Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Locating the Terms of Engagement: Shared Language Development in Secondary to Postsecondary Writing Transitions

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Locating the Terms of Engagement: Shared Language Development in Secondary to Postsecondary Writing Transitions

Article excerpt

A Story

In the spring of 2012, the authors, two university-level writing professors, and a secondary language arts teacher met to discuss possible ways to frame a collab- orative project to examine student readiness for writing in settings beyond high school-college, professional, and social. As the meeting progressed, Christina (a former secondary school teacher) and Karen, the high school teacher, fell into a comfortable conversation about teaching writing at the secondary level. They shared stories about items such as curriculum development, motivating students to write, parental involvement, curricular challenges, and the ever-looming test- ing standards that predominate most conversations about secondary education today. Through this conversation, Mark sat silent. Overwhelmed by the acronyms and specialized language of secondary English instruction, he did not know how to join in the conversation. Ultimately, he realized he was an outsider to this world since he did not speak the others' language. There was a gap between their world of writing instruction and his that he could not cross. He was unable to travel in their world of writing and participate meaning fully in it.

Language to Connect Locations

This early meeting to establish a secondary-university partnership drew our attention to the centrality of language as a connector between locations of writ- ing. In particular, language is the vehicle through which members of different communities travel and come to know one another and their understandings of writing. What was most revealing for us as "writing experts" in this encounter was that one of us, despite his extensive writing knowledge, was unable to ac- cess our partner's language of writing instruction.

After this meeting, we developed a research and teaching partnership with Karen, the high school teacher, in order to identify and examine barriers to student movement between secondary and postsecondary writing locations. Our own experiences of negotiating the language of transitions, including uncomfortable experiences such as the one recounted in the anecdote above, encouraged us to consider how we could come to know high school students' world of writing and develop an appreciation for the ways they used language to describe their relationship to writing and the roles or purposes it served in their lives.

Accordingly, to develop this appreciation, we surveyed Karen's students to capture a local, working corpus of the language they used to articulate their world of writing. Armed with this language, we recognized we would not have to rely on assumptions about what we thought the students knew and valued about writing. Instead, we would be in a position to engage intentionally and directly with the rich and complex world of writing they made visible to us as well as to develop tailored curricular practices to foster effective strategies for students preparing for the secondary to postsecondary transition.

As scholars and teachers of writing interested in the transition between secondary and postsecondary writing, our survey of Karen's students revealed an opportunity to investigate the impact of language as a potential barrier to transitioning between locations of writing. In particular, our view is that two obstacles in the secondary to postsecondary transition are secondary students' lack of familiarity with the language college teachers use to discuss writing and college teachers' lack of familiarity (like Mark's) with the language secondary school teachers and students use to discuss writing. Though the vocabulary or phrasing to discuss writing may be similar between these two locations of writing, we theorize that the meaning that such terms carry varies between lo- cations of writing, thus creating tensions for students about what they thought they knew about writing and what they now need to learn about it in college, a point that researchers on transfer, like Reiff and Bawarshi and also Robertson, Taczak, and Yancey, have made as well. …

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