This section will focus on the current make-up of first year composition courses both by the instructors as well as the institutions.
I found four texts to be useful for this section, as well as my understanding of what constitutes a composition classroom:
- Conflicts in the Composition Classroom: And What Instructors can Do About Them edited by Dawn Skorcezewski and Matthew Parfitt (2003)
- Collision Course: Conflict, Negotiation and Learning in College Composition by Russel K. Durst (1999)
- Delivering College Composition: The Fifth Canon edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey (2006)
- Research on Composition: Multiple Perspectives on Two Decades of Change edited by Peter Smargorinsky (2006)
The first two provide essays that discuss how composition classrooms should be structured by the teachers themselves, while the latter discuss the current make-up of composition courses.
In his essay "Room for 'Us' to Play: The Teacher as a Midwife" author Matthew Parfitt examines the role of teachers in the composition classroom. I feel this is essential to understanding just how the composition classroom works (or should work, according to Parfitt).
- He focuses on one student, Kevin, and how his "resentment had infected the entire class" (114). Parfitt feels this resentment stems from his own methods of teaching and class discussion.
- "As I reflected on this class, I realized soon enough that it only exposed a more general problem in my teaching, a contradiction for the way I prepared for discussion and what I really hoped would transpire" (115).
- The point of Parfitt's essay, although not directly related to the content of composition courses, examines how the teacher wants to teach versus how they actually teach their course. While this has little, if any, to do with the requirements of a composition course, the manner in which the students are taught has a tremendous impact on their writing and learning experiences. This, in my opinion, should be present in the first year composition classroom.
In the chapter "Ground Rules in College Composition" of Collision Course Russel K. Durst talks about "teachers' more tacit or underlying expectations of what students need to know and do in order to successfully carryout an academic task" (66).
- In other words, Durst feels students should have rules set by the teacher clearly stated in the syllabus about class expectations along with due dates and assignment criteria.
- One problem the author discusses pertains to literary analysis in the classroom, "...an area in which implicit ground rules were found by the assignments in secondary English classes concerned the type of critical stance the teacher wanted students to adopt in writing essays about literature" (69). Could this be why there is an absence of literature in the first year composition classroom? Is it because first year students aren't necessarily ready to look at and employ the various literary ciriticsm theories? Or, is it because not all of the composition students are English majors and therefore do not need to become familiar with literary critcism or analysis?
- Durst also talks about how teachers approach the curriculum in first year writing programs, "Teachers must walk a fine line in making the course doable for those students who come in with low-level writing skills and weak preparation, while at the same time making the course appropriately challenging for the students who enter the course already writing at a higher level of competence" (75).
So, while teachers have certain "ground rules" they have to follow, such as university guidelines and course requirements, they also have their own ways in which they approach the course as well as their students. This, in my opinion, is essential to the make-up of composition courses because teachers are as unique as their students, and the ground rules for each composition classroom help students adjust to their first year of college.
In her essay, "Delivering College Composition: a Vocabulary for Discussion" Kathleen Blake Yancey examines the three terms -college, composition and delivery- and how their meaning has changed over the years.
- "That composition has changed in the last one hundred years will surprise no one...if composition hasn't changed much, the model for teaching was changing from an analytical, prose-and product-based pedagogy in which class time was spent in analysis and in which the chief purpose of the class-composing-was to take place outside class, to an in-class process-based workshop model that was decidedly social" (4-5). So, modern composition courses are settings in which classwork can be completed and homework is, apparently, minimal.
- In the delivery section of her essay, Yancey mentions, "schools themselves are changing. The primary role of the college course as a vehicle for delivery of education has been eroded...there is the influence of the online...the influence of the local...influence of the discipline itself..." (13). This fits into the previous discussion of computer-based classrooms, however Yancey is referring to courses taught online, where student-teacher interaction is usually strictly through electronic mail.
In another essay, "Delivering College Composition into the Future," Yancey discusses her expectations for the future of composition instruction.
- "A continuing concern about college composition, of course, is that the agents delivering college composition-the faculty who in terms of rank range from part-timers to teaching assistants to tenured faculty-don't receive the support required, however defined (e.g., salary, working conditions). As important, and a related factor, is the preparation many faculty bring to the teaching of college composition" (204).
- Yancey means to imply that some faculty may not be performing their jobs to the best of their ability because of lack of pay or preparation in the field. I'm not sure if I agree with this statement, however, it is necessary to the understanding of composition as a whole.
"Writing at the Postsecondary Level" by Russel K. Durst looks at the writing process of students in their first year of colloge as well as the challenges instructors face in the classroom.
- "Research on postsecondary writing instruction over the past twenty years shows the teacher of composition moving, at times uneasily, between a focus on theory and one on praxis, between the conflicting roles of gatekeeper and liberator, indoctrinator of institutional values and iconoclastic social critic, supportive writing coach and confrontational advocate of an oppposing world view" (88).
- Here, Durst is focusing on the status of composition teachers over the past twenty years. As I mentioned earlier, teachers are an intergral part of the learning process. Is there a way for teachers across the country to meet the same course requirements while teaching in various ways? In other words, does the variety of composition instructors affect the writing and learning process of first year college students?
- "Looking back over the past twenty years of scholarship, I would argue that the field presently finds itself in something of a rut...The perennial debates over such matters as the use of literature and the value of personal writing in the composition class still spark occasional discussion in the professional journals, but the debate has lingered too long to be called a controversy" (98).
- So, the use of literature in the composition classroom is not a controversy, yet it is still a matter of discussion among scholars. Durst feels the field is in a rut because of the constant debate about what should be included in first year courses does not appear to be ending anytime soon.
These sources examine the question about what should be included in composition courses. I felt it was necessary to discuss this question before moving on to the topic at hand: the presence of literature in the composition classroom.
The works cited for these sources can be found on the "final versions" page.