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.