Friday, May 4, 2007

Make It Personal

Even if someone is hesitant to write because they feel they do not know enough about a subject the personal narrative is always an option. Certainly everyone has a personal experience or their own opinions they could write about a little. It may be difficult to get people to open up, but reading about the actual experiences of someone else may help inspire and give them a good examples from which to start. Often basic writing students feel hesitant about writing because they are afraid to share something that they know is their strong suit.
I found Caleb Corkery's article, "Literacy and Confidence Building in the Writing Classroom," interesting because it combined the subject of using personal writing and confidence issues with students. Some people may say there should not be time spent in a composition class on personal writing, but with very apprehensive writers they need to start somewhere. Usually, basic writing classes are usually a precursor in universities to another first year writing course. However it seems an opportune time to use personal writing to get students off the ground before delving into serious essays and research papers. Corkery makes a good point that "Unavoidably, students must develop their "academic voices" out of the identities they bring with them to college; teachers who focus on the contexts that produce the students' voices gesture invitingly for them to find their place in classroom discourses (48)." This article was very informative because it not only discussed the reasons to and not to have students read and write literary narratives, but also gave brought up composition theory as far back as ancient Greece. Corkery brought up the ancient teacher's belief in use of imitation for students (53-4). It was interesting to see such old theory incorporated.
Literacy narratives are a way to let the students connect with an author and possibly give them ideas on what to write (Corkery 56). Perhaps there is a place for personal writing when teaching composition.

Works Cited

Corkery, Caleb. "Literacy Narratives and Confidence Building in the Writing Classroom."
Journal of Basic Writing. 24.1. (2005): 48-67.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Teacher ID

The point from the Jacqueline Jones Royster and Rebecca Greenberg Taylor article that there should be a focus on teacher identity and not just student identity seems a valid one (214). Also it makes sense that a teacher should look at one's own teaching to see what may be causing problems in the classroom and not just trying to figure out students and classify them. Naturally teaching a class is like most situations in that there is more than one side to consider when confronting the issues that arise. A teacher should not just focus on trying to solve the learning problems of a student. The teacher should also take a thorough look at the methods and style being used in trying to educate the class. Though as it is brought up in the article, the style of pedagogy is not the only source to look at about how one works with a class. There is also one's own background to consider in how that may affect why a teacher does certain things and how one relates to a class (Royster 214).
The keeping of a teacher journal, like the one Taylor kept, seems a very good idea (Royster 219). I think a journal would especially be a good idea for new teachers, but also any teacher could keep one to see if it helps them identify problems they come across with their students. I hope that I might think of using a journal when I start teaching. I may not keep it religiously as Greenberg probably did since she was also doing it for research, though writing down events that are troublesome could be good to look back on later. Hopefully that way I can look at the events more clearly to see what would be best to be done.

Works Cited
Royster, Jacqueline Jones and Rebecca Greenberg Taylor. "Constructing Teacher Identity in
the Basic Writing Classroom." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Landmark Essays. 18. Ed.
Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras P, 2001. 213-33.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Can't You Read the Sign?

Literacy is not as simple of a subject as many might think. If you ask most people if one has to be able to read and write to be literate, they would probably reply, "Of course!" If you asked them if someone who could not read could be considered literate in that person's society, they would likely assume no. Yet if the language they speak has no written form, no one in the society would be considered literate under those terms.
I had not thought about defining literacy too much before this class. Yet Jerrie Cobb Scott in her article, "Literacies and Deficits Revisited," brings up some good points about how the way one defines literacy greatly influences how writing is taught. She makes a good point that being exclusive in such an important definition could exclude and hinder the teaching process (Scott 206).
Her suggestion and "challenge" of "deep restructuring of curricula" is also an excellent idea it seems (Scott 208). When one just changes the problems seen on the surface it is doubtful anything will have truly changed in a program and improvement is probably less likely. Also it makes sense that looking at the various aspects of the education system minutely is vital to making real and effective change (209). It is one thing for a teacher or student to make a complaint about process of education, but it is much more important to figure it why that particular problem is occurring. Hopefully, people in education will not assume a quick fix will do when the classrooms might require a total makeover.

