The ERWC Arc and Terms for Transfer

In Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition and Sites of Writing by Kathleen Blake Yancey, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak design a composition course specifically for transfer of concepts and practices to other writing situations.  Because research on transfer of writing skills shows that students have trouble finding language to describe what they learned in their writing courses, part of their design is the teaching and reinforcing of eleven key terms chosen “to help students describe and theorize writing,”  These key terms, organized into four groups, are:

  1. Audience, genre, rhetorical situation, and reflection
  2. Exigence, critical analysis, discourse community, and knowledge
  3. Context, composing and circulation
  4. Knowledge and reflection (57)

Each set of terms is taught and reinforced in a particular writing assignment. “Knowledge” and “reflection” are repeated in the last assignment. “Exigence” could be defined as the situation that gives rise to the need for writing.

Yancey et al argue that “students would understand writing differently and better were a course organized through key terms or concepts rather than through a set of assignments or processes” (40). They cite Bransford, Pellegrino and Donovan, How People Learn:Brain, Mind, Experience and School who say, “The ability to monitor one’s approach to problem-solving–to be metacognitive–is an important aspect of the expert’s competence. Experts step back from their first, oversimplistic interpretation of a problem or situation and question their own knowledge that is relevant.”

Terms represent concepts and bringing concepts learned in prior situations to bear on current situations is an indication of transfer of knowledge. Knowing the right terms allows the concepts to be recalled and used. But what are the right terms?

The terms embedded in the “Teaching for Transfer” course designed by Yancy et al are a mixed bag. Some are elements of the rhetorical situation–audience, genre, exigence, context–while the umbrella term “rhetorical situation” is also part of the list. Others are cognitive: knowledge and reflection. “Composing” is part of the writing process, part of another list of terms that has been part of composition research since the 1970’s: pre-writing, composing, revising, and proofreading. “Circulation” (by which I think they mean the way texts circulate in a community; they do not define it) and “discourse community” are sociolinguistic concepts. In the context of the assignments and the course, these may be memorable concepts, but as a list, not so much. Given that terms are so important, I wonder if a better selection could be made.

ERWC, as currently expressed, has a similar problem. Our template, while it guides students through a well-defined process of prereading, reading and re-reading for different purposes, and repeats and reinforces this process until students have internalized it, doesn’t provide a convenient list of terms. Students may have internalized these processes so well that they do not need terms to recall them. However, a list of memorable terms certainly could not hurt.

After many conversations with ERWC committee members and teachers participating in the ERWC Module Writing Institute that is currently underway, and especially with Mary Adler, who is co-facilitating the Institute with me, I would like to propose the following set of terms to describe the intellectual processes embedded in the ERWC:

Prepare–>Understand–>Question–>Select–>Write–>Revise

Of course, there are many complexities lurking under each one of these terms, which I will discuss in a subsequent post.

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