John L. - Reading Response #8
I wonder if June Jordan recognized the ironies of her article: “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan.” She spends an entire semester tearing down the ability of her students to write SAE, and then writes an article boasting of that fact in SAE. Here’s a test. You have broken your arm, and you have the choice of three doctors.
The first says in a drawl: “That there arm bone done broke and it ain’t no good not to set it.”
The second says: “You m*******ing arm is broke, man! Let’s fix that s***.”
The third says: “You’ve broken your arm. I’m going to set it now.”
Anyone who says they’d see all three as equal is a liar. June Jordan’s like a mother bird who tears the feathers from her baby’s wings and still expects them to fly. June claims that students were writing with “remarkable beauty, purpose, and enjoyment” (349). By what standard? I don’t see any beauty or purpose in the selections on page 349. Instead I see the intellects and writing skills of college students being reduced to a 4th grade level. And while the students may enjoy writing at that level, is that really the primary concern?
Look at the case of Willie Jordan. June wrote that Willie’s SAE was: “stilted and frequently polysyllabic, simply for the sake of having more syllables” (344). She doesn’t give any proof of this, but even assuming that it’s true, instead of helping Willie speak more naturally, she instead teaches that speaking properly is unimportant. Willie, as shown in his final essay, thankfully does not learn that lesson.
The last half of this article is June Jordan’s attempt to lend moral superiority to her premise by implying that her opponents are either Uncle Toms or apartheid collaborators, like the young cop in her classroom. She tries to tie it back into her discussion on black English by having her students write letters and an introduction in Black English to various publications (in and of itself, this is an interesting use of a teacher bringing her politics into the classroom). The damage the June Jordans of the world do to their students is incalculable. Even if I were ignorant of her renowned anti-Semitism, I would still find her repugnant.
Kay Thurston’s article “Mitigating Barriers to Navajo Students’ Success in English Courses,” on the other hand, manages to analyze language barriers of a minority group without condescending to that group. Thurston writes that Navajo students, even at such institutions at Navajo Community College, face financial difficulties, family obligations, prescriptive attitudes towards SAE, faculty ethnocentrism, and an ambivalence towards Western education that most university students do not. My major disappointment with the article is that Thurston did not offer much in the way of solutions, other than that which is already being tried. It is nice to write that “it is time to look beyond these factors and work to mitigate all the barriers that all minority culture students face,” but it’s much more difficult to do without a plan. And I don’t understand how she intends to reduce barriers to teaching without assimilation. Should we start a “separate but equal” policy for our English classes based on cultural backgrounds?
Neulieb and Brosnahan’s article “Approaches to Grammar Instruction” was fascinating. They make the very interesting division between formal grammar and applied grammar. For example, Shaughnessy helped students learn to write using grammar (this form of teaching might have been helpful to students like Mica from last week). As I may have written once, twice, or a hundred times, I always find it ironic when articles that discount grammar are written using perfect grammar. This article doesn’t discount grammar, obviously. Instead, they emphasize that when teachers can write well, they will be able to identify grammatical problems in students’ writing. This theme is carried over in Chapter 3 of Anderson. Anderson discusses how freewriting can be an important tool in teaching grammar
CHRISTINE CASHION RESPONSE
The Jordan and Thurston articles have a lot in common. Both discuss the social injustice of ignoring culture in the classroom and skipping straight to the assumption that students come into the classroom having knowledge of Standard American English. Speakers of Black English struggle because they have to surrender their own voice, “hoping to please those who will never respect anyone different from themselves” (Jordan, 341). This is a sad commentary on the inability of the American school system to not recognize that non-native speakers of English cannot function at high levels in “exclusively white forms of English” because “White English, in America, is ‘Standard English’” (Jordan, 342). This is the same situation for the Navajo Indians that Thurston discusses.
Just how Jordan notes, “None of these students had ever learned how to read and write their own verbal system of communication: Black English” (343), the Navajo students Thurston writes about led a similar struggle. The English school system “expect students to replace their Navajo English dialect with SAE in fifteen to sixteen weeks” (Thurston, 359). There are some noted differences between the struggles of these two groups of people to do well in school, such as the major role that family has in the Navajo culture. Thurston explains in her five major reasons for the high Navajo failure and attrition rate in college is that their duty to family is a serious and time-consuming obstacle for them (358). Since some instructors make the assumption that students come into the classroom with SAE then those who do not are getting set up to struggle in a classroom that focuses on SAE.
All of this could come down to the Neuleib and Brosnahan article which argues “whether grammar instruction leads to improved writing” (145). Although major questions exist as to how and to what extent grammar should be taught, many authors on the subject have agreed that grammar instruction improves writing. “Shaughnessy, D’Eloia, Bartholomae, Harris, and DeBeaugrande? all illustrate how grammar instruction improves writing skills” (148). However, Neuleib and Brosnahan do state teachers should do more than just “cover” grammar. Just brushing the surface of grammar skills and expecting students to memorize it may not do them any favors, especially when it comes to editing. The authors insist, additionally, that teachers must have proper preparation in order to be effective in the classroom. “A confused teacher increases student perplexity” (149).
While Neuleib and Brosnahan state they feel writing teachers need to study the historical background of grammar to be more effective in the classroom (151), these students who come from diverse cultural have not had a chance to study grammar in any formal way, in some cases. It is increasingly important that teachers take on the challenge of training to ensure they can rise to the level of meeting changing student needs, culturally, technologically, or whichever venue a student can learn in this increasingly diverse world.
“As well-intentioned as editing marks may be, I know how most students see these corrections: as X’s over their souls…” (Anderson, 27). This statement in the “Weaving Grammar...” article seems a little harsh. Anderson goes on to say that “often by the time students reach middle school, they hate writing” (27). Gees – give a kid a break. I think the teacher has a lot to do with the child’s experience. Even if the student comes from a background where SAE is not the norm, the teacher has the power to transform the classroom into a positive learning environment by which everyone cares because the teacher makes it happen. It is idealistic but possible, I believe. All students may not respond to subject matter in the same way but they can certainly respond to a teacher with excellent ability to teach information with a caring positive attitude.
Holly C. - Post-Reading
John, first of all, to answer your test question, my husband says that he would choose the second doctor. He says that the third one sounds like a robot. Of course, when there are medical decisions to be made in the household for anyone other than him, I make the decisions and I see what you’re trying to say.
I also found irony in the fact that June Jordan wrote an article discussing how she taught her students to deviate from SAE to speck Black English. If she really wanted to prove the dialect’s efficacy, shouldn’t she have written the article in that dialect? Jordan is deconstructing her own assertion by writing her article in this way and also proving that, in order to be accepted by the academy, one must pay their dues and write in standard English.
