In Joanne Addison and Sharon James McGee’s “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions”, the discrepancy between the practice of teaching literacy and ensuring its application is meaningful and transferable across genres at both the high school and university level is explored and examined through a cross-analysis of data collected from multiple studies. That data is also compared to the data collected by Addison and McGee’s own study, sponsored by the CCCC. Their research reveals a number of unsettling developments in the instruction of writing at these levels, not least of which that current practice seems inadequately applied to encourage students to engage in deep learning. More concerning may be that current methods themselves seem unable to adequately articulate the skills they proclaim they are instilling, making their promoters’ claims that they are developing transferable skills suspect at best. Addison and McGee propose more collaboration between institutions of writing studies research in order to create a repository of knowledge on current practice that can be used to inform instruction in a way that will address both the discrepancies in literacy development and in the transfer of skills across genres.

According to Addison and McGee’s study, a cross-analysis of data and responses collected from multiple surveys of both students and faculty reveals there may not only be a discrepancy in regards to literacy but also where perceptions are concerned. It seems no matter the level, students consistently rate their knowledge or proficiency or competence more highly than their instructors would (Though, this discrepancy lowered marginally when the students and faculty being surveyed were from a private institution, perhaps because class sizes are smaller allowing for more interaction between educators and students). While this may be an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action, it could also indicate that the skills instructors assert their methods of practice are instilling in students may not actually be so valid or accurate in accomplishing the tasks they claim to. In reference to data that suggests it’s not whether or not certain skills are transferable so much as whether or not the skills are being effectively conveyed through the writing methods in the first place, Addison and McGee state, “…evidence may suggest that what teachers and employers articulate as best practices in writing vary across discipline and context.” (165) Meaning that current practice may not be clearly articulating the skills it seeks to transfer which could explain why students are unable to accurately assess their own competence: they simply do not know better.

A piece of this data I found personally revealing and compelling concerns itself with the difference between how much additional writing resources are available to high school students vs. college students. Virtually no high schools provide access to services like university writing centers. More, high schools seem to encourage more activities that would allow student to engage in “deep learning” (such as exploratory writing and peer review) but they do not provide any additional writing services. To me, this sounds like high schools students are being asked to engage in the same kinds of upper-level thinking and learning that university level students are but with having only a fraction of the assistance. As a graduate assistant at my own university’s writing center, I find this to be particularly troubling and can understand better why some of the data recorded in this study was reported as such. More often that not, students who come to the writing center are confused more by their instructor’s expectations for an assignment than by the assignment itself. Half the session can be spent clarifying a professor’s particular parameters for an assignment than on the writing itself. That said, I cannot imagine the difficulties high school students may be facing with their assignments–and on their own. While it was reported by high school faculty in this study that they mandate providing additional help/support, that was not reflected in student responses/perception. Addison and McGee note, “And while 31% of high school faculty report ‘always’ conferencing with students on papers in progress, only 12% of high school students report ‘always’ discussing their writing with their teacher.” (159) This seems to indicate that not only is current practice not necessarily utilizing methods that encourage transfer of skills, it is also not making itself available to assist students with the bare minimum of understanding the assigned work.

That said, this was a particularly small study itself that relied more heavily on cross-analyzing and cross-examining other studies’ results for data than relying on its own data to make broader claims. Perhaps if the studies was larger, the results would have been less skewed to one side. More, if there was more equal participation from all institutions involved, perhaps the results of this study would be more varied and indicate different patterns amongst the practices of different levels of education.

The conclusion of this work was interesting in that it seemed to be advocating for a change not in practice but in how data about practice is compiled and subsequently accessed. Addison and McGee call for the greater collaboration between leading organizations of writing studies research so as to create a database where studies about current practice can not only be accessed but their data compiled and used to create a, “complex data landscape” that depicts “the relationships among independent, dependent, and mediating variables.” (Gene Glass par.48, as quoted on 171) Essentially, Addison and McGee believe that allowing a place for this data to be centralized and easily accessible to instructors in the field will lead to more informed practice overall. To me, this seems to be an attempt at a practical approach to addressing the discrepancies in current literacy and writing instruction practices. I appreciate the accessibility of this solution but it seems to require a great deal of interdepartmental and international cooperation amongst many independent or dependent organizations that may prove to be less practical and I’m not entirely convinced this will address the particular problem it seeks to alleviate either.


Addison, Joanne & Sharon James McGee. “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions.” CCC, vol. 62, no. 1, 2010, chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html? Accessed 7 February 2018.

Murphy, Mark. “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When There Work is Terrible.” Forbes, 24 January 2017, Accessed 7 February 2018.

~Till Next Time~



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