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(Re)Considering What We Know

(Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy

LINDA ADLER-KASSNER
ELIZABETH WARDLE
Copyright Date: 2019
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvv4189q
Pages: 354
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvv4189q
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  • Book Info
    (Re)Considering What We Know
    Book Description:

    Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, published in 2015, contributed to a discussion about the relevance of identifying key concepts and ideas of writing studies.(Re)Considering What We Know continues that conversation while simultaneously raising questions about the ideas around threshold concepts. Contributions introduce new concepts, investigate threshold concepts as a framework, and explore their use within and beyond writing. Part 1 raises questions about the ideologies of consensus that are associated with naming threshold concepts of a discipline. Contributions challenge the idea of consensus and seek to expand both the threshold concepts framework and the concepts themselves. Part 2 focuses on threshold concepts in action and practice, demonstrating the innovative ways threshold concepts and a threshold concepts framework have been used in writing courses and programs. Part 3 shows how a threshold concepts framework can help us engage in conversations beyond writing studies. (Re)Considering What We Know raises new questions and offers new ideas that can help to advance the discussion and use of threshold concepts in the field of writing studies. It will be of great interest to scholars and graduate students in writing studies, especially those who have previously engaged withNaming What We Know. Contributors: Marianne Ahokas, Jonathan Alexander, Chris M. Anson, Ian G. Anson, Sarah Ben-Zvi, Jami Blaauw-Hara, Mark Blaauw-Hara, Maggie Black, Dominic Borowiak, Chris Castillo, Chen Chen, Sandra Descourtis, Norbert Elliot, Heidi Estrem, Alison Farrell, Matthew Fogarty, Joanne Baird Giordano, James Hammond, Holly Hassel, Lauren Heap, Jennifer Heinert, Doug Hesse, Jonathan Isaac, Katie Kalish, Páraic Kerrigan, Ann Meejung Kim, Kassia Krzus-Shaw, Saul Lopez, Jennifer Helane Maher, Aishah Mahmood, Aimee Mapes, Kerry Marsden, Susan Miller-Cochran, Deborah Mutnick, Rebecca Nowacek, Sarah O'Brien, Ọlá Ọládipọ̀, Peggy O'Neill, Cassandra Phillips, Mya Poe, Patricia Ratanapraphart, Jacqueline Rhodes, Samitha Senanayake, Susan E. Shadle, Dawn Shepherd, Katherine Stein, Patrick Sullivan, Brenna Swift, Carrie Strand Tebeau, Matt Thul, Nikhil Tiwari, Lisa Tremain, Lisa Velarde, Kate Vieira, Gordon Blaine West, Anne-Marie Womack, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Xiaopei Yang, Madylan Yarc

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-932-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Editors’ Introduction: THRESHOLD CONCEPTS, NAMING WHAT WE KNOW, AND RECONSIDERING OUR SHARED CONCEPTIONS
    (pp. 3-12)
    Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle

    When we organized the thought experiment that became Naming What We Know (NWWK) in 2013, we had in mind producing a collection whose primary audience would be students, teachers, and researchers within the discipline but that might be used for those audiences for purposes beyond the discipline. When we identified this goal, we were cognizant of the extent to which virtually everyone who writes—which is to say virtually everyone—considers writing to be “their business” and of the agency experience affords people to generate everything from opinions to policy about writing (Adler-Kassner 2017; Adler-Kassner and Wardle 2015). While we...

  2. PART 1: CHALLENGES, CRITIQUES, AND NEW CONCEPTIONS

    • 1 RECOGNIZING THE LIMITS OF THRESHOLD CONCEPT THEORY
      (pp. 15-35)
      Elizabeth Wardle, Linda Adler-Kassner, Jonathan Alexander, Norbert Elliot, J.W. Hammond, Mya Poe, Jacqueline Rhodes and Anne-Marie Womack

      In “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge,” Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2006) explain that “interviews and wider discussions with practitioners in a range of disciplines and institutions” (6) led them to identify the characteristics associated with threshold concepts that have become familiar to researchers who have adopted or adapted this framework for thinking about learning and teaching. That is, threshold concepts are transformative, probably irreversible, integrative, potentially troublesome, and bounded. It’s this latter idea that is significant for this chapter. Specifically, as Meyer and Land explain, threshold concepts are “possibly often (though not necessarily always) bounded in that any conceptual...

