PAB #4: Methodology

Entry 1

DeGenaro, William and Edward M. White. “Going around in Circles: Methodological Issues in Basic Writing Research” Journal of Basic Writing 19.1 (2000): 22-34. ERIC. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Keywords: methodology, basic writing, practitioner results, data, consensus

The premise of this article is that Basic Writing practitioners need to be more cohesive with their methodologies and present more of a united front as a subdiscipline. The one issue that BW scholars have been able to agree upon in recent decades is that formal grammar instruction does not work as a method of teaching Basic Writing. In the history of the discipline, much scholarship was written about this using a variety of methods. “But it is hard to come up with other examples of professional consensus on matters in Basic Writing, since the researchers in the field do not seem to listen much to each other or build on each others’ findings”(23). In fact, the situation is worse than a lack of consensus, which might suggest open debate. The debate occurs, but who is listening? DeGenaro and White argue: “Instead of moving toward a consensus, our researchers too often talk past each other, positions are reiterated rather than reconsidered, and we move in circles” (23).


DeGenaro and White use the more recent mainstreaming debate as the subject through which to study BW methodology. The difference between BW as a subdiscipline compared to others is how we must face our battles publically as we have to argue for or against certain measures that other entities propose (26). Basic Writing often needs to fight against outside forces to rally for continuance as a discipline within a school, so sometimes scholarship is focused on an immediate exigency with a non-BW audience. Other times, the writing is directed to other BW scholars, but again, who is listening?


The authors use the Crowley New Abolitionists debate to show that although someone will call for data, when data is presented, it is largely ignored. “To ignore data that contradicts one’s doctrines seems short-sighted. But we can only say this if we trust and value evidence provided by an experimental methodology” (26). This happens when one values philosophical inquiry over data (26-27). White refers to his own experimental research (survey results) that was used during this debate only to be openly and overtly ignored by Crowley.


Another method that is used more frequently in BW is practitioner results. Scholars include their own direct experiences and classroom anecdotes as evidence (28). The authors recognize that this methodology is rooted in passion for our students; however, it is not unproblematic. “We work in a knowledge-building community that consciously seeks to acknowledge the classroom as a meaningful and scholarly domain, but we risk sacrificing rigor and validity when we fail to interrogate what we mean by ‘evidence’” (28).


Two other types of research personae are the philosopher and the historian. Howard Tinberg is presented as an example of  a philosopher for writing a think-piece that treats student voices as equal with scholars (31). Ira Shor is used as an example of a historian for providing an overview of the issue. Because he ends his piece with a specific call to change in particular ways (rather than a general call to action), he is also labeled a progressive reformer (31-32).



This piece summarizes some of what I have noticed about methodology in the Journal of Basic Writing. There is a dearth of quantitative research for sure. It is disappointing that one of the authors of this piece provided quantitative experimental research only to have it ignored in the mainstreaming debate. I have noticed the same “talking past” in issues related to technology use in the Basic Writing classroom. We’re so far from consensus that we’re almost tackling the issues from such disparate classroom locales that each writer must reiterate his or her position before getting to the issue. By that point, one wonders if readers write off the position as too dissimilar from their own to pay close attention to the issue.


The issue of practitioner research reminds me of experiences I had when working as an instructional aide in a special education program. This was during a time when ADHD was being over-diagnosed. Parents of students with ADHD would often exclaim to the special ed teachers that although they were teaching many students with ADHD, “You don’t know my student with ADHD!” The authors make it clear that practitioners may mean well when they do this, but the end result is that we value our students and our situations over the situations shared in the research. Anecdotes in research are only perceived as significant when it is our students or students who seem similar to ours, but when the anecdote is foreign to our experience, what then?


**Note: in working on this paper, I am developing more questions than answers.



How to pursue meaningful data when the teacher/researchers are sometimes the most over-worked and disenfranchised?

How to do longitudinal studies at the community college level?

What data is effective data?

How to break past the narrative tradition?

