Introduction: Composition Studies, the Next Generation

Alsup, Janet
Eckert, Lisa Schade


Recently, there has been increased interest in the teaching and mentoring of new composition teachers who will work both at the secondary and university levels, as evidenced by recent publications including Thompson’s Teaching Writing in High School and College: Conversations and Collaborations (NCTE, 2002) and Tremmel and Broz’s Teaching Writing Teachers of High School English and First-Year Composition (Boynton/Cook, 2002). In the last five years, the number of sessions and special interest groups dedicated to the topic at annual conferences and conventions has grown significantly. When we conceived of this special English education issue of The Writing Instructor, we asked the question, how can we most effectively prepare and mentor the teachers who will be teaching composition in the 21st century? We encouraged submissions about collaborations between high school and college teachers of composition or between education and composition faculty, as well as submissions that theorize pedagogical or curricular approaches to teaching and/or mentoring composition teachers. We believe that the teachers and researchers who have contributed articles to this issue and work in various institutional contexts and at various levels of instruction, offer the experience and insight to further the discourse necessary to continually improve composition instruction. Two themes emerged in the context of these articles: the challenges and rewards of using technology in writing instruction and the importance of cross-level researcher and practitioner discourse regarding expectations, practice, and theory in writing instruction. In the context of both themes, the driving questions are similar: How does theory translate into practice? How best to link composition instruction between high school and college?

Beth L. Hewett and Robert Lynn in their article “Training ESOL Instructors and Tutors for Online Conferencing” refer to online instruction as “a hybrid form of communication” which is further complicated by the fact that this communication is with non-native English speakers. Hewett and Lynn specifically address “the fear that two people peering at computer screens will never be able to interact as instructors and students should” by presenting and analyzing case studies of online communications between tutors and students in an ESOL program. The efficacy of online instruction in introducing new concepts and modes of thinking is also addressed by Roy F. Fox and Amy A. Lannin in “'Belly up to the Pond: Teaching Teachers Creative Nonfiction in an Online Class.” Fox and Lannin investigated the ways in which teachers conceive of a new genre, creative nonfiction, in a new venue, online instruction, and present a case study of one teacher’s journey in learning the genre via online conferencing and revision. Finally, Joan Mullin and Dorothy Cashell, in “Creating Reflective Teacher-Practitioners in the Midst of Standards” examine one summer program, funded by the state of Ohio to provide quality continuing education for teachers, whose multiple objectives included using technology to teach writing across the disciplines in order to meet state standards.

Several of the articles in this issue focus on encouraging or examining the pedagogical implications of cross-level conversations regarding composition instruction. In “Composition Studies/English Education Connections,” W. Douglas Baker, Elizabeth Brockman, Jonathan Bush, and Kia Jane Richmond explore paradigm shifts in social theory as link between theory and practice, university and secondary school, and Composition Studies and teacher education. In “Notes of a Humbled WPA: Dialogue with High School Colleagues,” Tiane Donahue describes a research project designed to bring together Maine high school and college faculty to systematically exchange information about the high school to college transition in composition instruction. In a year-long series of “conversations,” focus groups of both high school and college faculty and first-year college students will share knowledge about theory and practice in a guided setting. Similarly, Joseph Jones surveyed high school English students and teachers to discover what they had to say about the teaching of writing and how their perceptions of college writing did—or didn’t—influence or affect their work. He shares the results of this research in “Muted Voices: High School Teachers, Composition, and the College Imperative.” Mary Godwin also shares an action research project with implications for both high school and undergraduate composition instruction in “Building Triangles: Research and the Realization of Self in Making Sense.” This article, which describes a curriculum designed to improve the research skills of first-year university writers, addresses the challenge of defining a teachable process for directed, undergraduate student research in the composition classroom.

We believe these articles, written by leaders in the field of Composition Studies and English education, open the door for continued discussion between educators at various educational levels and provide models for situating such dialogue. We are pleased to include them in this issue of The Writing Instructor, and we hope to inspire readers with the knowledge and research represented here.

This text was accepted for publication after an anonymous peer review process.
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