In recent posts and various Composition Program activities, there’s been an emphasis on teaching for transfer and how Writing About Writing (WAW) curricula do that. On Tuesday 10.18.11 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., you’ll have the opportunity to hear several transfer scholars (Barbara Bird, Debra Dew, Douglas Downs, David Slomp, and Elizabeth Wardle) discuss WAW curricula and teaching for transfer by Skype. They’ll take questions from attendees and discuss their research and teaching projects. The event will be held in 10302, and all Department members are welcome to attend. The rest of this post provides a bit more background on WAW approaches and how they draw on transfer scholarship.
Despite their differences, the various versions of WAW curricula all emphasize a pronounced shift in writing instruction. For the past several decades, composition courses have taught students the procedures entailed by the writing process without instruction in the extensive body of knowledge about writing and learning to write. This body of knowledge, which emerges in significant part from literacy studies and genre studies, shows that writing is not a generalizable skill and that, instead, people learn to write according to the particular demands, genres, conventions and expectations of specific contexts, or discourse communities. WAW approaches all stress the importance of integrating instruction in this content knowledge into general education writing courses, rather than teaching the writing process with content from outside the field, as has typically been done (Beaufort, 2007; Bergmann and Zepernick, 2007; Bird, 2009-2010; Dew, 2003; Downs and Wardle, 2007). Some approaches stress teaching students the conceptual moves writers make in using and responding to others’ texts (Bird, 2009-2010), while others emphasize teaching rhetorical and writing studies content, broadly defined in terms of language-related matters (Dew, 2003), while yet others focus on teaching students genre and literacy studies findings showing that expertise in writing is always based in a particular context, or discourse community, such as a professional or academic field (Beaufort, 2007; Downs and Wardle, 2007;Smit, 2004; Wardle, 2009). Despite these differences, all versions emphasize the need for explicit instruction in the content knowledge of writing studies for students to develop the understanding required to effectively use procedural knowledge of the writing process. Through this emphasis, WAW approaches draw on research on transfer in psychology (National Research Council, 2000; Perkins and Salomon, 1992; Perkins and Salomon, n.d.; Salomon and Perkins, 1989; Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears, 2005). This research stresses that instruction must involve active learning strategies, mindful abstraction of principles, and metacognitive self-monitoring by learners, as well as the integration of conceptual and procedural knowledge, if learners are to transfer the knowledge they gain in a learning context to future contexts where they will need to apply or extend it.
Beaufort, A. (2007). College writing and beyond: A new framework for university writing instruction. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
Bergmann, L.S. & Zepernick, J. (2007). Disciplinarity and transfer: Students’ perceptions of learning to write. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 31 (1-2), 124-149.
Downs, D. & Wardle, E. (2007). Teaching about writing, righting misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘first-year composition’ as ‘introduction to writing studies.’ College Composition and Communication, 58(4), 552-584.
Perkins, D.N. & Salomon, G. (n.d.) The science and art of transfer. Web 5 Nov. 2010. Retrieved from http://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/thinking/docs/trancost.pdf
Perkins, D.N. & Salomon, G. (1992). Transfer of learning. International encyclopedia of education, 2nd ed. (no pp.) Oxford: Pergamon Press. Retrieved from http://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/thinking/docs/traencyn.htm
Schwartz, D.L., Bransford, J.D., Sears, D. (2005). Efficiency and innovation in transfer. Transfer of learning from a modern multidisciplinary perspective, ed. Mestre, J.P. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Smit, D.W. (2004). The End of Composition Studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Wardle, E. (2009). ‘Mutt genres’ and the goal of FYC: Can we help students write the genres of the university?’ College Composition and Communication, 60(4), 765-789.
Professor Gwen Gorzelsky is the author of The Language of Experience: Literature Practices and Social Change and is currently in her second year serving as the Department’s Director of Composition. She regularly teaches courses on writing and the teaching of writing at both the undergraduate and graduate level.