PAB #4.2: “Transfer, Transitions, and Transformation?”

Middleton, Howard, and L K. J. Baartman. “Transfer, Transitions, and Transformation?” Transfer, Transitions and Transformations of Learning, 2013. 1-11. Print.

Book Cover: Transfer, Transition and Transformation of LearningThe first chapter of this text, in outlining what to expect in the following chapters, provides a good overview of the theories behind transfer, which up until now, I have only discussed from a compositionist angle and not from a more psychological or social scientific one, so this chapter proves useful, as I examine some of the basic theories in transfer. This article cites the seminal studies of Thorndike and Woodworth in 1901 on how learning of one concept carries over to learning in another context.  By 1913, Thorndike concluded that transfer does not occur, that the mind learns “things separately and apparently in isolation” (1).  Of course, counterarguments exist concerning this theory.  Bransford and Schwartz in their 1999 study argue that Thorndike and partner were looking at transfer the wrong way: they were looking at in a sequestered problem solving (SPS) manner, which promoted that “subjects in transfer tests are kept isolated and have no access to texts, or the ability to try things out, receive feedback, or revise” (2).  As Bransford and Schwartz argue, this type of separation is not conducive to, what they call, preparation for future learning (PFL).  The difference between the two is that while SPS looks for direct application from one context to the next, Bransford and Schwartz offer “an alternative approach to understanding transfer,” where it is more appropriate to measure the degree to which particular learning prepares people for future learning (2).

In addition to Bransford and Schwartz, the article discusses Perkins and Salomon (2012), who argue that “motivation is a key factor in any explanation of transfer, both in terms of successful and unsuccessful instances of transfer” (3). This view actually plays off some of the work of Bransford and Schwartz who argue similarly but not in a deep way.  Rather, Perkins and Salomon put forward a “‘detect-elect-connect’ model where the three aspects of the model are described as ‘bridges’ [. . . .] to identify if the process of transfer is occurring” (3).  Detect is the moment where individuals become aware that they are in a situation where previously understood communication would apply to the current exigency.  Elect, then, in the model, is the actual decision to act on it, which Perkins and Salomon say is not as easy as it sounds due to the intellectual disturbances that “old learned practices and habits” pose (3).  The final step in the model, connect, makes a way for individuals, after detecting a possible relationship and electing to explore it [. . . ]go on to make the connection between the prior knowledge and the current situation” (3).

The chapter also discusses Marton’s (2006) work that says transfer needs to focus on differences and not similarities.  In Marton’s view, “transfer is regarded as a function of the perception of differences between learning and other situations, or put another way, between one context and another context” (4).  One of Marton’s examples, here, explains that if students learn addition by rote, then teachers do not know if they actually learned addition until they give them different tasks on addition.  The authors compare Bransford and Schwartz’s (1999) work to Marton’s, as the former also discuss “how experience with contrasting cases can affect what a learner notices about subsequent events and how the learner interprets them” (4), but the students would need to analyze the differences and similarities after the fact.

What’s more, the chapter authors discuss Overzealous Transfer (OZT) so labeled by Schwartz et al. (2012), which argues that transfer strategies can be overdone and “learning is overgeneralised and transferred into situations where it is inappropriate” (5). As example, Schwartz et al. says that 75% of the work on transfer in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) uses what are called tell or teach and practice routines, which, as pointed out, only allow for near transfer.  Schwartz et al (2011), says OZT “could be reduced by having students use a technique called inventing with contrasting cases, where they had to, in essence, invent a way to understand the learning material” (5). Another helpful way to work toward a more efficient level of transfer is to have students engage in learning material in different contexts.

Following OZT, this chapter turns to a section on Consequential Transitions Involving Transformation.  This area primarily follows the work of Beach (1999), which argues for a different approach to transfer, one that is based on consequential transitions through a sociocultural approach. The idea, then, is that “people generate knowledge across social activities rather than transfer it from one situation to another” (5).  Beach “argues that while transfer happens
in general life situations, intentional transfer, or facilitated transfer, as is assumed to occur as a result of formal learning, does not occur or occurs rarely” (6).

