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”


December 2, 2010

Merrill, Farrell, et al, Symposium on the 1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards

Merrill, Robert, Thomas J. Farrell, et al. “Symposium on the ‘1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.’”  College Composition and Communication 43.2 (1992): 154-175. Print.

These five articles form a symposium to discuss the publication of the 1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, which was published in CCC in May 1992. I’m going to briefly summarize each one.

Robert Merrill, “Against the ‘Statement'”
Merrill, a full-time professor and chair, argues against the Statement because of the implications and consequences of its recommendations. Universities could never afford hiring tenure-track professors to cover all the sections of composition that they teach, and even if they did, tenure-track professors would no longer be able to offer upper-division courses because their loads would be filled up with composition. Tenure-track literature professors are not trained to teach composition or hired to teach composition. Merrill argues that lecturers and instructors do a better job of teaching composition than , tenure-track faculty, and he would support tenuring them if they continued teaching their loads of composition. Instead of trying to get rid of the two-tiered system, he argues for making “the two tiers fit closer together” by improving the working conditions of writing specialists in English departments (158).

Thomas J. Farrell, “The Wyoming Resolution, Higher Wizardry, and the Importance of Writing Instruction.”
Farrell, an associate professor, argues that teachers and professors of composition and rhetoric need to be aware of their own rhetoric and use it more effectively in order to improve the status of the teachers of writing at the academy. He points out what the Progress Report is missing – a condemnation of the expensive growth in non-teaching managerial administrators at the academy, an argument of the value of good writing instruction for students to be successful in the workplace, which depends on deliberative rhetoric, and the intellectual value of learning rhetoric in order to be adaptable to different audiences and purposes.

Eileen E. Schell, “Teaching Under Unusual Conditions: Graduate Teaching Assistants and the CCCC’s ‘Progress Report'”
Schell, a graduate student at the time of writing this, argues that the Progress Report does not “fully address the complexities of the GTA’s position” (165). The title of the graduate teaching assistant is a misnomer, Schell argues, as the GTA in composition is often a full-fledged teacher but treated as a less-than-professional. GTAs also have a double work burden: being graduate students and university teachers.

Valerie Balester, “Revising the ‘Statement’: On the Work of Writing Centers”
Balester, an assistant professor, argues that the Statement does not address the unique needs of instructors and non-tenure-track administrators who work in writing centers and contends that the Statement sees writing centers as centers of service instead of locations where writing theory and pedagogy is dynamicly enacted.

Chris M. Anson and Greta Gaard, “Acting on the ‘Statement’: The All-Campus Model of Reform”
Anson, an associate professor, and Gaard, an assistnat professor, argue that in order to carry out the reforms included in the Statement, the field should not rely on individual actions of teachers and administrators alone nor on the broader moves of CCCC (as argued by James Sledd) but instead pursue local changes within institutions by collaborating between administrators, faculty, and instructors. They use their campus-wide retreats and workshops at the University of Minnestota in 1989 and 1991 as an example of this kind of reform.

Notes and Quotes

November 22, 2010

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, A Progress Report

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards. “A Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 330-344.

In response to the 1987 Wyoming Resolution (which provisions were adopted unanimously by CCCC), CCCC established a Committee on Professional Standards, whose job was to circulate and oversee implementation of the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards in the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing (passed in 1989 in response to the Wyoming Resolution.) This statement has been controversial, and this progress report is intended to clarify the CCCC’s position on professional standards for the postsecondary teaching of writing for the purpose of both discussion among members of the field and help in implementing the provisions of the statement and the Wyoming Resolution. This progress report outlines three recommendations to the field: 1. that CCCC follow case studies of faculty, administrators, and instructors trying to implement the Statement at their own institution; 2. that noncompliance be understood as actual resistance to change proposed at institutions; 3. that CCCC authorized a raise in dues to pay for an attorney/administrator to track the implementation of the statement. The CCCC Committee links good working conditions for teachers to good teaching and quality student education. The report argues that the treatment of writing teachers – who are denied time for research, scholarship, and pedagogical invention – is linked to the erosion of tenure, the disappearance of faculty governance, and the corporatization of the university. Thus, the poor treatment of writing instructors at many institutions should be of concern to all faculty. They argue that all teachers of writing should have access to full-time, tenured positions, and that untenured full-time positions or part-time positions should only be used as stop-gap measures as the university is working toward the conversion to tenure lines. They point out that it is the field’s job to argue for the importance of writing and good writing teachers at the university, citing that the field remains invisible to those in English departments and higher administation because the discipline doesn’t often overtly argue for its critical place in student education and many of the freshman English courses in higher education have little to no intellectual, scholarly grounding.

