“This book is about students whose literacy practices have been defined by the academy as unconventional” (xi). Of all of the terms that have been applied to the basic writer in the readings we have done thus far, I am not sure of just how to consider this one. It almost seems like a little too much of a euphemism, but, then again, hearing that some teachers of basic writing tells their students that they are there “to get smart”, makes me wonder if a euphemism like “unconventional” is a better label.
The first chapter of the book came off mostly as a discussion of why the authors decided to write a book focused on basic writing. The first thing I took from this chapter was the idea that most students, even students that are not basic writers, go to school with the idea that they just need to do what the instructors want. Even Kassner acknowledges that “Educators (and students) who want to survive, much less prosper [in the climate of academia], must learn to speak the language of those involved in it” (8). I am not certain of what Kassner means by autonomous literacy, but I am making the assumption that what Kassner and Harrington mean by this is that literacy cannot exist outside of the realm of politics. I can tie this to a discussion of Culture in the field of rhetoric and composition that we had just the other day. The primary issue that was being discussed during the rhetoric and composition class was if there was validity in integrating cultural and also popular culture into the teaching of literature. Given that there seems to be an issue about what should be taught in basic writing and also of how information should be taught in basic writing, I am making this assumption.
I find it interesting that Kassner and Harrington are among yet another group that refuses to define just what a basic writer is. In chapter two I had considerable trouble attempting to find a deifnition. I am assuming that this lack of definition comes from an interest in not labeling the basic writer in such a way that might cause offense. In the same way that Rose discussed the students who were successful in high school but unable to be successful in college, Kassner and Harrington do discuss the students who “may have succeeded in high school well enough to graduate” but are now having trouble in college.
Chapter three was, to me, humorously titled “I Can Just Give You Five...”. I immediately thought of the five paragraph essay, and found that part of that chapter’s discussion was the five paragraph essay. In this chapter, I really related to that notion of not considering academic writing. Even now, I don’t consider the writing I do for academic purposes to be “real writing”. I also related to the idea of writing more about something a person likes than something a person doesn’t like.
Chapter four’s discussion of the student who wrote the award winning poem about a favorite film made me again turn my thoughts to the discussion of popular culture in teaching writing and also to that idea of a person writing more about something that they do like and wanting to write less about something they don’t. Students also read more about topics that they enjoy. I have seen this phenomenon take place in my classroom many times recently, the event prompting me to have to tell many of my young students to put up their copies of Twilight. They read this book enthusiastically and without a desire top put it down, but I would feel just as sheepish as the student who blushed over reading Danielle Steel if I attempted to use that novel as a teaching tool. I do wholeheartedly agree with Kassner and Harrington’s assertions that “Out of School writing has powerful features that we can use to enrich our understandings of literacy, and our teaching lives, immeasurably” (60). __________________________________________________________________________ CHRISTINE CASHION
A good place to start when helping basic writers enhance their skills is with their strengths. Thoughts inherent to the student make a difference when he/she is faced with how to formally write what they are thinking. Because we do not think formally in our minds, getting the words formally onto the page is another issue. Kassner and Harrington try to make the point that writing can be taught, regardless of the set of skills a student is bringing to the table. Yes, you can teach someone how to right.
The authors assert that teaching basic writing is controversial. I do not think that teaching it is controversial. I think that the politics around it are what is debatable. If a student does not have skills to write, then politics come into play because everyone starts asking the questions of why doesn’t the student know how to write, where are the parents, and who were the teachers. That is the debate – whose fault is it that the student does not have the writing skills necessary to succeed in college-level English composition classes and/or why can’t the student “pass” an English/writing college placement exam.
The authors do an excellent job examining the issue of basic writing; however, I was somewhat confused by some aspects of their discussion. Some of the wording seemed to go in circles, for example on pages 20-21. They discuss the ideologies of academies, particularly the English department. I got a little lost with comments such as “…ideologies encompassed by the superstructure…” (20) - sounds like an unbeatable force, and there is the phrase, “epistemic reasoning” (21) – is that an oxymoron? There are too many phrasing ambiguities, in my opinion. Oh, and never mind the “autonomous literacy” they talk about. My definition of this phrase is - some students have to work harder at being smart and literate than others. We are all not born with the same genetic intelligence levels. If you want to be good at something and it does not come naturally to you, then you have to work harder than the person next to you who has a talent for it, i.e. child prodigies.
I never want to think that a student does not have a chance to succeed if there is a desirous will and a good teacher who cares. This idea can be compared to the BB intro article which fights this same battle with the 5 w’s (who, what, when, where, and why) of basic writing. I love that talk about basic writing should be dismantled because it blah, blah, blah...class system (in “What is Basic Writing?” section). There is no class system with writing. Sociologists may agree or disagree. There are so many factors to consider when a student graduates into higher education with weak writing skills. I agree with both of the articles because they are right that this subject is highly debatable – so many factors to consider.
On one hand, I want to say fight for the rights of basic writers and on the other hand, I want to say, hush with the arguments. In my opinion, if students need help with writing skills when they enter college, then teach them. Who cares about the psychological assessments of why they are not “adequate” enough to be at college level? Ok, I care but I don’t want to get into a debate about it. I would rather just focus on those that need the help. Teach the students, then the subject.
I have to add that I agree with the assertion in the BB article mentioning reading and writing go hand in hand. Reading is fuel to the writer. Basic writing should continue to be taught. Vote for developmental writing instruction. The BB article seems to make the case for it and in all their jargon, so do Kassner and Harrington, as their “curricular solutions” (29) face head on all the issues surrounding the topic (basic writing), i.e. the “split between content and grammar” (35) – which, what is to me, the really big debate. I have way too much to say about this topic than room there is to write here.
Can we/should we set limits on our students' writing?
I don’t believe that we should set limits on our students’ writings. In this book, there are many examples that the authors find students hating to write because they have been forced to write a certain way and they can’t really express themselves. In addition to the other notion that some teachers have made their students feel dumb or naïve because they didn’t use correct grammar or spelling and all of the above rules of writing. And I realize that the things I mention here are basically the same ones that have been discussed in class, but now it’s in writing. Also, the authors use a lot of statistics which demonstrate the downs on limiting students’ writing. I really don’t see how limiting their writing would be a positive thing.
Who owns writing?
I believe the writer owns his or her writing because there is so much time and energy that’s spent on whatever project. I think this would probably fall under plagiarism because we hold writers/students accountable for their work, and it’s wrong they take credit for a piece of writing that is not their own. Somehow, though, it’s a bit difficult to fathom that they believe it’s perfectly fine to copy and paste and expect to receive a decent grade. And what’s worse is that high school students, particularly juniors and seniors, are never reprimanded for plagiarizing, but I think that falls on the teacher and maybe much more than that point.
Who is responsible for writing?