To bridge the gap, Beach argues for a different name for transfer.  He proposes transitions.  As such, the chapter turns to explain the different levels of transition discussed in Beach’s work, including lateral, collateral, encompassing, and mediational transitions.  Lateral transition is unidirectional, and as an example, the authors cite the transition of moving from school to work. Collateral transition is multidirectonal and provides less of a clear pathway since it deals with multiple ways of transfer, such as from one course to multiple courses in a curriculum.  Encompassing transition is when individuals engage in a social activity and the change happens within the actual activity.  Mediational transition happens in educational activities where students are uninitiated in the activity but have prior experiences to stimulate them “to move beyond their current point, to the developmental position they are working towards” (7).  Beach’s work also makes the point that transitions come with a struggle but lead to transformation.

The final area in the chapter is on Boundary Crossing and presents the work of Akkerrman & Bakker (2011).  Boundary crossing theory focuses “on the values of differences between learning settings and how to create possibilities for learning at the boundaries of diverse practices” (1).   Transfer in boundary crossing theory requires “‘letting go’ of previously held ideas and behaviours” (7), and, instead, individuals must affect a new attitude and “look critically at their
current knowledge and beliefs” (8).  Studies show that many establish boundaries between different situations, such as professions, because of “feelings of uncertainty or threat” (8).

Overall, this chapter helps compare and contrast theories on transfer as well as summarize the working body of theoretical knowledge in the area.  Additionally, the chapter leads to numerous studies on transfer and serves as a jumping off point for future research, if not reading of the entire book on the subject.

Reflections on PABs 4.1 & 4.2

So, as I look at both the chapter from Yancey et al. (2014) and the chapter from Middleton and Baartman (2013), I am presented with a number of methodologies and theories surrounding transfer.  Yancey et al. does not offer any different methodologies, per se, than Wardle (2007) or Tinberg (2015); rather, all focus on surveys, interviews, and case studies. This way to carry out research seems to be the norm in studying transfer. However, the one main difference–and what appears to be the most interesting about Yancey and her colleagues’ study–is their object of study.  Instead of studying just people and performance (like Wardle and Tinberg), they study content. What’s more, they set up this study with a type of experimental group  (i.e., TFT-designed course) vs. a control group (the expressivist-and-media-studies-designed courses). Interestingly, Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak make it a point to say that parity exists among all courses, but the reader can easily realize that the authors hope that the experimental group will demonstrate some new results. If I were to set up a research project on transfer, this chapter adds one more way to seek an object of study in investigating transfer. Also, it complexifies the way that one might setup a study in a more controlled way, rather than a naturalistic setting, such as those by Wardle and Tinberg.

Regarding Middleton and Baartman, I have yet to fully invest myself in any one theory on transfer that the authors reveal in their chapter.  My initial thoughts on transfer sided with Perkins and Salomon that motivation needs to be present for transfer to happen. I have yet to fully look at their work, but I was thinking about the object of study that I’ve played with for a while regarding aiding transfer with digital learning objects (DLOs) that trigger a buried memory after a first-year-composition (FYC) course, a digital (re)mediation of sorts; and I came upon the idea that motivation does not necessarily need to be intrinsic; rather, extrinsic motivation may be the most instructors/researchers can get (e.g., better writing transfer = better grades) , especially when talking about the dreaded process of writing, as it is often perceived. With all that in mind, this type of extrinsic motivation may be what leads students to a DLO in the first place, or perhaps, if the DLO offers some sense of motivation itself–I am thinking of some sort message that inspires or demystifies (and I know I’m talking vaguely here but actually more theoretically)–then perhaps Perkins and Salomon’s view is a largely viable option to consider.  

