Haswell is certainly dense! His book is on freshmen specifically, and I do mean freshmen. He begins by making a connection between teaching a subject and teaching a human being. Viewing students as individuals is what gets lost so often in the school systems and leads to so many being labeled and put by the wayside. He encourages us as teachers to always be prepared to learn more and change what we know, especially if our methods don’t seem to be working. How can we know something new until we realize we need to un-learn something or learn something new, after all. Including new ideas doesn’t mean we have to get rid of all of our old ideas, though, as some “veteran” teachers seem to think when new whippersnappers come in with their “radical,” “progressive” ideas. This word “progress” has such negative connotation in the educational field, though I am not sure why. We need to believe that all students have the potential to progress, though. Haswell explains that this is the difference between just growing up and maturing. Change is inevitable—we all grow, we all learn, even if it’s the wrong things or wrong way to do things—but progress has to be guided. When all we care about is grades, then the “student disappears” (10). And, as Rose demonstrates and as everyone’s experience seems to show, personal connection is what makes “basic” writers better.
I love Haswell’s definition of a learner (student/basic writer, if you will). Each student must be given a status and a standard. The status is where they currently are, and the standard is the never status, or level, they must reach that is set by their peers or teachers. Kids will rise to the standards set if they are set high enough (as Rose reiterated). Thus, learning is like building on a scaffold or creating a paper chain or climbing endless stairs. Haswell uses some samples to show what should be expected—skills in organization, an ability to be specific, coherence, grasp of diction, and syntax.
What about this quote? “[M]any students find writing devalued in other courses and associated almost totally with grades and graduation requirements. Surely they often also find it of unproven intrinsic worth or of suspect cultural standing, inducing anxiety and undermining self-esteem and poorly defined in terms of quality and appropriateness.” All I wrote here was “Wow, there is a lot to say here.” How do we emphasize intrinsic value in kids? How do we make sure their self-esteems are intact? How do we help shape how students see themselves through the eyes of others and through their own?
Basic writing is somehow below first year writing. This, and budget problems, often led to basic writers being merged in with other classes or ignored altogether. The definition is tied first to its history, as we saw last week. Basic writers became an area to “fix.” It was placed before a first-year course. This book seems to harp on Harvard a lot, noting how students were coming there without being able to do proper grammar. You know, many people from Harvard today don’t know proper grammar, but they will get hired because they went to Harvard. What does this tell us about the cycle of discrimination and the importance of names? Shor defines BW as “less than freshmen comp, below comp” (47). Shaughnessy did notice a change in some teachers in attitudes and methods used, which Haswell advocates. She still called it a “frontier” but admits the definition is still hard to find. “Much more is said about basic writers than about basic writing” (48). “Teaching them at all was obviously a step toward social justice” (49). I had to read an article about Superman for my Lit Theory class last week, and I know this sounds unrelated, but it is, trust me. In the article, one of the main points was that Superman isn’t really a super-hero because he never solves the root of the problem. He can save people from danger but doesn’t get rid of danger. He can give money and food to orphans but doesn’t stop orphans from being “made.” Teaching BW may be seen as an act of social justice, then, but wouldn’t getting rid of BW all together be a greater act? As in, getting rid of discrimination and the government rules and labels that keep children in cycles of discrimination?
Lynn Quitman Troyka’s “Defining Basic Writing in Context” in 1987 was a “watershed” toward returning to thinking of students as individuals. Why did we lose that belief in the first place? Troyka concentrated on reading and writing. Troyka says that defining BW as “remedial” sounds like a medical term that must be treated. Nothing is “wrong” with BW, per say, but they have probably been taught wrong at one point or another in their lives and thus can’t progress. She steers away from defining BW simply because they are individuals, and individuals each have individual needs and styles of learning.
“The key to understanding basic writers lies not in what they are but in what they have not yet become” (57). Of course. We must, as Haswell says, look at a student’s status so that we can gauge where we want his standard to be set and then help him progress to that point.
