FIGURED WORLDS OF WRITING:

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FIGURED WORLDS OF WRITING:
CONFLICTING VIEWS OF WRITING INSTRUCTION IN THE WPA
OUTCOMES STATEMENT AND THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS
A Project
Presented to the faculty of the Department of English
California State University, Sacramento
Submitted in partial satisfaction of
the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
in
English
(Composition)
by
Katrina Lynn Lee
SPRING
2014
©2014
Katrina Lynn Lee
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ii
FIGURED WORLDS OF WRITING:
CONFLICTING VIEWS OF WRITING INSTRUCTION IN THE WPA
OUTCOMES STATEMENT AND THE COMMON CORE STANDARDS
A Project
by
Katrina Lynn Lee
Approved by:
______________________
Dan Melzer
, Committee Chair
____________________________
Date
iii
Student: Katrina Lynn Lee
I certify that this student has met the requirements for format contained in the University format
manual, and that this project is suitable for shelving in the Library and credit is to be awarded for
the project.
_______________________
David Toise
Department of English
___, Graduate Coordinator
___________________
Date
iv
Abstract
of
FIGURED WORLDS OF WRITING:
CONFLICTING VIEWS OF WRITING INSTRUCTION IN THE WPA
OUTCOMES STATEMENT AND THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS
by
Katrina Lynn Lee
Figured worlds contribute to human activity, social interactions, and power structures
through specific activities, discourses, performances, and artifacts. Both the Common
Core State Standards (CCSS) and the WPA Outcomes Statement are artifacts that not
only document, but also reify, the views and values of each figured world: that of public
school writing, and that of college writing. If the CCSS is achieving its stated objective of
aligning public school instruction with college expectations, I contend that the figured
worlds portrayed in each document should align with one another in their fundamental
values and goals—in what they believe about students and writing. I find, however, that
the two documents create conflicting figured worlds of writing instruction.
_______________________, Committee Chair
Dan Melzer
_______________________
Date
v
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
Chapter
1. COVER ESSAY ………………………………………………………………………... 1
2. STATEMENT OF TEACHING PHILOSOPHY ............................................................... 9
3. ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY ................................................................................... 13
4. FIGURED WORLDS OF WRITING: .............................................................................. 59
CONFLICTING VIEWS OF WRITING INSTRUCTION IN THE WPA OUTCOMES
STATEMENT AND THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS
Appendix A. WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition ................................ .84
Appendix B. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing ........................ .90
Appendix C. NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing………………………………. 93
Works Cited………………………………………………………………………………….101
vi
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Chapter One:
Cover Essay
I came to the composition program at California State University Sacramento in
2010 as a high school English language arts teacher demoralized by education
administrators and policies after a decade of teaching under No Child Left Behind, and
demonized by the public after two years of the Great Recession. According not only to
my school district, but to the federal government, education was a simple matter of
teaching students what would be on the multiple choice test and making sure they filled
in the correct bubbles. At every level of education, correct test answers were valued
above all else, including the creativity, critical thinking, and physical and mental wellbeing of students and teachers alike. Everything I knew after several decades in the
classroom about teaching, education, and human nature itself was “ineffective” and
“failing,” according to those furthest from children and the classroom, and my role and
input as a professional was replaced with the input of test manufacturers. And when the
recession hit, not only were teachers seen as menial test-givers: we were seen as
expensive, lazy, and easily-replaced workers who should be and were laid off by the
thousands. I returned to the university after twenty years, hoping that here, perhaps, I
could engage in a different conversation, one in which my years of experience and
commitment to my profession and students would be recognized and valued, and where I
could refresh and renew my skills and knowledge. I especially wanted to explore the socalled “achievement gap” and learn what new theories and strategies were being
employed to assist non-traditional college students achieve success. And often, I was able
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to engage in these conversations. But, discouragingly, there were moments in my
graduate courses, as well as in my staff meetings and in the news, in which high school
teachers were scapegoated as lazy, ineffective, and unprofessional, lacking the theory and
data that might make their input into conversations about the teaching of writing valid.
And equally discouraging, here too, education itself was under attack, as the ballooning
tuition and plummeting course choices made clear.
That was the personal context for the germination of this research portfolio. When
I first settled on my research idea while taking English 220D, it seemed perfectly suited
not only to my background, but to a newly-emerging public educational environment
that, through the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, was talking more
than ever about college readiness. I would compare the WPA Outcomes Statement (WPA
OS) and the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which, we were being told,
would return basics like thinking and writing to the public school curriculum. After two
years of feeling marginalized at best, attacked at worst, by some of the readings and
discussions in composition classes, I had some vague idea that this project would be a
kind of vindication, a way to show that high school teachers are professionals, and
college instructors should give us some credit—or, at least, that high school teachers are
faced with difficulties that college instructors do not understand. I wanted to stand up for
my profession, but I also wanted to bridge the divide that I saw between these two
groups. Because, to be honest, I also found fault in my own professionalism over the
years. I came to see that I had stayed firmly, and safely, on my side of the divide between
high school and college. For example, although I teach a class at the high school level
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that was supposed to mimic a first year college composition course, it wasn’t until I took
English 220A that I heard about, let alone studied, the WPA OS, the guiding document of
FYC for well over a decade. And as a high school English teacher, I should have been
aware of the release of NCTE’s Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing; I
learned about that from a professor at the university, not from a department chair,
principal, or district curriculum specialist, or my own reading. True, a conversation was
going on about high school education without us high school teachers being asked to join
in, but we were not helping matters any by staying in our own schools, where the only
topics were test scores, furloughs, and our own exhaustion. While it helped me
enormously to step out of the public school environment altogether and immerse myself
in the college conversation, I did and do realize that I could have broadened my own
reading and been more of a conduit between the public school and college, not only for
myself as an educator, but for my students, who I hope will soon cross that divide
themselves. Which is why my prospectus and early drafts for this research portfolio used
bridge imagery throughout—to show not only the divide between, but, I hoped, a way to
connect these two groups. With this background in mind, I will introduce the chapters of
my research portfolio.
Chapter Two of my research portfolio, my Statement of Teaching Philosophy,
was actually one of the last documents I drafted, and the most difficult for me to write.
After twenty-five years of teaching, perhaps this should have been the easiest. However, I
found it challenging—frankly, overwhelming—to distill not only the tremendous amount
of theory I have examined over the course of my graduate work, but also my own
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classroom experiences as well as the practices I hope to bring to a college classroom into
one or two pages. Further, I wanted to express my dedication to the success of underrepresented student groups, including not only linguistically, ethnically, or economically
under-represented students, but also returning students like myself. What helped me
finally focus my thoughts and direct my philosophy statement was revisiting my 220A
portfolio. After spending a year in pure research mode while working on my article, I
reconnected with praxis—with the ways I had planned to incorporate research and theory
into specific classroom activities. Back in 220A I saw, as I do now, Bizzell’s theories of
academic discourse as being especially powerful for students who have not had the
linguistic or educational experiences to prepare them to successfully read and write in
ways that will allow them entrance into the academy. That is why I constructed my
writing sequence around the theme of language and discourse, and designed the opening
activity that I describe in my philosophy statement—one that I hope makes discourse
communities explicit through the analysis of communities the students are likely to know
well.
My 220A portfolio, and therefore my Chapter 2 Statement of Teaching
Philosophy, are both further influenced by Lisa Delpit’s work and are an attempt to
directly teach skills that again, may be obvious to some groups of students but not others.
The section of my philosophy statement in which I discuss reading is an example of
classroom practice informed by Delpit’s classic and more current writings that suggest
that under-represented students are not given the skills necessary to engage fully in
academic discourse. My inclusion of varied voices in the class reading list, as well as the
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direct teaching of college reading strategies, are my attempts to allow all students to
engage in academic conversations, regardless of their backgrounds. Further, the class
final I describe in Chapter 2, a portfolio and reflection, is designed to de-emphasize ondemand writing and lower-order concerns—which may disadvantage students from a
variety of languages or dialects—and instead emphasize students’ ability to revise writing
based on feedback, and their evolving understanding of academic discourse and
themselves as a writing novices (Sommer’s term) whose journey toward expertise only
begins with first-year composition. As much as I struggled with my teaching philosophy,
I feel the final product reflects not only my working knowledge of praxis, and an
understanding of teaching strategies for students who speak and write a variety of
languages and dialects, but also the ways I have used my graduate school experience to
engage in the conversations for which I returned to the academy.
Chapter 3 of this research portfolio, the Annotated Bibliography, represents
several distinct phases of research I undertook in the development of my publishable
document and more specifically reflects my struggle to find both an appropriate method
and theoretical framework for my article. In fact, at first my research was not based in
theory at all, but on exploring the divide between high school and college writing,
students, and teachers. By and large, this research, the section of Chapter 3 entitled High
School and College Writing, only reinforced my notion of a power and perception gap
between high school and college writing instruction. Partly because it only confirmed
what I knew, and largely because of the advice of my advisor, this line of research, which
I once thought would be the entire “theoretical” basis of my article—the research that
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looks specifically at the divide between high school and college writing instruction—is
now less than a page of Chapter 4. The next area of research I delved into, the Chapter 3
sections The Texts and Standards, concerned standards and outcomes themselves, and a
large body of literature concerned with the WPA OS. The extensive existing literature
about the WPA OS helped me in many ways. First, it illustrated not just administrators
and academics but also practitioners wrestling, sometimes angrily, sometimes creatively,
sometimes defensively, with the meanings of a terse, seemingly simple document. The
articles I found especially helpful were those that analyzed the text itself. It was exciting
to see the many ways those two pages could be analyzed, both for what is and isn’t there,
and to see the many ways that analysis could occur. Again, most of this research did not
make it into Chapter 4, but it definitely informs my final product. It is hard to see how I
could have done my own work without first looking at how these writers did theirs.
At my advisor’s suggestion I undertook the research that was the most difficult
for me to complete, but which eventually brought me to the theory that now is the
foundation of Chapter 4. This is the research within the final two sections of Chapter 3,
Methodology and Theory and Figured Worlds Theory. First I explored Critical Discourse
Analysis, including some of the seminal writers and researchers of the field, such as
Fairclough, Halliday, van Dijk, and even Foucault, thinking that my article would
ultimately use CDA techniques and theory in its analysis. While I came to greatly admire
the work of CDA, with its focus on social justice and its incorporation of many fields of
research, I also became overwhelmed and intimidated by the thought of doing that work
myself. It wasn’t until I came across James Paul Gee that I started to see how I might be
7
able to apply CDA to my project. His description of figured worlds revealed, instead of
an enormous theory I had to apply in its entirety, a discrete theoretical framework that
seemed to be describing my texts. Gee’s footnotes led me to Holland et al., researchers
from various social sciences, who had coined the term “figured worlds” and used the
theory to examine the ways individuals form identities within the frameworks of the
various figured worlds to which they belong. Their definition, “a socially and culturally
constructed realm of interpretation in which particular characters and actors are
recognized, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued
over others” led me to ask what I think are the right questions about the texts I
analyzed—what acts of writing and writing instruction are considered significant in each
document, and which outcomes are valued over others in each. In its entirety, I believe
that Chapter 3 clearly demonstrates my ability to conduct research in Rhetoric and
Composition using appropriate methods and methodological frameworks.
Chapter 4 of this research portfolio is the final result of my examination of the
divide between high school and college—a publishable article entitled Figured Worlds of
Writing: Conflicting Views of Writing Instruction in the WPA Outcomes Statement for
First-Year Composition and the Common Core State Standards. This article required four
full drafts as well as additional drafts of various sections, making it an example of my
ability to engage in writing as a process and critically self-reflect. One area that required
not only self-reflection but the feedback of several readers was the editing out of much of
my research to allow me to focus narrowly on the concept of figured worlds. My first
draft did not even mention figured worlds until the fourth or fifth page. I still clung rather
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fiercely to all of my earlier frameworks—college readiness, academic discourse, and the
totality of CDA. Once I was able to pare the research down, I was able to more clearly
build the case for using figured worlds in this context, as well as to develop why it
matters that public school and college writing teachers are operating in different figured
worlds. One part of my article that barely changed at all over three drafts, however, is the
textual analysis itself. Honestly, I find this discouraging, because I had hoped to find
something other than what I did. I had hoped to find that high school and college English
instructors, or at least the documents that guide them, speak the same language. No
matter how much I went back to the documents, however, I discovered more
disagreement than agreement, which also suggests that I was able to critically self-reflect
upon my findings. I had to accept that, in the end, I was not able to do what I had set out
to do—I did not build a bridge between high school and college teachers, students, and
writing. In fact, I found a deeper chasm than I had imagined. But I believe I have
identified one way to articulate and examine the differences in our figured worlds without
demonizing or demoralizing teachers or students, one way to analyze the engineering task
ahead of us—to build connections in spite of forces that appear to be deliberately
working to keep us apart—and, ultimately, to bring our figured worlds of writing closer
together.
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Chapter Two: Statement of Teaching Philosophy
As a composition instructor, I am equally concerned with issues of educational equity and
academic excellence. I believe every student has the capacity to succeed, but that, as Lisa
Delpit argues, not every student learns the same way, not every student has received the
same educational and economic opportunities, and, thus, not every student can be taught
the same way. I am driven to find and utilize instructional methods that will reach
students from all language, ethnic, and economic backgrounds, as well as students of all
age groups. As a recent returning college student myself, I have a particular passion to
support mature students who bring rich experience, but perhaps less formal academic
knowledge, to the classroom. Therefore, whatever my lesson plan may be for a given day
or course, if it is not helping a student improve his or her writing, I try a different
approach. I always start class with a plan, but I am always willing to change it if I find
that students are not meeting the course objectives.
In order to address the diverse needs of a typical community college class, I
explicitly teach academic discourse. In fact, I organize the course around the concept of
discourse communities. Bizzell argues that “learning to write means immersing oneself in
the discursive practices of a community composed of present social relations¸ cultural
assumptions, textual traditions, and political circumstances.” I agree, and I recognize that
students are already immersed in discursive practices of several communities, probably
without realizing it. In order to make discourse visible and concrete, and to open our
semester-long investigation of academic discourse, I begin with an assignment that
allows students to explore their own different discourses socially, culturally, textually,
10
and politically. I accomplish this by assigning a single purpose for writing, and then
varying the audience, context, persona, and genre. By writing for the same purpose in
different contexts and genres, students not only become explicitly aware of the different
discourse communities to which they belong, but they also see that not every writing
situation is the same—in other words, they have a practical lesson in the rhetorical
situation. This introductory project becomes a first essay assignment: describe a
discourse community to which you belong, and the conventions, assumptions and
traditions that community uses. Through this first essay, students are introduced to the
process of drafting, receiving feedback, revising and reflecting that will become routine
during the semester as I create opportunities for students to talk to each other and to me
about their writing. Thus, as a class, we create yet another discourse community, one that
recognizes that writing is dependent upon social interaction for its creation, and that the
purpose of academic writing is the generation of further academic conversations. In
future essays, students similarly explore academic language, examining how language is
