Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Mar 6 From MBW Collins, “Mainstreaming? Eddy…” and TDW “Assessment”

After reading the assumptions about assessment in TDW chapter 13, I was floored by how much discrepancy exists between what research shows about assessment and what is actually in practice, specifically on the Texas high school taks test, and college entrance essays. I do not think the majority of the people involved are aware of this. These assumptions ought to be used to advocate change. What have we done with them? Are all decisions about assessments and the assessments themselves made by people who don’t know what they are doing, don’t keep up with current research, and don’t teach?

It is also amazing to me that the entire “students should” list is the opposite of taks. The “faculty should,” “administration should” and “legislators should” sections are good also. I have filed this chapter away for future reference and use with my own administration and department. I do have some questions: 1. Who exactly wrote this? 2. Has no one in Texas read it (do they not care?) 3. What is “language learning, language use, and language assessment” (395) (number ten on the list of assumptions)?

I was curious about Adams’ research findings (MBW 78) that those in separate non-credit basic writing courses succeeded less. The “stretch model” (79) continues to be something that seems to work. Basic writing, stretch, enrichment, mainstreaming – it is hard to know what is best or right and I think the location and the instructor come in to play more than any certain structure possibly could. We have begun to implement in my own high school department some of what worked for Collins (82). Here is his complete list: dump non-credit; dump useless placement tool; decrease class size; rewrite curriculum to include multi-cultural principles; shift pedagogy toward collaborative/workshop format; use computer classrooms; include administrator awareness, teacher training, and mentoring. I wish we had the resources to try a stretch model; the best I can do right now is implement writing labs.

Collins’ conclusion was weak; instead of turning X into Y (which he asserts is the goal of mainstreaming) his institution just segregated X and Y by using a stretch course for most students but still allowing high performing students straight into the liberal arts program. But I think the weakness was in his interpretation and reporting, not the program itself, which had success, and I applaud that. Students learning – humans improving aspects of life – that is the goal, is it not? That brings me back to the assessment assumptions. What is the point of things that exist in theory only? Maybe research about writing and practice application can’t marry – but if people just tried harder, they could at least live together. --mm

Melissa Pena

The Assessment chapter in the TDW book makes a lot of sense, but it makes me wonder why no one (at least not that I am aware of) adhere to these common sensical guidelines. I have to agree with a large part of the document, especially the piece that says, "Consequently, one piece of writing...can never serve as an indicator of overall literacy, particularly for high stakes decisions" (393). This chapter also raises a good point, that the way writing is assessed causes students to make erroeous judgments about writing. "If students are asked to produce "good" writing within a given period of time, they often conclude that all good writing is generated within those constraints" (395). And that's exactly true. Now I know why students see process writing as pointless. They have been taught that good writing can and should be produced within a certain amount of time. These tests are causing students to disregard major components of the writing process such as research, collaboration, revising, and editing.

As for the the Collins and Lynch article, I was a little unclear as to the point the authors were trying to make. By quoting Shor and Bartholomae, I was inclined to think that they were against the cultural differences that Basic writing classes underscore. Yet at the end, they say that the succes of Basic Writing classes depends upon how students are placed into the course and how they are instructed. And I agree to a certain extent that this is true. I do believe that the way the program is designed plays a large role in student retention and success.

Another interesting aspect of this article: "'Mainstreaming' rhetoric too often (and too conveniently) implies that there is a single entity X (bad, essentializing, otherizing, exploitive basic writing) that ought to be transformed into entity Y (good, liberating, mainstreamed composition" (83-4). Is that what we're doing? Are we making Basic Writing appear unhealthy simply because of how we feel about it? Even so, can good come out of something bad? Collins and Lynch make a great point--Why is the Y entity (mainstreamed basic writing) liberating after all? If we can name it, can't we implement that liberatory aspect into basic writing? I think that's what they are trying to do at their college.