(This wasn’t in this reading, but…) How do BW practitioners define a case study? Is that just a way of putting a positive spin on anecdotal experience?

Basic Writing research meme
First world problems Basic Writing meme (self-created on Memegenerator)

Entry 2

Haswell, Richard H. “Quantitative Methods in Composition Studies: An Introduction to Their Functionality” Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies Ed. Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan. SIUP: Carbondale, IL, 2012: 185-196. Print.

keywords: methodology, quantitative research, data, research methods

I looked. I tried. I wanted to find something about quantitative data in Basic Writing research. While data exists for programmatic changes like the Stretch Program or Accelerated Learning Program, my searches for anything else recent and quantitative were a bust. In the book chapter I have selected, Richard Haswell explains that on the WPA listserv, there are frequent calls for data but a “paucity of replies” to such pleas: “It seems the need for quantitative research in the composition field is a crisis in itself” (186).


“My argument is simply that quantitative data gathering and data analysis are an everyday way that humans perceive and act; that in research procedures, they involve straightforward and useful functions; and that in outcome, they have benefits that uniquely serve practitioners and researchers” (186-187). It makes me a little bit sad that Haswell has to justify the need for quantitative methods, but he does so because he says some in composition studies are skeptical of data because numbers are the tools of the statistician, not the rhetorician. Not so, says Haswell.


Quantitative data has four functions, as defined by Haswell: insight, transgression, challengeability, persuasion. In insight, data mining can “see” information that cannot be easily gleaned from large amounts of data. Transgression changes “the way teachers and administrators conceive of their field, sometimes debunking myths that have prevailed for decades” (188). Challengeability is presenting enough of the methodology that the information can be confirmed or denied; quantifiable data can be challenged or replicated, unlike other types of evidence. Persuasion is the intentional use of the data to convince the audience of a need for change, etc.; how data (and even what data) is shared influences the perception of that data.


Inherent in this chapter is the call for more scholars to include quantitative data in their research. Haswell includes a list of practical advice for the willing.

–Take courses in statistics and research methods.

–Read quantitative studies with an eye on method.

–Hook up with a savvy researcher.

–Start your own investigation with what you want to know.

–Start small.

–Embrace rigor.



I like numbers. I like facts. I know numbers can be manipulated, but I concur with Haswell that the presence of numbers, tables, and methodologies means the reader has the chance to observe the process of analysis and draw additional conclusions both about the accuracy of the information and its application. The lack of quantitative research in composition studies, and particularly Basic Writing, is frustrating. At some point, I want to move beyond assumption and assertion and get down to what is (praxis). One major concern that I have about including quantitative research in my own work in the future is that so little has been published. Does that mean that quantitative research is less likely to be accepted by journals or that too little of it is submitted for publication? As a field, we seem to recognize the value of it when appealing to administration but not as much when writing to one another. Is that because the numbers and charts are outside of our usual comfort zones?


I’d like to take up the call to do this sort of research, but I need to do Haswell’s first step before I can begin: take courses in statistics and research methods.


PAB #3, Articles 1 and 2

Matthews Pavia, Catherine. “Issues of Attitude and Access: A Case Study of Basic Writers in a Computer Classroom.” Journal of Basic Writing 23.2 (2004): 4-22. Print.

This article is a case study of computer use in a Basic Writing classroom. The impetus for the study: “I could discuss many positive aspects of teaching in a computer classroom, among which are pedagogical variety, student interest, expanded audiences, a broader definition of ‘writing,’ and so forth. But I also need to consider individually the students in my classes who struggle with the computers. I feel that there is personal and pedagogical value in doing so and harmful repercussions for these students in failing to do so” (6).

Matthews Pavia interviewed students in her BW class who had varying levels of expertise with using the computers in the classroom and examined their major writing assignments, writing habits, and informal writing assignments. While she studied four students, her case study is only about two of them: Matt and Maria. Matt is a Caucasian freshman. He regularly arrives in class early to work on the computers. The first computer in his home happened when he was in high school and he did not know how to use it. The computers in his high school were old; he not only had little practice with them but did not have much experience with writing in high school at all.

