Introduction: Using Threshold Concepts
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In t r o d uc t i o n Using Threshold Concepts Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle Part 1 of Naming What We Know took up the task of finding a set of foundational concepts on which a group of disciplinary experts in writing studies could agree. Part 2 of the book considers what writing faculty or, in some instances, faculty who use writing in their teaching , can do or have done with that set of threshold concepts. How can naming and considering threshold concepts explicitly help us in the many tasks in which this range of faculty engages? Naming threshold concepts, after all, should not be a navel-gazing exercise. Instead, it is a pressing prerequisite to being able to work more effectively with our various stakeholders, from students to colleagues in other disciplines to administrators to lawmakers. These chapters demonstrate the broad scope of our field’s work, from general education courses to writing majors and doctoral programs, all of which must be assessed, and from writing centers to writing-acrossthe -curriculum programs and other outreach efforts. These varied sites of expert practice, of teaching and learning, demonstrate the dual importance of our field’s threshold concepts, as we discussed in the “Metaconcept: Writing Is an Activity and a Subject of Study”: the threshold concepts of writing studies are relevant not only for learners hoping to join our discipline but to anyone who writes or provides feedback on student writing. Although we chafe at being designated a “service” discipline, our work exists simultaneously within and beyond our disciplinary boundaries as we study writing within multiple contexts. Moreover, the results of our research are relevant and valuable to many sorts of people; although we may not conduct research with the primary intent of being a service to others, much of what we learn may, in fact, usefully provide such a service to others—if we can find ways to share it. The chapters in part 2 of Naming What We Know explicitly take up the threshold concepts from part 1 in an effort to demonstrate how those Introduction: Using Threshold Concepts   85 concepts either have informed or could inform particular sites of work, or how those concepts shed light on difficulties in certain sites of work. The first set of chapters in part 2 focus on the use of threshold concepts in courses and programs. In the opening chapter, Heidi Estrem takes up the question of learning outcomes, asking readers to consider the relationship between learning outcomes and threshold concepts and considering the benefits of each. In their chapter on first-year composition, Doug Downs and Liane Robertson describe the ways threshold concepts can provide the content for a course that has historically been understood as contentless or remedial. They demonstrate how the threshold concepts from part 1 can be grouped around four sites of troublesome knowledge about writing that students from all majors can benefit from interrogating. Similarly, Blake Scott and Elizabeth Wardle examine the ways department members can benefit from explicitly attempting to name shared threshold concepts as they design undergraduate programs and attempt to create a set of student learning outcomes. Like Estrem, they note some ways threshold concepts can encourage the hard and messy work of learning rather than shutting it down or confining it, as learning outcomes sometimes can. Kara Taczak and Kathleen Blake Yancey continue the conversation about learning by examining how learning happens within a writing studies doctoral program. They note that learning in doctoral programs is not linear and that it happens not only in the delivered curriculum designed by faculty but also in the lived and experienced curriculum, adding another layer of complexity to the conversation about when and how learning thresholds are crossed. The second set of chapters in part 2 consider the role of writing threshold concepts outside the classroom and particular writing programs . How is writing assessed, and how should it be assessed, given our field’s foundational knowledge about writing? Peggy O’Neill urges readers to not only consider that question but also to recognize that anyone who designs a writing assessment must also become familiar with threshold concepts from the field of educational assessment. Rebecca S. Nowacek and Bradley Hughes similarly note that other threshold concepts , beyond those outlined in part 1, come into play for writing center consultants who are working with students from a variety of disciplines and are themselves representative of those disciplines. They also note that threshold concepts can...



Subject Headings

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