I think my previous answer coincides with this one questions. The writer is responsible for writing because even though some people might believe they are telepathic, we don’t think exactly alike, or we may be sometimes it depends on who writes it first, so they receive the credit for it. It’s like those health magazines, there are plenty of health gurus and everyone writes about it, but they word it differently each time. In relation to this book though, students are completely responsible for their writing because they need to make sure their thoughts are well written, so that either the reader or even they can read it at any other given time. I think the point is to get that point across and get it clear.
How do/should we teach writing?
There are so many ways to teach writing and the way we should teach writing is, I think, almost the complete opposite from the traditional writing, where one doesn’t hear the writer’s voice. I don’t believe that English teachers should be the only ones to teach writing, there are others who can also teach, but they must have a good concept of the variety of pedagogies. I know of this one business professor who has a background in journalism and he helps his students become better writers. He teaches Capstone for MBA students, which is the reason I think he takes more time to make sure they know how to write. An educated person must be effective in his/her communication to be successful regardless of any major studied.
Which of Berlin's theories of composition makes the most sense to you and why?
I looked up James Berlin because I was not familiar with this theory and this book didn’t explain too much on his theory either. I found this website, or blog, http://todd-writersblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/james-berlins-contemporary-composition.html, where this guy, Todd, briefly explains Berlin’s theory. Berlin’s work observed is “Composition Theories” in which Todd states, “‘The New Rhetoric sees the writer as a creator of meaning, a shaper of reality’...creative, unique, interesting, succinct manner using a common language that can be understood by the average reader.” Basically, it’s what the authors of this book wrote. A writer “reproduces the objects and the experiences of them in the minds of the hearers” (35). I think the one that makes the most sense to me is the most obvious and that’s writing personal experiences for others to read and perhaps use as motivation or inspiration, or simply sharing one’s knowledge to inform.
Final Thoughts: I read the chapters and I concluded by answering some of the questions posted here. There is a lot of insight on the teaching of pedagogy, and what the “basic writer.” Basically, the authors took the time, and I’m guessing a lot of time, to attend conferences, which would be the ideal place to meet other teachers/instructors/professors and ask the many questions they had in mind, one example is the collection of the syllabi. They bring up some of the arguments such as eliminating basic writing all together (7). One of the major terms I gained from reading is the way autonomous literacy is applied in or not applied in basic writing. I wish they would have written more on it. I think this book also gave a much better insight on how writers or students can easily become disempowered and many times it falls on the teachers. But on the other hand, the authors write how it's good when teachers stay informed about things within their field, which leads to the role a teacher plays in a student’s life or education; one of the questions on the list. I like the way the authors incorporated things such as issues, solutions, definitions of the terms we have discussed in class, and those that are very vague, students’ perspectives or their own definitions of what or who a basic writer is. It was a little bit of everything, but with more student input. They also include their own struggles in finding some clear answers to the research they conducted, but they never leave me hanging trying to figure things out on my own. They seemed honest when they were stuck on certain things.
Chapter 1: I really enjoyed the reading for this week because it seemed very conversational. The authors explain exactly what is in their book and why they chose to research what they did. I thought the question in the first chapter from Jaime is one composition teachers hear often, "Yeah. I want ot know-why are we doing all of this reading, anyway? I mean, I'm not going to have to read when I'm in my major. I'm going to get all of my reading from the computer" (1). This inquiry prompted the authors to ask, "what did they expect to read? To write?" (2). As a seminar teacher, I often hear complaints from students about their composition assignments and why they have to do them, because they feel writing is a waste of time since it won't apply to them in the future (which they are wrong about because you have to do some writing in every field!). The role of teachers is also discussed in this chapter, "The teacher is the guide, the mentor; the teacher understands that the nomial 'subject' of the basic writing course, literacy development, is subjective and context-dependent" (5). However, the authors mention that the idea of basic writing as a field has "mythic premises" and I must admit that I was unsure of how to interpret this. The remainder of the chapter tells readers what they can expect from the rest of the text.
Chapter 2: I thought the questions about basic writers were interesting because they added some depth to the usual "who is the basic writer?" In this chapter, the authors examine how their research reflects the idea of autonomous literacy. The authors also mention two key texts that are important to their research, Mina Shaughnessy's Errors and Expectations and Sondra Perl's "A Look at Basic Writers in the Process of Composing." I liked how each text was broken down (to a certain degree) and key points were discussed from each. After mentioning and going over each text, they begin to address the "problems" of basic writers discussed in each. They note, "a selection of these problems as they have been identified in research reflecting both cognitive and cultural perspectives demonstrates the degree to which this work incorporates similar conceptualizations of writers, their problems and of literacy" (18). Adler-Kassner and Harrington included a quote from the work of two authors they feel are similar to Shaughnessy and Perl, which I feel sums up the majority of basic writers (because they aren't basic writers for the same reasons). "Although many of these students may have succeeded in high school well enough to graduate, they are underprepared for college work and have often failed or almost failed before" (19). I think the question of how these students succeeded in high school should be brought to our attention because some students are more concerned with their GPA than actually learning and retaining information (at least in my high school anyway, I can't speak for everyone else) and they will "earn" that GPA at any and all cost, i.e, cheating!
Chapter 3: I agree with the authors in that students come to our classrooms from different schools with very different teachers and ideas about writing. Some might have the five paragraph notion drilled into their heads while others may not. But, "they are also affected by the contacts they have had with friends, siblings, parents and others" (33). Here, the authors use examples from different students to illustrate their point about how grammar and "correctness" can shape a writer. One example is Collette "whose response indicated that they believed learning to write involved mastering spelling, punctuation and grammar...but she seemed to acknowledge that there was a difference between her definition of 'being a writer' and what she believed was involved in the process of learning to write" (36). Another quote I found interesting was in the "Writing Wrong" section, "because most of these students saw writing as a process of transmission from a writer to a passive audience, when they identified problems with their writing they linked them to a flaw in that process" (39). I think this is a valid point because some students might've had a teacher who marked up their papers and perhaps felt they were bad writers. But, writing is a process, and, like anything, practice makes perfect. You can't hit a home run on your first try or learn an entire language in one day, you have to work at it. I really think that teachers not all being on the same page has something to do with why some studetns are not confident in their writing. Out of all the English teachers I had in middle and high school, one (senior year) was outstanding, one was okay, and the rest were awful and didn't seem like they wanted to be there in the first place.
Chapter 4: I liked how the authors related this chapter to writing and family and provided the three different stories from students. I thought it was a good way to look at how different each individual is. I thought this was interesting because the authors talked about how literacy and family life are connected. Perhaps because my parents read to me when I was very young, I developed a love of reading at an early age. Writing soon followed of course. This text seems very student centered, which I find very appealing. To end with a quote I really connected to, "Reflection, reading and writing are tightly linked, and our classrooms can become places that promote a weaving of theory, practice and action...out-of-school writing has powerful features that we can use to enrich our understandings of literacy, and our teaching lives, immeasurably" (60).
