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Teaching WID courses for transfer Writing Instruction in the Disciplines Western Illinois University. Neil Baird & Bradley Dilger. Today’s talk. Definitions & background: Writing transfer and the metaphors of transfer; Negotiation, ownership, and ease.

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Teaching WID coursesfor transferWriting Instruction in the DisciplinesWestern Illinois University

Neil Baird & Bradley Dilger

today s talk
Today’s talk
  • Definitions & background:
    • Writing transferand the metaphors of transfer;
    • Negotiation, ownership, and ease.
  • Four stories: Ford, Mitchell, Nicholas & Elbow.
  • Implications for WID instruction.
  • Discussion!
    • We welcome questions about research design and methods, future work, and our bibliography.
methods see handout for more
Methods (see handout for more)
  • Multi-year, interview-driven case study targeting barriers to writing transfer.
  • Focus on writing in the major, especially WID.
  • Data collection from Fall 2011 to Spring 2014.
  • Grant funding:
    • WIU Office of Sponsored Projects;
    • CCCC Research Initiative;
    • CWPA Targeted Research Grant.
defining transfer
Defining transfer
  • Writing skills, experience and knowledge native to one context motivated* in another
  • Requires negotiation—identity, conflict, ownership, difficulty
  • Researchers recognize transfer is often mindful, requiring considerable effort

*Next slide

metaphors for transfer
Metaphors for transfer
  • Language we use to describe writing-related actions often shapes them. This continuum moves from a simple, uncomplicated vision of transfer to more complexity.
    • Application or transportation;
    • Transition or integration;
    • Repurposing, re-engineering, or remixing;
    • Negotiation or accommodation;
    • Translation or transformation;
    • Recontextualization.
transfer influences
Transfer influences
  • Three critical concepts from prior work shape our understanding of writing and focus our investigation of transfer:
    • Negotiation: How do writers resolve differences with prior skills, experience and knowledge? How do they approach conflict with others?
    • Ease: What habits of mind help writers understand and confront complexity and difficulty?
    • Ownership: Do writers seek to maintain control of their writing? If so, how?
balancing contexts individuals
Balancing contexts & individuals
  • We use activity theory to understand the contexts in which our participants write:
    • Tools, subject, outcomes & objectives;
    • Rules, community, division of labor.
  • Dispositions offer us a way to understand individual influences:
    • Positive (generative) or disruptive (negative).
    • Expectancy, self-efficacy, attribution, self-regulation.
  • Balancing these concerns is actively discussed in our field.


