PAB #3.2 Reconsidering Transfer

Howard_Tinberg

Professor and author Howard Tinberg studies student and faculty perceptions of writing transfer. See more about his scholarship at his Academia.edu page.

Tinberg, Howard. “Reconsidering Transfer Knowledge at the Community College: Challenges and Opportunities.” Teaching English in the Two Year College 43.1 (2015): 7-31. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

While disagreement exists about transfer, including the argument that all knowledge is rhetorical and dependent on context (9), Tinberg says some argue that first-year composition should offer “a localized knowledge set that transfer to, and can be re-purposed for, different contexts . . .” (8).  As such, the central question is, then, “What exactly is it that students take from their required writing course that could enable success in those other domains” (8)?  Tinberg says this is a timely question what with the focus on persistence and completion in community colleges.   With that in mind, Tinberg leaps into discussion about research on transfer.  He explains the difference between near transfer (applying tasks in similar contexts) and far transfer (applying tasks in distinctly different contexts), and he provides background knowledge on transfer research, including work by Downs and Wardle; Donahue; Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak; and Adler-Kassner, all of whom promote the “metacognitive awareness that will enable students to re-purpose their knowledge in writing situation” (9).  Tinberg also discusses recent studies of transfer that look more closely as what goes on from first-year composition to other general education courses taken in the first two years of college.  While prior studies looking at writing transfer essentially among community college curriculum have demonstrated weakness in this area, they, too, point to “metacognition as a foundational step to transfer, and that faculty who assign writing in general education courses need to be cognizant themselves of what they and their colleagues value in student writing” (9).

metacognition

A number of studies on transfer indicate the importance of metacognition related to writing.  Photo Credit:  Jack Lyons

With that background information in mind, Tinberg sets out to produce “a naturalistic study of transfer” at the institution where he teaches: Bristol Community College (10).  Borrowing from Wardle, he poses the same four questions as she does in her 2007 study (see PAB #3.1).  For his study, Tinberg ends up with 110 respondents for an online survey, out of an initial 3800+ contacted. These students are roughly in their sophomore year, having taken first-year composition and some general education requirements but not so many that they are almost graduating.  He also has five students, recommended by faculty, that like Wardle’s study, represent different disciplines across the curriculum through their majors but generally are homogeneous in gender (four are women).  Of course, because self-perception can sometimes not provide the clearest picture, Tinberg also sees fit, as part of his study, to review at least one sample of post-first-year-composition writing assignments from each of the five interviewees. Additionally, he interviews faculty about the values important to them in student writing and understanding.

First, let’s take a look at the results of his survey of 110 students regarding first-year composition and its impact on future studies and careers (see chart below for a break down of the questions and highest responses).  As Tinberg concludes from the survey, students who have progressed in their academic careers beyond composition class certainly have recognized first-year composition’s place as a boon to writing in college in general. Moreover, responses show that faculty still assign writing-intensive projects, which Tinberg says is in contradiction to anecdotal information at Bristol.  Then, in a small veering from the importance of first-year composition, responses to question three show that students feel they found new knowledge about writing in other courses, leading Tinberg to wonder what that new knowledge looks like. Tinberg admits some difficulty with question four’s phrasing, and again he calls into question the differences between writing in composition and other courses. Are the differences in style, genre, audience? And speaking of audience, the last question in the survey about workplace writing plays well to the community college audience, Tinberg says, because so many community college students–unlike those on a residential campus–work at least part-time. In addition, the legislative focus on workforce development in community college adds extra value to question five.

survey_results

While the survey provides some perhaps interesting findings, the question of transfer is not immediately addressed in its Likert-scale results; however, one open-ended question at the end of the survey asking students what they learned in first-year composition that helped them in other courses is definitely telling.  The answers run the gamut, and Tinberg provides a chart categorized into 17 responses within the article.  The highest response, by far, is citation format at 56%, which is, Tinberg admits, alarming since researching, summarizing, evaluating, and integrating sources is a mere 16% of the results.  In addition to citations, the other leading responses (and note: multiple responses were allowed and coded, so the results don’t add up to 100%) side on what Tinberg labels as “formalistic concerns” and include grammar, diction, and mechanics (43%), structure and organization (43%), and formats of writing (35%).  Items such as critical reading and thinking, peer review, revision, expressiveness, and audience awareness fall in the single digits (these findings will be important when looking at faculty goals for student writing).  These responses lead Tinberg to question “whether students surveyed have the ability to articulate what Meyer and Land . . . . have called ‘troublesome knowledge’ or, more precisely, ‘threshold concepts’ . . . (15).

