7. Threshold Concepts in First-Year Composition
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7 T h r e s h o l d C o nc e p t s i n F i r s t- Y e a r C o m p o s i t i o n DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c007 Doug Downs and Liane Robertson Introduction First-year composition (FYC) is “a space, a moment, and an experience —in which students might reconsider writing apart from previous schooling and work, within the context of inquiry-based higher education ” (Downs 2013, 50). It should be, in other words, a curricular space with two goals, one for students and one for the course itself: (1) for students to examine and ideally reconsider prior knowledge about writing in light of new experiences and knowledge offered by their FYC course(s), and (2) for the course itself to serve as a general education course, teaching transferable knowledge of and about writing so that what is taught and learned can be adapted to new contexts of writing. This mission is incredibly challenging given the nature of writing as a radically contextual and situated activity, one that varies dramatically from instance to instance and site to site. When we examine first-year composition with an eye toward teaching threshold concepts of and about writing, we find that these goals for FYC—helping students examine prior knowledge and teaching for transfer—dovetail with a pedagogy that makes threshold concepts the declarative content of the course. Threshold concepts connect with reexamining prior knowledge because, as Meyer and Land (2006) suggest , early knowledge of writing is likely to be built on incomplete and inaccurate ideas about writing—misconceptions of the nature of the activity and misguided expectations as to how writing ought to work and go. To say that FYC will focus on threshold concepts, then, is to say that it will, in part, focus on misconceptions and work toward richer conceptualizations of writing. Threshold concepts connect as well with the 106   Part 2 : Using Threshold Concepts mission of teaching for transfer because the threshold concepts of writing are general principles that apply across a wide range of writing situations , even as those situations vary widely. Unlike narrow procedural (how-to) knowledge, which varies from task to task, threshold concepts apply broadly to almost every writing situation. A general education writing course is helped tremendously in its mission of teaching transferable knowledge about a situated activity when threshold concepts are the declarative content taught in the course. Although we are relatively new to the language of threshold concepts and have only recently begun explicitly designing our FYC courses with them in mind, we have been implicitly making threshold concepts the declarative content of our FYC courses for some time. In this chapter, we first provide examples from our own courses to explore groups of threshold concepts that help FYC accomplish the two purposes we outline above (i.e., addressing misconceptions of writing and teaching for transfer). We then use this discussion of specific threshold concepts to help us develop grounded pedagogical examples in the second part of the chapter. There, we explore threshold concepts as a conceptual framework for FYC, theorizing about the reasons threshold concepts make effective content for FYC and unpacking the claims we’ve made in this introduction. In the final section of the chapter, we consider how threshold concepts can shape student learning outcomes and serve as course content. Ultimately, we contend that designing a first-year composition course around threshold concepts is feasible and that threshold concepts are a key to helping FYC achieve the dual missions of addressing misconceptions in students’ writing knowledge and of teaching for learning transfer to later, different writing situations. Which to T each ? Ch o o sing Th resh o ld Conce pt s for FY C Writing is an exercise in, as Ann Berthoff (1987) famously puts it, allatonceness . No element of the writing process is ultimately separable from the other parts. The same is true of writing’s threshold concepts. In part 1 of this book, individual concepts are bundled under overarching thematic concepts, but each concept is thick with cross-references to other concepts because they are interdependent and intertwined. In composing this chapter, we have also recognized that our FYC courses concern themselves with a large number of individual threshold concepts, and we have bundled them under four overarching categories. Here, we detail these categories and the individual threshold concepts that connect to them. Threshold Concepts in First-Year Composition...



Subject Headings

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