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Crossing Thresholds

posted: 11.20.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

In my last post, I wrote about the difficulties of helping students see the practical, transferable value of things we teach them. In particular, I was a little frustrated that the analysis and assessment techniques I shared with students in the Writing with Communities and Non-Profits course didn’t really hit home with them until guests from non-profits started coming to class and sharing what amounted to the same techniques.

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Thinking about…WAW 2e, Writing for Non-Profits, and Transfer

posted: 9.25.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

As I write this blog post, Doug and I are in the thick of editing page proofs for the second edition of Writing about Writing, which will be out in January. We are excited about this new edition and all of the changes in it. We hope you will be excited about it, too. [read more]

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Disciplinary Expertise and Writing Studies

posted: 8.1.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Last week at the Council of Writing Program Administrator Conference in Savannah, I presented on the question of expertise. In particular, I asked how we make decisions about hiring and staffing if we teach courses, both first-year composition and upper-level writing, that teach from the content/research/theory of our field. [read more]

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When Faculty across the Disciplines Imagine Composition

posted: 4.29.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

I was recently asked by another university to give a series of workshops to faculty from across a variety of disciplines about how to teach for transfer and how to encourage transfer across contexts. In these workshops, we talked about common misconceptions about writing and writing transfer, including the misconception that writing is a basic skill that is easily transferable from one context to another. We also talked about more robust, research-based conceptions of writing and writing transfer. And we considered what these research-based conceptions of writing meant for these faculty members from disciplines as varied as nursing, history, nutrition, and engineering.  [read more]

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A Larger WAW Presence at CCCC

posted: 3.27.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

We’ve all returned from CCCC with minds full of ideas and phones full of new contacts. This year’s was an excellent conference, with thought-provoking panels, and I came home ready to begin work on some new projects with various colleagues.

One of the biggest surprises to me at this year’s Cs was the number of panels directly or indirectly related to writing about writing. Some were led by people I knew, but many were not. Many included students, which seems quite in line with the underlying philosophy of the approach—to value what students know and can do. I didn’t have the chance to attend most of these panels, but I’m told that several were concerned with issues of reading in a writing about writing class. Yes, reading the material in Writing about Writing is difficult.  Doug and I like to remind people in the many workshops we give that teaching these articles to first-year students is not like teaching them to graduate students. We have to teach reading strategies, definitely, but we also have to focus on the larger picture: why are we having first-year students read these materials? Not to analyze every nuance of the underlying theories or methodologies, but to begin to think about writing, and their own writing, differently, and to begin to ask and answer their own questions about writing. [read more]

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The Desks in My Mind

posted: 1.2.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Liz

A rickety white computer desk sat in the kitchen of my studio apartment in Old Louisville, looking out over beautiful tree-lined Third Street. I wrote a nice paper about Langston Hughes at that desk, and turned the paper in to my teacher with a tape of Hughes reading his poetry to the sounds of jazz. The high ceilings and big windows were a motivating setting for writing, although I can’t say the same for the mice that lived in the stove and sometimes skittered out at night to be pounced on by the cats. Tumbleweeds of cat hair rolled across the floor, and the owners’ new baby cried from her crib on the other side of my closet door. I wrote happily, and quickly, without angst or writer’s block of any kind.

In Ames, my first writing space was a tiny office I shared with my new husband. Two desks were neatly lined up against the walls. He stayed up all night learning Unix, while I wrote about Bourdieu and Lave and Wenger. One of about 50 drafts of “Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces” came to be in that tiny room.  I wrote quickly and efficiently in this tiny, dark, and cramped space in Schilletter Village, with the smell of Chines dumplings drifting from across the hall.

Until this point, there was nothing neurotic or memorable about my writing processes and rituals. If something needed to be written, I just sat down and wrote it. But when dissertation time came, I acquired rituals and writing needs that have reappeared intermittently since. [read more]

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Writing Is an Object of Study: Underlying Threshold Concept for Writing about Writing Curricula

posted: 11.28.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Liz

Back in July, I wrote a blog post in which I suggested that we consider the threshold concepts of our field appropriate for teaching in first-year composition. At that time, I suggested a few possible threshold concepts I was considering. Since then, our department has been having a threshold concepts reading group. After reading some of the Myer and Land book I referenced in my earlier post (Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge), we began considering possible threshold concepts. One of our instructors, Matt Bryan, suggested one of the thresholds both for him as a new writing about writing instructor and for his students:

Writing is an object of study.

This was so simple and obvious—yet mostly unspoken by us as a faculty—that we all sat for a minute, thinking of all of the ways that this particular threshold is hard to cross: for our literature colleagues, for the public at large, for students in our writing about writing courses, and for composition teachers from non-rhetoric/composition backgrounds asked to teach a writing about writing course.

This threshold concept is encountered by teachers in what I called in a recent post the “third stage” of learning to teach writing about writing: “realization that Rhetoric and Composition has a content.” In other words, recognition that teaching and learning in a writing class is not simply about learning scribal skills or genre conventions, but learning about writing broadly understood. It’s learning that writing is something that a person can study and know about, that it’s not just something you do, or a tool you use, or just a technology (although it is all of those things, too). [read more]

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Stages of Learning to Teach Writing about Writing

posted: 10.3.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Liz

Our composition program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) has now taught Writing about Writing (WAW) program-wide for two years, and mostly program-wide for three years. As new composition faculty members join us each year, while others become more and more expert at our curriculum, I am reminded that there are some fairly common things that occur as teachers who aren’t trained in Rhetoric and Composition tackle this approach. I’ve started calling it the “Stages of Starting to Teach Writing about Writing.”  Of course, those stages look different, depending on the disciplinary background of the faculty member. But since I have worked with so many teachers with literature backgrounds, I’ll focus on those stages today.

Teachers with literature backgrounds tend to begin, in the first stage, with a sense of confidence. After all, they read theory and research, they’ve taught composition before, and they tend to be interested in the idea of teaching difficult texts to students (though they are sometimes sad that the difficult text is not Foucault!).

This confidence quickly gives way to the second stage: assigning too much reading, and teaching that reading as if the students are in a graduate-level lit class. A new reading assignment is given each day (Swales, Gee, McCarthy, etc., one right after the other), and the classroom activities tend to favor very close reading and explication, trying to ensure that students understand every detail of the text. What is left out is discussion of the larger picture, the “why” of the concepts under consideration, time for incubation, and informal writing about ideas. [read more]

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