  • Continuing generation, white, male
  • Completed composition requirement at WIU; few courses from community college
  • Music therapy major (Fall 2011)
  • Music major (now)
  • Multiple internship experiences
    • Clinical practicum in music therapy
    • Undergraduate research in methods courses
mitchell s wid course
Mitchell’s WID Course
  • “Leonard Fite” on teaching WID:
    • “There isn’t as much time to [teach writing] at the undergraduate level because there is just so much anthology material to get through.”
    • “I would like more of the writing preparation stuff to actually go earlier because my class is a history class not a . . . I mean . . . I’d like some of those skills foregrounded when we already have a preparation class.”
ease structures fite s approach
Ease structures Fite’s approach:
  • Writing instruction is relegated to a handout
  • Offers students a list of topics
  • Does the research for his students
mitchell s disposition shift
Mitchell’s disposition shift
  • “I’m putting more effort into the courses I didn’t like, such as Theory of Oral Skills.  My freshman and sophomore and even my junior year I was frustrated with it, and I didn’t like the course; therefore, I wasn’t putting much effort into it. Now, it’s like ok, it’s making some sense, and I just want to understand more. I’m trying to transfer and learn the more functional skills that I need to have for my career because I was treating most everything as a class and an assignment that has a due date and once that due date is met I don’t need that information anymore.  Now, every single course and every single activity that I will do is designed to help me become board certified.”
a new identity narrated
A new identity narrated
  • “After my name it will say MT-BC (music therapist, board certified). I’ve had that change of thinking and that really impacts everything else.”
a good start
A good start…
  • Develops research questions, survey instrument, recruitment procedures quickly
  • Eager to do work
    • “It’s like the hamster on the wheel. I can’t get it off my mind, and now I’m to the point where I am excited to start looking for literature because once I find literature I have candy to feast on!”
  • Plans to present at undergraduate research day then regional conference
but problems develop
…but problems develop
  • IRB approval bogs down (16 week timeframe)
  • Data collection, analysis, write-up rushed
  • Mitchell loses engagement but seems invested on the long term
    • “Last semester was brutal. I’ll just put that out there. That last couple of weeks I wanted it to be done. You got that journal entry of me ranting and how I was just sick of the research project and all that. By the end, it became an assignment. I didn’t like that feeling.”
mitchell s response to dual exigencies
Mitchell’s response to dual exigencies
  • Mitchell’s response to the literature review:
    • “I mean I knew this type of research could go into a professional article, but I didn’t really feel clear cut who I was writing for because I also know my professor is on an editorial board for a journal. . . . I never really felt like I knew who I was writing for; hence, in my review of literature, I’m explaining what music therapy is and all this stuff that I’m told that once I got it back.”
mitchell applies general writing skills
Mitchell applies general writing skills
  • Neil: But, there are other ways of representing research.  I’m wondering why you chose short quotes from respondents.
  • Mitchell: I’m just going to be bluntly honest with you.  I’m a big fan of how I’ve been taught how to write ever since I was really young.  You start with your topic sentence, you support that, you give evidence, and then you elaborate.
can t shed student identity
Can’t shed student identity
  • Mitchell fails to take up researcher identity
  • Gives up control of research
    • Does not perform requested revisions to lit review
    • Visits office hours, instructor codes data quickly, he adopts that reading
  • Frustration, anxiety
    • “I wasn’t thinking about undergraduate research day and how I can make this better … because I pretty much have to redo a fair amount of this paper … and that kind of scares me.”


