Revolution Lullabye

January 27, 2009

Downs and Wardle, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions”

Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC 58.4 (June 2007) 552-585.

The authors argue for transforming the required first-year course, usually taught as a introduction to the skills necessary to write “academic discourse” into a course that introduces students to writing studies as a field, using their own courses at University of Dayton and Utah¬†Valley State College as examples.¬†The generalized first-year course stands in contradiction to many of the established, researched theories in rhetoric and composition: that all writing is content and context-driven, that writing is an area of research and study, that writing is a complex activity that requires more than good luck and “transferable” basic skills, and that experts in writing are needed to teach writing. Such a shift in the curriculum of the first-year course allows for better transitioning to WAC initiatives (because writing, from the very beginning, is grounded in content and context), gives the newly developing majors a cornerstone foundation course, and improves the position of writing at the university from a service discipline to one that is recognized by students and faculty as a field with valuable, relevant, and important research and theoretical knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“Writing studies has ignored the implications of this research and theory and continued to assure its publics (faculty, administrators, parents, industry) that FYC can do what nonspecialists have always assumed it can: teach, in one or two early courses, “college writing” as a set of basic, fundamental skills that will apply in other college courses and in business and public spheres after college. In making these unsupportable assurances to stakeholders, our field reinforces cultural misconceptions of writing instead of attempting to educate students and publics out of these misconceptions” (1) page numbers are from printed online version

“Students leave the course with increased awareness of writing studies as a discipline, as well as a new outlook on writing as a researchable activity rather than a mysterious talent” (7).

“By employing nonspecialists to teach a specialized body of knowledge, we undermine our own claims as to that specialization and make our detractors’ argument in favor of general writing skills for them. As Debra Dew demonstrates, constructing curricula that require specialization goes a long way toward professionalizing the writing instruction workforce” (21).

Notable Notes

what the first-year course is reflects the whole discipline. Making it more rigorous and centering it on the field of rhet and comp will improve the status of rhet/comp.

category mistake – Gilbert Ryle – academic writing as one category of writing when it really cannot be defined as an umbrella term

problems/consequences of the shift: no textbook that teaches first-year writing in this way, huge labor force that needs to be trained, the research takes a long time and student work won’t be as clean or neat, high schools don’t prepare students for the field, so there’s a huge learning curve that needs to happen, content and expecatation-wise

courses that follow the intro to writing studies model use readings drawn from the research of the field of rhetoric and composition, allows students to explore their own writing practices in juxtaposition, and asks them to do research on writing.

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