Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2011

Dobrin, Introduction: Finding Space for the Composition Practicum

Dobrin, Sidney. “Introduction: Finding Space for the Composition Practicum.” In Don’t Call It That: The Composition Practicum. Ed. Dobrin. Urbana: NCTE, 2005. 1-34.

This introduction sets out the scope of the author’s edited collection, which explores the debates surrounding the graduate (sometimes undergraduate) composition practicum: the place of theory in the course, its curriculum, its aims, its ramifications for institutional politics, and its place in disciplinary research, scholarship, and identity.

Dobrin claims that the composition practicum is not merely about training teachers to teach composition or professionalizing those teachers; rather, what the composition practicum course does is enculturate those students “into the cultural ideologies of composition.” This fact, Dobrin claims, makes “the practicum one of the most powerful and important spaces of occupation in composition studies.” (21). He argues that composition studies should be more aware of the power the practicum has on the field as a whole.

Dobrin argues that the debates about the composition practicum are political in nature and centered on the perpetual divide and debate of theory/practice, and therefore the questions raised by the composition practicum are shared with the questions inherent in composition studies and writing program administration scholarship. Dobrin argues that the composition practicum is a particularly important site for the field to study, as it is where the identity of the discipline is often defined for the next generation of scholars; thus, the composition practicum is where the field’s “cultural capital” is created and perpetuated.

Dobrin surveys the history of the composition practicum at American universities since the turn of the 20th century, noting that not much has changed in regards to the incorporation of both theory and practice in the course and the political arguments that surround the course.


“The practicum functions as a primary purveyor of composition’s cultural capital.” (6)

“Let’s face it, as a device through which ideologies are reinforced and programmatic cultures are created and maintained, the practicum course is a powerful tool not only for guiding the ways new teachers learn to think about their teaching, but also for controlling how and in what ways the very discipline of composition studies is perpetuated. The cultural capital of composition studies is maintained and immortalized by way of the practicum.” (4)

“Practica give shape and formula to the identity of programs. This notion of program identity is important because it carries cultural capital through to first-year students and what it means “to write.”” (26)


focuses on the graduate (TA) composition practicum course, which is often more than day-to-day advice and “how-to” practical help, serving instead as an introduction to composition theories and histories

central issue: legitimization (is the practicum course rigorous enough? Is practice critical enough? should the practicum course be given for credit?)

a challenge of the course: it is often the only course graduate student take in composition theory, history, or practice. It has a lot of ground to cover.

Some problems Dobrin addresses:

Much of the literature about teacher preparation and the practicum is grounded in the local – both because, perhaps, there is little other context, and also because the theory of what we do is so grounded in the relationships and experiences we have – it is practical (30)

1. the composition practicum is seen as an introduction to the field, but the field is not all about teaching and also not all about FYC (22)

2. requiring all English grad students to take a practicum reinforces the subordinate position of composition (as something students must do and be “trained” to do instead of what they want to do) (22)

3. A WPA’s approach in her program can often be traced back to the single composition practicum course that she took as a graduate student (27) – exponential influence

4. confusion of teacher/student identity: are those in the practicum teachers or students?

3. the composition practicum is an argument, forwarding a particular vision of professionalization and the field (through theories, methods, vocabulary) and is also a mechanism for “policing,” control and enculturation (24-25)

Guerra/Bawarshi’s essay in this collection looks at shifts between different WPAs in the same program: “cult of personality”


CCCC Position Statement on the Preparation and Professional Development of Teachers of Writing

“CCCC Position Statement on the Preparation and Professional Development of Teachers of Writing.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. 1982. Web. 31 Dec. 2011.

This 1982 CCCC position statement argues that teachers of writing at all levels need adequate training and ongoing professional development to do their jobs well. The position statement is clearly influenced by the contemporary movements in the field of rhetoric and composition (writing as a process, writing to learn, connections between rhetoric and composition and linguistics, cognitive psychology, etc.)

Specifically, they state that teachers preparing to teach writing should, in the course of their training, have the opportunity to 1. write, 2. read and respond to writings done by students and colleagues, 3. read their own writing critically, 4. understand and practice writing as a process, 5. understand and practice writing to learn, 6. learn how to assess writing, 7. study research in the discipline, and 8. study writing in relation to other disciplines. The position statement calls on all those responsible for the preparation of teachers of writing (English faculty, English education faculty, secondary schools, state education departments) to invest in the disciplinary-grounded model of teacher education they propose.


guidelines for teacher preparation, but not explicit arguments for what should constitute ongoing training and preparation

Aslup, Janet, et al., “Seeking Connections, Articulating Commonalities”

Aslup, Janet, Elizabeth Brockman, Jonathan Bush, and Mark Letcher. “Seeking Connections, Articulating Commonalities: English Education, Composition Studies, and Writing Teacher Education.” CCC 62:4 (June 2011) 668-686.

