Thursday, April 26, 2007

Basic Writing and Second Language Writers

think that this class has taught us that it is very difficult to define a basic writer. Shaughnessy attempted to do this, and Horner reflected back on her definition, but I think we can all come away with a definition that fits our own needs.

While writing my research thesis I tried to differentiate between creative, advanced, experienced and academic writers, and found that the definition can either overlap, be close to another or mean nothing of what I thought they meant. I think the same problem holds true if we try to define basic writers. In "Basic Wrting and Second Language Wrtiers: Toward and Inclusive Definition," Matsuda (2003) writes about a quote by Slager (1956) and the problems faced with how definitions can pigeonhole students. Keep in mind that htis happened years ago. "To many teachers and administrators at institutions where ESL programs or courses were already available, “an obvious solution” was “to put the immigrant and the foreign student in the same class, since their test scores prove to be comparable” (Slager 25). Aren't we glad those days are gone? I do think we are better for disregarding this practice.


As this class comes to an end, I think that we will find that the definition of the basic writer doesn't actually mean that much to us. We will be more concerned that the students considered basic writers are in our classrooms, and instead of labeling them, or searching for labels, we will be wondering what strategy works best to help them.

I hope all of us have learned something, or many things, that we can take into our respective classrooms. I wish everyone all the luck in the world.

Works Cited

Matsuda, P. (2003).Basic writing and second language writers: toward and inclusive
definition. Journal of Basic Writing. 22, 67-89.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Issues of Attitude and Access

I was reading through a fellow classmates blog, and commented that I thought Pavia made a valid point when Pavia states, "students were at a disadvantage when compared to their classmates who were more experienced in using computers" (6). However, as I thought about it more in order to write this post, I began to wonder just how many students are "computer disadvantaged?"
I think it would be fair to say that basic writing students who are computer disadvantaged are few and far between. Particularly, if these students are incoming freshmen straight out of high school--I have a hard time imagining that they are not computer literate to a certain degree. However, if you take a non-traditional student (let's say a displaced mother of 3 who hasn't seen the inside of a classroom since the 70s and the last computer screen was monochromatic and required coding before any output could be rendered) then I can totally agree with Pavia's statement.
I think the important message in her article is that "I explore the writers’ differing attitudes towards computers, writing, and writing with computers" (Pavia, 8). So this tells me that she might collect some sort of information about her students--particularly attitutes about computer usage before she allows them to run free-for-all into a computer writing lab where some of them might freeze at the sight of MS Word.
As I stated in my fellow classmates post, I think there is a medium between lab and classroom that we can meet, and should probably follow some of Pavia's experience when thinking about using the lab as the sole tool for our student's writing.
Works Cited

Pavia, Catherine Matthews. "Issues of Attitude and Access: A Case Study of Basic Writers in a Computer Classroom." Journal of Basic Writing 23.2 (2004): 4-22.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Emergence of a (Reluctant) Reader

For this post, I chose to write over the reading assignment posted on Techsophist. net titled: Remixing Basic Writing: Digital Media Production & the Basic Writing Curriculum . One of the comments that stood out to me by the author was "I place a lot of value on process when I evaluate student performance in my basic writing course, maybe even moreso than in my first-year course. Because of the relatively small class size and the amount of face-time I get with each student on a daily basis, I have the opportunity to obtain a lot of information from them through reflective writing or conversations about the different rationales or strategies they consider as they create and revise their pieces" (McCorkle). As basic writing instructors, wouldn't it be a perfect world if we could concentrate on process as much as the author is allowed to do without the burden of placing so much emphasis on content and corrections? I think this can only happen in classrooms were the student to teacher ratio is very low. In the majority of college classes, I would find this approach to process focus to be to individually focused to be beneficial for the whole class. As an instructor of English Composition at a small Junior College, I know from experience that if you try to help one student, even if it's after class, with their writing process--basically serving as a proofreader and editor, then once students learn that you are doing this for one, then they expect it for all, and that's just not realistic.

Works Cited

McCorkle, Ben. "The Emergence of a (Reluctant) Reader." Remixing Basic Writing: Digital Media Production & the Basic Writing Curriculum Spring2007 April 11, 2007 .

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Patterns of Success

We have been discussing in class why we feel that some Basic Writing students' attempts at putting together coherent papers come out so poorly. We've discussed the possibility of these students being in a new environment with new concepts, new expectations and a different mindset than high school, and we have considered that perhaps this might be their downfall. I think the chapter for this week in "The Discovery of Competence" backs this up somewhat when it speaks of the diverse students and the differences they were encountering. For example, the book states that "These patterns [of differences in age and background] differ greatly from those used in the schools, and many of our students have had little successful academic experience; they are unfamiliar with the norms and conventions of academic discourse and with the patterns of thinking that underlie its forms" (Kutz, Groden, Zamel 94). I think this is comparable to what our Basic Writing students are going through as they encounter the changes to their lives that coming to college requires, and the levels of stress they go through probably contributes to some of the examples of poor writing that many students have experienced.

