C.35: Common Core State Standards, Meet the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing: A Risky, Rewarding Table for Course Re-Design

Reviewed by Matthew C. Zajic, University of California, Davis, CA (mczajic@ucdavis.edu)

Chair: Lauren Ingraham, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, TN 

Speakers: Lauren Ingraham, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, TN
Endora Feick, Nashville State Community College, Nashville, TN  

In 2010, Tennessee won roughly $500 million in Race to the Top funding to facilitate greater coordination between K–12 and postsecondary education in preparation for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rollout. While most of this funding went into CCSS teacher preparation, funders were also concerned about the readiness of the state's college-bound seniors for postsecondary education. So when these funders started asking writing instructors at the postsecondary level what they were doing to prepare for a new first-year composition (FYC) course that catered to these students from a new and improved curriculum, Lauren Ingraham had one response for them: "We're not." This lack of preparedness and communication between the K–12 system with CCSS implementation and the postsecondary writing instructors sparked the need for Ingraham and Endora Feick to design such a FYC course. 

However, even before diving into the K–12 versus postsecondary issues, both Ingraham and Feick spoke on the issues coming into this from two different institutions of higher education: "The community colleges within Tennessee don't even know what the CCCCs is. Most who come to the CCCCs are university professors who already know how to teach writing." Feick made it clear that before anything could happen concerning educating the K–12 and postsecondary sectors about one another, the faculty within the postsecondary area needed to educate themselves on the plethora of contexts that students find themselves in. 

Their goal was clear: They needed to fulfill the CCSS implementation foundations, but at the core, they wanted this new course to be based on the best practices of college composition faculty. They went about this by focusing on a number of key influences: the intersections of CCSS, Kolb's learning theory and the Writing Program Administrator's (WPA) "Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing"; the use of language present in the 11th and 12th grade standards and objectives to design the foundation of the course; and the focus on a variety of texts to demonstrate knowledge, rather than a focus on only informative, narrative, and other texts based on current-traditional writing modes.  

They offered a number of features about this new FYC course. As mentioned previously, this course takes a rhetorical approach to teaching writing. While this may not seem like a surprise to all, they emphasized the need for this feature after having gathered sample syllabi from around the state. In analyzing these syllabi, they found a number still emphasized modes, neglecting the rhetorical approach entirely. This new course is module-based rather than assignment-based, as they argued that assignment-driven courses tend to emphasize modes over rhetorical usage. This course also emphasizes reflection and revision, as shown through portfolio revisions or revising a particular piece of writing for a new audience. (Again, although this may not seem groundbreaking, the lack of awareness of best practices in writing instruction at the various institutions found within postsecondary education makes it so in this context.) They also emphasized the use of open-sourced materials, with the argument that if people want to use a text, they should be able to without restriction for teaching purposes. 

So with the course designed, how did the implementation work? Well, as any implementation goes, they had to address a number of key challenges, of which I've offered the two largest. First, faculty had gotten wind of this implementation and thought that this was a mandated implementation where they would have no voice; this was completely untrue, and they wanted to hear the faculty's opinions concerning the course. Second, an apparent disconnect between the enthusiastic alignment director and the skeptical faculty further fueled the first concern. Ingraham and Feick had to work on talking with fellow faculty who may have been misinformed on what this pilot testing would entail and what the course actually was; in doing so, they heard from a number of instructors who were uninformed about teaching writing as a rhetorical activity. So while they put a lot of time and effort into grounding this redesign with the best practices of postsecondary writing instruction, the work was not done regarding selling the product as coming from well-informed instructors rather than uninformed policymakers. 