Turning to faculty interviews, Tinberg sets out to find out two things:

  1. What skills or knowledge sets do [faculty] assume students will have acquired from their ENG 101 course that might be useful in your course
  2. What new knowledge sets as expressed in [student] writing do [faculty] wish students to acquire in [their] own course?  (17)

After speaking with faculty, Tinberg codes their perceptions of what they value/expect in student writing into four different categories: formalistic, boundary crossing, critical, and expressive.  Formalistic, as mentioned, deals with conventions, citations, and structure; boundary crossing means writing in different contexts and genres; expressive relates to writing with feeling and confidence, summarizing and reflecting; and critical involves reading and writing deeply and intensively (19). Tinberg also interviews students and reviews their writing samples, coding them in the same way he does with faculty values or expectations with student writing.  Below, I provide a chart that combines two of Tinberg’s into one. FacultyExpectationsVsStudentPerceptionsofWritingThe differences between student perceptions and faculty expectations are stark, but they make apparent that faculty are “primarily to be taken by critical reading and writing” (20) while students, as Tinberg suspected would happen, “name surface features in their writing as evidence of achievement and transfer” (22).   Still, Tinberg–as well as his audience–should be struck by the second and third areas students show as signs of transfer: boundary crossing and critical reading and writing.  Perhaps boundary crossing gives at least a nod to rhetorical agency on the part of students, with their thinking about audience and context (Tinberg says he does teach rhetorical practices in his own courses); and the value on critical reading and writing speaks to realization of the need to be analytical.  The expressive category is an interesting one with faculty expectations skewing slightly higher than the students’ recognition of their achievement.  Regarding expressive writing, Tinberg says that faculty “spend a good deal of time finding ways to increase confidence” (20), and the value placed on expressive writing may very well indicate that goal as faculty get them to work with feelings around texts and events.

Tinberg concludes his study by offering a detailed assessment of two student writers’ works: Ann and Ash. Tinberg reviews Ann’s annotated bibliography for a sociology class and discusses it with her.  He notes the difficulty in which she depicts the genres in which she has written since composition class, and he identifies the absence of rhetorical analysis and source evaluation in her work. Tinberg sums up Ann’s work noting how she “spends more time in exposition than in critique of the argument or evidence, but the signs are clear that she is beginning to establish a critical presence as a writer and reader” (24).  That said, Ann does mention that she would like her instructors to challenge her more in her writing.

Tinberg, then, turns to Ash who also, when asked, struggles with genre, just ticking off paper formats, such as a research paper, but Ash does move to a deeper conversation about the requirement to adapt to “form” and “criteria” when writing for different classes. Tinberg thinks he might be on to a discussion about true transfer here, but he examines two of Ash’s writing samples to find evidence. One is a definition essay from composition class, where he defines faith by constructing “an audience that is both reasonable and open to faith” (26).  Tinberg calls this “a winning construction.”  The second piece of Ash’s work he reviews is, as the student defines it, “a non-research opinion paper about anything we consider to be a social problem” (26).  That said, the assignment still required students to cite five sources, although Ash cites mostly from popular press, rather than scholarly articles. The subject of the paper is the moral decline of America. Tinberg determines that while, in form, Ash begins with an abstract, like a scientific paper, he turns to more “glib and unexamined stereotypes” (27) and provides little support or qualifications.  Additionally, Tinberg questions if Ash gives any thought to the audience for his piece, despite his earlier comment about adapting.  Interestingly, Tinberg says, “In the end, Ash, like Ann, might very well welcome the challenge of complex and specialized reading and writing tasks and the chance to model their own writing on strong, scholarly work” (27).

So what are the implications of the study?  The good news, Tinberg says, is that students and faculty see first-year composition as critical to work done in future courses and in the workplace. In addition, it is heartening to know that students are able to articulate “a range of outcomes from ENG 101 that they view as transferable and useful in varied contexts” and that faculty value “thoughtful, critical reading” (27).

Unfortunately, however, Tinberg’s list of barriers to transfer at the community college level is much longer than the recognized achievements of composition. He identifies the lack of coordination among faculty about writing skills that might transfer from composition to future courses; the rise of contingent faculty teaching composition who have no interaction with other faculty or their curricula; the focus on “formalistic concerns” as what mostly transfers from composition to other courses; the dismissal of instruction in threshold concepts that affects “the kind of reading that students are given (mostly textbook reading) and the genres in which they are expected to write (nonspecific to the discipline)” (28); and students’ inability to articulate key concepts from their courses, focusing more heavily on formalistic matters.  Tinberg thinks these obstacles to identifying transfer are “especially challenging at community colleges–a point that transfer scholars in composition, whose gaze so often seems to be on universities and liberal arts colleges, overlook” (28).

Discussion

Honestly, Tinberg’s findings do not surprise me at all. Having taught first-year composition for the past six years and having instructed students in both libraries and writing centers with a variety of writing-intensive assignments across the curriculum for the past seven years at a community college, I have seen first hand the absence of transfer of critical reading and writing skills, much less rhetorical analysis and adaptability, from first-year composition to other coursework.  Instead, as Tinberg identifies, formalistic concerns pervade the expectations and execution of assignments on the part of both faculty and students.

The most alarming concern has been how when students move into specialized programs, such as nursing, the largest focus for writing becomes citation. In fact, I have been privy to our health sciences librarians admonishing general education librarians about supposedly providing wrong advice on APA style, which resulted in upsetting both a student and faculty member. The argument I have heard about the focus on citation, especially as it is often associated with a puristic representation of the style manual (meaning un-checked citation generators are a no-no) is that when students become nurses or healthcare providers they will be expected to carry out detailed, meticulous work, and this type of formalistic concentration now forces them to get into that mindset for the future.

