Implementing Contextualization Into the IRW Classroom: Making IRW “Worth It”

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Jessica Slentz Reynolds

Jessica Slentz Reynolds is a third-year doctoral student in developmental education with a focus on developmental literacy at Texas State University. She earned a M.A. in English from Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, where she also taught Composition and Developmental Writing as an adjunct instructor.  She has been a Writing Consultant for the CASA Writing Center since 2011 and continues to tutor students online. Her research interests involve postsecondary literacies, integrated reading and writing, diversity in developmental education classrooms, and writing centers.

Last fall, I was inspired by The Education Institute’s (TEI) Self-Change Power Project to integrate contextualization into my Integrated Reading and Writing (IRW) course. Contextualization, in short, is the teaching of basic skills within a disciplinary topic (Perin, 2011). According to Perin (2011), contextualization can increase students’ intrinsic motivation and level of engagement in the classroom because it allows the subject to be deemed useful and interesting to learners. After reading Perin, I was reminded of the seminal work on IRW by Bartholomae and Petrosky (1986) where they argued that IRW courses should not be a study skills course consisting of workbooks and diagramming sentences, but IRW should help students acquire the necessary literacies to be successful in both academic and workplace discourses.

After making the connection between Perin’s (2011) work on contextualization and Bartholomae and Petrosky’s (1986) theory on IRW, I decided to modify the Self-Change Power Project to help students achieve the learning objectives for the expository unit of the semester: the Discourse Community Analysis (DCA). It is common for IRW instructors to assign an expository unit centered around the students’ future careers; however, I like to provide an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with their future careers in a way that transcends a basic description of their potential professions. Since IRW is a reading and writing course, I use the expository unit to help students understand the various literacies in their chosen fields of study. The students complete a 6-week DCA project, where they not only research the many facets of communication within their potential careers, but they also observe and participate within these communities. The students must present—through either traditional essay format or by a formal presentation to the class—the goals, types of communication, language, membership, and the significance of literacy within their selected communities (Wardle & Downs, 2011).

These questions guided the expository unit to make IRW “worth it:”

  • Does assigning a DCA on students’ future careers lead to students having a stronger understanding of academic and workplace literacies?
  • Does implementing a comprehensive project that focuses on students’ individual goals increase motivation for students to complete the IRW course?
  • Could an alternative version of the Self-Change Power Project accomplish these goals?

The following is a brief timeline of activities leading up to the final product for the DCA project. These components are a direct reflection of the Self-Change Power Project guidelines.

  • Students brainstorm and research types of communication, language, behaviors, and various literacies of their future careers.
  • Students decide what types of communication, language, behaviors, and various literacies of their future careers they want to observe, participate in, and monitor for 4-5 weeks.
  • Students participate in their selected communities and keep a journal about their experiences. They are prompted to write about what they observed, how they participated within the community, and how literacy is an integral aspect of their community.
  • In the last week of the unit, students showcase through writing, class discussion, and photographic evidence their processes and experiences participating in their chosen discourse communities.
  • Students submit their completed DCA project for a grade via essay or in-class presentation.

This DCA project aligns with what Goen and Gillotte-Tropp (2003) referred to as the six principles of an IRW program: integration, time, development, academic membership, sophistication, and purposeful communication. Based on feedback from two IRW sections, I received an overwhelming amount of positive responses from students who completed this project. Students stated that the project helped them decide if their selected major was the right path for them; the act of observing, understanding, and researching their communities forced students to use a variety of skills and resources they had not yet used in college; and, finally, students reported that it made them see the benefits to taking an IRW course.

 References

Bartholomae, D., & Petrosky, A.R. (1986). Facts, artifacts and counterfacts: Theory and method for a reading and writing course. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

Goen, S., & Gillotte-Tropp, H. (2003). Integrating reading and writing: A response to the basic writing “crisis”. Journal of Basic Writing, (22)2, 90-113.

Perin, D. (2011). Facilitating student learning through contextualization: A review of evidence.  Community College Review, 39(3), 268-295. doi: 10.1177/0091552111416227

The Education Institute. (2016). The Education Institute. Retrieved from http://www.tei.education.txstate.edu/

Wardle, E., & Downs, D. (2011). Writing about writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

 

 

 

 

 

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