Mike Brown Reading Response #4
In the chapter Defining Basic Writing and Basic Writers, basic writing is described as "being a halfway house addressing problems that would be solved by better college preparation" (43). To me, this is just a rudimentary label that does not address the real issue of the eroding writing skills in today's society. In my opinion, these eroding skills are a result of many factors such as overcrowded schools, teachers being dictated what to teach in their classrooms (teaching to the test), and many more factors. Personally, the biggest factor in the eroding writing skills in today's youth is a result of the over usage of e-mails, texts, and posts on social networking sites using their own particular lingo and abbreviations. A perfect example of this is my older daughter. One day last year, she came home upset about some points deduction on a formal writing paper. She did not understand that she could not use the little texting acronyms on her paper. I did not know where to even begin with the explanation as to why her teacher was right. Ultimately, I put her in her place by explaining that the texting abbreviations which she used in her writings should never be used in her papers or essays. Bartholomae and Petrosky look past the definition of a basic writer and concentrate more on how to teach the basic writers in order to get them to the level of writing abilities they should be at. This approach to basic writers was embraced by teachers. Instead of just placing the basic writer label on students who are deemed to be "remedial", teachers should design their curriculum to embrace and nurture these students in order to get their writing skills to the level the skills should be at. In the beginning of Richard Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing, the discussion centers on the abilities or lack of abilities of college freshmen's' writing skills. In the introduction, Haswell defines teachers of writing as "not teachers of writing…[but] teachers of this eighteen-year old, writing" (1). I think this is a brilliant way to define a writing teacher. The art of writing is becoming a lost art. This has become more and more apparent to me as I was going over one hundred plus essays from my 1301 writing labs. Some of the writing was very well developed with good paragraph structures, topic sentences, and overall essay development. However, the majority of the essays turned in were mediocre at best. I specifically reminded all of the classes to write in multiple paragraph form, creating and expounding on a topic sentence, and avoiding contractions. The first response after the contraction comment I gave was, "what is a contraction?" That question floored me. Even after I explained it to every class, at least 1/2 of the papers turned in had contractions…that were spelled wrong.
I found the idea of initiation as the goal of BW to be interesting because of its connection to first year composition courses. Our goal, in both courses, is “to initiate students into academic discourse” (O&M 55). This goal, then, brings us to an interesting question, “Is this real point to help BW students or to make sure they will not offend the faculty who read and evaluate their work?” (55). What is the real purpose in BW, and first year composition? If it is only the latter, we are missing the goal of these courses: to empower the students who enroll in them. If our goal is simply to train them in the ways of “getting by,” what can be said for the humanistic purpose of literacy and rhetoric? O&M discuss this issue in “Defining Basic Writers and Basic Writing.” I would like to research more about the discussion surrounding the issue of the conflict between academic discourses and BW students.
Building on the idea of contextual definitions of basic writers, teachers must view students as unique and diverse individuals. O&M discuss the fact that BW programs have been closing in four-year institutions across the nation since the 1990s. They counter this point by emphasizing the growth of BW programs in two-year institutions. Community colleges, such as Del Mar, offer Basic Writing courses to students whose test scores do not qualify them to enroll in English 1301.
Students who are accepted to TAMUCC whose test scores do not qualify them to enroll in English 1301 are labeled as TSI liable – (Texas Success Initiative). (What does this mean? The student did not receive the minimum required scored on one of four assessment tests. Depending on which sections the student did not meet the requirement, the student must enroll in either Reading 0399, Math 0398, Math 0399, Writing 0099 & 1301/1302.) These students are automatically enrolled in a course which “requires” (strongly advises) them to attend weekly sessions in the CASA Writing Center.