Personally, I find this formalistic philosophy difficult to swallow; rather, as our staff of tutors in the writing center have discussed numerous times, I would rather see higher order thought in their writing.  Perhaps ironically, our last  topic of the college’s quality enhancement program (we’ve passed the interim reporting period) was critical thinking, and the college worked diligently to implement assignments and practices in critical thinking across all curriculum.  It is odd how we say one thing but assess another, which to speak to that point is probably why citation is so heavily scrutinized, as it is far more black and white than the subjective complexity of critical thinking. Still, I also have to think outside the box here for a minute and ask: What’s the difference between formalistic concern related to writing conventions and citations and formalizing expression of thought, such as was encouraged by the whole critical thinking process?  Both seem to belittle the higher-level of thinking and, by virtue, writing that composition instructors might encourage and hope to see transfer to other courses; however, admittedly, we have to begin the conversation somewhere; it just shouldn’t end with a hurrah for formalistic constructs.

Clearly, studying transfer is nebulous, but Tinberg’s study gets at it much more than Wardle’s does, and it should open up further specialized investigations at transfer related to particular areas, such as Tinberg defines through his critical, expressive, boundary crossing, and formalistic labels.  One has to wonder if, like Berlin and his categorizations of rhetoric some thirty years ago, Tinberg’s coding will catch on with future scholars of transfer.  Groundbreaking or not, however, Tinberg’s gaze moves writing instructors, especially in community colleges, closer to understanding their own audiences and the value of their work within the college as a whole.

Connections to OoS

I would like to make an addendum here, connecting both Wardle and Tinberg’s studies to my object of study. I would like to sum up their investigations by saying that it seems that transfer can be approached in two ways: pedagogically and programmatically.  Now, certainly, there is crossover in those areas, but let me explain the details of each before seeing any intersections.  First, Wardle’s suggestions regarding a composition class that is more rhetorical and auto-ethnographic in nature prescribes a pedagogical approach to transfer.  Additionally, Tinberg’s findings that knowledge that transfers from first-year composition includes mostly lower order skills — or “formalistic concerns” as he refers to them — demonstrates a need for perhaps different pedagogical methods, especially as Tinberg’s study suggests that faculty are more concerned with critical reading and writing.  Now, on the programmatic side, I turn mostly to Tinberg, since his study is broader in scope. His recommendations about better sequencing of classes and greater coordination with other non-composition-faculty offer a programmatic approach to improving transfer.  Of course, as mentioned, pedagogy and programs are not un-linked and might intersect in the areas of technological and academic support.  Here, I am thinking about digital learning objects used both in the classroom and outside of it, as curated and/or created through a tutoring or library division with input from faculty and administrators.  I will suss out this intersection of ideas more in my actual paper, but these two studies have informed me significantly, although I still think transfer can be elusive as an object of study.

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PAB #3.1 “Understanding ‘Transfer’ from FYC “

Wardle, Elizabeth. “Understanding ‘Transfer’ from FYC: Preliminary Results of a Longitudinal Study.” Writing Program Administration 31.1-2 (Fall/Winter 2007): 65-85. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

elizabeth_wardle_pic

Elizabeth Wardle is currently professor and chair of the writing and rhetoric program at University of Central Florida (UCF). During the time of the study presented here, she was assistant professor and director of writing programs at University of Dayton. Source: UCF

Summoning the work of Smit, Wardle posits that we know very little about “the transfer for writing-related skills from first-year composition to other contexts” (65).  While some research has weighed in with theoretical concepts, only three case studies, she says, discuss FYC writing-related transfer.   Despite the near ubiquity of FYC in higher education, we do not have any evidence that FYC facilitates transfer.

With all that in mind, Wardle first addresses, in a theoretical way, options for studying transfer.  She offers three definitions of transfer, including task, individual, and context conceptions regarding this point of study.  She further breaks down context conceptions into situated, which examines “patterns of participatory processes across situations” (67); sociocultural, which focuses on actions between people involved in constructing tasks; and activity-based, which not only examines interactions between learners and context but also expands transfer to “systematic activity of collective organizations” (68).  Wardle continues her discussion of theories related to transfer saying that “activity and sociocultural theorists avoid the term ‘transfer’ because of its association with task-and-individual-based conceptions”; instead, some, like Beach, use the term “generalization” (68).

