A Conversation with Jill Darley-Vanis and Melissa Favara

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In my third post on the work being done by two-year college teacher-scholars who contributed to Teaching Accelerated and Corequisite Composition (Utah State UP, 2023), I spoke with Jill Darley-Vanis and Melissa Favara of Clark College in Vancouver, Washington.

Jill Darley-Vanis has been teaching at Clark College since 2000. Her research, conference presentations, and published works focus on assignment design, transfer theory, and more equitable classroom practices. She has been published in Teaching English in the Two-Year College and in the book Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership. Jill has also presented at College Composition and Communication (CCC), First-Year Experience (FYE), Two-Year College English Association (TYCA), and the State of Washington’s Assessment in Teaching and Learning (ATL) conferences.

Melissa Favara began teaching at Clark College in 2007. For the past decade, her teaching has focused on accelerated composition, both in the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) and Accelerated Learning (ALP) programs. She has presented on learning communities at the National Learning Communities Conference (NLCC) and on creating vulnerability spaces in the ALP classroom at the Modern Language Association conference. Melissa writes creative nonfiction that has been published in street roots, Metro Parent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere.

Jill and Melissa’s chapter, “Reflective Practices in Teaching for Transfer,” argues for writing instruction that encourages “composition students’ awareness of writing as a portable skill,” one they can carry with them as they transfer from their first-year composition class to other writing-based courses. In Jill and Melissa’s practice, “a typical assignment sequence moves the student from analysis and writing about writing in different genres to producing work in new genres, those better suited for the given message and of interest to the student.”

Jill and Melissa “put [their] heads together” for answers to my questions, so their responses are in a single voice. When I asked which elements of their chapter they felt were especially relevant for instructors of accelerated and corequisite composition, they replied that “reflection is central and center, particularly as it is the vehicle to change students’ perceptions of their own stories and their own potential.” They add that “in a moment of shrinking student populations and readily available work that pays well but may not provide avenues for further personal and intellectual development over time, the ability to reflect as a vehicle for change is all the more pressing.” Ultimately, they wanted their chapter to “provide faculty with not only theory, but also take-it-to-class plans for a learning sequence.”   

As they looked back on “Reflective Practices in Teaching for Transfer” from the perspective of more than a year since its completion, they noted, “As we learn more and more about critical language awareness (CLA) and its intersection with Writing for Transfer (WfT), we see more and more pathways for change as well as challenges and layers for the shift that urgently needs to happen in the classroom.” Specifically, they believe:

[T]here is an opportunity to think about positionality as a tie to WfT: genres are situated within various discourse communities in the same ways individuals and policies are situated within systems of power. We continue to see a need for further understanding and developments in what equitable opportunities for learning/educational justice look like in the classroom,” including “questions of Standard Language Ideology (SLI).

They add: “Even what we understood five years ago now seems antiquated and simple. People of color are ‘taking back their narrative,’ as Toni Morrison says, so what does this look like in this moment, and how can we change the larger system to serve?”

Jill and Melissa are both enthusiastic and worried about issues that preoccupy many of the other instructors I spoke with. They “are excited about the change that comes about in corequisite instruction, the way that students in the coreq group go from passive to active or from follower to leader.” However, they “are concerned about AI and what it wants to take from the individual: the process of writing allows the individual to experience and appreciate organizing thought and training the self as a thinker, so the temptation [of using AI] and its ubiquitous nature are real.”