Wardle, Elizabeth, and Doug Downs. “Reflecting Back and Looking Forward: Revisiting Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions Five Years On.” Composition Forum 27 (Spring 2013).

Wardle & Downs revisit their 2007 article to “clarify,” reply to comments and critiques, and reconsider their original argument.  In 2007, they recognize they were inexperienced and didn’t have the same language frames as they do today. They wrote how just a few composition courses could not “teach students to write” and that focus should be on teaching “about” writing and learning how discovery could be adapted (transferred) to new writing situations. They revise this in 2013 to use Jan Meyer and Ray Lands’ “threshold concepts” to “better name” learning transfer knowledge and conceptions. Threshold concepts “can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” (3). They see “situatedness” as a threshold concept and explain there is “no universal rule for how to write” and ask the questions “what are our field’s threshold concepts, and where and when (and how) should they be taught?”

They received criticism after their 2007 article and note in their current article that they had “great certainty” in writing “this pedagogy ‘cannot be taught by someone not trained in writing studies’” (574). Six years difference has brought new awareness and less “tone” in that they found their “ensuing experience to disprove our own claim” and discovered that it isn’t necessary to have graduate work in rhetoric and composition to successfully teach writing, but recognize that familiarity with genres and conventions in other disciplines can “bring an abundance of expertise to the table.” Those unfamiliar with writing theory need to be interested and willing to read and learn, but that “varied background” can add “depth and richness” to a writing program.

Finally, they provide examples of ways “writing about writing” have been adopted and stress that “once of the direst predictions of critics” did not manifest itself to be true – students are not bored with the content. On the contrary, “courses about writing seem better able to create genuine rhetorical situations.” Finally, they call on continued research and improved writing programs, utilizing the rich content from the writing studies field.
I was surprised to see an updated article just published by Wardle & Downs, as I was using their original article in my research. In six years, it is evident that “real life” tempered their “absoluteness,” but did not diminish their convictions.  It was beneficial to see them draw in new language to help clarify their earlier statement. What I found most interesting in this article was their emphasis on Meyer and Land’s disciplinary threshold concepts.  ACRL references “threshold concepts” in their new plans for updating Information Literacy Standards. My concern is that while Wardle & Downs base their inclusion of the concept clearly within the literature of the discipline and point to Meyer and Land for additional reference, that ACRL will miss yet another opportunity to draw from theory to inform information literacy study and instead just adopt “terms” without fully aligning them with the rhetorical theory from which they derive.

Referenced article:

Downs, Douglas, and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’” CCC 58.4 (2007): 552-584.