PAB Entry #4

Todd Ruecker, in his article, “Reimagining “‘English 1311: Expository English Composition’” as “‘Introduction to Rhetoric and Writing Studies,’” discusses his first-year composition (FYC) course redesign from a traditional course based around a textbook with readings and four essays representing the EDNA model: expository, descriptive, narrative, and where-is-the-rhetoricanalytical to a rhetoric and writing studies (RWS) course with a writing about writing (WAW) approach. Interestingly, Ruecker acknowledges that though he says he uses a WAW approach, he finds it to be too broad a title for what he does within his course, in which he seeks to expose students to disciplinary discourses (89). Ruecker further explains that describing his course as using a writing about writing approach is problematic because it ignores rhetoric. Though, because he focuses on writing as a subject, he finds it to be the most suitable title to explain what he does.

This contradiction makes me curious: If Ruecker’s purpose is to expose students to disciplinary discourses, then would a writing in the disciplines (WID) title or description not be more suitable? And what is his purpose for teaching such a course? Other than htransferis director’s initiative to “design courses more in line with RWS” (88). These questions are difficult to answer as Ruecker’s justification for his course redesign choices are unclear. Yet, on the last page of his article, Ruecker suggests that the goal of a FYC course is to challenge students “with intellectually demanding disciplinary content, material that better prepares students to write across a variety of academic and social contexts” (98). He seems to be speaking to writing across the curriculum (WAC) as a means to achieve transfer
even though there is no mention of WAC or transfer in the article. Perhaps his desire is to prepare students, but he is does not yet have the vocabulary to articulate what he is doing and what he desires to do. I sympathize with Ruecker here. I’ve been teaching using the WAW approach for over two years and at times have noticed gaps in my teaching but was not able to articulate what those gaps were because I did not have the vocabulary to do so.

Image of a hand selecting a red book from a bookshelf

Though Ruecker’s discussion begs several questions for me, it also provides me with a greater understanding of my current use of a WAW approach to FYC. Ruecker’s article reveals that a writing about writing approach may be a blend of several approaches. For example, my approach focuses on writing studies while emphasizing rhetorical theory and the transfer of knowledge. This realization also makes me question my textbook choice for the class—Downs and Wardle’s Writing About Writing, 2nd edition. Ruecker acknowledges that he has struggled to find a suitable text for a writing about writing class (89), and though I use Downs and Wardle’s text, I have always stressed that I do not use the “Downs and Wardle WAW approach.” Perhaps I am limiting my writing about writing approach through the use of this text and therefore my students’ experience in a writing studies course.

Ruecker, T. (2011). Reimagining “English 1311: Expository English Composition” as “Introduction to Rhetoric and Writing Studies.” Composition Studies 39(1), 87-111.

PAB Entry #3

here_to_there1In her article, “They Can Get There from Here: Teaching for Transfer through a ‘Writing about Writing’ Course,” Jennifer Wells explores her justification for and experience with teaching a high school composition course using a writing about writing (WAW) approach. Though much of my personal research focuses on first-year composition (FYC), Wells’ interests and mine intersect where Wells seeks to prepare her senior English students for unknown college writing contexts, including FYC. She understands that, as writing teachers, we are not experts in writing in the disciplines, but we can prepare our students for writing in the disciplines by cultivating an awareness within them that prepares them to write in a variety of contexts.

Her exploration into WAW began when she found herself looking forward to the November homecoming visits of the seniors who graduated the previous spring. Upon their return, she would ask questions to find out about their college writing experiences. She found that college writing for her students is “idiosyncratic” and “highly unstandardized,” and she questioned, “how can I prepare [my students] to use what I teach once they are outside of my classroom?” (57). In her research, she discovered David N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon’s (1989) work on knowledge transfer, which provided her with the needed vocabulary to design and pilot a new writing curriculum.

a-good-writerIn this new curriculum, Wells is intentional to include opportunities that promote what Perkins and Salomon call “mindful abstraction,” or guiding students “to deliberately search for connections” (qtd. in Wells 57). Her curriculum is shaped around three units in which her students 1.) question, research, and define others’ definitions of “good writing,” 2.) explore potential discourse communities they will enter once in college, and 3.) research writing in their intended major in the writing in the disciplines unit. As students move from unit to unit, Wells prompts them to self-reflect on their writing discoveries. Though, she does not detail the specifics of how she manages this self-reflection activities.

At the time thipab-questions article was written in 2011, Wells was not yet sure how successful her writing about writing pilot had been. She explains that “questions still remain” and she would find out at her former students’ homecoming how they felt about college writing and their preparedness for it. But herein lies another intersection between Wells and I, as I too often wonder about the short-term and long-term effectivity of the writing about writing approach utilized in my classroom. To what extent are my students more “mindful” of the various writing situations they encounter beyond FYC and are they successful in negotiating those situations?