This had some interesting points, but more than that connections with the texts we have and are reading. I though it interesting that the author bring sup cultures and contexts in the intro, and that was a large part of what was in Basic writing as a political Act. Of course, many of the names referenced were referenced in the other texts. Once again they talk about defining a basic writer, but do not do a great job doing so. I also found it interesting that they note that many people had not made a very good case for basic writing as a program or as basic writing. I am not sure I agree with that completely , however if you do not agree with the definition of a basic writer as one who lacks the writing skills necessary to move forward, then I could see that it would be hard to make a case for basic writing. I also found it interesting, when looking at approaches taken to basic writing, that they mentioned the stretch models and several of the other models we have already looked at. I think there is a lot more to be gained from this text, some of which is hard to glean from the introduction, however, it does support the other readings well, and incorporates some of the more disjointed concepts into a context in which they are more than abstract ideas…IE the different models for writing courses
Basic Writing as a Political Act.
(I intermixed some summary with opinions on this one, because some of this was a bit harder to keep track of in my head)
The authors begin by discussing autonomous literacy, as well as political literacy and critical literacy, and if I understand correctly autonomous literacy is a form of critical literacy. The authors point out a number of examples where individuals have looked at the writing within the context of the individuals background and experiences They caution us to be wary of pedagogy and practices that disconnect the author from the context And be wary of classifying a problem that separates the individual from the context and the connections between discourse and specific situations
One problem faced by basic writers is that they are separated from the author function because it is taught that they do not yet possess the skills necessary for them to “be” authors. Basic writers are looked at, by those who study basic writers, often as those who share similar characteristics, both linguistically and in written language. In chapter two the authors bring up the idea of mainstreaming vs basic writing. They note that Bartholomae argues against the political injustices of basic writing, however he still fears for the basic writers and does not advocate ridding universities of basic writing programs, while Peter Dow Adams advocates mainstreaming and notes that basic writing courses , “perhaps, they prepare students to be unsuccessful writers.”(27) They point out that many of the individuals studying the writing, and taking it out of context, often find the problems with the students, instead of within the contexts, and in a variety of places, such as culture, home life, previous educational experiences. They note that deficit policies focus on what the students lack, instead of what literacy practices they bring to the classroom.(29 and that, while it can be challenging, bringing in what the students is good at, cultural identities, ideologies, and strengths, makes a big difference as to how the students approach their writing and the classroom functions.
Chapter three had some interesting points, brought up by the students, as to how they viewed writing. The authors noted that many of the students saw a separation between classroom work and what they considered to be “writing”. They considered writing to be a much more personal thing, with more personal ties and involvement, while what they did in class was more busy work or exercises.
While the students associated writing with expression and emotions, they associated learning to write with mistakes and grammar. They do not associate skills they gain in the classroom as skills to “become a writer”.
May of them thing of basic writers as “average writers”. But the author points out that it is more than that, since many students don’t know what basic writing is, then they don’t understand that it becomes a dangerous form of anonymity, and can create a number of problems, including distance between fellow students, teachers, material, and the institution. (This is interesting because if a student is in a class that doesn’t count, he feels anonymous, like he isn’t really there yet, and he probably viewed like that by others as well. This of course, leads to a sense of helplessness, instead of empowerment, and students need to be empowered to take charge of their own education. The authors note that giving students a sense of what basic writing is and where they really are can help with this, as well as giving some “insider knowledge, that might spur the students forward.
Chapter four begins with the author re-discussing the idea of taking into consideration the students ideals and other contexts that effect their literacy acquisition as well as their views on education. It looks at how students view literacy act while on their own time, and how it involves more imagination and expression than the in class acts do. (some overlap from chapter two and three.
They note that these outside experiences are literary experiences and it is very important to keep them in mind. I think it is interesting as the authors seem to be trying to point out that no student is a blank slate, and just because they are labeled basic, it doesn’t mean that they are completely inexperienced. I have come across my share of instructors who felt that if you didn’t learn it from them, you didn’t know it, because you were placed in their class for a reason, and that was because you don’t know anything.
I thought it neat that the author brought in family stories, poetry that was read off of pictures or hung on walls, rather out of “texts”, but notes that it is literacy, and they have experience with that much of it; it is more a matter of building on that. Many of the students had a desire to write and even become writers, but there was a disconnect between what was considered “good” or acceptable, and what they felt they produced. (stigmatized) They bring up biblical reading as literacy, as well as the non-canonical reading, which students don’t necessarily see as literacy. Many of the student s “loved” reading and writing, but they didn’t understand it on a more critical level. This chapter notes the importance of emphasizing the experiences and bringing the extracurricular into the classroom. I find that very interesting.
This tackles some issues of politics in the classroom, they discuss Shor’s idea of critical literacy and more expressive pedagogy’s. This could prove difficult with a very strictly regulated department, especially Adams’ idea of mainstreaming.
My problem with the text is that in some parts it is hard to tell if the authors are advocating something or not. I understand that they like a lot about Shor, but they found problems with his solutions, I am not very clear on all of that. I also am looking more into what Autonomous literacy is and while I get that it is connected with or is a form of critical literacy I am looking to see how it differs. If it is well defined I missed it, or just didn’t understand it. Shortly after they jumped into political and critical literacy and I got lost in the explaining their reasons for writing, and other peoples thoughts. Otherwise I think the idea of taking things in context as great. I especially like bringing in past experiences and literacy acts (whatever they may be) and building on it. I think one thing all of these writings are getting me to focus on is the goal of the experience. Is it to teach composition or grammar and mechanics? If the goal is grammar and mechanics,doesn't it make sense to make a 305 course on grammar and writing mechanics, and the other courses on writing and composition. I like the notion of defining the course and the students place for them, or more or less, helping them to understand and empower them through the knowledge, but if the instructor is unclear, how is that possible for the students?
There is a reason that no one wants to post after Jennifer….
I think I find the idea that is pulled from Mina Shaughnessy’s writing pretty interesting. The idea that a teacher must “…try to decipher the individual student’s code, examine samples of his writing as a scientist might, searching for patterns or explanations…” (16-17). I wonder how we, as seminar/composition teachers, are supposed to consider this when grading things like portfolios or essays. I personally try to get to know my students and understand where they come from as people, but to dissect their writing styles seems a bit intense and time consuming. While this may be a technique reserved for “basic writing classrooms”, it seems like it would be equally valuable in every classroom. If that is the case, what makes me, a graduate student with no specific training, able to try to address an issue that is this important? I do not want to undermine my own position, but the problems facing basic writers are varied and complex, and I do not feel confident in my ability to “decipher student code”. (And scene)
Other topics of conversation include the term “student-vacant” (16). I really do not like that idea. I think that much is learned from understanding the student, and to remove them from the research is pointless.
