The WAC Clearinghouse

CCCC 2001 in Review: K.13 Street Sense: Sweep Away Freshman Composition

Chair: Carol Berkenkotter

Barbara Couture presented "Penny Smart and Pound Foolish: Why Composition Doesn't Make It on the Street."

Do we really know students need to be helped as writers? Couture used her own personal inventory to remember what made her a writer. First, diagramming sentences in grade eight helped her learn how language works as a tool to express relationships. Second, Couture's job as an editor on her high school newspaper made her understand deadlines. Third, the five paragraph theme still works for Coutrure. Fourth, she learned literacy by imitating styles of great essayists. Fifth Couture learned to imitate Eric Radkin's writing process based on Radkin's stories of his own writing process. Sixth, writing became a way of solving a problem, and finally, seventh, Couture credited writing a dissertation as a process that taught her to write clearly. Finally, she remembered her freshman writing class as not needing the teacher and believed the same results were possible with reading "the text" and writing the ten papers. Couture believes the methods championed by compositionists and practiced in fy classes are now being employed across the curriculum and doubts that the content in fy classes is as true. Her ideas to restructure fy writing were 1) Assign experts to teach large courses on rhetorical modes and require them to practice the modes. 2) Hire grad students as teachers and apprentices to the master teacher to grade and tutor, but not to teach. 3) Link composition to content classes and engage content professors to help students communicate more clearly. 4) Assign every student to read the assigned writing of one professor.

Thomas Kent presented "Promoting Social Change by Changing the First-Year Writing Course."

Kent offered an "extended apologia" for not offering very much new or large in his paper. He did make it clear that he does have practical, state university experience (as dept Chair) with the budget, personnel, and larger institutional issues of writing programs including assessment and accountability, as well as teaching experience. Knowing what Kent called "text grammar" will not be sufficient alone for effective communication. Kent explained that knowing the elements of writing composition makes writing easier, but it is not about knowing how to write. Writing programs don't emphasize prior knowledge and communication enough, Kent asserted, and he called for using other content or opposing courses to use writing as communication. These courses, according to Kent, would question how texts work-how they cohere, how readers understand texts, how genres work-to provide practice and a body knowledge of text production and reception that emphasizes social relations. The effectiveness of social interaction and communication is what is valued in the writing and learning for Kent. Ideally, Kent would like to see courses team taught with a content expert and a composing expert. He would like to see writing evaluated for effectiveness, not conformity to convention because he thinks the writing promotes social change and because writing is an interactive, communicative, social act. His approach, he concluded, might make writing more genuine.

William Condon presented "Using What We Know: WAC, Assessment, and Abolition."

Condon explained that composition has been the right literacy solution for the last hundred years but it may be fraying at the edges and needs to better address today's learning needs as a discipline. Condon would replace first-year composition with something that makes students better writers. To what extend does first year composition supply Janet Emig's "birth of Christ" idea that writing a lot, and writing for multiple audiences and purposes is how students learn to write. First, Condon suggested that we supply a writing rich curriculum where every course has opportunities to write. Second, Condon suggested that we do more to convince colleagues to do more to communicate to students what it means to communicate in their disciplines. Third, Condon called for better exposure to professors for students to the point that professors should value that exposure over research. [WH]

Go To: CCCC 2002 in Review Home