Exploring the conversation in this article brings me to an interesting realization and question: In using a writing about writing approach, whether it is designed and built by the instructor or aligns with Downs question-markand Wardle, the instructor assumes the role of facilitator of knowledge rather than the deliverer, or teacher, of knowledge. Perhaps for this approach to be successful either in high school or FYC, students must construct their own knowledge (via the facilitation of the instructor); mindful abstraction therefore is not limited to an awareness of writing situations and personal writing choices, but it is an individual student’s ability to articulate their negotiation of different contexts. So while it is important that my students are negotiating various writing situations effectively, are they even constructing knowledge in the first place?

Wells, J. (2011). They can get there from here: Teaching for transfer through a “Writing about Writing” course. The English Journal 101(2), 57-63.

Paper #1

Writing about Writing (WAW) as a pedagogy officially emerged from composition studies in 2007 with Doug Downs’ and Elizabeth Wardle’s publication the first edition of Writing about Writing, a course textbook, and “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions.” In their article, Downs and Wardle propose “Introduction to Writing Studies” as a type of first-year composition (FYC) course, which they had been teaching at the University of Utah and the University of Dayton, respectively. However, though WAW was initially conceived as a pedagogical approach to the composition classroom, it has evolved into a site of research for composition scholars who seek to continue the work of those such as Lucille McCarthy, Nancy Sommers, and Mike Rose. Downs and Wardle themselves refute the notion that WAW is simply a pedagogy, arguing that “[d]espite the progress our field has made over the years at erasing theory/practice oppositions, it is still too easy to imagine pedagogy as ‘practice,’ removed from the realm of serious theory or research about the work or direction of writing studies as a discipline” (554).

Hence, several exigencies for WAW’s emergence exist. First, there’s an ongoing desire and need to prepare students to write across the university. This need has inspired many scholars to investigate curriculum and methods that promote a student’s ability to transfer writing skills across contexts (Ackerman; Berkenkotter and Huckin; Carter, Diller, and Oates; Kaufer and Young; MacDonald, Petraglia, and Russell “Activity Theory”; Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak). Downs and Wardle hold that WAW promotes transfer because it prompts students to make writing choices based upon the writing situation rather than utilizing writing as a universal skill that is the same across contexts.

Second, student writing is done subconsciously, without reflection on or an awareness of their choices. Scholars have demonstrated the importance of awareness in effective writing, such as Irene Clark and Andrea Hernandez, who have researched methods to promote genre awareness as a means to achieve transfer. In contrast, WAW moves students to consider their own writing experiences—their literacy development, for example—and question how they have used (and have not used) writing (Downs and Wardle, Writing about Writing). Metacognitive exercises are included following every reading in the Writing about Writing textbook to encourage reflection and awareness.

Third, public misconceptions of the discipline of writing exist among faculty of other disciplines and students. The majority of the academy assumes that academic writing can be taught in one to two introductory writing courses, and instructors of English who teach these introductory courses subsequently support this assumption. Downs’ and Wardle’s proposal to reenvision FYC as a content-based course challenges this assumption. Writing studies is a discipline, and if it “is to have any authority of its own courses. . . perhaps the most significant which would be that writing is neither basic nor universal but content—and context contingent and irreducibly complex” (“Teaching” 557-58). For Downs and Wardle, guiding students to read and interact with scholarly conversations about writing causes students to learn more about writing as well as be more engaged with the goals of the course (Writing about Writing).

The Writing about Writing approach has not come without criticism from the field, of course—particularly regarding the third exigency discussed above. Many scholars have argued against trying to justify the field of writing studies by teaching writing studies to students. In other words, writing instructors should be able to teach writing to students and help them cultivate an ability to transfer skills without sharing the studies that were conducted and written for a field of scholars. In their 2013 response to this criticism in “Reflecting Back and Looking Forward: Revisiting ‘Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions’ Five Years On,” Downs and Wardle acknowledge their 2007 misconceptions and misjudgments and work to “use language [they] did not then possess.” With regards to their initial understanding of public misconceptions of the discipline of writing studies, they note, “we see our field as having both declarative and procedural knowledge about writing that can and should be conveyed directly to students, so that they are empowered by knowing about the nature and workings of the activity itself and can act from their knowledge instead of having writing done to them” (“Reflecting Back”).

Additionally, in their 2013 reflection and response, Downs and Wardle draw on Jan Meyer and Ray Land’s work with threshold concepts. Doing so has allowed then to frame their own knowledge of the writing about writing curriculum and therefore affirm that our field has knowledge of writing that needs to be shared with students.

Downs and Wardle are anticipating the release of the third edition of their text Writing about Writing in the near future.


Clark, I.L. & Hernandez, A. (2011). Genre awareness, academic argument, and transferability. The WAC Journal 22.

Downs, D., & Wardle, E. (2013). Reflecting back and looking forward: Revisiting ‘Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions’ five years on. Composition Forum 27. N.p.

—. (2007). Teaching about writing, righting misconceptions: (Re)envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’ CCC 58(4), 552-584.

Moore, J. (2012). Mapping the questions: The state of writing-related transfer research. Composition Forum 26. N.p.

Wardle, E., & Downs D., Writing about Writing. 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.

Yancey, K. B., Robertson, L., & Taczak, K. (2014). Writing across contexts: Transfer, composition, and sites of writing. Boulder, CO: Utah State UP.