    • 2 LITERACY IS A SOCIOHISTORIC PHENOMENON WITH THE POTENTIAL TO LIBERATE AND OPPRESS
      (pp. 36-55)
      Kate Vieira, Lauren Heap, Sandra Descourtis, Jonathan Isaac, Samitha Senanayake, Brenna Swift, Chris Castillo, Ann Meejung Kim, Kassia Krzus-Shaw, Maggie Black, Ọlá Ọládipọ̀, Xiaopei Yang, Patricia Ratanapraphart, Nikhil M. Tiwari, Lisa Velarde and Gordon Blaine West

      Literacy is sociohistoric phenomenon that has spread widely through the circulation of people, practices, and texts.¹ Understanding the contours of this sociohistoric trend we call literacy is essential for effective literacy instruction: whether we are cognizant of it or not, when we intervene in people’s literacy development as educators, administrators, researchers, and writers, we are also intervening in history, aligning ourselves with particular ideologies of literacy and distancing ourselves from others. In other words, the social history of literacy profoundly matters for our work in the present.

      While literacy is commonly understood as a set of skills, and while skills...

    • 3 THINKING LIKE A WRITER: Threshold Concepts and First-Year Writers in Open-Admissions Classrooms
      (pp. 56-75)
      Cassandra Phillips, Holly Hassel, Jennifer Heinert, Joanne Baird Giordano and Katie Kalish

      The 2015 volume Naming What We Know (NWWK) (Adler-Kassner and Wardle), launched as a collaborative endeavor by scholars in the field who spelled out five metaconcepts reflecting disciplinary knowledge, initiated a scholarly conversation about threshold concepts in writing studies. This disciplinary work grew out of many iterations of threshold-concept research that traces its origins to the study of undergraduate teaching and learning improvement (Cousin 2006). Ray Land, Glynis Cousin, Jan Meyer, and Peter Davies (2005) explored “why certain students ‘get stuck’ at particular points in the curriculum whilst others grasp concepts with comparative ease” (53). They postulated that disciplinary ways...

    • 4 WRITING AS PRACTICED AND STUDIED BEYOND “WRITING STUDIES”
      (pp. 76-93)
      Doug Hesse and Peggy O’Neill

      What are the borders of “writing studies?” We ask this question in light of ongoing thoughtful efforts to establish threshold concepts of this discipline. We ask because some writing sites and traditions don’t seem to be represented in the definitional work done so far. A consideration of two of those sites—creative writing and journalism—will illustrate our point and, if we’re successful, suggest a couple of options. One would be to add new threshold concepts within or adjacent to writing studies, an addition to accommodate more inhabitants under the roof of writing, although we aren’t suggesting we (or others...

    • 5 RHETORIC AS PERSISTENTLY “TROUBLESOME KNOWLEDGE”: Implications for Disciplinarity
      (pp. 94-112)
      Jennifer Helene Maher

      Disciplinary histories serve the important function of legitimizing the identity and work of a discipline. In their discussion of disciplinary histories in the sciences, Loren Graham, Wolf Lepenies, and Peter Wingart (1983) note distinctions between the internal and external orientations of these histories. The former orientation serves to enculturate newcomers and create a shared sense of identity rooted in the innate value of its disciplinary knowledge (8–10). The latter orientation aims to generate legitimation for the discipline and its knowledge beyond the discipline itself (e.g., the public, the government, funding organizations). Yet, histories of rhetoric and composition are often...

    • 6 THE WORLD CONFRONTS US WITH UNCERTAINTY: Deep Reading as a Threshold Concept
      (pp. 113-134)
      Patrick Sullivan

      Historically, composition and rhetoric have devoted only intermittent attention to reading as a critical component of literacy development, preferring to cede reading instruction to K–12 reading specialists. Meanwhile, national standards like the Common Core, which shape the reading experiences of students before they arrive at college, have generally rendered reading into a mechanical cognitive process focused primarily on decoding texts (Carillo 2016; Dole et al. 1991; Hillocks 2002; Ravitch 2013; Tucker 2011; Wolf 2008, 226). Recent collections such as Deep Reading: Teaching Reading in the Writing Classroom (Sullivan, Tinberg, and Blau 2017) and What Is College Reading? (Horning, Gollnitz,...