used in various college settings, including course syllabi, assignments, textbooks, and
lectures.
Since many students enter community college without a strong academic
background, and since reading plays such a critical role in the composition process, I
directly teach active, critical reading. Reading also provides an important opportunity to
delve into what the WPA Outcomes Statement identifies as “understanding the
relationships between language, knowledge, and power,” an outcome I believe is critical
not only for the under-represented student groups in my class, but for the dominant
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student groups as well. To that end, much of our reading, including works by authors
such as Baldwin, Tan, Anzaldua, and Rose, examines the interplay between language and
power and provides varied voices to our discussion of discourse communities. I want
students to experience a range of voices that reflects the diversity of our classroom and of
academic thought. I do not believe, however, that it is enough to merely assign readings
and then conduct class discussions. I first model active reading strategies, including
previewing, annotating, and questioning the text, and I ask students to then demonstrate
those techniques on their own readings. I believe that this not only helps students focus
on comprehension, but also on academic conversation; they are having a conversation
with the author as they read, and their annotations make that conversation concrete and
visible. This prepares students for short written responses to readings in which they begin
to incorporate the ideas of other writers, a key skill for success not only in college
English, but throughout their college careers.
Finally, like Nancy Sommers, I see freshman composition students as apprentice
scholars, novice writers who must write into expertise—that is, must use writing as a tool
for thinking and learning. I want my students to understand that first-year English is only
the beginning of their development as academic writers, and their continuing growth
requires, according to Sommers, “an open attitude to instruction and feedback…and a
faith that, with practice and guidance, the new expectations of college can be met.” I
consider the entire course to be an exercise in that academic apprenticeship, but I
particularly want students to reflect upon and practice the new expectations of college as
they leave first year composition and move on to increasingly specific and demanding
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discourse communities. Therefore, their final project is a portfolio that demonstrates,
through a reflective cover letter and specific evidence from the semester, their evolving
understanding of academic discourse. To illustrate this understanding, students will select
writing artifacts (for example, free writes, summaries, prewriting activities, annotations,
drafts, or final drafts) that in some specific way helped them develop a new perspective
on academic discourse. They will explicitly trace their changing insights in a cover letter
which will also describe the revisions they complete on one of the semester’s essays. As
they revise and discuss the rational for their revisions, they will be demonstrating their
ability to use instruction and feedback in furthering their thinking as well as their writing:
critical skills for the remainder of their academic careers. This final portfolio allows
students to examine their status as novice writers and apprentice scholars, and the ways
they have begun, and will continue, to develop as academics and professionals within
their disciplines.
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Chapter Three: Annotated Bibliography
Abstract: A foundational claim of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—the
curricular document that has been adopted by forty-five states and that seeks to improve
the instruction delivered to millions of K-12 students—is that it is aligned with the
expectations of college and career, and therefore will produce students better prepared for
the world beyond public school. The CCSS identifies and attempts to address a longstanding concern among composition educators—that high school students do not receive
the writing instruction necessary to support their successful transition to college, making
it more difficult for them to accomplish college outcomes such as those described in the
Writing Program Administrators Outcome Statement (WPA OS). This article compares
the language of both the CCSS and the WPA OS in order to understand the figured
worlds (that is, the socially and culturally constructed and interpreted ideal realms that
value certain acts, actors and outcomes above others) each text creates. If the CCSS is
achieving its stated objective of aligning public school instruction with college
expectations, I contend that the figured worlds portrayed in each document should also
align with one another in their fundamental values and goals—in what they believe about
writing and writing instruction. I find, however, that the two documents create conflicted
figured worlds of writing instruction.
Introduction
The following annotated bibliography supports the work of the article described
in the above abstract. It includes not only research on the specific texts (CCSS and WPA
OS), but also on standards and outcomes in general. In addition, it contains research on
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the transition student writers experience when moving from high school to college. Since
the article is an analysis of texts, I also carried out a line of research on language,
discourse, and the specific methodology known as Critical Discourse Analysis. Finally, I
include in this bibliography a section on the specific theoretical foundation I use for this
article, figured worlds theory. The bibliography is organized according to those research
areas.
The Texts: WPA Outcomes Statement; Common Core State Standards
Behm, Nicholas N., et al., Eds. The WPA Outcomes Statement—A Decade Later.
Anderson: Parlor, 2013. Print.
According to the editors, the purpose of this volume of essays is to
illustrate “how the WPA OS has been adopted, adapted, and modified, and the
ways in which the WPA OS is moving outward to affect other parts of the
university and…college-level writing” (xii). This statement of purpose implies the
overarching argument of the essays: that the WPA OS has had a significant,
varied, and on-going impact not only within the FYC classroom, but across the
academy as well. For example, one section of the collection focuses on the uses of
the WPA OS to develop local curricula that align with the outcomes. These
writers often find the WPA OS lends legitimacy—both among their English
colleagues and their university peers and administrators—to their efforts. A
second section, “Applying the WPA OS to Enact Programmatic, Institutional, and
Disciplinary Change,” provides examples of uses for the document that were not,
according to the editors, “really contemplated by the drafters” (xiv). These essays
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argue that the WPA OS can and should be used beyond the FYC classroom—to
shape the policies of a large, multi-campus college district (Jacobson); to develop
WAC and WID programs (Wilhoit). The book’s final section critiques the
document and its effects, intended and unintended. Several essays in this section
use critical discourse analysis for at least part of their arguments. Matsudea, for
example, analyzes the document’s silence on the issue of multilingual students;
Holiday finds and problematizes the equality in the OS between “big rhetoric” and
“little rhetoric;” and Callaway examines and finds inadequate the new technology
plank.
These essays and others in this anthology that explicitly use critical
discourse analysis as their methodology have been helpful models to me as I
begin my own CDA project. In addition, this book demonstrates the pervasive and
long-term influence of the WPA OS within the rhet/comp community, suggesting
that it should have been more influential to the writing of the CCSS than I am
finding it to have been.
Elbow, Peter. "A Friendly Challenge to Push the Outcomes Statement Further." The
Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement. Eds.
Susanmarie Harrington et al. Logan: Utah State U, 2005. 177-190. Print.
Elbow suggests that the WPA Outcomes Statement has omitted several
key components of writing and composition courses. For example, he finds the
lack of attention to the act of writing—outcomes that might discuss writing
fluency, for example, or the ability to explore new ideas through writing—a
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serious omission in the document. He asserts that this skill of fluency, or
invention, has been overshadowed by rhetorical awareness, two features of
effective writing which he claims are not mutually exclusive as the Outcomes
seem to suggest (180). Further, he argues that the Outcomes emphasis on
“knowledge” as opposed to “knowing how” might indicate to administrators that
FYC could be taught as a lecture course. He critiques the stated audience of the
document, asserting that students should be able to understand it if they are
expected to master it, and that by writing in the “professional language” of writing
teachers and administrators, the framers have chosen to preserve their own power
in the student/teacher relationship without “taking the students into our
confidence” (187) . Finally, he offers to assist in a revision of the Outcomes.
This source is useful to me in a couple of ways. First of all, it provides
some criticisms that I have not seen elsewhere, and criticisms that really apply
equally to the Common Core Standards. In addition, Elbow performs some
discourse analysis of the Outcomes—without calling it such—that I can use as a
model for my own analysis. Especially helpful for my purposes is his discussion
of the writing for “expert writing teachers,” a phrase that he finds exclusionary to
students, but that I might look at as being exclusionary to English language arts
teachers as well.
Gallagher, Chris A. "The Trouble with Outcomes: Pragmatic Inquiry and Educational
Aims." College English 75.1 (2010): 42-60. Print.
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Gallagher argues that while they have become a ubiquitous aspect of
education at all levels, outcomes in general inhibit teaching and learning by
limiting potentiality through a prescribed set of goals and assessments. While he
recognizes that outcomes assessment (OA) has been beneficial in ensuring quality
education to more students, Gallagher also contends that there is much in humans,
education, and writing—in fact, much "that we care about"—that cannot be
measured in the ways OA demands (46). He argues for an alternative view to
educational aims, that of consequences, which he claims allows the recursive,
unpredictable, singular, and emerging nature of learning to guide instruction,
rather than a preset list of linear, predicted, universal outcomes that discourage
attention to potential (47-9). He provides a comparative example of what he sees
as a linear and confining example of outcomes as well as one he finds more
focused on potentiality: the WPA Outcomes Statement versus the Framework for
Success in Post-secondary Writing, which he sees as an imperfect but promising
alternative to outcomes in general. Since the Framework’s habits of mind are
ways of thinking about and approaching the world, and are on-going traits as
opposed to final and definitive tasks, Gallagher finds that the Framework supports
the potential of students and instructors, rather than limits it (49-53).
This article connects to my project directly and indirectly. It provides a
model of textual analysis, even using one of the documents I will use. It also
provides an argument against the WPA Outcomes specifically and the CCSS
implicitly as another set of outcomes. This critique might add another layer to
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what I look for in the documents--the ways they may inhibit interactions between
teachers and students as they strive to produce the type of writing that each
document describes.
Harrington, Susanmarie, et al., Eds. The Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the
WPA Outcomes Statement. Logan: Utah SU, 2005. Print.
Divided into four sections, the chapters in this book speak directly to the
WPA OS. The first section, with chapters by many of the original drafters—the
“Outcome Collective”—reflects on the whys and hows of the statement. The next
section, focusing on first-year composition itself, includes chapters about ways
the statement has been used, in addition to some chapters that express concerns
about various aspects of the document. The third section is similar, but focuses on
writing beyond FYC, including connections to WAC and Advanced Composition.
The final section challenges the field of Composition to look at what might be
lacking in the statement, particularly attention to expressivist and developmental
theories.
The opening chapters of this volume will be helpful to me in setting the
stage for the writing of the WPA OS, and perhaps contrasting the differing
educational and political pressures behind this document and the CCSS. In fact,
the book as a whole illuminates just how political, and how contentious, the
drafting of any such document can be. The chapters I found especially helpful
were those that essentially performed a textual analysis on some specific aspect of
the WPA OS because they revealed some interesting ways to approach the sort of
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analysis I am attempting. For example, Liu looks at a specific word—genre—to
analyze the ways the WPA OS simplifies and distorts a key composition term and
theory. Wolff looks at a specific section of the WPA OS—knowledge of
conventions—to consider the ways that section misrepresents composition theory
and might be misused. And especially intriguing to me, Elbow textually analyzes
what is not in the WPA OS, and what that absence not only suggests about the
document itself and the field that produced it, but the possible effects on student
writers and their teachers (see separate annotation above). I think I’ll be coming
back to this book not only for factual background, but for methodology as well.
Jones, Allison G. and Jacqueline E. King. “The Common Core State Standards: A Vital
Tool for Higher Education.” Change 44.6 (2012): 37-43. ILLiad. Web. 20 Feb.
2013.
The authors argue that while the CCSS will increase student readiness for
college, for it to be fully successful, all levels of education will have to work
together to ensure adequate teacher preparation and professional development,
curriculum alignment, and student support. First, they present an overview of the
development of the CCSS, including the ways higher education was involved
(39). They suggest that because the requirements for college success were a
primary goal of the CCSS drafters, the standards are focused more on depth of
knowledge, which will lead to more depth of understanding (39). They urge
colleges to support the new standards in several specific ways. First, they argue
that high school and college curricula and testing should be aligned, and that,
20
since the new CCSS assessments will be calibrated to entry-level college work,
these tests should simultaneously serve as college placement tests. Further, they
see colleges as critical in developing teacher preparation programs aligned to the
new teaching demands of the CCSS, as well as fostering on-going professional
development for experienced teachers (41).
This article comes to the opposite conclusion that I have reached in my
analysis: that the CCSS is not aligned to college expectations, at least in writing,
as it purports to be. That problematizes the authors’ recommendations for me, and
I believe for college compositionists as well. Based on my findings, I do not agree
that CCSS assessments will provide an accurate view of student readiness for
college, and I do not agree that new teachers should be prepared to teach writing
the way it is described in the CCSS.
National Council of Teachers of English Review Team. “A Report of the NCTE Review
Team on July 2009 Draft of the CCLASS.” July 2009. Web. 18 June 2013.
---. “A Report of the NCTE Review Team on January 2010 Draft of the Standards for
ELA Grades K-12.” January 2010. Web. 18 June 2013.
---. “A Report of the NCTE Review Team on February 2010 Draft of the Standards for
ELA Grades K-12.” February 2010. Web. 18 June 2013.
These three reports were written by an NCTE review panel at the request
of National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School
Officers, the primary drafters of the CCSS. In each report, the authors argue for
the inclusion or exclusion of specific language, standards, or ideas. For example,
21
all three reports discuss the absence of metacognitive reading strategies,
especially in relationship to the dominance of phonetic reading strategies in the
document. In the earliest report, the NCTE review team contends that the first
draft of the standards is far below the stated objective of providing the highest
possible goals for student learning, claiming that they “could apply as well to the
schools of 1950 as to the schools of this decade…” The authors note
improvements as the drafts progress, but throughout the reports express concern
about a lack of emphasis on metacognition, revision, and narrative writing (the
latter was included in the final draft of the CCSS).
These reports are pertinent to my work in that they illustrate precisely
what the CCSS framers were and were not willing to include/exclude in the
CCSS. I have been focusing, for example, on the relative short shrift given to
revision, and now have evidence that the framers were given that feedback several
times by a professional body whose advice they explicitly sought out. The fact
that revision, metacognition, and critical thinking were brought up during
revisions several times by NCTE and still largely ignored by the CCSS
challenges the claim that these standards are based on research and professional
input, and that they are designed to prepare students for college.
Ratliff, Clancy. “Alignment of WPA Outcomes Statement and Common Core State
Standards for English Language Arts (Grades 11-12 College Career Readiness).”
Culturecat.net. N.p. 12 February 2013. Web. 20 June 2013.
22
Ratcliff presents the WPA OS and CCSS in a side-by-side chart, aligning
the WPA OS with individual CCSS standards that appear to be discussing similar
traits of rhetoric or composition. The end of this chart is a section entitled, “CCSS
with no clear counterpart,” where she lists twelve individual standards that appear
in the CCSS but not in the WPA OS. While she does not state this explicitly, this
section of her chart suggests that the CCSS are needlessly detailed and overly
specific. The author then gives her “first impressions” of the comparison chart in
the form of brief notes. Here, she notes the CCSS emphasis on organization as
well as the disconnect in the use of “genres” in the two documents: WPA OS
referring to essays, reports, letters, and so on, and CCSS referring to the
“outdated, discredited model of ‘the modes’,” one of several places where she
directly argues the inferiority of the CCSS. Similarly, she argues that the CCSS,
unlike the WPA OS, avoids a discussion of the way writing is used to gain and
maintain power; since the CCSS does not address the issue of writing and power,
Ratliff accuses the document of at best naiveté, at worst, evasion.
This source is helpful to my project in its direct comparison of the WPA
OS and the CCSS. While I intend my discourse analysis to be more focused on
specific terms, I find Ratcliff’s layout of the standards revealing, particularly in
the numerous CCSS that have no direct correlation to WPA OS. Why would high
school writers and teachers require so many more explicit, detailed standards
about writing, especially ones written by non-experts in the field of composition?
My hypothesis is that these standards are a way to control the activities of high
23
school students and teachers in ways that the WPA OS expressly avoided. In other
words, in spite of Ratcliff’s observation that the CCSS do not discuss power
differentials in writing, they are creating one in which the framers of the standards
micromanage the educational activities of public school educators.
Soles, Derek, and Kathleen Blake Yancy. "A Comment and Response on the WPA
Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition." College English 64.3 (2002):
377-80. JSTOR. Web. 24 Mar. 2012.
Soles first addresses the stakeholders—specific theoretical groups—that
he states will find the WPA OS reflective of their approaches to composition. For
