The Institute for Writing & Rhetoric at the CCCCs

This year's Conference on College Composition and Communication, the field's premier national conference, was held in Las Vegas, Nevada, with several Institute for Writing & Rhetoric faculty and collaborators serving as contributors.   Institute faculty Sara Chaney, Michelle Cox, Christiane Donahue, and Karen Gocsik, along with Institute collaborators Laura Braunstein (Library) and Cindy Tobery (DCAL), all made valuable contributions to their various panels and workshops—Donahue as a leading scholar in the area of international writing education; Cox as a principal player on matters of multilingual writing instruction; Chaney as an key voice in the research on student writing in the first year; and Gocsik et al as innovators in using wiki technology to observe first-year compositional strategies in the early stages of knowledge construction.

Sara Chaney contributed to the session "Research about First-Year and Multilingual Students. " Her talk, The Davis Study of First-Year Student Writing at Dartmouth, noted patterns that Chaney discovered while reviewing the results of the NSSE (National Survey for Student Engagement), which was given to first-year students as part of a larger study undertaken by the Institute for Writing & Rhetoric with a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation. Focusing on the NSSE questions that were writing-specific, Chaney noted how Writing 2-3 students responded differently from their peers in Writing 5 and the First-year Seminar. In sum, Chaney found that Writing 2-3 students declared more frequent engagement than their peers in the following areas: brainstorming, talking with an instructor to develop ideas, and receiving feedback on a draft. Conversely, Writing 2-3 students were found to engage somewhat less frequently than their peers in proofreading. In Chaney's view, Writing 2-3 students were reporting a first-year learning experience more rooted in social learning. In turn, the students in Writing 5 & the first-year seminars reported an experience more oriented toward correctness. Chaney's talk raised interesting questions about both the social aspects of writing instruction and the habits and dispositions that comprise proofreading, including the question of how writing instructors might socially contextualize those aspects of the writing process—like proofreading—that are typically isolated and autonomous.

Michelle Cox participated at the CCCCs this year as part of a panel entitled, "The Language and Literacy Diversity Project: Using Linguistic Survey Data to Inform Writing Pedagogy, Research on Writing, and Writing Program Assessment." Multilingual students come to college with a variety of linguistic backgrounds and levels of proficiencies, all of which must be taken into account before we can design a curriculum to serve their needs. However, at present, most universities only collect one piece of data related to linguistic diversity: country of origin of international visa students. This data tells us little about the rich linguistic and literacy backgrounds on international students, and ignores the backgrounds of U.S. resident multilingual students. Some universities do collect this type of data, but use homegrown surveys, which provide results that cannot be compared across institutions. This panel argued that what is needed is a national survey instrument that can great a richer picture of the linguistic and literacy diversity of college students. The panel advocated using such a survey as a tool, but raised significant questions about this tool, including: "What do we want to know [from the survey, about multilingual students and their writing]? What kinds of questions, and how many, do we need to ask in order to get accurate and useful information? How do we make sense of the data, and use it to inform decisions in writing program administration? Can we use this data to better design and teach writing courses? How can we use the data as evidence underlying arguments to campus administrators and political actors in the public sphere for resources supporting multilingual writers?" (CCCC Program 2013). Michelle Cox's paper, Revising our Categories: Some Conceptual Questions About Linguistic Diversity and Language Identity, weighed in on these questions by challenging the common categories into which multilingual learners are placed—ESL, Generation 1.5, and so on. Cox finds these categories imprecise and therefore not useful when planning curriculum, designing placement, and making program decisions. Cox argues that survey data can challenge the generalized categories of linguistic practices that universities commonly rely on to place and instruct multilingual students, thereby offering more informed profiles of these students and their needs. (A glossary of terms used to categorize multilingual students, along with a brief demonstration of why these terms are inadequate, can be found here.)

