Keynote: Grasping the “Phenomenal Forms”: A Dialogue on Taking Action in Basic Writing

The CBW Workshop keynote presentation is being given jointly by Deborah Mutnick of Long Island University and Shannon Carter of Texas A&M Commerce. These two scholars’ work is well-known in basic writing circles, and both have given much to CBW as an organization.

The theme of this joint keynote is the relationship between surface realities and underlying social structures and the implications for the teaching and learning of writing. Guiding questions: How do we foster critical consciousness in the classroom? How do we foster students’ sense of agency? How can teachers help students overcome obstacles to learning?

They will return to two case studies in their previously published work–“Joe” in Mutnick’s Writing in an Alien World and “Eric” in Carter’s The Way Literacy Lives. Mutnick begins with a discussion of the work of Luis Villacanas de Castro, author of Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vgotsky, and Freire.

So how do we foster students’ sense of agency? Carter gives us her big reveal: “Eric” is her brother. Eric had diverse, significant, and complex literacy practices outside of school, but those literacies were not able to be deployed in school. Eric didn’t see these literacies as literacy, either–the “real” writing was done in school. What he did outside of school wasn’t writing, in his view. Carter argues that school-based literacies have become so entrenched that only they are seen as literacy, while a wide range of literacy practices used outside of school are dismissed and ignored as not literacy. What Carter wants for Eric and all students is rhetorical dexterity: the ability to read, compose, and negotiate across linguistic codes. Mutnick then briefly discusses”Joe Baxter” from her book. Joe inspired the title of her book when he wrote a paper that asked, “Blacks in Science Fiction: Why Are We Invisible in an Alien World?”

How can teachers help students overcome obstacles to learning? We can practice Freirean conscientizacao or “critical consciousness.” We can engage in egalitarian, democratic dialogue, not because we want to be “nice” to students or even “democratic,” but because students needs democratic dialogue in order to grow intellectually. We as teachers needs to create the culture for students to transition into active intellectuals.

We must also engage in participatory action research. Rhetorical dexterity combined with participatory action research may help students engage with the phenomenal forms that impact their lives. We must create contexts through dialogue and participatory research in which students can take their own daily lives as the object of their reflection process.



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The Action of Emerging Scholars

This session is devoted to poster presentations by graduate students, who are showcasing their research-in-progress.

The first poster presentation is by Erika Johnson of Texas Woman’s University. Her project is entitled “The ‘Problem’ of Pronouns: ‘I,’ ‘You,’ and ‘We’ All Argue.” Erika contends that instead of seeing students’ pronoun usage as evidence of error, we should see this usage as arguments and strategies by which students are attempting to write themselves into various arguments and texts.

Our second poster presentation is by Justin King Rademaekers from West Chester University, focusing on WCU’s placement system. Their writing program has tried to combine elements of self-directed placement and accelerated learning programs (ALP).

The final poster presentation is from Leonara Anyango-Kivuva of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  Her work focuses on English Language Learners (ELLs), and she begins by stressing that while BW and ELL scholars don’t often interact, she feels very comfortable in this room, listening to conversations that touch on issues she deals with every day. There is more overlap in our scholarship that we sometimes acknowledge.

Her presentation is titled “Writing Journeys, Writing Selves,” and discusses the writing of Burundian refugees. This subject is the focus of her dissertation research, which she recently defended (congratulations!).

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CBW INNY Award Presentation

This year’s winner of CBW’s award for innovation (known as the INNY) is the writing program at Boise State University. Heidi Estrem, Dawn Shepherd, and Karen Uehling are presenting how they changed Boise State’s placement system.

Heidi begins by asking the audience to identify potential questions or issues we have about program policy or institutional process at our home institutions. She then continued by describing the limitations of Boise State’s then-current placement program, which was mandated by the state; every public institution in Idaho had to use the same system. This was a problem, for reasons that are obvious to any writing instructor–different student populations, different needs.

What Boise State did: created consensus and commitment by writing a whitepaper; found their allies by canvassing/meeting with stakeholders at each campus in Idaho; kept an open mind and developed a specific target and deliverables; created pilot projects and pushed for evidence-based placement; and kept the momentum going.

Karen Uehling is now discussing how the basic writing course structure changed at Boise State. The new model is called English 101 PLUS. (101+?)

The Idaho State Board of Education adopted “Complete College Idaho,” a corporate model. The Boise State WPAs were never able to get their stretch course to be credit-bearing, which was a huge source of frustration since this program was very successful. When the process of change the course curriculum began, it was difficult, as the stretch program worked well and instructors loved the course.

How Boise State revised its program: Reviewed “Complete College Idaho” options and selected the ALP approach. Planned new course with current stretch instructors and piloted a new course. Found allies and wrote a grant proposal for course and faculty development, not only for Boise State, but also the College of Western Idaho, Boise State’s sister community college.

New course ran in Fall 2013. They now have a for-credit English 101+ course and a three-hour English 101 course. This process gave the writing instructors a voice and input into the changes in the writing program.Karen wraps up by saying,”We are teaching the students, we care about them, we SHOULD have a voice in what we’re doing.”

Dawn Shepherd is now discussing the curricular change, which was prompted by general education reform at Boise State; new university learning outcomes; and research in the field on threshold concepts and writing transfer. Those affected by the curriculum change include students, FYW instructors, a second-year course (UF 200) that is writing intensive; and the instructors of the Communication in the Disciplines course, offered by every department on campus. Quotes Chuck Paine: “If you don’t get buy in, don’t do it.”

