Literature in first-year composition : a mixed methods analysis
Odom, Stephanie Marie
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This dissertation intervenes in a long-simmering debate about whether literature belongs in composition classes. Using a combination of empirical and textual methods, my scholarship proceeds inductively from analyzing artifacts of teaching, providing a better sense of what is happening in writing classrooms rather than simply speculating about it. In doing so, I revisit arguments made against using literature in composition and argue that the 21st century English department provides a different context within which literature and composition co-exist. One of the charges leveled against using literature to teach writing is that it is a "humanist" practice and therefore elitist. I trace the genealogy of this term and demonstrate the wide range of meanings this term has carried within the last century alone, arguing that those who raise the alarm against humanism need to clarify what they mean. Taking off from the humanistic concern with style, I analyze composition anthologies to see how the questions following the literary selections deal with stylistic concerns. By and large, I find that the literary selections reinforce the themes of the primarily nonfiction chapters, but are not presented as prose from which students can derive stylistic lesson. I then turn to analyzing syllabi, testing the accusation that those coming from literature backgrounds will teach literature in their composition classes at the expense of working on student writing. I find that literature specialists do not necessarily spend an excessive number of class days on literature, but do spend more class days on readings generally, with fewer days devoted to student writing than rhetoric specialists. Finally, I argue that the validity of student evaluations of teaching needs to be assessed by composition scholars because concerns specific to our courses--the small sizes, the frequent feedback teachers give students, the difficulty of assessing student work, and the fact that ours is a female dominated field--mean that research conducted by educational psychologists may not apply to composition. My research reinforces the idea that our course readings, assignments, pedagogy, and assessment methods should align purposively with each other.