example, he says that new rhetorical compositionists will feel their pedagogy has
been privileged by the WPA OS emphasis on audience and collaboration, and
WAC practitioners will appreciate that the WPA OS recognizes the responsibility
of all departments in developing young writers. However, Soles asserts that other
groups, such as Marxist or feminist teachers, expressivists, and currenttraditionalists, will not find their viewpoints represented. Yancy responds first as
WPA president, explaining that many teachers with many philosophies
contributed to the WPA OS, and that the document is still in a process of revision.
She also responds as a writing professor, explaining that the WPA OS were not
intended to address instructor needs, but rather student needs. She argues that the
document represents a common ground that allows for diverse opinion and
practices.
These pieces further develop my understanding of the post-secondary
24
conversation around the WPA OS. Yancey's statement provides a useful, firsthand explanation of the intention of the WPA OS, which will be important for me
to include in my project, and which I believe aligns this document closely with
CCSS, which also focus on what students should be able to do.
Yancy, Kathleen Blake. "Standards, Outcomes, and All That Jazz." The Outcomes Book:
Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement. Eds. Susanmarie
Harrington et al. Logan: Utah State U, 2005. 18-23. Print.
Yancy seeks to delineate the differences between objectives, standards,
and outcomes, ultimately arguing that outcomes provide more pedagogical
creativity and freedom and more student success than standards or objectives.
First, she explains that objectives explicitly quantify a specific learning behavior
(18). Standards, on the other hand, focus not only on student performance, but
also on improving educational standards for all students (19). However, Yancy
contends, like objectives, standards can result in teaching-to-the-test instruction,
and therefore in students who can perform on a test, but may not be able to
transfer their test knowledge to any other situation (20-1). For Yancy, outcomes
are different because they stress what is taught, rather than how it is taught or
assessed. When they are used for assessment purposes, Yancy argues that
outcomes are used not to assess individual students, but rather instructional
programs, therefore shifting the focus from student performance to teaching and
instruction (22). In the end, Yancy suggests that while standards limit teachers
and students to what must be achieved, outcomes provide a vision: what can be
25
achieved (23).
This source will help me develop my argument in several ways. First, it is
not possible to talk about the WPA Outcomes Statement without referencing
Yancy, as she was a key author and advocate for the document I will be
analyzing. In addition, the other document I will be analyzing proudly announces
itself as a standards-based text. In fact, one of the first textual details I will likely
analyze will be those opposing words—outcomes versus standards—in the titles
of each document. Therefore, I want to look at the way outcomes proponents
define both terms.
Standards
ACT. “National Curriculum Survey 2012: Policy Implications on Preparing for Higher
Standards.” ACT, 2013. Web. 24 June 2013.
ACT conducted this survey to examine teacher perspectives on student
readiness for college and career through the lens of upcoming CCSS
implementation. The report authors present survey results of K-13 teachers,
particularly how teachers view college- and career-readiness. According to the
authors, a significant finding is that high school and post-secondary English
instructors have widely differing perspectives on how prepared their students are
for post-secondary work. While 91% of high school English teachers respond that
their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for college work, only 26% of
college instructors respond that their incoming students are prepared. The authors
attribute this gap to poor curricular alignment from secondary to postsecondary,
26
but contend that the implementation of the CCSS will improve alignment,
although the survey respondents at all levels expressed dissatisfaction with the
current state of articulation and alignment. When asked directly about the extent
to which implementation of CCSS would change their current curriculum, 72% of
high school teachers responded it would not change at all or only slightly. The
authors of the report express concern that if teachers do not change their
curriculum to reflect the CCSS, students will not be prepared for college work.
Therefore, they recommend increasing and improving the quality of professional
development around college and career-readiness skills and the CCSS.
The important finding for my project is the huge difference in perceptions
of student readiness between high school teachers and college instructors. A
question I want to explore is whether the language of my two documents may be
closing or perpetuating that gap.
Allington, Richard L., Auth. and Ed. Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum:
How Ideology Trumped Evidence. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2002. Print.
This collection focuses on the National Reading Panel’s 2000 report on
best practices in the teaching of reading, and most of the authors argue that the
report distorts the scientific evidence about reading in order to promote a national
reading methodology that would limit teachers’ ability to adapt their instruction to
their local context and impose a “one size fits all” phonics-based reading
curriculum, benefiting reading program publishers more than students. Most of
the authors critique the methodology of the report, including how it defined
27
“scientific research,” how it selected studies, and how it coded and reported
findings (Cunningham, Garan, Krashen, Yatvin). Yatvin, as a member of the
panel, not only critiques the methodology of the group, but also the way decisions
over methodology and presentation of findings were made. In addition, many of
the authors argue that the panel’s report supports, recommends, and will result in
decontextualizing of reading instruction—that is, teaching children to sound out
words, without providing instruction or practice in the actual purpose of reading:
making meaning from texts (Allington; Cambourne). Another contributor, Toll,
analyzes the differences between two documents, the NRP report and the NEA
Task Force on Reading 2000, and argues that they use “competing” discourses
which both demonstrate and reinforce power differentials.
These articles, especially Toll’s, provide models of discourse analysis
applied to educational policy documents, and are therefore helpful to my work.
Further, they point out how and why these types of documents become
politicized. Since I am also analyzing a contentious educational policy document
(CCSS), this article provides a model of what I may do.
Brannon, Lil. “The Problem of National Standards.” CCC 46.3 (1995): 440-5. JSTOR.
Web. 18 June 2013.
Brannon argues against NCTE’s National Standards, and specifically
against Myer’s support of those standards. She argues that standards have been
and continue to be not a response to inferior education, but to the inherent conflict
between a promise of opportunity for all and a capitalist society’s demand for a
28
stratified workforce (441). She contends that standards by their very nature oversimplify the complex social forces that support language, literacy, and learning,
and charges that the federal government withdrew its support of the NCTE
standards because those standards attempted to allow for complexity by being
generative rather than prescriptive (442). Standards, according to Brannon, can
only present one view of writing, reading, teaching, and learning, and by doing so
standards manage and maintain the “crisis” in education (441; 445).
The CCSS, too, is a set of standards that in many ways over-simplifies
education generally, and, in my argument, specifically writing. I am making an
argument similar to Brannon’s in that I see CCSS as presenting a singular view of
writing that is not reflected by NCTE or the WPA OS, and while I come to
another conclusion, that students are going to be the ultimate victims, I will be
watching to see if the CCSS ultimately performs the function she claims—to
foster and continue, rather than repair, problems in public education.
Fox, Tom. Defending Access: A Critique of Standards in Higher Education. Portsmouth:
Boyton/Cook, 1999. Print.
Fox situates the discourse of standards within the battle for educational
access for all, claiming that standards historically, as well as currently, are a direct
response to new student populations entering the academy. While education has
the potential to resolve inequities in society, educational standards, according to
Fox, explicitly and implicitly prevent greater access. In fact, Fox argues that in
spite of the many cries of educational crisis that drive standards-based education,
29
the only true crisis is one of access (10). While standards force teachers to focus
on remediation of skills, Fox asserts, the many social and political factors that are
the real reasons that students of color fail to complete college go unaddressed,
thereby maintaining an inequitable system (11). Fox analyzes a text from his local
context—a memo from the provost of CSU, Chico, from 1990, requiring all
departments to submit writing standards—to demonstrate the conflicts in ideology
that occur when an egalitarian goal like writing in the disciplines is interrupted by
demands for gatekeeping standards, in this case, according to Fox, resulting in
“damage [to] more substantive ideological work done by the University Writing
committee…” (74). In other words, the goal of opening up writing for all students
is thwarted, rather than supported, by the requirement of standards, and in fact,
Fox contends, that is the very point of standards.
Fox’s argument that administrative needs for easy assessment and
gatekeeping drive the writing of standards is pertinent to my work with the CCSS.
Several statements in the CCRASW seem to be references to assessment,
specifically on-demand writing assessment. I critique these statements in my work
for the same reason Fox makes his critiques—designing standards around goals
that are easy to assess does not enhance student learning or equal access to higher
education.
Johnson, Kristine. “Beyond Standards: Disciplinary and National Perspectives on Habits
of Mind.” CCC 64:3 (2013): 517-541. Print.
30
Johnson examines the ways that the “Framework for Success in PostSecondary Writing,” and specifically the habits of mind that it articulates, align
with the theories and practices of both the field of rhetoric and composition, and
the traditional liberal arts education. She argues that the Framework offers
rhet/comp an opportunity to improve not only classroom practices but also the
dialog between it and the worlds of public policy and opinion. However, she also
sees that this opportunity is challenged by the current climate of standards and
assessment. First, she explains that by emphasizing how writing and thinking
happen, instead of what should be taught or learned, the Framework creates a new
narrative that elevates the way to develop writers over the way to test them.
Further, Johnson contends that by defining writing as an intellectual and civic
activity—something standards like CCCSS neglect—the Framework grants
agency to teachers and students that has been lacking in other documents and
conversations about the teaching of writing. She expresses concern, however, that
the Framework will be misrepresented and misused. For example, she cites a
WPA listserv post that wondered how to assess the habits of mind. Such a
discussion, Johnson contends, thwarts the potential of the document to reclaim
teaching as complex and holistic process, and students as full people, not mere
products of the educational system.
This source is another example of textual analysis of an educational
document, and another critique of standards, and therefore pertinent to my project.
It is especially relevant in its focus on and approval of a focus on thinking and
31
ways of creating in education, rather than on specific tasks students should
perform.
High School and College Writing
Addison, Joanne, and Sharon James McGee. "Writing in High School/Writing in College:
Research Trends and Future Directions." CCC 62.1 (2010): 147-71. Print.
The authors surveyed students and faculty in a range of disciplines and
institutions, including public and private high schools, community colleges, and
public and private four-year colleges, to catalog the writing perceptions of
students and instructors (149). Further, they analyzed and integrated the results of
several other major studies, such as the Consortium for the Study of Writing in
College and the National Curriculum Survey (150-1). They view the data through
the lens of the National Survey of Student Engagement, analyzing how well the
writing tasks students are assigned align with the NSSE’s five learning subscales
that articulate the writing instructional practices that lead to high levels of student
engagement and learning (152-3). They find agreement between high school and
college faculty in instructional elements such as prewriting and clear expectations,
but also differences in opportunities for low-stakes, exploratory writing, which
NSSE correlates with deep learning, and which high school instructors assign
more frequently (157). The authors note differences in the responses of instructors
and students at both levels, such as 30% of high school teachers requiring
multiple drafts while only 16% of students report always writing multiple drafts,
or 58% of college instructors directing students to writing centers while only 25%
32
always or sometimes seek this support. Thus, the authors note that while
instructors may engage in best practices, students may not (150-60). Finally, the
authors provide suggestions for future collaboration and research.
This source provides me with a model for using the NCTE Beliefs about
Teaching Writing in my project, as these authors did something very similar with
the NSSE. They have a section that lays out how the NSSE defines quality writing
instruction through five scales and how those scales interact with the sub-scales
that promote what NSSE calls "deep learning." The authors then use these scales
as they review the data from the various studies in order to determine the extent to
which these scales are being utilized by instructors and students. I had a hard time
envisioning how to employ my lens to my research data; this source is a helpful
example.
Downs, Douglas and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching About Writing, Righting
Misconceptions: (Re) Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to
Writing Studies.’” CCC 58.4 (2007): 552-584. JSTOR. Web. 18 June 2013.
Downs and Wardle report on the pedagogy and results of their version of
first-year composition, in which the field of composition and rhetoric become the
central focus of study. They argue that the idea that academic writing in its many
forms cannot be taught in a single course is “dangerously misleading,” and that
instead students should learn “realistic and useful” ideas about writing in all its
complexity (556; 558). As the authors have constructed their courses, students
read and discuss primary research in the field of composition and then conduct
33
their own primary research about an area of writing studies of interest to them
(559-64). The authors claim that through this process students gain a better sense
of academic writing than they do in courses that are organized around other
topics. Further, Downs and Wardle suggest that reimagining FYC as Writing
Studies aligns it to other academic disciplines that require an introductory course
on their fields of studies; therefore, composition becomes a discipline in its own
right, rather than a course designed to serve the needs of all other disciplines, an
unrealistic goal (578). The authors analyze in detail responses and reflections
provided by two specific students, as well as feedback from other students in their
courses, to support their claim that shifting the focus of FYC from teaching
writing to teaching about writing has beneficial student outcomes (564-73).
This article, and the resulting conversation around it (see Kutney, below),
further demonstrate that “college-level writing” is not yet a fixed, agreed-upon
object. This is relevant to my project as one of my documents, the CCSS, suggests
that college-level writing is a fixed and determined subject—in fact, judging by
the use of modes within the standards, that the subject of composition was fixed a
century ago. The very fact that the CCSS presents college writing in a way that
experts in the field do not suggests at best an ignorance that the writers did not
bother to correct. At worst, it indicates an oversimplifying of a complex idea for
political purposes—an argument I may decide to make.
Graff, Gerald. Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New
Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.
34
Graff argues that students struggle when they enter college because the
forms and conventions of academic argument are not directly taught. He claims
that students would be more successful if instructors explicitly demonstrated the
connections between students’ everyday speech and academic discourse, but that
instead, instructors and institutions tend to obfuscate these inherent similarities by
disconnecting disciplines from one another, by overemphasizing the importance
of factual, often memorized, information, and by artificially separating high
school and undergraduate work from graduate research work (25-35). Graff
advocates incorporating argument into the curriculum in two ways: by
establishing argument as a conversation the student writer is entering, and by
teaching criticism of primary texts alongside those primary texts as a way to
introduce students to that conversation (157-68; 173-89). Finally, Graff provides
several case studies of high school and college English teachers using various
approaches to teaching academic vocabulary, incorporation of quotes into student
writing, using critical texts, and developing a cultural of intellectualism at a public
high school (232-74).
Since this book is specifically cited by the framers of the CCSS, it is
especially important to my research. It is interesting and perhaps telling that while
the book is cited in the English language arts appendices, the heart of Graff’s
argument, about entering into academic discourse, is not reflected in the
CCRASW that I am analyzing. While I am not sure that observation will fit into
35
my article, it is an interesting window into the CCSS claims of being researchdriven. In addition, I think I will use Graff in my teaching philosophy statement.
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Brikenstein-Graff. "An Immodest Proposal for Connecting High
School and College." CCC 61.1 (2009): 409-15. NCTE. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Graff and Brikenstein-Graff first discuss the challenges facing new college
students fresh from high school. They argue that these challenges arise because
there is not a clearly identifiable set of skills that students are taught throughout
the grade levels and across the disciplines; that the way scholars communicate and
work is not shared with them. They contend that educators and academics from all
subjects should agree on what "the name of the game" is, and further, they suggest
that "the name of the game," the fundamental skill that connects all subjects, is
argument (410). They define argument as the ability to join a conversation in
progress, which requires listening to (or reading) the views of others in order to
delineate one's own views (410). Without such an overall vision of what is
expected in academia, they suggest, college appears to new students as much
more difficult and obtuse than it actually is, since students hear different visions
from not only the disciplines, but even the instructors within disciplines (412).
Agreeing on the single most important aspect of academic discourse is the
solution these authors propose.
For my project, this article reinforces the idea I want to pursue: a lack of
common discourse—literally, common language—between secondary and postsecondary writing instruction. The solution proposed here is elegantly simple, and
36
suggests that the complexity of the CCSS, and even the WPA OS, may be
contributing to the lack of commonality. As I noted above, while the CCSS
specifically refer to Graff and to his contention about the centrality of argument in
academic work, the specific document I am analyzing does not reflect this idea.
