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Time to Act: An Interview with 2016 CCCC Program Chair Linda Adler-Kassner

Linda Adler-Kassner is excited about the opportunities that await 2016 CCCC Convention attendees who want to put their ideas into action.

As the program chair for the 2016 Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (April 6–9, Houston), Adler-Kassner believes that “now is a time of both great challenges and opportunities” for those of us engaged in writing research and teaching.

Discussions of writing are everywhere, she says.At the same time, writing teachers and researchers have expertise and knowledge.

“We must be equipped to talk with a variety of stakeholders, including policymakers, colleagues, and administrators in our schools, and members of the media, about what it means to study writing.”

In a recent interview, Adler-Kassner shared her thoughts on some of the most challenging questions posed to writing teachers and researchers in the 21st century as well as details about what’s in store for conventiongoers heading to Houston.

What Value Does Our Work Add?

“We’ve been studying writing for more than 60 years. We have much to offer. We have to know how to articulate what we do,” says Adler-Kassner. This is critical as we engage in discussions about writing and writers, even when they start with questions stemming from news reports about a perceived literacy crisis or concerns from colleagues about students’ writing.

Adler-Kassner notes that “writing is everyone’s business.” At the same time, we can help those outside of the profession to understand that “writing is about more than just writing.”

When faculty say they want “good writers,” for instance, she says that they “expect communicators who understand particular epistemological concepts and can demonstrate this knowledge” through participation in written and spoken discourse. Working with others to understand what they mean by “good writing,” says Adler-Kassner, is one value that writing instructors and researchers have added to their institutions for decades.

Our classes also help students to develop the same abilities to study and practice with expectations for writing, an ability that AdlerKassner believes contributes to students’ educations. “We’re experts in teaching writers” how to study and adapt to different expectations, she says.

In higher education, she says, “a lot of focus, and credibility, is placed on content.” Yet oftentimes, those of us who teach and research writing shy away from questions about the “content” of our studies. “We have to think carefully about how we frame what we do,” Adler-Kassner says. While we may not always talk about our profession in this way, we must remember that “writing has a disciplinary content and an important disciplinary history” worth sharing.

But while she contends there are many ways in which our profession brings value to the table, she emphasizes that “we must participate in genuine dialogue” with one another and with others, including those who may not necessarily recognize the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated over time.

As a Community of Experts on Writing, What Do/Can We Offer?

“We have a broad, diverse, and exciting membership,” says Adler-Kassner. And like many leaders in NCTE before her, Adler-Kassner is committed to helping every member, whatever their background, research area of interest, student population instructed, or social issue of choice, find a place—and a voice—in CCCC. She also points to efforts by Susan Houser, program chair of the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention, to do the same, forging connections between the two conventions.

Whatever level of writing we teach or particular research interest we pursue, “all of us at NCTE are united in our focus on literacy learning,” Adler-Kassner says, “so everything we produce and offer to members reflects this common goal.” She points to statements like NCTE’s Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction and the organization’s creation of Web seminars focusing on a host of literacy learning concerns as evidence of the wider dialogue among members.

“I also appreciate how NCTE as an organization operates,” she says. She cites examples from current and past leadership—such as the respect former NCTE Executive Director Kent Williamson (who passed away in June) accorded every person at the table—as indicative of the strategic and thoughtful way in which NCTE continues to “navigate a host of really complicated issues.” 

How Can Writing Lead to Action? And What’s CCCC 2016 Got to Do with It?

“We must think and act strategically.” Adler-Kassner argues that in ongoing conversations about writing and literacy “we should be holding ourselves to the same standards for strategic participation” as those we expect our students to meet.

In the classroom, she says, we require students to sift through complex situations to identify problems and ultimately “to articulate what they want to say, to whom, how, and to what end.” It’s crucial, she adds, that we do more than talk about our goals: “We must also act.”

The theme of CCCC 2016, “Writing Strategies for Action,” reflects this commitment. The program she describes involves moving beyond ideas and into enacting well-constructed plans.

At the core of Adler-Kassner’s convention strategy are Taking Action workshops, five in all, each offered two times a day throughout the meeting. Facilitated by professional organizers and activists, the workshops will focus on:

  • Naming and Narrowing: Defining problems, identifying the “so what,” and narrowing to something workable
  • Building Alliances: Finding others who share your concern and making connections with them Framing Messages: Learning how to use strategic framing to craft effective messages as part of an overall campaign
  • Influencing Policy: Learning where and how you can be most effective and how to contribute to ongoing policy and discussions
  • Making Action Plans: Putting thinking into practice and creating concrete strategies and tactics for next steps 

Once we’ve named and narrowed to a problem, built alliances, and thought about messages and possible results, it’s time to make an action plan. This Taking Action workshop will help you to put your thinking into practice and equip you with concrete strategies and tactics for next steps. (Sessions C, E, I, K) 

In addition to the workshop series, Adler-Kassner says that a number of other features have been added and/or extended at CCCC 2016: 

  • a plenary session on the last day of the conference involving reflections from the leaders of each of the workshops, intended to gather input from workshop attendees in order to contribute to CCCC’s future directions; 
  • ongoing Twitter feeds from members pertaining to strategic actions that should be explored by CCCC as an organization; and 
  • activities located in the Action Hub, a conference feature initiated by 2015 CCCC Program Chair Joyce Carter, where attendees can “share knowledge, practice pitches, and develop products that will prove useful for taking action.”

“The entire focus of the program will be to involve attendees in developing, practicing, and leaving with concrete ideas and plans for taking action”—for individual participants and for CCCC as an organization. It’s an ambitious agenda—but an exciting one in which attendees can engage with writing strategies for action for themselves, with others, and for CCCC.

Cynthia Ryan is associate professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she teaches courses in composition and rhetoric. She can be reached at 

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