For her pilot study, Wardle chooses to utilize the activity-based approach and associated language, choosing generalization as the term of choice instead of transfer.  She feels this approach best takes into account “the crucial relationships between persons and situations over time” (70).  That said, Wardle explains her longitudinal pilot study that commenced in fall 2004 with seven traditionally aged, first-year students—four females and three males representing four separate majors in the sciences and social sciences–from her honors FYC course at University of Dayton, a private Catholic, liberal arts school of about 10,000 students. This study sought to answer the following four questions:

  1. What do students feel they learned and did in FYC?
  2. What kinds of writing are students doing elsewhere?
  3. How do students perceive that writing and what strategies do they use to complete it?
  4. Do students perceive FYC as helping them with later writing assignments across the university? (70)

The way Wardle establishes the study is that she meets with the students either individually or as a group and reviewed their writing for their courses, coding “transcripts for themes stemming from [her] research questions, categorized the writing according to genre and purpose, and compared student comments about the writing to the writing itself” (71).  While Wardle details her findings, we can shorten them by saying that she found that students rarely generalized from FYC.  Moreover, her study bears out that for the first two years of college, “students rarely reported the need for writing-related knowledge and behaviors learned and used in FYC” (73).  They felt much of their writing was summary, and therefore, they did not perceive that they needed “to adopt or adapt most of the writing behaviors they used in FYC to other courses” (76).  The students in the study said they would only use the skills, such as process writing, from FYC when they were “engaged” by a writing assignment.  By that term, Wardle concludes that students refer to “difficult” or “challenging” writing assignments.  Speaking of which, in these “engaging” assignments, Wardle concludes that even if a new writing task mirrored earlier ones, students still needed “contexts-specific” support (79).  Mentioned supports include reading and writing in the discipline, talking with peers, and gaining feedback from teachers. Now, while generalization (or transfer) of FYC skills shows up rarely in her research, one area Wardle concludes that generalization does occur from one writing task to the next is in the ability for students to maintain a meta-awareness about writing (76).

So, what are the implications of the study?  Wardle conveys that if meta-awareness of writing is the most transferable skill, then students in FYC should be encouraged to “write rhetorical analyses of various types of texts across the university, as well as to complete auto-ethnographies of their own reading and writing habits . . . “ (82).  She also argues that this study demonstrates the importance of discussions with faculty members outside the disciplines of composition. She suggests collaborative research projects to “better understand what goals they do and do not share for assignments and outcomes and to closely examine how students interpret assignments from various courses” (83).

Discussion

While I have to admit puzzlement by her study’s population, which, even by Wardle’s own admission, is largely limited, I still think her findings offer grist for valid discussion about writing transfer.  Her advocacy for a pedagogy focused on rhetorical analyses, which looks to gain awareness of and harness the discursive exigencies of the moment, perhaps piggybacks on Tinberg’s recommendations for less focus on formalistic concerns and more disciplinary discussions in non-first-year-composition courses about threshold concepts.  Those elements may not look immediately like they work together, but encouragement and application of rhetorical adaptability, as advocated by Wardle, should lead–students at least–to less concern about conventions and more involvement in contexts.  What’s more, a focus on rhetorical analyses in composition and other courses could open the doorway for greater talk about threshold concepts, if, as Tinberg seems to say, faculty tend to not engage with these difficult disciplinary questions because they are worried about building general student confidence. Here, I think, instead, about how rhetorical analysis gives language and substance that allows for sociology students, for instance, to act like sociologists (ethos), talk like sociologists (logos), and wrestle with sociological texts and concepts as they arise (kairos). Rhetorical analysis, to use the language of Meyer and Land, can certainly move students from a liminal state to a transformative understanding of the discipline. Is this not one of the highest forms of transfer obtainable?

Also, to comment on Wardle’s other recommendations based on her findings — the auto-ethnograpy about writing — I assume here that she is championing her other seminal work with Douglas Downs, Writing about Writingas a way for students to find the language to discuss their discourse. The Writing about Writing (WAW) movement dovetails nicely with understanding of threshold concepts, at least within first year composition, and it opens up student-writers to discussing their own strengths and weaknesses. Without a doubt, the task of student’s identifying language around writing has proven difficult. I can’t think of a more common clause from students when they come to me or the writing center than, “I need help with my grammar.” Grammar, of course, to them means almost everything.  In fact, in the writing center, we have sheets that ask students why they are visiting, in order to help them reflect a bit on their writing before just leaping into a review session, and I made sure when we put these sheets together that we did not include the word “grammar” because my experience informs me that they would choose it almost every time.  All that said, that’s why being able to talk about writing, especially as it relates to transfer, is so critical, and that’s the reason why Wardle’s study, although not demonstrating much occurrence in the area of transfer, still offers a powerful message in its recommendations for pedagogical strategies that are often so obvious that they are probably overlooked.

Connections to OoS

I connect PAB 3.1 & PAB 3.2 to my object of study here.

Paper #2: Butterflies, Bo-Peep, and the Bemusement of Process and Transfer in Composition Studies

How do students complete their writing today, and how will they complete it in the future? That twofold question is at the heart of two major points of inquiry within the field of composition studies.

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“Pencils down!” Let’s see how you wrote and what you learned about writing. That’s process and transfer in a nutshell. Credit:
Ohmann Allanne

Theories around process, or the procedures and practices by which writers compose (or are asked to compose) their works, aim to answer the first half of that question.  Subsequently, theories around the idea of transfer, or the “knowledge and skills that can transfer to writing tasks in other courses and contexts” (Wardle 65) usually after completing an introductory writing course, respond to the second half of that question.  Herein, I will explore some of the theories and pedagogies around process and transfer within writing and discuss personal application and challenges surrounding these two important issues of inquiry.