Fulkerson, Richard. “Composition at the Turn of the Century.” CCC 56.4 (2005): 654-87.
JSTOR. Web. 25 March 2013.
Fulkerson argues that while the field of composition seemed to be moving
toward a unified approach in the 1980s, it has since diverged again, this time into
three camps: social construction, which promotes a critical or cultural studies
pedagogy; expressivist; and what he calls, multifaceted rhetorical, which is
exemplified in the WPA OS (654-55). Each of these three schools of thought have
distinct answers to the key questions Fulkerson argues a composition philosophy
must be able to answer, including the axiological, process, pedagogical, and
epistemological assumptions it makes about writing, teaching, and knowledge. He
uses these questions as his methodology in examining each, as well as a brief
textual analysis of two composition pedagogy texts, one from 1980 and one from
2001, to argue that not only is composition increasingly complex and divided
about its goals and methods, but it is increasingly difficult to prepare composition
graduate students in such a divided environment.
Fulkerson’s central argument, that composition pedagogy and
epistemology is increasingly divergent, directly contradicts the assumptions made
in the CCSS: namely, that there is a specific thing called “college-readiness” that
37
all stakeholders agree upon. Although I do not think my article will delve into the
oversimplifications of the term “college-ready,” it is significant that my document
is, in its own words, a blueprint for that readiness. It appears to me unlikely, given
work like Fulkerson’s, that a single document can claim to have figured out
exactly what college readiness is.
Kutney, Joshua P. “Will Writing Awareness Transfer to Writing Performance? A
Response to Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle’s ‘Teaching About Writing,
Righting Misconceptions’.” CCC 59.2 (2007): 276-79. JSTOR. Web. 18 June
2013.
This is the first of several responses, including ones by Miles et al, Bird,
Wardle, and Downs, published in CCC. While these responses brought up several
concerns with and defenses of the original article, Kutney’s questions specifically
revolve around the transferability of skills. He argues that students are unlikely to
transfer their knowledge about the discipline of composition and writing to actual
writing—that is, he asserts that just knowing about the field of writing does not
ensure that students will be better writers. He cites studies on transferability of
other skills and analyzes the case studies provided by Downs and Wardle to
support his concerns.
In reading the many responses to this one article, I have been struck by
two ideas. As I mentioned in the Downs annotation, this lively debate about the
content and structure of FYC demonstrates that this field, and the very definition
of “college-writing,” has not yet achieved a consensus about itself—yet, the
38
CCSS reinforces the notion that everyone knows what college-level writing is and
how to ensure that students are able to achieve it. Secondly, I find it interesting
that this debate can be entertained within the framework of the WPA OS. Downs
and Wardle specifically cite the WPA OS in their article, implying that their reenvisioned FYC curriculum meets the stated outcomes. Unlike “standards,”
outcomes, by their focus on process rather than product, allow differing
pedagogical viewpoints to emerge. The CCSS, by reifying writing modes, have
closed off this kind of lively and constructive debate.
Sullivan, Patrick, and Howard Tinberg, Eds. What Is “College-Level” Writing? Urbana:
NCTE, 2006. Print.
This book gathers essays from various educational stakeholders—college
professors, administrators, and students, as well as high school teachers—all
attempting to answer the titular question. The chapters are as varied in their
research methods as in their authorship, but most chapters incorporate a variety of
scholarly sources, many use personal experience, and some use student writing as
well, in their discussions of college-level writing. General points of agreement
among the authors include the idea that a clear definition of college-level writing
is elusive because of the many factors involved in writing: purpose, genre,
discipline, and so on. Overall, the authors shy away from definitions that privilege
lower-order concerns (although many authors mention the need for grammatical
understanding in writing) and spend more time discussing the thinking and
organizational skills necessary in college-level writing. In one chapter entitled,
39
“It’s Not the High School Teacher’s Fault,” Peter Kittle discusses the ways the
environments of high school and college differ, and how those fundamental
differences influence the teaching of writing at each site. Similarly, Sheridan Blau
examines high school and college purposes, and questions why or whether it
should be the exclusive domain of high school to prepare for college. She
examines statements in “Academic Literacy: A Statement of Competencies
Expected of Students Entering California’s Public Colleges and Universities” and
challenges the notion that these competencies should be present when students
enter college, as opposed to when they exit.
Blau, in particular, provides me with some direct connections to my
project. First of all, by contending that college readiness is not solely the
responsibility of high school educator, she suggests that the fundamental
assumptions of the CCSS, the document I am analyzing, I may also find
Sullivan’s preliminary definition of college-level writing to be a useful point of
comparison for my two documents.
Sullivan, Patrick, Howard Tinberg, and Sheridan Blau, Eds. What Is “College-Level”
Writing? Volume 2: Assignments, Readings, and Student Writing Samples.
Urbana: NCTE, 2010. Print.
This second volume on the subject of college-level writing seeks to, in the
editors’ words, “broaden and deepen the discussion” among various
stakeholders—high school teachers, college professors, and students. It attempts
to add actual assignments and analysis of student writing to help define the term.
40
Like the first volume, the editors include a wide variety of writers, and include a
section of collaborations between high school and college teachers. These articles
often feature conversations between the writers over specific examples of student
work.
I can use this book in a general way to support the idea that collaboration
between the levels is critical for student success. This book illustrates the
productivity of such articulation. The chapter by Davies could provide me with
some specific quotes/ideas about the distinctions high school and college teachers
make when reading student writing. The final essay by Yancey was particularly
interesting to me as she did a type of textual analysis of the book overall, looking
for commonalties in the language being used, similar to my current vision of my
project. She created a “wordle” map of the whole book, which I think would be a
great place for me to start with my documents (“wordle” takes the text and creates
a word map of most and least used terms). She also performed a word document
search of specific words, finding, for example, how surprisingly infrequently the
contributors of the book used the word process, as in the writing process. I may
well use some of her methodology.
Sullivan, Patrick. “An Essential Question: What Is ‘College-Level’ Writing?” What is
College-Level Writing? Eds. Patrick Sullivan & Howard Tinberg. Urbana: NCTE,
2006. 1-28. Print.
Sullivan recounts local, regional, and national contexts in which the
definition of college-level writing has been discussed, but not resolved, to provide
41
a rational for his discussion. He then reviews theory and literature that create the
dilemmas associated with creating a working definition: modern language
theorists (Barthes, Foucault, Derrida) who question the very nature of language
itself; skepticism regarding the ability of writing assessments to be absolutely
standard and uniform; the increase in underprepared students attending college,
and the political and human consequences of that increase; and the heightened
understanding of the role of teacher expectation on student learning (3-14). In
spite of these and other factors that complicate the task of defining college-level
writing, Sullivan argues that understanding the complexities of the topic is a
necessary first step, and testing definitions is a logical second (3). Therefore, he
presents his own definition, one that first of all adds reader and thinker to collegelevel writer, contending that these skills do not operate in isolation but rather
support one another (16). Finally, he proposes a two-part criteria to his definition
of college-level writing, reiterating that this definition, which incorporates reading
a piece that includes abstract thought and writing an essay in response that
demonstrates specific qualities, is only a starting place for discussion, not a final
word (16-7).
Again, this source suggests the opposite of what the CCSS suggest—that
college writing, and therefore college readiness, is not an agreed-upon, easily
quantified idea. Since I am looking at the NCTE belief that writing is a tool for
thinking, and am finding the CCSS particularly lacking in that area, it is important
42
to my argument that Sullivan specifically argues that writing and thinking cannot
be separated from one another.
Methodology and Theory: Language Analysis; Critical Discourse Analysis
Fairclough, Norman. "Social Transformation and Learning." An Introduction to Critical
Discourse Analysis in Education. Ed. Rebbecca Rogers. Second ed. New York:
Routledge, 2011. 120-27. Print.
Fairclough addresses a criticism of his work in Critical Discourse
Analysis: that it does not incorporate a model for learning or a way to analyze the
interactions of learning and texts. Therefore, he begins with a model of how social
structures such as language are mediated by social practices such as teaching
before a social event such as learning can occur (120). He contends that texts
(defined as the language, or semiotic, components of social events in any form,
not only written) have causal effects, including ideological effects that can lead to
unequal power relations including exploitation (123). He then focuses on the way
critical education research may or may not bring about transformational
(antiracist) change. He argues that in order for research to bring about such
change, researchers must be aware of the openness of organizations to the change
that is proposed through a new discourse created through research. He presents
five possible responses organizations, such as educational organizations, may
have to difference, and the challenges those responses may present to
transformation.
This article makes me think about the different visions of both learning
43
and transformation that my texts may be communicating. It helps me situate the
texts as social practices (in Fairclough's terminology) that are mediating between
the current social structures of education and the event of learning. While looking
at that situation in depth is likely beyond the scope of my project, it is useful to
see that both texts are attempting to occupy the same position, and it raises some
questions: is either text more dominant in that position? If so, why, and how does
the text itself reveal that position? Or, are the texts working toward the same
social event in similar ways, suggesting that they are cooperating, rather than
challenging, each other? The transformative power of the texts could be
influenced by this—whether they challenge or reinforce one another.
Foucault, Michael. “The Discourse on Language.” The Archaeology of Knowledge and
the Discourse on Language. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon,
1972. N.p. n.d.Web. 15 February 2013.
Foucault’s working hypothesis is that societies use a variety of methods to
restrict and control the potential power and instability that unlimited discourse
could potentially create (216). He then looks at the specific ways this limiting and
controlling of discourse occurs, examining first the three types of prohibition that
societies impose upon discourse: prohibited words, the ostracizing of that
discourse that is labeled as mad, and the desire to define the truth which he
considers to be the strongest current form of exclusion of discourse (216-9). This
desire or “will to truth,” Foucault argues, is a form of exclusion that is assisted by
a variety of institutions, two of which Foucault discusses in greatest detail: the
44
author-function and the division of knowledge—disciplines. The author-function,
Foucault suggests, reinforces repetition of discourse—an important tool in
circumscribing discourse—by creating an identity that becomes responsible for
the discourse it creates. Similarly, disciplines control discourse within their realms
of knowledge; Foucault employs the example of botany’s rejection of Mendel’s
work with genetics as an illustration of how disciplines, even as they pursue a will
to truth, control and define what that truth is for the discipline (224). For
Foucault, the seeming approval of discourse our society demonstrates—our
“logophilia”—is actually a “logophobia,” a fear of the discord, chaos, and
disorder that unrestrained discourse potentially creates (228-9). Finally, Foucault
outlines the way he will use this understanding of discourse, this principle of
reversal by which he sees discourse not as endlessly inventive and positive, but as
limiting and repetitive, in his future work. The methodologies he describes as
useful in revealing the limiting power of discourse, and the projects he outlines,
are the foundation of discourse analysis (229-34).
While an early draft of my article opened with a quote from this source,
and in that draft I talked about the controlling functions of discourse overall and
the CCSS in particular, I have since focused more on figured world theory than
discourse theory, and therefore am no longer citing Foucault. However, this piece
is the foundation of all modern discourse theory and analysis, and is therefore an
important, informing document for my work.
45
Gee, James Paul. “Critical Issues: Reading and the New Literacy Studies: Reframing the
National Academy of Sciences Report on Reading.” Journal of Literacy
Research. 31.3 (1999): 355-74. Sage. Web. 23 June 2013.
Gee uses New Literacy Studies as the lens through which he views the
NAS Report on Reading. By identifying inconsistencies and “stress tensions
internal to the report itself,” he argues that the very same research the report cites
supports different conclusions than the report finds, conclusions more in line with
the tenets of New Literacy Studies (355). Gee argues for a wider view of reading
than the view supported in the report. Rather than a process derived from phonics
in which sounds are assembled and words decoded, Gee sees reading as a
complex social activity that is affected by social and political factors which have a
contextualized goal: to support sophisticated understanding and learning, not
merely sound out words (358; 362; 366; 371). One of many specific examples he
provides is the report’s discussion of the “fourth grade slump” that occurs when
readers move from phonics-based learning to learning for content. Gee argues that
while the report notes this well-researched phenomenon, it does not connect it to
reading instruction that decontextualizes reading, a critique he has of the report
overall (366).
This source models how to use my own lens: the NCTE Beliefs about the
Teaching of Writing. It is also a helpful model for me in that it is not attempting
to perform a micro-level analysis of the document, and is not heavily CDA-
46
based—it is performing a type of discourse analysis without having to prove itself
linguistically, which I would like to emulate.
---. "Discourse Analysis: What Makes It Critical." An Introduction to Critical Discourse
Analysis in Education. Ed. Rebecca Rogers. Second ed. New York: Routledge,
2011. 23-43. Print.
Gee explains and defines the key terms he uses in his version of Critical
Discourse Analysis, ultimately arguing that the analysis of discourse, because of
its inherent building tasks that include distributing social goods in ways that
benefit or harm groups or individuals, is always critical. He introduces the "frame
problem:" the idea that since the context of language can be endlessly expanded,
the analyst must consider where and when to stop enlarging the contextual frame
(27). He also claims that this problem is simultaneously a tool for closer analysis,
as it allows examination of what is left unstated. He reviews what he sees as the
seven building tasks of language, since, he contends, language is always building
and rebuilding to make things more or less significant, to define practices, to
create and establish identities and relationships, to distribute social goods, and to
create knowledge (29-33). He distinguishes between big D Discourses--those
discussions that have been at work in society across space and time--and little d
discourses, written or oral language currently in use (36-9). Finally, he defines
figured worlds--the simplified views of the world--that Discourses create and
destroy--demonstrating that discourse analysis moves from the situated meaning
of language through the building of figured worlds, which have political
47
consequences (41-3). Thus, all discourse analysis is critical.
Gee articulates several concepts that are pertinent to my project. For
example, both of my documents are part of a big D Discourse, and both
simultaneously contest and create figured worlds. I am wondering if my analysis
can look at the figured worlds each text envisions as part of my analysis. Also, as
Gee would argue, both documents affect the distribution of social goods in a
variety of ways, which suggests that I am definitely involved in a CDA project.
---. How to Do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Gee argues that discourse analysis, while connected to the grammar and
linguistics of a text, is concerned with how these elements of a text create social,
cultural, and political meaning (ix). While he states that this book is designed to
walk a reader through the process of such analysis, he adds that there is no single
agreed-upon method, and the “tools--” specific questions to ask of a text—he
presents are based on his own beliefs and ideas. He divides the book into four
units. In the first, the tools Gee introduces are designed to uncover the language
and context of the text under analysis. In the second unit, he offers tools to
uncover what a text is doing: the actions a text is performing (43-5). The tools in
Gee’s third unit focus on the reflexive nature of text, and the ways this reflexive
nature is used by texts to create and destroy things in the world. Finally, Gee
draws on different disciplines such as sociology and literary criticism for theories
of discourse analysis, illustrating the theories with tools in the final unit.
48
Gee has been influential in my work in that he has clarified the
complexities of discourse analysis for me. Particularly helpful have been the ideas
that there are specific tools that discourse analysts use (figured worlds being one),
as well as the idea that texts, such as the ones I am examining, are not merely
texts, but have the ability to create and destroy. This suggests that much is at stake
in documents like the WPA OS and the CCSS—the ability to create or destroy
college students, perhaps.
Huckin, Thomas N. “Context-Sensitive Text Analysis.” Methods and Methodology in
Composition Research .Eds. Gesa Kirsch & Patricia A. Sullivan. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois UP, 1992. 84-104. Print.
According to Huckin, as the field of composition increasingly emphasizes
intertextuality—the ways in which texts interact with the time and community
that produces them, as well other texts—it will more frequently employ contextsensitive text analysis to learn more about the sociological and cultural
implications of texts (84-5). Huckin presents the epistemological assumptions of
context-sensitive text analysis, as well as the methodological characteristics and
procedural steps of such research. Among epistemological assumptions, he
discusses the subjectivity of all interpretations of texts, the idea that even small
details can impact a text’s meaning, and the fact that writers belong to (perhaps
competing) discourse communities (87-9). According to Huckin, context-sensitive
text analysis is methodologically always driven by the need to solve a problem in
teaching composition, as opposed to trying to create theory (89). He asserts that
49
the analyst must account for a wide range of contextual factors without becoming
“overly speculative,” and that the results are at best a “plausible interpretation,”
rather than an empirical, replicable result (89). Huckin also presents specific steps
