Posted in CCCC 2013

A.17: There’s Nothing Basic about Basic Writing

Hello, CBWers! Greetings from Las Vegas! This session has five speakers, so I’ll do my best to keep everybody straight. 🙂 I also apologize now for typos–I’m on an iPad.

Liz Clark is introducing the panel and reminding folks of the online conversations that occurred pre-CCCC. Each panelist will discuss the conversation they facilitated.

Elaine Jolayemi of Ivy Tech CC in Indianapolis, IN and Leigh Jonaitis of Bergen CC in Paramus, NJ are beginning by discussing “Who are Basic Writers?”. Their Facebook discussion began in mid-February. The online discussion began with three threads: how do you get to know your students throughout the semester? How do they get to know each other?

“The Who Are Basic Writers?” online discussion included these issues:

Students setting policies (like attendance) in the first week

Openly engaging students in what it means to be placed in a BW course

Meta-cognition: “why would I ask you to engage in this activity?”

What is the purpose of the BW course? Does it serve as a gateway/training/service course? What about transfer?

Participants also discussed their institutions’ course offerings, including placement.

Whose purpose is most central to our sustainability as a field–students? Teachers? Institutions? System legislatures?

Ilene Rubenstein, College of the Desert: “Academic Skills/ Writing Centers”

Some centers are being cut because they are perceived as duplicating other services at universities. In this era of tight budgets, how do we make it work?

Liz Clark, LaGuardia CC: Teaching with Technology

Do we understand what digital literacy looks like and what happens when we merge BW and digital literacy?

If Web 2.0 is changing us…

How does technology impact the way you write, research, teach, access info, and live your daily life?

How has your work environment changed?

How is it changing the classroom?

How can we use new technologies. to engage students in writing?

Kathleen Yancey’s Writing in the 21st Century is a book available through free download on NCTE’s site. Clark strongly recommends all read it. Yancey’s points: how do we…

Articulate the new models of composing developing right in front of us? How do we create new models for teaching? Assess it? Create curriculum?

We must help students negotiate the digital world.

What technologies are people using? Blogs, smart boards, Comic Master, Prezi, TED videos, Xtranormal, and more to do collaborative writing/grading, visual presentations, staged writing, low/high stakes writing, and more.

Clark discusses using Jing to grade papers–it’s a free screen capture program that allows us to offer audio feedback and a screen cap to students. Note: I use Jing as well and cannot recommend it highly enough!

Is technology part of the curriculum? Usually no. Tech isn’t often part of course outcomes. Are we putting students at risk by not including technology as part of the curriculum?

Concerns: digital divide–it still exists, folks! mobile technology vs other resources. Is technology a distraction? What about online research? How do we scaffold tech skills? Access?

Marisa Klages and Debra Berry: “Teacher Prep and Professional Development”

How were we prepared? All too often, it’s sink or swim. How does that affect student success?

Way professional development do we have, and what would we like to have? Writing/teaching circles, listservs, blogs–but too many feel as if we are all alone.

The ideal: mentoring, more knowledge about students with different learning disabilities, online forums for discussion.

There are some grad programs that focus on BW issues: City College (MA in Language and Literacy); Grambling State and Texas State offer Developmental Ed advanced degrees.

But to what end is our prof development? PD needs to more than “just in time.” Needs to be sustainable, supported, and value-added.

Take advantage of re-accreditation process to create good professional development–one way to be strategic about getting the resources we need.

A new model for professional development? Klages talked about her use of a model called College Notebook. Hallmarks: builds faculty culture, embedded in practice, generates patterns, informed by evidence, and powered by social networks.

Carla Maroudas, Student Placement:

Most participants reported students are placed by Compass and Accuplacer.

What are students’ understanding of placement tests? Most students don’t understand the stakes. What about test prep? Maroudas’ college is developing a MOOC that would help students prepare for the placement test.

How is misplacement addressed? Too often students are stuck in classes that do not meet their needs, can’t re-test, etc.

Basic Writing and Online or Accelerated Courses: we have to consider access and success. Online courses better meet some of our students’ work and family needs, but online courses in general have higher attrition rates; BW online courses have even higher rates.

How does your curriculum/campus culture view BW instruction? Common answers: providing additional instruction, not different instruction; prepping for FYC and college; skill-n-drill.

Who teaches BW? Some schools report 85% of teachers are FT; at others, 85% are part time. Too often BW is assigned to new/contingent faculty while literature courses are taught by full timers.

Amy Patterson, Day to Day Life in the Classroom:

How do we use activities to build community in the classroom? Some ideas included rhetoric of place assignments, taking pictures of (and sharing with) students at work, treasure hunt type activities at midterm, ice breakers, service learning/civic engagement,

Icebreakers: writing their own trading cards, quizzes about each other.

There is currently a call for papers from BWe about BW and service learning.

Q and A:

How do you address the time students spend on their BW class in comparison to what they consider their “more important” classes?

Response: Maroudas talked about her BW course that is in a learning community with a intro political science course. Encouraging students to not see classes as silos, but as interconnected.

Is BW always non-credit?

Response: No. That’s a local decision.

Response then evolved into a discussion of other questions: What about Basic Writers in a non-BW course? What are the implications? What about placement?

Several audience members described the challenges of placement at their institutions and how they address them. The issue of machine-graded essays emerged.

Question: how are people getting more money and resources for their programs, given economic realities?

Response: link it to retention. Use the accreditation process to argue for my funds.

Q: if we teach in a program not aligned w/ best practices and that have outcomes we must meet, how do we address that tension?

Response: defining terms–correctness versus linguistic awareness. Too often we conflate grammar with helping students make linguistic choices. We need to focus more on the latter.

California has put forth a bill that would move BW into only for-profit colleges. This is something all of us need to pay attention to, as trends in Cali often spread.

This presentation was recorded and will be posted here on the CBW blog!


I'm an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in writing, literacy, and folklore.

2 thoughts on “A.17: There’s Nothing Basic about Basic Writing

  1. Wow: great post, Sara! I am amazed by your blogging and tweeting skills. If you can edit, can you change the city of Bergen Community College to Paramus, NJ? (That was an error in the CCC program.)

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