Pritchard and Honeycutt argue that one can find elements of the writing process in early Greek and Roman models of teaching rhetoric (276).  Perhaps here we might consider, as Winterowd and Blum mention, Plato’s process of dialectic (3) or Isocrates’ paideia (15), or we might even look at Bloodgood’s ascription of Quintilian’s theories of “Imitation, Authenticity, Modeling, and Practice” (32) to support the writing process. Still, however, while ancient foundations may exist, process in writing did not appear in the literature until 1947 in Day’s seven steps to writing (Pritchard and Honeycutt 276), and it is followed by only a small interest in theories around process in the 1950s and 1960s; however, the ground-breaking work on teaching process as instruction in the classroom came in the 1970s with “the seminal contributions of Peter Elbow, Janet Emig, Donald Graves, Donald Murray, and Mia Shaughnessy” (Pritchard and Honeycutt 277).

Moving forward in the look at process within the history of composition studies, Fulkerson addresses the significance of process both from a historical and twenty-first-century angle.  Examining the differences and similarities in composition studies between 1980 and 2001, Fulkerson speaks to how, although more than twenty years apart,  writing process tops the list in two important bibliographic works: Donovan and McClelland’s 1980 text, Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition, and Tate, Rupiper, and Schick’s 2001 text, A Guide to Composition Pedagogies (see a comparison chart and read more details at PAB #2.1 Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century).   Additionally, Fulkerson examines the axiologies of Critical/Cultural Studies, Contemporary Expressivist Composition, and Procedural Rhetoric and the implementation of process through the framework of those perspectives.  As such, Fulkerson seems to conclude, with Berlin, in his short detour and criticism of post-process theory, that everyone teaches process in writing, just no one teaches it in the same way (669). Such amorphousness aside, Fulkerson does provide, throughout his discussion on the three main perspectives he sees as dominant in composition studies, the ways each practitioner appears to implement process in the classroom. See the chart, below, for a break out of those implementations.

Fulkerson breaks out how process is implemented through the three perspectives he sees in composition studies.

Fulkerson breaks out how process is implemented through the three perspectives he sees in composition studies.

Besides the type of axiom that everyone teaches process but no one fully agrees on how to teach it, another almost universal notion about research regarding process in composition studies, at least since the cognitivist work of folks like Flower and Hayes in the 1980s, is that writing is non-linear and recursive. The prewrite-write-rewrite model has not held up; rather, researchers often regard the recursive process as “mainly a series of problem-solving tasks” (Pritchett and Honeycutt 277).

As one might expect, writing instruction around process is difficult to study and pin down because practitioners implement the teaching of process in such a wide variety of ways.  That said, I am intrigued by the theory of process, and if interested, readers can view my thoughts on how process has a sort of kairic nature—a working with the time, place, situation, or audience—to it in my analysis from Paper #1.

Another idea I would like to touch on, however, from a pedagogical standpoint regarding process is how to know when an instructor has clung too much to process.  For instance, although I teach and often design courses around a model of exploring, prewriting, drafting, editing/revising—given students four weeks usually to write an essay—I have noted a number of students who grow weary by the process, especially as deliverables are due with each step.  Based on that experience, questions certainly arise in my mind. For example, does such length of process from start to finish actually better the end product, or is the process in place just a matter of making students do something that I know if left to their own devices they will not do?  If the former is true, I should certainly search for greater reassurances, but as mentioned, process is difficult to study and pin down.  If the latter is true, I cannot help but to think about hegemony in the classroom.

What type of

What type of “becoming” happens if process is disciplined into students?  Credit: Sid Mosdell

Thinking about the latter, I have to admit that I find some cognitive dissonance surrounding the notion of process, as it is attached to the philosophical ideal of “becoming “(Seibt), often equated with the beauty of transformation, such as that which happens with a butterfly or flower. With that in mind, is it not ironic that disciplining–to use the Foucauldian term–students into the mode of process would somehow subvert the beauty of becoming?  I certainly could expand further with this philosophical riddling, but I will suffice it to say that these questions and junctures that loom around process are what makes it such a major point of inquiry within composition studies.

Speaking of major points in the field, transfer, or the carryover of knowledge or skill–in this case, writing–from one situation to the next, is another large subject of inquiry in composition studies. In fact, Smit calls transfer “the heart of the matter in
learning to write” (119). That said, it is also tricky to measure transfer because of the vast and varied ways that transfer would happen (or not) from those who were initially concerned about its persistence. For instance, the first-year composition instructor, who wants to know if her work with students on comparison and contrast pays off, would find it hard to follow and assess her students level of transfer on such a skill because they disperse to so many different courses after hers. Certainly, measurement can be done, but, as Smit points out, it has not been done much–at least as the literature bears out–except in professional writing; however, in his chapter, Smit does relay a study by Walvoord and McCarthy on transfer of writing that reviews the work of students across four disciplines of study.  While the study found “students transferring knowledge from one class to another and that in their writing for a particular class students often relied on examples of thinking and writing that they had learned elsewhere” (Smit 128-9), it also points out a large number of examples where difficulties with transfer take place.  You can read more about this study in PAB #2.2 Transfer from The End of Composition Studies.

