Call for Proposals for a Special Issue of Composition Forum: “Risk, Failure, and the Teaching of Writing”

Posted by – April 25, 2024

Guest editors: Alexis Teagarden, UMass Dartmouth, and Justin Mando, Millersville University

We are pleased to open our call for proposed submissions to the Summer 2025 Special Issue of Composition Forum on the theme Risk, Failure and the Teaching of Writing.

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Looking for more context? Read on.

Contextualizing Risk and Failure in Composition Studies

Failure is never far from a writing classroom, and risk is forever emerging in the writing (and learning) process. Instructors across specialties– from First-Year teaching to doctoral dissertation advising, Professional/Technical Communication to Creative Writing– as well as Rhetoric and Composition scholars and writing program administrators have considered the role failure and risk can and should play in writing. The work is invigorating, demonstrating the virtues it hopes to foster: creativity, curiosity, reflectiveness, intellectual humility, and a willingness to engage with difficulty. But it might be that the conversations have raised more questions than answers.

One issue is that failure holds different, even contradictory meanings. When Coles agrees that in a writing course “a certain amount of initial failure is not only inevitable but also desirable” (Boe, 2002, p. 12) and when Bartkevicius (2023) argues “Teaching, like writing, involves rough drafts (little failures) and revisions” (p. 117), they both emphasize failure as a part of invention, experimentation, and incremental improvement. This is a familiar connotation to failure, but not the only one. Carr (2013), for instance, ascribes a much more significant role to failure; it is “a deeply felt, transformative process” (n.p.). Are little, ongoing failures on the same continuum as Carr’s kind? Or is Coles right that “we need another name” for the ubiquitous failures of drafting, to contrast them with the transformative experience of “being a failure”? Understanding what we mean by failure might be a necessary step to fully develop the pedagogy of failure for which Carr and others have called.

Intellectual risk-taking appears to maintain a more stable definition: choices involving stakes and uncertainty (Johnstone, 1963) which all writers confront (e.g., Artemeva, 2005; Canagarajah & Lee, 2013). But how do the lines of scholarship on risk and failure interact?

Work from our field often references both without delving into their relationship. Kelty and Bunten (2017), in contrast, have argued risk and failure are part of a larger learning cycle, but their edited collection Intellectual Risk-Taking in Higher Education notably includes no chapters on writing classes. Does their model hold for our field? And if failure and risk are both phases in learning to write, how do we guide students into this cycle?

Such questions inspire our Special Issue, as we recognize a need for collective attention on the role failure and risk together should take in writing pedagogy. A central aim of this special issue is to bridge conversations between intellectual risk and failure, so we are particularly interested in submissions that focus on the relationship between the two. How might we continue to theorize, and what might we together generate as best practices in response to the potentials (good and ill) attached to teaching writing through risk and failure?

Some Quandaries to Consider

What is the interplay between intellectual risk-taking and failure, and how might the two together guide our approach to teaching?

How might we consider the ethical dimensions of intellectual risk-taking and failure? In On Duties, Cicero argues “a spirit which is ready to face danger but is driven by selfish desire rather than the common benefit should be called not courage, but audacity” (26). Does this attention to communal stakes change the way we consider risk-taking? In parallel, if Johnson and Sheehan (2020) are right that “Failure does indeed open up new possibilities and ways of thinking; however, failure also has material realities that must be acknowledged and dealt with ethically” (p. 133), how do we evaluate the role failure plays in our classrooms (Cox, 2011; Inoue, 2014; Inoue, 2020; Pantelides, 2020)?

Such questions apply to students but also instructors: what risks can and should teachers take on, and when do those risks become failures (Segal, 1996; Hall, 2002; Bauer, 2007; Waite, 2017; Craig, 2021)? How should such risks and failures be evaluated? (Horner & Lillis, 2015; Combs et al., 2015)?

