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Fostering Collaboration Between Secondary and College Writing Classes

What are best practices for collaboration between secondary and postsecondary writing teachers?

April D. Baker-Bell

Many teachers are overwhelmed by the number of students entering their classrooms unprepared. This issue is common in all content areas at each level of education. Nevertheless, this CompFaq will situate this discussion in the context of secondary and postsecondary writing classes. Most postsecondary writing teachers blame secondary writing teachers for the skills these students lack, and “require the development of basic writing courses and programs” (Adler-Kassner and Harrington, 30). However, according to Merril J. Davies of Armuchee High School, “it is difficult to identify specifically what college level writing is and how it differs from high school writing” (31). These issues highlight the lack of alignment between secondary and postsecondary writing classes. The absence of alignment is also indicated in the Spellings Commission report, “poor alignment between high school and colleges….often creates an ‘exception gap’ between what colleges require and high schools produce. The result is a high level of remediation by colleges….a process that is both costly and inefficient” (Spellings, 10). To further complicate this issue, Mary Soliday argues in The Politics of Remediation that “Institutions use composition and remediation in more complex ways to fulfill their own, not just students’ needs” (23). According to the article “In the Here and Now” by Linda Adler Kassner and Susanmarie Harrington, there have been reports of “successful high school-college collaborations that have had important effects on teaching and learning for students and teachers in both settings” (25).

Because of the complexities surrounding this idea, exploration of the following topics is suggested before viewing the answers to the CompFaq.

Placing Students in Basic Writing classes: Why it happens and with what implications?

The history of remediation reveals that institutions used the assumptions that “standards for writing are universal and that, as a consequence, remediation exists only because students need to be remediated” (Soliday, 22). In The Politics of Remediation, Soliday does not argue that “remedial students don’t need more intensive writing and reading instruction than other students,” nevertheless, she “questions the wisdom of using basic skills courses to fulfill institutional commitments and to resolve educational conflicts in a submerged or marginal form” (2, 22). Throughout remediation’s historical evolution, basic skills courses have been used to “navigate broader institutional changes in mission, enrollment, curriculum, standards, and admissions, all of which affect the status of English studies and composition teaching” (23).

What is basic writing and who are basic writers?

Alignment: Who gets to set the terms of alignment? What should those terms reflect?

“A key facet of the problem …is the lack of alignment with and between schools, especially from high school to college” (Adler-Kassner and Harrington, 31). In their article “In the Here and Now,” Adler-Kassner and Harrington are concerned with who will define alignment since they believe this is an issue that must be addressed as a field. Instead of policymakers making decisions on how writing should be aligned, those who actually teach in the classroom should be responsible for defining these terms. These terms should reflect a dialogue in which high school teachers “identify key impediments to student progress and preparation for college level writing” and college writing teachers should be informed of “exactly what is needed…to help improve student writing” (Adler-Kassner, 36). This type of relationship between secondary and postsecondary writing teachers “sets up the potential for real change” (36).

What are best practices for collaboration between secondary and postsecondary writing teachers?

Establishing a Line of Communication: Initiating dialogue, Promoting Partnerships.

English professors and secondary teachers in the same geographic areas should find ways to communicate on a regular basis so that high school teachers can gauge how they are doing in preparing students for college work. This dialogue could be initiated by either the college professors or the high school teachers since both will benefit (34–35). Collaborating locally creates unity between secondary and postsecondary writing classes, which would benefit those students that will attend their local college or university.

Professional Development: Writing Projects, Workshops.

Through professional development, projects, such as the National Writing Project (NWP) are able to serve teachers of writing at all grade levels to improve student achievement by improving the teaching of writing in the nation’s schools(1). Sites work in partnership with area school districts to offer high-quality professional development programs for educators by adhering to a set of shared principles and practices for teachers’ professional development, and offering programs that are common across the network. Recent research has “confirmed significant gains in writing performance among students of teachers who have participated in NWP programs.” For more information about NWP, please visit .

In Virginia, Tidewater Community College (TCC) and the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) sponsored workshops that partnered high schools with distant colleges to address the challenge of responding to the needs of underprepared students. Subjects, such as Editing and Grammar to Improve Student Writing, Teaching thoughtful Revision and Portfolio Evaluation were among many addressed at these workshops. These workshops helped high school and English faculties develop innovative instructional strategies (5). “The experiences of all participants in this project continue to provide crucial evidence of the value of collaboration among teachers in secondary and postsecondary institutions” (20).

Alignment Efforts: Portfolios

Tidewater Community College (TCC) and the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) adopted a portfolio model as a vehicle to align writing. “The content of these portfolios were cooperatively defined through a deliberate alignment of TCC composition writing requirements and VBCPS English 12 curriculum.” Teachers from both institutions “attended workshops to refine rubrics for assessment, establish anchor items, and participate as readers to place students in college composition courses.” After reviewing these portfolios, high school and college writing teachers have identified an increase in students’ sense of responsibility towards writing (9).

Key Words:

Establishing a line of communication: Initiating Dialogue, Promoting Partnerships

Professional Development: Writing Projects, Workshops

Alignment Efforts: Portfolios


Adler-Kassner, and Susanmarie Harrington. ‘In the Here and Now: Public Policy and Basic
Writing.” Journal of Basic Writing 25.2 (2006): 27–47.
Appleman, Deborah, and Douglas E. Green. “Mapping the Elusive Boundary between High
School and College Writing.” College Composition and Communication 44.2 (1993) 191–199.
Cambridge, Barbara, and Ulla Connor. “Linking Secondary School and College Writing
Teachers: CAI Staff Development that works in Indianapolis.” (1989)
Crouch, Mary Kay, and Gerri McNenny. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: California Grapples

with Remediation.” Journal of Basic Writing 19.3 (2000): 44–71.

Jennings, Chris. “Consortium for Innovative Instruction: Aligning Writing Instruction in

Secondary and Postsecondary Institutions.” English Document 28 (2002) 1–22.

National Writing Project. About NWP. National Writing Project. 2008.
Perrin, Robert. With Reason and Less Pain: Preparing High-School Students for Freshman -

Composition.” College English 44.4. (1982) 405–412.

Soliday, Mary. “Remedial Traditions and Institutional Crisis.” The Politics of

Remediation. (2002): 20–64.

Sullivan, Patrick and Howard Tinberg. “High School Perspectives.” What is College-Level

Writing? (2006): 31–68.

Thomas, Warren. “Partnerships in Teacher Education: Schools and Colleges Working

Together.” University Press of America.(1996)

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