To me, the main issue I see in Jordan’s decision to teach the dialect of English she taught is that she may be blurring the boundaries for her students a bit too much. Even though the Black English she was teaching her students to write and speak in for her class was acceptable in her class, she never says whether or not she ever explained the limitations of writing in Black English to her students. The only indication that we, the readers, have of general society’s the rejection of Black English writing in the mainstream publishing arena. I am left to wonder if she ever shared this rejection with her students and also, if she did share the rejection, what her students thought.
The second article by Kay Thurston provided some very interesting insight into the minds of Native American writers, and, in particular, into the minds of Navajo writers. I was especially interested in their discussion of how these writers often have trouble writing a thesis oriented paper, and how this difficulty is related specifically to their culture. I am reminded of a passage I just read with my students in the Conrad Richter novel The Light in the Forest. In the novel, the main character observes the indifference with which his white parents open, read, and discard their letters. In contrast, the Indian tribe he has lived with spends ample time valuing the messenger before they ever receive the message. To me, the same thing can be said of Native American writers and their difficulty in writing thesis based papers. To them, just getting to the point no only disrespects the receiver of the message, but also disrespects them as the messenger. The information on the financial and socio-economic difficulties is also a good thing to read, because the things that teachers must always realize is that they really should know what their students are coming from and what limitations they need to try to work within.
The chapter from Anderson leaves me with one very specific question. On page 150, what are the answers to those two grammar questions? I would phrase the first one like this: “Please turn off the light. It’s much too bright.” The second--“I was anxious to go shopping, but my mother, who is usually so organized, was taking her time today.” Was I right? The statements that Neuleib and Bronsnahan make about the quality of grammar instruction that teachers of grammar are right on. Grammar teachers normally teach grammar based on their prior knowledge. This results in teachers transferring their mechanical mistakes to their students. Grammar teachers should, instead, “study the historical background of grammar, be well-acquainted with better descriptions of language, and appreciate relations among different grammars” (151).
Chapter 3 from Anderson had some very interesting ideas for secondary writing. The idea of a using a writer’s notebook and of emphasizing the importance of this notebook for different writing activities was one that I would like to try next year. I was troubled, however, by the grammar pnemonic. The AAWWUBBIS list seems a little mechanical and restrictive.
The article by bean gave me some food for thought, but, going back to the concerns I had about June Jordan and her Black English, the same thing applies here. I agree that students may be more comfortable writing in their own languages and vernaculars, but I also know that certain writing assessments would have a student writing in such a way labeled as developmental or as a beginner for doing this. On the TELPAS, for example, a student using any portion of his or her original language in a writing sample is immediately classified as a beginner.
I have to admit that articles are often better when they include a students’ perspective or when someone in the teaching field has changed their perspective on their pedagogy because of a student. The reading, which is based particularly on Willie Jordan, June Jordan’s student, demonstrates how significant it is for students to understand the reasons for writing and writing well. It’s interesting to note that many of Jordan’s students, African American, did not see their dialect as an issue in the academic world or outside for that matter. After they read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, they realized and questioned, “Why she have them talk so funny. It don’t sound right” (342). It’s funny that even this computer software picks up on some of the grammar, the green lines are underneath have and don’t. I just thought I’d share that, so anyhow, Jordan brings up the fact that the students are targeting the language Walker uses. Language is exactly the reason for the discussion; in this article, the students learn that language can or does say a lot about a person or their education. Another thing is the fact that Black Vernacular English (BVE) is brought into the discussion and that leads yet to another eye opener for the students. As the semester progresses, students become interested in a subject that they feel connected to. Jordan works with the students in making up rules to better illustrate how certain rules apply to BVE, which are listed on pages 345-346, one example is Rule 2: If it’s wrong in Standard English it’s probably right in Black English, or, at least, you’re hot” (Jordan 345). Again, we have an issue that has been discussed in class, Standard English along with its rules such as grammar and mechanics. Then the class creates “Guidelines for Black English, an example is number “4. Use be or been only when you want to describe a chronic, ongoing state of things. He be at the office, by 9…” (Jordan 347). Thereafter, the class continues to collaborate and learn more about Black English, including Willie Jordan, who earlier in the reading decided he like the subject so much he was going to do an independent study. In the end, Willie is the reason this class learned the importance of speaking and writing, among other things. The class learned that Willie’s brother, who was unarmed, had been shot by police several times in the head and body. It seemed like racial profiling to Willie and others, at the time, also the police wouldn’t answer the families’ questions, so Jordan told Willie that maybe she and/or the class could help write letters to the media, so that the police would rush in investigating the case. In this case, the students were really able to see the impact of writing in BVE versus Standard English because when they wrote to the newspapers, no one seemed interested. However, even though Willie, in the end, wrote in Standard English, as Jordan informs us, the result was still the same, rejected. The point, I think, to this reading is the affect that language and writing has, Willie happened to have an unfortunate opportunity to learn that communicate in most cases must be followed or practiced a certain way; otherwise people tend to look down on a person. It was like the students criticizing Walker’s dialect in the book, they didn’t approve of it and were frustrated with it when they read it.
The next reading reminded me a lot about my own experience in the valley because many of my instructors, I realize now, did not have background knowledge about South Texas Latinos. There are many similarities that Navajos and Latinos have, for example, financial difficulties, family obligations, family is always put first before education, regardless of exams or not; and instructor/faculty ethnocentricism. Kay Thurston describes in great detail and example how those teaching Navajos should be very familiar and I would go as far as to say aware of the type of students they are teaching. While education is seen as the key to success, there are those barriers that will be place in front of college. I think I learned more about Navajos in this reading, than I had before, so really for me it was more of an eye opener. It brought me awareness or knowledge about the meaning of diversity and the way an instructor should be depending on the student. Again, dialect is brought to light, “Composition instructors at NCC approach SAE as one dialect, not superior to Navajo English, but the one required for success in the world beyond the Navajo Nation’s four sacred mountains” (Thurston 360). If anything this reading reminded me about diversity and what it means or should mean to a Composition Instructor. The rest of the article was basically statistics and history on the Navajo people.