    • 7 EXPANDING THE INQUIRY: What Everyday Writing with Drawing Helps Us Understand about Writing and about Writing-Based Threshold Concepts
      (pp. 135-158)
      Kathleen Blake Yancey

      Although the writing studies threshold concepts identified in Naming What We Know (Adler-Kassner and Wardle 2015) describe a good deal of what we know about writing, the applications thus far are to school contexts, which is not surprising given that writing in school continues to focus the discipline of rhetoric and composition. At the same time, given the discipline’s interest in everyday writing and the value of having writing studies threshold concepts describe all kinds of writing, a good question is what we might learn about the capacity of the current threshold concepts to address everyday writing. Put as a...

  3. PART 2: USING THRESHOLD CONCEPTS TO ENGAGE WITH WRITING TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

    • 8 DOORS BETWEEN DISCIPLINES: Threshold Concepts and the Community College Writing Program
      (pp. 161-174)
      Mark Blaauw-Hara, Carrie Strand Tebeau, Dominic Borowiak and Jami Blaauw-Hara

      Integrating threshold concepts into a departmental curriculum can be a daunting project, particularly at a community college where writing faculty hail from nearly every degree program related to English. Because threshold concepts of writing draw from the discourse community of rhetoric and composition, they might at first seem alien to faculty from other subdisciplines. Yet at North Central Michigan College, we have found that threshold concepts offer a rich opportunity to develop a community of practice within the English department that integrates our varying writing identities rather than elides them. We have not eschewed our formative writing identities in exchange...

    • 9 EXTENDING WHAT WE KNOW: Reflections on the Transformational Value of Threshold Concepts for Writing Studies Contingent Faculty
      (pp. 175-193)
      Lisa Tremain, Marianne Ahokas, Sarah Ben-Zvi and Kerry Marsden

      The threshold concepts of writing identified in Naming What We Know (Adler-Kassner and Wardle 2015) were developed by an impressive list of scholars from our field. You know these names; prior to and since Naming What We Know (NWWK), they present us with extensive and important scholarly projects on writing knowledge and development. These contributions have evolved and shaped the scholarly conversations in writing studies, which spiral out to the everyday writing classroom. But what does it look like when scholarship is taken up and transformed into classroom practice? And who are the people doing this work? While threshold concepts...

    • 10 THRESHOLD CONCEPTS AND CURRICULUM REDESIGN IN FIRST-YEAR WRITING
      (pp. 194-207)
      Heidi Estrem, Dawn Shepherd and Susan E. Shadle

      Recent scholarship about writing transfer explores how the content of courses plays a critical role in encouraging or impeding the transfer of knowledge about writing to other rhetorical contexts (see Beaufort 2007; Downs and Wardle 2007; Nowacek 2011; Wardle 2007; Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak 2014). Collectively, these scholars help us reconsider what has long been an assumption underlying many first-year writing programs: that what students write about matters far less than that they are writing, and writing a lot (see Beaufort 2012; Charlton 2009/10; Smit 2004). Instead, this body of writing-transfer research is beginning to indicate writing itself can and...

    • 11 FRAMING GRADUATE TEACHING ASSISTANT PREPARATION AROUND THRESHOLD CONCEPTS OF WRITING STUDIES
      (pp. 208-226)
      Aimee C. Mapes and Susan Miller-Cochran

      Recent research on knowledge transfer has helped writing studies scholars begin to understand the messy nature of writing development, demonstrating that threshold concepts of writing studies are indeed “a productive frame through which to consider questions related to writing and transfer” (Adler-Kassner, Majewski, and Koshnick 2012), especially for undergraduate students. There are compelling studies on transfer and metacognitive practices (Beaufort 2007; Carroll 2002; Driscoll and Powell 2016; Negretti 2012; Nowacek 2011; Rounsaville, Goldberg, and Bawarshi 2008; Sommers and Saltz 2004; Sternglass 1997; Wardle 2007) and in-depth explorations in first-year writing such as Kathleen Blake Yancey, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak’s...

    • 12 THRESHOLD CONCEPTS AND THE PHENOMENAL FORMS
      (pp. 227-243)
      Deborah Mutnick

      Oummou Jawara was a student in an accelerated first-year composition (FYC) class I taught in fall 2017 with a focus on the theme of literacy and identity. That semester, in addition to some commonly taught FYC texts like Malcolm X’s “Learning to Read” and Sherman Alexie’s “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” I assigned difficult, academic articles, including James Paul Gee’s “What Is Literacy?,” Deborah Brandt’s “Literacy and Sponsorship,” and June Jordan’s “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan.” I also introduced threshold concepts in an attempt, together with the...

