What Happens after Freshmen Composition: A Writing Summit Focused on Transfer
Our goal for first-year composition, like the field’s collective goal, is to help writers develop and prepare students for the writing they will do in other college courses.
~Kathleen Blake Yancey, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak
On February 10th, 2017 the English Department held a Writing Summit to discuss and share approaches to teaching writing with the Millersville University community. For an ambitious first goal, we engaged with the question of transfer – how can freshmen composition support writing practices transfer to help students excel at writing tasks in their disciplinary courses?
The idea for this event began after a Spring 2016 Writing Across the Curriculum survey found that most disciplinary faculty feel students are underprepared for W courses. To address these findings, Writing Studies held a Writing Roundtable sponsored by the Center for Academic Excellence Fall 2016. This well-attended Roundtable provided space for disciplinary faculty to discuss the writing needs of students, especially in upper level writing courses.
To further this conversation, Kara Taczak, whose co-authored work Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing earned a 2015 CCCC Research Impact Award, shared her work on Teaching for Transfer as the keynote speaker at the Spring 2017 Convocation. She then furthered her discussion of key writing studies terms during the first workshop of the Writing Summit. Following her discussion Drs. Farkas, Archibald, Mano, Halden-Sullivan, Corkery, and Pfannenstiel worked with faculty to develop assignments to support students at Millersville University.
Each of the Roundtable Workshops offered suggestions for introducing assignments, discussing assignments, and working with student drafts to help faculty support writing within their courses. For all presenters, the goal was to assist faculty using writing assignments with helping students recognize their prior knowledge. These workshops generated amazing conversation about ways of helping students recognize writing situations. We discussed ways of helping students reflect on their previous learning – of the writing practices they developed in freshmen composition and other writing courses.
Dr. Taczak’s workshop pushed us to consider how to help students develop strong theories of writing, recognizing their prior knowledge that would actually support their academic writing during college.
Dr. Farkas built on that idea emphasizing key terms from her Transportable Writing Tool text that resonate with students at Millersville. Dr. Archibald explained the ways the Chryst Writing Center supports writing theory development, especially when students begin attending as soon as a writing assignment has been assigned. Dr. Mando discussed ways key terms from Teaching for Transfer in combination with science key terms can help STEM majors develop strong theories of writing that support science writing. Dr. Halden-Sulliven explored ways of helping students devel
op an open mindset to support exploration and writing. Dr. Pfannenstiel provided ideas for incorporating digital writing assignments. Dr. Corkery described ways of helping students imitate disciplinary writing style. For each of us, the goal is to help students know which prior writing practices would best support their writing for a given writing task, to help students develop their own theories of writing. Discussing and implementing assignments that support a naturalized transfer of strong composition practices is just one way of supporting student writing on our campus.
As we move forward from this great event with new ideas and discussions, we’ll continue to consider how to develop strong curriculum to support writing practices transfer. I am developing a freshman composition curriculum that draws on the principles of Teaching for Transfer attending to the specific needs of Millersville students. As Dr. Mando and I explore this focus on key words to support student development of their own theory of writing, we’ll also help students develop multimodal practices to further support good writing. We continue to address the question that influenced the Writing Summit design, can freshmen composition help students recognize their own writing practices so they are more effective disciplinary writers.
We also recognize the need for this to be a collective effort. As a community, we must recognize writing as a practice, as ways of thinking and being that must be practiced regularly to help students attend to each writing situation they encounter. Strengthening students control over their own theory of writing in Freshmen Composition is just a first step to supporting and graduating strong writers from all our bachelor’s degree programs. We are excited for the possibilities and welcome the challenges that lie ahead!
—-Dr. A. Nicole Pfannenstiel, Assistant Professor of Digital Media