Janice Neuleib & Irene Brosnahan
I believe Janice Neuleib and Irene Brosnahan make strong arguments about the “Approaches to Grammar Instruction.” Their argument, whether grammar instruction leads to improved writing, is a debate that I think is difficult to disagree because of the many rules that must be applied when writing: grammar, usage, and mechanics. In connection to the Jordan reading, students learned about rules that apply to Black English, well the same for Standard English writing, especially in the academic field, while their in college. The case is that if English teachers did learn grammar, more likely than not, students would be a bit more aware of their writing mistakes. I’m not stating that every student, but for the most part. Many times the English teacher is often eyeballed when a student doesn’t know how to write, they are often blamed, making comments such as who was your English teacher, what did you learn in your English class, etc. One of the biggest misconception is “When writers learn grammar, as opposed to teachers merely ‘covering’ it, the newly acquired knowledge contributes to writing ability” (Neuleib, Brosnahan 146). Those who follow up on a students writing progress would be the ones to agree with the statement, and again, it would probably have to be the English teacher. In connection to the authors’ comment, one of the three issues Meckel brings up makes a lot of sense, even though the study was conducted in 1963 and don’t extend beyond one semester: “…studies makes comparisons between students who had demonstrated knowledge of grammar and those of equal intelligence who had none” (Neuleib, Brosnahan 147). At this point, someone should be conducting a similar study, I think, to see the difference. Not everyone is good at memorization, so when students are forced to memorize rules, they often don’t do well. Meckel concludes that the effectiveness of practice of forms is better than learning the rules (Neuleib, Brosnahan 147). However, if a teacher understands the rules of grammar then they can “help improve students’ writing,” (148) according to Barthalomae’s “The Study of Error. It also does not help that the textbooks are written by grammarians, as Barthalomae claims, because they “know what the terms mean,” and this is not to say that they shouldn’t be, but rather he suggests having a “learners grammar” taught by techniques that are accurate” (148). If the textbooks are written by grammarians, often they won’t see the challenges that students may have, like Barthalomae stated, they know this stuff, it’s easy for them. If anything, maybe a collaboration of grammarians and teachers or maybe they can look at the common mistakes students make and focus on such items. I know it is work, but someone has to do it. Not only that, but teachers will know what to focus on, again, assuming they understand the rules of grammar, so they can help and explain to their students where they have made their errors in their writing.
In connection to the other readings, Jeff Anderson’s article on grammar and mechanics illustrates how and why teachers such as June Jordan and those at the Navajo Community College have difficulty teaching students the rules of writing. It all goes back to teachers in middle school and high school and their actual studies on grammar. The fact that a teacher begins the school year by having notebooks for the students means that there will be a method on the writing process, as oppose to learning the rules straight from a textbook. Instead, Anderson, has them write, revise, edit, and continue to write, in order for the student to learn from their mistakes and as they progress he explains the reasons why certain word order does not work, again, he understands grammar. It’s a working progress, and it eliminates what Bartholomae is so against textbook memorization. Neuleib and Brosnahan’s argument also coincides with this article in that teachers should be knowledgeable with sentence structure and grammar overall to better explain to students the significance of broken written rules. Lastly, chapter 4, is an addition to chapter 3 in that it also offers another method on how to teach grammar by making it fun and memorable, marking it on wall paper. I think it's always good when a teacher makes learning fun and engages the students in the class plans.
Okay so I have started this posting about three times, okay maybe 5 times, but I am getting a bit frustrated with it. I am acutely going back to the list and not simply writing, since I can't seem to keep everything from running together.
The three articles that covered writing in ones own language I took to mean more about creating a culturally sensitive classroom and pedagogy then writing outside of SAE. I realize that the focus of the Bean article was giving the students opportunities to write in their own language, but I think that is could cause more muddling then progress in the long-run. I want to focus on what I think can be gained from these articles, however, rather than what I think of as a drawback. I think allowing students to write in home dialects when they are stuck and need a way to move forward is brilliant. I had never considered that as a form of brainstorming. I also think that the article on the Navajo is important in that it asks us to consider the other world, outside academia, that the students are involved in. It is something that must be given consideration. It is important to be sensitive to student issues, however, it is also important for the students to complete the requirements and succeed. Finding a balance and still achieving the goals is the key.
I almost don't want to touch the Jordan article. While it was powerful and an impassioned piece, I disagree with so much of it, and it could come across as narrow minded, but I think if we bring this back to basic writing, the limited time with the students, and the goals we are trying to achieve, I think this article is taking students in a different direction. I have tried to articulate this a number of ways and not come across as cold and rude, and then I gave thought to the students goals. What are the students reasons for being here? Is it to get to a place so that they can enter what is currently our society, with all of its flaws and harshness and close mindedness, or to become more comfortable with who they are? I am NOT against sensitivity and openness towards difference, but I think making it the focus of the classroom may not benefit the students in the ways that they want. I think we must consider, in making things a case of social experimentation that the students are here for diplomas that will help them succeed outside of the University. While we have chosen this as a way of life, many of them will not, and we need to prepare them for future classes and future jobs, not simply to focus on how unfair life has been and where society has failed them. This does not mean we need to ignore this, just not make it the core of the class. Is there a place in the university for these social experimentation and political discussions? I think if students want to sign up for a class in social and political studies, sociolinguistics, or even an AAV, then that may be the place, but I am not sure the place for such a strong focus is in a basic writing classroom. I do still like the idea of using non-standard if the student is really struggling, but I wouldn't encourage it beyond that, and I think I would address it on a one on one basis.
Lets move onto something else now... I love the information on Grammar. While the TDW section was interesting and informative, it still left me wanting something concrete and the Anderson article gave it to me. Finally, someone showed us how to use free writing and student writing in a step by step break down and practical method for teaching grammar. It was fantastic. I want to read it again to get more information and I want to read more of Anderson's book. This is an outside the box and interesting way to present this that I think might acutely work. I think some of the areas will have to be brought up so that they work with college level students, but using some of the more popular culture texts or even canonical literature would work well. We have read other who bring up grammar in context, student writing, free writing, journals, and their usefulness, but no one has said how. Hurray for Anderson. I also like that the TDW points out that the other authors we have been looking out have not been advocating a lack of grammar, but a change in the way it is taught and the way teachers are trained, now that I agree with.
Problems with the reading:
Not sure where I stand on non-SAE in writing classrooms, and I want more on Anderson's and others like her method of grammar teaching, seems wonderful.
Neuleib and Brosnahan and Anderson
Going back to write this up, I noticed what I wrote under the title to this piece: “Why is it a college’s responsibility to teach grammar?”
Although I personally am not sure if grammar should be mandatory in college, I can see the argument for how it would be helpful to certain students, like international students. Are they required to take grammar classes outside of ESLI? I think it would be extremely helpful to them (and their Comp instructors) if they were.
The authors talk about how grammar should only be taught under “clearly defined purposes” instead of “teacher’s merely covering it” (146), and I completely agree, as long as it is not advertised as “grammar.” The word strikes fear in the hearts of people (like the goddess Grammatica herself!), and it can easily turn people off the subject. Anderson talks about this also, this “writing process labels,” that are “dead without daily action” (28). Yes, but you don’t want to kill it either by overusing it. So disguising it is the best option! There was a teaching I worked with in Romania (She was Romanian, but taught English) who cranked out kids who were fluent in English by the time they completed her eighth grade class because of the way she taught them. She did not lecture; they did a lot of role play and presentations, which is how they learned their English. The grammar was infused in their activities, and was not “labeled” as grammar. I think she was Shaughnessy-esque in her approach (not that she knew who Shaughnessy was), which is “gearing instruction only to the needs of the students” (147). She taught them only what they needed to know and the rest came naturally. “Oh, well you know what, you just used present perfect!” or “Congratulations, Mr. Dangling Participle!” She was pretty liberatory, also, having them work together to find the answers and correcting each other’s papers. Because her students “worked only on the errors in their own writing and not on rules external to that writing,” (147) the students were able to focus more on what needed to be accomplished to get to the next step.