To reflect on transfer and Smit’s glass-is-half-empty approach to its study, I started to think about the process of moving knowledge and skills, and arrived at the question: What if intervention strategies were involved to aid the transfer?  Since among my professional responsibilities I direct one, I thought about writing centers and their place in transfer.

bo-peep

Like Bo-Peep, some think transfer comes back with no help. Credit: Carlos

Can a tutor aid the memory of a student from what s/he learned in, say, an introductory course?  And taking the individual out of it, what about digital learning objects?  Could they possibly help create a return to the mind of a buried memory? I performed some research on this area of intervention, especially the digital portion, and I have not found much study on writing transfer in that area, but I did find a solid quote from a digital handout, of all places, stemming from a workshop at East Carolina University, which appears to be about writing across the curriculum and related transfer. In the handout, my idea about intervention and transfer is represented at the very end called “The Bo-Peep Theory of Transfer”; that is, like Bo-Peep expected of her sheep, some expect transfer just to come back with no help at all.  Borrowed from Perkins and Salomon (1988), the quote states, and I will leave my kind readers with this, as I now have some supporting foundation for my next post about an object of study: “Educators . . .  treat transfer as if it will take care of itself. But, it does not” (“Transfer of Writing Skills”).

Works Cited

Bloodgood, Janet W. “Quintilian: a Classical Educator Speaks to the Writing Process. “Reading Research and Instruction. 42.1 (2002): 30-43. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

Fulkerson, Richard. “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.” College Composition and Communication 56.4   (2005): 654-87. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

Pritchard, Ruie, J., and Honeycutt, Ronald L.  “The Process Approach to Writing Instruction: Examining Its Effectiveness.”   Handbook of Writing Research. Ed. MacArthur, Charles A, Steve Graham, and Jill Fitzgerald. New York: Guilford Press,     2006. 276-290. Web. 26 Sept. 2015

Seibt, Johanna. “Process Philosophy.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. 2013. N. pag. U of   Stanford. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Smit, David W.  “Transfer.”  The End Of Composition Studies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007. 119-     134. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 24 Sept. 2015.

“Transfer of Writing Skills.” Writing Across the Curriculum. East Carolina University, 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Wardle, Elizabeth. “Understanding ‘Transfer’ from FYC: Preliminary Results of a Longitudinal Study.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 31.1/2 (2007): 65-85. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Winterowd, W R, and Jack Blum. A Teacher’s Introduction to Composition in the Rhetorical Tradition. Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English, 1994. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

PAB #2.1 Process within Composition Studies

Olson, Gary.  “Toward a Post-Process Composition: Abandoning the Rhetoric of Assertion.”  Thomas Kent, ed. Post-process Theory: Beyond the Writing-Process Paradigm. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. 7-15. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Now president of a liberal arts college in New York, Gary Olson’s work as a scholar of rhetoric and writing studies is well known. He has written or edited more than two dozen books and published over 50 articles.

Olson opens this chapter by describing the history of the process movement within teaching composition. He says, [W]riting is an ‘activity,’ an act that itself is composed of a variety of activities” (7).  He reels off what seem to be platitudes — or probably more to his point, Theories — about process within writing, ranging from discovery and invention to revision and peer review. He argues that, from a post-modern standpoint, process is limiting, not because authors (i.e., students) avoid writing in a manner that one might consider process (e.g., prewriting, drafting, and re-visioning), but because teachers of writing laud process as a system for all, creating a “Theory of Writing” that defies the anti-foundationalist approach that claims that local knowledge is all one can know.

As Olson states, “This [Theory of Writing] is what Thomas Kent and other post-process theorists mean when they complain that process scholars — despite whatever other ideological allegiances may inform their work — are attempting to systematize something that simply is not susceptible to systematization” (8).

Analyzing these arguments, then, Olson posits that process-oriented writing has historically forced writers to compose under a model that presupposes a “rhetoric of assertion,” and accordingly, he calls for readers to question this “time-honored value in composition” for its entrenchment in Western culture’s epistemology of writing.  Instead, Olson argues for a more dialogic, sophistic, exploratory form of writing.

Olson continues by examining the rhetoric of assertion from the standpoints of three post-modern theorists: Harding, Haraway, and Lyotard. Sandra Harding provides a feminist viewpoint, scrutinizing the masculine-centered nature of the rhetoric of science and its supposedly objective structure (which is not reality), calling for an “inclusiveness of alternative positionings” (10).

