PAB #2, Articles 1 and 2

Klages, Marisa A. and J. Elizabeth Clark. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital    Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing 28.1 (2009): 32-49. ERIC Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Student typing at a computer
Basic Writing student, typing a journal entry into Blackboard (Photo credit: Nicole Hancock)

Keywords: basic writing, eportfolio, digital literacy, student reflection


Klages and Clark write about their experiences using ePortfolios with the basic writing students at LaGuardia Community College in the CUNY system. They write briefly of the digital divide of the 80s and 90s but insist that that digital divide has largely been erased by the presence of computers everywhere. Instead they believe the digital divide to be between what students do in their social lives with computers and what they do in the classroom with them: “while most basic writers are adept at accessing information digitally, they are not as proficient when it comes to producing digital information, nor are they able to code-switch between informal cyber-situations and the more formal academic and professional expectations of cyber-literacy” (33).

Because the “virtual world is process-less” (33), students are able to write and publish in the same instance and skip the vital revision steps necessary for basic writers. Klages and Clark almost make it sound as if basic writers are flaunting their lack of skills online. One benefit is that students understand the exigency of audience without instruction; however, this is complicated when teenaged writers fail to see most of their electronic writing as real writing (36).

Klages and Clark define their students: “Like most basic writers, they are uncomfortable with writing and experience high levels of writing anxiety in academic situations. They have little or no confidence in their writing, reading, and critical thinking abilities” (37). To help students gain confidence in their abilities while also improving their writing, Klages and Clark require ePortfolios. “The ePortfolio, and students’ understand of their progress and their limitations as writers, serves to provide them with a powerful counter-narrative within an otherwise anonymous and punitive writing context” (39). Additionally, students use electronic methods they are already comfortable with: sharing photos, making their presences known online, experimenting with short videos and PowerPoints. Everything they produce in their ePortfolios is public to the class in the ePortfolio system. It is password protected. This type of pedagogy allows writers to enter public academic discourse (42).


This piece was selected because it advocates positively for basic writers to engage with digital pedagogy. As I will discuss in my second paper, BW as a field does not always embrace this. Even though LaGuardia is a large and diverse community college where students struggle financially, Klages and Clark’s students do not appear to struggle with access to the ePortfolios. The anecdotal evidence provided about student progress suggests that students submit their work online and on time. The ePortfolio pedagogy in this article also unites other types of pedagogy: community building, metacognition, and process. Collaboration, reflection, and process-writing are all listed objectives in the Basic Writing course I currently teach.

Bernstein, Susan Naomi. “Basic Writing: In Search of a New Map.” Modern Language Studies 40.2 (2011): 60-75. JSTOR 24 Sept. 2015. Web.

Keywords: basic writing, pedagogy, social justice, universal design

One of the major questions I plan to write about is, quite simply, what should be taught in Basic Writing. Less simply is to what extent Basic Writing should differ from FYC. In this piece, Susan Naomi Bernstein describes a class she taught and how the pedagogy creates a new map for Basic Writing courses. Though the class was taught in 2008, it overlaps interestingly with syllabi generated post-Ferguson. I am Facebook friends with Susan, so it was fascinating for me to read this and observe that her teaching style has not diverted from this in the years following publication.

Bernstein begins by noting the problematic boundaries that exist in Basic Writing classes: the infernal placement tests and exit exams. These boundaries are external forces that cannot be changed by individual teachers. Bernstein instead focuses on the pedagogical choices we can make within these boundaries. Instead of focusing on what Basic Writers cannot do, she advocates for a course description like the following:

  • Basic Writing creates a space—physical and/or virtual—for students to develop as writers.
  • Basic Writing provides an opportunity for students to discover the kinds of writing they will encounter throughout college and in the workplace.
  • Basic Writing offers time to practice writing intensively and extensively.

Increasingly, Basic Writing teachers need to move away from deficiency models. (Many scholars have written similar sentiments and yet it still needed to be written in 2011 and today) Bernstein also draws from universal design to incorporate multiple learning styles, allowing students of all abilities to benefit from the course instruction. The change in her course was at a student’s prompting. Bernstein taught Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and then had planned to move through a novel and other readings. Instead, a student asked why they couldn’t analyze some of King’s later work. The class voted to suspend the novel and instead dedicate a large amount of the semester to truly understanding King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.”

