Butch’s Response for 03 April 2007

TDW: “Using Problem-Posing Dialogue in Adult Literacy Education” by Sarah Nixon-Ponder

MBW: Returning Adults to the Mainstream: Toward a Curriculum for Diverse Student Writers” by Barbara Gleason

Both of these articles were of special interest to me not only because I am a nontraditional student today, but also because I started out as one in 1982 and learned to begin writing in the academy as a basic writing utilizing many of the suggestions that Gleason cites in her article. After growing up in South Texas during the turbulent 1960s and realizing that I alone was not going to change the mindset of an antebellum dominant culture that prevailed in my hometown of nearby Beeville in 1973, I quit high school and enlisted in the Marines. Thankfully my aptitude demonstrated that I had enough intelligence to be placed in communications and I did not have to become a grunt (infantryman). After fours years in the Marines and an additional three years of a failed marriage in Arizona, I returned home to Beeville and decided I wanted an education, especially since Uncle Sam was picking up the tab. I took the GED exam at what was then known as Bee County College, and passed with flying colors. I had decided I wanted to be a news reporter and the college at that time had a Journalism program, so I enrolled in it along with the other required core subjects.

In my English 1301 course, the first assignment the instructor gave the class was for the students to write a personal narrative to be turned in during the next class period. I wrote about a mountain climbing accident that befell me in the San Gabriel Mountains outside of Los Angles in 1980 and turned in the assignment during the following class period. When we returned the next week and much to my surprise, the instructor handed out copies of my writing assignment to the class and used it as an example of what he was looking for in narrative writing. I can remember how proud I felt when he announced this, but it also caused me to wince when we went over my paper and I noticed mistakes and editing issues that I wish I would have corrected before handing the assignment in. I can look back at this moment and truly admit that it was a turning point in my academic life because it let me know that my writing skills were at the college level. In her article, Gleason discusses a curriculum for mainstreaming that includes language/literacy autobiography, storytelling and story writing, student interview reports, and an ethnographic writing project all of which I agree contribute to the development and motivation of a basic writer.

Meanwhile, I found the article by Nixon-Ponder concerning problem solving somewhat interesting, but a little hard to believe that it works as well as the author wrote that it did. While her class was successful in coming up with a solution to the childcare issues, she does not mention if it was ever viable and if it was a success after the semester was over. What I would have liked to have known was what happens when a class does not arrive at a viable solution. What happens then? Nixon-Ponder uses the problem solving technique as a solution to all problems, but I am sure that this would not be the case if her class had addressed a problem like rising tuition costs or controversial issues such as abortion or homosexuality.

Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response April 3

Adults returning to the classroom are a special group of students and present the problem of teaching simple skills to mature students. I love my adult students at Del Mar in my evening 1301 classes. They are a challenge but one I welcome. I can’t begin to articulate the differences in them and their younger classmates. That said, the articles on ethnographic research and problem posing both seem to encourage critical thinking and problem solving skills; true. But I am wondering when and how in all this “facilitating” and “empowering” does the teacher teach the writing skills and product that will be required of the students in all future college coursework?

In ethnographic research, students choose an area or group of interest and immerse themselves in it, observing, recording, studying, and reporting on it. They “own” the research and originate a thesis based on the needs of that community; instead of taking a side of an issue to argue, they discover the issue and their opinion. I do this to an extent in my own 1301 classes, both at Del Mar and in the dual credit class. I recently had a student take an interest in beachfront development and how far development should be from the dunes, and how the new laws will affect Corpus and Port Aransas residents. Then based on her research she formulated a thesis and developed an argument paper. However, here the similarities apparently end, because she was required to also have other sources in addition to interviews and field observations. She quoted from several newspaper and magazine articles throughout her essay, which was typed, complete with Works Cited list, and in MLA form. Now, she is not a basic writer, so I am wondering if that is why the students in the article (as far as I could tell Liam was the exception) did not learn and incorporate this extra step of researching.

Ethnography may be less daunting than the standard research paper, and students do learn to use primary sources (interviews, field observations), but I am wondering if the two could not be combined for the final result, at least on a small scale (the research skills). Students might enjoy finding out and reporting what others had to say, for and against, their own proposals. They would still be primarily progressing from oral to written language which is a good method with basic writers, but near the end of the semester another phase might be introduced which would at least introduce them to expectations they will encounter as they pursue higher education. The author of the article even asserts, “All students entering college, regardless of writing placement test scores, benefit from immediate engagement with assignments that foster critical reasoning, interpretive reading, analytical as well as narrative writing, and persuasion” (MBW 141).

It’s nice to choose a topic of interest and to solve problems with a group, but I am not sure that is outlined in the course objectives, and I’m sure it won’t be measured in the timed assessment. It’s a nice place to begin, but unless accompanied by writing process and product instruction, it’s an empty package with a fancy bow. --mm

Melissa Pena

I think both these articles illustrated that nontraditional students, and in this case adult learners, require a different kind of instruction than your traditional just-out-of-high school student. I never considered interviewing or ethnographic study to be tools for adult learners, but obviously it is a great resource for these students. I am thinking about Adam and Olaf's approach to the First Year Writing Program and their reasoning behind primary research, and the Gleason article seemed to reinforce their pedagogy. I also found it interesting that both the weak and the strong writer benefited from ethnographic study; with that being said, using strategies such as ethnography can be an asset for a mainstreamed class, for the student is being challenged as much as he/she desires. I think I'll keep that in mind...

