CCCC: G.32 The Arc of Transfer: Gateway from Novice to Expert

M. Elizabeth Sargent –“Betsy,” University of Alberta
UofA trying to integrate WAC and Writing Center

Arc btw 1st day of 1st year, 50-?
Writing Strategies Inventory and then at the end re-complete the Inventory
Based on Writing About Writing approach, structured around Beaufort’s conceptual model of the 5 knowledge domains (discourse community knowledge, writing process, subject matter, rhetorical, and genre knowledge) -> some include metacognitive knowledge as another circle, but her position is that this IS a metacognitive model

Fall term, 1000 students on waiting list
20 per class, other option is 40 per class (U limits #s of courses allows b/c of that)
email -> will send an electronic copy of Writing Strategies Inventory

39 sections over 5 years
about 750 students (at the end of this term)

reflective writing about their conscious understandings, which increases transfer
goal = help students see themselves as writers who can transfer
“If you are confronted by a prickly writing situation in a dark alley someday…”

Beaufort’s model as heuristic

“The trick, with this as with any genre, is to satisfy its requirements while escaping its confines” (Nancy Mairs)—disaster writing

Writing Strategies Inventory
Graphs by Question
Getting Started, Drafting, and Research
3. Can you start writing without first having to know exactly what you want to say?
Yes is much more prominent in end.

Many people did not understand question at the beginning of the course.
Huge change because they have never before written for someone besides the teacher.
Huge change in giving feedback

Reflecting on the writing process
Yes significantly different

Class Graphs
All think they are pretty good at proofreading at end of term.

Random students in database
Student ID 533 wrote ecstatic responses about changes in his writing.

Gives them three graphs after they turn in the last one.
One shows the positive/negative change per question.
This is used to write the overview for the portfolio

Student M compared 5 pairs of questions
10. Beg=question End=Sometimes/somewhat
Then wrote a really long paragraph answer.
22. beg= no/never tried end=yes/often
Even longer paragraph. “constantly overuse phrases” that hedge, “commitment issues much?”
34. beg=sometimes end=rarely, not very well
“A so-called deterioration in my writing. I sort of think I may have just not understood exactly what it meant. … I might have lied a little bit… I didn’t know what I didn’t know before. I didn’t understand enough to know that I didn’t understand.”

It is the act of filling it out and writing about it that makes the difference.

E. Shelley Reid, George Mason University
“Teaching it Forward”

Using myself as a guinea pig.
What do we want to transfer?
Solving writing problems orientation/ability
How should we teach for transfer?
Decoder assignment example
How can we assess thransfer of learning and what do we do then?
Indirect interviewing with students (n=5)

Rebalancing a writing class is challenging
Students already intuitively solve writing problems outside the classroom
Interviews suggest low transfer… BUT…

Solving Writing Problems: Rhetorically
Be able
Not to Write a Document
Not Follow a Production Process
To Solve advanced problems better (interpretive knowledge)
To Evaluate a Writing Problem
To Choose and Apply Appropriate Strategies
To Self-Assess Solutions

How much about Problems
Official class materials
Amt of class per week
Grade weights

Asked us to answer:
One thing to transfer: ability to write as a process
Then think about how much of your textbook supports this: 1 essay
How much time in the last few weeks have you spent: 10%
How much time students spent doing the thing in the last few weeks: ?

Decoder Assignment: 7 angles
Context, community/discipline, genre, approach, evidence, development, presentation
Everything after context is framed as context dependent.

Student decodings:
5-minute presentation decoding a writing task
decoding our composition assignments, before and after drafting
final quiz: decode someone else’s task
Students can do this readily

Explain how this problem applies to all their other writing:

Invited 80+ to interview, got 5
How do you solve writing writing problems? How do you start a writing task?
Tell me about one writing task for in and out of class
Students had a category for structure

Problem-evaluation: minimal evidence
Stepwise problem solving: minimal evidence (7 won’t transfer)

2 of 5 aud as starting
4 of 5 begin with content
5 of 5 discuss content at length

Extracurricular writing
5 of 5 focus on the audience

School = content
Extracurricular = rhetoric

Low transfer of solving writing strategies.
Students have the capabilities, but they are not crossing to school writing.

What do we want?
How to spend enough time?
What will transfer look like?

Unexpected questions:
Do a majority of students already know and use rhetorical strategies outside class?
If so, how do we leverage that knowledge?
If we leverage that knowledge, will rhetorical awareness for curricular writing be a disservice, since their other professors are only focusing on content?

Will leave you with questions.

Kara Taczak, U of Denver, “Transfer of a Transfer Curriculum”
Continuation of studies conducted as part of dissertation

Research on transfer shows that writing can transfer.
FYC knowledge about writing may be responsible for transfer.
Building on previous research…
What happens when a teaching-for-transfer curriculum is itself transferred, taught in a new FYC context at a different institution?

