Posted in CCCC 2012, Scholarship of Basic Writing

A.23 Basic Writers in Transition: A Developmental Process

This session intensively foregrounded the words and experiences of student writers navigating boundaries of academic writing. The researchers honored the students’ experiences and shared them in ways that reveal students developing agency and growing as writers.

Lori Brack & Mary Hammerbeck, “We Walk the Lines”

Brack and Hammerbeck discussed case studies of two students they pseudonymed as April and May, extensively quoting from these students’ reflections. May described how both teachers and peers take over a writer’s ideas, telling the student writer what to say, no matter what the writer’s original intention. April described trying to grasp the language of the classroom and reach others through it, rather than stay with a familiar language. Students in both cases lose authority over their own work in the writing classroom.

How can teachers consciously support this transition more effectively, so that students can adapt/refine a familiar language rather than learning a new one, and so that teachers can assist students to convey their own ideas rather than having the teacher take over or direct the student?

  • The student has to be actively constructing the rhetorical relationship.
  • Students should enter the discourse as researchers of their own language use.
  • Students should write for a practical, real, responding reader – not an abstraction.

3 Recommendations:

  1. Course readings should help students understand the possibilities of various literacies and identity constructions. Readings can help students see how others have positioned themselves in relation to academic discourse.
  2. Papers should have a known audience, such as an exchange between classrooms or an online community, to help basic writers learn from the responses of real readers.
  3. Assign projects that allow students to explore their own home languages as they are transitioning to academic discourse. This can be an interview/ethnographic project.

As one student wrote: “Although my writing has improved, my voice is still my voice, and I can hear it just as clearly today.”

Dawn Finley, “Using Text-Based Assignments to Build Student Confidence”

Finley saw lack of context for student writing assignments, as well as a high attrition rate, in BW and fycomp at her community college. She designed a new curriculum and a study based on the Daly-Miller instrument. She selected two students with very high apprehension for focused interviews.

Students read 3-5 articles every week and worked in small groups, conducting peer review conversations in writing. They got feedback about their ideas, as opposed to feedback about their writing mechanics. They read each others’ work at every class and got constant feedback.

Finley’s two case study students reported that their confidence rose with the intense practice, and their grades improved. Their writing apprehension scores dropped significantly.

Finley also reported that in her class overall, students’ reading responses as well as formal essays improved in part because of the constant feedback but also because students were reading constantly. She selected high-interest articles based on topics requested by the students.


Professor of English at College of DuPage. I teach writing: currently first-semester composition, developmental writing, and ALP co-req courses. Grateful for my union, the COD Faculty Association. My husband and I might be out riding our tandem bicycle right now... chances are good we're also going to a craft brewery. Having fun, getting older, and noticing that slowing down a little seems like a fine idea.

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