“…student writers always make explicit choices when they choose to participate in what the instructor, class, and/or institution calls “academic discourse.” For Peter Rondinone, these choices are essential—he argues that basic writing classes should help students understand the differences between their “home discourses” and those used in the classroom, but that they must necessarily leave those outside-of-school literacies behind if they are to succeed in college”(24)
This rather large quote ties into some of the things that we talked about last class, and some of the things discussed in the Creative Writing class. In our last class (or the time before) I remember that we discussed the necessity of students abandoning their non-standard dialects in favor of the academically appropriate standard dialect. While this remains true, I think that Robb Jackson had an interesting idea that he shared with us earlier on in the semester. I know that he encourages us to use this technique when writing in our journals, and he also applies it to the students that he works with at “Jail”. The idea involves writing with your own voice. This is the voice that you hear in your head, and it includes whatever dialect, slang, jargon, etc that you are comfortable using. That writing is then “translated” into academic writing. Student and teacher do this process together. The translation is important. It allows the student to still write in his or her own voice, but still be accepted academically.
On a side note: see Victor Villanueva’s “Bootstraps”. He talks a lot about writing, and how voice plays a role in being accepted within the university. It is a good read…since we all have so much extra time for that.
The most important aspect of the first half of Basic Writing as a Political Act seems to be the concept of the autonomous model of literacy—identifying it within the preconceptions that are brought into the classroom by both the teacher and the students individually. Adler-Kassner and Harrington seem to be saying that it’s the responsibility of both the teacher and student to identify whatever “definitions and practices of literacy that resulted in [the students’] placement in basic writing classes” and thus developing “critical literacy” (7).
I found it interesting when they wrote about the differences between what students perceive writers do versus what it means to learn to write. It shows the inculcation of prescriptive skills-based writing that students come to composition classrooms with, which is not surprising at all. And to the authors’ point, nobody is telling students why they’re in basic writing classes to begin with so they fill in the blanks with what they know from past experience—if I enjoy a book or magazine, it must be low-brow and non-academic. It teaches students to categorize their literacy experiences into one of two buckets—entertainment and scholastic, which they view as mutually exclusive—and then, by virtue of one being enjoyable, it makes the other seem like drudgery and torture. I would say even further that this dichotomization of the different approaches to reading and writing keeps the two so separate that students aren’t learning how to apply the critical lens to the entertainment bucket. They may leave the classroom being able to close read or perform an expository essay of a piece of canonical literature, but perhaps they are unable to remove it from that context and think critically in other ways. Those are the repercussions I would say are implicit in what Adler-Kassner and Harrington are talking about. I hadn’t thought of it until reading this week, but that does seem to negate the whole purpose of critical pedagogy and the idea of empowering students simultaneously as writers and citizens.
At the core of this problem is the attitude of defining basic writers “with an examination of what students cannot or did not do, thus initially positioning writers outside of the author function…when writers are placed outside of the author function from the onset, they are immediately disempowered” (15). This goes back to Rose and his views about errors—looking at the students’ “problems” from a negative and defensive mindset immediately discounts what could be lying behind the error itself, as well as placing blame upon the student instead of taking into account the influences of past writing instruction, variant dialects, families, etc. that could be at work.
I’ll be interested to get to the curricular strategies that the authors promise are coming. Theoretically, I am on board with a lot of what they say, but I would like to see how that translates to the classroom. For one thing, I think it’s pretty ambitious with course loads being what they are and the time suck on writing teachers of any kind to spend enough time with each student to get a good read on what “baggage” (for lack of a better term) each one brings. Hopefully they give some good ideas on how to make that possible. I’m also a bit dubious about how to approach the idea of helping the basic writing student “understand the relationship between context, ideology, and their classification as ‘basic writers’” (45). If there is a way to go about this without taking on the persona of the “iconic teacher figure” and being completely patronizing (and thus marginalizing), I hope they point this out. I believe it’s a good thing (and necessary) for the students to have that “sense of where you are” in the grand scheme of academia and in terms of literacy, but I also think a teacher needs to approach this with the utmost caution. This could end up backfiring and making BW students feel even worse about themselves as writers and students in general and could have the opposite effect from what is intended. I’ll be anxious to see what the authors say when it comes to practical application of classroom practices.
Ben Howard “English is fun even if you is not good at it!”
One Shaughnessy quote that they mention really bugs me:
“It becomes important, then, to do more than list, prescriptively, the ways in which the student breaks with the conventional code of punctuation. Rather, the teacher must try to decipher the individual student’s code, examine samples of his writing as a scientist might, searching for patterns or explanations, listening to what the student says about punctuation, and creating situations in the classroom that encourage students to talk openly about what they don’t understand.”
I don’t need to explain what this says, but this really comes into problems. Let’s assume That it takes two hours to go over a students assignment, looking for “patterns or explanations,” that’s 2 times 20. That’s a lot of time. Examining the rest of this statement for problems, why are we assuming there is one way to create a classroom situation that is useful/helpful to every student? You can create a situation that encourages them to talk, but this isn’t going to work for every student. Everything’s going to have to be student to student, and how due to the time allotted to us (one semester, 3 hours a week) how do we decide which students to help? Vonnegut suggested at academic triage (determining which students are doing well, which students need help, and which students are beyond help, then helping the ones that need it. This is discussed in his autobiography Palm Sunday), but that’s kind of “unethical” according to post 60’s teaching methods. Personally, I kind of think Vonnegut’s method was brilliant, but I can easily see how it would offend.
The whole concept of writing as a political act kind of bugs me. I can’t find the specific quote, but Adler-Kassner and Harrington bring up the much debated idea that basic writing becomes autonomous and takes out the individual so that we are looking at their writing as being separate from who they are as individuals. I would love to see an art critic or music critic say “well, if this art/music is looked at for what it is, it’s pretty terrible and immaturely done, however if you consider that this artist/musician is a heroin addict who lost all his family and is barely making money off of his music/art, it changes everything. I’d say he’s really doing quite well for a junky! 5 stars.”
It’s like getting stopped for speeding and telling the cop “yeah but dude, I’m driving considerably well for how much beer I’ve had to drink!”
I dunno, I’m just kind of from the mindset that writing should be autonomous. You shouldn’t have to know what kind of cultural problems a writer faces to understand what they’re writing. They either say what they want to, or don’t say it. Working with the students to get over writing disabilities is another subject, but I really think that beyond helping them on a very general level, you have to consider that basic writing class is just one fragment of their lives, and probably isn’t nearly as important to them as anything else they’ve got going on. We can’t expect a student to devote all of his time to basic writing class, and since a student might not be thinking about ways to write when he’s not in class, it seems like we should be working on finding more effective and quicker ways to analyze and fix problems than scientifically studying all of their writings. I don’t feel like I’m opposed to any of what we’re reading, I just feel like everyone’s putting the emphasis in the wrong places, and spending way too much time trying to overanalyze.