What is the difference between these students? The standards of the two institutions. Could a student who is enrolled in a Basic Writing course at Del Mar succeed in an English 1301 course at TAMUCC if they had the same TSI support system? Taking into consideration the variable of context, could course design, teacher interpretation, and a development model for students learning work together to bridge the gap between these students (and students at all levels – BW, ESL, and students who fall somewhere in between)? Perhaps it is hopeful and idealistic to think so, but if BW programs continue to be solely relegated to two-year institutions, the gap between BWs? and first year composition students will continue to grow (and the gap between two and four year institutions). If BW becomes something that four-year institutions can’t (don’t want to) deal with, what does this say about the political nature of BW?
I enjoyed Haswell’s discussion of interpretation through a developmental frame. His emphasis on temporality makes a lot of sense when considering the basis of evaluation, diagnosis, and curriculum. Understanding the situation of where your students are as individual learners in vital to contributing to their significant development. I found his discussion to be applicable to a first year composition classroom in understanding that each classroom is filled with a diverse mix of students. Walking into these classrooms and applying an essentialized ideal to these students would be doing them (and me) and disservice. Haswell argues that teachers should take into consideration the important facet of growth within the process of learning, viewing and encouraging students to grow from experienced to more experienced.
I have found it difficult to begin grading my students’ first essays. Teaching first year composition as a graduate student is a learning process, so I will go ahead and say upfront that in retrospect, I should have required that every student meet with me for the first paper. Instead, in an effort to meet with those who chose to meet with me, I gave students the option to leave a draft with me and come meet with me in the Writing Center for a short conference the next day. About ½ of my students from each class (a total of 22 drafts, 20 who actually came to meet with me) took me up on this offer. Working with these students on their drafts, I was able to work with them to strengthen their thesis and ask them questions about organization, content, and formatting. I was also able to address questions regarding their fulfillment of the assignment. In reading the final papers of these students, I am able to see the changes that (some of them) made in their writing. However, I am unable to fully see this process in the students who chose not to meet with me about their drafts. The only portion of these students’ papers I saw was their introduction and thesis during peer review.
How am I supposed to view the writing of these two “groups” of students equally? I will have more understanding (accommodation) for the writing of the students who came to meet with me and worked to revise their papers and strengthen them. Even if their paper is not achieving the “ideal” A or A- paper, I will take their growth into consideration. Through the experience of writing this paper, student A may not have learned how to synthesize all of the information in an effective way, but he/she did work to create a strong thesis and effective topic sentences through revision. Overall, is this student working toward progress and growth? The question remains, though, how do I assess (with temporality and context) the students whose work I did not see progress (either because I did not meet with them or no changes were made to the draft)?
I want to start with a question: Should we need one definition for Basic Writing? I wanted to ask this question, because What I understand from the readings for this week, and the readings we have done earlier have a common ground when it comes to the definition of Basic Writing. As in the chapter Defining Basic Writing and Basic Writers from Otte & Mlynarczyk, since the time Basic Writing occurred as a need for students who need special help, the most important concern of B.W scholars is to define this field. So far, there are specific things mentioned in our readings including the part from Otte&Mlynarczyk: students must be at the center of B.W; as teachers, scholars we should focus on their needs to help them,to develop their writings; we should not label them as "under-prepared", "under-educated", "deficient" etc.; since these labels create the feeling of "otherness" for these students; standard tests are not reliable when it comes to asses students' writing abilities, which is why, as teachers we should not consider them as students who cannot write, because 'they can write', and it should be our motto as Basic Writing teachers.
I know the fact that none of our readings have been able to present a clear definition of B.W for us, but they present more than one definition, may be a broader definition including all important elements for students and teachers; and I find this very important. First of all, we need this broader definition, since our basic writers come from a broader back ground, their problems, the parts they need help are different from one another; which is why, deciding one curriculum, one definition for B.W means to exclude different needs, different types of basic writers. This is why, as mentioned in Defining Basic Writing and Basic Writers, focusing on just one are such as language problems, analyzing skills, grammar, reading skills, thought etc. causes us to ignore other problems, since we cannot say that all basic writers have the same problem; each one of them need different kinds of help on different kinds of problems. This is why, having different curriculums at different schools is not a problem, it is actually a right thing to do to be able to help all different students in a basic writing classroom. However, I have a question about this issue: I talked about the fact that each basic writer has a different problem. In this case, it does not make sense to me that putting these students having different problems into one class, and trying to help them by applying to a general program. What should a basic writing teacher do? How can he/she overcome this obstacle?
