Paper #6: Becoming a Scholar of Basic Writing


When I started this semester, I thought I would dabble in learning about the major debates of basic writing. I didn’t think I would be exploring a potential dissertation topic. You see, I was convinced that I would not be studying basic writing much during my degree. In fact, I saw a bit of myself when we read Yagelski: “Many English professors did not want their professional identities to be defined by what was widely considered a skills-based course whose purpose was to enable students to write well enough to do the ‘real’ work of college study” (282). My worry wasn’t about having my identity defined by a discipline that is considered less than; I was and am concerned about aligning with a discipline that could be potentially phased out in the future.

Then again, basic writing has been on the chopping block for decades. It is always changing, adapting, fighting for space and respect. If everyone veers away from it as a potential research focus, then how can it be expected to flourish? I began my studies, hoping to join the ranks of community college professors who research because they want to. In writing Paper #5 and standing up for #actualCCprofs, I realized I probably need a secondary hashtag: #actualBWprof. There are others out there doing this work, but if I don’t join them in a visible way, I’d be a hypocrite. So, here I am, beginning the research I said I would do someday but not now. My whole career seems to have worked this way: I pursued coursework in rhet/comp while earning my master’s in literature because I knew I’d probably teach writing too, only to end up predominantly teaching basic writing and first year composition with a side of literature. I’m not alone in stumbling into a career of teaching basic writing. I’m a little surprised it has taken me this long to realize I am fighting myself about something I should probably give into.

Most of my professional and faculty development has come from conference attendance and passive participation in community list-servs. When I think of the major debates in basic writing, I think of the current issue of placement, and what the discipline will do now that Compass is being discontinued as a placement test. Alongside that is the issue of direct placement and whether it is a viable option for community colleges. I think, too, of the debates about acceleration models like ASU’s Stretch and CCBC’s Accelerated Learning Program and how these models attempt to move students more quickly through their preparatory classes and more directly into their credit-bearing courses. These are the hot topics on the Council of Basic Writing list-serv and the topics of many recent conference presentations. Then, there is the old standby of pedagogical concerns like which genres are appropriate for basic writers and which lexile difficulty level they should be reading for the course. These discussions seem to be never-ending, with scholars cycling through different ideas about what is most appropriate.

The issue that is of most interest to me is not a major debate at all but rather a secondary or tertiary debate. Many schools have worked to advocate for better technology in the classrooms, but I see less attention paid to precisely what should be accomplished with the classroom technology when it pertains to basic writers. It seems that the first year composition world is moving full-steam ahead into multimodality while much less is being written about basic writing and composing with technology.


There is much that I need to read. To truly become a scholar of basic writing, I will need to immerse myself in classic works that are frequently referenced: Shaughessy, Bartholomae, Rose, Bizzell, Horner and Lu, and Soliday. At the top of my reading pile for the break in between classes is Time to Know Them: A Longitudinal Study of Writing and Learning at the College Level by Marilyn Sternglass. Because of my research interests, the same pile includes: Race, Rhetoric, and Technology by Adam Banks, The Way Literacy Lives by Shannon Carter, Going Wireless: A Critical Exploration of Wireless and Mobile Technologies for Composition Teachers and Researchers by Amy C. Kimme Hea. Only Sternglass and Carter are texts about basic writers, but I hope to extrapolate from the other two to apply what is said about technology to my subfield.

In 2011, Mike Rose noted the problem of both disciplinary and methodological silos in research about basic writers. Higher education journals are not drawing from the work done in Journal of Basic Writing, nor is JBW drawing from more scientific research methodologies:“But if we hope to really do something transformational with remediation, we’ll need to use all the wisdom we can garner, from multiple disciplines and multiple methodologies, from multiple lines of sight” (Rose 29). I will need to leave my silo to visit other silos; in particular, I will need to go beyond the Council of Basic Writing at CCCCs to also attend the National Association of Developmental Educators conferences and take advantage of the research coming out of that realm. I already consider myself part of the TYCA Midwest community as well as on the fringes of Computers & Writing.  I intend to draw from these “multiple lines of sight” in my work. I hope to do the same in what I read as well.

Practitioners of basic writing are generally an inclusive group; it’s part of what we do. We take everyone into our classes. We take all instructors in the field into our fold too. I would like to be inclusive in my citations, particularly ensuring I recognize the scholarship of fellow community college professors in my work. If I, as an #actualCCprof, do not recognize them in my work, then how can I expect others to? This reminds me of something Cheryl Ball said in her Computers & Writing keynote presentation in 2015 when announcing Vega:

How does a field share its knowledge internally AND externally so that socialization of its scholarly values transcends its own disciplinary boundaries? C&W is a multitudinous discipline of computers and composition, multimodal comp, digital rhetoric, digital media composition, networked writing, code studies scholars, digital pedagogy, etc. Whatever you want to call yourself, if you’re here, you’re part of this community. Even if you’re not here, and you cite the long history from this community, you’re part of this community.

I’ve been in the basic writing community in one way or another ever since I began teaching basic writing what feels like a lifetime ago (in 2002!). I would like to more visibly join the community via participation in scholarship. The first step is to be a consumer of it. The next step is to join the conversation. I feel like I have been a rather casual consumer of it so far but will now rely on the accountability of being in a research program to buckle down and read more judiciously. Likewise, I will attempt to be a less passive and more visible participant in the basic writing research community. I have one collaborative project in the pipeline with Lynn Reid. I also have data that I presented at Computers & Writing in May that I could use for an article in JBW or the Basic Writing e-Journal.