They analyzed King’s sentence structure and word choice as well as his persuasion. They listened to the entire speech using class-time. The extraordinary part of Bernstein’s approach was a collaborative presentation students gave using kinesthetic learning techniques. Students could work together to create a visual project that would analyze a selected passage or do so orally/aurally or even kinesthetically through dance, pantomime, or a skit (72).

The creations were presented to the class. It was not part of the plan, but one student recorded the presentations on his phone. Serendipitously, this allowed for greater reflection in the class as students were able to review their presentations and observe their fellow students’ reactions to them: “The multimedia of kinesthetic learning offers an embodied experience of adding detail through voice, body language, color, and digital videography, as students learned through creating the video and then replaying that experience on YouTube” (67). The students then had persuasive and analytical writing assignments to write, using the whole process as inspiration and material for those assignments. This assignment also featured in their exit exam writing.

One of Bernstein’s final thoughts about the experiment is, “’Exiting remediation’ is a finite, institutionally imposed goal, with punitive consequences for non-compliance. Yet a curriculum which foregrounds students’ prior and developing knowledge presents exciting possibilities for basic writing pedagogy” (67).


As I sit in my office writing this post, I can’t believe Ferguson was over a year ago and also only a little over a year ago. This time last year, I was teaching a Multicultural Contemporary American Literature course for the first time at a college campus that is half an hour east of Ferguson. When I turned on the tv the day of Michael Brown’s death and saw his body on the pavement and the crowd gathered on the nearby sidewalk, my first thought was, “He could have been one of my students.” To say Ferguson hit home for me is an understatement. I was teaching FYC comp that semester as well, but tensions were high in the literature course, particularly among my white students who were being confronted with their white privilege in very real ways. The black students (I use this term because it is how my students self-identify) were thrilled to be reading literature that expressed what they had been experiencing all along. I had made the decision before the semester began and before Ferguson happened to begin in the present and work our way back to less contemporary pieces. As the semester wore on, we delved into times of even less equality. Themes of social justice were inescapable.

As I said earlier, I am friends with Susan Naomi Bernstein on Facebook. We have mutual Basic Writing friends and have met at conferences on more than one occasion. Last year, I observed her teaching ideas from afar as she posted about her courses on Facebook and on her blog. There were multiple places to find Ferguson syllabi to use the events as teachable moments. The speech she had students analyze in 2008 was even more relevant last year, as it is still relevant today. Ironically, given the title of King’s speech, “Breaking the Silence,” my campus was in top-down-enforced silence: we were not allowed to host a public discussion about Brown’s death or the protests that followed.

Ferguson protest sign
A young man protests in Ferguson, MO. Picture source: NPR

Social justice is a theme in Basic Writing literature, so it is often also a theme for writing and discussion in class. This overlaps with the Villanueva piece on subversive complicity. What makes Bernstein’s approaches unique is that she also embeds disability studies into her social justice. Basic Writing often involves a pedagogy of empowerment. Both this piece and the Klages/Clark article refer to confidence-building. I argue that this is a hallmark of Basic Writing pedagogy, though I have yet to discover the perfect article about this subject alone.

This is a link to a Ferguson Syllabus page: It explains how the #FergusonSyllabus project originated and its purpose as well as linking to the hashtag on twitter for further resources than those compiled in the article.

Picture source: Scott Olson, Getty Images via the NPR website:


Paper # 1 ENGL 810

The discipline of Basic Writing has a few possible dates of emergence. If one refers to it simply as remediation, then it has existed since 1870. Most, however, mark the emergence of the field as a discipline of study to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In particular, CUNY’s open admissions policy that was enacted in Fall 1970 is credited with shifting the emphasis from remedial education to developmental education; rather than a deficit model, developmental education (of which Basic Writing is a part) focuses on student potential. In the late 1960s-early 1970s, Mina Shaughnessy of City College wrote Errors and Expectations and cofounded several publications, including The Journal of Basic Writing (Soliday 65). Shaughnessy defines the need for “a pedagogy for writing that respects, in its goals and methods, the maturity of the adult, beginning writer and at the same time admits to the need to begin where the beginning is, even if that falls outside the traditional territory of college composition” (9).