What Boise State did: used a quilting metaphor that honored a feminist conception of collaborative work; developed a “survey that helped make connections between local values, current pedagogies, and new research in the field; slowed the process down to allow for processing, which included coffee talks; instructors were given $5 Starbucks gift cards so they could meet in dyads and talk over the changes; and writing groups were formed. During 2016-17, the curriculum will continue to be developed through experimentation and pilot projects.

The discussion then returns to the audience’s institutional context. The audience is identifying their stakeholders and choosing one to identify values, attitudes, and assumptions. The audience is asked, when you return to your institution, what is one action you can take? The audience then does a write-pair-share activity.

For more information, the Boise State writing program has compiled resources on Google Drive at





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Live Blogging #4c16!

We’ll be live blogging at least some of the all-day CBW workshop today and some basic writing sessions throughout the conference. I (Sara) will also be tweeting up a storm. My twitter handle is @webbsusa, and I’ll be using the #4c16 and #4cCBW hashtags. See you on the interwebs!

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Official CBW Events at CCCC

Here is your guide to every official Council on Basic Writing session at CCCC 2016.  Please try to attend one or more of these sessions in order to help us continue to build the CBW as an institutional force at CCCC.  A guide to other Basic Writing sessions is forthcoming.

4/6               9:00-5:00     W.05  CBW Workshop                Hilton Room 335 C, Level 3

“The Transformative Action of Basic Writing”

This year’s all-day workshop will explore how the lives of students and instructors intersect with their institutions and communities to demand basic writing action that fosters social justice. Throughout the day, we will consider how the practice of BW affirms student lives and respects student agency while fostering collective action amongst BW researchers and instructors.

4/7               1:45-3:00    TSIG.11 CBW Business Meeting             Hilton Room 344A, Level 3

“CBW Business Meeting”

The Council on Basic Writing, a standing group of CCCC, invites all members of the CBW and all interested parties to attend the first public meeting of the CBW Executive Board. Agenda items for this meeting will include reviewing the CBW mission, membership, and annual goals; discussing annual awards; planning for the annual CCCC workshop; electing new board and committee members; and electing a new co-chair of the CBW. Member and audience commentary will be welcome; voting will be limited to board members.

4/7               4:45-6:00     E.06  CBW Sponsored Session      Hilton Ballroom of the                                                                                                                              Americas, Salon E, Level 2

“Shaping the Field, Shaping the Community, Shaping the Classroom:  The Council on Basic Writing at 35”

The Council on Basic Writing (CBW) is thirty-five. Where have we been? How has the field changed? How has the CBW helped to navigate those changes? Where is the field going? How will CBW be part of the shifting field? In this roundtable discussion, we invite six former chairs of the CBW to reflect on the past, present, and future of basic writing in general and the CBW in particular, based on their experiences of guiding the CBW through new steps of development and through institutional and cultural challenges to both the organization and the field.

4/7               6:30-7:30         TSIG.02  CBW Sig                   GRB Room 351C, Level 3

“CBW SIG:  Contemplating Action in the Classroom, Institution, State, Nation”

The Council on Basic Writing hosts this Special Interest Group for basic writing teachers and anyone who is concerned about access to higher education. This meeting will focus on the reciprocal interactions of pedagogy and policy. Participants are encouraged to bring assignment ideas and teaching strategies as material for sharing and as a starting point for conversations regarding how Basic Writing instructors can use pedagogy to affirm, shape, and explore policy.

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New CBW Twitter Account

The CBW has a new Twitter account. We will be using this account to make announcements, publicize events, share BW news, and to make occasional statements in support of BW. Please follow us: @4cCBW.

If you’re going to be at CCCC this year and if you Tweet about any BW discussions, please include @4cCBW in your tweet.

We look forward to connecting with you.




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CBW Award for Innovation: Call for Applications

The Council on Basic Writing (CBW) invites applications for the 2015 Award for Innovation. CBW wants to recognize those college and university programs that are implementing new or unique ways to improve the success of their basic writing students. Is your program doing something especially useful and effective in terms of assessment, placement, pedagogy, curriculum, community outreach, etc.?  If so, please nominate yourself for the 2015 CBW Award for Innovation.

Please note that only innovations that have been implemented will be considered for the award.


Recipients of the Council on Basic Writing’s Award for Innovation will be determined by a review committee.


*       Originality – the creativity and uniqueness of the innovation

*       Portability – the extent to which the innovation lends itself to application in other institutions or contexts

*       Results and Benefits – specific details, data, and observations derived from the innovation, focusing on specific educational benefits to students


The following will be considered a complete application packet.  ALL application materials must be submitted in electronic form.  Please include the following:

1. A descriptive title of the innovation, along with the name, institution, address, phone number, and email of the contact person.

2. An explanation of how the course/program in which the innovation is centered includes students labeled “basic writers” by the institution and, if applicable, a brief (one paragraph maximum) explanation of how students are labeled as such.

3.  A complete description of the innovation including:

*       justification of the creativity and uniqueness of the innovation compared to traditional methods

*       evidence or examples of portability to other basic writing programs

*       the measurements and monitoring used; results indicating a significant benefit in achievement in educational goals or outcomes

Please note that applications are limited to five (5) pages or less; single spaced; 12pt font; graphs and charts are accepted as part of the page limitation.


February 25th, 2016: Nominations due

Early March, 2016:  Award recipient notified

April 2016: The Winner will be honored with the presentation of a plaque at the CBW Special Interest Group (SIG) at CCCC in Houston. The winner will be invited to give a brief presentation about the winning program to the SIG attendees.


Lynn Reid

Co-Chair, Council on Basic Writing

Coordinator of Basic Writing, Fairleigh Dickinson University

*Please check for a confirmation email to be sure your materials have been received.*

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