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Olson references the works of Haraway, Lyotard, and Harding in discussing the rhetoric of assertion

Following Harding, Olson moves to Donna Haraway, popular for her theories on cyborg writing, who holds to the conception that writing is “authoritative, assertive, [and] phallogocentric . . . “ (12).  Haraway does not believe that writing cannot have authority, but she believes writing “must reveal how authority is implicated in discourse”  (12).  Olson posits that authority stems from the rhetoric of assertion.

Addressing the final theorist in his chapter, Olson discusses Jean-François Lyotard’s conception of writing, which “is in contradistinction to the traditional notion of writing as an activity whose objective is to ‘master’ a subject, to possess it, to pin it down through a discourse of assertion” (13).  Instead, Lyotard suggests an openness in writing.

Overall, Olson appeals for us to “move away from a discourse of mastery and assertion toward a more dialogic, dynamic, open-ended, receptive, nonassertive stance” (14). Additionally, he concludes that such theorizing about writing is much better than holding to a process-oriented system of writing, which looks to nail down and systematize the way one composes.

Reflection

Olson’s chapter, here, addresses a major point of inquiry and debate within composition studies: process. Moreover, it serves as a good follow up — and a counterpoint of sorts — to one of our course readings by Fulkerson (2005), which identifies the writing process as so important that it tops the list of major bibliographies in composition in both 1980 and 2001. Just to quickly bring readers up to speed on Fulkerson’s view on process — at least as detailed in his 2005 article —  he concludes with Berlin, “Everyone teaches the process of writing, but everyone does not teach the same [italics original] process” (669). This conclusion only comes, however, as he picks apart Thomas Kent’s work on post-process theory, which is the same text from which Olson’s chapter, here, comes.  Fulkerson clearly does not see the value of post-process theory. As he remarks, “[T]here is no agreed-upon meaning for it; it may just be the latest way of showing yourself to be au courant” (669-70).

That preface aside, please allow me to reflect directly on Olson’s work on the rhetoric of assertion.  In this chapter, Olson does a fine job of problematizing process-oriented writing.  However, in typical post-modern fashion, the solutions are relatively abstract or thin.  While Olson asserts (ironic, no?) that writing should be dialogic, dynamic, and open-ended, he does not demonstrate what that type of writing looks like. He mentions in his notes work by Winterowd on exploratory writing, but his article also says that such a genre of writing still is expected to make a point or points (9), which he equates with the rhetoric of assertion.

So, I’m not fully sure what type of writing would fit the post-process mold Olson describes in his text (and to to even talk about a mold seems counter to his main point anyway); however, knowing Olson’s work rather intimately — I had the pleasure of having a course with him during my master’s  — I do recall one interesting trait in his own writing, particularly when he was editor of JAC, that we might consider as a good means for practicing an open, dialogic way of writing: the interview. Yes, Olson, as far as academics go, heavily uses the genre of interviews, more than I’ve seen with any other scholar, especially within rhetoric and composition studies.  On his own site, Olson actually refers to these types of back and forth conversations as interview essays, and while certainly this genre can have an agenda of sorts what with one having the ability to ask leading questions of the other, interviews do allow for a more transparent, natural form of writing, where diversions and interruptions can even be annotated, giving in to the openness that Lyotard recommends and the disabuse of authority that Haraway suggests.

Of course, while scholars and teachers of composition might be able to make a case for interviews as a genre to be embraced more largely — after all, they are largely underutilized in the first-year composition classroom — they have a rather long and difficult path in educating the academy.  Moreover, so much of writing and meaning-making in academics is done in isolation, despite the social constructionist view (which I don’t deny, but social impact in writing is often indirect), that creating these conversations would either require a stilted measure of invention, where writers recreate an interview based on readings they’ve made, or greater latitude in assignment distribution, where students are encouraged to engage and report these types of back-and-forths.

Obviously, I know that I am only discussing one possible genre of writing that might live up to Olson’s standard of non-assertive writing, but it seems the most viable. Other genres that might be considered are those teaching tools that Fulkerson (2005) labels under expressivistic axiologies:  reflective essays, journal writing, and dialogic collaborative conversations (see pg. 667).  Those, too, may be viable alternatives to the overly assertive essays to which we have grown accustomed for the past two millennia, but the danger, of course, in the expressivistic way of writing is that the text re-centers back on the writer, which if not careful, then leads to a self-absorbed nature that can over-assert itself in a wholly different fashion.

Olson’s points are certainly well taken about trying not to create a one-size-fits-all system of writing, and instead, placing greater intention on a more inclusive, open form of writing; however, the reality of the matter is that writing without some process will merely be viewed as inaccessible and inconvenient, especially in the academy, and assertion will likely never fully fade from existence. So, to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, we can prepare for the worst but still hope for the best.

Works Cited

Fulkerson, Richard. “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.” College Composition and Communication 56.4 (2005): 654-87. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

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OLD POST BELOW

Fulkerson, Richard. “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.” College Composition and Communication 56.4 (2005): 654-87. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

Although now ten years old, Fulkerson’s account of the field of composition is important here because he offers a look back not only at composition at the turn of the twenty-first century, but he also offers a comparative analysis based on his previous reflections of the field in the 1980s, and he attempts to offer some broad categorizations that prove helpful to understanding schools of thought within the field.   In this work, he argues that scholarship has “three alternative axiologies (theories of value): the newest one, ‘the social or ‘social construction’ view, which values critical cultural analysis; an expressive one; and a multifaceted rhetorical one” (655).

