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.

Recognizing Competence

In this reading assignment, one of the passages that struck me in “Errors and Expectations” concerned how some students are sometimes found to make impressive strides in their writing during a semester. Shaugnessy writes that “Some students make such impressive strides within a semester that one can only conclude that competence lay, at the outset, barely below the surface of the performance, even though they seemed to start at the same level of skill as other students in the class’ (278-278). Although I can’t say that I have ever witnessed this anomaly, I do believe that it can occur. I reflect back to Mike Rose and his discussion on video during the first night of class and remember how he spoke of how he slipped through the cracks of the system during much of his schooling, only to be awakened at a later stage. This awakening lead to Mr. Rose becoming not only a better writer, but an overall better student. It took the recognition that his test placement scores had been misdiagnosed, and an introduction into more challenging classes to help him blossom into a well-rounded student.

As we begin teaching basic writers in the future, it would be a good idea to remember this lesson. Students can and do prosper in different settings, and sometimes it just takes the patience and encouragement of a teacher or peer to push a student in the right direction. Basic writing can be the stepping stone to future success, but if we fail to recognize the abilities that some students possess, then we have not only failed the student, but we have failed as teachers.

The example in the book of how one student improved his writing skills is a remarkable piece of work. Not only did this student learn how to correct simple mistakes, he also began thinking on a higher analytical level. As teachers we should know that thinking in this manner is what we strive for our students to be able to accomplish, but it takes much work by both student and teacher in order for it to come to fruition. Looking ahead, I know that I will need to pay special attention to students who can perform better and better throughout the semester, and I once I recognize the gift a student have, I should be the first to offer encouragement.

Works Cited

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

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Discursive Voice

When I think about the term "discursive voice," I think of basic writing students, or for that matter, writers in general, who are trying to do something with their writing that they have never attempted before. This might include writing in a different style, a different genre, a new tone, or attempting new dialogue. I have found that many students have trouble when they try to shift their writing styles or when they try to "experiment" with something they are not used to, such as poetry. Many times I have seen a perfectly competent writer lose his or her creative senses when attempting to, for example, write from the perspective of the opposite gender.

The authors of "Representing the Other" discuss Theodore Dreiser and his novel, "Sister Carrie." I have read this novel and find that Dreiser can be used as a good example of someone who is writing from a perspective of different gender. However, students who come across coursework assignments that require them to write dialogue or scenes that include opposite gender characters, often find it very difficult to take their writing to the level of this different point of view.

When discussing the discursive voice and grammatical register of the writer's voice, Min-Zahn Lu states: "On those occasions [deviations in diction, tone, voice and structure], how to sound "right" suddenly becomes a "real" concern for my students: pervasive, immediate, and difficult for me to dismiss" (169-170).

I think the point that the author is trying to get across here is that student writers often try to change their writing styles so much in order to improve their prose or think from a different perspective, that they wind up being thrown off course from their experimentation. I think the best way to approach basic writers would be to instill in them their own writing style, have them stay with the style that fits them, and try not to force too much change in style upon them in order to keep their creativeness flowing.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Ways of Thinking

I like the way the authors of "The Discovery of Competence" break down the different processes students use to think: analytically, dialectically, and figuratively. However, I believe that I have yet to face a classroom of diversely cultural students; therefore, I would have to say that the approach to a student thinking dialectically has eluded me so far. I will probably have to wait until I teach at the Junior College level, or at least in a high school that has a larger student population, to see the effects of students who think in this manner. But I have witnessed students who think both figuratively and from an analytical point of view.

Students who think figuratively often turn out to be more creative thinkers and writers. They are ready to look beyond the surface of texts and dig deeper to find meaning. These types of students also become adept at coming up with argumentative topics about what is read or written. For example, a student who thinks along a metaphorical line is more likely to argue where the fault lies in the deaths of the two main characters of “Romeo and Juliet.” Some might point at the family feud or the immaturity of the lovers; other might lay the blame on the assistance the friar gives the couple or the selling of an illegal potion by the apothecary, or several other possibilities may arise. Students who take a more analytical approach to thinking about reading or writing may not look beyond the surface as much as those who think figuratively. However, if a student who thinks in this fashion reads the same story of “Romeo and Juliet,” he or she would probably be able to form a better ending to the story, or come up with other strategies for the two lovers to be together. These students are problem solvers and their ability to think analytically will help them immensely when writing papers in other fields such as science. A student who can think both analytically and figuratively has grasped the concept of inductive reasoning and also has developed an insight into the details of language.