    • 13 GRAPPLING WITH THRESHOLD CONCEPTS OVER TIME: A Perspective from Tutor Education
      (pp. 244-260)
      Rebecca Nowacek, Aishah Mahmood, Katherine Stein, Madylan Yarc, Saul Lopez and Matt Thul

      At their core, threshold concepts help illuminate the complicated phenomenon of expertise. When described, threshold concepts also provide a powerful vocabulary for conceptualizing the transformative nature of expertise. For this reason, our university writing center has used the language of threshold concepts in general—and the threshold concepts of writing identified in Naming What We Know (NWWK) (Adler-Kassner and Wardle 2015) in particular—as the anchor for educating peer writing tutors over the past four years.

      Undergraduate students who become peer writing tutors begin by taking a course foregrounding threshold concepts of writing, then work as tutors for at least...

    • 14 “I CAN’T GO ON, I’LL GO ON”: Liminality in Undergraduate Writing
      (pp. 261-278)
      Matthew Fogarty, Páraic Kerrigan, Sarah O’Brien and Alison Farrell

      According to Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2006), along with being troublesome, integrative, transformative, and probably irreversible, threshold concepts are characterized as liminal. Their liminal nature is summarized by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle (2016): “Threshold concepts involve what the name implies—thresholds. But the movement toward and the (hopeful) crossing of those thresholds isn’t straightforward; instead, it happens in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way as learners push against troublesome knowledge” (ix). Glynis Cousin (2006) observes that the idea of liminal states aids “our understanding of the conceptual transformations students undergo” in challenging learning situations, like the grasping of threshold...

  4. PART 3: THRESHOLD CONCEPTS AND WRITING:: BEYOND THE DISCIPLINE

    • 15 RETHINKING EPISTEMOLOGICALLY INCLUSIVE TEACHING
      (pp. 281-296)
      Linda Adler-Kassner

      Many institutions are paying particular attention to how they can make learning more accessible to students’ diverse identities, experiences, and cultures. In this chapter, I draw on data from participants in a year-long faculty-development seminar to describe a framework for epistemologically inclusive teaching that begins to stand at the intersection of two areas of research that attempt to address questions associated with this accessibility. One area focuses on identifying threshold concepts and aligned theories intended to make epistemological commitments of disciplines explicit and create learning activities for students to identify and participate in those commitments. The other focuses on questions...

    • 16 USING A THRESHOLD CONCEPTS FRAMEWORK TO FACILITATE AN EXPERTISE-BASED WAC MODEL FOR FACULTY DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 297-312)
      Elizabeth Wardle

      The writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) movement in the United States began over thirty years ago, likely at Central College in Pella, Iowa, thanks to the efforts of Barbara Walvoord, who “gathered an interdisciplinary group of faculty to discuss student writing” (Walvoord et al. 2011, 1). Thousands of faculty from colleges and universities have since participated in “WAC workshops, discussion groups, ‘fellows’ programs, team-teaching programs, writing-intensive courses, linked courses, and other permutations” (1). Initially, WAC faculty-development programs typically taught “WAC strategies,” defined as “deliberate action[s] of the teacher, intended to result in student learning” (1). Typical WAC strategies taught in these programs included...

    • 17 TALKING ABOUT WRITING: A Study of Key Writing Terms Used Instructionally across the Curriculum
      (pp. 313-327)
      Chris M. Anson, Chen Chen and Ian G. Anson

      Faculty in the disciplines often expect students enrolling in their courses to have already acquired the writing skills and the rhetorical knowledge necessary to perform well. Yet previous studies document the struggles all writers encounter when they move across communities of practice and face new and unfamiliar genres, content, and ways of making knowledge (e.g., Anson 2016a, 2016b; Anson and Forsberg 1990; Beaufort 2007; Haswell 1991; Herrington and Curtis 2000; McCarthy 1987; Smart 2000; Sternglass 1997). To write successfully, students must be almost chameleonic in their adaptation to these differences as they move from course to course. This process is...

  5. Editors’ Conclusion: EXPANDING AND EXAMINING WHAT WE (THINK WE) KNOW
    (pp. 328-332)
    Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle

    Since the publication of Naming What We Know, the two of us have had many opportunities to talk with faculty across a range of institutions and disciplines about threshold concepts. In the process, we have also built upon our collaborative work, as well as the work of many others, to create (and add to) a framework for thinking about teaching that draws on threshold concept theory. As we have led workshops for and discussions with faculty from disciplines as varied as philosophy, biology, engineering, and English studies broadly conceived, we frequently find ourselves repeating some version of the same point...