During conference attendance over the past nine years or so, I have run into several basic writing colleagues who share my overlapping interest in basic writing and computers and writing. One of these colleagues, Lynn Reid, writes, “Despite the paucity of published scholarship that directly addresses multimodal composing in basic writing, online forums, email lists, conference presentations, and corridor conversations with colleagues make clear to me that basic writing faculty are, without question, employing a wide range of digital pedagogies in their courses.”

Like Reid, I am convinced that many more basic writing instructors are using computers in their classes and, one would hope, using them as more than a glorified typewriter. And yet, I am also convinced that there is a disparity between the functional and technological literacy as well as access to technology for some basic writing students. What I would like to know is what this disparity looks like and to what extent it is widening an already extant gap between the students who are the furthest behind and the students who entered college already prepared.

I also see many assumptions being published about what basic writers are likely (or unlikely) to be able to do on a computer, with the information about the students conveniently suiting the pedagogical slant of the authors (Moran 212). In 1991, Hawisher and Selfe noted, “What many in our profession have yet to realize is that electronic technology, unless it is considered carefully and used critically, can and will support any one of a number of negative pedagogical approaches that also grow out of our cultural values and our theories of writing” (56).  I would hope that almost 25 years later, we now appreciate the ways that technology can both hurt and harm our pedagogy, but I also question some of the practices that continue to be used in spite of research against them.

I think it is fairly safe to say that in the field of basic writing, we also realize,“The focus of postmodern theory on the contingency of knowledge making, the instability of the subject, and the connections between power and discourse has in a sense forced English educators to confront their complicity in the process by which schools, as social institutions, can contribute to injustice and marginalization” (Yagelski 304). In some ways, some of the resistance to using technology in the classroom comes from very kind motives not to leave any student behind:“Access to the Web is difficult at some institutions and for some students. Moreover, students enter our classes with different degrees of facility and experience with computers and with the Web, and we are rightly hesitant to penalize inadvertently those students already part of the ‘technological underclass’” (Sorapure, Inglesby, Yatchisin 335). At the same time, we as a field are inadequately preparing writing students for their first year composition classes if we ignore technology use or only use it in superficial ways if students will be expected to magically change into technologically-adept writers the moment they step into a first year composition classroom. There has to be a comfortable middle ground between technological use that is so advanced that it fatally discourages or discludes the student without access and use of a computer that is little more than typing a paper.

In an article about basic writing methodologies, DeGenaro and White noted the one and only 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. And yet, publishers continue to shill products that contain skill and drill activities for basic writers to complete in order to improve their overall writing aptitude. I cannot say for sure how many teachers use these products as part of their coursework, but the practice exists. Likewise, some instructors delay exposure to methods and strategies beyond use of Microsoft Word for revision because they conflate basic writers’ ability to use technology with their ability to write fluently with ease.

In any discussion of basic writers, we must remember that they are not a homogenous group. One school’s set of basic writers can have very different demographics than another’s. In some schools, ESL students make up a majority of the students in a basic writing program while that same population can be almost invisible at another school. Many journal articles focus on the unique contexts of their school’s program to narrowly discuss results of an experiment or focus group. What I would like to do is examine the same issue closely in several different learning environments. Charles Moran writes, “…for if we are to do fully-useful scholarship, we need to include in our field of study the material context in which students and teachers work with new technologies” (207). It is my supposition that many who consume basic writing scholarship often discount it if the context does not resemble their own. In exploring an issue from multiple contexts, I would hope to better represent the many variables in play across the nation in basic writing programs. To say that basic writers are universally able or unable to access particular technology isn’t possible, but to explore the impact of the variables on the types of access has fascinating potential.

Hawisher and Selfe warn, “Along with becoming acquainted with current composition theory, instructors, for example, must learn to recognize that the use of technology can exacerbate problems characteristic of American classrooms and must continue to seek ways of using technology that equitably support all students in writing classes” (55). The current definition of all students has since expanded to not only include students of all ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and linguistic capabilities, but now all levels of ability. The percentage of students who require accommodations is higher in a developmental course than in a traditional first year composition class. When we as a field introduce new technological strategies into the classroom, we will not only need to think of functional access and technoliteracy but also universal access for students of all (dis)abilities. This is yet another variable I would like to study but one I am less confident about exploring. As a teacher of basic writing, I have been disappointed each time an outsider has written about my context based on narrow anecdotal evidence. Given the wide spectrum of accommodations needed by students in our classes, I don’t know how I could address every potential situation, and yet I do not want to pick and choose which are convenient or observable for me and hypothesize based on similar anecdotal experience. I don’t want for this population to be ignored in my research about access, though.