In class, he generated much shorter responses than the other students because they had more typing experience than Matt. Writing on the computer was more difficult for him than writing on paper but he expressed a desire to improve because “you’re going to need to learn how to use them, to use them good when you get a job and stuff, so that’s why. . . I like to use them” (qtd. in Matthews Pavia 9-10). Though he could work on computers in his dorm room or the library, he prefers the classroom because he says there are fewer distractions (10).

Maria was the only student to routinely submit hand-written drafts. She grew up in the Dominican Republic. In high school, she immigrated to the U.S. to join family but would return to the Dominican Republic for summers. Her parents traveled in order to find work. She was raised by an aunt and then cared for by her brothers when she went to the U.S. Despite the family’s poverty, Maria had a computer at home that her brothers provided for her when she was 16. The same old computer (pre-owned when it was purchased two years ago) is what she uses in college. She writes her essays on paper because the speed is so prohibitive. She also says the cost of printing prevents her from typing and printing early drafts. Only her final draft gets typed and printed. She dislikes writing, feels uncomfortable typing, and only values the computer for non-academic use.

Student Attitudes and Access

Matthews Pavia notes that both students have generally positive attitudes about computer use, particularly their place in the classroom, but both “feel hesitant or inferior when it comes down to their abilities to use and write with the machines” (13). Both mention their shortcomings. These shortcomings are caused at least in part by their limited access: Matt was late to learn how to use computers and can only use them in his dorm or the library, where he is distracted. Maria has a computer of her own, but it is too slow to function at the same level as her classmates. “Basic writing computer classrooms can be viewed as makers of opportunities– the basic writing classroom becomes a place to give all students the opportunity to write with technology, an opportunity students like Matt and Maria do not readily have. Yet, even as computers in the classroom create opportunities, they may accentuate differences in opportunity” (15).

The conclusion Matthews Pavia reaches is that computer use is a great option for basic writing students to have but enforced use of them may further disadvantage some students who need first and foremost to build their confidence in writing (18). She now assigns technology narratives as the first paper of the semester, so she can determine what the needs of the class. The computers in the classroom then are one option for students but not a requirement. “I have decided to avoid assignments in basic writing classes that might subsume writing by involving technology in the writing process in even more complicated ways than word processing does” (19).


I selected this piece because it is representative of my experience talking to many basic writing instructors. First of all, I firmly believe that the type of computing being done here is what I call “the glorified typewriter.” This is typing a paper and utilizing spellcheck and grammar check. I don’t want to be too hard on the article, though, because instructors using the glorified typewriter model for BW in 2004 were and are ahead of some BW instructors today.

I also selected this article because it is representative of another struggle: how much do we allow the experiences of a few students to shape our pedagogy for all? We know for sure that Matthews Pavia had four students who struggled in some capacity with computer use in her classroom. Four out of how many? There were also students who were generating pages of text in the time that Matt eked out mere short paragraphs. I have found this sort of extrapolation from the few to be somewhat typical of BW. I think this is in part because of the social justice epistemology; if not all students have access, then it would be a detriment to the few to continue for all. We must provide an equal education for all.

I’d like to say more about this in my OoS paper, but as a short short version to remind myself what I want to write in a few days: universal design promotes creating learning opportunities for all, not through identical options but through the options that work for students, and, above all, it is done to empower, not to step backward. Considering the number of students who need accommodation in BW, it is shocking to me to backwards accommodate students– to remove a hindrance to their education in Basic Writing is not to remove the hindrance from FYC. It only delays the discomfort they have with technology to another course, a course they will be taking for credit and with a grade that will impact their GPA. (Clearly, I feel strongly about this)

Selfe, Cynthia. “Literacy and Technology Linked: The National Project to Expand Technological Literacy.” Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. SIUP: Carbondale, IL, 1999. 3-24. Print.