On other hand, I do like Beach’s idea of changing transfer to transition and transformation, but sometimes I feel those shifts are merely semantics. Wardle (2007) also wanted to make semantic shifts in discussing writing transfer, using the term generalization instead.  I do not know that Beach’s theories offer anything that makes for an eye-opening event for transfer within writing because he offers a more sociocultural approach.  Maybe if I were to look at the differences in writing transfer demographically, then perhaps so.  Certainly, I could go on to discuss other theories mentioned in Middleton and Baartman, but this post is getting overly long at this time, and to be honest, Marton (2006) and Bransford and Schwartz’s (1999) works are not as stand out (to me anyway) in my scenario of writing transfer as Perkins and Salomon; however, as Yancey et al. does, they attach theory to their study after discussing its outcomes, which means that the other theories I decline to discuss in detail here may have more meaning after a research study is carried out.  Conclusively, though, theory informs methodologies and vice versa.  

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

PAB #3.2 Reconsidering Transfer


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


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.


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).


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.

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 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).


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.

PAB #2.2 “Transfer” from The End of Composition Studies

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

Smit’s book offers a look at several big questions within composition studies, and one that looms large and has received a great deal of attention in recent years is the question of transfer; that is, the ability for students to take what they have learned from one setting and apply it to another.

Smit is author of the book The End of Composition Studies and faculty at KSU.

Smit is author of the book The End of Composition Studies and faculty at KSU. Source: KSU

Smit proclaims that it is “radical” for composition studies to claim that they can effect transfer, and he goes on to proclaim boldly that in order to for instructors to promote transfer from one class or context to another, then they “are going to have to find the means to institutionalize instruction in the similarities between the way writing is done in a variety of contexts.”  In this chapter, Smit introduces one classic problem with transfer in writing instruction by borrowing from Russell’s analogy of the ball that essentially says that it is wrong-headed to think that if an individual learns how to kick a soccer ball, then s/he would know how to throw a football, too, despite both being balls and the central object of a sport. Likewise, just because students are provided general writing instruction, that does not mean they will be able to perform competent writing in all situations and contexts. Or to make it even more concrete, Smit’s example is that “[w]e cannot assume writers know how to put together an effective proposal to a city council just because they can write effective proposals to change an English department’s curriculum” (121).


Learning to kick a soccer ball is not the same as learning to throw a football, although both are balls. Likewise, general writing instruction does not necessarily transfer from one context to another. Source: Michael Pardo (Public Domain)

As a possible solution to the problem of transfer, Smit applies James Voss’ work, which “distinguishes between weak  and strong  problem-solving strategies” (122).  A weak problem-solving strategy is exemplified in a scenario where an instructor asks his novice students to write a series of essays all related to a job, from job satisfaction to a letter of recommendation. While performing many different types of writing, this, Smit says, still is a weak problem-solving strategy because they are too based on genre or context. Smit inquires about what will happen to the novice student when asked to write a research paper for history when previously exposed only to this vast-and-varied, context-based type of writing.  Smit concludes that such design doesn’t bode well; rather, he believes, even though some ideas of organization, process, style, and conventions might transfer, “[t]he novice writer’s problem is knowing under what circumstances these strategies may be strong, under what circumstances they can be applied directly with some degree of appropriateness” (124).

To prove his point, Smit provides an extensive discussion on case studies that study transfer among four university courses in business, history, psychology, and biology, wherein students were asked to write a variety of papers, evaluating or solving a problem.  The findings from the study show that students used similar ways–formulating theses and sub-points–to complete their assignments across the courses; and in the big picture, the studies’ authors found examples of “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” (128-9). However, Smit also mentions the large number of examples containing difficulties in transfer that the study also cites.

Sadly, Smit’s view is rather pessimistic or skeptical about transfer, based on these studies. He writes, “[W]e cannot assume that writers will transfer the kinds of knowledge and skills they have learned previously to new writing tasks. Such transfer is unpredictable and depends to a great degree on the student’s background and experience, over which the instructor has little control” (130). Despite such warnings, Smit still gives these words of advice regarding instruction in the composition classroom: “[W]e must find ways to help novices see the similarities between what they already know and what they might apply from that previously learned knowledge to other writing tasks” (134). Seemingly, such advice means instructors should be more intentional not only about teaching particular genres or contexts but also making sure to teach students in what other ways they might apply the task.