One of the factors I will need to consider is which methodologies I will utilize. As I said in Paper #4, I have noticed that narrative evidence is in favor in the articles in JBW. I fully recognize that the stories of our classes are the reasons we research and write, and I believe they have a place within the research. But I want more than narrative. As McComiskey said, “No single methodology from linguistics or discourse analysis or creative writing or rhetoric or composition or literature or literary criticism or critical theory or cultural studies or English education– no single methodology (or set of specialized methodologies) can solve a complex social problem” (32). The culture of my subdiscipline will not require acquisition of new research skills, but the problem I am trying to address demands it. Supposition and theory will not cut it, nor will small focus groups or narrative about individual students. I need data too. In order to put the data to use, though, I will need to draw from my professional knowledge to apply the data properly. As Rose said,

Most higher education policy research on remediation does not include historical analysis of the beliefs about cognition and instruction that inform curriculums. In fact, there’s not a lot of close analysis of what goes on in classrooms, the cognitive give-and-take of instruction and what students make of it. And I’m not aware of any policy research crafted with the aid of people who actually teach those classes. Finally, we don’t get much of a sense of the texture of students’ lives, the terrible economic instability of some of them, but even less of a sense of the power of learning new things and, through that learning, redefining who you are. Profiles of students in remedial classes, when we do get them, are too often profiles of failure rather than of people with dynamic mental lives. (29)

This is a significant part of why I advocate for #actualCCprof status in research writing. If the research is going to be about community college basic writing students, then the context of the classroom and the students’ lives needs to be interpreted by the professors on the front lines. Progressively, basic writing classes are being discontinued at universities, so this research would/could/should fall to the community college professors to perform and analyze. I cannot guarantee that the profiles will all be of successes rather than failures, but the dynamics of students’ lives should be an anchoring part of the research about access. As the students are redefining who they are and what they believe about writing, I think the story about their access should also be reshaped and redefined with information collected specifically about basic writers and their contexts. Too often, I have seen the Pew Research Center data about college students’ technology use and comfort applied to the basic writing classroom, a classroom that is not usually the same demographical constitution as the typical entering freshman class.

In her 2004 article about basic writing students in online courses, Linda Stine writes, “Basic writing students, typically older, poorer, less apt to come from stable, highly educated families, and more apt to have learning disabilities, are still less likely than the average student to have easy access to the kind of technology that distance learning requires, both in and out of the classroom” (390). I would like to explore what types of access they generally have now and the extent to which mobile devices could bridge that gap. It is my theory that basic writing pedagogy needs to adapt to the access students have and can use comfortably. It is also my hypothesis that our students are largely more comfortable using mobile phone tech than traditional college classroom PCs, although this will not be true of all of our returning adult students. This thread of study may also require information collection about teaching demographics.

I hesitate to make generalizations here, so I will focus on what I have observed from my time as my department’s Computer-Aided Instruction Coordinator. When I would order replacement machines for the computer lab, I had to use approved vendors and choose software that was adopted by the entire institution. My school happens to be a Dell and Microsoft school. While some faculty members utilize laptops and tablets for their course preparation, the vast majority of them use PCs or Macs for their writing, grading, etc. I propose that many of our anecdotes about student ability are stories of contact zones where students who are more accustomed to laptops and mobile devices are experiencing moments of discomfort (or lack of transfer) when using unfamiliar operating systems or programs on the PC. The student population in basic writing is usually placed in basic writing because of these issues of transfer with their writing skills. Is it too far of a leap to suggest that they have technology skills but need to be explicitly shown and probably even reshown how to do some specific skills on the computer rather than have the ability to use the technology completely discounted and delayed? I have watched as the same instructors who complain about how their students cannot use the computer try to use a Dell all-in-one computer. The moment of “Where’s the CPU? Where is the on button?” in those instructors is quite similar to when a student who is used to OpenOffice is asked to go to Microsoft Word; the question makes the user look like they have never seen a computer before when the user hasn’t seen a computer exactly like this before.

When I gave a report about my data to our Outcomes Assessment group on campus, I included information that suggested that students were not particularly computer-inept, but they were not necessarily familiar with Microsoft products as many more shifted to low-cost laptops as their devices of choice. The Outcomes Assessment Coordinator later told me that this was an “aha moment” for the math department, as they had recently given a Microsoft-based assessment to be completed off-campus and received very poor returns when the same assessment worked well on-campus just a few years ago. They could not understand why students would be unable to do it now, until I showed them that not all students have equal access to costly Microsoft programs at home. Admittedly, this is a very local and specific example of the type of result that could come from exploratory research about students and their technoliteracy contexts, but the impact for pedagogy is great. These issues of functional access and technoliteracy have real pedagogical consequences. This praxis is what interests me most. Fortunately, I think the basic writing audience is interested in matters of praxis as well.

As I continue in this thread of research, it is my hope that the data can cross over to all of first year composition as well, since basic writers are being prepped for the work in first year composition, and the technology use should overlap. I cannot say for sure where the research will lead until I collect and analyze data. It is my hope that I can expand my project with the assistance of many others across the nation to implement data collection that is representative of many types of basic writing programs.

Works Cited

Ball, Cheryl E. “The Future of Scholarly Publishing, or How C&W Rules the World!” Keynote presentation at Computers & Writing, University of Wisconsin-Stout, WI. 2015, May 28.

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.

Hawisher, Gail E. and Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class” College Composition and Communication 42.1 (1991): 55-65. Print.

McComiskey, Bruce. Introduction. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Urbana, IL:NCTE, 2006. 1-65. Print.

Moran, Charles. “Access: The A-Word in Technology Studies.” Passions, Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies. Ed. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1999. 205-220. Print.

Reid, Lynn. “The Politics of ReMEDIAtion.” Strategic Discourse: The Politics of (New) Literacy Crises. Ed. Lynn Lewis. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

Rose, Mike. “Remediation at a Crossroads.” Teaching Developmental Writing. 4th ed. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. Boston: Bedford, 2013. 27-30. Print.

Sorapure, Madeleine, Pamela Inglesby, George Yatchisin. “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Research in a New Medium.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Michelle Sidler, Richard Morris, Elizabeth Overman Smith. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 333-349. Print.

