The Place and Function of Reading in First-Year Composition Courses:
A Brief Annotated Review of Recent Scholarship
Neal Bukeavich, 20 July 1998
Preface

Virtually all composition scholars see debates over readings in first-year composition courses as part of the larger debate concerning the purpose of the course. And while virtually no one claims that first year composition is a"service course," many scholars remain divided nonetheless. Lindemann argues that freshman writers should be engaged in academic discussions and discourse while Tate sees conversations beyond the disciplines asmore pertinent to student lives. Other scholars situate themselves between these two positions. When writing is seen as a means to engage other academic disciplines, imaginative literature is often deemed inappropriate to facilitating that engagement. When writing is seen as a means to non-academic dialogues, literature holds obvious value. Most of the essays reviewed here address what readings to teach; only in the last two years, with Salvatori and Foster, have scholars engaged in this particular dialogue explored how to teach various readings.

From my preliminary reading I've learned that my own questions concerning how to talkabout reading in my classes, and how to engage students in reading, are endemic of my assumption that reading and writing are interrelate dissues. While I'm still unwilling to forfeit that assumption, I recognize that it is one that necessarily leads to debate within the academy, and within myself. This research is a step towards betterunderstanding both debates more fully.

Annotated Bibliography

Bartholomae, David. "The Argument of Reading."Argument Revisited; Argument Redefined. Eds. Barbara Emmel, Paula Resch, and Deborah Tenney. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 1996. 199-211.

I find his opening contention, that literature's place in writing courses is a developmental issue more so than an ideological one, an important departure within recent debates on this issue. The relationship between reading practices and revision practices, which he makes brief mention of, is one that merits future analysis within this debate.
Brandt, Deborah. "Remembering Writing, Remembering Reading." College Composition and Communication 45.4 (Dec. 1994): 459-79.
Brandt explores the differences in cultural attitudes and affective circumstances surrounding people's memories of their literary experiences by interviewing forty residents of Dane County, Wisconsin between 1992-93. Brandt finds that writing tends to develop in "situations and out of psychological motivations that are saliently, sometimes jarringly, different from those surrounding reading" (464). Whereas reading is often remembered as a ritual or activity, often with family members during holiday occasions or daily routines, early writing is typically remembered as "occurring in lonely, secret, or rebellious circumstances" (464). She concludes by stating, "It appears that what gives writing its particular value for people--its usefulness in maintaining material life, withholding experience for private reflection, and resisting conformity and control--are the very qualities that make writing a problematic practice for adults to pass on to children to share easily with adults" (473).

By elaborating on the cultural implications of literacy beyond school environments, this essay is an important one for understanding not only why many students have difficulty stepping into writing roles, but also why they are resistant towards doing so. This is, by my account, the first essay that theorizes in any persuasive fashion the psychological underpinnings that people in our culture often share about writing.