to take in context-sensitive text analysis, from the selection of texts to be analyzed
through a “functional-rhetorical analysis” of any patterns the analyst uncovers,
asking why this pattern is present in the text (90-3). Finally, Huckin illustrates
these points with a context-sensitive text analysis of the writing of a graduate
student (93-9).
This article was my first introduction to discourse analysis, before I had
determined that it was the type of work I would be performing. While my
research suggests that the discipline of discourse analysis has become more
empirical than this early essay suggests, Huckin’s emphasis on praxis—on the
way this work can and should influence classroom practice—inspired my original
idea and continues to ground my work, in that I want to create knowledge that has
practical implications for teachers and instructors.
Huckin, Thomas, Jennifer Andrus, and Jennifer Clary-Lemon. "Critical Discourse
Analysis and Rhetoric and Composition." CCC 64.1 (2012): 107-28. Print.
The authors argue that the methodology known as Critical Discourse
Analysis (CDA) has much to offer Rhet/Comp, and conversely, Rhet/Comp has
much to offer CDA, because of several the commonalities between the
disciplines: both focus on linguistic details, both draw on many scholarly
disciplines and methods, and both are intrinsically interested in power and ethics,
50
including institutional analysis (111). The authors support their assertion with an
overview of the principals of CDA and a discussion of specific studies in which
the interests of CDA and Rhet/Comp overlap (108; 112-7). They explore ways
that the methodological tools of CDA, such as recontextualization (the ways texts
are changed and even distorted when placed in a new context) and intertextuality
(the ways texts affect each other, and the ways contexts affect texts, and vice
versa), can be applied to Rhet/Comp work in ways that will make the research
more rigorous and systematic (118-23). In turn, they suggest, Rhet/Comp's focus
on the writer can deepen the understandings of CDA researchers by encouraging a
more self-reflexive perspective (124).
This article has several implications for my project. It provides the
justification for using discourse analysis as my methodology. Not only does it
offer a methodological toolbox for my use, it also demonstrates that the language
of policies, and their implications, can be closely examined through CDA, which
is precisely what I propose to do.
Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Profession (1991): 33-40. JSTOR. Web.
26 March 2013.
Pratt defines contact zones as areas where unequally-powered cultures
meet and contest, often in text. She uses a 17th Century text by an Andean writer
and illustrator, “the First new Chronicle of Good Government,” in which the
writer combines his own language, Spanish, and visual images to critique and
challenge the Spanish occupiers in a text that modern historians deemed
51
“unreadable” (33-7). Pratt suggests that the inability to understand this text arose
from defining language as a limited, discrete element of a “speech community,”
an imagined utopian vision that she compares to Anderson’s analysis of nations as
“imagined communities” (37). In such communities, it is assumed that all
members are working toward a common goal or ideal. Pratt points out that
understanding communication becomes more challenging when a communicator
is presenting ideas that differ from, subvert, or resist those supposedly common
goals. Finally, she discusses the implications of contact zones in classrooms
where diversity is common, with the desire of making the classroom a contact
zone that enhances learning for all (40).
When I first read this article, I was hoping to find a way to see high school
writing and college writing as a contact zone. While I have moved away from that
idea, Pratt’s observations—that communicators with different goals complicate
the process of communication—still has implications for me. If, for example, the
CCSS is trying to address the goals of test-makers, and the WPA OS does not
need to address this group of stakeholders, communication is complicated by
these competing needs.
Rogers, Rebecca et al. “Critical Discourse Analysis in Education: A Review of the
Literature.” American Educational Research Association 75.3 (2005): 365-416.
JSTOR. Web. 21 June 2013.
The authors reviewed 46 educational research articles that used Critical
Discourse Analysis (CDA) as their methodology to answer their primary question:
52
“What happens when CDA crosses boundaries into educational research?” (367).
They explicitly situated their investigation in the context of critiques that have
been raised about CDA: for example, that researchers tend to read their own
ideology into the data; that CDA underplays the importance of interactional texts;
that it favors social over linguistic theory; and that it tends to remove the object of
analysis from its social context (372). The authors’ findings in regards to these
criticisms are mixed. A majority of the studies they review analyze interactional,
verbal texts, challenging the critique on CDA that it over-emphasizes written
texts. However, they uncover other potential biases: more work done at the
secondary than the primary level, for example, and more work looking at gender
differences and inequalities than racial or language-based ones. Further, they find
that the articles tend to gloss over or ignore language theory as well as the use of
macro or micro context of language use, two areas that they argue educational
researchers must improve upon for their work to be valid and reliable (374-5).
The authors urge future researchers to be explicit in discussing why they choose
to analyze the particular portions of the text, and to practice more reflexivity as
researchers, being willing to “turn the CDA framework back on herself to analyze
how her participation in the research contributed to the reproduction or disruption
of power relations” (380-3). In other words, CDA researchers need to recognize,
analyze, and discuss the way their work interacts with the texts that they are
analyzing, and how that affects the social context of the texts and the analysis.
The authors also recommend that researchers utilize Systemic Functional
53
Linguistics (SFL) to identify the function or functions that the language under
analysis is performing as a tool to prevent reading ideologies into data.
This article’s warnings and recommendations have direct connections to
my work, and frankly have intimidated me a bit. One important distinction this
article is helping me see is that my project will likely be a more Gee-influenced
lower case discourse analysis, as opposed to a Fairclough-influenced CDA.
Nevertheless, this source reminds me that theory and methodology are critical,
and unfortunately, my weakness. Three take-aways for me: revisit SFL and
consider how it applies to my project; include an explicit discussion of why I am
analyzing not only the texts, but the specific sections of text; and think
reflexively.
Woodside-Jiron, Haley. "Language, Power, and Participation: Using Critical Discourse
Analysis to Make Sense of Public Policy." An Introduction to Critical Discourse
Analysis in Education. Ed. Rebecca Rogers. Second ed. New York: Routledge,
2011. 154-82. Print.
Woodside-Jiron analyzes the changes in reading policies in California in
1995-7 to determine, through an examination of the policy texts, how power and
policy are interrelated. The author combines the work of both Fairclough's CDA
and Bernstein's regulative and instructive discourses in her methodology, and
provides a chart to illustrate her methodological approach (156). She uses specific
CDA techniques to examine the policy documents; for example, by determining
what information is placed in dependent and independent syntactical positions,
54
she argues that the policy writers made new policies appear familiar and
incontrovertible. Similarly, she analyzes the way new terms are introduced and
name what is valued authoritatively, so that readers do not consider questioning
"the fundamental skills required," although she points out that there is actually
much to question in that phrase (163). Ultimately, Woodside-Jiron argues that her
hybrid version of CDA is a tool that can uncover the ways power often works
invisibly to maintain inequitable hegemonic structures (178-9).
This source is a model for the work that I intend to do. The author
analyzes documents and explicitly links them to two main CDA theorists in a
manner transparent enough that I could see how my own work might follow her
path, which was part of her argument—that we in education should be performing
work like hers on similar policy documents. She also asks a question I found
compelling: “What principals of classification are being defined, mandated, and
used across diverse populations with complex and varying needs?" (178). I think
this is the question I am asking as well—how are we defining writing, teaching,
teachers, and students in these two documents, and are these definitions helpful or
limiting?
Figured Worlds Theory
Fecho, Bob, Peg Graham and Sally Hudson-Ross. “Appreciating the Wobble: Teacher
Research, Professional Development, and Figured Worlds.” English Education
37:3 (2005): 174-199. JSTOR. Web. 6 January 2014.
55
The authors use figured worlds theory to analyze interactions between
teacher participants in a teacher-researcher project. They argue that when teachers
openly discussed not only the figured world of their own teaching environments,
but the differences between those figured worlds, they were able to critically
examine their own teaching practice through that space of uncertainty between
figured worlds, which the authors term “the wobble.” Further, they contend that
the current educational environment of uniformity and standardized testing
discourages teacher autonomy and agency, and suggests that the educational
figured world is in balance, thereby eliminating the possibilities created by the
wobble (195-7). They examine the on-line conversations of two teacher
participants to demonstrate that when tension arose between the figured worlds of
these teachers, each was able to reflect upon her practice in ways she might never
have thought of if she had merely stayed within the comfort of her own teaching
environment.
This source validates my use of figured worlds theory in the realm of
education, and some of its conclusions are similar to mine. It demonstrates in a
concrete way (through the examination of actual teacher talk and experience) the
ways figured worlds influence teacher behavior, and it critiques the educational
environment that “valorizes conformity and deeply limits alternative
perspectives” (197). However, this source finds that the space between figured
worlds opens up an unsettling space that encourages professional growth, whereas
56
I argue that the space between the figured worlds of the CCSS and the WPA OS
are creating a gap that is dangerous for the students who have to cross it.
Gee, James Paul. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. New York:
Routledge, 1999. Print.
In this textbook, Gee explicates his own theory and method of discourse
analysis, one that draws upon a variety of fields—linguistics, education,
psychology, and so on—in order to examine “how we use language to say things,
do things, and be things” (3). For Gee, these three purposes of language all create
or build, and he lists seven areas of reality that language constructs. The task of
the researcher, according to Gee, is to determine what is being built by a
particular discourse, and how. He provides questions for the research to ask to
reveal which building task is being accomplished (17-20). In addition, he provides
analytical questions for each “tool of inquiry” (such as social languages and
discourses) that he presents. Gee closes the book with two extensively explicated
examples of discourse analysis of interviews with teenage students.
The extended chapter on figured worlds in this book helped me see how I
could use this specific theory of discourse analysis as the theoretical framework
for my project (71-96). In fact, it was Gee’s description of a figured world as “a
picture of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or normal”
that started me thinking about all three of the documents I am looking at as
figured worlds, as all three are arguing that their vision of a writing classroom is
the one that should be seen as typical (71).
57
Holland, Dorothy, et al. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard
UP, 1998. Print.
The authors, specialists in anthropology, social medicine, child
development, and psychiatry, argue for a theory of identity development that
recognizes both the ways society forms and controls identity, and the ways
individuals exercise agency in resisting those societal norms. One of the key, and
at the time of the writing of the text, new ways of looking at societal formation of
individual identity is what the authors term “figured worlds,” which they define as
imagined, “as if” worlds, which people not only collectively form, but within
which people are formed (49). That is, for the authors, figured worlds
simultaneously are created by a given group and are creating members of a given
group, members who adhere to the beliefs and standards of the figured world. The
authors explain that figured worlds recruit members, or members are drawn in,
through the desire to be part of the imagined community; once there, the
members, through their work within the figured world, further define and describe
the imagined landscape of that world (41; 49). The authors further argue that the
development of the figured world includes the creation and interpretation of
particular characters and actors, the assignment of significance to certain acts, and
the valuation of some outcomes over others (52).According to the authors, figured
worlds not only “provide contexts of meaning” for given social groups; they also
provide the material individuals use to develop their identities (60). The authors
provide numerous examples of varied figured worlds—Alcoholics Anonymous,
58
romantic relationships, and women in Nepal, for example—and analyze the ways
the figured worlds are created and maintained, and the ways individuals respond
to the figured worlds.
This source is the foundation of figured worlds theory, and therefore
critical to my project. While it is not specific to either CDA or composition,
Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds argues implicitly, through the varying
fields of its authors and the diversity of figured worlds it examines, that this
theory can be applied in many ways. I will use their description of figured worlds
to introduce my article and support my own argument that my documents create
two competing, divergent figured worlds of writing and writing instruction.
59
Chapter Four:
Figured Worlds of Writing:
Conflicting Views of Writing Instruction in the WPA Outcomes Statement and the
Common Core State Standards
Abstract: Figured worlds contribute to human activity, social interactions, power
structures, as well as the development of individual identity and agency, through specific
activities, discourses, performances, and artifacts. Both the Common Core State
Standards (CCSS) and the Writing Program Administrators Outcomes Statement for
First-Year Composition (WPA OS) are artifacts that not only document, but reify the
views and values of each figured world: that of public school writing, and that of college
writing. In this article, I compare the language of both documents in order to understand
the figured worlds that each document creates. If the CCSS is achieving its stated
objective of aligning public school instruction with college expectations, I contend that
the figured worlds portrayed in each document should also align with one another in their
fundamental values and goals—in what they believe about students and writing. I find,
however, that the two documents create conflicted figured worlds of writing instruction.
A foundational claim of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—the
curricular document that has been adopted by forty-five states and that seeks to improve
the instruction delivered to millions of K-12 students—is that it is aligned with the
expectations of college and career, and therefore will produce students better prepared for
the world beyond public school. According to the introduction of the English Language
Arts Standards, “A particular standard was included in the document only when the best
60
available evidence indicated that its mastery was essential for college and career
readiness in a twenty-first-century, globally competitive society” (National Governors
Association). In other words, the self-identified purpose of the CCSS is to articulate what
skills and knowledge are required for a student to enter college prepared for the demands
of post-secondary education, and to ensure that those skills are addressed in all U.S.
classrooms. The CCSS thus identifies and attempts to address a long-standing concern
among composition educators: high school students do not receive the writing instruction
necessary to support their successful transition to college, making it more difficult for
them to accomplish college outcomes such as those described in the Writing Program
Administrators Outcome Statement (WPA OS).
As described by Holland et al., Gee, and others, figured worlds are socially and
culturally constructed and interpreted ideal realms that value certain acts, actors, and
outcomes above others. Figured worlds contribute to social interactions and power
structures, as well as to the development of individual identity and agency, through
specific activities, discourses, performances, and artifacts. According to this theory, both
the CCSS and the WPA OS are artifacts that not only document, but reify the views and
values of each figured world: specifically, for my study, the world of public school
writing, and the world of college writing. In this article, I compare the language of both
documents in order to understand the figured worlds that each creates. If the CCSS is
achieving its stated objective of aligning public school instruction with college
expectations, I contend that the figured worlds portrayed in each document should align
with one another in their fundamental values and goals—in what they believe about
61
students and writing. My purpose is to determine if the CCSS has the potential to help or
hinder teachers and students of writing, and to answer the question: Has the CCSS
brought students and teachers closer to the expectations of college? Unfortunately, I find
the CCSS falls significantly short in aligning public school expectations of writing with
those of college, and further, I find that the CCSS creates a figured world of writing that
is potentially disastrously out of alignment with college’s figured world of writing, as
described in the WPA OS.
Figured Worlds Theory
In their influential book Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds, Holland,
Lachicotte, Skinner and Cain define a figured world as a “socially and culturally
constructed realm of interpretation in which particular characters and actors are
recognized, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued
over others” (53). According to this view, figured worlds are produced and reproduced
through agreed-upon narratives that dramatize everyday life, but these narratives do not
merely exist in the imagination—rather, through our work with others in the real world,
we continually produce and reproduce figured worlds (41). As a simplified, imagined
world, a figured world limits who may be included in that world, what acts may occur,
and what if any changes in behavior may be allowed. In short, a figured world has the
power to “mediate behavior” and “inform participants’ outlooks” (52). In order to enact
this controlling function, figured worlds rely on artifacts not only to produce and
reproduce the values of that world, but also to create power and status within the world. It
is through artifacts, which may take the form of an object, a person, or a discourse, that
62
figured worlds “are evoked, collectively developed, individually learned, and made
socially and personally powerful” (61-2). In other words, artifacts are essential in the
creation and maintenance of figured worlds. Holland et al. argue that artifacts of figured
worlds assume both a necessary material presence in the world—they are required, or at
least useful, in the work of that figured world—as well as an ideal presence or
intentionality “whose substance is embedded in the figured world of their use” (61).
Thus, artifacts create and recreate the figured world to which they belong by having a
practical usefulness in a given field or endeavor, as well as describe and reinforce an