A notable item comparing twenty years within the discipline appears in the chart titled “Two Views of the Composition Landscape.”

Twenty years pass and process is still forefront in composition studies.

Twenty years pass and process is still forefront in composition studies. Source: Fulkerson  656

This chart illuminates the differences between two edited monographs published twenty-one years apart.   Donovan and McClelland’s 1980 text, Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition, appears in the first column, and Tate, Rupiper, and Schick’s 2001 text, A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, appears in the second column.  Fulkerson mentions how process—and not product—within composition studies was “a relatively new idea in 1980” (656) and although not fleshed out as fully with “prose models” (657), the 2001 text still leads off with process as well.   Fulkerson contends that [a]ll composition perspectives assume some view of the writing process; that is, any concept of composing and/or teaching composition must presuppose an answer to ‘How are texts produced?’” (658).  As Fulkerson suggests here, the process of text production remains a major question within the field, and regarding such inquiry, this article discusses process within the three perspectives—critical/cultural studies, expressivist composition, and procedural rhetoric—within writing studies scholarship.

On those three perspectives, Fulkerson elaborates throughout his article while touching on other important areas of classifying and thinking about composition (e.g., evaluative theory and epistemology) to which I will save treatment for another time. Rather, the question of process is so central to composition that it could and has taken up tomes, but Fulkerson’s synthesis and comparisons are advantageous, so with that in mind, I turn here to his look at process within critical/cultural studies.  Regarding this perspective, Fulkerson says, “[T]here is no agreed-on view of writing as a process.”  Instead, those focusing on teaching critical/cultural studies, constructed mostly on “interpretation” (660), may include “heuristic questions”; encourage multiple drafts and peer reviews;  assign reflective portfolio; and restrict “prewriting/invention to ‘reading’ and to class or small-group discussion” (661).  Fulkerson is somewhat harsh with this perspective and concludes that this type of process, especially with such restrictions, might be “[j]ust what one might expect in a course in a different department” (661). This barb precedes his discussion from various scholars on how critical/cultural studies may not necessarily be an appropriate field of inquiry for composition studies, as it does not necessarily improve writing.

Moving deeper into his essay, Fulkerson discusses the process of contemporary expressivist composition.  He quotes Burnham, and from him, I will also borrow here to provide the goals associated with the process behind an expressivist pedagogy. They include “freewriting, journal keeping, reflective writing, and small group dialogic collaborative response to foster a writer’s aesthetic, cognitive, and moral development” (qtd. in Fulkerson 667).  While following Burnham’s definition, Fulkerson comments on how the goal is not to improve written communication, but later in his discussion of process and post-process, he avows that “[t]hose who are committed to an expressive axiology nowadays do generally teach an extended writing process, a process of invention and discovery.” Likewise, he admits that those committed to critical/cultural studies do the same (669).

Speaking of the post-process perspective, which is a detour in his article, Fulkerson’s treatment of this axiology is enlightening, for he explains that post process doesn’t mean that instructors don’t teach process; rather, he says that one meaning of post-process is that “we no longer do research in to writing processes,” which he doesn’t necessarily see as progress but does deem as accurate (670). Moreover, Fulkerson quotes from Kent who wishes to replace formulaic writing with “hermeneutic guesswork” (670), and finally concerning post-process, Fulkerson says this school of thought tends to rail against a “romanticized view of the isolated writer seeking inspiration and striving to make personal meaning alone . . . “ (670).  Fulkerson repudiates Kent’s and the romanticized views of process.

Getting back on track with the three perspectives he set out to discuss, Fulkerson moves to procedural rhetoric. In this perspective, he defines the writing process as “a complex extended set of (teachable) activities in which a wide variety of invention procedures may be valuable [along with] an equal variety of drafting and revision activities” (671).  This section also includes a lengthy and interesting discussion on argumentation, which is at the heart of most rhetoric, and how it undergirds almost all of composition, including critical/cultural studies and, to some degree, expressivist composition.

So, where does all of this comparative analysis and taxonomizing of sorts lead those who teach composition?  Do we assign ourselves to a certain box and stay in it?  Fulkerson is clear about how one perspective bleeds over into another, and I would agree with him.  I know in my own teaching, for instance, I will use critical/cultural studies approach to have students interpret the deeper meaning, say, behind an image, song, architecture, or other cultural artifact.  In such an endeavor, of course, I will use process, moving them from brainstorming to draft and revisions.  Sometimes, I skip outlining (not my favorite thing). Other times, we reflect on the process in the end.

Overall, I can’t help but think that perspective, axiology, pedagogy, etc., when executed, oftentimes becomes a hodge-podge of different theories and ideas, maybe sometimes contingent on the rhetorical situation and perhaps other times hinging on a well-thought out plan.