Composing Ourselves: Writing Pathways to Student Success (Deadline Oct. 15, 2011)

full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Lillian Craton and Dr. Renee Love

Composing Ourselves: Writing Pathways to Student Success

We invite submissions for a proposed collection that explores how writing coursework—particularly college freshman composition—might lead to students' personal and professional development. This development may grow from the familiar activities of writing instructors: mentoring and advising students, cultivating their civic engagement, or coaching them in the arts of communication, negotiation, and self-presentation. Given the intensity of student-teacher interaction within composition studies, writing instructors have a unique opportunity to guide first-year college students towards life skills like managing time, coping with stress, and building productive peer relationships. We are positioned to cultivate the mindsets and behaviors that lead students to success throughout their college educations and professional careers. On the other hand, we must balance our desire to help students grow as individuals with the goals of our discipline and the ethical limitations of our outreach. This collection calls for pedagogical strategies designed to enhance students' writing skills while also promoting students' success outside the academy.

How might the composition course provide value for students in terms of professional, personal, and confidence development? How can writing teachers help students hone strategies that promote success across the disciplines and beyond the academy? We invite discussion about the opportunities and risks that come from viewing writing instruction as a form of mentoring that has broad applications for student success. For those interested in submitting a proposal for this collection, please send 500-word abstracts for consideration to or by October 15, 2011.

Additional Context

There has long been a debate about the appropriate writing and reading materials for first year composition – in short, a debate about what students should read, write, and do in the first year composition course. For example, what is the ideal philosophy or underlying foundation for the composition class? Should students write more or read more? Should teachers emphasize product or process? Should first-year writing include literary texts, political discourse, personal reflection, and/or academic writing, and how much can one instructor hope to accomplish in a single semester? Such questions about the purpose and content of the composition class are ubiquitous in our field and invigorate our work. Yet, as writing instructors working with first-year college students, we often find ourselves juggling these questions with more basic concerns about classroom management and student maturity; our students may need help understanding their roles in the classroom before they can achieve academic goals. As teachers, we are often the first to introduce students to the concept of attendance policies, for instance, or to talk with them about time-management. We guide our classes in the conventions of professional behavior and communication. We insist on civil, mature classroom debate. In other words, we teach broad-based skills that go beyond writing. Such practices help students grow within our discipline and prepare them for professional success; they are also examples of the wonderfully practical role that composition courses can play for students.

At times, though, the emotional and psychological needs of students can weigh heavily on a writing teacher's shoulders. Given the personal nature of some English 101 writing courses, which are often smaller in size than other university Gen-Ed courses, we have unusual intimacy with our students. When students need coaching in the mechanics of life and professionalism, writing instructors are often the first to know. Who among us has not seen signs of academic struggle or personal crisis emerge in students' writing or classroom demeanor?

Writing professors have a remarkable opportunity to shape the attitudes and behaviors that guide students to success, but that opportunity can be tricky and misleading. On one hand, writing faculty often have the clearest perspective on students' lifestyles and habits of thought and thus may have the best chances of promoting healthy academic and personal behaviors. Yet, generally speaking, we are neither students' parents nor trained therapists; we are blatantly unqualified to solve many of our students' problems. We also have a rich body of core material that students must master, so we have little time to spare. If we are to address extra-disciplinary issues of growth and behavior in the classroom, we must do so ethically and mindfully of our core task to teach good writing.

This collection hopes to open discussion of the intersections between writing instruction and the development of skills that lead students to long-term success. We welcome proposals on all related topics, particularly those that respond to one or more of these questions:
• How do mentoring and promoting students' professional development fit within the framework of writing instruction, and what role should life coaching play in our classrooms?
• What specific assignments or classroom activities promote good writing while developing other skills for success?
• What can and can't we teach our students about the life skills they need to succeed in college and careers? How can writing teachers find a balance in this area?
• What role should writing instructors play in identifying and responding to students in personal or academic crisis? What ethical or legal principles govern these responses?
• Can attention to students' personal and professional development help writing faculty articulate the value of their work in a time of shrinking university budgets?

Proposals for both research-based essays and reflective essays are welcome. Essays that extend the topic to advanced high school coursework or writing-intensive literature coursework will also be considered. Please send 500-word abstracts for consideration to or by October 15, 2011.