My Own Musings

How Can We Use Cambourne’s Conditions in the College Classroom?

Cambourne outlines eight conditions of literacy development that usually apply to literacy acquisition in children. I first learned of these conditions while studying English education, but they were used in the context of things that children should have learned before entering high school. After some thinking and reading, I feel like these conditions can also be applied in the college composition classroom.

We can practice immersion by introducing and discussing various genres of writing (and non writing). In my classes, we not only utilize the textbook, but also by looking at online articles, Twitter, comics, infographics, videos, and music. It is important for my students to be immersed in these various genres so that they become more confident in their own reading and writing capabilities. It seems to help students when they realize that they have already practiced reading and analysis in their every day lives.

I try to practice demonstration in my pedagogy by providing examples of writing activities. I sometimes fall short in modeling my own writing practices, but this is something that all college instructors could talk about struggles they have had with writing, share their own blogs, or talk about the way they move through writing tasks or projects.

Engagement may be the area where my pedagogical approach is strongest. According to Cambourne, engagement involves a risk free environment that allows students to see themselves as readers and writers. In my classes, I engage with the students in various group writing activities, and we also do the drafting of each project in class. This seems to allow the students to experiment more with writing and analysis. Even the projects involve less risk because I allow unlimited revision opportunities. This means that the students can experiment and see what works for them, and if it doesn’t work exactly how they’d like–they can try something new.

I have somewhat different Expectations for each class. I normally use the first free writing or blog post to see what students hope to learn from my class, and then work on that. However, I also do not focus so heavily on grammar so that we can spend more time on content and analysis. I also collaborate with the students to set expectations for the projects we do in class. This sometimes means that I have to create a new rubric, or make a lesson on the fly, but I would rather meet the students’ expectations and learn from them, rather than work from my own expectations. It is also important to consider the environment in which the classroom exists. For example, because I teach in Detroit, I have to consider what students who are normally coming from Detroit Public Schools are taught. Also, most of my students have jobs (sometimes multiple jobs), and I have to make  sure classroom expectations are accommodating of that.

Responsibility is probably the easiest of Cambourne’s expectations when related to the college classroom. College students are aware that college has a higher level of responsibility than high school. The way that this looks in the classroom is that I do expect students to read and prepare for classroom activities during their out of classroom time. This semester, I have changed in class writing (due to a shortening of class time in the Winter semester) to out of class blog posting. This involves more responsibility than the previous version had, but I do not know how well it is working for my students yet. They do seem to enjoy it.

Approximation is something that I have a hard time doing for myself, but have an easy time doing in the classroom. This means that I accept that students can and do (and even should) make mistakes. While I acknowledge those, I focus more on acknowledging their accomplishments. My grading system focuses heavily on in class work where students have more opportunities to make accomplishments, and I am happy to reward my students for them.

Use speaks for itself. Because students are in a college composition classroom, they use writing and reading in multiple ways. However, I also like to focus on how what students do in class translate to activities outside of class. For example, when we talk about rhetorical analysis, I explain that they can use those same skills to decide whether a news source, a tweet, or an ad is credible. I hope that this works to show my students why first year composition is useful and important.

Response. I call this feedback. I sometimes leave too much feedback on students papers, and sometimes not enough. After talking with a helpful colleague, I learned to not only leave feedback throughout submissions, but make a list at the end of each submission so that students know how to move forward, what they did well, and where they could focus their efforts. I tend to leave much more positive feedback, and as the semester progresses, my response focuses more on growth and progress so that students are more prepared for the end of the semester reflection.

I think it is important to revisit pedagogical practices that may be written for a different audience and see if they could be adapted for the college composition classroom.