ideal vision of that figured world. While Holland et al. originally used figured worlds to
examine the ways humans build self-identity, researchers have applied their theoretical
framework in other ways as well.
James Gee, for example, incorporates figured worlds theory into the work of
discourse analysis. In An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, Gee describes a figured
world as “a picture of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or
normal,” one that may be unconscious or at least taken for granted (71; 76). Gee, like
Holland et al., argues that figured worlds do not only exist in the mind, but externally, in
the world as well, guiding and shaping human activity. For Gee, figured worlds define
what is “appropriate:” appropriate attitudes and values, appropriate ways of acting and
interacting, appropriate ways of communicating and feeling, and so on (90). In an
example that is relevant to the CCSS, Gee describes the figured world of an elementary
classroom, with a female teacher in front of rows of children all approximately the same
age, completing worksheets or raising their hands to answer questions. He points out that
63
while figured worlds such as this classroom are often realized in the material world, the
figured world itself can inhibit reform efforts, as occurs when proposed educational
reforms are contested because they do not conform with the established figured world—
are not in line with the values, attitudes, and actions that educators, policymakers, or
parents hold in their minds (71-2). Finally, Gee includes the analysis of figured worlds as
a tool of discourse inquiry and argues that through the examination of discourse, texts,
institutional practices, and so on—in other words, artifacts such as the WPA OS or
CCSS—figured worlds reveal themselves (96).
Applying the work of Holland et al. and other figured worlds theorists,
researchers have explicitly applied the concept of figured worlds to educational settings.
Urrieta, for example, examines the ways figured worlds contribute to the identity
formation of what he calls Chicana/o Activist Educators—Mexican American educators
or future educators committed to political and social change and the struggle against
white supremacy. Urrieta sees participation in figured worlds as an opportunity for
participants to re-conceptualize their understanding of themselves, as well as a way to
develop agency within and across the figured worlds they encounter (120). Since figured
worlds both distribute power and demonstrate, explicitly and implicitly, how power
works within those worlds, Urrieta finds that the specific figured worlds in which his
sample of educators participated greatly influenced their eventual identity formation as
Chicana/o Activist Educators. In interviews and surveys, these educators identified
involvement in ethnic student organizations, ethnic coursework, and cultural activities as
key experiences in creating their sense of commitment and urgency in pursuing a career
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in activist education (127). Urrieta argues that it is this involvement in culturally and
politically active figured worlds, as well as specific life experiences such as religious and
familial background, that drew the educators into the figured world of Chicana/o Activist
Educator. Although the scope of his study is limited, it does suggest that teacher attitudes
and behaviors are influenced by their participation in figured worlds.
Also using figured worlds theory in another education study, Rubin observes
teachers and students at an urban high school with a high drop-out rate to determine what
“local discourses, practices, categories, and interactions” make up the figured worlds of
learning for both students and teachers, and what effect those figured worlds have on
students’ identities as learners (218). She describes teaching practices that focus on
worksheets, textbooks, and quizzes (229), learning and teaching discourses that substitute
chapter and page numbers for concepts (230), and interactions that emphasize control,
compliance, and inherent and unalterable student deficits (218; 232; 245). Rubin suggests
that the achievement gap between white and minority students and urban and suburban
schools may be the result of a figured world that decontextualizes learning and uses
classroom activities to control student behavior rather than foster learning. According to
Rubin, the failure of students in such a figured world is actually the result of “what was
available to be learned,” not the inherent ability or inability of the learners. By examining
this urban high school through the lens of figured worlds theory, she concludes that
“everyday activities and events become part of identity production and, in this case, the
reproduction of social inequalities” (245). Thus, the impact of figured worlds in
education can be far-reaching indeed.
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In another study, Fecho et al. encouraged high school English teachers from
different teaching contexts to interact with one another, and in the process uncovered the
figured worlds that each brought into the study (174-5). In doing so, the authors find what
they term “the wobble: the uncertainty that lies between and among figured worlds”
(175). The uncertainty that is created when a teacher encounters a figured world different
from her own, they argue, leads to opportunities to critically examine teaching practice in
ways that cannot occur when an educator is firmly ensconced in the figured world of her
own teaching environment. They illustrate this potential by analyzing the on-line chats
between Jerelyn, an urban high school educator, and Lisa, a suburban one. Each critiques
her own teaching practice in response to learning about the other’s figured world (184190). Fecho et al. view teacher collaboration and research as a way to challenge
established practices and create, through the destabilizing effect of the conflict between
figured worlds, “genuine promise for productive professional development opportunities
for teachers and for cultivating landscapes for school reform” (195). For these authors,
figured worlds theory not only provides a framework for analyzing education and teacher
practice, but for improving both.
Like Fecho et al., I, too, seek to bring two figured worlds of education into
interaction with one another, but I do so through an examination of textual artifacts. From
the figured world of high school English, I examine a portion of the recently-released
CCSS; and from the figured world of college English, I examine the well-established
WPA OS in order to explore how and where these figured worlds of writing align with,
converge with, or diverge from each other. For example, what exactly, according to these
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two documents, is writing? In these figured worlds, how is writing taught? In each
figured world, what skills and knowledge are valued? And most importantly, do these
two figured worlds allow students to travel easily from one to the next, or are they so
distinct as to be impassable for some students? What is at stake in these figured worlds is
the ability of students to successfully transition from secondary to postsecondary
education.
I approach this research with the recognition that I am an inhabitant of figured
worlds created by my own professional and personal experiences. I am a high school
teacher of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition for juniors and
college preparatory English for seniors at a suburban, northern California high school. In
2012, over 90% of surveyed seniors at this campus indicated that they would attend some
form of post-secondary education. Therefore, I am directly involved in the day-to-day
business of preparing students not only for the standards set out by the CCSS, but for the
not-so-distant world of first-year composition as set out in the WPA OS. I straddle two
different learning environments, two different figured worlds: the public school world
with its English language arts focus, now guided by the CCSS, and the collegiate world
with its composition focus, as articulated in the WPA OS. Additionally, as a returning
university graduate student, I have had the experience of “wobble” that Fecho et al.
describe when figured worlds come into contact—for me, the figured world of public
school English teacher coming into contact with the academy’s world of composition. As
I have experienced mistrust, disagreement, and inaccurate perceptions between the two
worlds, I have come to understand how much is at stake in the way we educators
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communicate our expectations to students and to one another in the educational
community. Not only our goals, but the language we use to express them and the figured
worlds we create with that language, demonstrate what we value in our instruction, in one
another other as educators, and in our students. My work is informed by these
experiences and beliefs.
The High School-College Gap
To a large degree, this research project, like the CCSS itself, is motivated by the
significant and persistent gap between the perceptions of high school teachers and college
instructors, a gap that has been frequently documented. For example, the ACT National
Curriculum Survey 2009, which surveys thousands of middle and high school teachers
and postsecondary instructors, found that while 91% of high school teachers responded
that their students were prepared for college-level work in their content area, only 26% of
postsecondary instructors described their incoming students as prepared (5). Apparently,
the very definition of college-preparedness is understood differently by the two teaching
groups, with potentially detrimental results to students entering college. This lack of a
clear understanding of college-readiness has been noted in other literature, including
Conley, who found that state high school test items, especially in the areas of research
and critical thinking, demonstrated low levels of correlation to college skills and
difficulty, as assessed by college professors (13). Some researchers who have recognized
this discrepancy argue for better articulation and clarity between the secondary and postsecondary educators (Appleman and Green; Barnes). Others have laid the blame for
college students’ poor preparedness not on a lack of articulation, but rather on the work
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of high school teachers, suggesting that high school writing assignments are too
infrequent, formulaic, or standardized test-driven to develop the necessary skills for
college writing (Enders; Scherff and Piazza). Whatever the cause, it is this significant
misalignment between the educational levels that the CCSS seeks to remedy by ensuring
“that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing entry
courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce” (National
Governors Association). It is that explicit goal of the CCSS—bridging the gap between
high school instruction and the actual requirements of college-level work—that I will
examine through the language of the artifacts from each figured world.
Figured Worlds of Writing: The Artifacts
The artifact from post-secondary education that I examine is the two-page WPA
OS, first adopted in 2000, which “describes the common knowledge, skills, and attitudes
sought by first-year composition programs in American postsecondary education”
(Appendix A). As a set of outcomes, rather than standards, the stand-alone document
does not dictate levels of performance or curricular specifics, but rather “what it is that
we want students to know, to understand, and to do at the conclusion of a course”
(Yancey 21). Over the years it has been critically examined by numerous authors, even
generating two volumes of commentary (Behm et al; Harrington et al.). Used by college
administrators as well as instructors, the WPA OS anticipates and invites a
comprehensive audience to share in the work of creating college writers and intends “to
build bridges with high school teachers or with colleagues in other departments or
programs, to build connections between different types of institutions” (Harrington et al.
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xvi). Given its history, flexibility of usage, and broad audience, the WPA OS is the type
of artifact that, according to Holland et al., has the potential to “open up figured worlds,”
in this case by demonstrating both the conceptual ideal of writing, as well as a “necessary
material aspect” of the teaching of writing (61). That is, an examination of the WPA OS
provides an opportunity to understand college writing in both its idealized and its
practical aspects.
In contrast to the brevity of the WPA OS, the CCSS, finalized in 2010, covers
hundreds of pages. The English Language Arts section of the document is composed of
detailed individual standards for reading (literature, informational text, and foundational
skills), writing, speaking and listening, and language (grammar and other conventions)
for each grade level K-12, and is supported by hundreds of pages of appendices, creating
a challenge in comparing it directly to the succinct WPA OS. Therefore, I narrowed the
focus of my analysis to the CCSS College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for
Writing for grades 6-12 (Appendix B). The College and Career Readiness Anchor
Standards for Writing (CCRASW) is a concise overview of what writing instruction
should look like in the public school system, and, therefore roughly analogous to the
WPA OS. Both the CCRASW and the WPA OS are focused and explicit descriptors of
writing instruction of similar length and organization (1 or 2 pages, respectively; 5 or 4
sections, respectively), that convey specific skills students should acquire and knowledge
students should possess in order to write for college. Further, and importantly, since the
CCRASW explicitly claims to develop college-readiness, and since the WPA OS
articulates the tasks new college students must be prepared to eventually master, the
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documents should demonstrate alignment. That is, the documents should be creating
similar figured worlds of writing.
I examine the figured worlds of writing created in these documents through the
lens of a third: the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Beliefs about the
Teaching of Writing (Appendix C). As the professional association of educators in all
areas and levels of English and literacy, the NCTE published these principles for the
teaching of writing in 2004, articulating the complex nature of both the teaching and
learning of writing and thereby creating a macro-figured world of writing for teachers at
all educational levels. Acknowledging “that writing is an increasingly multifaceted
activity,” NCTE “offers[s] several principles that should guide effective teaching
practice.” I contend that these principles, because they are written by and for teachers of
writing, should explicitly or implicitly inform the discourse of writing pedagogy.
Therefore, I position my analysis of the WPA OS and the CCRASW against the language
and values articulated in the Beliefs. Further, I organize my analysis as the Beliefs
themselves are organized: by each belief.
Belief: Writing is a Process
Within the last four decades of composition research and literature, the concept
that writing is a process has become commonplace in the discourse of writing instructors
and their students: an established component of the figured world of writing instruction.
Accordingly, the Beliefs statement is unequivocal: “Writing is a process.” In fact, the
word “process,” usually preceded by “writing” or “composing,” appears at least once in
the description of ten out of the eleven beliefs about writing, and words associated with
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the writing process, such as “drafting” or “revising,” appear in at least four of those
descriptions. In all, the words process or processes occur nineteen times, reinforcing the
importance of this key concept and creating a figured world in which effective writing
does not exist without a writing process. It stands to reason, then, that documents
describing the outcomes or standards of writing instruction would similarly emphasize
the foundational nature of the belief that “Writing is a process.” Not surprisingly, the
WPA OS, like the Beliefs statement, devotes a section of the text to articulating this core
concept of writing instruction. Under the heading Processes, it states that students should
“Be aware that it usually takes multiple drafts to create and complete a successful text”
and also should “Develop flexible strategies” for the stages of writing. Like the Beliefs
document, the WPA OS describes a process that is fluid and adaptable; one that develops
over a lifetime, rather than in a single class or writing assignment. The WPA OS uses the
phrase “open process” to describe the development of this writing ability, while NCTE
explicitly states, “Writers do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for
all.” In the figured worlds created by these documents, process refers not only to the
steps or stages through which a writer takes a specific piece of writing, but also to the
stages of the writer’s development as well, stages that recur as the writer’s life and career
present new writing challenges.
In contrast, the CCRASW does not have a section about writing as a process—in
fact, the word process does not appear at all in this document that “defines the skills and
understandings that all students must demonstrate.” More precisely, the word process as
it is used by the WPA OS and NCTE not only does not appear in the CCRASW, but is
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similarly absent from all of the individual grade-level standards and two of the three
lengthy appendices of the CCSS English Language Arts Standards. Appendix C of the
English Language Arts Standards includes student writing samples that are described as
“process piece[s] produced in class,” “produced in class and the writer likely received
feedback from the teacher,” or “student had one week and the opportunity to revise,” but
this cursory, and well-buried, reference to a writing process does not reflect the depth and
importance given to the writing process in the Beliefs and the WPA OS. Even those
statements within the CCRASW that at least allude to a writing process do so in a manner
which contradicts and redefines process as it is described in the Beliefs statement. For
example, under “Production and Distribution of Writing,” the CCRASW states that
students, “Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing,
rewriting, or trying a new approach [italics added].” While this statement, like those in
the other documents, uses words commonly associated with the writing process, the
phrase “as needed” circumscribes “revising” or “rewriting” to acts that are performed
only occasionally, rather than “usually,” as the WPA OS states. According to the
CCRASW, writing is only a process “as needed,” implying that writing generally is not a
process, but something that just happens on demand. Similarly, under the heading “Range
of Writing,” the CCRASW implies process when it states that students should both
“Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision)
and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two).” By including the words
reflection and revision as activities student writers should engage in when writing over
extended time frames, CCRASW begins to describe something akin to the extended,
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multiple-draft process of the WPA OS, as well as the meta-awareness about writing that
the Beliefs encourage. However, by balancing that statement with the phrase “and shorter
time frames,” the CCRASW suggests that writing produced in a single sitting is as likely
for a college student as writing that occurs over an extended time frame. In other words,
the CCRASW suggests that writing as a process and writing single drafts in one sitting
are of equal value and importance to the college-readiness of students, a notion
completely absent from the WPA OS and the Beliefs.
Perhaps the CCRASW argues for writing as a process when it states that students
“must have the flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce a high-quality first draft
text under a tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a
piece of writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require it.” That
is, the CCRASW may be saying that students should learn both a process for writing an
on-demand writing task, and a process for writing over a more extended time frame. Here