Butch’s Reading Response for March 6, 2007

“Mainstreaming? Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specificity” by T.G. Collins and K. Lynch and “Assessment” by S.N. Bernstein

Collins and Lynch note early in their article that their purpose is not to be overly reactionary in a way that results in bringing about a “revitalization of the basic writing curriculum, and the institutional standing for the curriculum, in service of students who are most at risk of being excluded from higher education by the reascendant right” (73). This statement is rather confusing for me because I would think basic writing proponents would want to effect change in the way of revitalization of basic writing programs in higher education. With respect to the five points the authors make with respect to mainstreaming BW, I will agree with the first point in that a “homogenized basic writing status quo against which mainstreaming is placed as a universal desirable fix”(73) and to me it boils down to comparing apples to oranges. The second point notes that competing research databases that pertain to mainstreaming plays a big role, but how exactly does it do that? I’m not sure I buy into their fourth point in advocating mainstreaming that notes “Only local decisions will have power as we search for ways to better serve (74). The authors fail to mention that educational state and federal mandates will have to be followed and that the “local decisions” will have little or no bearing on mainstreaming or keeping basic writing in higher education.

I enjoyed reading Collins and Lynch’s interpretation of the mainstreaming/basic writing issue, but it all just supports Melanie’s contention that this issue is indeed confusing at best. The authors do make it clear through their interpretation of research by Bruce and Peyton that by “adopting any innovation, we are ‘typically faced with a challenging task of resolving conflicts between old practices that derive from powerful situational constraints and imperatives of the new [approach]”(80). I believe that resolving those conflicts between old and new basic writing practices does present a significant challenge to the future of Basic Writing.

While Collins and Lynch do paint a daunting picture for the future of Basic Writing with respect to mainstreaming in higher education, they do also offer a glimmer of hope when they write “We prefer to assert, rather, that what we have created is a best possible local realization of the kind of writing course that serves a ‘basic’ or developmental student” (83). However, my question is this: will this course serve all students and not just that the authors note that have been marginalized by eliminating Basic Writing programs and mainstreaming them towards higher education.

In the “Assessment” article, I took special note of what students, faculty, and administrators in higher education as well as legislators should do with respect to writing assessment polices and procedures. The goals for the students seem attainable, but with respect to the faculty, I just don’t see how Bernstein’s suggestions can fit into the busy faculty member’s schedule that is already straddled with plenty of work to perform. In the area of the legislator, I do concur that they should not “mandate a specific instrument (test) for use in any assessment; although they may choose to answer their responsibility to the public . . . “(398). However, the most important points note the understanding of the different purposes that need different assessments that ultimately help the student acquire better writing skills based on a fair and equal playing ground.

'''Elva's Reading Response-March 6, 2007

“Mainstreaming? Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specificity,” by Terence G. Collins and Kim Lynch. “Assessment” “CCCC Position Statement”'''

There is so much arguing about mainstreaming basic writing, basic writers, finger pointing and are not getting nowhere. On thing I gather just like Mutnick, if basic writing freshman English is eliminated, there will be a decrease of student enrollment. Don’t we hear all these universities and colleges of how to increase enrollment. Aren’t we contradicting ourselves?

Collins and Lynch mentioned the two powerful articles, Bartholome and Shor’s article. Bartholomae posits an abstract entity “basic writing,” figured here as a curriculas monolith of tired liberalism, which is imposed on students willy-nilly in service of cultural replication, as a scam perpetrated to promote the job security and existential comfort of those who work in basic writing, and as an instance of otherizing institutional cynicism derived from our racially categorical culture” (74). Man, what words they used, can’t they speak Plain English to understand what they mean. Is it they do not want change even though all these students from different backgrounds are enrolling the university community. These changes need to be change but the institutions are not willing. I did not like the “F” word in this article. He could have used another decent word.

In Shor’s article, “Shor explores the ways in which higher education and composition can be manipulated to serve entrenched, classist interests. In many respects, Shor’s piece is a thrilling synthesis of disparate perspectives on how students get sorted out and ground up in a factory model of higher education” (76). As I have said it before, the university community can not handle the people of color attending the university community. A change needs to be done.

This article mentioned about “locally designed” (393) and Collins and Lynch talked about “of any curricular ideas will shape it in light of local exigencies, local attitudes, and local opportunities” (80). Everything has to be done locally. I remember reading Anzaldua’s article about dialect. All dialects are different depending where you live.