Notes and Quotes

problem: the unfair labor practices in the teaching of college writing are tied to 1. the position of the field at the university 2. the large percentage of women and minorities teaching writing: “the unjust class lines in the academy reproduce those of the culture at large. We do not think it is too far-fetched to describe most teachers of composition as professionally homeless persons” (336).

argues for all writing to be taught by full-time, tenure-track faculty (their ideal)

part-time positions should only constitute 10% of a institution’s writing faculty (336).

What did the Wyoming Resolution (1987) do? “The Wyoming Resolution contained three provisions: it asked for a definition of the minimum standards under which postsecondary writing teachers should be employed; it asked for the creation of some mechanism that would help teachers implement the standards on their campuses; and it asked that some means be found to enforce institutional compliance
with the standards. The Resolution called upon professional organizations to provide support for those who sought changes or reforms relevant to the teaching of writing at individual institutions.” (330).

Institutions (liberal arts, state universities, research universities, two-year colleges, etc) are funded and structured differently, and changes to the position of writing instructors must reflect the local context. But, conversations about the position of untenured and untenurable teaching assistants and part-time instructors must be had (in a way that does not jepordize their employment) with the entire teaching force, not just those who are tenured or who are tenurable.

Universities are increasingly relying on part-time instructors: tenure is drying up because the university is responding to market forces, drawing a larger percentage of their teaching labor from the pool of underpaid part-time instructors and graduate TAs.

The poor treatment of writing instructors is tied to the low regard of the field of composition and rhetoric.

November 19, 2010

Cooper, et al, What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide

Cooper, Allene, et al. “What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide? Portfolio Assessment and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” In Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers: Scenarios in Effective Program Management. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: NCTE, 1999. 44-52. Print.

Cooper, the Writing Program Director at Boise States, explains in this case study how her program moved from a proficiency exam to portfolio assessment to evaluate students at the end of the required writing courses. This change in assessment method came at a difficult time for many of the adjuncts in the program: 1. the new president of the university called them, along with the other adjuncts at the university (who taught 40% of the courses) “a dime a dozen,” 2. the number of TAs teaching in the program quadrulpled (making the adjuncts feel like their jobs were threatened, and 3. the TAs formed a strong teaching community around a shared syllabus (making the adjuncts feel outside this new constituency and thinking that they too would have to teach around a shared syllabus.) There was obvious tension between the adjuncts and TAs, a tension that came out in a shared grading session of the portfolios, where instead of focusing on the students’ writing, the adjuncts and TAs began to attack one another’s assignments and teaching methods. There was hope that the portfolio assessment would help cultivate camaraderie, but it was apparent that there were deeper issues between the two discourse communities, who “ran aground on issues of theory, pedagogy, hegemony, and economics.” (48). Cooper describes the options a WPA has in this situation and the WPA’s conflicting responsibilities: running this student assessment, training TAs, cultivating morale.

Notes and Quotes

“Your adjunct faculty, like their counterparts at other colleges and universities, have traditionally faced problems of low pay, no job security, no benefits, and no upward mobility within their profession. In addition to these issues of professional insecurity, they have faced the more subtle problem of isolation. They teach at odd hours and odd sites. Many feel almost invisible – it’s not uncommon for other faculty members not even to recognize them as fellow teachers” (48).

suggests that replacing adjuncts with full-time instructors might be a solution (50)

May 1, 2009

Durst, Roemer, and Schultz, Portfolio Negotiations

Durst, Russel K. , Marjorie Roemer, and Lucille M. Schultz. “Portfolio Negotiations: Acts in Speech.” In New Directions in Portfolio Assessment. Eds. Black, Diaker, Sommers, and Stygall. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1994. 286-300. In Assessing Writing. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 218-232.

Using the conversations from two groups of instructors grading portfolios (one beginning TAs, the other veteran teachers), the authors show how the discussion that takes place is a performative speech-act (J.L. Austin), whereby the conversations are making judgments, negotiations, and setting community standards and values for student writing. They argue that grading papers is an act of reading, a complex and inexact process, that will result in inconsistency among graders, but this inconsistency is a powerful force that can be harnessed for further program development and identity-making.

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