to, however, this figured world diverges from the others. In the CCRASW, flexibility—a
word also used in the other texts—describes writing that is presumably produced entirely
for assessment purposes (the “high-quality first draft text under a tight deadline”) in the
same manner the other documents describe writing that is produced as part of a process
for any number of possible purposes. In so doing, the CCRASW equates the valued trait
of flexibility with scholastic assessment, rather than with a habit of mind, and of writing,
that can be useful far beyond a testing situation. Further, this statement—the final
sentence on the CCRASW document, a position of prominence and finality that
discourages any discussion of the issue—suggests that the process of writing multiple
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drafts is something of a luxury, only employed when “circumstances encourage or
require” those additional drafts. However, the WPA OS states that once students have a
semester or two of college English, they should “Be aware that it takes multiple drafts to
create and complete a successful text,” arguing that revision of multiple drafts is always
required. High school teachers and students are being told something very different than
college instructors and students about an aspect of the teaching and learning of writing
that NCTE views as essential.
Interestingly, NCTE clarified its position on writing as a process in an early report
to the CCSS. Responding to the lack of discussion of writing as a process in the new
standards, the NCTE Review Team observed that “Effective writers go through stages in
order to complete a piece of writing, moving fluidly through them, in an order that
matches the purpose of the writing and needs of the writer,” and that “If these standards
are meant to guide teachers and administrators, they must address what should be taught,
not simply what is easy to assess.” Here, NCTE suggests a reason why the writing
process, so prominent in the WPA OS and the Beliefs, is not an integral aspect of the
CCSS: it is easier to administer large-scale assessments of writing through on-demand
writing tests. NCTE further argues for the inclusion of writing as a process in the CCSS
when it states “Although assessing process is difficult and involves investment, these
standards are not being advertised as standards for assessment but standards for
learning,” adding that the exclusion of process “misrepresent[s] the nature of
composition” (National Council of Teachers of English, Review Team 8). This
“misrepresentation” creates a figured world of writing that does not align with college
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expectations for writing, as the CCSS purports to do. Whether for ease of standardized
testing, for lack of research and understanding, or from a pedagogical belief contrary to
the prevailing one among composition professionals, writing as a process has been
deliberately excluded from the document that represents the nation’s most comprehensive
educational reform, and, as a result, from the figured world of public school teachers and
students. Since high school students will be moving into the college figured world that
does value writing process, it is difficult to see how the CCRASW can call itself a
document of college-readiness.
Belief: Writing is a Social and Political Process
In addition to emphasizing writing as a process, the NCTE Beliefs statement
describes writing as a social and political activity in two of the beliefs: “Writing has a
complex relationship to talk,” and “Literate practices are embedded in complicated social
relationships.” According to NCTE, “writing exists in a nest of talk,” suggesting that it
does not merely transfer from the thoughts of the writer to the written text, and from the
eyes of the reader to the reader’s thoughts, but rather is developed, composed, and
understood within and through verbal interactions throughout the process. In addition,
NCTE claims “writing happens in the midst of a web of relationships” and can never be
separated from the “power relationships built into the writing situation.” Thus, a writer’s
or reader’s ethnicity, first language, social status, gender or sexual identity, and so on,
must be understood as a feature of her literate life, affecting her acquisition and use of
reading and writing. In other words, writing and writers do not exist outside of the social
and political world in which they live. The WPA OS does not devote a specific section of
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the text to the issue of writing as a social process; however, this idea does appear under
the two sub-headings, Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing and Processes. Students
are expected to “understand the relationships among language, knowledge, and power,” a
connection reflective of the belief that “power relationships” are an inextricable
component of writing. While the WPA OS states that students should “understand” the
workings of power in writing, some researchers have found that it also ignores the
classroom reality of those workings in the lives of multilingual students and others who
have been labeled “basic” writers (Behm et al.). The Beliefs reflects this reality when it
argues that writing, writers, teachers and students all exist in a world “where some
people’s words count more than others, where being heard is more difficult for some
people than others, where some people’s words come true and others’ do not.” However,
while the WPA OS may not be as explicit in its discussion of the political conditions of
writing, it does pay more attention to the idea that writing and writers require social
interaction to develop their work. In fact, by incorporating the social aspects of
composing under the subheading Processes, the WPA OS implicitly argues that writers
cannot compose without working with others. By insisting that students “Understand the
collaborative and social aspects of the writing process,” the WPA OS argues that
collaboration is necessary for successful college writing. In addition, the WPA OS
suggests the places within the writing process where social interaction may be
incorporated when it asks faculty in all disciplines to provide opportunities for writers to
“review work-in-progress in collaborative peer groups for purposes other than writing.”
In other words, a writer needs readers to serve as active participants, responding and
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suggesting, even as she is in the process of composing—not merely as editors for a final
draft. Although the WPA OS does not emphasize the social and political nature of writing
in as detailed a fashion as the Beliefs statement, it illustrates how student interaction
might look in a writing classroom, again building a figured world where talk and
interaction are integral aspects of writing.
The CCRASW, on the other hand, addresses social interaction as part of the
writing process in only one isolated context: technology. Under the subheading
Production and Distribution of Writing, the use of technology in writing is advised in
order to produce, publish, and “interact and collaborate with others.” Later, in the Note at
the bottom of the text, the document claims that students “need to be able to use
technology strategically when creating, refining, and collaborating on writing.” This brief
mention of collaboration is problematic in several ways. First, because of its placement in
a sentence about technology, it suggests that this interaction only occurs within the
electronic environment. While this is certainly a viable possibility for writing
collaboration, it does not reflect the depth and variety of communication that the NCTE
statement “Writing has a complex relationship to talk” suggests. After all, talk takes
many forms, as the Beliefs document goes on to demonstrate. Teachers need “Ways of
setting up and managing student talk in partnerships and groups…establishing a balance
between talk and writing in classroom management…organizing the classroom and/or
schedule to permit individual teacher-student conferences…strategies for deliberate
insertions of opportunities for talk into the writing process...”. These statements illustrate
a figured world in which talk is frequent, varied, and integral to writing. While it may be
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effective in some cases to employ technological means to talk about writing (emails,
message boards, or other forms of electronic feedback), NCTE is describing talk as a
routine practice that takes place throughout the writing process in a wide variety of ways,
a very different view of student collaboration in writing than the CCRASW portrays.
More significantly, however, the CCRASW’s brief nod to collaboration suggests
that it is not a key element in successful writing, thus creating a figured world in which
writing is an essentially isolated task. It is important to note that the CCSS for English
Language Arts does not completely neglect oral communication, as it includes a separate
strand of standards for speaking and listening; however, the exclusion of talk in the
CCRASW creates a misleading separation between these activities that not only
contradicts the Beliefs and the WPA OS, but also distorts the reality of real-world writing,
including workplace writing, where formal and informal conversations about writing
guide the prewriting, drafting, revision, and distribution processes, and where writing is
often a collaborative, rather than an individual, act. Here, the CCRASW’s figured world
of writing is in conflict with both college and career-readiness. And again, in one of its
reports on the draft CCSS, the NCTE Review Team noted this exclusion with concern:
“…communicative competencies, especially in writing and reading, are stated as if they
occur in solitary situations…and without social interaction as a goal. That vision of
literacy ignores the importance of talk as a context for reading and writing and the role of
others in individuals' developments of these skills” (6). NCTE’s figured world of literacy
not only requires social interaction for written products to occur, but recognizes that those
written products are in fact created for the purpose of generating more social interaction.
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But it is a talk-less vision of literacy that the CCRASW presents, further dividing the
figured world of high school English teachers and students from that of their college
counterparts.
Belief: Writing is a Tool for Thinking
The final aspect of the NCTE Beliefs statement I will discuss for this analysis is
“Writing is a tool for thinking.” According to NCTE, “When writers actually write, they
think of things that they did not have in mind before they began writing. The act of
writing generates ideas.” In this figured world of writing, ideas do not exist in a final
version in a writer’s head, awaiting transcription, but rather develop and deepen as the
writing occurs. That is, writing and thinking are inextricably linked in a recursive
relationship—a writer has an idea, begins to write, and finds the idea itself expanded,
contracted, complicated, or simplified by the very act of writing. New and often better
thinking occurs as a byproduct of the act of writing. Therefore, according to NCTE, the
writing process takes on another layer of importance—not only does the process of
writing shape and improve the organization or development of the piece; the process of
writing shapes and improves the very ideas within the piece. The importance of writing
as a tool of thinking is recognized in the WPA OS under the subheading Critical
Thinking, Reading, and Writing. The first point under this subheading is that students
should “Use writing and reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating.”
These four uses for writing—inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating—suggest
that writing is not merely an act of knowledge reproduction, but rather a means to create
new knowledge and ideas: an act of knowledge production. But if writing is to function in
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this manner, a writer must see writing as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
She must allow her research, reading, and writing to lead her into new mental landscapes
which may be very different than the one she imagined at the onset of her writing project.
The WPA OS takes this idea further, stating that faculty throughout the university should
help students learn “the uses of writing as a critical thinking method,” suggesting that
writing should be used to analyze and critique the ideas of others as well as to develop
one’s own ideas. In other words, NCTE and the WPA OS see writing as a metacognitive
tool—a way for students to think about thinking.
Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, the role of thinking in writing and writing in
thinking as described by NCTE and the WPA OS is not present in the CCRASW. In fact,
the words think, thinking, or ideas, words the other documents use in discussing writing
as a tool for thinking, do not appear at all. This divorcing of writing from thought is
especially bizarre in the context of college and career-readiness. It is difficult to imagine
any real world context in which writing and thinking are as completely isolated from one
another as they are in the figured world created by the CCRASW. The only reference to
thinking at all is buried in the Note on range and content of student writing, a small
addendum to the overall document that covers a wide range of writing concerns. Here,
thinking is a past-tense event and one of the ways students use writing: to assert and
defend claims, show their knowledge, and convey “what they have experienced,
imagined, thought, and felt.” These uses of writing echo the old modes of discourse,
which viewed writing as a limited set of writing patterns—argument, description, and so
on—that have long dropped out of currency among composition experts. More
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problematic still, the phrase quoted above does not refer to the cognitive process of
generating new ideas, but rather to the opposite—the cementing of old ones. The word
does not suggest cognition or any act of original perception or reasoning, but instead
describes a writing assignment in which students merely “convey” past thinking. In the
CCRASW figured world, the opportunity that writing provides to deepen understanding
and spark creation is squandered, and the only thinking which is encouraged is deciding
which old thought to regurgitate into a writing assignment. While these uses of writing
may have corollaries in postsecondary classrooms, they have no corollaries within the
WPA OS or NCTE Beliefs document. Instead of focusing on the values, such as critical
thinking, that underpin the figured world of writing as created by writing professionals,
the CCRASW substitutes writing assignments. While the WPA OS addresses
“knowledge, skills, and attitudes” that college students should acquire, and the CCRASW
claims to “define the skills and understandings that all students must demonstrate,” the
latter, by ignoring a skill as foundational as critical thinking, further distances the figured
worlds of writing from one another, and, likewise, high school students from the
expectations of college.
Implications
There are other areas of the CCRASW that align more closely with the WPA OS
than those I have examined here. For example, both acknowledge the importance of the
rhetorical situation in guiding the writing task, both emphasize the importance of writing
conventions, and both include technology as a critical component in twenty-first century
writing. And there are other areas of the Common Core State Standards—such as the use
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of a form of the modes of discourse (what the CCSS calls “text types”) rather than a
more current composition theory, such as genre theory—that are embarrassingly out of
date. But the three aspects of writing I have analyzed here—writing as a process, as a
collaborative activity, and as a tool for thinking—are significant for several reasons.
First, these beliefs are not mere terms to be learned or defined, but rather deep-seated
habits in the way writing is created, used, and perceived. A student who has learned to
write within a figured world in which writing is a solitary activity that produces a single
draft without allowing new thinking to develop has developed habits of mind that will
leave her at best bewildered, at worst handicapped, when entering the college figured
world of writing. But, on a deeper level, the beliefs that writing is a process, that it is
forged within a social context, and that it is a tool for thinking, create a figured world of
writing that allows writing teachers to be writing teachers, and writers to be writers,
rather than test administrators and takers. By restricting and excluding key elements of
the figured world of the college writing community, in fact of the community of writing
teachers at all levels, the Common Core State Standards has created its own figured
world of writing so disconnected from that of college instructors and the WPA OS that
both communities, and worse, new college students, will face even greater challenges in
the transition between high school and college than currently exist. The CCSS could have
been an opportunity to create connections between discourse communities and
educational expectations—to reinforce the figured world created by the NCTE Beliefs
about the Teaching of Writing and the WPA OS. The CCSS could have recognized and
privileged the college figured world of writing—one in which students work
83
collaboratively in a writing process, develop their thinking through writing, and create
knowledge through social interaction—if for no other reason than that is the figured
world in which we want our students to succeed. Instead, however, the CCSS has created
a figured world of writing in which students, in isolation and without the opportunity to
revise, reproduce, rather than produce, knowledge. In so doing, the CCSS has expanded
rather than narrowed the divide between high school and college teachers and students.
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Appendix A
WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition
Adopted by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, April 2000; amended
July 2008.
Introduction
This statement describes the common knowledge, skills, and attitudes sought by firstyear composition programs in American postsecondary education. To some extent,
we seek to regularize what can be expected to be taught in first-year composition; to
this end the document is not merely a compilation or summary of what currently takes
place. Rather, the following statement articulates what composition teachers
nationwide have learned from practice, research, and theory. This document
intentionally defines only "outcomes," or types of results, and not "standards," or
precise levels of achievement. The setting of standards should be left to specific
institutions or specific groups of institutions.
Learning to write is a complex process, both individual and social, that takes
place over time with continued practice and informed guidance. Therefore, it is
important that teachers, administrators, and a concerned public do not imagine that
these outcomes can be taught in reduced or simple ways. Helping students
demonstrate these outcomes requires expert understanding of how students actually
learn to write. For this reason we expect the primary audience for this document to be
well-prepared college writing teachers and college writing program administrators. In
some places, we have chosen to write in their professional language. Among such
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readers, terms such as "rhetorical" and "genre" convey a rich meaning that is not
easily simplified. While we have also aimed at writing a document that the general
public can understand, in limited cases we have aimed first at communicating
effectively with expert writing teachers and writing program administrators.
These statements describe only what we expect to find at the end of first-year
composition, at most schools a required general education course or sequence of
courses. As writers move beyond first-year composition, their writing abilities do not
merely improve. Rather, students' abilities not only diversify along disciplinary and
professional lines but also move into whole new levels where expected outcomes
expand, multiply, and diverge. For this reason, each statement of outcomes for first‐
year composition is followed by suggestions for further work that builds on these
outcomes.
Rhetorical Knowledge
By the end of first year composition, students should