In the Special Symposium on the NCTE/CCCC Relationship

The authors explain how the SIG on Composition-English Education Connections has helped define a forum for groups of people interested in the training and support of writing teachers who normally would not cross paths, either identifying with NCTE or CCCC. This article explains the history of the SIG’s creation (first meeting in 2001), the effects the work of the SIG have had on scholarship and curriculum, and argues that the work of the SIG can form a launching point for future NCTE/CCCC collaborations that focus on the critical examination and research of pedagogy.

The authors note three themes emerging from the work of the SIG: 1. the development of a writing teacher identity that moves “across the borders” of NCTE and CCCC (674); 2. practical teaching and mentoring suggestions; and 3. innovation and growth in scholarship (connections with technology, writing centers, collaborations.) They also point out that the informal dialogue that happens at the SIG is crucial – the SIG gives those who practice writing teacher education the time and space to talk and come up with ideas (677).


The co-authors are former and current Composition-English Education Connections CCCC SIG leaders, whose members include WPAs, writing center coordinators, writing faculty, writing methods faculty, fieldwork supervisors, and National Writing Project directors (668)

topics discussed in early SIG meetings: Portfolio assessment, writing teacher identity, National Writing Project, literature/writing divide in teacher education

lists sample presentations given at the SIG meeting – other than those presentations, though, the meetings are informal, dialogic

Robert Tremmel and William Broz’s Teaching Writing Teachers of High School English and First-Year Composition as a foundational text

Good timing for the SIG: the journal Pedagogy  in comp/rhet signals the field’s interest in pedagogical issues, Common Core State Standards and push for college-readiness curriculum, WPA’s Framework for Success, NCTE and CCCC statements on the teaching of writing and 21st century literacies (678-679)


Books/articles/scholarship alone cannot help writing teacher educators grow and develop: “Individuals must be prompted to come together, to convene at a time and place conducive to critical discussion and the sharing of ideas.” (677)

“These questions and the kinds fo answers that SIG presentations provide are inherently linked to larger research and policy efforts, and they are far more complex and central to the field than simply ‘what works’ in the classroom. The position and policy statements of NCTE and CCCC are the foundation for strategic initiatives, professional development, publishing, and professional conferences and hence influence the teaching and learning of English language arts around the United States” (679).

December 29, 2011

Reid, “Preparing Writing Teachers”

Reid, E. Shelley. “Preparing Writing Teachers: A Case Study in Constructing a More Connected Future for CCCC and NCTE.” CCC 62.4 (June 2011): 687-703.

In the CCC Special Symposium on the NCTE/CCCC Relationship

Reid argues that the research, scholarship, and practice in the training of writing teachers, which she terms “writing pedagogy education,” can be fruitful ground for future collaborations between NCTE (focusing on K-12 English education) and CCCC (college composition and rhetoric.)  Reid claims that as a professional organization, CCCC has turned away from the practical issues of training teachers to teach writing.  She insists that scholarship on writing teacher preparation, instead being regulated to the margins of the field, as a solitary-institution specific practice or “sub-field” special interest group,  can bring together a variety of members of NCTE and CCCC in order to work on developing policy and practices for the training of writing teachers. In this way, Reid sees potential for a sub-field (writing pedagogy education) to revitalize larger disciplinary organizations.

Reid uses her own efforts to chair a SIG on the Education and Mentoring of TAs and Instructors in Composition and her work on the CCCC Committee on Preparing Teachers of Writing to show how difficult it was, with limited time and resources, to weave together local experiences of writing pedagogy education into a coherent, useful, and theorized whole about the preparation of teachers of writing. Reid calls on WPAs and those who train writing teachers to stop seeing themselves as “local practitioners” and rather, as part of a national, scholarly organization whose aim is to “articulate a larger vision” about writing pedagogy education (692-693). She argues that forums like SIGs and commissioned committees are not stable or sufficient enough to provide writing pedagogy education practicioners and researchers what they need: momentum and diversity of members. She suggests that CCCC follow NCTE’s lead and form a task force on writing pedagogy education, which could help create and support research grants, national studies, or online clearinghouses.

Reid points out specifically that “few studies of writing pedagogy education are data-driven, longitudinal, or inclusive of more than one program.” (692)

Notable Notes

Argues that scholarship in writing pedagogy education can address Patricia Stock’s 3rd question in what English education is: “(1) What is English? (2) How is English best taught and learned? and (3) How are teachers of English best prepared for their professional work?” (368, Stock “NCTE and the Preparation of Teachers of the English Language Arts,” 2010)

common problem in writing pedagogy education: the local: the isolation of individual writing programs, institution-specific needs and policies. No national network or conversation.

problems facing writing pedagogy education: How do you quantify teacher quality (tie in with national discussions on teacher tenure)? How can you measure writing learning as connected to teacher quality? How long does it take to develop good writing practices?  (692)

Move beyond the discussion of “what worked for us.” (692)

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