At my university we are looking at ways to rethink first-year composition, and while the administration’s motives (cost-cutting) are different from faculty’s (improving student writing), there may well be a synergy that we can use.
As part of my preparation for this conversation I am reading relatively current research on the subject, and one of the first books I picked up is Pegeen Reichert Powell’s Retention and Resistance: Writing Instruction and Students Who Leave. Reichert Powell is as concerned with helping the students who leave as she is with those who stay, and her book looks critically at what we do in writing studies at the university.
- She blends case studies with a review of both retention literature and writing studies scholarship, and the combination is a powerful one.I swear that those rings were there when I got the book dear librarians…
- She argues that institutions have an obligation even to those students who will leave. That in and of itself is unconventional in our industry, and the ways that she speaks about student lives show both a) an understanding of what students go through and b) a realization that all of our retention efforts – critical to the viability of institutions like mine – often do not matter in the reality of student lived experience.
- Thus, we should try to help students prepare for more than just disciplinary writing, but for writing (and reading) in general.
- Among the many interesting arguments she makes, she claims that first-year composition courses based in the issues that students currently face – specialization and credentialing, student loan debt, workplace fracturing, and so on – makes more sense than looking at literature or even pop culture or other approaches to first year comp.
- She spends an entire chapter (for the most part) on better understanding transfer. She argues that since we know so little about what student writing needs will be outside of the university, we need to tamp down our expectations of what student writing actually accomplishes.
- She carries that argument to other disciplines within the academy as well, noting that disciplinary writing is incredibly specialized and difficult to cover in individual first-year writing courses.
- She cites some interesting research, which draws the conclusion that student writing should “actively join rather than listen to the conversation of other thinkers” (p. 122).
- Finally, she argues for a kairotic approach to writing, and she advocates for programs using universal design methodologies to get there…