CCCC 2014 Reviews

E.28 "It’s Not Our Mentors’ World: Transformations in Composition Pedagogies, 2000 to Today"

Reviewed by Ligia Ana Mihut (limihut@gmail.com)


Amy Rupiper Taggart, North Dakota State University, Fargo


  • Krista Kennedy, Syracuse University, NY, “Collaborative Writing: Print to Digital”
  • Amy Rupiper Taggart, North Dakota State University, Fargo, “Defining Composition Pedagog(y)(ies)”
  • Eli Goldblatt, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, “Teaching and Learning through Community/University Partnerships”
  • Rebecca Powell, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, “Hidden in Plain Sight: De/Reconstructing Expressivism”
  • Laura Micciche, University of Cincinnati, OH, “What’s Feminist about Pedagogy?”
  • H. Brooke Hessler, Oklahoma City University, OK, “Digital Humanities and Multimodal Composition as Quasi-Emergent Pedagogies”
  • Chris Thaiss, University of California Davis, “WAC/WID: Five Filaments of Growth”
  • Christine Farris, Indiana University, Bloomington, “Reconfiguring the Use of Literature in Writing Courses”
  • Amy Devitt, University of Kansas, Lawrence, “Taking Genre Outside”

The art of choosing a panel (and not regretting afterwards) is an exercise in combining one’s current area of interest with cultivated attention to new, emerging trends. At conferences, one of my strategies is to select something old, something new, and possibly an overview. I also leave room for a surprise panel. I selected the panel “It’s not Our Mentors’ World” for its promise to combine all my criteria in one: the old, the new, the historical. What a task to offer a current and historical overview of compositions pedagogies in the last fourteen years! Yet, the panelists accomplished this successfully both in their talks and the breakout groups in which attendees had the possibility to extend the conversation. Although mentorship was embedded or assumed in the body of each presentation rather than directly addressed, the value of this panel came from being equally focused and comprehensive in surveying composition pedagogies. In the five minutes allotted to each, the seven presenters discussed the following composition pedagogies: 1) introduction to composition pedagogies and terminology (Amy Rupiper Taggart); 2) community learning (Eli Goldblatt); 3) feminist pedagogies (Laura Micciche); 4) genre pedagogy (Amy Devitt); 5) literature in writing instruction (Christine Farris); 6) multimodal and digital humanities (H. Brooke Hessler); and 7) WAC/WID pedagogy (Chris Thaiss).

Amy Rupiper Taggart, “Defining Composition Pedagog(y)ies”

Amy Rupiper Taggart started the series of presentations with a focus on definitions. “What is composition pedagogy?” she asked. Composition pedagogy, she argued, is about more than just the practice of teaching writing. It is a “body of knowledge” concerned with teaching, writing, literacy, etc. The essential takeaway point was that composition pedagogy is “theoretical, research-based, and rhetorical.” But a definition of composition pedagogy would be incomplete if it did not address some of its goals. Rupiper Taggart argued that, among others, some of composition pedagogy’s roles are to address students’ needs, to create new practices and new paradigms, but also to serve as an assessment and reflective technology. Although tucked as one final idea at the end of the presentation, the notion that pedagogy has a “normalizing or revolutionary” potential was really powerful. It speaks to long-term consequences of the practices and ideologies we build in a composition classroom.

Eli Goldblatt, “Teaching and Learning through Community/University Partnerships”

Promoting community-engaged pedagogies, the second speaker, Eli Goldblatt launched a powerful challenge. Goldblatt asked why community-centered pedagogies are not “the norm.” Why do we need special courses to establish partnerships with the communities where we live? Or, simply put, why are we not “engaged” in those communities? Following on these provoking questions, Goldblatt suggested common sense advice, such as investing in knowing the people in the community where we want to establish connections: “have lunch with people,” “have coffee with people.” The fact that “we work with people not on them,” Goldblatt reminded us, brings about a series of values such as respect, reciprocity, and attention to real audiences that are central in engaged pedagogy.

Laura Micciche, “What’s Feminist about Pedagogy?”

