Posted in CBW 2011, History of Basic Writing, What's New in Basic Writing

Mary Soliday: History of Basic Writing

Mary Soliday kicked off today’s 2011 CBW conference, “We Are Not Along” with a wonderful presentation on the history of basic writing. She focused on the tension between two paths in basic writing:

the well-worn institutional path


the “vibrant path of choice”

Too often, basic writing courses follow the well-worn institutional path instead of writing that truly engages students in their own writing. As we know, basic writing is often at the margins of other work in the college/university. When basic writing is situated in an English Department it is marginalized as a service to the department rather than as a vibrant place for meaningful work. How do we shift this to a collective responsibility?

Studies have shown that students invest time and effort into writing outside of class when they find it meaningful in their own lives. How do we create curriculum and assignments that are student centered to really engage students?

The stretch model critiques the dual-model of basic writing; it focuses on reshaping the institution rather than the students and the teachers. Learning communities, stretch models, student self-directed placement, and digital literacies are among the many possibilities for creatively including basic writers in the college/university.

Basic writing should become another appropriate entry path that students choose. Traditional remediation has outlived its strategic use and purpose. So, let’s let students pick their topics, their books their passions. Let’s connect basic writing to literature, to general education, to libraries, to instructional technology, to be shared by all as a common vision for the future of basic writing.

Key Questions:

  • Is basic writing increasingly disconnected from rhetoric & composition?
  • Why is basic writing often separated from writing classes? From WAC?
  • Why do basic writing courses often give students little choice about their writing?
  • How do we engage students in writing to their passions?
  • What are our aims, motives, and purpose for basic writing?
  • How can basic writing become a shared goal in our institutions?
  • What is the relationship between social justice and remediation?

Read more of Soliday’s work in The Politics of Remediation: Institutional and Student Needs in Higher Education.

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