Foster, David. "Readings(s) in the Writing Classroom." College Composition and Communication 48.4 (Dec. 1997): 518-39. Gamer, Michael. "Fictionalizing the Disciplines: Literature and the Boundaries of Knowledge." College English 57.3 (March 1993): 281-86.
Building on the argument put forth by Gary Tate, Gamer suggests that imaginative literature holds a place in composition classrooms because "they hold multiple points of view and are by nature multidisciplinary" (282). He further argues that the professional acceptance of literary theory gives teachers the means to teach imaginative texts in ways that make use of students' experiences while at the same time helping them see the limits of those experiences. It helps students link abstract ideas to their own experiences and serves as useful practice for other kinds of analysis, particularly the kind where they engage academic discussions by treating the disciplines themselves as constructs worthy of analysis and questioning. In this way, Gamer sees imaginative literature as useful on several levels: it develops critical thinking skills; it participates in writing-across-the-disciplines pedagogies; and it engages students in academic discussions and makes use of personal experiences at the same time. I find this essay an interesting response to Erika Lindemann who implies that there are no ways to teach literary texts in student-centered ways. He calls his approach "writing outside the curriculum" because it asks students to link seemingly disparate fields (like economics and composition). This helps students find relational value between writing and other aspects of their lives and, I think, enriches the academic experience by underscoring the relations between various academic fields.
Lindemann, Erika. "Freshman Composition: No Place for Literature." College English 55.3 (March 1993): 311-16.
Lindemann situates the debate about using literature (fiction, poetry, drama) in freshman Writing courses within similar debates over the purpose of these courses. Within what she calls "second generation [Writing Across the Curriculum] courses" whose subject matter is the processes whereby writers and readers enter the conversation of the academy and begin to contribute to the making of knowledge," literary readings are inappropriate (312-13). Literary language, she suggests, holds only limited usefulness in a writing course in comparison to "the texts [students] encounter in the academy" because they display "a much larger repertoire of rhetorical options than literary language customarily allows" (314). Lindemann ends with the warning that by including literature in freshman writing courses, teachers run the risk of saying too much which results in students writing too little. Students' immersion into academic conversations must take precedence over the "comfortable" discussions about literature that teachers enjoy. I find this essay provocative because it speaks to teachers who either ignore or forget that student indoctrination into academic discourse operates on several levels, in various fields, not just those related to English departments, and that assignments and readings must attend to this fact.
---. "Three Views of English 101." College English 57.3 (March 1995): 287-301.
Lindemann resumes the discussion she began with Gary Tate in the March 1992 issue of College English by addressing a question she feels has gone unanswered in discussions about the role of literature in composition courses: what is the purpose of a freshman writing course? Rather than present her own personal response, Lindemann defines three broad kinds of writing courses that she sees in the profession: courses which emphasize writing as product, courses which emphasize writing as process, and courses which emphasize writing as a system. In pointing our these divergent approaches, Lindemann questions how such different course designs fail to produce professional dialogues and she ends by chiding teachers who fail to personally interrogate their own practices and who avoid participation in written professional dialogue on issues of importance. I find Lindemann's call for continued professional dialogue on the issue of imaginative literature's place in composition courses and the purpose of writing courses as an important one. But I find the role playing she partakes in within College English--as a position writer in an earlier essay, then as moderator--in need of some critical discussion as well. Specifically, I wonder if her writing, and others', should be taken as sincere, developed position pieces which have grown out of teaching experiences, or if they are merely political statements meant only to provoke future writings.
Salvatori, Mariolina. "Conversations with Texts: Reading in the Teaching of Composition." College English 58.4 (April 1996): 440-54.
Salvatori situates herself within the debate started by Gary Tate and Erika Lindemann about the place of reading in the composition classroom, focusing not on what readings are appropriate, but on what kind of reading should be theorized and practiced (443). Specifically, she argues for a recursive and self-monitoring reading practice, by which she means introspective reading that recognizes the ways in which interpretations are often "re-presentations" of writers' arguments. This type of reading, she suggests, makes students more aware of reading/thinking/writing relationships by revealing the ways in which readers assume different readerly roles. I find this an engaging essay because it attempts to chart some of the cognitive activities that readers partake in, rather than just blindly argue that reading and writing are intrinsically related activities--although I would argue that she fails to present any outcomes or results of her teaching strategies.
Steinberg, Erwin R. "Imaginative Literature in Composition Classrooms?" College English 57.3 (March 1995): 266-80.
The March 1993 dialogue between Gary Tate and Erica Lindemann in College English is Steinberg's primary impetus for writing this essay, as he makes clear in his opening words: "Once again we have been treated to a debate about the role of literature in the first-year writing course" (266). He questions the generalizations that both of these writers make, arguing that there is "no such thing as the composition classroom" (266 emphasis his), then provides a brief history of composition studies since 1930, drawing largely form Albert Kitzhaber's 1963 book, Themes, Theories, and Therapy. "My reading of history," he explains, "says that imaginative literature has not had a secure place in composition classrooms since at least the 1930" (271). His historicizing of the field serves less as a means of answering the questions that Lindemann and Tate ask, rather to question if a debate even exists. Steinberg makes clear the rhetorical posturing that scholars sometimes participate in and, I think, reminds professional academics that informed research must first validate itself within historical contexts if it is to be taken seriously.
Tate, Gary. "A Place for Literature in Freshman Composition." College English 55.3 (March 1993): 317-21.
Speaking in response to Erika Lindemann and for teachers who situate the purpose of freshman composition in relation to the personal and private conversations of students that occur, or will occur, outside the academy, Tate argues for a version of freshman composition that "excludes no texts" (321). One purpose of writing courses, for Tate, involves learning to write beyond the disciplines and learning to enter conversations other than the academic ones. When teachers choose not to include literature in their writing courses, they participate in a trend in which rhetorical procedures such as brainstorming, looping and cubing take precedence over the creative aspects of composing which call on the imagination. As Tate sees it, participating in this trend relegates freshman composition to the realm of service course status, answerable to sociology and biology departments. Tate admirably complicates the viewpoint held by Lindemann, who holds that freshman composition courses should engage students in academic discourse. But I wonder if teachers could construct coherent composition courses which exist between these two poles, courses which engage students in both styles of writing~academic and personal.
---. "Notes on the Dying of a Conversation." College English 57.3 (March 1995): 303-09.
Tate presents a brief historical account of the 1950's and 60's in an attempt locate the reasons why discussions of the use of imaginative literature in composition classrooms have virtually ceased. Upon reviewing the workshop sessions at the annual CCCC conferences during this period, Tate surmises that while the place of literature in composition courses was a heated issue, the sophistication of the scholarship on the part of pro-literature academics never developed in such a way to provoke continued discussion of the issue. He cites several of the conclusions of the workshops, pointing out the sometimes exaggerated and largely unsupported assertions about literature's value in composition studies: "One of the problems faced by the advocates of the literary approach to composition was explaining what it was that caused literature to have such astonishing effects on students, especially since the abilities of students were often scorned by the very people making exaggerated claims" (307). He concludes with a plea that past failures in asserting literature's value to composition studies inform future conversations in productive ways. Tate's essay is valuable because it reveals the results of professional conversations too reliant on overly romantic and largely undeveloped arguments. Also, he points to a recurring issue in composition studies, that of a composition teacher's identity, when he suggests that many teachers have included literature in their composition courses because of their own insecurity as writing instructors.

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