In addition to Defining Basic Writing and Basic Writers, the reading from Haswell was pretty interesting because of his way of trying to present the importance of process, development in students' writings by the means of two examples representing two different levels of writing. Making comparison between a freshman and junior writing through out the whole chapter from time to time depicts a picture in your mind when it comes to progress in writing, and this progress helps students to be able to involve into the academic discourse. So, we should help them to develop their writing skills, and it makes sense to apply any method students need. However, the part that I am confused in this reading is this: Hasweell talks about freshman comp class. I know the fact that there is a difference between a basic writing class and freshman comp class, however what I realized that when students start to college, through out four years, their writings develop; so we can say that these students who just start college are developing students. What is their difference from the basic writers?
Kerryann Kohut Response #4
Thinking about both of our readings for today I saw a common theme that jumped out at me: the idea that BWs? (Otto & M) or writers in general (Haswell) do not cultivate better skills or can lose skills, respectively, depending on the conscious and unconscious expectations of the instructor. Otto and M puts forth the notion that taking part in a BW class does not help a student get back on track academically, but actually causes the student to become habitually behind because his BW class is setting student goals too low and creating an apathetic, lazy population of “scholars.” As opponents of BW point out, many of these labeled BW students fair just as well if not better than their fellow students in a regular Freshman Composition course. The goals are higher and more is at stake academically, but the challenge can bring the BW student to some success. I was very taken with what I consider a great debate topic: when is help and understanding too much and becomes enabling? In my classroom I struggle frequently with students who do not do their homework and do not follow up on paperwork, etc. I want to be able to say, “That’s a zero then!” But I know that the result will be that student NOT caring and NEVER learning a lesson and thus FAILING. I wholeheartedly believe that these students will need reading, writing, and critical thinking skills so I want to make them do the work. It is to their advantage to have even some exposure to these skills. However the other part of me sees that this student knows that he will be pursued by me to complete the work, so the initiative lies with me, not with that student, and he knows it. Parents help, but not enough of them to make a dent in this quandary that haunts me constantly.
Haswell takes this idea to the next level and views how this instructional apathy affects a student over the course of his academic career in college. I found it interesting that writing proficiency went down as the student moved up to each new class, but it does make sense. As a student is moving away from general classes into his major, his classes will not be focusing on writing in the writing classroom. For some students the mental parallel between academics in general and writing skills do not connect beyond the English classroom.
This idea that writing skills don’t translate is familiar to me. I have colleagues who will ask me if my students learn anything in my class because they could not write a thing in math class or history class. I understand their frustration, but I will point out that they write regularly in my class-what about yours? Having the time for the kids to write anything beyond what is prescribed in our new curriculum is an unattainable dream at this time. In order for any teacher to be able to get through all the necessary material before the round of state tests, you cannot stop the speeding train we are on and do a writing assignment of any kind. This summer in the Coastal Bend Writing Project we talked a great deal about low stakes writing. This is the kind of writing you do in class, creating a simile or a pun or writing newspaper headlines or some other short no-pressure assignment that has the kids demonstrating understanding and using the information in a critical-thinking way. It may or may not be graded, but its importance to creating writers who feel confident and can THINK is crucial. It would be wonderful to see this type of activity incorporated into more classrooms, but just like I am always saying these days, “When do I have time?” How can instructors make writing important, especially for BW writers when we aren’t really clear on what a BW WRITING is? This is something that Otto and M talk about in most of their reading: what is a definition for a BW piece of work versus the definition for a BW himself, which everyone seems to have an opinion on. For all of the money spent on making up an entire test-friendly curriculum and all the money spent on standardized tests themselves, how can we truly be reaching an audience of learners whose work we cannot define? The students who are all different and diverse in their lives before class, their skills they bring to class, and their responsibilities that effect their time devoted to class make a single definition for BWing? impossible. So how can we physically create one test or one curriculum to teach students whom we cannot categorize? How can we ethically say that we are doing the very best we can, for a population we cannot fully define in their complexity?
