7 Questions with Ann Amicucci, author of “Stories from First-Year Composition”

Ann Amicucci, assistant professor of English and director of First-Year Rhetoric and Writing at UCCS, teaches courses in first-year rhetoric, research writing, writing pedagogy and social media rhetorics. Her research focuses on students’ reading literacies and writing pedagogies that draw on students’ existing linguistic and literacy practices. 

Most recently, Amicucci co-edited “Stories from First-Year Composition: Pedagogies that Foster Student Agency and Writing Identity” with Jo-Anne Kerr, professor emerita of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The volume was published in 2020 by The WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado.

Amicucci answered seven questions on her new book, which illustrates both the value and potential of first-year composition courses.

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

College students across the country take first-year writing courses where they develop their writing abilities and come into their own as college-level writers. Our book focuses on who students are as learners in these courses and describes research-based teaching methods that empower students to take ownership of their writing and their identities as writers.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

Helen Sitler, one of our contributors to the book, organized a panel presentation at a National Council of Teachers of English annual conference. At this panel, Helen, Jo-Anne, Susan Welsh and I spoke about writing pedagogies that empower students and that recognize and draw upon who students are as individuals. The room was packed! Several attendees sat on the floor when chairs ran out, and we fielded a slew of questions after the panel. Conference attendees’ interest in this topic showed us there was a need in our field for more scholarship focused on empowering student writers, so we began brainstorming ideas for this edited collection.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

Yes, in our early work on the project, Jo-Anne and I knew we wanted to focus on teaching practices that recognize who students are as individuals–that is, pedagogy that responds to students as people, not as numbers. We knew also that we wanted chapters in the collection to be research-based and that we were interested in research that foregrounds students’ voices and perspectives.

Over time, we came to see that student agency was a larger component of the project than we’d originally recognized, and so theories and practices of agency-building became a focus in our framing of the collection through the book’s introduction, inter-chapter material, afterword and multimedia components of the book: three podcast conversations with authors, short author videos, and a blog. A wonderful aspect of collaborating with an editor (and, for me, in collaborating with a seasoned senior faculty member) was learning from each other’s reading processes – as we each read new material and brought it into our scholarship, our focus for the book deepened and crystalized.

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

I am constantly excited about the idea of drawing on college students’ existing digital writing practices to be innovative and creative in how we teach writing. For example, my chapter in this collection discusses how conversations with students about their technology use can lead us to use social media to foster student community or loosen classroom technology policies in recognition of how students use digital tools to learn. As in all disciplines, teaching writing well is an ever-evolving process, and I find it fascinating to explore in my scholarship how writing education can respond to and draw upon students’ activities as digital writers.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

When I’m brainstorming, I use big paper and big chunky markers to sketch out my ideas, think through the components of a literature review and plan a new study. When I’m analyzing data or drafting a manuscript, I’m most likely sitting in a comfortable chair with a laptop on my legs, sipping a cup of tea or eating Mike and Ikes. When it’s time to read my writing and revise, that’s when I go to the floor: I print out my draft, cut it up into individual paragraphs and spread them out on the carpet so I can see which ones need to stay and go and move them around in the process. I also use Trello throughout my whole process to keep tabs on different projects.

6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book?

James Paul Gee, an internationally known literacy scholar, authored the Foreword for our collection. He concludes with a passage I love for the challenge it presents to writing teachers:

“Today, young people are writing – in interest-driven groups (“affinity spaces”) on the internet – more than ever before. Writing as making is spreading and coming into its own. In the act, writing, like all powerful technologies, is being used for both evil and good. We can say this at the very least, though: It is the job of the Freshman Writing teacher to lead young people to the good. Yes, that requires making choices and taking risks and responsibility. It’s a dangerous job. Not for the timid.”

7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered? 

I’ve long been interested in the value of college students’ critical reflection on their own writing processes in supporting their development as writers, and our chapter authors have opened my eyes to new questions about student reflection.

In particular, some of our authors study students’ perspectives on their writing at multiple stages in their college careers, such as by interviewing students during their first-year writing course and then again a few years later, looking back on the course from within their major. Our chapter authors’ innovative research projects have led me to want to explore students’ experiences as writers on a broader scale and to better understand how students’ development of writing identities in their first year of college impacts their longer-term work as writers.

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.