Remedial classes existed prior to open admissions. Even Harvard and Yale had classes for students whose college prep schools had not prepared them well enough (Villanueva 98). In America from 1900-1920, colleges began to differentiate student ability level by placing them into tracks. “Institutions use this strategy [differentiation of student ability levels] to resolve a fundamental paradox in American society: how to fulfill students’ aspirations– and demands– for class mobility through postsecondary education without relinquishing the academy’s traditional selective functions” (Soliday 71).
Students march for open admissions, Spring 1968, CCNY

In November 1968, students demanded a change when they overtook City College’s campus and gave the administration a signed petition critiquing the city’s plan to create a system of schools that would further divide students along tracks (Soliday 71). Students pushed for the right to attend the school of their choice. The problem of preparation, or the lack thereof, persisted. Adrienne Rich taught in CCNY’s SEEK program: “Teaching at City I came to know the intellectual poverty and human waste of the public school system through the marks it has left on students– and not on black and Puerto Rican students only, as the advent of Open Admissions was to show” (19).

While the new students lacked certain skills in writing, they had other strengths. Rich defined a quality of Basic Writers that persists today, when she said their best strength was “an impatient cutting through of the phony, a capacity for tenacious struggle with language and syntax and difficult ideas, a growing capacity for political analysis which helped counter the low expectations their teachers had always had of them, and which many had had of themselves” (18).

Shaughnessy was the administrator of a Pre-Baccalaureate program before creating the Basic Writing sequence. In The Politics of Remediation, Mary Soliday explains, “Shaughnessy’s struggle to integrate her program into a traditional liberal arts curriculum challenged the anomalous status of remedial education that has been its lot for a century” (68). The creation of Basic Writing was not only about preparing students for the rigors of college-level work but also about allowing them to join the college in academic work in spite of their current level of preparedness.

In 1993, Bartholomae wrote, “I felt then, as I feel now, that the skills course, the course that postponed ‘real’ reading and writing, was a way of enforcing the very cultural division that stood as the defining markers of the problem education and its teachers, like me, had to address” (Bartholomae 6-7). Basic Writing teachers struggled with what precisely to teach. They debated how much emphasis to place on skill versus allowing the space for students to engage in college-level work on their own terms. This is further complicated when one considers that most teachers of Basic Writing have received little to no formal training in the teaching of Basic Writing.

Too often, Basic Writing scholars reinvent pedagogy rather than refer back to scholarly work already done. In an article about construction of student identity in the Journal of Basic Writing, Laura Gray-Rosendale emphasizes how scholars use the unique situations of their own schools to dictate what should be assumed about student identity. In 1993, Mike Rose pointed out that although there are 40 years of articles in JBW, zero were cited in higher education journals: “Most of us are trained and live our professional lives in disciplinary silos” (29). Most Basic Writing instructors align with some form of Rhet/Comp theory but are often at least one step away from full alignment, contributing to the nature of the disciplinary silo.

Basic Writing programs were tolerated as a necessity. Soliday explains that Basic Writing courses always reflect the current political situation of the larger economy as well as the specific schools or even the departments in which they are housed; the programs have always been used “to boost enrollments while espousing standards; to move students into professional schools without surrendering more credits to an English department; to establish a course of elective literary study while maintaining a compulsory writing program; or to fulfill certain commitments to access for historically underrepresented groups” (62).

Video about the future of Basic Writing, an interview with Rebecca Mlynarcyzk and Ira Shor at CUNY

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum.” Journal of Basic Writing 12.1 (1993):     4-21. Print

Rich, Adrienne. “Teaching Language in Open Admissions.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. 1973. 4th ed. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. Bedford: Boston, 2013. 12-26. Print.

Shaughnessy, Mina. “Some Needed Research on Writing.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. Dec. 1977. 4th ed. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. Bedford: Boston, 2013. 12-26. Print.

Soliday, Mary. The Politics of Remediation. U of Pittsburgh P: Pittsburgh, 2002. Print.

Villanueva, Victor. “Subversive Complicity and Basic Writing Across the Curriculum.” Journal of Basic Writing 32.1 (2013):97-110. Print.

