There’s Nothing Basic About Basic Writing

This panel has been discussed in great detail below. So let me just summarize a few key insights for me during this panel.

The panel began with Elaine Jolayemi’s discussion of “what is a basic writer?” and “how do institutions designate basic writers?” The framing of this as two separate questions in itself is insightful for me. These questions made me reflect on the multiple perspectives that might respond to this question — the student writer, instructor expectations, disciplinary conversations, and institutional objectives.

J. Elizabeth Clark’s discussion of teaching basic writing with technology addressed the reality that the digital is overtaking paper as primary media for composition (written and visual). As Clark pointed out, this reality exists not only for our students, but also for us as teachers. So how do we use technology in a basic writing course? Clark provided some resources for commonly used tech tools in the basic-writing classroom as well as concerns, such as access, that might problematize tech in the basic-writing course. I really appreciated the observation that, while many individual instructors might use tech, digital composition has rarely been adopted as widespread curriculum objectives. Lastly, the suggestion that BW instructors integrate tech in their courses a little bit at a time resonates with me. We, as teachers, need to acculturate to these technologies, so we should slowly and deliberately introduce them to our course (what a great analogy she referenced from Dr. Hacker about how babies must slowly be introduced solid foods).

Melissa Klages and Debra Berry discussed professional development for basic-writing instructors. How can we encourage more professional development for teaching basic writing? Klages makes the really significant point that this must happen through giving value to professional development activities. Klages then introduced her system of instructors reflecting on patterns in their class through her coding system, A Classroom Notebook.

Carla Maroudas discussed placement — one of the biggest issues at my college. She asked the audience who used Accuplacer or COMPASS at their colleges for placement, and a significant majority in the audience raised their hands. She mentioned MOOCS that provide tutorials for students to study for these high-stakes tests (the stakes of which they are often not fully aware). This discussion related to the first panelist — how do we accurately define the basic writer through assessment methods?

Lastly, Amy Edwards Patterson discussed day-to-day activities and approaches in the basic-writing classroom. As she said, the research shows that retention improves when students feel connected to their instructors and their classmates. She then gave examples of getting-to-know-you activities and a really intriguing-sounding essay assignment “You Don’t Know Me,” as well as briefly discussing service learning/community engagement to increase retention.

I feel like I forgot someone’s name who presented (and I know I missed many wonderful insights), but much thanks for touching on so many topics and the conversations that followed in the Q&A. To the next panel…

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Filed under CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Uncategorized

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