  • First generation, white, male.
  • Transfer from community college.
  • Law enforcement & justice admin (LEJA) major.
  • Multiple internship experiences.
  • Through internship, gets part time in corrections.
  • Opens gun shop when passed for permanent job.
  • Currently works in asset protection (loss prevention) for “Bigstore,” a Fortune 500 retailer.
  • Very mature, driven. Married with one child.
high value on work experiences
High value on work experiences
  • Wife’s experience and knowledge: “Yeah, she’s a cop’s daughter, and she comes from a family of cops. To her it’s second-nature. A lot of the sub-culture stuff she knows better than I do, which is helpful.”
  • Multiple forms of internships
    • Part time work in gun shops
    • Ridealongs with many law enforcement agencies
    • Formal internship as part of LEJA major
    • Part time job as corrections officer
values real world over academic
Values “real world” over academic
  • “He’s got a lot of experience. I really like him as a professor. We learned a lot from him. He’s got experience. Dr. Kato was a cop for ten years, that carries a little bit more. Versus a PhD in basket-weaving, I have no clue.”
  • “Some of these other instructors have a PhD, but they are dumb as a box of rocks. They can’t even open their own car door.”
gun shops offer complexity
Gun shops offer complexity
  • “In high school and community college, I worked in a gun shop. A lot of law enforcement stuff, FBI, Secret Service. I knew everybody. If you talk to enough people, you see the different sides of it.”
  • “In class it’s real clear-cut. You start talking to all kinds of people, and it’s much more broad and much more abstract. Stuff is not all clear-cut or the same all the time.Every situation is different.”
masters but rejects school genres
Masters but rejects school genres
  • Final paper for WID class is 9-page 5-paragraph essay which earns A grade—but is not valued:
    • “When I’m on the job, I’m never going to write another research paper again. You aren’t going to use a research paper to help the community.”
    • “This instructor wants a research paper. The others want something less formal. So they can understand the idea without having to be as black and white.”
    • “I don’t like the cookie cutter aspect,trying to relate everything on a surface level.”
internship reports as police reports
Internship reports as police reports…
  • Modeled on police reports, not samples provided by faculty supervisor:
    • “It’s not about making a paper flow. It’s about getting the facts down in the order they happen. Establish probable cause and go from there.”
    • “My [site] supervisor has been really good giving me a lot of feedback which is nice. If he wasn’t pointing me in the right direction, I probably wouldn’t know where I was going.”
but school genres persist
… but school genres persist.
  • Tricolons of five paragraphs essay (emphasized)
    • “Upon arrival to the home, we noticed (1) a white Vette in the driveway, (2) a large pile of garbage on the back lawn, and (3) an infrared camera focused on the back door. (1) No one answered the door, (2) all of the blinds were pulled shut on all the windows, and (3) some were boarded up. The neighbor lady across the alley called to us and said she had some information for us. She invited us into her home and said that she (1) thought they were selling drugs, (2) gave us vehicle descriptions, and (3) gave us a summary of activity she had seen.”
negotiating and the gun shop
Negotiating and the gun shop
  • “So now I’m a lawyer, accountant, tax guy, [laughs] entrepreneur, slash everything. [laughs]. I’ve done some pretty extensive learning in those fields.”
  • “I don’t expect somebody to do a drive-by with a rifle from the 1800s. But, that’s not the point. A dude tried to argue with me this morning, I said, ‘Fine, don’t bid on it.’ And I blocked him. I’m not gonna argue.”
new job brings new contexts
New job brings new contexts
  • “Just trying to protect the assets of the company, whether it be financial or inventory or personnel.”
  • “It’s really kind of a new thing for me. The biggest thing I’ve been trying to learn is the Bigstore way of doing things, trying to get familiar with the way they do stuff.”
  • “The law enforcement background definitely helps. You know, relating back to a lot of what I learned at Western, I couldn’t really know it was gonna help.”
ford conclusions
  • Successes:
    • Full time job in field;
    • Builds on transfer-friendly disposition with sophisticated approach to ownership, negotiation;
    • Demonstrates flexibility, genre awareness.
  • Failures:
    • Sees little value in much of his education;
    • Not enough exchange between classroom and work-oriented learning contexts.
comparing nicholas with elbow
Comparing Nicholas with Elbow

