Thursday, January 06, 2011

Moving Toward Generalist 2.0 as a Strategy for Addressing Diversity

Introductory Bio

Kevin Eric DePew is an Assistant Professor and Director of Writing Tutorial Services at Old Dominion University. He earned his Ph.D from Purdue University. His research interests include the topics of computer-mediated communication, language diversity, and second-language writing. Kevin is actively involved with the CCCC constituent group on computers and writing. He has published several essays in the journal, Computers and Communication, including “The Body of Charlie Brown's Teacher: What Instructors Should Know about Constructing Digital Subjectivities.”

Editor's Note: References that support this blog post may be found at:

Blog Post

Histories of composition studies have often been about the arguments made and the practice designed for teaching students how to write (Berlin, 1984, 1987; Conner, 1997; Crowley, 1998; Miller, 1993). As a field, composition studies has moved from the overly prescriptive prose produced for current-traditional rhetoric pedagogies to arguably more useful strategies that have helped students “find their voice” and understand how documents communicatively function within chosen contexts. These recent paradigms focused on many practical approaches to engage students with writing, to teach them to communicate through writing, and to develop a curriculum that supports these goals.

A cursory look at early CCC issues include articles about how we administrate composition courses, teach grammar, pedagogically apply rhetorical concepts, and teach creative writing and literature. But this focus on writing, rather than the writer, obviously treats writing and the teaching of writing as a universal practice that all individuals experience in the same way.

More recently composition studies has expanded its scope and is examining other issues related to who is communicating through writing at academic institutions and how students communicate through writing. Moreover, the writing that is being studied is not always writing that is being written for academic context, although sometimes the scholars will explain how understanding the writing occurring in extra-curricular settings is relevant to writing produced for the academic context. To do this work, scholars are drawing more on composition studies’ related fields and sub-disciplines, like literacy studies, WAC/WID, professional writing, basic writing, and, digital writing; likewise scholars are looking beyond the homogeneous student writer to women writers, queer writers, raced writers, ethnic writers, linguistically diverse writers, and writers with disabilities to study these students’ writing practices and their responses to our pedagogies

Slowly we are beginning to see these fields that were at composition studies’ margins informing some of the fields’ central tenets. So whereas the older, original generalists in the field arguably focused on composition as the praxis of rhetoric and the day-to-day practices of teaching writing, the new generalist, or Generalist 2.0, is positioned to draw upon this array of related disciplines to generate an expanded repertoire of pedagogical strategies for working with a heterogeneous student population to communicate through the most effective means for their purpose.

The idea of Generalist 2.0 has roots in the New London Group’s (2000) theories of multiliteracies. The basic tenets of the New London Group’s work has been to design literacy education that engages “with the multiplicity of communication channels and media” and the “increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity” (New London Group 5). While composition studies tends to treat these tenets as separate subjects, I see them as inseparable. Just as Cynthia Selfe (1999) argues that most literacy practices in the new millennium requires technological literacy, the same equally applies to culturally and linguistically diverse individuals who write with these technologies. In some situations, the technology can provide avenues for these diverse students to access mainstream discourse

In spite of this argument, I want to focus the balance of this blog post on this second tenet of cultural and linguistic diversity as a central pillar of Generalist 2.0’s literacy education design. Instructors often deliberately or tacitly reify Matsuda’s (2006) “myth of linguistic homogeneity,” and extend this homogeneous pedagogical paradigm to the ways they address cultural issues including those experienced by diverse students who are not second language writers. By doing so, instructors not only hinder their diverse students’ abilities to achieve the writing course’s communicative goals, but they fail to take advantage of difference as a resource from which all of their students can learn (Canagarajah, 2002).

Arguably composition studies has grown more cognizant of the diverse students with whom we work. In the scholarship we see articles about black students, women students, queer students, disabled student, and second language writers and the CCCC has approved and endorsed position statements that address linguistic diversity and disability issues ( Yet if we walk the halls of many universities and colleges, we would be hard pressed to find in the classrooms and instructors’ offices more than a handful of writing instructors whose pedagogy was informed by this scholarship on diversity or was compliant with the CCCC statements

In spite of recent scholarship on diversity and the ways that some textbooks are beginning to create opportunities to address these issues in class, there is a significant disconnect between what the field offers as its best—and most inclusive—practices and what instructors are actually doing in their classrooms. Particularly with the issue of linguistic diversity, instructors are quite resistant to any arguments that allow students to produce prose that falls short of the accepted academic dialect

Many of these writing instructors will contend that they are not doing their job if they do not penalize students who write with flawless academic edited English. In terms of cultural issues, the typical modes-based pedagogy reduces students’ opportunities to work substantively with the invention and delivery of topics closely tied to their identities. But these are not practices those who actually teach the writing courses will design unless local and national institutions change the culture of the writing course and prompt programs and their instructors to understand the consequences for all of their students.

