’ behaviors, which should be “feely emitted” (Zoellner, qtd. in Gallagher 250) and should emerge from “transactional” relationships among teachers and students in a “collaborative,” lab-like setting in which teachers interacted with students and modeled writing processes (247).

The goal, according to Gallagher, was consistently to “help students develop robust repertoires of writing behaviors to help them adapt to the different writing situations in which they would find themselves” (247). Gallagher contends that Zoellner advocated teaching environments in which

[behavioral objectives] are not codified before the pedagogical interaction; . . . are rooted in the transactional relationship between teachers and students; . . . are not required to be quantifiably measurable; and . . . operate in a humanist idiom. (251).

Rejected in what Martin Nystrand denoted “the social 1980s” (qtd. in Gallagher 251), as funding for accountability initiatives withered (249), behaviorism did attract the attention of Mike Rose. His chapter in Why Writers Can’t Write and that of psychology professor Robert Boice attended to the ways in which writers relied on specific behaviors to overcome writer’s block; in Gallagher’s view, Rose’s understanding of the short-comings of overzealous behaviorism did not prevent him from taking “writers’ behaviors qua behaviors extremely seriously” (253).

The 1990s, Gallagher reports, witnessed a moderate revival of interest in Zoellner, who became one of the “unheard voices” featured in new histories of the field (254). Writers of these histories, however, struggled to dodge behaviorism itself, hoping to develop an empiricism that would not insist on “universal laws and objective truth claims” (255). After these efforts, however, Gallagher reports that the term faded from view, re-emerging only recently in Maja Joiwind Wilson’s 2013 dissertation as a “repressive” methodology exercised as a form of power (255).

In contrast to these views, Gallagher argues that “behavior should become a key term in our field” (257). Current pressures to articulate ways of understanding learning that will resonate with reformers and those who want to impose rigid measurements, he contends, require a vocabulary that foregrounds what writers actually do and frames the role of teachers as “help[ing] students expand their behavioral repertoires” (258; emphasis original). This vocabulary should emphasize the social aspects of all behaviors, thereby foregrounding the fluid, dynamic nature of learning.

In his view, such a vocabulary would move scholars beyond insisting that writing and learning “operate on a higher plane than that of mere behaviors”; instead, it would generate “better ways of thinking and talking about writing and learning behaviors” (257; emphasis original). He recommends, for example, creating “learning goals” instead of “outcomes” because such a shift discourages efforts to reduce complex activities to pre-determined, reflex-driven steps toward a static result (256). Scholars accustomed to a vocabulary of “processes, practices, and activities” can benefit from learning as well to discuss “specific, embodied, scribal behaviors” and the environments necessary if the benefits accruing to these behaviors are to be realized (258).