Christiane Donahue participated in three CCCCs events: she co-chaired the day-long workshop, "Diverse Disciplines, 'New" Publics: The Work of International Higher Education Writing Research"; she was a respondent at the roundtable, "'Bowing to the Elders'? New Understandings of Expanded Canons"; and she delivered a paper, Composing-paraphrasing-translating: The (re)Work of Cross-language Research, for the session, "Exploring Cross-Language Work in History, Theory, and Practice: Reworking Languages in Teaching and Research." A summary of her various contributions follows.

  • The Work of International Higher Education Writing Research: This day-long workshop brought together 26 scholars from 15 countries to address the state of writing instruction and writing research, from perspectives both global and local, acknowledging the sharp contrasts among universities around the world while emphasizing their interdependence and shared endeavors.   The group's intention at the CCCCs was to discuss the objects, aims, and methodologies of current international research in order to deepen understanding and to define common ground. The scholars shared samples of their own research in advance of the event, then worked in groups so that scholars would have a chance to "teach" their research to colleagues from other countries, and to situate that research in the context of the ongoing international discussion. Participants were able to challenge assumptions, to negotiate tensions, to share methodologies, to broaden perspectives of the field of international research as it now stands, and to contemplate ways that this research might move forward.
  • 'Bowing to the Elders'? New Understandings of Expanded Canons: At this roundtable, each speaker selected an "elder"—a scholar whose name may not be included in the canon, but whose work should be more carefully considered for the impact it has had, or might have, on composition studies. The speaker's task was to outline how this scholar's work has contributed to his or her own scholarship, and why this scholar deserves broader reconsideration. Donahue chose linguist Frédéric François, whom she deems the single most important French scholar for compositionists to know. Donahue elaborates: "A linguist, [François] developed a way to operationalize Bakhtin/Volosinov's thinking as we analyze texts. He emphasizes everyday texts, including college students' writing, as worthy of such analysis. His approach brings linguistic analysis, often cited as useless to composition studies because [it is] limited to "the text," into the highly contextual domain of language-in-use" (CCCC Program 2013). Donahue further argues that Francois' work demonstrates why linguistics as a field should be more broadly positioned as an "elder" that might inform research in composition.
  • Exploring Cross-Language Work in History, Theory, and Practice: Reworking Languages in Teaching and Research: This session addressed the challenges that scholars face when working across languages, and offered specific strategies for that work. Donahue, who is also on the CCCC Committee on Globalization, presented on Composing-paraphrasing-translating: The (re)Work of Cross-language Research. She argued that both translation and paraphrase are fundamental reworkings that demand to be analyzed with new approaches in the expanding transnational 21st century field of composition. "I believe we need to study language-in-use systematically to get at this complexity," she noted. "Some of the central questions in composition today are wedded to these questions of language that our colleagues in linguistics and modern languages have been exploring for decades." She called the audience to think in terms of meaning-making rather than simply "communication" with scholars in other languages.

Karen Gocsik, along with colleagues Laura Braunstein and Cindy Tobery, presented the session, "Approximating the University: Novices Practicing Knowledge in the Basic Writing Classroom." Beginning with David Bartholomae's idea that students invent the university through successive approximations of its language and practices, the speakers explored the question of what specific approximations students make as they construct new knowledge in a field with which they are not familiar. Mining a long-standing wiki assignment from Gocsik's Writing 2-3, the speakers had examined each version of each class wiki from 2006 to 2012, as archived by the Blackboard wiki function. They then coded these versions in order to determine the compositional, research, and collaborative "moves" that students were making as they attempted to construct knowledge. In their talk, Gocsik, Braunstein, and Tobery were able to address some intriguing questions. Among them: "When writers are engaged in the very first steps of knowledge construction, what writing and research practices do they draw on? What strategies do they employ as they attempt to create a coherent narrative? What strategies are absent from their work? How do students mask inadequacies in their knowledge as they attempt to make their way into academic conversations? Does the collaborative practice of knowledge construction (for instance, the kind of construction that students can enact on new technologies like wikis) enhance or impede early efforts to construct understanding?" (CCCC Program 2013). The speakers ended their sessions by inviting the audience to consider how the data gathered from the wiki might inform teaching.