Stine, Linda. “The Best of Both Worlds: Teaching Basic Writers in Class and Online.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Michelle Sidler, Richard Morris, Elizabeth Overman Smith. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 389-403. Print.

Yagelski, Robert P. “English Education.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Urbana, IL:NCTE, 2006. 275-319. Print.

Paper #5 Epistemological Alignment: Actual Community College Professor

Hiding under my desk for a spot of reading
Hiding under my desk for a spot of reading

Throughout the semester, we have studied many subdisciplines and examined their right to a seat at the English Studies’ table. Each student has blogged about his or her own disciplinarity, often decrying marginalization. I am not alone in this. It is no surprise to anyone that Basic Writing is a marginalized discipline. Further marginalization results from not only being BW-aligned but also community college-proud and being aligned with Computers and Writing.

In class on November 5, Dr. Romberger lectured about the inequities of community college research: it will never be read outside of the journal audience it is written to. This is the very definition of marginalization. Just the week before, we’d heard from Dr. Phillips about how cultural studies promotes the reading of actual literature that represents the people of the places from which is it written. To borrow terminology from disability studies, Melanie Yergeau advocates for organizations that represent and supposedly support people with autism to have #actuallyautistic people on the boards and at the table, so to speak. #ActualCommunityCollegeProfessor isn’t as tweetable, but that is what I am advocating for through the course of my studies.

For too long, we have sat on the sidelines and watched as others have written about us, and it isn’t pretty. Statistics are given. Numbers are interpreted through a university lens. The numbers that purport to represent my students are misconstrued when they are interpreted according to university timelines instead of the much likelier meandering path of the community college student. This path is presented as a dismally lit trail in comparison to the brightly illuminated superhighway of the 4 year student. The reality is there are many roads on this spectrum.

Reading homework at a band concert
Reading homework at a band concert

As a PhD student,I find myself in a similar situation to the BW students who have been misrepresented in the data. I have barriers to my success. I am a mom, teaching full-time at a community college that does not reward research. I’m concerned that traditional measures of success for a PhD student are not going to apply to me. If I continue to research about Basic Writing, I will be presenting at less competitive conferences and submitting to less prestigious journals, but these venues would be the most appropriate for the work that interests me. I am not here to angle for a new job. I am an associate professor with tenure. At the end of this program, I will be promoted to full professor. On paper for ODU, I may be a blot on the program because by all measurable accounts, I will not be a reportable success story. I will know differently, however, because my goals are not the traditional goals of the program, and I can and will achieve what I need to through my learning while I am here.

The marginalization of my people, the community college people, is why I am here. It has been my story all along. At this point in the paper, I would like to join my BW peers in telling a personal narrative. When I first went to CCCC in 2006, I had one child at home and another on the way and little money to spend on professional development. A grant from the conference enabled me to attend. While I was waiting in line with my grant affidavit, shifting my weight from foot to foot, I found myself behind two men in tweed coats with elbow patches who were discussing how they could not believe how community college professors were presenting at the conference. My discomfort grew as they shifted their conversation to the bigger problem of allowing adjuncts to teach FYC classes. It was very quickly clear to me that “my kind” would not be welcome everywhere at the conference. The rest of of my trip was much better, but that initial experience left a lasting impression.

It doesn’t help any that my other interest, Computers and Writing, is even less community college-friendly even though as a conference, the attendees are the friendliest, most welcoming I have found. In 2008, also pregnant again, attending C&W for the second time, I was delighted to see a session about computer use at community colleges given by some big names. I was delighted until I got there and heard these big names talking about all community colleges and all adjuncts based on an experience with one school in Florida. It didn’t occur to them that a community college representative could be in their audience at Computers and Writing and would not enjoy being talked about as a problem that could be solved by university and publishing folks. I only returned to C&W last year. I was not the only community college presenter, and there was at least one additional session about Basic Writing last year, so the situation may be improving. When I attended the Digital Media and Composition Institute at The Ohio State University in 2014, I was the only attendee from a community college. The field isn’t as intentionally exclusionary of community college professors and BW scholars as, say, universities and colleges are to students who must jump through hoops to prove their worth before being able to take FYC, but there is no escaping the fact that mine is a discipline of marginalization.

The marginalization does not stop us from doing good work, either as students or professors. When I think of my community college students, I am reminded of what Adam Banks said in his chair’s address to CCCC 2015:

We [sic] always been underfunded. We’ve always been figuring it out as we go, we [sic] always been dismissed and disregarded, but we served anyhow. We took care of our students anyhow. We transformed one discipline and created our own anyhow. And it was women who did that work.  It was people of color who did that work.  It was queer folk who did that work. It was first generation students in New York City and across the country demanding open admissions who did that work. It was people of all backgrounds teaching four and five and six courses a semester, contingent and part time and full time and sometimes even more times who did that work for us– building and running programs while they taught and theorized. But sometimes it seems to me that the funk of who we’ve been throughout our history is dead. (13:49-15:03)

Adam Banks may have been speaking to a congregation of university professors, but it was my people who were in the choir shouting and clapping and raising hands up high into the air.