After reading Smit, I began to think about my own course design and recent installment of a writing-in-the-disciplines approach to my first-year writing course.  In this course, students learn both genre and context, and that, of course, makes me pensive based on Smit’s findings here, but I do believe my course design might offer some redeeming qualities when it comes to transfer, for I attempted to create assignments, with the help of faculty in other disciplines, that they might actually do in other courses. I hope this method proves positive for transfer as my students move through their academic career.  Still, with such incertitude regarding this topic, and such institutional service often expected of composition studies, it is no wonder that transfer continues to be a major question in the field and the subject of journals, books, and courses.  I look forward to pondering this major question more in the future.

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).


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.


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.



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.

PAB #1.2: Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages

Hawk, Byron.  “Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages.”  Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Michelle Ballif.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.  106-127. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 7 Sept. 2015.

Hawk’s text, here, is a chapter from the book Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. It speaks more to the nature of writing a history within rhetoric and composition than the history of the field itself. Hawk opens his chapter by speaking about traditional historiography within the field, the desire to go back to the archives and either recite from those facts found there or to build a revisionary history with regards to finding another text or another author, previously given little regard. With this in mind, and reflecting on Sande Cohen’s work History Out of Joint, Hawk arrives at the notion that “history is an assemblage of events grounded in methods of finding, selecting, evaluating, and reassembling events judged from current rhetorical needs” (107).  Or, in short, history is rhetorically situated. Hawk gives more power to this idea with the perspective of Hans Kellner, who argues that new historiographies require “’getting the story crooked,’ looking into the various strands of meaning in text in such a way as to make the categories, trends, and reliable identities of history a little less inevitable” (109).

As a whole, Hawk’s work here hinges on complexity theory and blends the arts and sciences, particularly music and biology.  He discusses Borgo’s work on insect behaviors and their connection to improvisational jazz (e.g., performance and sound), outlining “the patterns of self-organization that operate within historical events: degrees of freedom (assemblages), strange attractors (joints), feedback (folds), and bifurcations (lines of flight).”   Hawk also calls on and applies the work of Steven Johnson (i.e., Emergence), who argues that the “’great man approach’ [i.e., a single thinker whose discovery changes history] to history and the ‘paradigm shift’ model are insufficient for conceptualizing and mapping the historical emergence of ideas” (119).  Instead, Johnson uses the entomological pheromone trail as a metaphor for memory, saying “. . . plug more minds into the system and give their work a longer more durable trail—by publishing their ideas in best-selling books, or founding research centers to explore those ideas—and before long the system arrives at a phase transition . . . “ (120).

Using Johnson’s historical model and Borgo’s method, Hawk sketches out how one would create a networked historiography on communication and composition, based on complexity and improvisation.  He sections the historiography by Borgo’s categories: freedom, attractors, feedback, and bifurcation.  As a result, he concludes that this method breaks with “the simple or causal chains of narration and story” (124) often deployed when writing about history.  Instead, the method offers a “collective, improvised, material performance of history itself and of writing history” (124).

The theme of improvisation runs throughout Hawk’s work. In this video, he connects gesture ecologies to improvisational sound art and all composition.

While intricately metaphorical and intelligently playful, Hawk’s work, here, does not offer the straightforwardness of other histories regarding schools of thought within the history of composition studies—I am thinking here of Nystrand and colleagues’ article on constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism discussed in my previous post—however, Hawk’s great contribution here is not the content regarding the history of composition studies but the form he details. This meta-communication (and metaphorical communication) regarding the networking of history and the complexifying of theory speak to the age: its connections, intersections, and divergences.  Or to put it another way, Hawk and the authors whom he references indicate how ideas overlap, ambiguities abound, and co-evolution endures. These are the crooked stories of our time; the strands we reassemble as needed; the systems that fail to be singularly categorized.  Within composition studies, many may attach themselves to more than just one history and will therefore create more complex futures and subsequently more interconnected theory and praxis (e.g., post-structuralism does not totally throw out the idea of social construction; it builds off it). These complexities–these interconnections–certainly have been with us for decades, but Hawk gives depth to them and offers a new reading and writing about historical texts and rhetorical futures. This is the power and the allure of his work.

