Re imagining composition courses in light of best research based practices
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Re-Imagining Composition Courses In Light of Best Research-Based Practices. Elizabeth Wardle Director of Composition Associate Chair for Writing Outreach Programs Dept of Writing and Rhetoric University of Central Florida [email protected] Questions for You.

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Re-Imagining Composition Courses In Light of Best Research-Based Practices

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Re-Imagining Composition Courses In Light of Best Research-Based Practices

Elizabeth Wardle

Director of Composition

Associate Chair for Writing Outreach Programs

Dept of Writing and Rhetoric

University of Central Florida

[email protected]

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Questions for You

  • How satisfied are you with your students’ writing abilities?

  • How many writing or writing intensive courses are students at your school required to take?

  • Do students at your institution write regularly in many of theircollegecourses, with some opportunities for revision and feedback?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Today’s Talk

  • Why writing instruction seems to be failing our students

  • How we can do better

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Why Can’t Students Write?

  • The Harvard origins of first-year composition

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

The “Writing Paradigm that Fails Us”


  • That one course “fixes all”

  • That writing is a “basic skill”

  • That writing can be taught by anyone, even by people who don’t want to teach it, aren’t qualified to teach it, and don’t get paid a living wage to teach it

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

What Would Work Better?

  • Some common sense questions:

    • How do you learn to write well?

    • How do you learn to do anything well?

    • How do you learn to write something new?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

We Don’t Design Writing Curricula and Structures Based on What We Know to be True About Writing

  • If producing effective student writers for the complexities of the 21st century is a priority

  • Then we need to treat writing like a priority

  • And create more effective writing structures and courses

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Questions for You

  • If you are an upper administrator, consider the last time you spoke at length with a composition teacher or the director of the writing program?

  • If you are a writing faculty member, when was the last time you spoke at length with an upper administrator about your teaching and your program?

  • If you are a faculty member from another department, when was the last time that you spoke with a writing faculty member in an engaged way about student writing in your own course and left with ideas for how to improve it?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

II. In Search of a New Paradigm for Writing Instruction

  • Collaborative changes at UCF

  • The initial pilot project

  • Assessing the president’s pilot investment

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Assessment Results

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

The New Research-Based Model of Writing Instruction

  • Tenured or tenure track writing scholars to innovate best practices

  • Stable labor model for first-year composition & rigorous composition curriculum (Entry point)

  • Writing across the curriculum (Continued experience)

  • Writing center (Support for students)

  • Writing minor, certificate, major; graduate writing certificate; MA in Rhetoric & Composition (Opportunities for intensive study)

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

What Should Composition Courses Do—And Why Is That So Hard?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

First-Year Composition Courses Have Been…

  • teaching out of the “common sense” view of writing, not out of research-based best practices

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

First-Year Composition Courses Should Be…

  • Teaching both procedural (how to) and declarative (about) writing knowledge to encourage transfer and rhetorical dexterity

  • Teaching meta-awareness and reflection about writing to encourage transfer

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Why Can’t Composition Courses Just Start Teaching From the Research?

Very often, composition teachers do not have the disciplinary expertise in writing studies to teach writing most effectively

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

To Help Composition Faculty Teach From the Research We Must…

  • Treat adjuncts like professionals.

  • Change faculty attitudes about writing scholarship

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Informing Composition with Research at UCF Entailed:

  • Removing the composition program from English

  • Replacing 33 adjuncts with 18 full-time, non-tenure track faculty over 4 years

  • Expecting all 11 tenured/tenure track writing scholars to teach composition and engage in discussions of research with the non-tenure track instructors

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Protecting the Money for Writing Instruction

  • President Hitt designated the new funding so that it could not be re-appropriated by the English Department or our College for other purposes.

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Questions for You

  • What is your writing process like?

  • How much time do you spend writing, what kind of resources do you use, how many revisions do you do?

  • What “trusted readers” give you feedback?

    Talk with your group and compare notes on this. Consider the writing contexts we give to many of our students: timed writing tests, or two weeks to write a research paper. How do these contexts and subsequent processes compare with your own?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Composition Understood Differently: Writing-about-Writing

The guiding assumption:

Since we can’t teach students exactly how to write everything they will ever need to write (since conventions vary), we should teach them how to learn about how to write.

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Composition Understood Differently: Writing-about-Writing

The Content:

  • Texts/Constructs: How Do Readers Read and Writers Write?

  • Writing Processes: How Do You Write?

  • Literacies: How Have You Become the reader and Writer You are Today?

  • Discourses: How Do Communities Shape Writing?

  • Authority: How Do You Make Yourself Heard as a College Writer?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

What Writing-about- Writing Composition Courses Assume

  • Students have to write differently in different writing situations

  • Expertise in a particular genre and context is only gained within that context

  • If students understand how writing works, how they and others go about writing, and what questions to ask when they encounter a new writing situation, they are more likely to succeed.

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

What Writing-about-Writing Courses Require of Composition Faculty

  • Becoming familiar with writing research and best practices

  • Constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of their teaching content and practices

  • Participating in teacher training first and then in ongoing professional development

    • We are making our teacher training publicly accessible through the Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant

    • 6-week training plus resource site on BB’s free CourseSites

    • Interested? Email me: [email protected]

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

What Writing-about-Writing Assumes About the Rest of the Curriculum

  • More writing is to come in students’ college careers

  • Faculty in those subsequent courses have the support they need to assign, respond to, and assess that writing

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

In Conclusion:The Solution to the Writing Problem

  • Invest in writing teachers and writing curricula

  • Expect all faculty to share in the responsibilities for helping students write

  • Support both teachers and students in their writing efforts

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

10 Questions To Ask On Your Own Campus

About Your First-Year Composition Program

  • Where is the composition program housed and why is it housed there?

  • What are the qualifications of those who run the writing program, what expertise do they have in Composition and Rhetoric, and what is their typical rank?

  • Who does the composition program serve? Whose graduate students does it support, for whom does it produce student credit hours, are resources returned to it in appropriate amounts given its credit hour production and role in the GEP?

  • Who staffs most of the composition courses? What is their expertise in writing? What are they paid? How often does the staff change? What professional development is offered to them?

  • What institutional incentives are there for writing specialists to spend time working with faculty across the curriculum on issues related to student writing?

  • How is writing assessed?

    About Student Writing Across the Curriculum

  • What are the desired outcomes for student writing on your campus? What evidence do you have that these outcomes are being achieved?

  • What organized opportunities do students have to write regularly throughout their career college or university?

  • What institutional incentives are there for faculty from all disciplines to include writing in their courses?

  • What support do faculty from all disciplines have when they want to assign and assess student writing in their courses?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Resources to Help You

  • Council of Writing Program Administrators (

    • Consultant-Evaluator Service

    • Writing Assessment Resources

    • Journal

  • Comppile(

    • Searchable database of composition-related research

    • Research bibliographies on common topics in writing instruction and administration

    • CompFAQs—discussions of common questions related to writing instruction and administration

  • UCF’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric (

  • Writing about Writing Composition Courses

    • Wardle, Elizabeth and Doug Downs. Writing about Writing: A College Reader. Bedford/St Martin’s, 2010.

    • Writing about Writing teacher training and resource site on Blackboard’s CourseSites. Funded by the Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant. For access, email Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

Questions & Discussion?

Elizabeth Wardle [email protected]

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