Now with the course designed and various implementation issues addressed, they implemented a pre-pilot in spring 2014 with two instructors, one at Nashville State Community College and one at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This pre-pilot was met with two firsts: Instructors reported getting the best student portfolios they had ever seen, which they attributed to deeper engagement, and sections had the lowest number of students receiving a grade of D, F, or W. These two instructors were also first-time users of portfolio-based assessment. However, skepticism remained among faculty and administrators. Confronting this skepticism, they spoke directly to the faculty and stressed the fact that well-trained composition faculty, not education consultants, designed the course. "Whatever you've heard about this is probably not true… this was designed by us, your colleagues, in your state, and it's here for you to look at and to comment on," is just a snippet of how Ingraham tried to appeal to her fellow colleagues. This seemed to be the biggest takeaway from the entire talk: the skepticism present within postsecondary writing instructors concerning the implementation of a new FYC course structure.  

These direct appeals worked: They recruited additional volunteers to pilot 16 sections at 4 institutions. With a larger instructor pool, they were able to see how instructors from various backgrounds were navigating the course implementation. Though all piloting instructors reported that the courses were going well by the midterm reflections, Ingraham and Feick saw a split between those instructors with training in rhetorical theory versus those without. For those instructors with strong rhetorical training, they embraced the course and made few modifications; however, for those without strong rhetorical training, they frequently modified the course by adding elements within their own comfort zones (i.e., including lectures on writing thesis statements, teaching the writing process as linear and not recursive, and lessons on paragraph development). By the end of the pilot implementation, the instructors that emphasized the usefulness of the framework for success observed no quantitative differences (such as pass rates) but numerous qualitative differences (such as higher levels of student engagement). But according to Ingraham and Feick, what is needed for future sections, which was not possible during this pilot, is to implement extensive and ongoing professional development for complete success of the course redesign.  

Then, as a break from the typical conference-style presentation, Ingraham and Feick asked us attendees to form groups of three and to design our own lesson plan for a single day using Kolb's learning theory as the framework. We could design any type of lesson we wanted to, but we needed to use the four stages of Kolb's learning theory as the support. My group got into a lively discussion about bringing in YouTube videos to assess audience awareness and understanding through analyzing audience together as a class and then separately. Our discussion ranged from trying to focus on a narrow idea and quickly realizing that we were all shooting for way too much within a single day, so we adapted and created a two-day plan for understanding audience in multimodal work. We butted heads and ideas (constructively, I should say) for what seemed like forever, but we all came away with a plan we really wanted to try with our own classes and a framework for thinking about how to navigate through the various stages required to target the important components that we wanted our students to get from understanding audience in multimodal work. 

The session then closed with five takeaways to consider before trying this at home: (a) be respectful of different teaching contexts between K–12 and college instructors and communicate in ways that honor that respect, (b) be transparent about the process and dispel falsehoods quickly, (c) take an invitational approach when speaking across educational sections, (d) do not let an important stakeholder hear about the initiative from someone below him or her on the organizational chart, and (e) understand and respect redesign and initiative fatigue felt by faculty when non-faculty are trying to push the next greatest idea through.  

As a doctoral student in education, I thought Ingraham and Feick took a needed perspective about CCSS that is often taken from the K–12 level looking forward rather than from the postsecondary level looking back. They confronted a number of obstacles that more postsecondary writing instructors will be facing as CCSS implementation enters full swing in the years to come. Though all postsecondary writing instructors may not agree that a full redesign of their FYC course is needed, Ingraham and Feick made clear a very important issue that needs to be addressed: How does the training of postsecondary writing instructors affect how they respond to CCSS implementation? While this work was restricted to Tennessee, I can see issues and concerns voiced within the few piloted institutions being voiced in other states, and there needs to be increased attention to how aware postsecondary writing instructors are concerning CCSS implementation and what they may, or may not, be doing to prepare for students being educated under a new curriculum. However, what about the students who are coming from CCSS, that is, students not coming straight from secondary education? This may only be better understood by piloting this redesign into different types of postsecondary institutions to better gauge learning with all types of students. Ingraham and Feick opened the floor for conversations to continue across K–12 and postsecondary settings, and we need to learn from this preliminary work what we should be asking and doing within our own communities to increase our awareness of how K–12 shifts may affect our own teaching at the postsecondary level.

Created by DanielHarris. Last Modification: Friday 11 of December, 2015 00:53:00 UTC by ccccreviews.