This selection is from 1999. The field of rhet/comp has evolved tremendously in its use of technology since then, but I find the reading highly relevant still to a discussion of technology and literacy in BW. The National Project to Expand Technological Literacy was the impetus for this writing. Selfe argues that the field must pay attention to this:

On the specific project to expand technological literacy, we must bring to bear the collective strength of our profession and the broad range of the intellectual skills we can muster as a diverse set of individuals. The price we pay for ignoring this situation is the clear and shameful recognition that we have failed students, failed as humanists, and failed to establish an ethical foundation for future educational efforts in this country. (5)

The reason we will have failed as a discipline is because we cannot ignore the inequities of technology use. In several pages, Selfe shows how the groups in America who most need to benefit from technology are the least likely to. To increase technological literacy for some but not all is to widen the gap. “In other words, the poorer and the less educated Americans are in this country– both of which conditions continue to be closely correlated with race– the less likely they are to have access to computers and to high-paying high-tech jobs” (7). The people most interested in issues of literacy cannot afford to ignore technoliteracy or its affect on society. “In a formulation that literacy educators will feel most keenly, the project to expand technological literacy implicates literacy and illiteracy– in their officially defined forms– in the continued reproduction of poverty and racism” (7).

Selfe says the project is interested in a functional literacy– a computer literacy– that has at its core a focus on student ability to recognize and use a computer and all of its parts. More important, though is technological literacy:

Rather, technological literacy refers to a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices, and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing, and communicating. The term further refers to the linking of technology and literacy at fundamental levels of both conception and social practice. In this context, technological literacy refers to social and cultural contexts for discourse and communication and the ways in which electronic communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate. (11)

The cultural practices are shaped by national and governmental programs, but they could also be shaped by teachers who are aware of the issues.

At this point, Selfe rallies for us as a profession to pay more attention: “Unfortunately, anyone familiar with the traditional values of humanism knows that, as a group, English studies, composition, and language arts teachers prefer that technology remain quiet and well-behaved in the background of our lives, where we can use it when we choose– but pay very little attention to it most of the time” (21). Again, this was written in 1999. Having graduated from high school in 1995 and college in 1999, I can confirm that my English teachers frequently had the reputation of needing assistance with working a VCR or Elmo projection unit. Anyone young reading this needs to remember that this was a time when the internet existed but Google did not.

This selection is the first chapter of a book on technology and literacy. It can be summed up in the following quote: “We are teaching students who must know how to communicate in an increasingly technological world. Further, these students need not only have the capability of using computers. They must also have the ability to understand, from a critical perspective, the social and cultural contexts for on-line discourse and communication environments have become essential parts of our cultural understanding of what it means to be literate” (24).


I realize in hindsight that I was unable to resist quoting Selfe repeatedly. I am not alone in this.

1999 seems like ages ago for me now, particularly when writing of technology. The New London Group had already written A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies in 1996. In 2015, we have not reached the levels of awareness and ease of classroom use referred to in these works in 2015 for BW as a whole. There are pockets of instructors who use technology in their BW classes and use it well, but there is resistance too. This piece helps reveal why: there are serious socioeconomic boundaries in place for access to technology for some of our students. Selfe writes specifically of the impact on African-Americans and students in poorer school districts. People with a lack of easy access to technology will not learn to use it at the same pace as their associates. The same groups of people Selfe identifies as having the least ease with access to technology are today the students most likely to need developmental education. In the Midwest, the student population in BW is decidedly different in demographics than in FYC, and BW instructors do not want to further disenfranchise students who are already on the margins.

Classroom whiteboard with terms brainstormed by Basic Writing instructors at TYCA 2015: distinguishing characteristics of basic writers
Classroom whiteboard with terms brainstormed by Basic Writing instructors at TYCA 2015: distinguishing characteristics of basic writers. Photo credit: Nicole Hancock

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.