This really doesn’t say anything other than read these things if you want to find out the answers to the questions we pose. I’m noticing that it mentions some things we’ve already read such as Lives on the Boundaries and the Lalicker essay on the different models of basic writing programs, but I really don’t feel like this is adding anything other than showing us how those articles fit into the academic discourse as a whole.
This however, I didn’t know: “Sometimes basic writing students are viewed as misusing taxpayer's money to pay for a "second chance" at education when those tax dollars could be better spent on students who are already doing well.”
“Another challenge is motivation: basic writing is often a non-credit-bearing course.” Do we really think THIS is why students aren’t motivated? Comp 1301 is credit bearing… the American Lit class that I graded for was for credits (and upper division elective ones at that).
The following quote by Adams (particularly the last sentence) was the most relevant thing I found in the whole introduction.
“The teaching of basic writing is important—as important as anything being done in higher education. Often we are the last chance at college-level education for students who have plenty of ability but who have not been served well previously or who have not taken advantage of the opportunities offered. . . . Further, we are one of the few areas in the academy where differences between students are reduced rather than exaggerated. . . ”
This doesn’t really say anything new though, it’s just more of the same, but worded more bluntly, and I often wonder why we have to make the problems of basic writers seem smaller and less significant. It feels like we turn everything into a playground or happy-fun time (I’m thinking 80s educational films with robots and lasers: ENGLISH IS FUN EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT GOOD AT IT!!!). Microsoft Word wants me to change that last sentence to say “even if you is not good at it." Something about that amuses the living hell out of me. On that note, I’m going to call this done. /shakes head in dismay.
The central problem identified by Basic Writing as a Political Act is that schools tend to disassociate composition from context (this disassociation is also perpetuated by media perceptions, preconceptions of students based on a number of things, standardized assessment, and so on). The lives of the students are made by the powers-that-be and the existing superstructure to count for little or nothing, and the institutional goal of "learning to write" in the academic discourse supersedes the more personal and "lesser" goal of "being a writer."
The authors indicate that the fresh and exciting ideas of these young minds (basic writers) would threaten those powers if they engaged in "basic writing as a political act." If basic writers were to begin thinking and writing critically such as to ask why certain conventions for academic discourse are in place or even why they landed in basic writing in the first place, the academy would have a lot of explaining to do. It seems that there might be a fear in the way of, "If we don't have conventions and standards, what separates us (professors) from them (students)." There could be no elitism, and that would certainly be a turn-off for the elitists.
Adler-Kassner and Harrington take the position that a sound pedagogy would involve not making a complete hierarchical binary out of school-based literacy and extracurricular literacy where curricular literacy is superior and extracurricular literacy is inferior (something that has either been implied or stated by someone, teacher or student, in nearly every class I've ever been in). Instead, they take the approach of delving into, accepting, and using the love that students have of extracurricular reading and writing as a way of making class more interesting and personally fulfilling for basic writing students.
I think that A-K and H's ideas have some merit in that there is a great deal of value in what students bring into a basic writing classroom in terms of personal experiences and how those shaped who they are as human beings and writers, but I do think that there still exists a significant difference in writing for the sake of writing and writing for the purposes of scholarship.
I saw it posted above that one professor has students write things in their own voice, and then they go through a process of translating it for academia. I'm a little skeptical of how the translation can maintain the author's true voice once it becomes cloaked in the vocabulary and syntactical conventions of academia.
Don't get me wrong. I am an advocate of balancing one's voice with an academic voice in order to breathe life into academic prose which otherwise usually seems DOA, but I think that a person's full and true voice is the one that has not been translated. But how would that fly in academic discourse?
I think it all boils down to conventions and adaptation to them. Even if we traded current-traditional ideologies for the ideas proferred in this book, it would only be a matter of time before they became the conventions to which teachers and students would adapt (and eventually challenge, perhaps reverting to the old ways of doing things). It's this kind of back and forth pendulum of discourse, and I think a lot of us are scratching our heads wondering why everyone is so extreme one way or the other on this theory or that theory. Where is the balanced perspective where scholars acknowledge that there is some validity in all approaches but that one approach will not work 100% of the time?
There is a balance to be had, but I haven't seen any points-of-view in our readings that acknowledge that standards and conventions of organization, puncuation, and syntax might have as much of a place in successful writing as do things like voice and personal love of writing. A singer can love to sing but still not be able to hit a right note, have no concept of rhythm, etc. My next-door neighbor is proof of that - every single day. God, these walls are thin!
Couldn't the same thing be said of writers? Sometimes, you just ought to develop a skill before you put it on public display. Okay, sorry, but the noise from next door is really getting to me! Still, there is some validity to that sentiment.
What a great resource for texts! I found it interesting that some of the text that had come up in discussion already were on this list (we must be on the right track...) and I was especially interested in the "What is Basic Writing?" section because it mentions Bartholomae's "Tidy House". The idea that basic writing has the potential to segregate students is relevant to my own research investigation; hopefully some of the other texts on this list will further inform that. The writing studio model in use at U of S. Carolina, mentioned in the "What Alternative Models Have Been Used in Basic Writing Programs?" section seems to have potential for that, considering my primary research has been an observation of Robb's writing program, in which he utilizes some of the techniques of writing studio to help create a more inclusive atmosphere for writing. "Repositioning Remediation" (Grego and Thompson), therefore, is a good lead for me to follow up on!
Back to the Bartholomae text, I can see in this book also an effort to overcome the necessity of basic writing to separate and differentiate students. The resistance to autonomous literacy seems to reflect an awareness of that separating function of basic writing instruction, and yet, it is difficult to understand how students in basic writing programs can overcome the stigma of remediation because of its inherence to that separation. In the book's discussion of basic writers "advancing" to non-basic status, I hear echoes of the "benchmarks" that make teaching to a test so problematic. It seems to me that there has to, naturally, be some kind of measuring stick that basic writers can work towards achieving, and yet that concept itself reinforces the social classification that the authors here decry.
In my interview with Robb Jackson, he explained to me how the editing process occurs intuitively; he edits the papers they give him and lets them question the validity of the changes, confronting him with any occurances that deviate from their understanding of "standard" literacy practices. In this way, the instructor "serves as the...model of "how", rather than..."what" (5, from Gunnar 31). In this way, the writing that is produced is free from the constraints of a mandated stylistic code, but is "translated" into the form that is understood by the academic, in this case, Robb. The students observe the translation process by comparing their drafts to revised drafts and then incorporate those observations into the decision making process of future writings. The problem with this is that not all instructors can be as in tune with the diverse writing practices of their students. In order to do what Robb does, a certain awareness of the writers themselves must be had, and that is not always feasible in school systems where terms are almost entirely much shorter than the extended periods of time that his "students" are incarcerated. Which ties back to the discussion of Mike Rose and how none of us felt that we had as much time to delve into the personal issues of each individual student as he illustrates in his book.