“What is distinct about feminist pedagogy?” was Laura Micciche’s point of entry as she reflected on feminist pedagogy’s historical development and contribution to the field of rhetoric and composition. The question stemmed from her observation that much of the history of feminist pedagogy overlaps substantially with key points of contention in the history of rhetoric and composition as a field. One such example is the use of personal experience to contest entrenched argument-based discursive practices. As a logical follow-up, Micciche asked whether this overlap should be regarded as a “victory” of feminist pedagogy for having permeated the field to the point that there are no visible distinctions or whether feminist pedagogy must or should establish itself as a critically different pedagogy. In this talk, Micciche’s takeaway was that feminist pedagogies are flexible: they are not stand-alone practices since they intersect with other categories of difference such as race and class.

Amy Devitt, “Taking Genre Outside”

Amy Devitt’s talk on genre pedagogy outlined three main areas of this pedagogy: genre production, genre awareness, and genre critique. Devitt’s main argument was that our pedagogies should include all three dimensions. She premised her argument on the fact that genres are so pervasive and that a mix of the three pedagogical approaches allows students to learn about genre for transfer and critique, not only for genre production. Of great significance was an idea Devitt introduced at the very end (as was the case with many of these talks). Since our pedagogies are often reduced to rules or prescriptive practices, Devitt concluded, genres pedagogy could expose this simplification and propose a more complex approach.

Christine Farris, “Refiguring the Use of Literature in Writing Courses”

The use of literature in writing courses has been fairly contested, given the relationship between the two disciplines. Thus, Christine Farris started her talk by acknowledging the rift between literature and composition, or, to say the least, their complicated, politically loaded relationship. In her overview of literature in composition pedagogy and how it has been shaped by political and socio-economic forces, Farris highlighted the shift towards textuality, attention to a variety of texts (print or multimodal), and the types of arguments that literary texts can advance. One solution Farris proposed was to establish partnerships with literature colleagues and to propose courses focused on inquiry but also on various texts and genres. Farris encouraged other types of collaborations, with secondary teachers for instance, as a way to bridge the gap between literature and composition. Developing and establishing teaching practices with others was her primary takeaway.

H. Brooke Hessler, “Digital Humanities & Multimodal Composition as Quasi-Emergent Pedagogies”

In her talk “Digital Humanities & Multimodal Composition as Quasi-Emergent Pedagogies,” H. Brooke Hessler started with some pertinent observations regarding the fact that while multimodality in composition has a long history, the current institutional context supports multimodal pedagogies at the expense of non-digital ones. In complicating the relationship between digital and non-digital, Hessler asked, “What is lost and what is gained when media and multimodality are perceived as ‘new’?” Hessler problematized taken-for-granted assumptions about multimodal/digital pedagogy, unveiling institutional and cultural validations and biases to the detriment of non-digital pedagogy.

Chris Thaiss, “WAC/WID: Five Filaments of Growth”

In the final presentation, Chris Thaiss started by affirming the intricate connections between other pedagogies and WAC/WID. It is never about choosing one but finding ways in which these pedagogies inform each other, Thaiss explained. Essential to WAC/WID pedagogy is the understanding that “everybody has a stakes in what we do.” In other words, since WAC/WID presupposes establishing networks between writing instructors and their discipline-specific colleagues, everyone is involved in finding ways to affirm students’ needs. In this pedagogical model, writing instruction engages directly with students’ commitment to their own disciplines, which allows for a learning experience beyond first-year writing and often beyond formal education settings. Thaiss further elaborated on five areas, or what he calls “filaments of growth” of pedagogy:

  1. envisioning WAC/WID relative to new technologies;
  2. attention to the “internationalizing and translanguaging” of disciplines but also of the student body;
  3. acknowledging an international orientation that will and has already impacted U.S. education.
  4. WAC/ WID’s commitment to instruct students in writing “beyond the curriculum”; and
  5. an increase in “writing intensive” curricula in U.S. higher education.