Another quote that stood up was “Ideally, such literacy must be assessed by more than one piece of writing, in more than one genre, written on different occasions, for different audiences, and evaluated by multiple readers. This realization has led many institutions and programs across the country to use portfolios assessment” (393). We read Shor’s article “recommends portfolios assessment to replace the bogus timed impromptu” (Shor 47). For me, a portfolio is hard to keep but it does show the students’ improvement in writing and that is all that counts, the basic writing improvement.

In the Assessment, CCCC Position Statement’s article, I like how they consider what the students should, faculty should, Administrators and higher education governing board should. I am glad this article considered everybody who should be concern about “basic writers” and “underprepared.” What is been done?

I like this quote in Collins and Lynch, “fully 74% of colleges and universities offer some sort of work in reading, writing, or mathematics for students who are seen as “underprepared,” and enterprise involving 3 millions students and 100,000 faculty or staff, including a wide range of approaches and status markers” (81). If this book was written in the year of 2001, imagine the percentage now in the year of 2007. What would they say about the current enrollment of students trying to enter higher education community?

Anne Ries

Responses to come, I promise.

"CCCC Position Statement"

"Kay Harley and Sally I. Cannon contend that much assessment deals with what a writer doesn't do, how his or her writing doesn't mesaure up, rather than with the incipient strengths of the writing, such as the developing personal voice of the writer" (390). I agree with this; I think our culture sees testing like the SAT and the TAKS as indicators of exactly what Johnny doesn't know. How is Johnny supposed to develop his personal voice in timed test? I am a bad test taker, and I did not get the best SAT scores, and I felt like I was the biggest idiot out of all of my friends. That's why I am afraid of the GRE - more proof of averageness. Thank God most graduate schools don't look at the math section when considering Phd candidates in my field.

"Assessment which isolates students and forbids discussion and feedback from others conflects with the current cognitive and psycological research about language use and the benefits of social intereation during the writing process; it also is out of step with much classroom pratice" (393). I believe that not allowing students to revise and rewrite their work isolates students isolates students from their own writing. Part of what some of my highest acheiving students have done is work hard at their writing. They may not be the best writers, but they work at making what they write the best it can possibly be. A really think a lot of these students would be marginalized as writers if they were assessed in situations that isolate - like timed writing prompts. Now, I don't mean essays for tests, I think those are completely different. An in-class essay for my high school teacher about Hamlet doesn't have the same far reading affects as the SAT. Is that unfair? I don't know. Maybe all of these things marginalize writers. But, I believe that essay tests are actually beneficial to students. They allow students to develop their answers - hopefully with the understanding that some people need spelling and grammar check. I don't like multiple choice questions for a similar reason CCCC doesn't: "If students are asked to select - in a multiple choice formate - the best grammatical and stylistical choices, they will conclude that good writing is "correct" writing" ( 395). They are too limiting.

I keep thinking about this, and it is way off topic from Basic Writing.

The more I keep thinking about essay questions, the more I see them as beneficial, and not really what CCCC's standards is talking about. "Consequently, one piece of writing - even if it is generated under the most desirable conditions - can never serve as a indicator of overall literacy, particularly for high stakes decisions" (393). I don't think a timed essay in a class - not in a standardized test - will be held against a student's literacy standards.

Other quotes I thought were interesting

"All writing assessments - and thus all policy about writing assessment - make assumptions about the nature of what is being assessed" (393).

"Seventh, standardized tests, usually developed by large testing organizations, tend to be for accountability purposes, and when used to make statements about student learning, misrepresent disproportonately the skills and abilities of students of color" (394).

"If students are asked to select - in a multiple choice formate - the best grammatical and stylistical choices, they will conclude that good writing is "correct" writing" ( 395).

"Writing assessment that alienates students from writing is counterproductive, and writing assessment that failes to take an accurate and valid measure of their writing even more so" (395).

"Mainstreaming? Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specifically"

First of all, Collins and Lynch were harsh. I don't think I've read scholarly work that so viciously threw other research over the coals as they authors did in this text. I felt bad for Shor and Bartholomae. Someone send them some cookies. I especially loved their little note they felt "compelled" to write about Shor's article title. It was very "Look at the big bad culturally insensetive Shor!" It seemed as though they stressed that point to look more culturally aware than Shor. I am sure he wanted it that way when he wrote the darn title.