PAB Entry #2

In their article, “Genre Awareness, Academic Argument, and Transferability,” Irene Clark and Andrea Hernandez investigate how a curriculum that promotes genre awareness in effect promotes transfer. They recognize the different needs of various disciplines beyond FYC and posit that by teaching students how to be aware of these needs via genre awareness, then students will be able to approach writing situations beyond FYC with great insight (65). For Clark and Hernandez, “genre,” as derived from rhetorical genre theory, is defined as “the function for which texts are used” (67; Miller; Russell; Devitt). The students will develop appropriate responses to situations as a result of their ability to determine the function of a piece of writing. As Clark and Hernandez put forth genre awareness as “a means of enabling transfer,” they define awareness as a threshold concept (66). Student awareness is key to understanding and flexible thinking. Therefore, when students have gained genre awareness, they can then determine how “a given genre fulfills a rhetorical purpose” (66-67). Though their article, Clark and Hernandez also examine the controversy over transferability. Most notably, they identify Russell’s position that the only way an individual can learn and negotiate a situation, or genre, effectively is by “participating in the activity system of a particular discipline” (67). In response to Russel and other scholars, Clark and Hernandez highlight Beaufort and Devitt, who value student discussions of genre and genre awareness as effective meta-cognitive practices (68-69).

Beyond their discussion and literature review, Clark and Hernandez present their study of a first year writing class of 24 students with several different declared majors. Over the course of the semester, three different assignments were given to these students in which they were asked to compose evaluative, analytic, and self-reflective arguments, each focusing on discussions of genre. Following their study, Clark and Hernandez found support for both sides of the discussion of transfer. Evidence from some students suggests that students are concerned with the superficial level of merely learning about genres, but evidence from other students suggests that they were developing genre awareness and felt more confident as a result.

While Clark and Hernandez hold that “fostering genre ‘awareness’ enables students to gain a ‘threshold concept,’” it’s important to note that without explicitly asking students to call on this threshold concept, understanding and flexible thinking may be limited, if it occurs at all. In other words, awareness may benefit transfer, but students may not “be aware” unless they are asked to “be aware.” Clark and Hernandez remind of the unanswered question, “How does a piece of writing demonstrate an awareness of genre?” (70; Downs; Wardle; Russell; et al.). Likewise, I still question, how does genre awareness demonstrate transfer?

Clark, I.L. & Hernandez, A. (2011). Genre awareness, academic argument, and transferability. The WAC Journal 22.

PAB Entry #1

In her article, “Mapping the Questions: The State of Writing-Related Transfer Research,” Jesse Moore highlights the major contributions of several scholars who have invested research into the study of transfer. Though the discussion of transfer is not yet widespread, as Moore points out, some working vocabulary and theory has been established to give current researchers a platform from which they can begin their study. Perkins and Salomon, Beach, Tuomi-Gröhn and Yrjö Engeström, Meyer and Land, and David Russell establish some of this platform. In their work, “Teaching for Transfer,” Perkins and Salomon define “high road” and “low road” transfer: “low road transfer relies on a new context triggering practiced habits to facilitate transfer, while high road transfer requires “mindful abstraction” of knowledge from one context to another” (Moore, 2012). These definitions, in particular, service the greater discussion of transfer theory by distinguishing between the absence and presence of mindfulness in the learner. Low road transfer is likely to occur when a learner is minimally aware of how he or she is repurposing already learned skills while high road transfer is likely to occur when a learner is able to articulate the difference in context between writing situations.

In contrast, Beach challenges the concept of transfer by proposing that the learner changes with the organization and therefore knowledge evolves from situation to situation—skills do not develop as the result of knowledge awareness, per say; but they do develop out of instinctual awareness of evolution.

Other scholars have taken an even different approach from that of Perkins, Salomon, and Beach, and in doing so, they have pivoted the discussion of transfer to look into the disciplines. For examples, Meyer and Land’s work on threshold concepts has pointed out that students can “identify with a discipline because the students begin to recognize the centrality of these concepts to the discipline” (Moore, 2012). In addition, Russell’s work on activity theory “describes school as an activity system with modified genres that are meaningful within that activity system but that do not adequately approximate the genres of professional activity systems” (Moore, 2012). In other words, students must be present in the situation in order to understand the activity and be active participants in it.

Beyond this, Moore also identifies several studies that focus on students’ transitions from first-year composition to other contexts, noting McCarthy as one of the first to inquire about such transitions. It seems that though McCarthy was not studying “transfer” in particular, her work that traces the transition of a student from one activity to another is foundational to the discussion. Writing-related transfer studies are not limited to first-year composition, of course, as other studies investigate the student transition from the classroom context to the professional context. Anson and Forsberg investigate this transition in internship settings while another scholar, Bacon, “inquires about students’ generalizations from writing in composition classes to writing for community-service agencies” (Moore, 2012). And still, other studies focus on genres in relation to transfer, including Wardle, Clark and Hernandez, Nowacek, and Rounsaville.

Moore, J. (2012). Mapping the questions: The state of writing-related transfer research. Composition Forum 26. N.p.