In this section of the Haswell book, I noticed that the English teacher’s agenda should focus on the length of essay, correctness of spelling, size of main clause, and number of examples. Teachers are finding that after freshman year, where composite writing is introduced, junior papers’ are no better unified, organized, supported, or made coherent (41). This finding indicates disconnection between written communication and the subject studied. Under the heading of the legend of deterioration, Haswell notes that skills gradually fade because they are too infrequently asked to practice them (45). From personal experience, I know that if one doesn’t “use it” [the skill], they “lose it”. Practice is they only evidence of an individual’s growth and/or problem area—that can’t be fixed until its assessment.
Another interesting finding is that students don’t invest in their school work, unless they can tie a sense of themselves into this equation. Haswell notes that, “journals were …taken by students as something they could slap together in a couple of hours the night before they were due…[and] that the increasing carelessness of students occurs only when [they are] permitted to" (47). Ultimately, It's up to us as teachers to set the bar high, while informing and aiding students in their understanding and practice of the skills.
My first bona fide, real-life experience with a “basic writer” came last Fall by chance. I have a friend R who was dating a young man from the Middle East. The young man had a cousin from the Middle East who was enrolled at the university. The cousin needed help with a Kate Chopin story, “The Story of an Hour.” My friend R had taken great pains to read Chopin with the cousin. She had clarified anything that might need clarifying to this young man. My brash young friend R felt certain that she could create a “perfect storm” of understanding betwixt the cousin, Kate Chopin and her story, and the professor. And that “perfect storm” would culminate in the cousin’s essay. R had high hopes for the cousin’s essay. However, she was dismayed, astounded, dumbfounded by the essay that was sent to her to be “looked over.” She read it out loud to me incredulously. It was pretty bad. It was very bad. Its badness induced hilarity. I laughed at this essay until tears ran from eyes and my stomach ached from the muscular effort of laughing. Its badness well exceeded any piddling concerns over “refined usage.” You got the immediate sense that there was a big gap separating all parties. The comedy of it all came from this gaffe and gap. The writer of the essay, the readers of the essay, the essay and the short story all seemed lost to one another.
In the hindsight of these few weeks of Dr. Murphy’s class, I feel ashamed of my laughter. My husband upon hearing snippets from the aforementioned essay commented that he (my husband) would probably make just as many errors in Farsi. I remember my own comedy of errors in Spanish when I told the barn hands at the stable that the horses were book (libro) when I meant to say that they were free or loose (libre). Another time I asked my grandmother who hails from Cuernavaca about the story of Jorge, el mano curioso (George, the curious hand) instead of Jorge, el mono curioso (the curious monkey). El mano curioso?? I distinctly remember how her face crumpled with confusion. The curious hand? What a curious thought?
Back to the Chopin essay. We did not know what to do with the essay. Our first impulse was to tell the cousin that it was all wrong, that the he must begin afresh. This seemed too harsh. Then we felt the need to fix it ourselves to save the cousin from a bad grade which was cheating masquerading as good will. In the end, we decided to tell the cousin the essay needed work and that he should probably visit his professor or the writing center for help.
