These are cards and sparkleponies I have on display in my work office.
What I am interested in is how the sparkle pony can be used to identify people who are playing C’s the Day, the conference game for CCCC, but it can also be an easy way for newbies to join a group. Much was written about the sparkle ponies years ago when “Sparkle Gate” happened. Prior to that, I had always been interested in how people choose from the many unique designs to select one sparkle pony to attach to their name badge for the duration of the conference. I’ve had great conversations with the person who makes (and delegates the making of) the sparkle ponies; the conversations have occurred as one crafter to another, as I enjoy making things for others and have found that sometimes it is the materials that you are using that dictate the outcome of the design more than a specific end idea in mind.
What I like about this mood board is that there is a blurry dividing line between academic use of the sparkle pony and My Little Pony or Brony use of the sparkle pony. It is pretty clear at a glance whether the picture belongs to CCCC’s use of sparkle ponies or MLP. This aligns with another personal observation about CCCC. I love playing “English teacher or not” when I attend CCCC and observe arrivals at the airport and then the conference hotel and then the area surrounding when we manage to leave for lunch or dinner.
Collections of writing that created Sparkle Gate and then the reaction to it:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 experienceliteracy 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.
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.
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.
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.