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.