From Failure to Inquiry: Three Problem-Solving Strategies for Community Literacy Researchers



failure, community literacy, adaptive problem-solving, rivaling, critical incident interviews


Failure is a significant issue for researchers conducting community-engaged work. This article responds to calls to share research failures more transparently and to create reflective spaces for students to examine moments of failure. We offer our experience adapting three problem-solving strategies from a community literacy course (adaptive problem-solving, rivaling, and critical incident interviewing) to help each other revisit our own “failed” attempts at community-engaged work. By applying these problem-solving strategies to reflect on our experiences—advocating for graduate student parents, working with a summer literacy program, and collaborating with parents of disabled children—we show how these strategies can transform an initial sense of stigmatized failure into a longer process of inquiry and growth. Our approach, we believe, represents an important literate practice for community-based scholars, not only for those seeking to create more collaborative reflective space within university-community partnership, but also for novice scholars navigating the challenges of community-engaged work for the first time.  

Author Biographies

Amanda Berardi Tennant, West Virginia University

Amanda Berardi Tennant is a Teaching Assistant Professor of English and Associate Coordinator of Undergraduate Writing at West Virginia University, where she teaches in the undergraduate writing program and mentors new writing instructors. Her research examines how Appalachian rhetors negotiate cultural identity across different rhetorical situations. Dr. Tennant’s current project explores how high-achieving Appalachian college students negotiate connections to home in an elite urban university. Prior to working at West Virginia University, Dr. Tennant was an Assistant Professor of Composition and Writing Center Director at West Liberty University. She also worked as a postdoctoral fellow for the Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education. Dr. Tennant earned a Ph.D. in rhetoric from Carnegie Mellon University.  

Carolyn Commer, Virginia Tech

Carolyn D. Commer is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Virginia Tech, where she teaches courses in professional and technical writing and rhetorical theory. Her research examines public deliberations about education policy and how the rhetoric of education policy shapes classroom pedagogy. She is currently collaborating on projects that examine perceptions of failure and intellectual risk-taking in the writing classroom. Her in-progress book project offers leaders in higher education a rhetorical guide to advocating for higher education as a public good.  

Mary Glavan, Tulane University

Mary Glavan is faculty in the First-Year Writing Program at Tulane University, where she teaches undergraduate writing classes. She has previously taught courses in rhetoric, writing, and professional communication at the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon University. Her research explores the dynamics of public argument, advocacy, and dis/ability, especially in educational and legal contexts. Her current projects include developing pedagogical interventions that foster accessibility and inclusion in the college writing classroom. Dr. Glavan has current and in-progress publications in writing center studies, argumentation, disability/accessibility rhetorics, and community-engaged studies.  




How to Cite

Berardi Tennant, A., Commer, C., & Glavan, M. (2022). From Failure to Inquiry: Three Problem-Solving Strategies for Community Literacy Researchers . Literacy in Composition Studies, 10(1), 72–93. Retrieved from