At community colleges, and particularly in BW classes, we teach some of the most difficult students to teach. Our students are often the most under-prepared and they frequently have impediments to their learning. These impediments take many forms, not the least significant is the number of people telling them they cannot do it. These students may have documented or undocumented disabilities. They may have children and/or work multiple jobs while attending classes. Some of our students are homeless. The reality of the classroom is that, while few students have all of these barriers to learning, the barriers are present in a mixture of students each and every semester. These impediments are not outliers to the narrative of BW; they are the narrative. And when these students leave a community college, they are not reportable success stories. They take longer to matriculate than traditional students, and they may never graduate. That does not negate their learning either of how to write or how to be a college student. Furthermore, the teachers of these students face their own barriers, including but not limited to intense teaching loads and service on committees, disrespect from colleagues or administration, and a lack of recognition if and when they do find time to research or give back to the academy.

Earlier in the semester, I struggled with what I saw as an over-reliance on narrative from my subdiscipline. I still struggle with how frequently these narratives get turned into unquestioned lore. The fact remains, though, that these narrative threads, while they should not be the whole story, are the reasons for writing the research in the first place. I would ideally like to question the lore through mixed methodology that combines respect for the narrative and proper perspective for analyzing the quantitative data that comes out of research about community college students.

When it comes to my theoretical alignment, I’m skewed heavily into social justice and social epistemic rhetoric. This is in part why I continue to use the term Basic Writing over its cousin, developmental writing. Both have, as Fulkerson said about Composition Studies in the 1980s, “an emerging consensus about which goal is most important and simultaneously growing complexity and conflict over means of reaching it” (410), but I much prefer theory about writing that stresses possibility and potential rather than the deficit model. My Frankentheory would pull from Mike Rose, Paulo Freire, Selfe and Hawisher, and many more.

My desk at the office in total disarray
My office desk, in total disarray, at midterm.

For inspiration, I look to Howard Tinberg, who perhaps said it best when he said of community college instructors: “We need to render our work in a visible and authentic way to those who do not know first-hand what it is we do. We need to construct for them, and perhaps for ourselves as well, an image of our work as intellectually rigorous and, yes, eminently practical. We need to tell our own stories and not rely on others to tell them for us.”

Works Cited

Banks, Adam. “Funk, Flight, and Freedom.” CCCC Chair Address, Tampa, Mar. 2015. YouTube NCTE 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

Fulkerson, Richard. “Composition Theory in the Eighties: Axiological Consensus and Paradigmatic Diversity”College Composition and Communication 41.4 (1990):409-429. Print.

Tinberg, Howard. “Acceptance Speech: Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the YearU.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program. 2011. Council for Advancement and Support of Education. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Yergeau, Melanie (myergeau). “Walk for #AutismSpeaks10 if you support eugenics. #AutismAcceptance = the #ActuallyAutistic speaking. @squawkersmccaw” 22 Apr. 2015, 4:12 p.m. Tweet.

Paper 4: Methodologies and Basic Writing

In researching Basic Writing and issues related to access to technology, I’ve run into a couple of methodologies. Most fall under a similar category. They stipulate the issue with a literature review and then further discuss the issue with classroom anecdotes. The anecdotal evidence may take the form of a case study wherein a few students are provided as objects of study. It may also draw from the experience of one course with student work called upon as evidence. The anecdotes or descriptions are narrative in nature. Other pieces are less pragmatic and more thought-pieces that cover a literature review, stipulate the problem, and then call for change or action.

The Journal of Basic Writing is the main publication for Basic Writing scholarship. Submission guidelines do not mention preference for methodology: Then again, other journals in Composition Studies (CCC   and Computers and Composition) do not forbid any methodologies, though they do at least list empirical research as an option, unlike JBW. The preponderance of narrative articles does not appear to be a goal of the journal’s but rather something that happens. I wonder if the bulk of submissions are in this style. The articles I have located about technology in JBW seem to rely heavily on those methods with little quantitative research used.

When I interviewed Dr. Kevin DePew about methods used in BW research, he indicated he was not surprised by a reliance on narrative. He speculated that this may be a result of how the people hired to teach BW often come from a variety of disciplines that may value narrative. Furthermore, their own teaching experience may be “trial by fire” which then also lends itself to a narrative tradition in the articles (DePew).

In regard to credibility, I do wonder that BW scholarship is not often cited by other subdisciplines, in much the way that education scholarship is rarely cited by composition studies. Some of the blame for this, though, may be because the journals live in different databases than the journals in use by comp studies scholars. While JSTOR is the go-to database for my fellow students, I have to troll through ERIC for JBW articles. An additional concern I have is that there are plenty of online journals but they are not housed in the academic databases even though they too are peer-reviewed. There is a plethora of work being done; one wonders if it is less referenced because one has to know to look for it.

At this point, my only benchmark for how authoritative or accepted the BW methods are comes from how they are cited within BW because these articles do not appear to be cross-referenced in fields outside of BW. Again, I am unsure of whether this is because of the database issue or a lack of respect for methodologies used.

As referred to in some of my earlier papers, 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). It feels like BW scholars would rather redefine an issue or reframe it in the context of their own institution or classroom context and then draw their own conclusion based on teaching experience rather than use the work that has been done in other contexts to extrapolate to their own. I see this happening at conferences too where someone’s idea will be invalidated by a comment: “Well, that won’t work for my students.”

It may feel as though I have drifted from the main questions for this paper, but for me, all of this is part of the question of methodology. If I am not 100% comfortable with the methodological choices of my discipline, must I hold rigidly to them? I distrust the trend of hypothesizing significant change based on the anecdotal evidence of one person’s classroom experience.