But then the authors go on to state "But they bring a rich diversity of perspectives that have been shaped by their differences in class, race, culture, age and gender and that diversity enriches the work of our classrooms, making possible a shared examination of how knowledge is constructed. . . " (Kutz, Groden, Zamel 94). I think that if we make use of this diversity in the classroom when thinking ahead to assigning work, then we might possibly be able to see better writing because they will be writing about what they know and not about what we expect them to know.

Works Cited
Kutz, Eleanor, Groden, Suzy, and Zamel, Vivian. The Discovery of Competence: Teaching and Learning with Diverse Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook , 1993.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Positive Aspects of Peer Editing

Last week we discussed "negotiation" and dealing with basic writers. Horner talks about this in "Representing the Other," but he focuses on the editing process rather than allowing "negotiation" as autonomy for the student. I believe that peer editing is a good opportunity for basic writers to critique the work of other students. The reason I believe it is good is because when students have an exchange of words and ideas, when they see the positive or negative development of a basic writing fellow student, when they are just simply emerged in another aspect of the writing process, it allows them to inherit knowledge, realize that they are not the only students who make mistakes, and see how their papers can improve with proper attention to detail while editing. Horner states, "How might we teach editing as such a process of negotiation? My suggestions fall into two categories: practices in conferences or small groups with individual students, and more general practices in writing assignments and class discussions" (158). As graduate students in a class in which group discussion is a familiar tasks, I think we can all agree that this method helps us better understand the topics we cover--I know it does for me. We have a certain allowance to negotiate in discussion, and we should allow basic writers the same benefit. Conferences, small groups and writing assignments also help students better understand the writing process as mentioned earlier. I'm glad Horner made this statement because I believe we should always keep his suggestions under advisement. We may use them ourselves one day.

Works Cited
Horner, Bruce, and Min-Zhan Lu. Representing the "Other". Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999.

Friday, March 2, 2007

"Strangers" of the Frontier

Although this blog entry may read as if I have gone completely off tangent, I think the core of what I will try to get across is essential to Horner’s explanation of the vision of basic writing in the “frontier territory” of the past.

I will relate to it with this quick family history concerning language. My mother is one-half Cherokee Indian. She was raised in a home that was isolated from the “white” class by tradition, economics and some racism. The home was also inhabited by my grandmother and grand –uncles and –aunts, who were all full-blood Cherokee and spoke only the Cherokee language. My mother was not immersed in the English language (other than through the occasional visitor or trip to town for essentials) until she reached grade school at the age of 8. This becomes the point where Horner’s reflection ties this anecdote together. He states that “In the history of the American “frontier,” not everyone was a stranger, but the strangers, with the considerable firepower, on encountering native inhabitants of the territory, decided the natives were the strangers, “true outsiders,” “outlandish,” or “foreign.” These they tried to convert when they weren’t trying to eliminate them from the territory altogether” (123). Although this quotation deals with a historical time decades before my mother was born, it still held true when she was a child. When she began school, she was looked at as the “outsider” and not the native inhabitant. She was forced (a harsh word, maybe) to learn the language of the ruling class, and was encouraged to disregard her native tongue.

I think the point that Horner is making in the reading, relates to this disregard of native languages, and a “forced” inclusion of the English language onto all students of other languages who enter college classrooms. As teachers of basic writing, we must remember that we have no right to disregard the language that is indigenous to students, but should embrace other languages, and if needed, work them into the curriculum in order to help basic writers with foreign language backgrounds succeed. In doing so, we will help students become better basic writers, and by showing respect for their native languages, we will develop closer ties with the students, and that is a win-win situation for both teacher and student.

Works Cited

Horner, Bruce, and Min-Zhan Lu. Representing the "Other". Urbana, IL: National
Council of Teachers of English, 1999.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Propositions on Errors

Since I made a mistake and wrote two entries for last week’s assignment, I get the benefit of adding another one to my repertoire.

Shaugnessy makes two points in “Errors and Expectations” concerning propositions on errors. The first one she discusses is that “errors count but not as much as English teachers think” (120). The other is “The teacher should keep in mind the cost to himself and the student of mastering certain forms and be ready to cut his losses when the investment seems no longer commensurate with the return” (122). I bring these two points to attention because I can relate to what Shaugnessy is saying here. As a teacher, it is often impossible to make a negative call on each error that occurs in a student’s paper. Many times it is an error that will keep repeating itself throughout the lifespan of the semester, and the student will never quit making the mistake. As distasteful as it is, an English teacher sometimes has to “look the other way” so to speak, in order to get through the grading of numerous papers filled with errors.

It’s also true that teachers sometimes find it necessary to know when to “cut their losses” when trying to help a student fix a problem. There are too many faces in the classroom to keep coming back to the same one over and over again in order to give attention. There will come a time when we will just have to realize that although it may not be in the best interest of the student, we have to move on and work with someone else.

I do find it shocking that Shaughnessy writes about this in the book. I have often felt that I have been under too much pressure to correct every mistake, and work with every student who made repeated mistakes in order to be a good teacher. However, after reading that this is what other teachers need to do in order to survive the classroom, it makes me understand that I am not the only person who has come across this problem.

Works Cited

Shaugnessy, Mina P.. Errors and Expectation: A Guide For The Teacher Of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.