Sarah Swofford, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Department of English, Theater, and Interdisciplinary Studies
I specialize in composition and rhetoric, which some people call "writing studies." This means that I get to join with other people in my discipline who ask big questions about how people learn to write, what kinds of writing we use in all kinds of different contexts (in and out of school), and how our identities as people shape our experiences as writers. My research and my teaching are so deeply connected that I often can't easily separate one from the other. In my research, I explore questions about how students develop as writers. I trace the transition to and through college. In my teaching, I walk alongside students as they experience the transition to college (in English 101 and 102) and through college (in classes like The Teaching of Writing and Introduction to Professional Writing in Spring 2018 and Fall 2018, respectively).
My research brings together composition studies, sociolinguistics, and educational research as I think and write about how rural Southern students move from high school to college writing, and how people's attitudes about their language use influence that transition. This is really fun for me, because I am from Spartanburg, SC, so my work is connected in really important ways to my own experiences as a speaker of Southern American English. In my research, I get to talk to students about "rednecks" and "being country," and how their ideas about being "short, sweet, and to the point" shape their notions about persuasion and argument. What I learn in that research I bring into my classroom, and because of that work, my students learn about how their linguistic and social identities influence how they think about themselves and how other people see them as writers and as students. I'm currently working on a project that asks questions about what students mean when they say they "don't understand MLA," and I'm excited about the surprising direction those questions are taking me (stay tuned!). My forthcoming chapter, "Reaching Back to Move Beyond the 'Typical' Student Profile: The Influence of High School in Undergraduate Writing Development" in the book Developing Writers, uses "big data" to explore how social class plays a seemingly "small" but significant role in how students develop as writers across their college experiences. This study, like all of my research, looks for ways for us to invite student writers who do not come from wealthy or privileged backgrounds into academic and professional contexts. I'm constantly thinking about how my students and I can foster curiosity and ask interesting questions of one another, and I work to explore the tension between giving students the time they need to develop their thinking and helping them learn to present that thinking to audiences who demand polish and professionalism. Learning to write is hard. It forces us to confront who we really are and who we can become, and it asks us to connect in deep and powerful ways with people who are not like us. I love the challenge that teaching writing and supporting other writing instructors brings me. We're never "finished" as writers, and that's one of my favorite things about what I get to explore with my students, my fellow writing instructors, and in my research.
Not only do I teach courses about writing at USCB, I also serve as the Writing Program Administrator, or WPA. I support other faculty who teach writing (especially First Year English). I facilitate curriculum development for First Year English and our minor and concentration in Professional Writing, and I help develop assessment plans so we can make sure students are learning what our faculty value most about composition and rhetoric. My job here is to support writing instruction so that all of our students are able to grow and develop as writers. I also train and support our undergraduate writing center tutors, who are amazing! They must be prepared to offer tutoring for writing in every class at USCB, not only English courses, so we learn a flexible set of strategies that are undergirded by theories of composition pedagogy and rhetoric. It's a tall task, but they continually impress me with their maturity, care, and thoughtfulness. I love the time I spend with them, as we work together to troubleshoot and problem-solve the wide range of experiences that students bring to their tutoring sessions. Basically, I get to spend a lot of time with people who care intensely about making sure that students at USCB have the tools they need to be effective writers, and I get to help them do that really important work.
Williams, Jeff, with Elizabeth Homan and Sarah Swofford. Supporting Students in a Time of Common Core Standards: English Language Arts Grades 3-5. Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English, 2011. Print.
Gere, Anne Ruggles, Sarah Swofford, Naomi Silver, and Melody Pugh. "Interrogating Disciplinary in WAC/WID: Institutional Ethnography and the New Disciplinarity." College Composition and Communication, December 2015.
"Comprehensive Literacy: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, March 2013. Online.
"Using Evidence in Writing: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, March 2012. Online.
"Reading Instruction for All Students: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, Sept. 2012. Online.
"Evaluating English/Language Arts Teachers: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, March 2012. Online.
"Communities of Practice: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, Nov. 2011. Online.
"Literacies of Disciplines: An NCTE Policy Brief." The Council Chronicle, Sept. 2011. Online.
Swofford, Sarah. "When 'MLA' Isn't Just MLA: What Students Say about the Handbook." National Council of Teachers of English. November 2017.
Swofford, Sarah. "Developmental Writing, Austerity and Assumptions: What to Do About Developmental Writing?" Council of Writing Program Administrators (innovative presentation format). July 2017.
Swofford, Sarah, Zoe Slingluff and Madeline Wilkinson (undergraduate students at USCB). "Turning Classrooms into Bridges: Service Learning in an Advanced Writing course," College English Association. March 2017.
Swofford, Sarah. "'Me, I'm Short, Sweet, and to the Point': Ideologies of Language and Rhetoric in Southern Writing Classrooms,"American Dialect Society. January 2016.
Swofford, Sarah. "'Professional' Writers or 'Professional Writers'?: Considering the Place of 'Professional' in Writing in the Disciplines," International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference. July 2016.
"Three Models for (Re)Considering Religious Discourses, Literacies, and Rhetorics," Cultural Rhetorics Conference. October, 2014.
"The DSP Five Years In: Reflection on and Revision of Directed Self-Placement," Conference on Writing Program Administration. July, 2014.
"Southern Students in Transition: Language Ideologies and Linguistic Capital in the Transition to College Writing," Conference on College Composition and Communication. March, 2014.
"Southern Students in Transition: Language Ideologies and Linguistic Capital in the Transition to College Writing," poster, American Dialect Society Annual Meeting. January, 2014.
"Ghosts in the Classroom: How Student Expectations Shape Writing Instruction," Conference on Writing Program Administration. July, 2013.
"Writing in the Disciplines in an Interdisciplinary Context," Conference on Writing Program Administration. July, 2013.
"'Does This Make Sense?": Student Perceptions of Questions in Instructor Comments," Conference on College Composition and Communication. March, 2013.
"Southern Students in Transition: Language Ideologies and Linguistic Capital in the Transition to College Writing," Making Meaning and Enculturation Graduate Student Conference, University of Michigan. November, 2013.
"Aligning Student and Faculty Expectations of the Upper-Level Writing Requirement," Writing Across the Disciplines/Writing in the Disciplines Conference. June, 2012.
"Afterward: Students' Post-Transfer Writing Experiences at the University of Michigan," Conference on Writing Program Administration. July, 2012.
"There Seems to be a Reason: Why Instructors Use Hedges in Marginal Comments and End Notes," Conference on College Composition and Communication. March, 2011.
"Talkin' Like They Do: Competing and Conflicting Ideologies in Southern Language," Making Meaning Graduate Student Conference, University of Michigan. November, 2011.
"Virtual Reality and Virtual Classrooms: Teacher Perceptions of Student Identity," Computers and Writing Conference. May, 2011.
"Common Understandings: An Overview of the Common Core Standards and Its Implications for Teacher and Teacher Educators,"Conference on English Education. May, 2011.