Melissa's Response:

Both readings for today seemed to call attention to a huge problem in basic writing, namely the perpetuation of ineffective teaching practices which ignore students' previous literacy practices. I think the issues raised by Adler-Kassner and Harrington should not be disregarded, but the articles seemed to offer no suggestions for avoiding these pitfalls. If these teaching methods perpetuate bad teaching, how to we circumvent them? The answers seemed very vague--that we should be aware of students' previous literacy practices. Again, I am not sure how that is accomplished. It really seems as if everything is so contradictory. For example, if we teach students formal grammar, we are perpetuating the author function by implicitly telling them that writing is only about certain conventions. But then if we don't teach grammar, again, we are enforcing autonomous literacy because students are not learning the rules of grammar that will give them control of their language and rhetoric, bridging the gap between student and author: "Curricular approaches that help writers employ conventions associated with authorship, but that do not foster the understanding of those conventions, thus have the paradoxical effect of perpetuating the author function..." (21). So it all boils down to this: We don't want the "author function" in our classes, but we want our students to function as authors. Balance, I believe, is key. However, I am not sure where or even what the balance is.

Lately in class we've been grappling with how we define basic writers, and I think that the articles presented by Adler-Kassner and Harrington are of useful for our attempt at a definition, for they answer this complicated question by asking the students, instead of teachers, how they define themselves as writers. Ironically, students think that the writing they do in class is much different than what actual writers do: "In doing so, we learned that students perceive a vast difference between what they imagine to be "writing" and they they are doing in classes and learning in school, a difference that is perpetuated by basic writing classes and placement procedures" (34). In other articles we've read, researchers maintain that the reason there is this disjuncture is that students do not care about what they are writing about in class, for it has nothing to do with the "real world," so they remained distant from their own writing. I agree with Adler-Kassner and Harrington that this problem should be considered and that teachers stop perpetuating it. Instead, teachers should examine what can be done differently (on their part) so that this attitude towards academic writing is changed.

Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Feb 15 BW “An Inward Glance” and chapters 3-4

I am reminded of the line from Jerry MaGuire?: “You had me from ‘Hello’.” This reading had me from the three questions on page thirteen. “What do basic writers do when they write? What makes their writing basic?” – and my favorite – “What curricula strategies can be emphasized to help them move from their positions as ‘basic writers’ to ‘non-basic’ ones?”

This reading took me so long because I kept having to stop and process, think about my own students, and respond in the margins. I was particularly intrigued by the peek into the minds of the various student writers: how they viewed their own work and the writing process. As I think about my own students and talk with them about writing, I see the same things, such as “premature and rigid attempts to correct and edit their work” and “the notion that writing is fundamentally about rules” (17). I wonder how to correct this so they see the balance and connection between content and style. They seem to be able to write more freely without correcting everything on paper as opposed to computer. If they type it they think it is set in stone, as if they are writing the “final draft” while they type. Another thing I notice that is odd to me but common to them: they don’t want everything they turn in to be as “right” as it can be. They will ask before tests or reading responses if “grammar counts” and “do we need to use complete sentences on this?” and “do you want this all correct and stuff or can it be rough?” “How long does this have to be?” Yet anytime anyone is going to read something of mine I want it to be “right,” and the length is determined by what I have to say, not the minimum requirement. Why are these students different? They would rather jot some short, grammatically incorrect messy notes and then tell me verbally what they mean. I want them to tell me on paper.

I had an epiphany reading “I myself have no specific style, no consistency, and usually no idea of what I am doing.” That is like me on the golf course! Sometimes when my tee shot hooks, I have no idea what I did wrong. I experience fear and insecurity. I think I did everything exactly the way I should, but then the result is no good. I never thought about someone feeling that way about writing. Some students have no idea what they are doing and why, and why they get a certain grade.

I also have not considered “curricular approaches, that help writers employ conventions … [without] understanding [them]” (21). I realize I do this sometimes – tell them the “rules” but not the why behind it so that they can understand. I don’t mean saying, “use ‘whom’ because it is the object of the preposition” but giving some real reason that students can understand why things are correct. I also have noticed that they think of what they say and how they say it as separate. Here are comments from yesterday after I returned essays with lots of pencil comments in the margins: “So basically you’re saying I’m a good writer, but I just don’t get grammar right?” and “So I would have made an A if I didn’t have all these mistakes, because you liked my essay, right, you just didn’t like the grammar?” I use the analogy with them of the clothes they wear and the speech they use, making impressions on others. Even though their character is what is on the inside, sometimes it is reflected in how they present themselves. Correctness of style lends credibility to what they say and can cause them to be taken more seriously.