In previous think-pieces, scholars have observed that socioeconomic status affects access to and comfort using technology. They’ve also observed that students in Basic Writing are often the most disenfranchised. To my knowledge, no one has studied the extent to which this disadvantage exists and to what extent it impacts their writing ability. In my own classroom, I vacillate between not wanting to contribute to additional barriers to student learning and also not creating a new barrier to their success in FYC by perpetuating the digital divide in BW too.

In 2013 and 2014, I surveyed the writing classes at my institution in order to ascertain student access to technology outside of the classroom and their comfort using it. Classes were scientifically sampled for representation from all four of our campuses, as well as all four levels of our writing classes (two BW levels and two FYC levels), and the times of day for the classes. We eventually surveyed our online courses as well. The survey was given in the first four weeks of the semester and again in the last four weeks of the semester. The same questions were asked in both the pre and post surveys with the addition of a question in the post survey: Did their access to technology change during the semester and, if so, did it improve or worsen.

My preliminary findings are many. The short version is that our students who do not have easy access to the internet when off campus often find ways to achieve better access during the semester when it is a requirement of the course or there is a felt need. We still have a small percentage of students who do not have any access to the internet at all when not at school. The previous assumption was that students who did not have easy access to the internet for their assignments would get too frustrated finding time to complete their assignments on campus and would withdraw from their courses. We still have students who withdraw from all levels of writing classes, but access to technology does not seem to be a major contributing factor to their persistence. The meeting time for the course did not have a significant impact on their answers. Which campus they attended did. The three campuses that are around the same socioeconomic level ($60,000-$80,000 for average annual income) all reported easier access to the internet and computers than our lowest socioeconomic level campus, where results were dismal.

Data from all four levels of writing classes at SWIC, representative sampling.
Data from all four levels of writing classes at SWIC, representative sampling.


I also have data for students’ comfort levels with a variety of tasks from remembering multiple usernames and passwords to typing their papers to creating and uploading video files. These can all be cross-referenced with the different campuses and different course levels.

Essentially, I would like to do something with this information that I have, even running the surveys again in a year or two to see how the numbers have changed as students rely more heavily on their mobile devices. I would also love to run the survey at other local schools to see how the numbers change when at a public university with a strong commuter population compared to a private university with a larger percentage of residential students.

The dilemma I am having is: will this type of research be accepted and welcomed in the BW or composition journals? Or is this type of research merely rarely done in our fields because we are not generally numbers people?

Works Cited

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.

DePew, Kevin. Personal interview. Skype. 2 Oct. 2015.

Hancock, Nicole. “SWIC Student Access to Technology and Comfort Using It in Class: Survey Results” Outcomes Assessment Breakfast, Southwestern Illinois College, Belleville, IL. 19 Aug. 2015. Keynote Address.

Multiple layers of the word "access"

Paper #3: Object of Study– Variables of Access for Basic Writers Using Technology Inside and Outside of the Classroom

My proposed object of study is basic writing students’ access to technology outside of the classroom and how that level of access impacts their writing progress and/or retention in the program. When I first began teaching Basic Writing, I had several types of classroom environments. Three of my classes were at the college I still teach for, but they were each in a different type of classroom: daytime traditional classroom, daytime modular building (polite term for a trailer), and evening computer lab. In 2002, students who walked into the computer lab classroom were sometimes tempted to walk back out again and never return. I still have some students who would prefer not to work on the computers in our classrooms, but these students are fewer and farther between. This may be in part because all of our writing courses now meet in computer labs.

Shades of Use and Resistance

Somewhere in between 2002 and now, colleagues (not all colleagues, mind you) suggested that our students who do not have access to technology outside of the classroom would withdraw from our courses if they were pushed too hard into too much technology too quickly. By too much technology, they usually meant anything more than mere word processing. In her JBW article about computing and BW, Leigh Jonaitis defines the three categories of computer use in BW classrooms: “computer-assisted composition (word processing); computer-aided instruction, which is often self-paced, such as grammar drills that are assessed by a computer program; and computer-mediated communication, which includes online programs and discussions” (38). The self-paced computer-aided instruction via drills will not be addressed here as there is much scholarship in BW about how isolated practice does not transfer to writing ability. I’d like to argue for a fourth category of computerized composing that is beyond word processing but involves composing instead of activities like grammar drills or communication between students and the instructor or students and the class. In short, I think the definition of computer-assisted composing needs to widen beyond word processing to incorporate multimodal activities and revision strategies. Jonaitis observes, “Much of the research initially done on the use of technology with basic writers was on computer-assisted composition” (38), but this research focuses purely on the word processing definition of computer-assisted composition.

In 2004, Catherine Matthews Pavia wrote about her experience with students who had a variety of access to and comfort using computers for her writing class. In her case study of four students, she found that for two students, the use of computers in the classroom was prohibitive to their writing in some ways and determined that she should only require computer use as an option for her basic writers rather than a requirement (18): “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” (Matthews Pavia 15).

In a field like Basic Writing, there is certainly reluctance to further divide the have from the have nots. On the other hand, there is also a responsibility to train students for projects they will need to be able to complete in FYC. This dichotomy is often complicated by the professor’s own experience with and comfort using classroom technologies (Selfe 21). Additionally, professors who view BW students via a deficit model often view the students’ technology skills with that model as well: “This reluctance is based on the assumption that so-called ‘remedial’ students will be challenged by learning more ‘advanced’ technologies in addition to the writing tasks they have been assigned” (Jonaitis 42).