Tammy Graham/ From the BB, I obtained many valuable sources for understanding all of the issues involved in Basic Writing; also, from BWPA, one can see that there are strongly divided opinions about the topic. Obviously, this is a touchy subject, and I think being/staying informed is most important to fully understanding what’s at stake. The BWPA book shows all sides of the argument, or “differences between the conversations” fairly well, but I think that while the conversation is similar on some levels, a lot of the issues and stats are different for our area schools. Our colleges and universities thrive on diverse student populations, and it seems that BW programs at Del Mar are successful, so I’m still trying to sort out what is/is not relevant for us here in South Texas as opposed to Michigan/Indiana area. Perhaps the similarities would be in The “constraints in which… (we)…must operate” (8), or differences such as ESL issues. I really like the way the authors use a post structural approach to BW. I wouldn’t have thought that “some…research has established and perpetuated particular elements of the” autonomous model. I can see that, though, because if we are not getting the full picture to begin with, then surely that is being reflected in the research and curriculum. I think the cross between BW and Foucault by Stygall is eye-opening; was surprised at the turn-about in Shaughnessy’s and Perl’s research; I remember reading the Bartholomae, and it makes sense about how students “blend their own discourses,” but it really doesn’t tell us a lot about the “students’ previous experiences.” It is true we can’t just focus on “what basic writer’s lack.” To take the conversation to a discussion about “superstructures” seems valid as well. Overall, I see the authors’ point that the research and, thus, the strategies “reifies elements of autonomous literacy” (24). These issues sound familiar, and remind me of the struggles we have read about in the past: “ways to move between the discourses.” I honestly do not see BW classes at Del Mar as “hegemonic.” I think some students are not ready for mainstreaming, though. More research like that done by Reagan sounds promising for changing the face of BW for the better. I guess we are lucky here because it seems overall that we do take into account the students’ “complex cultural and ideological nuances of ideas about literacy and language.” After reading this piece, I understand more about the students’ two distinct “notions” of writing (41). I think there are some valuable insights here. Looking forward to finishing book.
I am really glad that we have access to this Bedford Bibliography because I think that is going to be a very helpful tool. Chelsie Hawkinson actually shared an earlier online edition with us in Composition Theory but I don’t think that I ever utilized it as much as I should have (or could have).
When Addler-Kassner and Harrington began discussing how students need to be able to define their literacy strategies, I think what I keep thinking when I read about basic writing students – people need to remember that they feel just like non-basic writing students but they need more guidance (8). How does the basic writing label affect them? They most likely hear those words and associate it with being remedial. Who wants to be called that? This label can affect the way these students approach writing. It’s interesting how separating them seems to place this burden on labeling them as having “problems” when many students (even the non-basic writers) have some kind of problem with writing. Should it be said that basic writing students must have many problems? Where would that leave them? It is definitely necessary to look at the “how and why” certain students are being placed in basic writing courses (20).
The basic writing students need to understand that they are in the classes that they are because they will benefit from the extra attention and not slip through the cracks instead of being allowed to think that they have too many “problems” and need to be fixed. If they understand this, are they going to be okay with their placement? Will they ever feel unashamed (if they do, that is)? I also had to wonder how these students who were being surveyed felt. If they didn’t have a problem with being labeled as a basic writer before, did they have one after their responses were included in a book about basic writing? I bring all of this up because it plays a huge part in the student’s motivation. If the student already feels like a “failure” then he or she might be reluctant to participate or approach assignments with some form of resentment. Can the teacher’s “insider” knowledge really help enough to alleviate these issues for students?
Random thought - I almost think that students should be mainstreamed and then put into a different class if things don’t work out after the first semester…that is a little crazy but some of the information in this book had me thinking about that. If the testing for basic writing is not enough, then students would have a semester to prove themselves. They could take the test after failing the class just to make “double sure.” BUT then that would place tons of pressure on instructors to make that decision and I can only imagine what the appeals process would look like – not to mention how many students would be going nutso about the decisions!
Students’ out of school literacy should be allowed in school. It can be a huge asset for basic writers – especially those who are experiencing the most struggles. When we force students to write about the same boring things over and over again, it is no wonder that they might lose interest. If we want students to be engaged then we should allow them to take part in the selection of some of the things they write. Empowering students this way can also help them become more independent and I know that is one hope I have for my students. Perhaps allowing students more freedom can help start moving away from the idea that students are always being told "what they cannot do."
Bedford Bibl. Intro
I thought this introduction did a great job of tying together a lot of different scholars' theories and giving just a grand overview of the field of basic writing, which is excellent, especially for someone preparing for comps! I was just wondering if they had something like that for the whole field of Rhet/Comp :) ...which is I suppose the idea behind the Mapping the Field activity. It made me see how useful it is to get an understanding of where different scholars stand on issues, how to compare the differing views, and how to attempt to come up with meanings for terms such as basic writers or basic writing. I don't really know what else to say about the intro, other than to say that it helped me find more of those connections that we need to make between readings.
Basic Writing as a Political Act
I do have to start out by saying that I just read part of this last week for our Comps study group and made a lot of notes about it...so I do have a little bit of previous knowledge about the book (although its only from a week ago). Nonetheless, I hadn't read chapters 3 and 4 yet, so those are new to me this time around!
The first chapter of the book really just mostly seemed to me a background of how their book came about--its history, so to speak. One thing I found particularly important, and which they stressed here, were the conversations with people “outside of the academy” that often “involved explaining that we didn’t teach remedial writing, that grammar wasn’t our first concern, and that students with whom we worked really were quiChre smart and brought a lot to their work, that yes, we really did want to teach these kinds of classes” (3). Frankly, it reminded me of some of the problems we had with the Writing Center (although these were usually with people in the university, but outside the Writing Center, if you get my drift). Anyway, it just seems like outsiders have a lot of difficulty understanding what really "goes on" in certain academic situations and, therefore, often distort it or do not see all of its value. I definitely agree that there is a disconnect between the academic world of the university and the "real world," which often leads people seeking a degree to be unprepared for what they experience when they graduate. I think I've strayed a bit from the topic of basic writing, but I think the concept of the miscommunication in both scenarios is similar. The solution, then, according to this book, is to (obviously) make basic writing a "political act." I have to say that, at first, I didn't really get what that meant..but they explained it pretty well, I thought, by defining it as “to engage in the kinds of conversations with each other, with our students, and with individuals and groups outside of the academy that take into account the complexity of basic writing as a political act” (8) or, in simpler terms, "sustain some new public conversations about writing and literacy" (12). To me, I think they're just saying we should try to bridge this gap that causes the disconnect and misunderstanding of the programs. Or, we need to make sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, gets the point of basic writing. We need to make basic writing known and understood not only to the teachers, but to the students and the public sphere as well.