“Writers assume that before [they] can speak [they] must know what [they] believe” (40). When they can’t articulate it or it changes as they write, students are frustrated. They want ideas to be clear to them so they can put them clearly on paper. I am currently teaching one class that response is not analysis or summary. They learn this from reading each other’s. They are amazed after sharing responses on the same reading, that Leah wrote about the lack of parental support, Clark wrote about the brothers’ relationship and wished he had that with his brother, Jilli thought the senile man needed to give up his driver’s license and so did her grandmother, Heather questioned the motivation of another character and compared it to her own, and so on. We talked about what the reader brings to a reading selection – and what the writer brings to the writing process - that colors it, makes it unique for each person. Imagine! This is when I love teaching, and learning, and reading, and writing. Life is good. -mm

Butch's Response for Feb 15 readings

Chapter 2: “An Inward Glance: Basic Writing and Basic Writers in Basic Writing Research” / I believe that this chapter provides a comprehensive overview of basic writing, writers, and research along with some teaching plans and alternatives, but it is the section titled ‘Pedagogical Alternatives: Basic Writing and Basic Writers in Context section that captured my attention. I concur with Peter Rondine’s contention (and so far in our reading I believe that he has been the only one to make this statement) that basic writing students must differentiate between school and home school writing discourses when they proceed to higher education. This goes against some of the other articles that we have read that suggest the opposite. This contention to me is reminiscent of Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory that chronicles his assent from a basic writer to an accomplished academic, but done so by gradually divorcing himself from his Mexican culture and his ‘home discourses.’ I agree with Rondine when he writers that basic writing students “must abandon their home cultures to some degree if they are to succeed, because those cultures often employ language practices that consciously work against the discursive conventions that students must adopt if they are to be successful in the academy” (25). I further agree with this researcher that basic writing students should divorce themselves from home discourses in their writing, but not to the extreme that Rodriguez took his academic success. I believe that one can be a successful academic student without abandoning one’s culture by simple not forgetting it.

Question: Does this divorcing of home culture in basic writing programs marginalize all minorities or just some?

Chapter 3: “I Can’t Just Give You Five . . .” Students Talk About Writing in School” / The section titled ‘Enacting/Acting With: Beginning to Make Basic Writing a Political Act’ raised my interest especially since we were teased by its introduction in this book’s first chapter. The authors of this book in this chapter and section contend that although basic writing classroom teachers and researchers are aware of the vast contexts entailed in their work such as placement testing, the students are not. “But students should know what ‘basic writing’ means – when they are asked to submit the standardized test scores used for placement in some institutions, when they take placement exams administered by others, or when they engage in increasingly popular self-placement sessions” (43).

Question: Texas has had several years of state mandated standardized testing for its students and I’m sure we are all familiar the pros and cons associated with it. If such a great emphasis is placed on studying for and passing these exams, why is it that students are not aware of their meaning and importance with respect to course placement?

Chapter 4: “Student Talk About Literacy Out of School” / In the section ‘Real-Life Writing: Literacy in School and Beyond,’ the authors note that students are compiling a sense of what literacy means to them and that it does not crossover and connect to literacy in school. They also urge for finding ways to “capitalize on the importance of texts – of literacy – in the student’s daily lives” (57). It is becoming increasingly obvious that today’s generation of students are gradually moving away from reading texts in the form of books. Some recent comments from students that I have heard and read in articles and journals point towards other types of media to satisfy text reading requirements such as “seeing the movie” or finding and reading synopsis in websites such as Pink Monkey and Sparknotes. While I do advocate using these websites to become familiar with the readings, I believe that they are no substitute for reading all of the assignment.

Question: Although so far I have not seen any reference in this book to the Internet and the literacy that is required to access and function with programs such as email and websites like MySpace?, does this outside classroom media contribute to a student’s success in a basic writing program and future writing in the academy?