One of the reasons behind her pedagogy is clearly stated through Bartholomae’s apparent “attacks” on grammar books: “They are written for and by grammarians who find the concepts easy since they ‘know what the terms mean’” (358)(148). If a teacher does not understand grammar, how can she teach it to the students? Grammar needs to become more teacher/student friendly, and I think what this article is calling into action.
This article is not about which form of English is right, it’s about teaching cultural contexts of language and the meaning it holds for people of that culture. What Jordan outlines in her approach to teaching Black English is stimulating, refreshing, and most of all, what is seems from her students’ reactions, relevant to their education.
Education is not just learning how to do things, it is understanding why things are done the way they are. For Jordan’s students, they did not comprehend that they were speaking the same way that Alice Walker was writing because it looked strange to them. Aural and visual learning is very different, and this is one example of how little connection can initially be made between the two. The students are baffled and peeved by Walker’s English because they don’t understand where it came from. In teaching them how to speak Black English, Jordan is simultaneously teaching them proper grammar. The key here is that they are not consciously aware of this! This goes back to the grammar article my example of Sandy the Romanian teacher teaching them proper grammar unconsciously. In order to understand how Black English is “wrong,” they first have to understand why proper English is “right.” To see this brilliantly clear connection, all you need to do is look at the Guidelines for Black English the class made.
Although the grammar learning here is significant, what is even more important is the students were engaged in learning. They realized they were part of the conversation, and Willie Jordan’s situation with the death/murder of his brother was highly controversial and very culturally significant to said conversation. The resulting class reaction to Reggie’s death was a battle between Audience and Reaction. Here’s a metaphor for you: In one corner you have Audience, which is the community, both white and black, as well as the media. Audience is strong, it has a lot of pull, and has not lost a lot of fights since it really has the final say on whether or not its opponent is worthy of a lengthy duel. Reaction, in the other corner, is young, strong and black, and has a lot of anger and pent up rage. Reaction tends to underestimate Audience a lot of the time. This sometimes causes Reaction to turn into Overreaction -- bobbing, dancing, and fanciful, and sometimes arrogant. Overreaction also talks a lot of trash. This can turn off Audience, which will, in turn, knock Reaction out in Round One even before Reaction can get in one good punch.
This is what happened to Jordan’s class. The decision to write their letters in Black English to their audience, in my opinion, is an example of this type of overreaction. Just like Officer Charles said the cops “overreacted” by shooting Reggie Jordan, the class overreacted, which turned off their potential audience. I understand that the point was to voice their concerns and feelings through their cultural dialect, but I think the misstep here was not considering their audience enough.
This entire experience was a relevant learning experience for these students' education. Black English is not overreaction. It is how you USE language that can be determined by audience as overreaction. And that, besides grammar, is what these students learned from this class. They learned that overreaction can get them nowhere quick. This class was not a mistake. It was not worthless to their education. It taught them a lesson in correct and incorrect language for their audience. It also boldly tackled cultural issues inside academe as well as in their community. Isn’t that what we as liberatory teachers labor to do now 25 years later?
A lot of what she had to say about gleaning cultural differences from the classrooms and the forcing of a homogenous education system on different ethnicities is echoed in a lot of transnational theory and literature. We hear the voices writers who represent the “other” like Victor Villanueva, Gloria Anzaldua, Luis Alejandro Urrea, Amy Tan. What is funny to me is that with all these different cultures and ethnicities fighting for educational rights in the classroom, it seems the white man has become the “other” in education these days. It seems about time.
In addition to another voice in the cultural education conversation, Thurston’s concerns for the Navajo students in regard to grammar seem to parallel AAVE challenges. She talks about how white instructors expect Navajo, because they have been around English speakers, to “clean up” their English in a matter of weeks (359), and how high that expectation is. Even the language issues are similar to the Rules and Guidelines of Black English in Jordan’s article, leaving off the “s” in plurals. I know that Black English is English and Navajo is another language altogether, but the ESL problems are still there and they are similar. What does that tell us about AAVE? Is this another reason to consider it another language?
The idea behind the thesis sentence is also interesting (361) because it mirrors challenges ESL students from other countries have when entering into an American University. The thesis is taught differently in other areas, so when they come here, they either have to change their style to conform, or they are lucky and get a teacher who is open to their country’s way of doing things. The same goes for the Navajo, being an oral language, narratives are more accessible than research (361), which makes sense. The question I have here is if Navajo are being taught on a reservation by a white instructor, are they being taught the American way or the Navajo way? If the American way is forced on them, how is that ethical or allowed on their land? Are we colonizing on the reservation this way?
Possibly. Della Toadlena says,” English often represents more than the usual freshman irritant. It is a symbol of oppression, and, as much is a formidable stumbling block” (1)(364). This reminds me the reasoning behind why education can cause anger and segregation, especially among those who are not able to receive a high-level education, like the Navajor. As Elspeth Stuckey says in The Violence of Literacy, “Literacy, like communication, is a matter of access, a matter of opportunity, a matter of economic security—a total matter. The violence of literacy is the violence of the milieu it comes from, promises, recapitulates. It is attached inextricably to the world of food, shelter, and human equality” (94).
Thurston calls to “make writing skills relevant,” (366), which I tie back to Jordan and the cultural learning of Black English, the grammar article and the call to action to make it more exciting for the students, as well as the Navajo and their teachers bringing in writing assignments that are culturally inappropriate for the demographic. The bottom line is students are not going to learn if they don’t see value in what they are learning.
Teaching Grammar to Writers:
This article’s main point is that writing teachers tend to be under-educated in terms of grammar. As a recent student of several writing classes (not at this institution), I can attest to the fact that grammar instruction, for good or bad, is fading fast out there. I think that the methodologies of minimal marking and the expressivist and social constructionist pedagogies perpetuate this, sort of like safe places for instructors not to have to stay sharp on their grammar knowledge. I am not making a value judgment, just an observation—I haven’t taught yet so I don’t know which method is most effective for helping students achieve “good” writing. Neuleib and Brosnahan make a good point when they say that an in-depth knowledge of grammar is essential for instructors to “discover error-producing language patterns in student writing” (148). Even if the instructor doesn’t want to directly teach rote grammar exercises, grammar knowledge can be helpful in identifying the underlying patterns that cause students to make certain choices. By understanding these, teachers can better facilitate individualized guidance. As the authors say, “when teachers understand how language works, they can make the description of the language accessible to students” (151). This is a great point, and too often people get ahead of themselves and fixate on the new bright and shiny object ahead (in this case, pedagogies that abandon grammar altogether) rather than proceed with cautious optimism that builds on the body of knowledge from the past.
Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan:
I have sat here for five minutes trying to start this response. I am not sure what to say about this. I don’t feel qualified to make a judgment about whether or not this is a good thing for the growth and development of students, and yet I found myself judging the entire article. First of all, Jordan has to know the value of SAE for communicating ideas and having one’s voice heard in the bigger picture context—otherwise, she would have written the entire article in Black English (and not just the title…even worse, the examples of BE that she gives she feels necessitate separation by quotation marks). Moreover, I don’t feel like her students were crying out for this pedagogical midstream change into teaching BE. This was a case of a teacher bringing a political agenda into the writing classroom in the most overt and indoctrinating way. The final blow to Jordan’s attack on the oppressive “white standards” comes when she includes Willie Jordan’s essay. He writes about the societal oppression of black people worldwide, tying into South African apartheid and the wrongful shooting of his brother, all in nearly flawless SAE. It’s a great essay, one that probably any teacher would give a high grade to. I can’t tell if Jordan was trying to acknowledge the irony or not. Either way, I wonder how the students who spent a semester writing in BE feel about that experience today. It would be interesting to see if they felt that the class had any impact on the way they proceeded toward their futures.
Mitigating Barriers to Navajo Students’ Success in English Courses:
I was skeptical about where Thurston would possibly find instructors that understood and could adequately address the five major barriers she proposed of her students, until she indicated that NCC instructors receive formal education on “Navajo students’ cultural backgrounds and the historical context within which they teach” (363). Knowing what cultural climate one is in before building a curriculum and implementing pedagogical choices is paramount to a teacher’s success, and I think NCC sets a good example for how to address this issue. My only question is exactly what is NCC preparing students to do? From the way Thurston writes, it doesn’t sound like many of the students want to go forth and “assimilate” into mainstream American culture. I think it would be interesting to find out more about what classes are offered and what the expectation is for students post-graduation. I think a Navajo-centric education for those that desire it is fantastic—I just genuinely want to know how this helps them either on or off the reservation.
Should We Invite Students to Write in Home Languages?
I thought these authors made some really valid points about incorporating the use of students’ home languages and dialects, especially in terms of first drafts and other pieces of writing intended to “help students think something through or explore their reactions” (228). As they point out, allowing students to get their thoughts on paper first in the language and syntax in which they think can help turn in a better final product translated to SAE. I suppose a teacher can avoid the trust issues of the sixth variable by not making specific home languages and dialects the focus and more encouraging students not to worry about SAE conventions in their first drafts. I do think the trust issue is palpable, especially for teachers whose own speech patterns are fairly close to SAE. I think the more casually conversational a teacher is, probably the more trust the students will have in their ability to be fair with home languages and dialects. Even still, as the article states, “students can more easily trust a teacher who is a native speaker of the dialect or language in question—or a teacher who shares their race, ethnicity, and class” (233).
Weaving Grammar and Mechanics into Writer’s Workshop:
I’ll make this one brief since my response is already so long. I thought Anderson provided some really interesting examples of how freewriting can be used to capture ideas first, then to turn those ideas into polished work. While some of the examples seem more suited for younger kids and others more stiff (AAAWWUBBIS, anyone? I agree, Holly—restrictive…and I would never be able to remember what the acronym stood for, anyway.), some of these could be integrated into first year writing courses. I did feel that this leaned more toward a creative writing scenario, but I really like the idea of confronting up front the awkwardness of students reading their writing out loud by acknowledging how it feels to be made fun of by using a freewriting format to do so.
Neuleib and Brosnahan
First off, I just wanted to respond to Holly's question about Neuleib and Brosnahan's two sentences. I'm pretty sure the answers you gave are right, but the first one could be done with a semi-colon as well. Yay. Well, as some of you might already know, I love grammar. I'm the grammar tutor at the writing center, and I get so excited when I have a grammar student come in for help (mostly because it's so rare!). Anyway, I had seen some of this stuff before, like about the different grammars by Hartwell (Grammar 1 -5 on p. 151). I vaguely remember discussing these in Comp Theory last year. We read a few readings during that class about teaching grammar, and it all seemed to end up with the same result...teach grammar, but in context...which seems to be pretty much what this article says. This article pretty clearly says that its the teachers at fault, since it is "the challenge now" for them to "understand stylistic choices...and...analyze errors so that they can show students how language works." In our comps study group last night our conversation touched on grammar a bit, and we were talking about the little amount of grammar we all learned in college and that we should have more classes, even as grad students, that would help us understand grammar so that we can relate it better to our students. I mean, if we don't get it, how can we expect to teach it? So, the basic point, is that teachers have to know grammar to teach it. Honestly, though, I felt like--and this may be becasue we read a few articles about grammar in comp theory--that I'd heard this before. I don't know, it just didn't seem like I saw anything really new in it. Then again, it was published originally in 1987, so I don't see why I would expect it to seem new.
As many have mentioned in their postings, there are similarities between Jordan and Thurston, as they both deal with specific cultural situations and bringing the backgrounds of the students (expecially their dialects/languages) into the context of the classroom. I have to say, at first I was really confused about the buffalo analogy--I think it might have helped if she explained that right away. Anyway, I thought it was great how Jordan was able to help her students use their home languages in an academic setting and to produce real writing, even if it wasn't accepted for publication. The only problem I see, though, as others have mentioned, is that I am not sure how it was taught--were they told that they would be able to use this in every academic context? Did she prepare them for the difficulties they might face if they did? I wish that would have been written about more, so we could see, overall, how this played out. I see how wonderful it is for students to be able to do this, but I am still wary of it because it will not be easily accepted in other situations. Thurston's outlining of the obstacles navajo students face was interesting and, I thought, very insightful. We often see accounts of the difficulties students of various backgrounds have when they enter into the world of SAE, but it's not common to see it broken down so clearly as to what they problems really are. The part about instructor/faculty ethnocentrism reminded me of this film we watched in our last writing center meeting about different cultural rhetorics and how other cultures construct writing/arguments. As this article points out, "use of the Western rhetorical style is, therefore, awekward and difficult for some Navajo students" (361). The same is true for a variety of cultures; the film we watched, for example, discussed the Chinese storytelling and how it is not as direct/straightforward. Many of the interviewees from other countries noted how rude Americans sound because of the directness because they are used to someone hedging around the main point until the end. I find contrastive rhetoric interesting, and it reveals much about different cultures and why we should not only be aware of them, but also validate them for the students so they don't feel like they're doing it "wrong" just because it's not our way of doing it.