By the way, comparatively speaking, I could not help but think about the relationship between Hawk’s metaphors of trails and networks and Phelps’ mapping metaphor used in her “Practical Wisdom and Geography of Knowledge” (1991) article. In a bit of a twist, Hawk aims to (inter)connect multiple theories to divergent histories, while Phelps aims to (inter)connect multiple histories to divergent theories. Both have this notion of practice and/or performance, however, leading us back to theory and history in a recurring loop.

PAB #1.1: Where Did Composition Studies Come From? (1993)

Nystrand, Martin, Stuart Greene, and Jeffrey Wiemelt. “Where Did Composition Studies Come From? An Intellectual History.” Written Communication 10.3 (1993): 267-333. ERIC. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Published in 1993, Nystrand et al. offer a lengthy (about 50 pages) yet historically synthesized article about composition studies’ rise as a recognized scholarly discipline in the 1970s, and they trace its evolving schools of thought until the early 1990s.  The authors define the field’s roots in the formalism of the mid-1940-1960s, which focused on prescriptive models, such as the five-paragraph theme of the 1950s and the works of Warriner and Strunk and White as well as the “public and objective” truth of New Criticism in literature studies (275-76).  In the formalist’s mind, texts were viewed as “autonomous units of meaning coded with their own contextually independent internal structures” (277).

The second chunk of decades the authors discuss include the late 1960s through the early 1980s, in which we not only see the rise of composition as a formal discipline, but we also observe the popularity of cognitivism and constructivism through the works of Moffett, Britton, Emig, Flower, Hayes, Fish, and Chomsky.  The constructivist view situates writing and reading as “dynamic processes of constructing meaning”; orders language and “gives shape and thus meaning to experience”; and validates “the role of mind in shaping human experience” (285).

The 1980s, according to the authors, gave rise to social constructionism and continuation of structuralism within composition studies, transforming “univocal conceptions of language and meaning into a pluralist semiotic . . . “ (286).  Ideas and terms such as writing as social act, writing across the curriculum, and discourse communities stem from social constructionism. Moreover, the work of linguists William Labov as related to Black/African-American communities’ use of non-standard English, Dell Hymes’ use of the term speech community, and Searles’ discourse analysis all influenced the swell of social constructionism.  Likewise, composition research from the likes of Shaughnessy, Bruffee, Bizzell, and Bartholomae undergird the movement. Literary theorists, such as Stanley Fish, whose work spans generations and influences various schools of thought, also contributed to social constructionism with his notion of “interpretive communities.”  Altogether, structuralism, found both in cognitivism and social constructionism, avows that “human behavior and institutions can be explained only by elucidating the mediating structure of an underlying abstract system” (292).

The final school of thought to which the authors turn is dialogism, rooted in the work of Bakhtin, which offers these words: “The utterance is a social phenomenon . . . the product of the reciprocal relationship between speaker and listener, addresser and addressee”  (qtd. in 294).  Dialogism counters structuralism, and the text, then, becomes a dialogue of sorts, where “meaning of any utterance is always relative to other utterances” (296).  Often referred to as poststructuralists, important theorists, such as Barthes, Brodkey, Derrida, and Foucault “ come out of this wave of thought and argue that knowledge and meaning are socially constructed, context dependent, political and historical—and therefore unstable, partial and multiple” (300).

Overall, Nystrand and his fellow authors synthesize about fifty years of intellectual history within composition studies, leading the reader to the central points of  the main schools of thought that have impacted composition studies (and still do) from the 1940s-1990s: formalism, structuralism, and dialogism.  The unique nature of this article is its ability to summarize each section with bullet points.  Additionally, it offers a useful table that provides critical contrasts among formalism, constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism.

Comparatively speaking, this article provides a summative history of composition studies that takes into consideration work across the discipline of English Studies, including literature, writing, and linguistics, speaking more to what the subfields have in common than what they do not. McComiskey’s text on the discipline as a whole leads readers to observe more of a fractured nature of the discipline and proposes an alarmist view of sorts.  Nystrand, et al., on the other hand, speak to a more cohesive nature of English Studies, and to be frank, offer a more agreeable (and readable) tone.