Elva's response

An Inward Glance:Basic-Writing and Basic Writers In Basic Writing Research, Chapter 2 “I Can Just Give You Five…”: Student Talk About Writing in School, Chapter 3 Student Talk About Literacy Out of School, Chapter 4

I like these three questions: What do basic writers do when they write? What makes their writing “basic?” What curricular strategies can be implemented to help them move from their position as “basic writers” to “nonbasic” ones? (13)

This article made me think that basic writing should be the first required class when entering college or maybe in the senior year of high school. I want the class to be named Basic Writing. At the moment, I am thinking like a number person. How many students, while in high school, are thinking of going to college? What is the percentage in college, of basic writers, that do not know how to write? I have wondered while reading these articles is there any dominant students who have the problem of writing. They are always talking about people of color. Not everybody comes to college writing academic English. All these articles write about Mexican, Blacks, Orientals, and all other races. They always refer to these students, just look at the pictures of the book cover. Talking about basic writers, Wendy Bishop called them “student-vacant,” Shaughnessy positioned the students as “linguistic innocents,” (16) Sondra Perl mentioned “tangled in their own syntax,” became confused about distinctions between speed and writing…(17). How can they be helped? What I see is that all these students succeeded in high school enough to graduate but not thinking of college. Then, they enter the working field and realize minimum wage will not do.

Combining all three chapters I saw the process of the basic writer and the misconceptions of what students think about school-based writing and literacy out of school. “The chasm between in-school and out-of-school literacy often leads students to distance themselves from school literacy…(48). The students are used to having their private (out-of-school) world separated from the school community. This quote, “They are building a sense of literacy in their own lives that never gets connected to literacy in school” (57). Could the first question “What do basic writers do when they write?” be an answer to this? They are thinking in two worlds. I think the problem I am gathering is somehow we need to combine both aspects of the students’ lives.

One thing I did learn from this reading is “Teaching writing involves helping students discover that they have something to say about this reading, with their writing-and that someone is willing to listen” (59). We all have something to say but we have to understand it takes practice and practice. These new writing students just want to write one or two drafts and turn it in as a finished product.

<<<<<<< “Casey called a writer “Someone who opens up their mind to another person.” For Collette, writers “express how they feel in words. They write a book about their surroundings, or what they experience” (34). Two semesters ago I interview Diane Gonzales Bertand, a children and teenage book author, and she writes like that. The book I read was “The Last Doll.” I felt the surrounding, the thoughts and feelings of the doll. The doll was speaking in the book expressing her insides. It was so different reading the book.

Erica's Response

As I was reading the readings for today, I was thking about what our original definitions of basic writers are, and to what extent we can actually help them. What do they do that makes their writing basic. If a basic writer is hard to define, then isn't it equally as hard to define what makes a piece of writing basic? Literacy is autonomous. That was one of the phrases that I took some offence to. What is that really saying about basic writers in general? Oh, sorry, can't help you, literacy is autonomous, you know?

One of the other things that I noticed in the article was the line, "a major problem in imporving the reading and writing abilities of basic skills students enrolled in open admissions colleges" (19). This sort of goes back to the discussion that we had last time. Are we hampering students by accepting more of them, or is this simply the way that things have always been?

What types of writers are we really producing? What types of writers are we creating? Can they envision an audience without a red pen, should they? the line that I liked was also, "literacies are not neutral" (24). Everyone has some sort of agenda. I dislike instructors trying to Woodrow wilson their way into results in war.

I think that the metality of writing is something that is deeply rooted in our school system. Grammar and word usage denotes writing. Sometimes i even tell myself that I'm not a "real" writer. I think that the types of pedagogies that we are using are not produing effective writers, but that goes back to what types of writers we are trying to develop. Do we just want to make writers who write? Don't we really want a whole culture that is literate? Writers need to think they are becoming writers in writing classes. Duh. Why hasn't this been happening?

anyway....what to do? this was a thought provoking reading, but it also made me see some of the inherent flaws of a system that needs more than a facelift.

“Casey called a writer “Someone who opens up their mind to another person.” For Collette, writers “express how they feel in words. They write a book about their surroundings, or what they experience” (34). Two semesters ago I interview Diane Gonzales Bertand, a children and teenage book author, and she writes like that. The book I read was “The Last Doll.” I felt the surrounding, the thoughts and feelings of the doll. The doll was speaking in the book expressing her insides. It was so different reading the book.

Anne's Response

Chapter 3’s discussion of how students view writing particularly reminded me of the Academic v. Personal writing debate. There was an interesting division between students who thought writing was a transfer or “transmit[ion] of emotion” (34) and those who thought it was a “transmission of ideas to the mind of the reader” (35). While both academic writing and personal writing can do both of these things, I would more closely connect the transmission of emotion to personal writing and the transmission of ideas to academic writing.

