Preface
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P r eface Ray Land During the first half of my professional career in education, my time was occupied almost entirely with the teaching of writing and encouraging students to appreciate and critique all kinds of written works. As I moved at a later stage into educational and pedagogical research, the critical roles of language and of writing in the processes of student learning and understanding remained for me paramount. In our work in the field of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, my colleague Erik Meyer and I noted from the outset how the conceptual transformations and shifts in subjectivity students experienced in the various disciplines we investigated were invariably and inextricably accompanied by changes in their own use of discourse. More than that, we observed how an encounter with unfamiliar discourse, or different uses or forms of language, often was the trigger that provoked a state of liminality and subsequent transformation in their understanding of a particular phenomenon . Such linguistic encounters might be experienced as troublesome , alien, counterintuitive, or perhaps exhilarating, but this engaging struggle with meaning through talk and subsequent written expression seems to serve as a crucible in which new understanding is forged. We are reminded of T. S. Eliot’s (1974) “intolerable wrestle with words and meanings.” Intolerable, perhaps, at times, but always invaluable. As a more unlikely source of insight, Karl Albrecht, the billionaire German founder of one of the world’s largest supermarket chains, once wisely observed, “Change your language, and you change your thoughts.” We have long known of course, from the research of great scholars such as Vygotsky (1978) and Bakhtin (1988), of the pivotal roles language and writing play in the formation of new understandings and conceptual mastery, and of the crucial importance of the social contexts in which language and written composition are both experienced xii   Preface and produced. Such work has powerfully informed the now-extensive body of work that has been produced in relation to threshold concepts (Flanagan 2014). What this work has lacked and needed until now, however, has been scholarly enquiry that directly addresses the learning thresholds inherent within writing studies itself. It is therefore a great pleasure and privilege to welcome this timely addition to the thresholds literature under the skillful editorship of Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle. What is distinctive about the need to inquire further into the study of writing—and this distinction emerges self-evidently from this volume —is that such study operates across two important dimensions. Like other academic subjects, it has developed over the last half century to take its place within the academy as a field of study in its own right with established programs operating in colleges and universities across the world. The reach of this discipline goes much further, however, in that the practices and understandings of this particular discipline, composed knowledge, infuse and are intrinsic to successful performance in all other disciplines. So it is not surprising that in a collection of studies such as this, we will discover discipline-specific threshold concepts as well as more generic learning thresholds and practices portable to other knowledge domains. Everyone has writing needs throughout their development and career. Acquisition of literacy in early years might well be viewed as the mother of all learning thresholds in that failure to negotiate this portal is in many respects tantamount to a future of social dysfunction and exclusion. As we progress through our academic and professional work, the writing tasks and demands that confront us, in increasingly intense and frequently high-stakes contexts we have not previously encountered or experienced, require new understandings and challenging transformations. The range of themes, issues, and thought-provoking questions that arise from the chapters that follow is admirable. In part 1, we find ourselves immersed in debates and explorations regarding writing as conception , as technology, and as mediating artifact. We consider writing as both action and activity and analyze the contextual and situated nature of writing. We explore addressivity, the realms of writing as cognition as well as its relation to subjectivity. The threshold nature of various tools, processes, and strategies of writing is assessed, while thoughout we are reminded that we can never step outside of culture and that writing never offers an ideology-free zone. In part 2, the camera lens pulls back to bring into view how threshold concepts usefully facilitate Preface   xiii not only our students’ learning but also faculty development and outreach . We consider the role of threshold concepts...



Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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