“Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write” – Bergmann and Zepernick

“Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write”  by Bergmann and Zepernick

Article Citation: Bergmann, Linda S., and Janet Zepernick. “Disciplinarity and Transfer: Students’ Perceptions of Learning to Write.” Writing Program Administration 31.1-2 (2007): 124-149. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Abstract: Writing instructors from the University of Missouri-Rolla conducted focus groups of students from FYC and upper level discipline classes to find out how students could talk about disciplinarity, rhetoric, and writing process. The school is invested in a strong WAC and writing center program that values writing intensive classes and has a high concentration of students in the sciences. They were also looking for transfer from FYC and English literature classes and other disciplines. Their findings were that the students talked about writing in a basic rhetorical manner, however, their attribute most of their writing skills to their discipline’s classes instead of the FYC and literature classes. The students typically found their science based classes gave them real world application and did not see the English classes as having a discipline.

Keywords: Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Studies, Disciplinarity, Rhetoric, Composition

Key Quotes:

“The terms students used to characterize the kind of writing they did in FYC and other courses in the English Department included ‘fluff,’ ‘b.s.,’ and ‘flowery,’ whereas in talking about the writing they did in other classes, students used descriptors such as ‘concise,’ ‘to the point,’ and ‘not a lot of flowery adjectives'” (125)

“We suspected that students grouped everything they were taught about academic writing in FYC under the heading of ‘How to b.s. your way through an English paper with a lot of flowery adjectives and other fluff,’ and therefore failed to perceive the transferability of most of what these courses purported to teach them about writing” (125)

“Students’ conceptions of learning to write are composed of some combination of individual experience and peer culture” (126).

“We were particularly impressed by the students’ perceptions of themselves as agents of their own learning, rather than as recipients of an imposed curriculum” (128).

“Before students arrive n college writing classrooms, they already share certain preconceptions about writing and what it means to learn to write; and that those preconceptions limit students’ ability to recognize, understand, or, finally, make use of most of the skills that composition teachers are trying to teach” (128-9).

“Students tend to think of writing in English classes as personal and expressive rather than academic or professional, and therefore think that teachers’ comments and suggestions represent an unwarranted ‘intrusion’ into students’ own personal and intellectual territory” (129).

“It is not surprising that students could suppose that the institution as a whole did not place a high value on the content of the FYC course compared to writing in the disciplines), particularly since so many students met the FYC requirement through SAT or other test scores or dual-credit high school programs” (130).

“they feel this ownership and because they perceive no discipline behind English teachers’directions and comments,t hey take writing teachers’ suggestions as meddling rather than teaching or coaching” (132).

“Students freely admitted to mechanical carelessness in writing for faculty outside the English Department on the grounds that teachers in other content areas only care about facts and ideas, not the surface qualities of writing” (132).

“Several students argued that FYC does not do enough to teach and enforce grammatical correctness and editing skills, skills that they believed to be of primary importance in the workplace, and the only skills our respondents seemed willing to allow English faculty to teach them” (133).

“Study participants showed their conviction that he purpose of school writing is to get a grade, that the audience is the teacher, and that a successful paper must take into account both stated constraints (length requirement, number of sources, and sometimes even sentence types that must be included) and unstated (a teacher’s known preference for papers that exceed the length requirement, or a teacher’s obsession with what students typically see as meaningless details)” (133-4).

“Students seemed to be completely unaware that the purpose of FYC might be to help them turn their rhetorical ‘street smarts’ into conscious methods of analysis–of situation-specific audiences, discourse communities, rhetorical situations, and relevant textual models–that they could then apply to writing situations in other contexts” (134).

“[Students were] highly product-oriented, believing that the final product of any piece of writing in school is the grade it received, and that the final product of a piece of writing at work is the extent of its acceptance or approval by their supervisor” (136).

Further Questions:

  • This study was conducted at a school with higher than average standardized testing scores with the affinity for the sciences AND most of the FYC classes were taught by literature professors without a rhetoric and composition background. Would the students that took FYC feel differently about what they learned in their writing classes if the instructors were engaging the students in multimodality, genre studies, genre transformation, etc?

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