CCCC 2001 in Review: C.4 Fear and Loathing in Freshman Composition: What to Do with Unwilling and Unprepared First-Year Composition Students, chaired by Rebecca Board Liljenstolpe

This was a collaborative session from teachers at De Anza College where 61% of their students read below college level and 80% write below college level. Students were characterized as not being experienced readers who consider critical thinking to be "reading too much into it."

Rebecca Board Liljenstolpe presented "Reading Our Students, Revising Ourselves: Using the Corporate Project-Team Model to Motivate."

Liljenstolpe explained that her students needed to be creatively guided into literacy challenges. It's "almost as though I'm tricking them into doing the reading and writing" she said.

Liljenstolpe described her students as sometimes inexperienced and not always culturally adept. Her first-year learners were often impatient thinkers who could read for information but not knowledge. These students, she claimed, tend to see education as a product that is shaped by looking for answers not slowing down to consider how questions lead to more questions. Her students often tend to shut down when solutions aren't immediate. She described the problem in identity-terms as students seeing themselves more like workers who believe that degrees equate to jobs. Therefore the "logic" of college as a marketplace is often the way first-year classrooms are situated.

Liljenstolpe called for adapting business methodology to meet the changing needs of our audience, stressing collaborative learning, interactive kinesthetic learning, and developing what students perceive to be practical skills. The presenter described her hypertext project as an interactive class document that allowed students to participate in the construction of a single argument. She stressed collaboration and community building, and used a business model to achieve her goals. Liljenstolpe described a class challenge as a team project to produce a collaborative text. Students assumed roles of project manager (wrote progress reports), content manager (edited text and divided responsibilities), web developer (created web page) and research specialist (found sources). Although the pedagogy seemed effective, the presenter did not offer any critical thinking about the ways higher education has progressed with business models and values. More about Liljenstolpe's work can be seen at

Luis Limcolioc presented "Trying to Teach Knowledge When What They Want Is Information."

Limcolioc described his emphasis as trying to teach literary literacy by stressing his desire for the transparency of language and belief that language is a conduit for the fluid discussion of ideas. The ideas were pretty standard and better imagined than described in detail here.

Alan Simes presented "The Instructor Behind the Screen: Why Composition Instructors Go Online and What They Find."

Simes described his sense that students had devalued the classroom because of fundamental un-preparedness. Simes believes that for his students, taking comp is like going to traffic school or going to the dentist. Grade inflation, retention schemes, lack of commonality and agreement on how and what to teach may be some of the reasons for the problem he's attacking. His solution was to create his composition classes online. Simes claimed that virtual students are more real than the ones in our classrooms and likes teaching online because he doesn't' deal with students who don't want to be there. "There's no 'there' there" he said, "to get through the course, being there means being active online." Simes made it clear that "My medium is not my message-I use technology as means to an end." Simes might benefit from reading Cynthia Selfe or Gail Hawisher or many of the computer and writing pathfinders so that he better understands how his means alters his goals. The presenter's solutions to overcoming learning obstacles involved choosing provocative texts, helping discussion online to be more critical and analytical, and having student-teacher conferences face-to-face at least once a quarter. Simes sees the Email listserv as the heart of the online course and claimed that community is created where intimate moments are expressed. For more on his work see:

Rowena Tomaneng Matsunari presented "Teaching Community, Teaching a Politics of Meaning."

This presenter talked about the feelings of instructors for students in De Anza classrooms and quoted Bell Hooks to frame her presentation: "to build community in classroom is to recognize the value of each individual voice."

Matsunari examined roots of resistance to critical thinking with multi-cultural emphasis explaining that student loathing is really about apathy and that teaching them starts with overcoming their unwillingness to become active in the classroom. Matsunari presented her course "Power and Voice: Politics, Everyday Life and the Written Word" as a solution toward overcoming apathy and inactivity.

The session was very well attended but it didn't offer as many strategies to overcome first-year "fear and loathing" as hoped for, nor did it seem grounded with deep scholarship. Nonetheless, the presenters did characterize first-year learners in colorful ways and offered some insight into the difficulties involved with first-year literacy challenges. [WH]

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