I don't know anything about Anderson or even where this chapter came from, but I would like to know. From the beginning, I frankly thought it seemed like it was for lower levels than college, which I am still a little unsure about (I know it mentioned middle schoolers somewhere). I really had a hard time imagining this stuff in a college classroom, especially at TAMUCC. Yes, we do freewritings and daily writings and things to help spur thinking and developing writing processes, but I have a hard time picturing them walking around with the little composition notebooks with writing in them. Anderson has some good analogies, but I felt like it is for a younger audience (playground, etc.). But when I think back to the observation Garrett and I did at Del Mar, I find the activities more applicable then when I think about our Comp classes here. I do kind of like the idea of the editor's checklist from page 15-16. I think these are great methods for middle- or high-school students. But I am still not sure about using it for higher education. I do like the idea of implementing some grammar stuff (as I said before, I love grammar), but I wouldn't want to make them feel like kids by using these types of analogies...I know that when I had teachers do activities I thought were too juvenile, I hated it. Also, I'm just saying, but I don't know if I believe in having rules for freewriting--it makes them not really free. Just call it a daily writing if you really want to set limits on what they're doing. So, overall, I think this had some really great ideas, but I am still not completely convinced of the relevancy for college students.
I think that it is always important to learn about individual students and their cultures. That is why I am an advocate of the personal essay being used at some point in the class. That genre is one way of getting to know students. One thing that I did find interesting about this essay was when Thurston stated, “When Anglo instructors ask students to state their thesis at the beginning of an essay, they’re asking students to go against their cultural conventions – and asking them to be bad storytellers” (361). I’m just wondering when and if you ever draw the line here. I understand that there are certain cultural traditions where storytelling might be important; however, how do we explain that every paper that is assigned does not necessarily fall into that category? I would say that there is a difference in what constitutes storytelling and what an argument paper or a literary analysis would contain. Of course, depending on the genre, the thesis would not be “violated” in that way. Isn’t asking that certain cultures refrain from straying from what they believe at all just as bad as asking them to forget everything that they believe? The object of teaching is to broaden student minds instead of allowing them to remain stagnant.
Neuleib & Brosnahan; Anderson
It seems like the popular opinion is to teach grammar through writing. (As opposed to using worksheets and dreadful drills.) I agree with the statement that “students work only on the errors in their own writing and not on rules external to that writing” (147). It just seems to make more sense to them when they are looking at their own work and they respond better when it is one on one. While I am grading, I will make notes of common errors. I then tell the students that I noticed that this particular error came up a lot in the portfolios so I thought that we would talk about it as a class and I will use a few examples on the dry erase board. (I try to make up my own wrong examples so no one feels like I am picking on his or her paper.) This group thing is usually met with blank stares so I stick with the teaching through mini conferences and drafts. I don't think that I would want to "invade" their freewrites with the teaching of grammar because I always stress that this is their space to brainstorm and I advocate the use of stream of consciousness. I don't grade their freewrites or assess them in any way so I wouldn't want to use this notebook as a way to do grammar exercises.
We might encourage students to write in their mother tongue with the warning (disclaimer) that we cannot provide feedback on that particular draft if we do not know that language. We can offer credit for the writing as part of the writing process. The student will need to understand that there will be a time when the writing must be transferred to English for assessment. Yes, I said it, the dreaded A word! The article states that the use of this mother tongue writing makes little sense in some situations (such as exams or quick writes) where revisions would not be an option. This second variable just seems to be making the issue too complicated. I don’t think that the student would be using this option as a crutch – it would be more of a means of brainstorming. Every student has his/her own writing process and this could definitely count. I think it might have been last week when I said that this could be a learning process for the student and teacher if the student learned to write in a code-switching form. Some Mexican-American writers will code-switch so that the monolingual reader can read part of their writing in their mother tongue and the translation of the word is included immediately after the other language. Allowing multilingual students to participate in this type of writing allows for the introduction of certain literature, linguistics, and genre lessons. The student will feel empowered because of the inclusion of his or her language.
I agree with Darcy about this piece – this was the first thing I read and it made me feel like I did not know what to say. I don’t know how I feel about what Jordan chose to teach. I’m not sure if I agree with the choices that they made in the end. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the choices that they made. I realize that we sometimes have to make compromises in order to be heard – that is just the way the world works. The important thing that I think we need to learn as instructors – or at least what I am trying to learn and implement – is to allow our students to have different voices while still weaving in the things that we are “supposed” to teach. (I think that Sean and I are trying to do that with our final portfolio this semester.) We cannot just disregard the fact that we need to prepare these students for the real world but we also need to remember that THEIR real worlds are not always the same worlds as everyone else.
Jordan & Thurston
One thing I noticed in Jordan's article, which was repeated in Thurston, was the reference to Standard American English (SAE) as a tool, as a means of "intranational communication". I think it is important to consider SAE as a tool instead of a requirement. You do not NEED to know SAE if you want to survive in society today. You will not starve, you will not spontaneously combust, and you can still be perfectly capable of doing your job even if you do not speak in SAE. SAE is a tool that is used within academia and the workplace. When you say that language is used as a tool it is much easier to define what is considered acceptable. When you consider language as an aspect of culture, it becomes much more difficult to treat it with contempt.
This idea of language as culture is touched on in both Jordan and Thurston's articles. In the cases of both Black English (BE) and the Navajo language, they are considered primarily oral languages. Both cultures run into problems when they are forced to communicate in their respective language in text. I think that this is illustrated by the fact that none of Jordan's students recognized the BE spoken in Alice Walker's The Color Purple as a form of their own casual speech.
Back to culture…
In her article, Thurston refers to one of the goals of the Navajo Community College is to make the students "bicultural". Not to teach them SAE, but to help them understand the culture that SAE comes from, and give them the tools necessary to use it in their own lives. I think the word that made the biggest impression on me was the term "Euro-American" ( Thurston 359). I never really considered myself a Euro-American, but it makes sense that I am. It also makes sense that this term indicates that there are distinct differences between Navajo culture and my own.
Another aspect of culture that presented itself within the article was idea of the Navajo Reservation as a third world country, with the education levels, employment rates, and poverty to match. The NCC clearly recognizes the hurdles that their students must overcome. They provide three developmental writing courses, and ensure that no class size exceeds 15 students. This enables them to receive individual help that is necessary for them to learn SAE as both a language and culture.
I think the question that Bean brings up in the beginning of her article is a good one. The fact that it is not "so much whether or not to invite students to write in a mother tongue different from standardized English, but rather, when and under what conditions might it make sense to do so?"(Bean et al 226). I think this quote emphasizes the use of SAE as a tool to be used under certain circumstances, and that the idea of "taking audience and purpose into account when choosing a particular rhetorical strategy"(Thurston 361) is the most important aspect of what writing teachers have to teach their students.