At the beginning of this semester, I talked to Robb Jackson about potential ways to integrate creative writing into my classroom. I described to him my portfolio sequence, and he basically said I was screwed. With the academic intensity of my class, there is no time to practice creative writing. So here would be my potential plan, as rough as it is, to format a first year writing year-long sequence based on how these basic writers view writing:

1301: 1301 would be based on, as Robb said, getting the students comfortable with writing. (I am going to try to make this not transactional.) This would include personal writing like our Citizenship Autobiography, journaling, and writing about what the students want to. I don’t have a definite plan…but you get the idea. The main point would be to not force students to write about what they don’t want to. For example, I do not want students to feel pressured to write about their “immigration to the United States” for the eighth time in their lives.

1302: 1302 would be based on academic writing…or the transmission of ideas to their readers. Papers, etc.

I don’t know…the more I write this out, the worse it sounds. I agree with Robb that we do need to get students to feel comfortable with writing, and yes, you can do that by starting with research papers.

On to chapter four…

On Tuesday, our group reassembled to review our initial definition of what a basic writer was. We actually did not change that much to our definition, surprisingly. (Maybe we were just brilliant to begin with.) One part of our definition that I particularly like was our statement about SAE and Academic language: “A basic writer is someone who does not meet traditional, academic, Standard English expectations.” I really think we could have stopped right there.

Our definition directly connected with the different types of illiteracies each of the basic writing students had in chapter 4. The students had their own set of skills: writing, reading, and otherwise, before entering into college. However, each of those illiteracies did not meet the “standards” expected of those by traditional, academic, Standard English. They’re not dumb and they can write, they just can’t write the way the perscriptives say they should.


I love the ideas that these 3 chapters are discussing. I, like many of the students researched and discussed, never really considered my writing the same as learning to write. I have been known to say that being an English major killed my writing life. I remember when I was young, I wrote short stories, narratives, poems, journals, diaries etc. all for the sake of personal expression. I can see how, after reading, that like some of the students my personal writing was completely separated from my academic writing. The academic writing had no personal context involved—it was autonomous writing in that I forced myself to remove the I from my own writing. The result of this split is that I no longer write for myself at all. I wouldn’t even know how to. I can see how, in a sense, my own outlet for expression was deemed inappropriate in certain contexts, to the point that I don’t even use them anymore. Is this what Linda and Susanmarie are suggesting in chapter two? That scholarship and research has been focused on writing only w/in the constraints of academic discourse and fail to look at the larger context that constructs a writer? Thus, the study of basic writing must encompass all that is the writer—every aspect- because it appears in the natural writing of the author. If not has the institution stripped the writer of its original identity and in its place substituted a discourse that really isn’t multi purpose?

I have felt that way—I can see why students would feel that way. It is quite evident that there is a distinction between the writing the students enjoy and they writing they believe good or correct. I have been that student!

What all this leads me to is the question, “What is my role as a prospective comp. teacher in all of this?” Sure, the ideas hit home-but how to actually employ with skill so that the students learn and develop the authorial identity as well?

“What is my role as a writing consultant?” Am I not just perpetuating the cycle that Linda and Susanmarie discuss? When students come to me for help—to be successful in their writing courses by having me meet with them about their writing—am I not examining these papers through the very microscope that shuts down the real writer in them. I am modeling the accepted academic standard—am I doing more harm than good?

What are the practical approaches to make this better? Mere awareness does not translate into steps to change? What to do?


The “transmission model” that informs current-traditional pedagogy (and that is one of the most commonly held views of language) and the notion that literacy is accumulated knowledge that students need to learn. We tend to present “academic” or “standard” writing as if it were a code that contains meaning rather than a medium for making meaning. I’m not sure if and how a balance could be reached, but I think it’s clear that we overemphasize (or over-privilege) the supposed clarity and completeness that we ascribe to the standard variety. If language and writing are perceived as both passive and already-meaning, the tasks presented to the students make little sense: they are asked to organize thoughts and put them into writing, as opposed to using words to make and negotiate meaning. Adler-Kassner and Harrington describe the process:

“Because most of these students saw writing as a process of transmission from a [passive] writer to a passive audience, when they identified problems with their writing they linked them to a flaw in that process. Something happened, they said, that prevented the ideas in their head from being linked to the objective word forms that would give them external shape and that would elicit the ideas in the writer’s mind” (39)

