Journal 7 for Basic Writing

Otte & Mlynarczyk discuss basic writing practices and pedagogical theories in their third chapter of Basic Writing. Though the definition of exactly what a basic writer is today may appear murky, there are several ways to go about teaching the basic writer (if they are indeed basic and not just unlucky enough to do bad on a standardized test). As teachers we must find ways to link the students existing knowledge with what we want them to know, but it may be initially hard to understand where the students are coming from since most appear to be frustrated with their “basic” label. The “diversity in purpose and method” that Shaughnessy mentions and O & M discuss as well may be what confuses both politicians and our students about what exactly is a basic writing course and what are the student learning outcomes for these separate course designs. Error was the initial form of judgment regarding whether someone was a basic writer or not; but this turned out not to be terribly accurate as many students make common mistakes but they are not all basic writers. If everyone was a basic writer wouldn't we have to redefine what writing is in order to separate the novices from the experts?

Shaughnessy's rules of grammar had confusing exceptions that probably only confused her students more. Especially because many of these rules have exceptions, that makes them not necessarily rules but guidelines to writing. The problem with rules is that people want to break them or they strangle the writer into a nice little conformed box which is not what we as English teacher want (I don't think at least). The Urban Language series, which was pioneered several years before Shaughnessy wrote Errors and Expectations, was edited by Roger Shuy and had important works by William Labov and Walter Wolfram. I know I have read Labov before but I am not familiar with Wolfram I don't believe. These articles discussed the social and economic issues that surround basic writers. These authors stressed that the goal was not to “eradicate playground English” but to “help children to make the switch comfortably from one setting to another” (O&M 83). Teachers seek to enhance the basic writers learning/ writing experience rather than eliminate and replace- it is not slash and burn teaching. The second teaching complication discussed by O&M is that of tolerance. The College Composition and Communication Conference (CCCC) as well as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) have prepared separately (although some of the contributors are/ were dual members of these communities) teacher guidelines and expectations for our basic writers. Basically we must not berate or treat basic writers any differently just because they are coming to school with different skill sets that may not be typical. They have a place in higher education and we need to acknowledge that place and nurture it rather than tell them they are wrong or inaccurate. Patrick Hartwell performed an overview of Basic Writing research in “Grammar, Grammars, and Teaching of Grammar” that native speakers of English do have a mastery of the language but they may be used to different dialects or conventions depending on the discourse communities in which they actively participate. The third “teaching complication” is the need for correctness. We have been hammering grammar into them since grammar school (literally in some cases if you are not from America).

Marcia Farr and Harvey Daniels claim in Language Diversity and Writing Instruction that teachers may be sympathetic to their students situations but it does not necessarily change their opinion about the importance of grammar. There are many teaching complications for teaching the basic writer, rather than clarify the problem it would seem that the research has compounded it. O&M list approximately 7, the one I find most important would be the last one- the need for consistency. If students do not hear consistent course expectations they pick up on that. They may be basic but that does not mean they are stupid.