Writing across Contexts: Transfer, Composition and Sites of Writing
In Writing across Contexts, Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak draw from studies of transfer, reflective practice, and learning more broadly as they examine the role of curriculum in promoting (or not promoting) students’ transfer of writing knowledge and practices from first-year composition (FYC) to future writing contexts. They compared an expressivist approach, a media and culture theme, and the Teaching for Transfer design for teaching FYC by interviewing faculty, analyzing course materials and students’ writing, and interviewing students both during the semester they were enrolled in FYC and in the subsequent semester.
In brief, students in the expressivist FYC course seemingly drew from prior (high school) experiences with writing, but they did not tap their FYC course content when they wrote for future courses. Similarly, students in the media and culture themed FYC drew on models and process strategies in subsequent writing contexts, since they had not developed rhetorical analysis strategies or writing theories in FYC to guide their examination of and responses to future writing situations. Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak write:
Without discernible content, students fill in their own content; without a theory on which to build and apply knowledge, Carolina turned to models and Darren turned to process. In cases like this – when content or theory is absent or indiscernible, and especially when it is perceived to be at odds with writing in other university sites – models of writing become the teacher and the curriculum…. Too much “floating” content – content unmoored to specific writing theory or practice – resulted in a lack of cohesion, a common thread absent throughout the course design that students could discern or use as a guide or passport. (pp. 87-88)
In other words, regardless of how good a teacher might be, if the FYC curriculum doesn’t supply students with writing-relevant content and with a theory for organizing that content as it relates to understanding and responding to varied writing contexts, students are unlikely to apply their FYC experience to writing in subsequent courses and extracurricular contexts.
In the Teaching for Transfer (TFT) design, students learn key terms central to analyzing, practicing, and theorizing writing (e.g., genre, audience, rhetorical situation, etc.) and develop their own theories of writing. Reflection also plays a key role in students’ theory-building processes. While not all students in the TFT FYC course in Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak’s study engaged in mindful transfer from FYC to their subsequent writing contexts, two of the three case study students “kept building their theory of writing, then, connecting key terms and concepts to one another and layering in new concepts as they learned them” and “they became increasingly sophisticated at articulating and practicing their theory of writing” (p. 99). The curriculum’s grounding in writing’s key terms helped students build ways of thinking about and practices for engaging with future writing contexts.
Writing across Contexts offers a helpful framework for discussing how a FYC curriculum grounded in writing content can help students assemble and remix writing knowledge in ways that promote transfer to other writing contexts. Additionally, the authors share sample course policies and syllabi, major assignments, and semester schedules for the Teaching for Transfer design in the book’s appendices.