The Grammar Thing … Anderson & Neuleib/Brosnahan
I hate grammar. If you have read anything that I have ever posted you will see this. That being said, I understand the importance of what is being discussed here. If teachers do not know their grammar, how can they be expected to teach their students grammar? What a vicious little cycle this is. Neuleib/Brosnahan argues that "…writing teachers need to study the historical background of grammar, be well-acquainted with better descriptions of language, and appreciate relations among different grammars"(151). When?
The problem with this approach is that she is only teaching Black English to a lot of students who already know it. It is like preaching to the choir, and there is no real teaching going on. Her examples from literature don't mean much because very few people go on to be like Alice Walker or Langston Hughes. She is ultimately doing the students a disservice by not teaching them much of anything new.
SAE needs to be taught to these students because: 1) they don't know it and will need it to get a job that pays well (in general, unless they are going to go on to be millionaire rappers or something else where BE is more of an asset than SAE), and 2) it is a standard of symbols not unlike many others we accept on a daily basis to make communication faster and more efficient. So, it is about upward social mobility and making everything more efficient for everyone involved.
Think of all the symbols we routinely process and the automaticity of our responses to them, things like red lights, green lights, the Whataburger "W," or the middle finger of the guy you offended by running that red light when he had a green light to get to that "W" a little faster. Anyway, the point is, we either accept or don't accept these symbols as a matter of course in order to get things done faster in a society of many people and as many possibilities for signs.
With language, essentially a system of symbols, there has got to be a standard in order to get things done quickly. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it is standardized. Everyone has their own dialect of English, not just Black people, but we all make sacrifices in the name of efficiency of communication and in the name of the solidarity that an agreed upon dialect gives us.
This article does a good job of pointing out the reasons why another culture might reject SAE. The example is of the Navajo culture and the idea that they may equate SAE or the White man's English with oppression. Yet, ironically, and perhaps tragically, those students are attempting to become a part of that same world that offends them so.
I think that you can only bridge gaps between people so much before some sacrifices have to be made. As has been shown in many scenarios of upward mobility, it is usually the underclass that ends up sacrificing its identity in the name of upward mobility if upward mobility is determined to be more valuable than hanging on to one's original set of values. In music, it is called "selling out." In many cultures, it may be called "trying to be White" or something of the sort. With poor Whites, it is called "forgetting where you came from" or "trying to be better than you (we) are."
At any rate, historically, the student ends up making the sacrifice, not the institution, and that's why you often have those high dropout rates in those population segments. In those cultures, family and social acceptance are generally valued higher than education (because family and friends can always be counted on, and the university is only there for you if you produce, and only if you produce good SAE - which one sounds more comforting to you?).
Is there any easy way around this? No, but I think it obviously best to not devalue students' home language. At the same time, one should still teach SAE with the knowledge that the largest portion of a class is there to learn how to write for college courses or professionally. If a student's goals aren't the same as those, then one might question why they are paying to go to college when they could do what they want or are accustomed to for free.
So, again, my point is that nearly everyone who wishes to "move up" in society makes sacrifices of dialect for the sake of education or for the sake of being respected by society at large (think about how much G.W. Bush was disrespected in media for saying "nucular" instead of "nuclear" among other things).
In the end, it doesn't matter to employers or the people who will evaluate your thesis or dissertation what color you are or what dialect you prefer or whether or not your people were slaughtered and sent to live on reservations. It only matters that you conform largely to the norm of the day (SAE). Sure, a person can take their chances and possibly put out some great piece of literature that will be latched onto by the academy and adopted as canon, but how few and far between are those people?
Sure, that was cynical, harsh, and even a little naturalistic, but is it not in many ways true of what normally happens?
Janice Neuleib and Irene Brosnahan
This essay is about the necessity of grammar in the classroom. I must admit that, because I changed my undergrad major to straight English, I avoided taking grammar here at TAMUCC (on purpose! Just Kidding! Or am I…). I’m not sure if I agree with the young high school teacher in this essay who claimed “grammar was of no use in teaching writing” (146). I think grammar is necessary, but if students are bombarded with it, they may lose their grasp of the concept. I somewhat remember doing grammar exercises in middle school almost every day and it was so tiring! But, I did retain some of the material (I think). According to the authors, the teacher made the mistake of “taking the words teaching of formal grammar to mean knowing grammar” (146). While they note from Meckel “there is no conclusive evidence that that grammar has no transfer value in developing composition skill,” they feel the preparation of teachers is the crucial issue in teaching effectiveness” (147, 149). I agree with this statement because I have had a couple of bad grammar teachers. I could tell they did not like what they were teaching and, as a result, the entire class either did not pay attention or were vocal about their opinion on the subject. I really liked the last quote, “when teachers do more than ‘cover’ grammar, writers will improve their writing by using the grammar they have learned” (151). Not that I am an expert grammarian (very far from it) but I have taken what I managed to absorb from my middle school years and used it to the best of my knowledge.
This was about AAEV. I have yet to encounter a student who used this dialect, so I’m not that familiar with the topic. While I feel dialects are important to one’s individuality and culture, I agree with Darcy that I’m not qualified to make a judgment about whether or not this is good for students’ growth and development. I don’t think students should sacrifice who they are, however I feel they should learn SAE for educational and communication purposes. Not that everyone should sound the same and have the same “newscaster” voice, but I think code-switching would be beneficial to students and help them in the future. The author mentions how “white English in America is standard English” (342). Of course if we recall American Tongues so many white Americans had thick, sometimes hard to understand, accents. So, I don’t necessarily think AAEV is the most problematic dialect there is in this country, but I feel it is the most scrutinized.
I liked this essay because it discussed the struggles of Native American students in English courses, which is a topic I think is overlooked. The author mentions how these Navajo students come from traditional and slightly “dominant” influenced families and many live in poverty on the reservations. She notes, “to middle-class faculty, this level of poverty may seem inconceivable, but I assure you it is real, ad it is a factor with which many, if not most, Navajo students struggle continuously” (358). While students on this campus can print using their sand dollar card, some of Thurston’s students would continue to submit hand-written work because they couldn’t find a dollar to print their assignments. How awful! The author also mentions how only 21 percent of Navajo on the reservation speak English, so the students that attend college do not have the same grasp of SAE as Anglo students. She also mentions, “Navajo students typically take more time to consider a response to a question-a few seconds longer than most Anglo instructors are willing to wait” (362). I found it interesting, although not surprising, that the Navajo students are ambivalent towards western education. Although I don’t live on a reservation, I could see how growing up in an isolated and close-knit community could affect how one would view western education and what I should entail. When they attend school, they have to abandon their language and cultural ideals in order to succeed in the classroom, something that poses a problem for them. I liked the last sentence, “…it is time to look beyond these factors and work to mitigate all the barriers that all minority culture students face” (366). I feel that she makes a very good point about blaming failure on bilingualism or lack of knowledge of SAE, when there are concepts about other cultures teachers need to be aware of.