Use Without Acknowledgement of Access Issues

Of course, not all BW instructors resist use of technology in the classroom. Early published works about basic writers using technology in the 1980s and 1990s focus on skill and drill types of instruction or the benefit of word processing. More recent uses of classroom technology pedagogy are more difficult to find, but they cover everything from the benefits of WebCT for community building in a course (Megeehon 24), the use of ePortfolios for classroom communication and assessment (Klages and Clark), multimodal composition (Reid), to completely online courses. According to Lynn Reid in “The Politics of ReMEDIAtion: Multimodal Composing in Basic Writing, “Despite the paucity of published scholarship that directly addresses multimodal composing in basic writing, online forums, email lists, conference presentations, and corridor conversations with colleagues make clear to me that basic writing faculty are, without question, employing a wide range of digital pedagogies in their courses” (Reid). However, in many of the publications, no mention is made of issues of access to the technology outside of the classroom while the hallway and conference conversations tend to be ripe with concerns about access.

In a piece warning the field of Computers and Writing to pay attention to the issues of inequality with computer use in any composition classroom, Charles Moran admonishes, “Yet in our scholarship we either ignore/accept what Jonathan Kozol has termed the ‘savage inequalities’ of the systems in which we work, or we give an obligatory nod in their direction and quickly turn to something else. For us, the relationship between wealth and access seems to be one of those issues that ‘goes without saying’” (206).  But it cannot and should not go without saying or being questioned. In her essay about WebCT use in a BW classroom, Megeehon says nothing about students’ ability to access the platform outside of the classroom; this may have something to do with teaching at a public university (New Mexico State University at Alamogordo). Klages and Clark, both of LaGuardia Community College, address the issue of access briefly in their article about ePortfolios: “The digital divide is no longer about access to technology, but rather a more complex divide of those who have had the educational access, training, and critical engagement to use technology well as literate cyber-citizens” (48). I’d argue it is still about both. We cannot presume that all students have easy access to technology outside of the classroom, nor can we presume those who have access are comfortable using it fluently.

Students must be able to access devices (computers, phones, etc.) as a conduit or portal to the applications and programs they need for composition, but access is greater than a physical ability to get online. Selfe defines this other type of access, one that is more of knowledge and confidence, as 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 Call to Research

While some debate continues about whether or not our basic writing students have less physical access to technology, most recognize that at least some percentage of basic writing students has less technological literacy when compared to their FYC peers. What that differential actually is would be an interesting area of study. To what extent do basic writers need direct instruction in technological matters? Are they able to transfer knowledge of one tool (Microsoft Word, for example) to a similar but different tool (Google Drive)? In what ways do their experiences with social media impact their writing abilities?

Technological literacy is one object of study, but the issue of physical access is still of great concern to me. Moran, Selfe, Reid, and Jonaitis all acknowledge that basic writers are a group of sundry marginalized students, and our marginalized students are often without the means to have the same types of computers non-marginalized students frequently enter freshman year with. Of course, these days we’re used to seeing almost all of our students with phones in hand. While many complain of their students’ phone use, I see this as a great opportunity. As Stacey Pigg writes, “When we move and carry networked mobile writing technologies with us, coffee shops can become office spaces, seats on the bus can become sites of academic learning, and classrooms can become domains of personal communication” (252-253). I also concur with Pigg’s observation about mobile device research: “In general, writing research has paid relatively little attention to the places and materials students choose when making a place for completing academic writing projects” (267). How should we define access in light of mobile device use? How many students are currently using them for their writing assignments? How can we integrate that use into basic writing pedagogy? And will that be enough to close the technology gap?

Many of the pieces I read for this paper all have a call for more research. In 1999, Charles Moran wrote, “…we as a field [compositionists] all seem to agree that computers are unequally distributed to teachers and learners in our educational system, and that we agree, too, that access to emerging technologies is a function of wealth and social class. [….] we’ve not, as a field, paid sufficient attention to the fact that our students have differential access to computers” (215). In 2012, Jonaitis added, “The field [of Basic Writing] would benefit from future research that considers basic writers’ use of computer-mediated technologies in light of the discursive practices presented here, as well as research that further explores the technological hierarchies both inside and out of schools, and how they shape basic writers’ literacy practices” (53).

I have done some survey research at my institution to determine our students’ access to devices outside of the classroom, as well as what they intend to use for their major writing assignments and their comfort using certain classroom technologies because a few years ago, I was tired of hearing from multitudes of places (colleagues, national publications, etc) that it was presumed basic writing students do not have access to technology and will be reluctant users of technology in the classroom. I feel that some of this presumption is due to socioeconomic realities but some of it is in need of correction or at least exploration. In Basic Writing, we’ve finally mostly eradicated the deficit model from instruction. I believe if it is time to rid it from our understanding of student use of classroom technology with some provisions for socioeconomic realities.

Works Cited

Jonaitis, Leigh. “Troubling Discourse: Basic Writing and Computer-Mediated Technologies.” Journal of Basic Writing 31.1 (2012): 36-58. ERIC 13 Oct. 2015. Web.

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

Megeehon, Alexandria. “Using Technology to Build a Community of Writers in Developmental Writing.” NADE Digest 4.1 (2008): 19-27. Print.

Moran, Charles. “Access: The A-Word in Technology Studies.” Passions, Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies. Ed. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. NCTE: Urbana, IL, 1999. 205-220. Print.

