Anxiety Disorders and the “Post-Novice” Student: A Consideration for Freshmen Writing Courses


David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky would like our novice reader in the freshman writing class “to imagine that when you read [difficult texts] someone is saying something to you, and we’d like you to imagine that you are in a position to speak back;”[1] namely, they beg undergraduates to step out from their novice-mask. Contemporary compositionists tend to view the “novice” freshman as a manifold being already paving wildernesses to make her way more manageable.  The young adults that fill our composition classes “work 40 hours a week to pay for college,” or “travel 10 hours at a time from Africa” to get here, according to my recent students.[2]  Surely, as Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz postulate, “to move forward with their writing, students need to shed the role of novice that was at one time the key to their success”[3] especially when they make such sacrifices to get to college. But with the popular conception of students as what I term “post-novices” (neither experts nor novices), the curriculum of the 21st century comes with different expectations of students; professors expect that students will have a willingness to step beyond the novice role, a voice that wants to come out, and even a gripe with traditional, standardized education values. Moreover, placing students into the role of post-novice assumes that they can and should, according to Lee Ann Carroll, “learn as the need arises”[4] in order to eventually understand what works in their various discourse communities. An ideal outcome is that students will become experienced practitioners in analysis but can also display flexibility and adaptability. And yet, a few problems may arise when attempting to encourage the student with chronic anxiety disorders to see herself as post-novice, such as the problem of application, a paradox of interest, and the disambiguation of the student-teacher persona.  Students who have been injured by any number of assailants to harmonious education — such as PTSD, academic stress, standardizing methodologies, experiences surrounding ASD, or assessments that do not reflect their strengths – enter the higher educational community with exceptional need that isn’t frequently recognized as a tool for curriculum development and teaching strategizing where it is needed most: in freshman composition courses. By engaging a pedagogy centered around healing the “novice”, in which compassion is emphasized as a way to encounter texts, approach work, and make intellectual exchanges through discussion, students and instructors alike stand to gain a rejuvenated sense of the stakes of higher education and a more realistic understanding of how to marshal the wounded “novice” into a post-novice world without encountering apocalypse.


[1] David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, “Introduction: Ways of Reading,” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 2016) 1.

[2] Excerpted from student responses to the Common Book essay.

[3] Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz, “The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year,” College Composition and Communication 56.1 (2004):146.

[4] Lee Ann Carroll, “A Preview of Writing Development,” Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers (Carbondale: SIU Press, 2002) 22.