Revolution Lullabye

January 3, 2013

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.


January 18, 2012

Pytlik and Liggett, Preparing College Teachers of Writing

Pytlik, Betsy P. and Sarah Liggett. Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices. New York: Oxford, 2002.

This edited collection brings together a wide variety of essays centered on the preparation of college teachers of writing (specifically focused on TAs.) They discuss what teachers of writing need to know about writing and what kinds of structures help support them in their learning about composition theories and practices. The collection is organized into four sections, addressing these questions: “What are the historical contexts for TA preparation programs? What theories inform TA preparation programs? How are successful TA programs structured? What teaching practices have proven effective in preparing TAs for college writing classrooms?”

The editors do not argue for best practices; rather, they insist that TA preparation must be dynamic to local needs and constraints.

Fulkerson, Richard. “Preface: Preparing the Professors.” xi-xiv

In the preface (“Preparing the Professors”), Richard Fulkerson notes that recent trends in teacher preparation share three common practices or concepts: the idea of teaching as a reflective practice, the role of mentoring in teacher preparation, and the creation and use of teaching portfolios as representation of a teacher’s practice and development.


reflection has its roots in Dewey, Donald Schon – “It is an activity characterized by the conscious and conscientious attention of a prepared practicioner, rather than the essential mindlessness of a trained organism. As such it absolutely demands the use of writing as a tool.” (xiii)


sources to get:

Schon Educating the Reflective Practicioner

essays to look at in this collection:

Weiser, Irwin. “When Teaching Assistants Teach Teaching Assistants How to Teach” – looks at Purdue’s 30-year-history of mentoring new TAs with experienced TAs

Rose, Shirley K. and Margaret J. Finders “Thinking Together: Developing a Reciprocol Reflective Model for Approaches to Preparing College Teachers of Writing.”

Bamberg, Betty. “Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice: A Program for Continuing TA Preparation after the Practicum.”

Ebest, Sally Barr “Mentoring: Past, Present, Future.” – how mentoring arrangements and relationships are made, the power differential that occurs

Bender, Gita Das “Orientation and Mentoring: Collaborative Practices in Teacher Preparation” – year-long staff development with collaboration between administration and teachers

Wanda Martin and Charles Paine. “Mentors, Models, and Agents of Change.” how veteran TAs help with teacher training and preparation

Lindgren, Margaret. “The Teaching Portfolio: Practicing What We Teach” – how the TA’s teaching portfolio can help analyze the effectiveness of TA training programs

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)

Create a free website or blog at