Photo Credit:
“History of CCNY.” West Harlem. WordPress, 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Video Credit:

“The Future of Basic Writing: How Can We Grow the Field?” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

PAB #2

Gray-Rossdale, Linda. “Investigating our Discursive History: JBW and the Construction of the ‘Basic Writer’s’ Identity.”Journal of Basic Writing. 18.2 (1999): 108-135. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Web. 9 Sept. 2015.

Keywords: student identities, Basic Writing students, growth, initiation, conflict


Laura Gray-Rosendale examines the description of Basic Writers in The Journal of Basic Writing throughout several major movements in the discipline. The first (1975-1976) is with Mina Shaughnessy and the growth model. “Relatively disconnected from the context within which the Basic Writer was actually writing, the Basic Writer’s student identity was inscribed first and foremost by the necessity to become more cognitively advanced and more developmentally mature” (110). Shaughnessy acknowledged that the study of students who were underdeveloped for college was too loose and the emphasis on error would lead to more questions about pedagogy than answers. Uniformity in teaching was neither desired nor possible in this model.

1975-1979 moved away from pedagogical concerns to ideological intention. Louise Yellin’s work is quoted extensively here, the “first piece of meta-theoretical criticism published on Basic Writing scholarship itself” (112). Yellin found the growth model to be premised in hope for growth beyond the students’ current abilities but sadly “in danger of fostering a vocational education, which, often despite its own assertions, reinforced social stratification” (113). Additionally, she cautioned not to romanticize students as a “ ‘culture of the oppressed’ and sought to undermine this” (113).

1979 shifted to an initiation model with metaphors of invention and entrance into a discourse community. Students were no longer deficient and in need of step-by-step instruction by the teacher but rather novices to conventions who needed introduction to the academy. David Bartholomae argued for a more rhetorically-based approach. The 1981 issue focused on revision:“Moving between philosophies of revision, teaching strategies for revision, and students’ own revising techniques, the texts in this issue took revision out of the realm of the fixed and static, seeing it as part of the rhetorical situation which was constantly changing and evolving” (116). The journal then lapsed from 1981-1985.

Under new editor, Lynn Quitman Troyka, the newly retitled Journal of Basic Writing revived with issues no longer focused on one theme or issue. A dialogue opened about the definition of Basic Writers, most notably between Kogen and Hays, Kogen arguing for an initiation model while Hays argued for a developmental model. “The Basic Writer student identity within our scholarship could no longer be seen outside of social and historical forces without raising criticisms about whether its premises rested upon the developmentalist models which reigned previously, or conceptions of student identity which treated the Basic Writer as a ‘child’ who lacked adequate development” (119). The debate was no longer about who the student was but rather how he or she was described.

The conflict metaphor began in 1991. The conflict or contact zone metaphor largely arose out of Mary Louise Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone,” which argues that “classes ought to be places where conflicts between discourses were heightened and examined” (121). The new student identity was “in flux, subject to and a subject of many historical and social forces which, scholars affirmed, had problematically created it” (121). The forces at work for and against students now became the source of student identity. Students were presumed to be on the margins as well as oppressed, but at the same time already aware of their marginality and open to discussing it. Additionally, student identities were no longer viewed as binaries but as plural or multiple: “The Basic Writer’s student identity, though it varied from article to article, was describable as a constellation of societal forces which impacted it and shaped it, as gendered, raced, or classed” (124). An outsider position was presumed; social agency and empowerment became themes for coursework. Gray-Rossdale notes that work during this time is often highly contextualized to “specific situations, specific activities, specific institutions, or specific moments” (126).


Although Gray-Rossdale positions each of these metaphors in a particular timeframe within JBW, all metaphors are currently in play during discussions of Basic Writers on the Council of Basic Writing list-serv and at CBW sessions at CCCCs. The observation that all articles were highly contextualized is interesting to me because I still see that happening during any attempt to create policy statements. Rather than being able to define BW programs or students, there is a reaction to any classification that the definition is not inclusive enough to represent all students. The end result is a non-definition. While all eras agree that students’ writing can improve, the method varies tremendously.