Chapter 2 approaches the question, as many others have, of who is a basic writer. I liked the separation between cognitive and culturally-grounded perspectives, as it kind of set up another aspect to think about when mapping the field. Also, since I have read or heard of many of the articles mentioned, it made me feel like an 'insider' and I felt like I could see the distinctions between the theories. They mention that Peter Rodinone “argues that basic writing classes should help students understand the differences between their ‘home discourses’ and those used in the classroom, but that they must leave those outside-of-school literacies behind if they are to succeed in college” (24-25). Now, based off of what we read last week, I partially agree with this--I do agree that they need to understand the differences between discourses, but I don't think it is necessary to avoid influences from their 'home' discourses, as long as they are able to distinguish between them and use each on in the context of its specific discourse. I also do think that Adams and Shor have something going about the mainstreaming idea, but I am not completely sold on it. I think I kind of agree with Bartholomae that its not great for students to be labeled, but that some type of program (be it like our Writing Center program for THEA-liables) needs to give the students the support they need. Otherwise, I think it would be a disservice to them, not giving them the tools they need to succeed. I like the idea of using the basic writing classroom to discuss different literacies to "shift attention away from trying to classify writers’ (cognitive or cultural) characteristics, and reorient the work of the basic writing class toward collaborative action with teacher and student" (31).
I thought the concept of the difference between writing a school and being a writer from chapter 3 was intriguing. This part really made me think about the Portfolio 1 assignment Garrett, Chelsey Patterson, and I did for our comp classes. We asked the students to bring in whatever they thought was "Good writing" by someone besides themselves and then, surprise!, we made them write in that genre. Because they, for the most part, brought in something they actually enjoy reading, most of them enjoyed the writing part of the project as well. I think assignments like this help draw a connection between "good writing" or "being a writer" and "writing in school" because it shows that we are validating what they like as "good" and "real" genres, even in an academic atmosphere. The part of this chapter that struck me the most was students seeing themselves as "bad" writers because of the "correctness" ideas many of them have been instilled with in younger grades or sometime in their lives. I also found the explanation of "basic writing" as an "insider term" because students and people outside the academic realm don't really know what the heck we're talking about. I agree with the authors that "students should know what basic writing means" because, otherwise, they will not know what they're dealing with and, as the authors suggest, it "alienates them" from other basic writers (44). And, to bring up standardized tests again, I definitely agree that students should be made aware of the effect tests will have on their futures. If they don't know that doing poorly on a writing test will lead to being in a basic writing class, why would they care about passing? I know we've discusses this in class before, about students not caring about standardized tests because they don't see the importance of them and, as the authors say, I think one of the best ways to try to motivate them is to explain it to them. Just like when you're trying to motivate kids in class...you've got to tell them how it's important to them or how it will benefit them; otherwise, they could usually care less.
Chapter 4, considering how it is about literacy outside of school, reminds me of the literacy autobiographies many comp 1301 teachers assign at the beginning of the semester. It also brings to mind the "good writing" assignment again. The students could bring in whatever they wanted, whether or not it was "less highbrow...than school reading" because they didn't have to impress the teacher...although some of them probably were still trying to. But seeing the variety the students brought in, from Dr. Seuss to a magnet with a poem written on it, I think they got the point that literacies from outside school were also forms of "good writing" and were still genres that were valuable to read. I liked the idea that Kate Ronald and Jon Volkmer had that "we must understand students' actual writing processes, not the idealized processes we teacher (and which students tolerate) as they move through school" (57). This is important, especially to the students, but I do think that we should still try to teach them new, possibly useful techniques that they might not have tried before. But I can see how we don't need to push "correctness" by saying they must follow a strict, specified process for writing. There was an article (I really can't remember it, and I think Liza mentioned it to me last week, but we both couldn't remember the name) we read in Comp Theory in which the author described how she had to have all these specific things set up in a certain way to be able to write in a comfortable setting, and I think we all have that, our little idiosyncrasies that define our individual writing processes. I think its beneficial to explain that to students..that we each have our own way of doing things, and that what works for one person might not work for another.
Now, based on what I've read so far of this book (and I think I've read all but Chapter 5), I like many of the concepts in it, but I felt that a lot of it was pretty repetetive, which I guess happens when you're really trying to make a point. I can't say that it really detracts from the reading of it immensely, but it just bugged me a tiny bit.
Basically, I think it all translates into something most of us already consider: that we have to tell the students our goals, we have to make the goal of the program clear to the public so as to not have miscommunication/disconnect, and to build upon the literacies/discourses students already know and belong to in order to teach them how to function successfully in an academic context without losing their individuality or "voice." I can't really say that I feel I learned many new perspectives on certain classroom or student situations.
John Lamerson - Reading Response 5
The first 60 pages of Linda Adler-Kassner and Susanmarie Harrington’s book Basic Writing as a Political Act was both informative and entertaining. The premise of this book is that basic writing has been designed, so far, to place students into existing narratives – to make students as good as their peers, implying of course that they are currently bad. The authors review the different methods by which students are placed in basic writing courses, and they review the standards, cultural or otherwise, that keep them there.
If I could boil down to stock the first 60 pages, the authors are suggesting that teachers should be nicer to students and to give them more one-on-one time than they would otherwise. And this sentiment is lovely. It is also impractical – I have heard Holly’s horror stories about trying to teach a bunch of recalcitrant high school students. I do not see underpaid freshman composition professors spending 90 hours a week to fulfill the needs of his or her 90 students.
As socially Darwinian as it sounds, students who cannot make a go of a basic writing class, even with the revised lesson plan and writing center help probably don’t belong in the university.
In Adler-Kassner and Glau’s introduction to the Bedford Bibliography, they discuss how their book asks “questions about what basic writing is, who basic writers are, how teachers should work with students in basic writing courses, and what the future of basic writing holds-some of the field's most compelling issues.” As such, it is probably an invaluable source for those looking to become involved in the field of basic writing.
Well, Basic Writing as a Political Act was an interesting read before I even opened it due to the fact that it was written by a Rhet. Comp. scholar I had to interview for one of my classes. Adler-Kassner was, I’m not gonna lie, intense and intimidating when I first spoke to her. To her credit, I was doing an interview based on her service-learning scholarship when she had ceased to focus her energy on service-learning and was now interested in Basic Writing. After we got past that, and the misunderstanding about the difference in time zones, I found her to be gracious and knowledgeable. Anyways, back to the book.
