Comp Nuggets

Taking a cue from Mike, I would like to get some ideas from you about what issues are the most pressing in the following areas, along with the books and articles that best address them:

  1. Writing Centers
  2. Writing Program Administration
  3. Writing Across the Curriculum
  4. Writing in the Disciplines
  5. Writing Assessment
  6. Basic Writing

I have a lot of books and articles about these topics -- just did a haul from the library -- but I'd like some of you to help me prioritize these readings. I'm curious to see if there's any critical scholarship in Writing in the Disciplines -- anything that problematizes discursive norms in the various disciplines and encourages teachers to encourage students to disrupt those norms.

Also, right now I'm reading A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, and I finished Lad Tobin's chapter on process pedagogy. It's a good historical overview of the context in which process pedagogy emerged and the most common objections to process pedagogy ("Process pedagogy has become so regimented that it has turned into the kind of rules-driven product that it originally critiqued." "Process pedagogies are irresponsible because they fail to teach basic and necessary skills and conventions." "Process pedagogy is outmoded because it posits a view of 'the writer' that fails to take into account differences of race, gender, and class." "By focusing on the individual writer, process pedagogy fails to recognize the role and significance of context.").

I found the following passage in Tobin's chapter to be a good encapsulation of the problem encountered by a lot of writing teachers who want their pedagogy to be richly connected to theory (or Theory):

It is not hard to see the postprocess movement of the late 1990s as an extension of the critiques in the mid-1980s. The criticism of process for promoting a view of writing that was too rigid and that ignored differences of race, class, and gender became an outright rejection of process for its naively positivist notions of language, truth, self, authorship, and individual agency. Similarly, the criticism of process for not providing students with sufficiently significant and challenging content and context became a rejection of process as ahistorical or arhetorical. As a product of contemporary critical theory, these critiques make some sense to me. As a classroom teacher, though, I have my doubts, for while positivist notions of agency, authorship, voice, and self may be philosophically naive, they can still be pedagogically powerful. In other words, it may be enormously useful for a student writer (or any writer for that matter) to believe at certain moments and stages of the process that she actually has agency, authority, an authentic voice, and a unified self.

As I read this passage to Jonathan as he drove down I-95 (we're in North Charleston for a wedding this weekend), he bristled, as he always does, at what he feels is an inaccurate use of "positivist" in a lot of composition scholarship. Then he said that he thought the theory by Barthes, Foucault, and others doesn't necessarily apply to all writers and all writing, but that they were looking at contexts that were more specific. Makes sense to me. I need to reread them.


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Eep! Long response

Ooh! I'm working on my exam reading list right now, so I'll cut and paste a few titles.

Good luck with #2-4. For my current job with our Writing Program, I spent their money buying most of the edited WPA/WAC/WID collections out there. Very little of it has proved useful; the articles are typically short and isolated—they get too specific too quickly: "Here's how to do part of your job, here are the possible consequences to keep in mind." I can't think of many that take the time to engage in critique. The same is true of the WPA journal, for the most part.

That being said, I've picked up on a couple of "hot" topics in WPA: 1) the challenge of (re)designing WAC/WID programs to "fit" the institutional culture at hand, and 2) the ever-growing call for WPAs to coordinate and improve assessment—mostly program review and first-year placement.

I'd recommend a few books: Pemberton and Kinkead's The Center Will Hold (2003), Waldo's Demythologizing Language Across the Academy (2004), McGee and Handa's Discord and Direction (2005), and Yancey and Huot's Assessing Writing Across the Curriculum (1997). And books like The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for WPAs (2002) and Bean's Engaging Ideas (1996) are also worth having on the shelf, reference-wise. Not much critique going on there, though.

(Take all of this with a grain of salt, as I wouldn't yet call WPA one of my areas of expertise. A better source might be Donna Strickland, who has written on feminism in WPA work and related topics.)

The scholarship in writing assessment tends to be issue-focused as well but a little more substantial, in my opinion (I'd recommend the following "issue books": Ericsson and Haswell's Machine Scoring of Student Essays (2006); Harrington et al.'s The Outcomes Book (2005); Broad's What We Really Value (2002); Zak and Weaver's The Theory and Practice of Grading Writing (1998); and Whithaus' Teaching and Evaluating Writing in the Age Of Computers and High-Stakes Testing (2005)). That's probably because composition scholars are finding more to deeply criticize in the ways assessment is currently being done than in the ways WPA is being done.

I'm betting that a lot of future scholarship will address attempts to further standardize college education (i.e. Margaret Spellings' dream/threat to extend No Child Left Behind into higher ed), but not much has been written about that yet. Probably cuz we're in denial.

The best of the general books on writing assessment out there, in my opinion, are Huot's (Re)Articulating Writing Assessment (2002) and the White/Lutz/Kamusikiri collection Assessment of Writing: Politics, Policies and Practices (1996). And Yancey's "Looking Back As We Look Forward: Historicizing Writing Assessment" (from CCC 50.3, 1999) is essential.

Hmm... since assessment is such a big part of WPA work, it might be better to start in that area, and refer to the articles and collections specifically geared toward WPAs on more of a need-to-know basis...

Moran and Herrington

You might check out the polyvocal dialogue that concludes Moran and Herrington's Research and Scholarship on Writing, Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (MLA, 1992); if memory serves, it at least raises some questions. There's also the "Transforming WAC" section of the Spring 2000 academic.writing Forum on WAC program development -- and the important point made by one of the participants that "critique is cheap; change is costly."

I like the Guide, and I like it especially because of its bibliographic nature -- which was part of my frustration both with Fulkerson's comparison of it to another much more "how to teach comp" article in his CCC piece and the particularly myopic comments from a few comp bloggers that were along the lines of "this stuff is dumb because it's old." Apparently there's still some unfamiliarity out there with the genre of the bibliographic essay.


...bristling at inaccurate use of positivism...

See this article: "Care of the Subject: feminism and critiques of GIS," at:, for an interesting discussion of positivism, esp. beginning on page 292: heading: Science Wars Incarnate: critiques of positivism in GIS. The section starts out (almost humorously) by describing how the term has tended to lose meaning--how it has often been used as an insult--as the catalyst for polemics within geography and GIS. The article does well, however, to describe positivism by way of differentiating it from the idea of representational realism in mapping. I wonder if any of this could be applied to writing pedagogy.

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