In short, how should we bring both risk and failure into writing classrooms:

● for First-Years (e.g., Holmes and Wittman, 2020; Thoune, 2020; Fernandes et al, 2021),

● or majors (e.g., Bauer, 2007; Hamilton, 2016; Feigenbaum, 2021),

● or graduates (e.g., Rickly & Cook, 2017; Beare, 2018; Fredrick et al., 2020),

● in Prof/Tech Comm (e.g., Artemeva, 2005; West-Puckett & Moeggenberg, 2022),

● or Creative Writing (e.g., Bartkevicius, 2023; Ballenger, 2023; Suphap, 2023)?

Addressing the ethical issues raised by classroom risk-taking and failure can create another problem: how do we foster risk and failure safely or fairly without sanding away the very elements that prompt learning? For example, if we require students to take risks, have we encouraged risk-taking or have we just shifted the ways students conform to expectations and produce safe work (Hamilton, 2016; Fredrick et al., 2020)? Outside of grades, what do students–and writers more generally–recognize as risks (Kerschbaum, 2014; Teagarden et al., 2018; Saunders, 2020; Banville et al., 2021; Tennant, 2022; Tennant et al., 2022; Commer et al., 2024) and how can we encourage engagement in what feels risky (Hall, 2007; Canagarajah & Lee, 2013; Badenhorst et al., 2015; Chanock et al. 2015; Taczak & Mitchell, 2020; Meadows, 2023)?

Turning to administrative work, how do we respond to Cook & Hoermann-Elliott’s (2023) conclusion about failure’s potential for guiding writing program administration: “perhaps what the field needs next is not a heuristic defining failure’s purpose but one for exploring failure” (72)? How can we explore failure at the administrative level; how do and should administrators approach intellectual risk-taking (Nearman, 2008; Roach, 2008; Gross & Alexander, 2016; Bastian, 2019; Phillips & Giordano, 2020; Stenberg & Waite, 2020)?

Submission Information for Interested Authors and Reviewers

For Interested PEER REVIEWERS | Applications due July 15, 2024, submitted via our interest form

We invite interested readers to apply to serve as reviewers for initial proposals and/or completed manuscripts. Please note, submitting a proposal does not preclude you from also serving as a reviewer for the other journal sections or standing as a peer reviewer for full manuscripts. To indicate interest in serving as a special issue reviewer, please complete the reviewer interest form (

For Interested AUTHORS | Proposals due August 2, 2024, all submitted via our proposal form

We are soliciting proposals for

Research articles

Please submit a max 250-word proposal that outlines your argument or research project. Your proposal should include 3-5 key sources that guide your current thinking; these can be embedded or a separate list. See Composition Forum’s author guidelines for full expectations for a research article.

Program profiles

Please submit a max 250-word proposal that describes the program/course you would report on and how it relates to the special issue’s theme. Your proposal should include 3-5 key sources that guide your current thinking; these can be embedded or a separate list. See Composition Forum’s author guidelines for full details on what a program profile piece entails.

Book reviews

Please rank the books in terms of your review preference and submit a 150-word proposal outlining your strengths as a reviewer of work in the risk/failure conversation.


The special issue’s review process is governed by the conventions of Composition Forum (, with slight adjustments, noted below, to account for the special issue process.

All proposals will be reviewed by at least one special issue editor and one external reviewer, using this rubric (links to a google form).

Accepted manuscripts will be reviewed by either one editor and one external reviewer or two external reviewers. If you would like feedback on your proposal, we will be happy to review in advance of submission. Please contact the special issue editors: and


Mid-April, 2024:       Special Issue call circulates

July 15, 2024:         Applications due for peer reviewers 

August 2, 2024:     Proposals due

Early January 2025:   Full manuscripts of articles, profiles, book reviews due

Early May 2025:         Revised manuscripts due to editors

July 2025:                Special Issue published

Citations for the call available here: CF 2025 sp iss CFP references

  • Category: CFP
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