WPA Principles

Generally speaking, I have three principles that shape the initiatives I craft at UMaine.  These principles are pretty broad and, to be honest, I could probably refine them a bit, breaking them down into smaller principles than these three.  However, they work for me at the moment, and so I am not really interested in fixing something that isn’t broken.  But it’s something I have an eye on—when am I struggling to articulate how my principles are operating in a given instance?  If that happens, and particularly if it happens on a regular basis, then I know that I am in need of some revising.  So far, so good, though.  Below, I articulate my principles.  On the other pages in this section, I detail what this looks like in action through particular initiatives at UMaine and ongoing research that I conduct.

Principle 1: Decision-making in the College Composition program emerges from the local needs of students, teachers, the program, the department, the college, and the university.

I’ve referred to this principle in passing as “from the ground up.”  I’ve also done some writing about it (up to and including its phenomenological basis) in a chapter for an edited collection that is currently in the pipeline to publication (see my WPA publications and presentations page for information on that).

This principle is central to the work I did when I arrived at UMaine, and it remains something I work to keep at the center of my attention in the daily work that I do.  Whatever decisions I make need to have in mind the locality of UMaine.  UMaine—and, more specifically, the role that my program plays in it—has particular needs, issues, strengths, weaknesses, limits, possibilities, and so on that I have to address when thinking about how my program develops.

Consider, for instance, our program’s recent shift in the direction of labor-based grading practices.  This is responsive to some ongoing work in the field, of course (and see below for why I think that is important), but the recency of the research isn’t what drove me to make a change.  Rather, I saw a need that our program had, and took my time thinking about what possible responses our program could have to that need.  Labor-based grading (or, rather, a version of it) proved to be the answer, but the answer sprang from the grounds of the daily work of our program.

Principle 2: The College Composition program operates through principled practices established in the field via position statements, frameworks, and standards.

As important as I see it to begin “on the ground” at the local level, however, I need to keep in mind that there are some pretty smart, hard working people out there who have done some extensive thinking about what happens in writing programs and writing classrooms.  It would be silly—stupid, really—to ignore those smart people and the fruits of their hard work.

Now, to be sure, I don’t need to take up everything they say, because some research doesn’t translate well to my particular site (this is what Principle 1 balances out).  But things like the WPA Outcomes Statement, the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, and expectations for research and assessment practices can be invaluable when thinking about what I’m doing at a local level.  They keep me from making decisions that solve some immediate, local problems while also creating massive other problems (some of which I might not notice for a long period of time).

Principle 3: Decisions about the College Composition program are informed by conversation with cutting edge theoretical and empirical findings in the field of Writing Studies.

Obviously, what we have at UMaine right now in terms of our program is working pretty well—they don’t just give out the CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence for the thrill of it, after all—but it would be easy to become a dated program rather quickly if we were not keeping up with research in the field on writing, writing assessment, writing development, and so on.

Again, this is not to say that we should be adopting new research findings uncritically, without regard to local contexts (see Principle 1 again—it’s important!).  But the students we work with each year are living in a world that’s just a little bit different than it was the year before.  That adds up.  And, given how quickly technology continues to transform our lives, it adds up pretty quickly!  The ongoing research in Writing Studies (and Literacy, and Education, for that matter) can keep us aware of these changes, and give us some direction about how we should adapt to them.

As I mention at the top of this page, these principles have served me pretty well in my time at UMaine.  They’ve led me to thinking through some particular goals that I want to attend to in our program, as well as some particular initiatives for enacting those goals. I’ve found them particularly helpful for thinking about how we can build a sustainable, just, and equitable program for students, teachers, and administrators.  They draw attention to the needs of the people in our program, the collective wisdom of the field, and recent innovations in ways that allow them to usefully shape my decision-making.