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.