PAB #4.1: “Teaching for Transfer and the Role in Content Composition”

Yancey, Kathleen B, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. “Teaching for Transfer (TFT) and the Role in Content Composition.” Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2014. 60-102. Print.


This book records and discusses the methodologies, theories, and findings from a study on writing transfer within first-year composition performed at Florida State University over the course of two semesters in fall 2009 an spring 2010.  Of particular note to the area of methodologies, my annotations here focus specifically on the third chapter that provides the background and setup for the study. Based on empirical research, the authors feel that transfer does happen, but they are “persuaded that there is a kind of writing knowledge articulated in the types of languages students did not use [in previous studies] and more particularly in the kinds of key terms characterizing expertise . . . that students need to develop” (63).  As such, Yancey et al. propose that they can improve transfer of learning into other rhetorical contexts from first-year composition through the creation of a Teaching for Transfer (TFT) course built on reflection and metacognition, or as they put it, a “curricular model [with] a very specific kind of reflection, one . . .  interwoven into the course as a regular, systematic, and knowledge-producing practice—indeed, as a kind of curriculum consistent with, current with, and integrated with the writing curriculum” (63).

With that in mind, the study follows three course designs in the second-year course of the first-year composition program (i.e., ENC 1102). The first course the authors mention, following Fulkerson’s (2005) labeling, is centered on Expressivist design, focusing “on the writer and the writer’s perspective” and dealing with “current social topics” with a creative writing slant, due to the instructor’s own interests (67).  The second design is a media and culture course, which focuses on the impact of media and culture on society with interpretation of the “impact of iconic images [and] many forms of media ”on culture (67).  The final course design is the Teaching for Transfer course already discussed.  The chapter also goes into significant detail about each of the instructors, all graduate teaching assistants, and each of the major writing assignments in the course (70-76).

The authors’ interests are clearly focused on the TFT course, as the full writing prompts for each assignment are included in the chapter (they do not do this for the other two), including bold print, that catches readers’ eyes, used on language around the final project, a “reflection-in-presentation” that explores five major points: the students’ theories of writing, the theories of writing students held previous to the course and any evolution they feel they have experienced since the course’s inception, definition of the greatest contributions to their theories of writing, the relationship between their theories on writing and how knowledge is created, and explanation of how their theories on writing can be applied to other writing situations (76).

The participants in each of the courses elected themselves. Surveys were sent out to eighteen sections of ENC 1102, and while initially there were 41 respondents, the number whittled down to a total number of seven.


Table shows study participants connected to FYC course design and post-FYC assignment analysis.  Click to enlarge

The distribution of the participants across the three course designs included two students (i.e. Emma and Glen) in the expressivist model course; two students in the media and culture studies design (i.e., Darren and Carolina) and three students in the TFT design course (i.e., Marta, Clay, and Rick).  These participants were interviewed three times in the first phase of the study (i.e., while taking ENC 1102). They were initially questioned on their knowledge of writing when entering the course; then, they were interviewed midway through the fall semester and at the end.  These other two sets of interviews were to determine their interpretations of the assignments for the course.  Following the fall semester, and continuing into the second phase of the study, the same seven students experienced “document-based interviews” as they took on writing assignments in other non-FYC courses. As the chapter notes, “In the interviews participants were asked to analyze their approach to writing and to identify connections made between the writing they did in FYC and their current writing” (66).  They were also asked to reflect on completed assignments in detail and discuss what they felt transferred and did not transfer from one writing context to the next.  The table, above, displays information related to the study, including the participant names in the first column, the specific course design of ENC 1102 that each student experienced in the center column, and the post-FYC assignments analyzed as part of the document-based interviews in the last column.

The chapter documents highlights of the results of the interviews with each of the participants (77-99), but because this PAB focuses on methodologies in particularly, I will not discuss each one; rather, here, seemingly of most import is the authors’ end comments that assures the readers that, although the TFT course was developed and piloted for the study and received what some might view as special treatment, equal tweaking and treatment were given to all course designs.  The authors also discuss the similarities among the instructors’ quality of teaching, labeling each of three as “good.”  The authors make the case that the curriculum design is the only difference in the study, and that is what makes the study so unique.


I reflect on both PABs #4.1 & #4.2 here