As for the Nixon article, I also liked the approach that the teacher used with her adult learners, and it also reminds me of the First-Year Program with the assignment sequence of identifying a problem, identifying how one connects to that problem, and finally, offering a solution to that problem. It all makes sense, because it involves the student and makes learning relevant to their lives, but I honestly believe that teachers don't use the problem-posing approach because it requires a lot of give and take from the teacher. The teacher has to be willing to care enough about her students to take interest in the lives of her students. She also has to conduct research in order to be informed and thus able to provide input and feedback. It's just much easier with the banking model--knowing something that the students don't know and having something to teach them. To teach using the problem-posing method requires the teacher to step down and be willing to learn from her students: not many are willing to go from teacher to student.

In all, however, I think that both approaches to adult education make complete sense. Though I have no experience whatsoever with adult learners, I can see through the illustrations provided by Nixon and Gleason that there are effective ways to approach and teach these students how to write.

Gleason’s argument for using students’ “existing language forms as a bridge to acquiring academic styles if thinking, talking, and writing” (p. 221) as a way to develop literacy provides an alternative to the skills/mastery approach that dominates much current basic writing practice. One of the strengths of Gleason’s argument is that she presents such literacy development as writing rather than the “not-writing” we have seen in so many of the articles we have read in this clasp; by doing this, Gleason offers support for practices that seem to veer from skills-based curriculums and benchmarks. I am less impressed by the proposed use of ethnographic studies writing as a bridge to academic writing. This argument, or model, seems to me to still compare personal narratives to an academic standard. It is valuable, I believe, to show that home varieties make meaning in the same way a privileged variety, but I don’t think it is necessary or beneficial to validate a home variety in terms of completeness and rhetorical clarity (p. 233). To me, this suggests that the qualities we ascribe to academic writing actually exist, objectively, as opposed to being constructed.

The problem-based teaching Nixon-Ponder describes may also help students develop their identities as writers. However, the problem/question framework of the model implies that the describe-define-personalize-discuss-discuss process is universal and will meet the needs of all students. The case studies describe what were probably successful classes, but I’m not sure whether the courses/activities achieved what Nixon-Ponder claims they did (i.e. critical thinking and independent development. I’d like to know what other patters or process might be used in the classroom.


Nixon’s article was short, which is always appreciated, but I felt like something was missing. I really can’t put ,y finger on it just yet. Her incorporation of “Problem-Posing” is interesting and I think, as she says, it is not limited to adult learners. Its seems as if this method is employed in the 1301 classes anyway (to some degree). I do agree that adult learners bring a very different perspective to the class and it is valuable. They are likely to be involved in service learning projects and etc. because they may be more invested in their local communities as tax payers, voters, and parents. I really do not buy into the notion that adult learners struggle “to enter into an unfamiliar world of expectations, attitudes, ways of knowing, and styles of communicating” (217). I think of all students, adult students have an increased capacity for this. As Gleason asserts, “The older adult students who enter CWE have often been observed by their teachers to be remarkably capable …[and their]writing skills frequently belie their intellectual and verbal capacities” (218). It is the familiarity with the “essayist literacy” that may need some foregrounding.

Gleason’s article was interesting; I whole heartedly support her argument that remediation is inappropriate for adults and love the method her program uses. The four categories, although, really do not, as with Nixon’s assignments, seem all that different. Maybe it is because we are trying to teach the younger traditional students the same awareness that the adult students seem to bring with them already.


<<<<<<< In Sarah Nixon-Ponder's article, "Using Problem-Posing Dialogue in Adult Literacy Education," she discusses the idea of "critical intervention." Problem posing dialogueis interesting, but it seems that some of it is sort of juvenile. I understand the function of personalizing the problem, and discussing, but it seems sort of too compartmentalized. When adult learners talk about their experiences, I think that it is important for them to feel secure, but I also wouldn't want to make them feel as if they are being babied into academia. They aren't dumb...maybe just rusty.

Additionally, in Gleason's article, I think that it is important that we understand the diversity in these students. this is important for any set of students, but it is also interesting to know what adults did before, what is their life experience, and to make sure that they understand that their life experience is just as valid as anyone else's. When we give conventional writing assignments, I think that it is crucial for instructors to find diversity even in their assignments such as the personal narrative, the exposititory essay, textual analysis, and library research.


The Nixon-Ponder article has close ties to personal writing in my opinion. Most of what the article talks about is relating issues to the student's lives so that they become relevant and give the students a voice. In addition, the article talks about how understanding that others have been through similar experiences validates the student's experiences. This reminds me of the Writing and Healing movement, which encourages personal writing about trauma for the same (and other) reasons. It is interesting to me that this is not represented as personal writing, and I wonder if the people who use these methods consider it personal writing or not.

This assignment also sounds similar to what we do in FYP portfolios, except that not everyone does the same issue. In the same way, the student's writing has a purpose beyond just some randomly assigned topic.

Heather Dorn >>>>>>>