“The moral of the story is that structures set up as accommodations for new or changed student constituencies do not wither away but instead become self-perpetuating.”(O&M 45). I am trying to think of alternative interpretations because I find the logic in the sentence questionable. Freshman composition and BW are the structures in question. I don’t believe that they are “self-perpetuating” any more or less than the academic institutions to which they are attached. What is self-perpetuating is the mutable flow and flux of the student constituencies. These structures did not wither away (at least initially for BW) because there was a need for their being. Thus BW was born a bastard to our educational system and was treated accordingly, “(r)elegated to the margins of the institution”(43). It seems to me that this separation set up amenable conditions for some changes in thinking and some changes in traditional pedagogy. The geographical metaphor that comes to mind is not the frontier but an island, a Galapagos where new things came into being. In our readings about BW someone is always bemoaning the lack of institutional acceptance. However, it seems to me that this separation gave BW a chance to bloom in wholly new ways. Born at Harvard no less, Freshman comp with its institutional legitimacy which assured its continuation and dictated its growth has not achieved the same kind of creative flowering or speciation.
“For Shaughnessy, starting with them had meant starting with the errors in their writing; the definition inevitably focused on output rather than intake (on writing rather than reading as a literacy-shaping factor), and attention to matters of form diverted attention from matters of content (concentrating on how writers wrote in terms of error control rather than thought and expression).” (O&M 51). I have a problem with this sentence as well because it seems to grossly simplify basic writing where errors are all falling into the category of “matters of form” and not into the categories of “thought and expression.” Errors in writing do not usually present themselves in such a simple binary fashion. Mina Shaughnessy conveys this sense of complexity with ‘the writing was so stunningly unskilled that I could not begin to define the task nor even sort out the difficulties’ (O&M 12). Also, it seems strange that Shaughnessy and BW should be given so much grief for the focus upon error. This has been a standard pedagogical approach since the dawn of teachers. Despite research and evidence that calls into question the validity of this approach, the focus on error endures. It was not born in BW classroom.
I like that fact that Haswell is attempting to break down the complexity of written discourse for students and teachers by closely examining essays from a cross-section of students. However, it makes for grim reading at times with lots of detail. It was nice to read the real essays. I am not certain where his argument is heading. Though it seems that from the title alone we are going to a happy place. It seems to me from my very limited vantage point that his argument hinges upon a model of learning that is teleological with a purposeful development toward an end. So, I find myself a little distrusting. As a witness to my own learning and the learning of my students, I have observed that learning happens in many different ways and at differing rates.
End of Chimene's response
Debbie Evans' thoughts...
I don’t know if I need medication or a vacation, but the Haswell assigned reading made me angry. I was first aggravated by what I perceive as an unnecessary verbosity and pompous tenor. I found myself continually drifting to the question: who is this guy’s audience? If Haswell wants to influence the professional development of teachers of BW, he should write in a more approachable manner. I found the text to be deliberately obtuse and convoluted, obscuring and enervating his message. Rather than assert that his representative sample (essays F and J) do not perfectly align with all assessed areas, he writes, “They would be ontogenetic museum pieces if they recapitulated such phylogeny so perfectly“ (25). Really? Whom is he trying to impress?
At first blush, Haswell appears to be subscribing to the belief that student writing ability declines the further removed it is from freshman composition. Through careful reading, I now see that he is reporting precisely the opposite. The myth of declining writing skill is a political meme, much like that which Rose reported when he discussed the literacy crisis of the 1970s. Like previous readings, Haswell describes the basic writing curriculum as being delivered by young, inexperienced teachers. Theoretically, precisely when skill and expertise is needed, the administration provides those with the least to offer. I enjoyed his explicit handling of the “difficulty in imagining pedagogical change” which follows current theory and context. Change is difficult for everyone; pointing out that teachers fear a possible “alienation” of the old methods, and are thusly hesitant to embrace change is a refreshing glimpse into honest emotional reaction to departing one’s comfort zone (4).
Even though I disliked the text, I was able to discover and enjoy some tidbits. A phenomenon that I’ve experienced is well-stated on page 10: “Focus long enough on the text, and the student disappears.” My comfort level in the act of finding error is quite high. Several months ago, I found myself so invested in helping students edit their papers for grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. that I neglected to notice that their message/thesis was convoluted or missing entirely. The students’ voice and thoughts disappeared into the mechanics of the papers. How sad. I’m happy to find that I’m not alone.
