I.33 “Opening the WPA Outcomes Statement beyond First-Year Composition”
Reviewed by Randall Pinder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Shelley DeBlasis, New Mexico State University Carlsbad
Teresa Grettano, University of Scranton, PA, “The WPA OS and Social Media Literacy”
Toni Francis, College of The Bahamas, Nassau, “The WPA OS and Advanced Composition: Critical Literacy, Research Assessment, and Civic Agency”
Shelley DeBlasis, New Mexico State University, Carlsbad, “The WPA OS and Basic Writing: Attending to Affect”
This midday session explored how three instructors “applied the WPA OS [Outcomes Statement] to three specific writing spaces: basic writing, advanced composition, and social media literacy.” Each presenter found useful and problematic guidelines within the document, but acknowledged it as a rich resource for both faculty and students for developing critical thinking, reading, and writing.
The ( WPA Outcomes Statement) has a long history, with its origins in CCCC almost 15 years ago. In 1997, the CCCCs Outcomes Forum was co-chaired by William Condon, Mark Wiley, and Kathleen Blake Yancey and included discussions and a number of reports that led to a draft in 1999. It has since been revised, most recently in 2008 (at the time of this presentation; it has since been updated again in July, 2014). The document “describes the common knowledge, skills, and attitudes sought by first-year composition programs in American postsecondary education”
Shelley De Blasis, New Mexico State University Carlsbad, “The WPA OS and Basic Writing: Attending to Affect”
Shelley De Blasis, a director of a developmental writing program, presented first on the topic “The WPA OS and Basic Writing: Attending to Affect.” She argued that focus on Basic Writing is under attack, suggesting that some leaders see developmental education as an easy way to “shorten the pipeline” in order to increase graduation rates and retention. Students placed in basic writing courses are often labeled “underprepared,” and about 94% of the students who take the COMPASS test at her institution place in one to two developmental writing courses. Typically, these students have had negative education experiences, struggle with family and friends, have been told directly they cannot write well or can’t do math, and face numerous demands on their time and attention. In order to better assist students, she and her colleagues revised their basic writing program using the WPA OS and a second document “The Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing.” They revised the two-course sequence and then chose appropriate methods and assessments. They brought the eight “habits of mind” into the classroom, focusing on issues like academic curiosity and responsibility for family, so that they addressed affective (noncognitive) issues as well as the skills highlighted in the WPA OS. Students considered and wrote about learning scenarios such as “Talia’s grandmother has a heart attack and has to be sent out of town. Talia needs to travel with her. She has assignments that need to be done. How should she approach this?” Their approach, it seems, was to use the difficulties that students have as the subject matter for the course. She concluded that students enjoyed this approach and responded well to it.
Toni Francis, College of The Bahamas, “The WPA OS and Advanced Composition: Critical literacy, Research Assessment, and Civic Agency”
Toni Francis, an Assistant Professor of English, challenged the WPA Outcomes Statement, suggesting it has been “washed of its radical potential.” She acknowledges that it is a fascinating document of collaboration and consensus that has stood the test of time, probably because it is safe. She recalled that the origin of the WPA OS at CCCC 1997 included discussions of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and there was some debate and contention. She wondered, “How did things get so calm? Was the WPA OS de-politicized?” While a broader approach and focus on little rhetoric might be suitable for first-year writers, she argued that advanced writing courses require engagement with Big Rhetoric, with students thinking critically about how they engage as citizens. Ultimately, WPA OS needs revision so that students can engage in “local, regional and global critical discourses.”
Teresa Grettano, The University of Scranton, “The WPA OS and Social Media Literacy”
The final presenter, Teresa Grettano, focused on the WPA OS item “Use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences.” She referred to Kathleen Blake Yancey’s remarks from her 2004 CCCCs address when she warned that if compositionists did not engage technology, they would be left behind. Grettano was particularly interested in students’ use of social media and how this might relate to the Outcomes Statement. She collaborated with a faculty librarian to create a course called “Rhetoric and Social Media” that she taught three times. For two times, Facebook was the focus, and the most recent version included other media and focused on literacy. Students examined literacy documents such as the WPA OS and the ACRL Standards for Informational Literacy. She credited the course with raising students’ awareness of how much of their information is public and realizing that there are different expectations (explicit and implicit) for the different platforms of social media and academic writing.
Each presenter pushed attendees to take a second critical look at the WPA Outcomes Statement that informs so many college writing programs. Their combined engagement suggests that the document needs revision and will continue to need to adapt to the changing needs of students.