"In fact, many who advocate mainstreaming would insist that what we did was to mainstream out basic writing program. After all, our basic writing courses anticipated characteristics developed by Grego and Thomson [and all the rest]...But we resist that interpretation of what has happened here. We prefer to assert, rather, that what we have created is a best possible local realization of the kind of writing course that serves a 'basic' or developmental student" (83).

But isn't that just what they did? Mainstream, but in their own special little way? And maybe I missed this part of the article, but how exactly did their program best fit the "local" area? Isn't that what a lot of their arguement was - to choose the best model for the region which you live in? I was left confused by the end of the article over what exactly they were trying to accomplish. I understand their critique of mainstream theories, but I felt as if they beat up Shor and Bartholomae for a shock factor so that their own little model could get publicized. I am being too irrational? Maybe.

I enjoyed the different take on basic writing and mainstreaming, but I was rather disturbed by the way Mainstreaming? Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specifically seemed to trash on Bartholmea and Shor. I understand that Collins and Lynch are arguing against a “homogeneously” defined idea of Basic Writing and that any locally employed Basic Writing Curriculum is nothing more than a hybrid of an ideal; however, I think Bartholomea and Shor bring much more to the discussion than these two author—so much so that I ILL’d Bartholomea and Shor’s articles so that I may judge it for myself. Collins and Lynch seem to approve of White and Adams research and I also found it very interesting that they propose Lynch’s approach in Minnesota is very successful. I must ask then so what is the purpose of this article if the claim is that whether to mainstream or dismantle BW classes is based on the local contexts then why offer a model to emulate? Weird. I don’t know—I would sooner be more accepting of Bartholomea and Shor only because these to writers alienated their audience with their rather hostile attacks. I find that they offer to real solutions—as they criticized B and S of. I just wasn’t a real fan of this article nor did I take away anything that I feel I can use—they just made me more confused—Furthermore, their dissections of certain quotations, I believe were taken out of context and were clumsily executed. I couldn’t really follow their point because of all the {emphasis added} and comments. Additionally, the presentation of Lynche’s model was rather convoluted. His history was sweeping and a clear distinction and explanation of the two writing programs (the general ed and COLA) made little sense. It sounded like nothing more than a stretch plus mainstreamed program..and I am not sure how this is soo innovative.

The 4Cs position statement was nice. I liked how they assert that writing w/o a context is pointless and an inaccurate measure of a student’s writing ability. In addition, I really like how they state that the students must be made aware of the purpose and use of the test, the measurement procedure, and etc. They suggest a portfolio evaluation based in different genres etc. This is great stuff—the task is to get English and Support Serv. Dept. on board. Oh, I really liked how they state that local contexts also important. Administering a writing evaluation that does not consider the local context is inane and marginalizing. I like how they take a very student centered and supportive stand. I wish all programs would listen.


Upon reading the article, "Mainstreaming? Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specificity" by Terence G. Collins, I found the line, "I think basic writing programs have become expressions of our desire to produce basic writers" by Bartholomae to be rather interesting. What are we doing with our basic writing classes? Should we be getting put off by the "fuck you" paper, or is it totally deserved?

I also liked the thought of whether or not basic writing disappears will students that need basic writing also disappear? Is this another form of cooling out? If we rid oursevles of basic writing programs and continue to mainstream what then are we saying to our students without saying it? It seems that mainstreaming may be a way to raise the bar, but at the same time, until assessment is better, how can we even propose to help basic writers?

We want our students to get degrees, I guess that is the bottom line. But what is becoming more and more prevalent is the need for students who are able to write in different disciplines. It is more complicated than simply wanting to produce students who are proficient, but produce students who can actually perform in society. I think that the Assesment position statement was interesting in tat we can always acknowledge that there is a flaw in the system, but what I want to know is how to change the idea of assessment.

As CCCC says, "accordingly, there is no test which can be used in all environments for all purposes, and the best 'test' for any group of students may well be locally designed" (393). Although this has its own inherent problems. Not all school districts are created equal.