In addition to an emphasis on collaborative pedagogies across disciplines (similar to Farris’s suggestion) WAC/WID pedagogy seeks to adapt to the changing trends in student populations. By acknowledging the multiple linguistic and geopolitical contexts of students, WAC/ WID pedagogy reveals ways in which it intersects with multilingual and translingual pedagogies.

Audio of Dr. Thaiss's talk

Breakout Sessions

Following these succinct presentations, there was a breakout session for small-group conversations guided by a series of questions. Here are a few of those questions:

  • “What kinds of research and theory do we still need to move practice forward?”
  • “What are the blind spots of a particular pedagogy? Of composition pedagogy as a whole subfield?”
  • “What do you draw energy from and/or struggle with in the field’s discussions of pedagogy?”
  • “How can we work with the fact that learners will simplify our pedagogies, no matter how complex we think they are? What can we do to acknowledge that cognitive fact and keep our pedagogies sound?”

In the breakout sessions, I joined the conversation of the community-engaged pedagogies group. Although most community-engaged initiatives are locally oriented, I found it fascinating to note that we had a good number of participants either from other countries or teaching in international settings. This allowed for a multiplicity of perspectives including an attempt to question and complicate the transferability of U.S. civic-oriented models to other international educational contexts. For instance, Dr. Amy Hodges, teaching at Texas A&M University at Qatar asked whether these community-engaged models could work in countries such as Qatar. Can we really internationalize community-engaged pedagogies? What processes of adaption would this pedagogy have to consider? Following on this issue of the portability of U.S.-based pedagogy, Eli Goldblatt raised a broader question related to how we talk about education and how it is framed differently elsewhere. Goldblatt also suggested that scholars/teachers in the U.S. may attach to democracy and democratic practices different meanings than those outside the U.S.

Audio of Community-Engaged Breakout Group

The session ended with each table offering a quick report on the conversations that emerged in the pedagogy-specific clusters.

Audio of Conversation Reports

In addition to thoughtful conversations, each table benefited from a number of free copies of the edited collection A Guide to Composition Pedagogies (2014), 2nd edition. This bonus giveaway, coupled with pithy talks on current pedagogies and small group conversations, made this panel extremely engaging. The discussions started in this panel stirred further conversations that I believe can and should continue beyond this session. As a scholar interested in transnational and translingual work, theoretical and pedagogical, I was pleasantly surprised that although a translingual/multilingual pedagogical approach was not directly addressed, references to this approach emerged both in the formal talk and table conversations. Earlier I mentioned that one area of growth for WAC/WID included developing practices that are international and translingual in scope. Also, at the community engaged pedagogies table, the international background of the participants allowed for conversations that problematized a simple transfer of local practices to international contexts. While in the edited collection we find Matsuda and Hammill’s (2014) chapter on second language writing pedagogy, perhaps we could have more sustained conversations about the transnational/translingual approach and its pedagogical implications. A transnational/translingual approach to writing pedagogy, after all, presents a fundamentally different “vision of the world” (Rupiper Taggart, Hessler, & Schick, 2014, p. 2). It does not just address or integrate difference; it centralizes it. It is, of course, understandable that of the 17 composition pedagogies featured in the book, only a few could be presented in a single CCCC session. The selection as well as the quality of each presentation made this panel worthwhile. It brought in conversation the old and the new, and, most importantly, it proposed future developments in composition pedagogies.


Matsuda, Paul Kei, & Hammill, Matthew H. (2014). Second language writing. In Tate, Gary, Rupiper Taggart, Amy, Schick, Kurt, & Hessler, H. Brooke (Eds.), A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, (pp. 266-282). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rupiper Taggart, Amy, Hessler, H. Brooke, & Schick, Kurt. (2014). What is composition pedagogy? An introduction. In Tate, Gary, Rupiper Taggart, Amy, Schick, Kurt, & Hessler, H. Brooke (Eds.), A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, (pp. 1-19). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Tate, Gary, Rupiper Taggart, Amy, Schick, Kurt, & Hessler, H. Brooke (Eds.). (2014). A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

CCCC 2014 Reviews

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