I. Introduction to Writing Transfer

II. Student Motivations/Attitudes Toward Writing Transfer

III. Pedagogical Disconnect

IV. Restructuring First Year Composition Programs & Implications


        Transfer is the ability to take knowledge from one body of knowledge and applying it to another, which, in the case of writing composition, applies specifically to interdisciplinary writing. In terms of how individuals actually transfer knowledge, a few studies have been circulated frequently throughout the literature, the most prevalent being Gavriel Salomon’s and David N. Perkins’ “low-road” and “high-road” transfer. “Low-road” transfer is described as automatic and spontaneous, while “high-road” transfer is a kind of mindful abstraction, where the connections between the two subjects are not as obvious. Salomon’s and Perkins’ work is one method for how transfer occurs, though there are others such as near and far and negative and positive. Students’ motivation and a teacher’s knowledge of transfer can affect what and how well students transfer knowledge. First-year writing programs are the most popular example of attempts to promote knowledge transfer, but evidence suggests that they just do not work.


          Several significant studies have been designed and completed that examine how students perceive the transferability of writing knowledge from FYC to other disciplinary courses. One particular study conducted by Dana L. Driscoll, and discussed in her article, “Connected, Disconnected, or Uncertain”, indicates that student beliefs about transfer decline over time. Results demonstrate that students were extremely hopeful about the transferability of the material learned in FYC at the beginning of the semester. However, by the end of the semester results demonstrate views that are significantly less positive about the transferability of FYC to the disciplines, in their major, or to the workplace. In regards to application of content learned in FYC to other areas, nearly half exhibit uncertainty or do not see the applicability. Such results from Driscoll's observations are consistent with the findings of Bergmann and Zerpernick in regards to student attitudes about FYC.

            In 2007, Bergmann and Zerpernick studied and reported on student’s perceptions of learning to write. They propose that students claim they cannot use what they learned about the dynamics of writing in high school or in FYC, and successfully apply it to their writing in other disciplinary areas. Students expressed beliefs that the expectations for writing in the English discipline were arranged in a way so that no teacher could tell them they were wrong because the writing was expected to be personal. It is apparent that the students were unable to identify the ways they could transfer their knowledge about narrative or expressive writing to expository writing. The major contribution that is going in the students favor, is that, as discussed in Driscoll's study, the students mainly begin FYC courses with positive attitudes about transferability. The fact that they are finishing such courses with completely different perceptions seems to transfer the spotlight onto the teachers and their pedagogical approaches. If students were retaining the information at a better rate, than they would have better outlooks on their ability to transfer.


        Students are not the only ones at fault for lack of transfer occurring, teachers are also at fault. One reason why transfer doesn’t occur is because teachers do not always link concepts in a way that shows how FYC skills can be used in classes such as history or science. Researchers have shown that when concepts are enforced along multiple classroom settings the more likely transfer is to occur.(Adler-Kassner, Majewski, and Koshnick) Research offers a lot of ideas for teachers to try and ensure that students will be able to transfer the skills they learn in FYC to future classes. Some researchers suggest that there are three main curricular objectives that need to be met to ensure transfer occurs. They are as follows: Rhetoric to increase students’ awareness of their subject, purpose, audience and context, Multiplicity to expose students to a diverse range of texts, and Transferability to further develop the rhetorical tools of inquiry, analysis, and research and experience outside of FYC. (Fishman and Reiff ) Some other ways to encourage transfer include bridging and hugging methods. Bridging methods include instruction that encourages students to make abstractions, search for connections, and to use their metacognition and mindfulness. Hugging methods help exploit reflexive connections and are less dramatic than bridging. Essentially students need explicit instruction in how to use the skills they are learning in one situation again in new situations. (Rounsaville).


Some researchers have also suggested the restructuring of the current First Year Composition model into a course combining the concepts of an Introduction to Writing Studies Course as well in the pursuit of encouraging more realistic conceptions of writing. Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle conduct a study in which they first acknowledge that FYC is first conceived as a course in which students are prepared to write across the university; however, the authors conclude that these current writing courses are not genuine research areas or legitimate writing pursuits (553). Their study, “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies”, asserts that researchers and teachers should move beyond classifying FYC as a universalizing discourse enculturation and label the current problematic assumptions about FYC: 1) writing is independent of content; 2) writing is composed of syntactic and mechanical problems (not rhetorical/contextual); 3) writing skills are easily transferrable to other courses outside the discipline of WS (554-5). Downs and Wardle propose for the creation of a course in which the content is strictly writing and seeks to answer questions such as: How does writing work? How do people use writing? What are the problems related to writing and how can they be solved. Such a course moves the style of modeling the way students are asked to write and then expecting them to generate assignments that fit within said mold. Instead, a restructured FYC course in the mold Downs and Wardle suggests for focus to shift towards theories of writing and therefore an inclusion of students into the academic world of writing. Essentially, more importance becomes placed on the development of a student’s own theories and ideas reflecting on a piece and less of the piece’s structure, syntax, grammar, etc.


Adler-Kassner, Linda, John Majewski, and Damian  Koshnick. "The Value of Troublesome

Knowledge: Transfer and Threshold Concepts in Writing and History." Composition Forum 26 (2012). Web. 31 Oct. 2012.

Bergmann, Linda S., and Janet Zepernick. "Disciplinarily and Transfer: Students' Perceptions of

Learning to Write." WPA: Writing Program Administration 31.1-2 (2007): 124-48. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.

Downs, Douglas, and Elizabeth Wardle. "Teaching About Writing, Righting Misconceptions:

(Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies."College Composition and Communication 58.4 (2007): 552-84. University of Illinois. National Council of Teachers of English. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.

Driscoll, Dana L. "Connected, Disconnected, or Uncertain: Student Attitudes about Future

Writing Contexts and Perceptions of Transfer from First Year Writing to the Disciplines." Across the Discipline 8 (2011): n. pag. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.

Fishman, Jenn, and Mary Jo Reiff. "Taking the High Road: Teaching for Transfer in an FYC

Program." Composition Forum 18 (2008):  Composition Forum Current Issues. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. 

Rounsaville, Angela. "Selecting Genres for Transfer: The Role of Uptake in Students’

Antecedent Genre Knowledge." Composition Forum 26 (2012):  Composition Forum Current Issues. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. 

Salomon , Gavfriel , and David N. Perkins. "Rocky Roads to Transfer: Rethinking Mechanisms of a Neglected Phenomenon." Educational Psychologist. 24.2 (1989): 113-42. Print.