Discussing and considering the position of the student relative to both the discourse and the pedagogy may help us redefine “problems” and “solutions” so that we will be better able to help our students. It may be that we focus too much on the what and how, and not on who or why. There are interesting ways to approach this; I believe that it is helpful to help students understand that “writing” begins long before marks are made on paper or screen—the actual “paper” is simply a snapshot attempting to represent or express the writing process at a given point. We can also explore the act(s) of expression: an essay or a paper is only one of several different ways to manifest the thinking/writing that’s been done. Adler-Kassner and Harrington quote Yagelsky saying that the student writer is

“understood as a kind of faceless individual who possesses (or does not possess) these required skills that are universally applicable rather than as a member of a language-using community, or perhaps more accurately, as a language user moving across the boundaries of various discourse communities” (41)

While it is obviously important to address and improve external economic and ideological issues that affect students (and teachers), I think our primary concern should be pedagogy and practice; we can only make good choices about what to change and how if we continue searching for new ways to interpret what goes on in our classrooms.


When reading chapter 3, "Student Talk About Writing in School," I was reminded that soon I am going to have to tackle some of these issues. I think that it is important for students to have a connection with what they are writing, but is it possible to get everyone involved in writing? Some students have such a negative view of writing that it is difficult to get them to make a personal connection with it. This is where we need Michelle Pfifer to come in and dazzle them into loving to write, but for those of us in the real world, the stigma against writing is difficult to overcome.

I, too, spoke with Robb about incorporating creative writing into the first year writing classes, and he responded that it is difficult. His approach to teaching writing is to tackle the big problems first and work on grammar and the small stuff later, once the voice and style have been established. However, the problem with this is that no one else really teaches that way. Others feel that it is an injustice to the students--by teaching them writing without focusing on mechanics right away, the students are ill-prepared for academic writing in later semesters. So, does voice still matter, or do we focus more on mechanics so that the students will be able to write empty (but grammatically perfect) papers?

I have been urging my students this semester to feel free to be creative with their portfolio info, and I have received less-than-enthusiastic responses.

It was interesting to read the students' responses about how they define a writer--it's difficult to explain, like when we try to define a basic writer. Everyone has different definitions, but are we supposed to help them redefine their idea of what a writer is or do we accept their definition and simply try to help them get there?


I think these readings really point out reasons for advocating the “transactional model” that we discussed earlier, wherein students’ interests and goals shape the curriculum, instead of the other way around. If students see a disconnect between the writing they do personally and the writing that they do in class, then is what the students are doing in class even helping? To me, it sounds more like an editing class.

The students describe not liking the topics they are assigned and not being interested in academic writing. With a transactional model, the students would pick their topics based on their own goals and interests. In theory, they would pick their genre as well based on those same goals and theories. So why can’t we do this?

I already hear the arguments: That they won’t learn what they need to, that they will only do what they are comfortable with, that they won’t be prepared for later in college.

I’ll address the first argument: That they won’t learn what they need to. How do we know that? And who is to say what it is that they need to know? Why do we think that we know better what they need then they do? They are adults, they are in college, isn’t this assumption a little arrogant? Now I am not recommending that we avoid guidance, but perhaps some students would benefit more from personal writing (both in improving writing and in their lives in general) then they would in writing on some random topic. What we are asking them to do often is simply try to adjust to what we think they need (before we have even met them or know their names).

Now the next argument: They will only do what they are comfortable with. This is possibly true. I would imagine that as they become more comfortable with writing in general, they might branch off into other areas. However, even if they stay within one type of writing, they are still writing! And writing a lot is one thing that helps your writing – at least in the way that it builds your confidence in the practice. In addition, as another article talked about, we have to be willing to give up our “control” in order to meet student needs sometimes.

And finally: They won’t be prepared for later in college. This is where I go back to my argument that one can improve writing regardless of genre. I also wonder if simply making someone do something they don’t want to do really “prepares” them in any way. I can understand asking students to incorporate research, but I would prefer to let them decide how they were going to do this and for what purpose.

Students describe wanting to be able to write “correctly” and one student even describes not being able to get started. If I felt that what I wrote had to be correct, I might not be able to start either. By allowing students to engage in the type of writing they want, in the way that they want to do it, they are given back that “control” that they already feel over their out-of-class writing.

Heather Dorn