First generation and transfer students

  • One parent has some college; one parent did not finish high school.
  • Double major: communication and recreation, parks, & tourism administration (RPTA).
  • Identifies as “mixed” — “Black, White, and Mexican.”
  • Plans career in event planning; was considering graduate school in communication.
  • Graduated in Spring 2012; has not participated in the study since that time.
nicholas and student organizations
Nicholas and student organizations
  • “Student organizations are my life . . . My organizations on campus help me with the ultimate college experience. You can’t just go to school, write some papers, and thinkyou will be able to go out and be a CEO of a company. You need to take a leadership position, you need to lead others, you need to follow others and see examples of other leaders around you.”
nicholas on negotiation
Nicholas on negotiation
  • “I know that I can let you know how I feel and let you know what I think is the best idea, but at the same time if you guys are overruling me, I’m going to sit back and watch you fail.”
  • “It was easier for me to not stress myself out and try to prove my point when I knew it would be proven eventually anyways.”
  • “As much as I see group work is important sometimes I need to make sure I am more effective than timely.”
nicholas s definition of success
Nicholas’s definition of success
  • Neil: “You consider yourself a reallygood writer.”
  • Nicholas: “I’ve never gotten anything lower than a low B.”
  • Nicholas: “I don’t care what you want in this paper. I just really want to figure out what you want as an ‘A.’ Whatever you need me to do to get an ‘A,’ I will. So I sat down and talked to the teachers and figured it out myself and got a 25/30, by myself.”
nicholas and collaboration
Nicholas and collaboration
  • “RPTA is collaborative. With RPTA it’s not who’s above you and how you communicate, it’s ‘This is a group and we need to figure out how to make everybody happy. We are going to do this together.’ A lot of RPTA classes are about tourism and travel, and they don’t focus on one individual; they focus on a group of people. With RPTA, it’s about the bigger group itself.”
  • Forensic chemistry major, was double major (clinical laboratory science) when entering the study in Fall 2012.
  • Transferred to WIU in Fall 2011 from Illinois community college.
  • Parents are Mexican immigrants, one with high school diploma, one only some high school.
  • Graduated in Spring 2013, beginning internship in clinical laboratory science in Summer 2013.
elbow describes his father s influence
Elbow describes his father’s influence
  • “My parents … said I was going to college, whether I like it or not. I had to get an education. My dad, as a cabinet-maker, he’s just wasting away. He’s just so tired. His body hurts. His knees hurt. He had to have surgery and is on this medication.”
  • “He’s always pushed me and offered whatever way he can help. Emotionally. Physically by helping me move in. He’s helped me a lot financially with room and board.”
elbow s instructor the role of writing
Elbow’s instructor: the role of writing
  • “You have to be able to go out in your field and write a paper people aren’t going to laugh at. So, I said students need to write lab reports to reflect that. I had no idea what the rest of the department did, and nobody really helped me.”
  • “I assigned the first lab report, and there was a pretty big upheaval. Students said, ‘Whoa! We don’t have to do this. This is way too much work.’ I replied, ‘Well, that’s too bad. This is the way it’s going to be. We’re going to do it this way.’ The chair was very supportive. She thought it was a great idea. Other faculty members just kind of rolled their eyes.”
elbow and identity
Elbow and identity
  • “It was a little mixture of student and technician because the lab was done for my classes here in college. At the same time, I could see myself doing this in a lab.”
  • “I think a technician has more of a responsibility to get things right, because especially in forensics you are dealing with people’s lives.”
  • “As a researcher, if you mess up, you are only really hurting yourself because you’re devaluing only your work. It doesn’t really affect too many other people.”
elbow s response to difficulty
Elbow’s response to difficulty
  • Collects journal articles which address topic.
  • Recognizes differences between olderand more recent articles.
  • Finds it “stressful” to resolve differences between older articles, newer articles, cookbook labs, and “the way teacher likes it”—but recognizes them as legitimate.
  • Lab report calls on mix of these “ways of thinking … running through his head.”
implications for transfer overall
Implications for transfer overall
  • Talk about transfer, dispositions, and writing explicitly and using disciplinary language.
  • Teach professional genres and discuss their connections to past and future writing experiences and practices.
  • Provide meaningful access to relevant professional contexts.
  • Know who your students really are.
talk explicitly about transfer
Talk explicitly about transfer
  • Admit the difficulty of learning how to write—share your experiences!
  • Discuss ways writing is shaped by your discipline: writing processes, community values, writing styles, typical forms of evidence.
  • Don’t present general writing skills and styles as discipline-specific.
  • Don’t focus on content or correctness so much there’s no time to talk about transfer.
teach professional genres
Teach professional genres
  • Be an active researcher or practitioner who can talk about your field and genres important for both research and practice.
  • Foster transfer-oriented thinking by discussing past & future genres explicitly.
  • Don’t teach only school genres (research papers, writing to learn).
  • Challenge students who employ forms or conventions not recognized by your field.
meaningful access to professional contexts
Meaningful access to professional contexts
  • Help students access professional contexts; discuss how they are shaped.
  • Position students so they experience professional contexts with support that facilitates learning.
    • Work-to-learn experiences are valuable but must be properly supported!
    • Wenger calls this “legitimate peripheral participation.”
  • Discuss professional contexts early and often—not only in practica or field work.
know who your students really are
Know who your students really are
  • Know how things are going in your classroom and be willing to change.
  • Understand students in their complexities.
    • Don’t pigeon hole students into faux disciplinary ways of thinking;
    • Help students with different focuses determine the strategies, content,and approaches relevant for them.
  • Pay really close attention to how students describe themselves as writers.
thank you
Thank you

Neil Baird ~ ~ 309-255-7103Bradley Dilger ~ ~ 309-259-0328