2 years:
designed and tested a syllabus of Teaching for Transfer (tft)
Key terms, reflection, theory of writing
11 key terms: genre, audience, etc.
reflection used at different deliberate points
Students created a theory of writing using key concepts they learned in the course and from other writing experiences. !!!
A reflective framework informed by theoretical writing content, including key rhetorical terms for writing that guides students to develop a theory of writing

FSU study:
*reflection offers students a chance to look backwards so that they may go forward, and reflections becomes part of their writing process (all said)
*reflection has a direct link to transfer (4 of 6 said)
*can intentionally teach for transfer (4 of 6 said theory of writing is important, 5 of 6 said they had enacted or would enact their theory in the semester or next)

FSU v. DU study:
FSU Research 1 institution with 40,000 students
DU private university dedicated to the public good with over 11,000 students
FSU traditional college age, live on campus
DU upper-middle to upper class, few on scholarship or do work study, traditional college age, deep dedication to receiving As
FSU participants from Liane’s course
DU from my own course
FSU 6 for 2.5 semesters (35 semesters)
DU 12 for 25 weeks
FSU: 11 key terms- genre, aud, rhet sit, reflection, composing, critical analysis, context, discourse community, circulation and knowledge
DU: 7 key terms—rhetorical situation, audience, genre, reflection, argument, the rhetorical appeals, and knowledge
(Won’t use rhetorical appeals in the research course)
Order of them changed. I started with rhetorical situation at DU.
I think I have noticed that this played a part in how they responded.

DU: tft 12 participants, 10 females and 2 males—whole class, all participating
1 discourse-based interview so far, 2 more interviews, and an exit survey
analysis of the sources, final iteration of theory of writing, and writing from other courses

DU Preliminary Findings:
Students are able to develop a theory of writing, based on prior knowledge and new knowledge, that they use to frame and reframe writing situations both inside and outside the comp course

Students’ Theory of Writing:
Different from FSU, each student defined their theories using key terms
“theory of writing is that good writing stems from a rhetorical situation and takes into account audience, genre, and connecting to the reader” (one example)

Why is this different?
Hypothesis: TFT has been reimagined to focus on fewer key terms. I’ve now taught the course 6 or 7 times over 3 years, so I’ve gotten better.

Theory of writing requirement does not discourage previous knowledge. It allows them to already have knowledge and integrate it.

Prelim findings:
*by teaching explicitly for transfer, students begin to make the connections themselves about the importance of transfer
“a working theory of writing that will continue to grow and help me grow as a writer” –one of students
All students said one of most important things was their theory of writing.
“Don’t be turned off by the amount of writing… yeah, it’s scary… but you can apply it to your future writing” –another student

Students do respond to a transfer curriculum.
“Don’t just write the class away because it’s not just a writing class … different kind of writing class, you learn how to put together a good piece of writing and how to really construct that with … [with] key terms… will help me in the future … key terms in writing when writing my own assignments”

Liane Robertson, William Paterson U, New Jersey
“Comparing Transfer Across Contexts: Two Studies of Transfer”

Study 1: does transfer occur between fyc and other academic writing contexts? If so, does the content matter?

Study 2: this and another question.

Transfer is related to content.
7 study participants across 3 fyc sections
syllabi, student writing material, multiple interviews
first interview: could they identify content taught and apply to writing assignments
second interview:

tft: content
Prior knowledge creates resistance—false sense of expertise is a barrier to new learning
The practice of writing does not suffice as content—conceptual framework needed
Perception as novice releases prior knowledge and allows for new learning (as Summer and Saltz suggest)
Content with clear purpose retained better; opportunity to seek transfer = transfer
(Michael Carter)

Total of 3 participants. Both of the two successful transfer students were scientists. One understood genre of lab report, he did a much better job of writing the lab report, as evidenced in his better grades. “I started to think about the discourse community…” Understanding discourse community allowed him to better communicate with his professors. Demonstrated he had a framework to apply information.
Hypothesis: Science may encourage the idea of failure possible. Helps students feel like they don’t know everything.

New study’s context:
Northeast, “edgy”
Commuter students, age diverse, first generation students
Comprehensive, lit-based or themed fyc
Expectation of passing
Work and family primary focus
Imposter syndrome

Preliminary findings:
Similar prior knowledge developed from HS experience of lit-based course
Share a common belief that they learned to write in their HS classes
Expectations, priorities, perceptions as novices, the barriers were more easily overcome, students identified themselves less as writers
Clearly articulated intention of course content = successful application of content in new context—helps students see application of new information to transferred
“In my psych class, we had to analyze a case study, and I realized it was a genre. And we had to write an analysis. And that was a type of genre, I think.”

Lit-themed class students were different.

Potential implications
*Content not tied to instructor or department interests, but to student interests and application may increase successful transfer
*Understanding of connections between contexts of writing can help students to learn to transfer between those contexts
*Ability to release prior knowledge that creates barriers to learning is critical for transfer

Final question: Threshold concepts—collapse of barriers created by prior knowledge (X and Lamb)
Research in the area of threshold concepts (Linda Ava Casner?)—emerging area

Does it matter that we are doing the same thing and the acronyms are different?
–Writing about writing is part of transfer, but not everything.
–Transfer is muddy. Has lots of parts. Difficult to wrangle.

Perhaps all of you might reference might use Susan Jerrett, pedagogical memory.

Struck, Shelley, by your findings that the academic writing kept talking about content. Take the student results as an insight.
Transfer is so tied to the content. (Beaufort book shows that.)
We can design a course to move them forward, but we don’t know the content that they are going to be working in. Mentioned Linda Adler, one thing for history student to learn, but if I don’t know much about history competing narratives, I can’t really write it.
A: Teaching them how to do the transfer and transfer to the next course.

What do you have your students read?
We don’t read a reader. We want them to be reading writing theory and practical pieces. They start with Bitzer. Talk about rhetorical theory.
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” next.
Then we have them read in the genre.
Then we have them create a genre fr

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