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:


4 thoughts on “PAB #2, Articles 1 and 2

  1. Nicole, I started working at a college 45 minutes from St. Louis right as Michael Brown was killed, and it was surreal. I’m curious about if/how you and Bernstein approached your classes differently, given everything that was and has been happening. Why do you think it is so difficult for people who teach developmental writing classes to move away from deficiency models? Why do the textbooks for developmental/basic writing classes continue to emphasize grammar and mechanics so heavily?


    1. Casey, one of the things Dr. R mentioned in class on Thursday was that the textbook market in some ways controls pedagogy today. I have had a similar experience. A colleague and I were tired of reductive and condescending basic writing texts, so we wrote one for use in our classes. We were signed with a national publisher. They made us alter the text in some ways, including more on research-writing than necessary for our students, for example, because Florida requires research-writing in their BW courses. We were reviewed well and even had profs who were willing to class test the book. Long story short (too late!): we were dropped by the publisher because the text was not plug ‘n’ play enough: late add adjuncts would not be able to pick up the book and teach with it the next day with X, Y, Z assignments in lockstep– nevermind that seasoned teachers and reviewers said that the book was exactly how they taught and/or allowed them the flexibility to teach their course’s objectives. I think the deficit model is what people often default to because it is easier to teach comma rules than it is to get students to truly re-see and rethink their papers.

      I don’t know if this is a national trend or not, but we have countless area high schools that tell students things like, “When you get to college, your paper will get an F if you have 3 major errors in it.” There is a horrible urban legend about what FYC classes are or should be, which means we have both students and FYC instructors who think they know what FYC is when it is much more rhet/comp and much less current traditionalist than the myth. If FYC at a community college is 20+ years behind the scholarship, then BW at community colleges can be even further behind that. My textbook is all about writing process, something that is hardly revolutionary, and, yet, it seems revolutionary because so few BW texts cover process is any depth.

      P.S. I do not want to make all community colleges sound bad. Mine has a thriving BW program taught mostly by full-timers. And I don’t want to make all part-timers sound bad either. Most of our full-timers (me included) were once part-timers too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your experience makes me really glad that I have not continued working with a textbook publisher who shall remain unnamed. They were interested in having me write a first-year seminar textbook, but every idea that I pitched was too far removed from their basic content formula. I’ve watched one person become enmeshed with textbook publishers recently in BW, and it’s sort of amazing to me what kind of accolades roll toward someone who is responsible for the reproduction of more bad BW pedagogy through another EDNA, grammar-heavy textbook. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because I was part of a project where I was called in to massively rewrite a text after the authors had been working on the book for four years, and the publishers canned the project after a couple of months. Have you ever shared your textbook experience with your students? I’d be interested in hearing how they process the situation.


      2. Notice I have not named mine either! I talked to someone else who was under contract with a different unnamed publisher, and she had similar experiences to mine (non-BW text), so I do not think it is publisher-specific but rather publisher-epidemic. Mostly, I share with my students what it was like to have the book under review and how I empathize with them during peer review. I try not to make them more frustrated with the textbook industry than they already are.


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