With an intensified focus on assessment and outcomes, how can teachers create conditions for students to take intellectual risks in the writing classroom?
This study examines the popularity of “intellectual risk-taking,” a pedagogical term that typically describes when a student attempts a new way to learn and risks receiving a lower grade or being perceived as less competent by a teacher (Beghetto), risks facing public criticism by peers (Foster), or risks losing a personal belief or coherent sense of social identity (Haswell et al.). We find this term commonly invoked with praise in U.S. higher education, but ambiguously defined. The lack of definition, we argue, can put the goals of institutions, instructors, and students in tension. To demonstrate the possible tensions, we compare perceptions of risk-taking advanced by institutions of higher education and education scholars with those reported by students and composition instructors. Results indicate that students generally regard intellectual risk-taking as positive but are reluctant to take such risks. Similarly, early-career instructors are unsure how to evaluate intellectual risk or align it with other course objectives. However, rather than jettison the concept, we argue a rhetorical approach could better realize the pedagogical benefits of intellectual risk-taking. To this end, we offer a tentative framework for fostering intellectual risk-taking in the writing classroom, which draws on the rhetorical tradition and attends to the tensions identified in our study.
Our article “Intellectual Risk in the Writing Classroom: Navigating Tensions in Educational Values and Classroom Practice” was published in Composition Studies.