Naming What We Know: The Project of This Book
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N a m i n g W h at W e K n o w The Project of This Book DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c000b Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle Reading across the last fifty years of research, it is possible to make a case that our field has in many ways been concerned with its constitution as field. Researchers and teachers have reflected on what the field is, whether it is a field, and so on—and on a fairly regular basis. That these are fraught questions is evident in our difficulty even settling on a name for the field. Within the last ten or so years, we seem to have settled on three terms—composition, rhetoric, and writing studies, individually or in combination with one another—to speak to the collective efforts of the discipline. But while we have engaged in what James Carey, perhaps slightly misquoting John Dewey, refers to as “the neurotic quest for certainty” (Carey 1989, 89) in pursuit of these questions about the external boundaries of the field, researchers and teachers in the field have, at the same time, focused on questions related to a common theme: the study of composed knowledge. Within this theme, our work has been expansive. To name just a few areas of practice within it, we have studied what composed knowledge looks like in specific contexts; how good and less-than-good qualities of composed knowledge are defined, by whom, and with what values associated with those definitions and qualities; how to help learners compose knowledge within specific contexts and with what consequences for learner and context; the relationships between technologies and processes for composing knowledge; connections between affordances and potential for composing knowledge; and how composed knowledge can be best assessed and why. As we have taken on these questions associated with composed knowledge , writing researchers, instructors, and programs have simultaneously attempted to participate in discussions—with one another and with others (such as departmental colleagues, administrators, parents, 2   Naming What We Know and policymakers)—about what students should learn about writing, how they should learn those things, and how those things should be taught and assessed. These responses have taken two forms. One involves drafting concise, usable statements about best practices extending from the field’s knowledge that are intended to be used for policy and practice . This perspective is represented by documents like The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing or the CCCC Position Statement on Dual Credit/Concurrent Enrollment Composition: Policy and Best Practices. Another involves attempts to identify and clarify the boundaries of the discipline as a way of containing, instantiating, and reifying types of writing-related knowledge (e.g., Bizzell 1986; Cook 2011; Kopelsen 2008; Phelps, Wiley, and Gleason 1995; Worsham 1999a, 1999b). These efforts to outline best practices and outline and clarify the field’s boundaries are important. But they sidestep a pressing point: whatever we call ourselves, wherever we may be on the continuum of disciplinarity, fifty (plus) years of research has led us to know some things about the subject of composed knowledge and the questions we ask related to this broad term. This book represents an effort to bring together those things we know using a particular frame, that of threshold concepts. Threshold concepts are concepts critical for continued learning and participation in an area or within a community of practice. This lens of threshold concepts emerged from a research project in the United Kingdom on the characteristics of effective teaching and learning environments in undergraduate education (Cousin 2006). Jan H. F. Meyer and Ray Land began by studying concepts economists felt were central to the study of their discipline; this lens has now been effectively used to consider threshold knowledge in many other discipline. According to Meyer and Land, threshold concepts have several common characteristics: • Learning them is generally transformative, involving “an ontological as well as a conceptual shift . . . becoming a part of who we are, how we see, and how we feel” (Cousin 2006). • Once understood, they are often irreversible and the learner is unlikely to forget them. • They are integrative, demonstrating how phenomena are related, and helping learners make connections. • They tend to involve forms of troublesome knowledge, what Perkins refers to as knowledge that is “alien” or counterintuitive (qtd. in Meyer and Land 2006, 3). Naming What We Know   3 While much of the discussion about threshold concepts has been related to how people learn and participate in specific disciplinary communities, threshold concepts of...


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Subject Headings

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