I know this is already much longer than it is supposed to be, but I cannot help adding…The reason I chose Basic Writing for the research topic (apart from the other reason shared in email) even though it will not be my main research focus is that I have no formal study in Basic Writing even though I have been teaching it for 13 years. I know I am not alone in this. Basic Writing is routinely in danger of being cut from university programs (when it has not been cut already). One of my friends is arguing for her program as I write this. Studying BW at the graduate level is a dangerous proposition because it could always disappear. I suspect in many ways, we as a discipline routinely invent our epistemologies as we go, picking up values from this and that along the way because we are teaching on the fly. This is not a systematic way of proceeding, and I fear the over-contextualization of the discipline adds to this because we’re apt to disregard what does not immediately apply to us as of little value or relevance to our specific teaching situation.

PAB #1

Villanueva, Victor. “Subversive Complicity and Basic Writing Across the Curriculum.” Journal of

            Basic Writing 32.1 (2013):97-110. Print.

Villanueva begins with a memory of a meeting with the provost, a meeting where he will have to use rhetoric to lobby for retaining Basic Writing classes and not cutting them from the program as the provost plans. This memory of a day in 1984 is provided without context, but it serves as a great example of one man deploying subversive complicity to save the basic writing program. The office visit serves as a metaphor for how we all encounter situations where we need to know the language to use with those in power positions.

headmaster's office
Representation of the office in Villanueva’s anecdote

As Villanueva points out on page 99, “[…] when economic crises loom, the racialized, non-middle-class version of ‘remedial’ writing is immediately slated for removal. And the way to save it is to invoke a rhetoric that cobbles together a multiculturalism or equal opportunity and assimiliation.” While writing teachers teach students to embrace their own voices, they struggle against forces in the university that see their role as enculturation and gate-keeping. Students are expected to write in the voice and standardization of the dominant culture by course’s end.

Villanueva pulls from several disciplines to show how work is being done regarding language use and racism, narrative, and code-meshing. He says that “What we [in English departments] know that they might not is that as language carries meaning, meaning carries cultures and their ideologies, ideologies and their economies” (101). We have much to learn from colleagues across disciplines as they may learn from us about our developmental students. He suggests a dialogue across the disciplines where we pass on what we already know as a discipline about contact zones and critical pedagogies.

The key issue, though, is “how to teach the written rhetoric of power without negating students’ power, the power inherent in their own ways with words” (102). He uses the Puerto Rican concept, jaiberia, a “subversive complicity,” as the answer. Subversive complicity is an intentional mimicry used with full-knowledge to reverse the current hegemonies. This is the sort of language work Villanueva employed in his meeting with the provost. He spoke her language, one of budgets and comparisons to the nearest community colleges; this was not his natural inclination, but he had learned what she wanted and needed to hear.

In Basic Writing, Villanueva teaches students about power and language and the language of power. He shows them how academic articles are structured and the class works together to translate some of the diction of the articles. Students mimic the language, but do so through the lense of an “anti-racist critical pedagogy” (103). There is an act of reciprocity involved. He takes this a step further with the CLASP program at his school (Critical Literacies Achievement and Success Programs). This is an inter-disciplinary program where professors and students learn from one another. It presumes that just as first-generation college students have much to learn about how academia works, the professors have much to learn about their new students. They meet together, get to really know one another on personal levels, and learn deeply from one another. The program intertwines with the Writing Center as well. The tutors are better able to understand the patterns they see in students’ writing. The students are able to learn the discourse of the university.


On first glance, this may seem like an odd choice for Basic Writing history. It is not really an overview of the discipline in a traditional sense. Sure, Villanueva refers to the beginnings of BW and gets in the pre-requisite Shaughnessy references. What makes this piece a part of BW history is that it acknowledges the tenuous relationship BW had always had within the power structure of the university.

BW programs are always at risk of being cut, particularly if the economy takes a turn or other disciplines in the university do not see enough evidence of student enculturation. Villanueva calls out the enculturation as racist, and he’s not wrong. The placement tests that funnel students into BW favor the dominant culture, as do the procedures that are often in place for students to promote to FYC. Rather than try to persuade the entire university structure to at long last embrace student voices as those in writing studies have done, Villanueva argues for us to help students recognize the system and learn how to use it to fight the system.

Truthfully, I am still ambivalent about subversive complicity. Certainly, students arrive in our classes thinking that the course will teach them how to use commas properly, etc. They often think that academic writing comes naturally to some students but not to them. It is helpful for them to see that everyone has to learn academic language and how it works. Exposure to it and training in it is what Villanueva recommends, presumably at a pace that is less than that of a FYC course.