I found that this section of reading reaffirmed some of my thoughts about Basic Writing, especially in the notion that we often focus on having writers appropriating the discourse, “to help students master the conventions of academic discourse, but not necessarily to understand and/or question the ideologies perpetuated by those conventions” (21). In other words, you’re still singing the words without knowing the meaning if you ascribe to this method as a basic writer. That’s the problem I always had with “Inventing the University,” or Shaugnessy’s work, even if it did make sense: it was still basically about learning a formula that essentially “ ‘argues for a new sort of student but not a new set of intellectual practice’”(21). Oftentimes, we’re not making better learning, but only better mimicry.
As Harrington and Adler-Kassner seem to convey, the problem here is always a matter of disassociation: where the problem posed by the teacher to the students is “based on a common context,” but is still “disassociated from any understanding and the curricular strategies are primarily designed to facilitate relatively painless assimilation…”(21). But as they conclude, this method fails to “acknowledge connections between discourse and specific situation[s]” (not sure here, I think it was a typo!) (21). As with any students, a real-world connection will always illustrate the point better than an abstract “Ms. Mystery” assignment, where instead of someone writing to “ ‘real people, with legal names’” the students are writing without “any sense of who she was or how she might understand them, their ideas, or their literacies” (24).
The solution seems to be sitting down and talking to the students, or at leas that’s what I got, and trying to understand “the circumstances in which students developed their understandings of literacy activities” (18). I’ve been thinking about this a lot with Freire’s “generative terms,” where he posed a certain number of real-world terms, such as “bonus” and “backhoe” to a group of migrant workers learning English. They were able to use those terms as free associative off of which they could write in a way that was meaningful to them and their jobs. Of course, with this idea there always comes the notion of assuming what’s best for someone based on a set of cultural generalizations, or any other generalizations for that matter. How do you presume anything without first understanding the person?
The Bedford Bibliography was a nice mapping of basic writing scholars and their theories. I actually think the links between their subjects and each author will be very helpful in comps and who talks to who and who yells at who. I did have one question regarding Michelle Hall Kells comment under “How are Writing, Language and Culture Related.” From “Attending to the Margins,” Kells writes, “consider students cultural and ideological contexts and not examine writing divorced from these contexts.” I was unclear what she meant by this. Does she mean not to discuss texts that incorporate information outside a student’s culture? If so, how is that beneficial at all? I think I am misinterpreting it.
Basic Writing as a Political Act – Chapter 1-4
These chapters are directly related to our comps readings on literacy this week and last week, which was really a blessing. I am wondering if I should incorporate some reading from Mike Rose in my classroom. Maybe some of my students would feel like they connect with his students when it comes to their writing process beliefs, worries, and questions. I find it appalling that some people can be so naïve as to think that students in basic writing don’t matter, and that “basic writing classes have the potential to disrupt a significant narrative in US education, and the job of basic writing programs should be to prevent that disruption” (3). Why does it have to be viewed as a disruption? Why can’t it be viewed as multiculturalism or individuality? This traditional top-down approach is failing this new generation of students who have been born into a world that actually forces them to be themselves (or create another persona) through technology like video games, blogging, Facebook, texting, etc. Taking the individuality away in the classroom is problematic because forcing them to write about subjects they don’t care about infuses boredom, and then apathy. I like to believe that the “teacher as guide, mentor” theory is the best way to reach today’s students. My evaluations last semester showed that they liked picking their own topics, not being forced to write about things like carbon footprints and the elections, that they really didn’t have personal feelings about. I am not saying things like that are not important, they are, but if a student is not interested in writing about it, they are not going to be motivated to press themselves. I see it almost as a sign of disempowerment. If they are feeling disconnected from their forced topic, they can seem more likely to plagiarize just to get things completed and turned in. This is somewhat how I viewed as “positioning writers outside the author function,” (15) as described by Michel Foucault. I know it is not exactly what he is talking about, but I think there are some variables that link apathy to examining students through what they “cannot or did not do” (15). This echoes Robert Yagelski’s concerns about the student writer being a “faceless individual” (41). In the context of the superstructure (from a Marxist perspective) the student is just another block in the foundation. If that block starts crumbling, the superstructure’s foundation is in jeopardy of collapsing. This is why required skills and conventions are so closely monitored and so heavily tested (standardized). Not understanding the fundamentals is problematic for the system to stay afloat. But the goal for most of these scholars is balance between the two – allowing for conventions to be learned in order to maintain societal standards in writing, but also allowing for creativity to be reflected in the writing. I think it is a lot like post communist countries. Even though they are democracies now, there have been so many decades of communist thought even new democratic values still reflect the old ways. The only way to completely change societal standards is to clear the house of the traditional completely or wait until those with the mentality die off or retire.
I think this week’s writings touched on something we’ve been dancing around all semester: can we use home languages for academic writing? Also, if we don’t use that language, or altogether deny the validity of that language, are we essentially putting nullifying the student’s background and experience? This gets back to some of the discussion we had regarding the “CCCC and the Student’s Rights to Their Own Language” article. If we as teachers are to be sure to respect and take into account the cultures of each of the respective individuals in class, how do we ever get anything done? Not that we should ignore the cultures, we shouldn’t. But it seems to be that articles such as the CCCC article want us all to be Mike Rose, and to somehow gear assignments towards these goals. I know that’s overly simplified, but I wonder how anything can get assessed fairly, and how we can expect to try these methods without leaving out some demographic.
I think Bean (et a million) gets at a good point with the variables in “Should We Invite Students to Write in Home Languages?” when she asks, in the Fifth Variable, “What is the learning goal for writing on this particular occasion: practicing for future fluency in standardized English or drafting for a present text in standardized English that captures the student’s richest thinking and strongest voice?” (232). We have to figure out as teachers what the benefit is of having students write in a home language, and essentially, what our entire goal in teaching them is. Do we want them to be fluent in an academic discourse to help them later on? Do we want them to express themselves and realize that their home language is as complex or valid as Standard Academic English? Do we want them to write those ideas down in their home language first, then translate, with drafting, to academic language? As the authors note, this is near impossible in an exam situation. Ultimately, what is the goal?
I still think there should be a balance here. Even if “institutional policies push standardization at the expense of diversity,” I don’t think that students should believe that “their home dialect or language is bad, broken, stupid” (230). I think the usage of home language in the early stages of revision is a good idea, but what if the student can’t make it past that first point?
I was having trouble connecting this work to the “Weaving Grammar and Mechanics into Writer’s Workshop” article, but then I thought about the first few sentences: “As well-intentioned as editing marks may be, I know how most students see these corrections: as X’s over their souls, their desires, their thoughts” (27). Both articles are about letting the student breathe and figure out how to use something that they love and can relate to, or something interesting that happened to them, to better understand writing. Though interesting, I see this more geared towards a high school or younger audience. And though I like the idea of a writer’s notebook, and I think everyone should have a forum to write down thoughts and ideas, I don’t know if having such prescriptive, restrictive instruction such as “Number pages only on the right-hand side” can be very helpful in a medium that is supposed to be about freedom. The Writer’s Eye activity, however, is really cool and I might use it.