J. Michael Rifenburg, University of North Georgia – Educating Student Athletes

How can we better educate student athletes?

J. Michael Rifenburg, associate professor of English at the University of North Georgia, looks into how to use their minds in the classroom as they do on the field.

Dr. J. Michael Rifenburg is an associate professor of English and director of first-year composition at the University of North Georgia. In addition to serving as Faculty Fellow for Scholarly Writing with UNG’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, he works closely with the athletics department to support student-athlete writers. His book, The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes is due out in April with University Press of Colorado. He tweets @jmrifenburg and blogs at mrifenburg.wordpress.com.

Educating Student Athletes


Over 460,000 student-athletes grace our classrooms each academic year. When working with student-athlete writers, we need to support their current knowledge with best practices in writing instruction.

One way to do this is through using reflective assignments, which encourage writing-related transfer.

Transfer speaks to how learners take knowledge from one area and apply it another. An example, driving a sedan and applying that knowledge to driving a 16-foot moving van for the first time. Certainly, some differences, but the general principles of driving apply.

With writing-related transfer, writers take skills from one area, say writing for biology, and apply those skills to writing for, say, sociology. Again, some differences between the two disciplines, but the general principles of writing apply. Writing transfer is important for general education writing classes because, as the logic goes, students take these classes to prepare to write for future classes. General education writing classes are predicated on the notion of transfer.

We now have data showing instructors can facilitate transfer by using assignments that invite students to reflect on their writing.

Based on this research, 25 student-athletes worked on an analysis of a previous writing experience. Students identified a previous paper and reflected on how they wrote it: who was their audience? What was their purpose? Where, when did they write it? This assignment asked the student-athletes to perform cognitive moves expected of them for their sport. Competing at the collegiate level requires performance evaluations, which often take on the guise of film sessions where coaches and players review past performance. Our student-athletes refine future performance through reflecting on past performance.

Introducing writing reflection through athletic reflection is a critical step in the quest for transfer.


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