Interesting articles. I think they tied in well with each other.

-Erica Rangel


According to the CCCC Position Statement, assessment should be used as a means of improving learning. I know that in the beginning they state that the position statement presents assessment in hypothetical or utopian terms, but some of the guidelines are a little out there. I think that everything they say is fantastic and if we all assessed students based on these principles students would appreciate writing so much more.

I think part of the problem is that we all have grand notions about assessment and we think that we grade based upon students strengths instead of what they do wrong, but that is not true. It's the same battle over grammar--it is said that grammar drills are bad and students don't learn from them, but a lot of instructors still implement them. Assessment of student writing is still very much based on what they do not do or what they do wrong instead of their strengths.

Also, the position statement says that assessment should be based on several writing samples from differend genres, but I just don't see that being implemented in the classroom. I know that a formal essay and a rhetorical analysis are different, but come on. By using different genres and different audiences, we are allowing students to explore different kinds of writing for different purposes--this in itself provides more opportunity for students to gain a better appreciation of writing and its many uses.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read. I just wish that we followed these guidelines and instructors really saw assessment as a tool instead of a means of assigning a grade.


I think the “mythical, theorized singularity in discoursing basic writing” (Collins and Lynch 75) that Bartholomae is criticized for reflects the homogenized construct of the basic writer the field, or discipline, itself has created. Detaching the basic writing course from the mainstream makes it more likely that, for reasons outlined in last week’s reading, i.e. training of teachers, budgets, tests, etc., the course gets taught based on the kind of similarity-deficiency model that ends up marginalizing the students it is intended to help. Collins and Lynch emphasize the need to take into account the practical and local: Bartholomae and Shor invoke theory and their own version of conscience while ignoring the specific practices of widely varied and institutionally situated courses that serve a broad range of students who have not yet established as their own the ways of writing, which elitist faculty and governing boards use as markers to exclude them.” (Collins and Lynch 77) While the outcome of any given program will depend mainly on the local context, it seems safe to assume that a program that establishes itself and its students on the margins of academia places the students in a weaker position. Our discussion, as Collins and Lynch argue, would probably be more productive if we separate the assumptions about writing we have attached to the terms (“basic writing” = writing is an individual skill, students need skills; “mainstreaming” = writing is social) and focus on rephrasing the “problem” in the hope of finding alternative solutions.

I also think it would be useful to revisit the idea that writing is social; too often, I think, this gets reduced to superficial features, e.g. group work and publishing. Even the CCCC statement regarding this bothers me because it focuses on interaction in the form of discussion and feedback. These aspects of the social nature of writing are important, but they are of less interest than the implications regarding knowledge and language. If we argue that writing is social, doesn’t that mean that we would have to revise our author-text-audience model, not to mention the coding/encoding model, so that it reflects postmodern views of writing, texts, and authorship?


What Collins and Lynch wrote about the strawman of BW was along the lines of what I posted last time. All these mainstreaming texts imply that BW courses are this one horrible skills based class, even though scholarship on BW implies that BW should be something else. That is why I asked the question the last class about how divided theory is from practice.

What it seems to boil down to is context. Again. So it is not that BW is good or bad or that mainstreaming is good or bad, but it is about serving the students in your specific area in the best way that you possibly can (whatever program does this). I agree that all the things that people do are really derivations of others’ ideas, which means that BW and mainstreaming are kind of just labels and people end up doing what works for them. I thought it was interesting that evaluating whether or not the change was working seemed to be some kind of new idea. I think that we should always evaluate what we are doing and figure out if it is working. And then if it’s not, we can change it.

Even though I had no problem with their overall message, I had a few problems with some of the conclusions that Collins and Lynch draw from specific studies. For example, Adams showed that those who chose to go to Basic Writing had reduced success in the composition course later on, whereas those who went straight to Comp, had higher success rates. The conclusion then is that BW makes you a bad writer. I find the conclusion strange though. Isn’t it more likely, considering the horrible placement mechanisms that we continue to talk about, that the students who go straight to Comp are actually more prepared and confident and THAT is why they go to Comp and THAT is why they succeed?

Heather Dorn