The good news is that I’ve grown. Today, I explained to a student that I’m most interested in seeing growth in her writing. She expressed dismay that her “paper wasn’t as good as” a peer’s. I explained to her something akin to Haswell’s assertion that “[a]ll students enter all courses in medias res,” and “their experience grows with each step of the course” (17). I’m curious to see if Haswell’s test of the assumption that, with time, all writing changes simply based on maturation of the writer bears fruit.
It’s interesting that Otte and Mlynarczyk reference Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact zone” theory. When Pratt coined this term to refer to her theory of social interaction between two forces, many critics began to reclaim and refute her ideas. All she did was stick her head out and people began throwing rocks at her. It does not stop there. In the years following the discourse, Pratt began to listen and observe the reclamations and refutations from the contact zone discourse that was taking place. She began to tweak her initial contact zone definition to accommodate and incorporate the discourse from her peers and colleagues, some friendly, some not so much. Revisions to Pratt’s contact zone definition continued for years to accommodate the social forces inherent in all levels of education. Static, framed definitions in English studies cannot accommodate the vast circumstances and scenarios that crop up in the everyday education environment. Change is inevitable if we understand that changing means learning.
Trying to define basic writing and basic writing students will incur the same treatment that Pratt’s definition does. Basic writing did not name itself or come into its own. First year composition or Freshman English set the parameters for how basic writing was to be defined. Basic writing was the byproduct of a student’s inability to write their way into Freshman English at Harvard University in the latter part of the 19th century. Almost immediately, basic writing came with a stigmatization. And it’s a stigmatization that continues to this day.
Since education became available to a larger segment of the population with various demographics, basic writing has acclimated itself to accommodate the students it is serving. Mina Shaughnessy came up with an idea to teach basic writing to students who did not have the appropriate or standardized writing skill set to enter into Freshman English. She stuck her head out in the open and people threw rocks at her ideas. Being in this situation can seem exhaustively vain. Instructors of basic writing have to justify and defend the claim that what they do is a worthwhile endeavor for not only students, but human beings. Basic writing instruction is about learning what students need. Basic writing is student centered. This is Shaughnessy’s legacy. As Otte and Mlynarczyk write, “What would not change, what would endure, was the sense of mission and purpose Shaughnessy derived from the students BW was to serve” (49). This is the attention and attitude Shaughnessy brought to the basic writing table. Not only did Shaughnessy have to defend what she was doing, many of her colleagues and critics were trying to define what basic writing and basic writer are.
Assessment became a way to define basic writers. I have a problem with this because of the understanding of the assessment business. I have administered the THEA and Compass tests to students. Other than math, the essay part of the test seems to give students the most trouble. Many of these students have to take this test regardless of their discipline or major. There are many different aspects to taking this assessment that can affect the student’s ability to write well under the circumstances. Many students don’t want to take the test. The computers don’t work. Every computer in the room is occupied and the tapping of keyboards can become a distraction, just like the heavy smell of Chanel filling the room. Many factors can affect a student’s ability to take a writing assessment. Even well-intentioned teachers can fall into the assessment practice. Haswell opened my mind to the notion that students can manipulate their writing to accommodate an instructor’s expectations. This can happen if an instructor uses a framed or standard assessment style for all students, regardless of writing skill. Instructors may assess a student as not learning, but the student is learning. He is changing. The student manipulates his place in the education system by only showing the minimal amount of writing skill to get by. Instructors must be open-minded to handle such students. A student writing his first diagnostic essay of the semester displays a writing skill that can be placed in Freshman English. Subsequent writing samples by this student show more of a diminished attitude than a diminished writing skill. Some instructors will elasticize their assessment of the student by garding him harder than others. I do not think this is wrong. Flexible assessment will help students. As one student writes and holds back his skill, there are other students that try their hardest to learn the writing craft, but for whatever reason, cannot fulfill the expectations of academia. These students must also be held to a different assessment standard. The problem of assessing is that it can be based on the subjectivity of any instructor from any perspective of the assessing spectrum.