As instructors of writing, we must be prepared for all three types of thinkers entering our classrooms. “Our students come into our classrooms with ways of thinking and ways of using language that derive from their families and communities as well as from their past schooling” (Kutz, Groden, and Zamel 54). Although I have not been subjected to many students who would classify as deriving a cultural mindset to their thinking, I can see where local customs and colloquialism do come into play in their writing. I also see that practices and mistakes learned from former schooling plays a huge part in how a student develops his or her writing style. Helping a student develop all three ways of thinking should not only help the student become a better writer, but should also allow the teacher to become a better communicator to the student.

Works Cited

Kutz, Elanor, Suzy Groden, and Vivian Zamel. The Discovery of Competence: Teaching and
Learning with Diverse Student Writers. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1993.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

After reading the assignment in "The Discovery of Competence," the second focus of the first chapter reminded me of the time I spent as an undergraduate student in English Composition 201. . . probably the equivalent of an English 200 class here at MSU. What struck me the most about this class was that the majority of the students were non-native speakers of English. Although this has become a common sight in classrooms everywhere, this class gave me the opportunity to see the struggles these students had with a language native speakers take for granted.

After reading Hoffman's account of acquiring a new language during her formative years, it reminds me of exactly what the non-native speaking students had to go through to form not only a coherent paper, but also a coherent sentence, paragraph, and sometimes even word--something that writers, especially those in a class such as this, need not worry about too often. "Hoffman's account gives us some sense of what it means to learn to live in the world of a second language and helps us understand the complexities, confusion, loss, the "verbal blur," as she puts it, that many of our ESL students have had to face and continue to face in their own acquisition of English" (Kutz, Groden, and Zamel 10).

Each time we handed in a paper in this class, one of our added responsibilities was to read at least 2 of our classmates' papers and write something "good or encouraging" about what they had written. I can't tell you how hard it was to come up with either something "good" or "encouraging" for some of these papers, but I did the best I could. Howcver, as the semester toiled on, I began to see the light of what our instructor was doing--she was making us look beyond the errors in spelling and grammar and syntax, and making us look at the composition as a whole. In doing so, I was able to always find something that might please the recipient of my editing, and this method of learning by teaching has stayed with me since.


Works Cited

Kutz, Elanor, Suzy Groden, and Vivian Zamel. The Discovery of Competence: Teaching and
Learning with Diverse Student Writers. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1993.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How do I define Basic Writing?

How does one define Basic Writing? Perhaps Janell and Ian gave us a good grasp of how to teach Basic Writing when they suggested that in order for some students to be successful, it is important to remember that grammar should not be weighed as heavily on the grading scale as should content and organization. For a beginning writer in a lower level Composition course, this statement makes perfect sense.
I feel that Basic Writing is a way of stripping away all the conceptions that a student has learned throughout earlier courses in writing, and concentrating on one element at a time. For example, first concentrate on teaching the student the structure of writing the assignment--let the grammatical errors and the corrections thereof come over time with more practice. By doing this, a student can feel free to explore more imaginatively, and not worry about making mistakes along the way. Of course, mistakes should be noted and pointed out to the student, but once a teacher sees a student making the same mistake over and over in his writing, it is a good indication that some rule of grammar is hard-wired in the student's head, and will only be fixed by re-hauling his work through editing and rewrites.
Mina Shaughnessy in her book, "Errors and Expectations" notes that "So absolute is the importance of error in the minds of many writers that "good writing" to them means "correct writing," nothing more" (8). As Ian stated in class, he finds that some of the best writers are those who score lower on the language/grammar portions of their entrance exam scores than some students who score higher. However, since these scores determine placement, the student with the higher score can be put in a higher level composition course, but may be a poorer writer than the student who had a lower score.
Basic writing, as everyone has suggested, is difficult to define; but as the this class continues throughout the semester and we look back on our first postings, I imagine we'll find much to add, subtract and change about our definitions as we learn more about the process ourselves.

Works Cited

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors & Expectations. N/A. New York City: Oxford
University Press, 1977.