How might the field achieve these practical goals? We certainly do not want ignorance of diversity to be the instructional norm. Likewise, we do not want instructors to claim that the work of teaching diverse students should be the job of specialists, those who read about and attend conference sessions on the strategies for teaching diverse students. All composition instructors are responsible for knowing how to address the challenges and opportunities that their different students bring to the classroom. A movement toward fostering this second generation of generalists will need to build upon the rich corpus of diversity scholarship in our field writ large to bridge the gap between the scholars’ advocated practices and the actual classroom practices

Thus Generalist 2.0 should use teacher preparation and professionalization as the primary strategy for pushing their agenda. Through these professionalization opportunities instructors often learn how to design and enact daily classroom practices. Yet, in addition to learning what the composition course should be, instructors need to learn what the composition course can be. They need to be made aware that composition pedagogy does not have to a prescribed “one-size fits all” practice. Instead a diversified instructional repertoire gives instructors strategies they need to effectively (and sometimes efficiently) address the needs of all of their students.

To model Generalist 2.0’s potential influence on teacher preparation and professionalization design, I humbly offer my graduate-level Teaching College Composition course at In this course pre-service and in-service instructors read at least three scholarly articles a week on a given composition topic (e.g., history, designing assignments, using technology, teaching grammar). One of these articles will be from composition studies’ mainstream, another will be about second language writers, and another will be about bi-dialectic student populations (i.e., predominantly African-Americans).

I chose this design so that all of the future instructors leaving my course would, at the very least, understand the breadth of choices they have for teaching the linguistically diverse students that they will statistically encounter on a regular basis in their classrooms. While I am pleased with the opportunities this course creates for future instructors, I also recognize the course’s limitations. There are many aspects of diversity that are only addressed in relatively token ways. Although I chose to design this course as a response to instructors’ inquiries about how to read linguistically diverse students’ writing, I could have also equally emphasized issues of gender, ethnicity, ability and such.

I am fairly confident that my course is one of many models that exercise Generalist 2.0 principles, and I encourage others to contribute to the conversation by presenting other models that support culturally and linguistically diverse student bodies.


Sam said...

Dr. DePew, Thank you for sharing your ideas about how you respond to linguistically diverse students in your teaching. As a non-native English speaking student of composition studies, I both understand and feel what you mean. I think that composition studies is ahead of other academic fields in terms of its scholarship on language difference, but the theory, as you say, doesn't seem to match or shape practice as much as it should. Another idea that I found very important in this post is that the diversification of means and practices of literacy and language use in our time has significantly complicated the notions of language difference; for instance, when a Sri Lankan English speaking graduate student is chatting with her former professor at an American university, say on Facebook, the means and mode of communication being used will significantly "complexify" (to use Silva and Leki's word) conventional notions of variety or difference in language. The subject of such communication could be seriously academic, but the language and literacy practice in cross-cultural and mediated situations like this will influence those phenomena in interesting ways. I like to read your work because you address interesting interconnections between language, media, and literacy/academic practices.

Kevin E. DePew said...

Sam--Your comments touch on a point that I am grateful the CCCC Committee on Diversity brought to my attention while I have been forming my thoughts: The problem is not just a split between specialists and generalists. Instead we are looking at a problem of really useful research and scholarship on diversity that is mostly only being experienced by others who do scholarship in these respective areas. Who shows up to the conference sessions? Who reads the articles? Often it is the same people who are (or will be producing) work on these specific diverse populations. And, of course, African-American scholars do not want to just talk to African-American scholars, Queer scholars want a larger audience than just other Queer scholars, and so on.

Thus I think the biggest challenge facing our field is looking for ways to get this specialized knowledge to the practitioners so that we can make substantive difference in all students' literacy education. But the reasons for this limit dispersal of this knowledge are as diverse as the students we want to help--ranging from the individual institutions we work at (e.g., what counts for tenure? how much support does one get to do research? who does the university's policies perceive as their writing student population) and the institution of our field (e.g., what are we publishing? what are we anthologizing/canonizing? where is certain work getting published? how are we as a field helping to put the wider breadth of our scholarship into practice?)

Thanks for the feedback.

Zan Goncalves said...

DePew reminds me to listen carefully to each writer, to connect with the writer of the text, not merely the text itself.

"this focus on writing, rather than the writer, obviously treats writing and the teaching of writing as a universal practice that all individuals experience in the same way" (DePew).

Can deep rhetorical listening accomplish DePew's charge and our own to create a position statement on diversity?

"All composition instructors are responsible for knowing how to address the challenges and opportunities that their different students bring to the classroom" (DePew).

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