Pigg, Stacey. “Embracing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces” CCC 66.2 (2014): 250-275. Print.

Reid, Lynn. “The Politics of ReMEDIAtion.” Strategic Discourse: The Politics of (New) Literacy Crises. Ed. Lynn Lewis. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

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.

Image credit: Nicole Hancock via Google Draw

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

Paper #2 ENGL 810: Basic Writing Pedagogy and Content

Key terms: basic writing, pedagogy, skills/error, confidence, metacognition, literacy

Basic Writing helps students to improve their current writing skills to the point where the students should be able to earn a C or above when taking FYC the first time. Placement tests determine their writing level. In some institutions, students also have to pass an exit exam in order to be eligible to take FYC. The goal is to prepare students who were previously deemed unable to succeed at college work to be ready in 8-32 weeks, depending on the Basic Writing course set-up.

For additional information about placement, visit this site: National Survey of Basic Writing Programs: placement

Initially, BW courses focused almost entirely on basic skills. Although this method of instruction fell out of favor at least 40 years ago, it is still possible to find lower level BW courses that focus on sentences and then sentences to paragraphs and so forth. While the textbooks for the courses are not quite that reductive, the electronic course supplements that are promoted by publishers still have that tendency.

Rhet/comp moved from a current traditionalist focus on product in the 1960s and 1970s to a “linear and reductive conception of the composing process” (Lauer 113). It then got stuck in the modes, particularly EDNA: exposition, description, narration, and argumentation (Crowley qtd. in Lauer 115). Even though Janice Lauer writes of rhet/comp studies, what she says is particularly true of Basic Writing as well:

The reasons for this intransigence are multiple. A huge percentage of composition teachers are unfamiliar with the above work on modes and genres because they have not been educated in the field of rhetoric and composition. Others wish to remain comfortable with a modal and form-based approach to teaching writing with which they are familiar. Textbook companies are also loath to go against this profitable grain. (116)

Although more rhet/comp professors have training in their field today, the same cannot be said of basic writing instruction. Considering basic writing students are an amalgam of unprepared students, teachers frequently retreat to safe assignment designs so there will be enough time to address all levels of error (organization, purpose, mechanics, etc).

Assignments are often course-driven classroom exercises that lack the authenticity of “real college work.” Basic Writing is proverbially stuck in between that rock and a hard place; while not wanting to focus entirely on error, it does have to be addressed for students to function in FYC. Teachers who adopt more complicated writing assignments than the modes often draw time away from mechanics to help students revise what could be messy ideas and complex organizational schemes. “If postmodern thought helped English educators understand the complex dynamics of language, knowledge, discourse, and power, it also helped reveal their vexed role in the normative process that is formal schooling” (Yagelski 304).

If Basic Writing is not supposed to be a skills course and is not to focus on the modes or aims, what should be the content and pedagogy?

Most concur that practice with literacy is needed. In 1996, the New London Group wrote, “The new fast capitalist literature stresses adaptation to constant change through thinking and speaking for oneself, critique and empowerment, innovation and creativity, technical and systems thinking, and learning how to learn” (New London Group 67). In The Way Literacy Lives, Shannon Carter argues that we must give basic writers “the tools they need to experience literacy differently– to look again at the ways in which literacy functions in the multiple and intellectually viable lifeworlds in which they are already full-fledged members” (163). Susan Naomi Bernstein agrees: “a curriculum which foregrounds students’ prior and developing knowledge presents exciting possibilities for basic writing pedagogy” (67).

The core writing assignments should build from worlds familiar to students and gradually introduce them to the discourse of the academy. Pedagogy should also focus on students’ identities as writers and helping them to grow in confidence as student writers. This should be done through a combination of pedagogies: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, transformed practice (New London Group 88). In particular, students in BW benefit from the metacognitive work of transformed practice.

Shannon Carter discusses a way in which to show students where they are and where they could be through her pedagogy of rhetorical dexterity: “Rhetorical dexterity treats learning new literacies as a situated activity” (162). Students examine the literacies around them in an effort to become more aware of their multiliteracies and their relationship to them. Students who were previously agitated at the ways in which the rules seemed to change from one course to another could now see the system that creates the different rules and be able to adapt to the change without as much frustration. In a pedagogy like this, students are transformed not only as writers but as students.

A similar conversion occurred when Klages and Clark used ePortfolios with BW students; the students “began to transform their relationship to writing, emerging as confident writers with a new sense of how they can translate their authority onto the page” (47). Klages and Clark’s emphasis on reflective practice, at both the individual level and by commenting on the work created by their peers, enabled students to grow as both readers and writers.

At the heart of this type of pedagogy is concern about social inequality. Students in BW often feel as though others have been given a rule book while they are navigating the world without one of their own or that the rules were created intentionally to benefit a group of people other than them. Through pedagogy, Basic Writing instructors seek to level the playing field and reveal not only the rules but the systems that have created the rules.

Works Cited

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

Carter, Shannon. “The Way Literacy Lives.” Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings. Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. 4th ed. Bedford: Boston, 2013. 161-183. Print.

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.

Lauer, Janice M. “Rhetoric and Composition.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline. Ed. Bruce McComiskey. NCTE: Urbana, IL, 2006. 106-152. Print.

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review. 66.1 (1996): 60-92. Print.

Yagelski, Robert P. “English Education.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline. Ed. Bruce McComiskey.NCTE: Urbana, IL, 2006. 275-319. Print.

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.