Behind the Textbook: Boulder on a Pin

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I’m not sure people know the kind of balancing act it takes to put together a composition reader. To give you a quick sense, here are the issues we track while thinking about the table of contents for Emerging:
  • Academic vs. nonacademic: Including readings from the academic world offers students real examples of how knowledge is produced in the university. At the same time, those working within a discipline are often writing only to others within that same discipline—which might entail field-specific assumptions and terminology that are beyond first year students. Ideally, then, we balance readings by including those writing from both inside and outside the academy.
  • Cited vs. noncited: Related to the first concern is the issue of citation. Academic writing always models citation, which can reinforce for students the importance of this practice. Writing from outside the academy, no matter how sophisticated, usually does not include citation. The goal is to balance essays that model the practice while also including essays that offer food for thought even without academic citations.
  • Ethnic diversity: We strive to reflect ethnic diversity in the table of contents, not simply as a matter of principle but, more importantly, because students live in a diverse world and need to learn how to think and communicate within such a world.
  • National diversity: For similar reasons and given the rise of globalization, it’s important for us to include readings from more than just American writers. Other nationalities provide unique perspectives that can broaden students’ thinking.
  • Gender and sexual diversity: Questions of gender and sexuality are equally important for all the same reasons. Finding the right balance of authors can be challenging given the inherent biases within publishing as a whole.
  • Visuals: As we move deeper into a digitally enabled information age, we feel it’s important for students to learn how to work with visual and written information. The incorporation of essays with visual elements thus becomes another consideration.
  • Thematic coverage: Throughout this process, we also keep in mind the need for incorporating a number of themes. This balance enables teachers and students to find multiple paths into the book.
What issues do you consider when assembling materials for your own course?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.