Students write research article about English professor William Smith

William Smith (English) is the subject of a research article in the December 2009 issue of "College Communication and Composition," a peer-reviewed journal. The article, "Close to the Heart: Teacher Authority in a Classroom Community," has another Western connection: It was written by a team of WWU students in an English graduate seminar.

The seminar, Professor Steve VanderStaay’s "Research in the Teaching of English," presented students with current debates in the teaching of English and composition. After reviewing each debate, students decided to investigate the "problem" of teacher authority in the teaching of composition.

Beginning in the Civil Rights era, teacher authority within composition was criticized as an oppressive impediment to students’ development as writers. More recently, however, theorists have argued that teacher authority also may function to empower and enable students. However, no real-world description of an empowering form of teacher authority existed in the research.

To fill this gap, four graduate students decided to study teacher authority in a "best-case scenario," a writing class widely recognized as enabling and empowering. They instantly thought of William "Bill" Smith, an award-winning and widely-respected writing teacher in the Department of English. After securing necessary permissions, students observed two of his technical writing classes over the course of a term, interviewing students and comparing their own observations with recent theory. Noting that Smith taught with great authority, they studied its sources and asked students about it. The team found that Dr. Smith’s authority was "professional," rather than "bureaucratic," or derived from the professor’s power over the students’ grades. In this case, they concluded, teacher authority was not so much imposed upon students as "granted by students who affirmed the teacher’s expertise, self-confidence and belief in the importance of his work."

The student authors are Beverly A. Faxon, Jack E. Meischen, Karlene T. Kolesnikov and Andrew D. Ruppel.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 2:58pm