Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beaufort, Anne. College Writing and Beyond

Beaufort, Anne. College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2007.

Beaufort describes an undergraduate’s experiences with writing by tracing his progress from freshman English to courses in his majors of engineering and history, and, finally, to his experiences in an engineering workplace after graduation. She notes the difficulty the undergraduate often had in transferring the skills he had learned in his writing courses to his writing in his majors and in the workplace, and, based upon that evidence, argues that university writing instruction could be improved by calling greater attention to the roles discourse communities and genres play in defining expectations for writing. She identifies five knowledge domains in writing experience--discourse community knowledge, subject matter knowledge, genre knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, and writing process knowledge--and suggests that if greater attention were paid to their inner-workings then students would be able more easily to transfer skills from one course to another and from school to work and life situations. She writes, “I would argue that we are looking to teach not similarities in the ways writing is done in different contexts, but rather, to teach those broad concepts (discourse community, genre, rhetorical tools, etc.) which will give writers the tools to analyze similarities and differences among writing situations they encounter” (149). Since we don’t teach composition per se at Ursuline and much of the writing in Ursuline Studies is already sequenced as she recommends (related but increasingly more complex writing tasks across the undergraduate years), most useful for us is Beaufort's point that instructors can better prepare students for future writing by calling attention to the contexts in which the writing takes place. What she notes of genre holds true of the other knowledge domains she identifies, “We cannot possibly teach all genres students might need to know in the future, but we can teach the concept of genre and ask students to apply the concept to analysis of several text types” (152). This emphasis on how texts get produced in various contexts and for various purposes may indeed help students to more easily navigate new areas and the texts they will be expected to produce therein. Along those lines, asking students to focus on their own composing practices and experiences in a form of meta-cognition (182) may also help them to transfer and build on previous skills. Beaufort also provides a snappy answer to the oft-asked “Why can’t graduates of freshman writing produce acceptable written documents?”: “In part, because each context requires specialized ‘local’ know-how. And in part, because we have not yet become experts at teaching for transfer” (158). We can’t expect to become experts at “teaching for transfer” overnight, but if we can call students’ attention to how what they’ve learned might relate to future experiences--in the major, in their other courses, and in life off-campus--then that would be a nice start. The book is available through OhioLINK.

No comments:

Post a Comment