Focus on a purpose

Respond to the needs of different audiences

Respond appropriately to different kinds of rhetorical situations

Use conventions of format and structure appropriate to the rhetorical situation

Adopt appropriate voice, tone, and level of formality

Understand how genres shape reading and writing

Write in several genres
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Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping
students learn

The main features of writing in their fields

The main uses of writing in their fields

The expectations of readers in their fields
Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing
By the end of first year composition, students should

Use writing and reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating

Understand a writing assignment as a series of tasks, including finding,
evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing appropriate primary and secondary
sources

Integrate their own ideas with those of others

Understand the relationships among language, knowledge, and power
Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping
students learn

The uses of writing as a critical thinking method

The interactions among critical thinking, critical reading, and writing

The relationships among language, knowledge, and power in their fields
Processes
By the end of first year composition, students should

Be aware that it usually takes multiple drafts to create and complete a
successful text
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
Develop flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proof-reading

Understand writing as an open process that permits writers to use later
invention and rethinking to revise their work

Understand the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes

Learn to critique their own and others' works

Learn to balance the advantages of relying on others with the responsibility of
doing their part

Use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences
Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping
students learn

To build final results in stages

To review work-in-progress in collaborative peer groups for purposes other
than editing

To save extensive editing for later parts of the writing process

To apply the technologies commonly used to research and communicate
within their fields
Knowledge of Conventions
By the end of first year composition, students should

Learn common formats for different kinds of texts

Develop knowledge of genre conventions ranging from structure and
paragraphing to tone and mechanics

Practice appropriate means of documenting their work
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
Control such surface features as syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling
Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping
students learn

The conventions of usage, specialized vocabulary, format, and documentation
in their fields

Strategies through which better control of conventions can be achieved
Composing in Electronic Environments
As has become clear over the last twenty years, writing in the 21st century involves
the use of digital technologies for several purposes, from drafting to peer reviewing to
editing. Therefore, although the kinds of composing processes and texts expected
from students vary across programs and institutions, there are nonetheless common
expectations.
By the end of first year composition, students should:

Use electronic environments for drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and
sharing texts

Locate, evaluate, organize, and use research material collected from electronic
sources, including scholarly library databases; other official databases (e.g.,
federal government databases); and informal electronic networks and internet
sources

Understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the
affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and
texts
89
Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping
students learn

How to engage in the electronic research and composing processes common
in their fields

How to disseminate texts in both print and electronic forms in their field
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Appendix B
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (CCRASW)
The grades 6–12 standards on the following pages define what students should
understand and be able to do by the end of each grade. They correspond to the
College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards below by number. The CCR
and grade-specific standards are necessary complements—the former providing broad
standards, the latter providing additional specificity—that together define the skills
and understandings that all students must demonstrate.
Text Types and Purposes*
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts,
using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and
information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and
analysis of content.
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective
technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and
style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting,
or trying a new approach.
91
6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to
interact and collaborate with others.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused
questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the
credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding
plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection,
and research.
Range of Writing
10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and
revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks,
purposes, and audiences.
Note on range and content of student writing
For students, writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what
they know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, imagined,
thought, and felt. To be college and career ready writers, students must take task,
purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information,
structures, and formats deliberately. They need to know how to combine elements of
different kinds of writing—for example, to use narrative strategies within argument
and explanation within narrative—to produce complex and nuanced writing. They
92
need to be able to use technology strategically when creating, refining, and
collaborating on writing. They have to become adept at gathering information,
evaluating sources, and citing material accurately, reporting findings from their
research and analysis of sources in a clear and cogent manner. They must have the
flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce high-quality first draft texts under a
tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a piece of
writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require.
*These broad types of writing include many subgenres. See Appendix A for
definitions of key writing types.
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Appendix C
NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing (edited by author)
by the Writing Study Group of the NCTE Executive Committee, November 2004
Just as the nature of and expectation for literacy has changed in the past century and a
half, so has the nature of writing. Much of that change has been due to technological
developments, from pen and paper, to typewriter, to word processor, to networked
computer, to design software capable of composing words, images, and sounds. These
developments not only expanded the types of texts that writers produce, they also
expanded immediate access to a wider variety of readers. With full recognition that
writing is an increasingly multifaceted activity, we offer several principles that should
guide effective teaching practice.
Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help
students become better writers
Though poets and novelists may enjoy debating whether or not writing can be taught,
teachers of writing have more pragmatic aims. Setting aside the question of whether one
can learn to be an artistic genius, there is ample empirical evidence that anyone can get
better at writing, and that what teachers do makes a difference in how much students are
capable of achieving as writers. Developing writers require support. This support can best
come through carefully designed writing instruction oriented toward acquiring new
strategies and skills. Certainly, writers can benefit from teachers who simply support and
give them time to write. However, instruction matters. Teachers of writing should be
well-versed in composition theory and research, and they should know methods for
94
turning that theory into practice. When writing teachers first walk into classrooms, they
should already know and practice good composition. However, much as in doctoring,
learning to teach well is a lifetime process, and lifetime professional development is the
key to successful practice. Students deserve no less.
People learn to write by writing
As is the case with many other things people do, getting better at writing requires doing it
–a lot. This means actual writing, not merely listening to lectures about writing, doing
grammar drills, or discussing readings. The more people write, the easier it gets and the
more they are motivated to do it. Writers who write a lot learn more about the process
because they have had more experience inside it. Writers learn from each session with
their hands on a keyboard or around a pencil as they draft, rethink, revise, and draft again.
Thinking about how to make your writing better is what revision is. In other words,
improvement is built into the experience of writing.
Writing is a process
Often, when people think of writing, they think of texts—finished pieces of writing.
Understanding what writers do, however, involves thinking not just about what texts look
like when they are finished but also about what strategies writers might employ to
produce those texts. Knowledge about writing is only complete with understanding the
complex of actions in which writers engage as they produce texts. Such understanding
has two aspects. First is the development, through extended practice over years, of a
repertory of routines, skills, strategies, and practices, for generating, revising, and editing
different kinds of texts. Second is the development of reflective abilities and meta-
95
awareness about writing. This procedural understanding helps writers most when they
encounter difficulty, or when they are in the middle of creating a piece of writing. How
does someone get started? What do they do when they get stuck? How do they plan the
overall process, each section of their work, and even the rest of the sentence they are
writing right now? Research, theory, and practice over the past 40 years has produced a
richer understanding of what writers do -- those who are proficient and professional as
well as those who struggle.
Two further points are vital. To say that writing is a process is decidedly not to
say that it should—or can—be turned into a formulaic set of steps. Experienced writers
shift between different operations according to tasks and circumstances. Second, writers
do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for all. They develop and refine
writing skills throughout their writing lives.
Writing is a tool for thinking
When writers actually write, they think of things that they did not have in mind before
they began writing. The act of writing generates ideas. This is different from the way we
often think of writers -- as getting ideas fixed in their heads before they write them down.
The notion that writing is a medium for thought is important in several ways. It suggests
a number of important uses for writing: to solve problems, to identify issues, to construct
questions, to reconsider something one had already figured out, to try out a half-baked
idea. This insight that writing is a tool for thinking helps us to understand the process of
drafting and revision as one of exploration and discovery, and is nothing like transcribing
from pre-recorded tape. The writing process is not one of simply fixing up the mistakes in
96
an early draft, but of finding more and more wrinkles and implications in what one is
talking about.
Writing grows out of many different purposes
Purposes for writing include developing social networks; engaging in civic discourse;
supporting personal and spiritual growth; reflecting on experience; communicating
professionally and academically; building relationships with others, including friends,
family, and like-minded individuals; and engaging in aesthetic experiences. Writing is
not just one thing. It varies in form, structure, and production process according to its
audience and purpose. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different
again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead up to these varied kinds
of texts can also vary widely, from the quick single draft email to a friend to the careful
drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and forms both grow
out of and create various relationships between the writer and the potential reader, and
relationships reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about
what knowledge and experience is already shared, and what needs to be explained.
Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses her attention on what the
audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information
she is organizing, or on her own thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, the
procedures, and the physical format in writing all differ when writers’ purposes vary.
Conventions of finished and edited texts are important to readers and therefore to writers
Readers expect writing to conform to their expectations, to match the conventions
generally established for public texts. Contemporary readers expect words to be spelled
97
in a standardized way, for punctuation to be used in predictable ways, for usage and
syntax to match that used in texts they already acknowledge as successful. They expect
the style in a piece of writing to be appropriate to its genre and social situation. In other
words, it is important that writing that goes public be “correct.”
Writing and reading are related
Writing and reading are related. People who read a lot have a much easier time getting
better at writing. In order to write a particular kind of text, it helps if the writer has read
that kind of text. In order to take on a particular style of language, the writer needs to
have read that language, to have heard it in her mind, so that she can hear it again in order
to compose it. Writing can also help people become better readers. In their earliest
writing experiences, children listen for the relationships of sounds to letters, which
contributes greatly to their phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge. Writers also
must learn how texts are structured, because they have to create them. The experience of
plotting a short story, organizing a research report, or making line breaks in a poem
permits the writer, as a reader, to approach new reading experiences with more informed
eyes. Additionally, reading is a vital source of information and ideas. For writers fully to
contribute to a given topic or to be effective in a given situation, they must be familiar
with what previous writers have said. Reading also creates a sense of what one's audience
knows or expects on a topic.
Writing has a complex relationship to talk
From its beginnings in early childhood through the most complex setting imaginable,
writing exists in a nest of talk. Conversely, speakers usually write notes and, regularly,
98
scripts, and they often prepare visual materials that include texts and images. Writers
often talk in order to rehearse the language and content that will go into what they write,
and conversation often provides an impetus or occasion for writing. They sometimes
confer with teachers and other writers about what to do next, how to improve their drafts,
or in order to clarify their ideas and purposes. Their usual ways of speaking sometimes do
and sometimes do not feed into the sentences they write, depending on an intricate set of
decisions writers make continually. One of the features of writing that is most evident
and yet most difficult to discuss is the degree to which it has “voice.” The fact that we
use this term, even in the absence of actual sound waves, reveals some of the special
relationship between speech and writing.
Literate practices are embedded in complicated social relationships
Writing happens in the midst of a web of relationships. There is, most obviously, the
relationship between the writer and the reader. That relationship is often very specific:
writers have a definite idea of who will read their words, not just a generalized notion
that their text will be available to the world. Furthermore, particular people surround the
writer -- other writers, partners in purposes, friends, members of a given community—
during the process of composing. They may know what the writer is doing and be
indirectly involved in it, though they are not the audience for the work. In workplace and
academic settings, writers write because someone in authority tells them to. Therefore,
power relationships are built into the writing situation. In every writing situation, the
writer, the reader, and all relevant others live in a structured social order, where some
people’s words count more than others, where being heard is more difficult for some
99
people than others, where some people’s words come true and others’ do not. Writers
start in different places. It makes a difference what kind of language a writer spoke while
growing up, and what kinds of language they are being asked to take on later in their
experience. It makes a difference, too, the culture a writer comes from, the ways people
use language in that culture and the degree to which that culture is privileged in the larger
society. Important cultural differences are not only ethnic but also racial, economic,
geographical and ideological. For example, rural students from small communities will
have different language experiences than suburban students from comprehensive high
schools, and students who come from very conservative backgrounds where certain texts
are privileged or excluded will have different language experiences than those from
progressive backgrounds where the same is true. How much a writer has access to wide,
diverse experiences and means of communication creates predispositions and skill for
composing for an audience.
Composing occurs in different modalities and technologies
Increasingly rapid changes in technologies mean that composing is involving a
combination of modalities, such as print, still images, video, and sound. Computers make
it possible for these modalities to combine in the same work environment. Connections to
the Internet not only make a range of materials available to writers; they also collapse
distances between writers and readers and between generating words and creating
designs. Print always has a visual component, even if it is only the arrangement of text on
a page and the type font. Furthermore, throughout history, print has often been partnered
with pictures in order to convey more meaning, to add attractiveness, and to appeal to a
100
wider audience. Television, video, and film all involve such combinations, as do websites
and presentation software. As basic tools for communicating expand to include modes
beyond print alone, “writing” comes to mean more than scratching words with pen and
paper. Writers need to be able to think about the physical design of text, about the
appropriateness and thematic content of visual images, about the integration of sound
with a reading experience, and about the medium that is most appropriate for a particular
message, purpose, and audience.
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