Sean’s knee-jerk reaction & some deeper introspection
Neuleib and Brosnahan, and Anderson:
Being familiar with Bartholomae’s “The Study of Error,” as well as the work of Lindemann and Sommers concerning responding to student writing, I came into this dialogue with a distanced approach to grammar instruction. I have never been afraid to point out ways in which grammar works to students, but I have never marked a student’s writing with what N&B refer to as “Grammar 4” corrections. The kind of “mismatch” that is described by them certainly addresses some of the misconceptions about correct or “proper” grammar that I think exist among students and teachers alike as far as what is right and wrong (151). I think this applies especially in the case of basic writing, in light of one of the criteria we came up with for defining basic writers: i.e., students who believe they are incapable of good writing. With this in mind, I think that my practices do not stray too far from the techniques described in these two articles and I am happy to admit that I have been consciously working to improve my ability to detect the patterns of development that intuitive grammatical choices indicate in my own students’ writing. One thing I have been struggling with, though, is my ability to convey the things I learn about my students’ grammatical choices (especially those that are “less standard”) back to them in ways that are meaningful, and in a timely enough way that they can use their understanding within the framework of my semester with them. Perhaps it is just my relative inexperience, but I feel as though I am often just beginning to be able to articulate to my students some of the more intricate observations I have made before they are trying desperately to produce a polished document for their final portfolio. Maybe I am just trying to do too much in a first-year composition setting? Perhaps that speaks to the integration of basic writing in the curriculum here at TAMU-CC, but I really feel that I should be able to make the same kind of connections for the THEA-liable students in my classroom that I can usually make for those students that come into the classroom with more skill and confidence beforehand. Anyhow, I am interested in applying some of the things from Anderson’s chapter into my peer-editing workshops to see if I can participate in the editing aspect of it and better convey some of my own understanding in a collaborative way.
I found this article to be consistent with some of the conversation that I had earlier in our groups about the difference between developing students’ understanding of Standard English as a practice and teaching students to use SAE as a subversive tool. Dr. Murphy brought up the fact that bell hooks promotes the instruction of SAE to minority students and non-SAE1 speakers so that they will have the opportunity to succeed, a concept that I initially felt bad for disagreeing with. I admire bell hooks’ work and was reluctant to diverge from the idea that students need to be able to conform to SAE norms in order to break through socially stratifying traditions in the workplace and beyond. I felt, instinctively, that the problem lie not with the students, though, but rather with the instructors who reinforced the structures of the workplace by encouraging conformity. Jordan’s article about Willie, and especially his un-edited essay reprinted at the end of the article, reaffirmed for me that it is not the students who benefit from conformity, it is the authority structures that perpetuate SAE as the standard in the first place. I would love to be able to suggest a way that we could create and promote more adaptability from the top of the power structures instead of having to expect mastery of unfamiliar practices. This is especially problematic when we consider that those skills are not uniformly divergent from students’ native skills and are thusly unequally adoptable for different ethnographic groups.
The message in this article seems to echo the idea that we, as teachers, need to be more understanding of the diversity of student backgrounds. Thurston describes the way in which NCC attempts “to eradicate ethnocentrism” by providing context for the probable differences in Navajo and instructor lives(363). While this strategy seems valuable to me in terms of communication between student and teacher, I think it overlooks the level of difficulty that the students themselves confront when trying to bring their own cultural identities into the academic forum. Thurston articulates the need for SAE as a skill “required for success in the world beyond the Navajo Nation’s four sacred mountains,” but doesn’t address the issue that Willie Jordan faced: why aren’t other cultural practices allowed to produce successful participants in a society that promotes freedom and individuality (360)? Thurston is justified in asking us to “work to mitigate all the barriers that all minority culture students face;” but I think we must also work to develop an awareness outside of academe about the possibilities of multicultural practices being beneficial in ways that a strict adherence to standard writing practices, to say nothing of more physically rooted power structures, cannot recreate (366).
Bean, et al.(especially et Elbow):
The complication to the discussion that this article affords really spoke to me in terms that address the way I’ve approached the Jordan and Thurston texts. I feel that inclusion of native languages and “mother tongues” into writing instruction is a powerful way for teachers to give authority to cultures that are non-dominant and to provide insight into SAE practices that does not preclude the importance of other forms of language literacy. As I said, I do not think provision of background knowledge about their probable cultural confrontations is enough for teachers to be able to have successful experiences in diverse classrooms. In the same way, I think that giving up the authority of language in certain instances reflects a more cosmopolitan and multicultural perspective that is, in turn, more indicative of a progressive worldview. I feel as though that kind of environment in the classroom would go a long way in reimagining the power structures that limit “good writing” to SAE in the first place.
Tammy The Anderson reading focuses on effective methods of grammar instruction. Although the grade level of the students is middle-lower grades, his methods might be applicable to other students as well. Anderson, like many others, puts grammar and mechanics instruction within the “context” of the writing assignment. I see that there are a lot of good techniques which will allow students to formulate grammatical skills and knowledge without any drills or right and wrong answers. Another thing I liked about Anderson’s technique is that he “revisits” areas which might need further reinforcement. The use of grammar “games” seems to be a popular way to teach grammar now. The instructor I observed at Del Mar used some similar methods. Obviously, if learning is fun for students they will most likely retain more of what they learn. The “writer’s notebook” seems like an effective approach to a difficult subject. Jordon is an interesting read. I thought that her approach was effective as well because she focuses on the students’ “audience and purpose” as well as their “own voices.” The distinctions between Standard English and Black English she lays out are something I’ve never seen put into rule form before. I thought it a bit strange that there are actual rules because I had always thought of Black English as being without specific rules. So, that was something new. I know that AAVE is a vernacular, but I can now see how it is opposed to Standard English in many ways; for example, “if you want to say something really positive, try to formulate the idea using emphatic negative structures.” It really works well for emphasis. I can see that the move away from Standard English is beneficial for many reasons. It allows for cultural pride, acceptance, diversity, and writers who use this form will have more rich authentic texts. Although, on the other hand, it is still important to have options and be able to switch back and forth as needed. In Neuleib and Brosnahan, the need for grammar instruction is discussed. I think they are quite right; students need the right kind of grammar instruction, and teachers who know how to evaluate errors as signs of growth. While traditional grammar instruction may not be effective in the writing class, the new methods being developed address the needs of students, so that seems like effective teaching to me. Language diversity should always be at the head of instruction. Grammar instruction should avoid anything harmful which belittles a student’s background and culture. The readings show that there are ways to do this.