Anson, Chris.  “The Intelligent Design of Writing Programs:  Reliance on Belief or a Future of Evidence.”  WPA 32 (1) 2008.

  • Anson is working to develop methods of research in this piece that respond to “allegations – even unfounded or politicized ones – that current instructional approaches are wrongheaded or ineffective” (11).
  • Key thesis:  “if we continue to rely on belief in our pedagogies and administrative decisions, whether theorized or not, whether argued from logic or anecdote, experience or conviction, we do no better to support a case for those decisions that what most detractors do to support cases against them.  Instead, we need a more robust plan for building on the strong base of existing research into our assumptions about how students best learn to write . . . . Ultimately, changing the public discourse about writing from belief to evidence, from felt sense to investigation and inquiry, may help to move us all beyond a culture of ‘unrelenting contention’ (Tannen) and toward some common understandings based on what we can know, with some level of certainty, about what we do” (11-2).
  • A. takes to task a recent report that lambasts composition pedagogy/writing studies because it relies strictly on belief . . . a problem that also beleaguers many compositionists.
  • A. notes that composition has lessened its attention to research in recent years.  Relying on Haswell and Durst, A. notes that the greater sensitivity and the popularity of postmodernism has made “testing” methods and generalizing methods across contexts a debatable proposition (21).
  • 6 possibilities for improving the state of research in the field:
    • Foundational research and synthesis – A series of documents/studies that provide agreed-upon foundational assumptions in composition along with supporting research.  To be used as heuristic to identify common agreement for future research.
    • Replications and extensions – Replications and extensions of previous research projects build out a research program, allowing for the aggregation/accumulation of a larger body of literature.
    • Graduate education – Need stronger methods work in quant and qual to show students how to incorporate research into their dissertations.
    • Connections with our publics – research should be shared with publics to counter threats to the discipline.
    • Increased scrutiny and critique – inquiring about the motives of particular research trajectories – who’s paying and why?
    • Improved research communities – There should be a stronger sharing of research and information concerning existing research in order to raise new questions of inquiry.

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