Works Cited
Scott, Jerrie Cobb. "Literacies and Deficits Revisited." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing.
Landmark Essays. 18. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras P, 2001.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Gaining Competence

The classroom experiment that is talked of in The Discovery of Competence was very intriguing to me. I personally would have never thought to venture into really teaching linguistics to basic writing students. I very much like the idea of the instructor as "collaborating researcher with the students (Kutz 92)." I think that has a lot of potential in many classrooms. I would think taking on that role may give students more of a feeling of ease when they see that teacher also is learning beside them.
At first I thought subjects such as ethnography may be too complicated to teach in a class that is about writing and not really meant to be about those topics. However I saw that ethnography and linguistics do not have to be taught by dense textbooks and complicated terms. After seeing the project these teachers used it made sense to teach composition in this way. When it really comes down to it these ethnography and linguistics are all around us and we observe them constantly without necessarily giving them much thought.
Some of the tasks in the projects the teachers assigned seemed a bit labor intensive like transcribing dialogue (Kutz 99). Yet the personal touch of the projects being about family stories and other daily interactions from the students' lives probably encouraged them in these pursuits (127). Though the point brought up in class about the focus on literature techniques and these other areas is a very valid one. Yet at the same time I think these projects do probably help students with their composition skills. It certainly has the them writing a great deal and analyzing the various forms and versions of oral and written communication may help them with their own grammar and style.

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

Friday, March 9, 2007

Under a Spell

Shaughnessy's chapter on spelling in Errors and Expectations was very helpful to me in some ways (160-86). I was always a very good speller when I was a child. I think I am still pretty strong at spelling today. The chapter on spelling was helpful to me to understand the problems others have that I am often confused how they make those mistakes.
I had never actually thought about there being so many reasons behind spelling errors. Even if I had thought about it I am sure I would not have realized there were so many reasons behind misspelling. For example, the "kinesthetic encounters" possibility for problems is something I would probably have not thought of, but it makes sense (Shaughnessy 161). I have that problem sometimes in a certain way, because I sometimes write (or even type) so fast letters are left off of words. I also leave words out when handwriting quickly. I also thought that all the various charts provided were a good thing to include (Shaughnessy 166-80). I am also very appreciative she gave corresponding solutions for the different kinds of problems (175-85). It is nice to have suggestions to have a place to at least start from when facing misspellings. It can be rather annoying when books tell you everything that is wrong without any mention for remedies. Also I was glad the charts had phonemes and graphemes in them. It was nice to have a little review of that. It has been a while since my Intro to Linguistics course.
It would be interesting to see what a more recent book would have to say about spelling and basic writing students, given the tool of spell check. However, overall I found this chapter and our work on the very b-e-n-e-f-i-c-i-a-l.

Works Cited

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Pretty Good Expectations

I rather enjoyed reading Mina Shaughnessy's chapter on expectations of teaching basic writing and expectations of basic writing students (275-94). That segment made me feel fairly hopeful about what effective teaching can do to help basic writing students, but cautious about being too hopeful. Some of her words I found to be ever so true and very important for all writing students and teacher and writers in general to remember is that "Few people, even among the most accomplished of writers, can comfortably say that they have finished learning to write(Shaughnessy 275)." This is so vital for people of lesser writing skills, like basic writing students, but also even for fantastic writers. After all, some of the most published and highly acclaimed writers still frequently attend writing workshops. Many of these talented writers do this not just to teach the other writers attending, but to also learn from their fellow writers. Of course keeping this in mind does make judging people's writing skills not something people should do very hastily, which Shaughnessy brings (276).
Though speaking of judging writing, it is easy to see the improvement a semester of instruction had given to some of the students whose papers she provides in the book (Shaughnessy 277-82). The one that truly struck me was on page 278 in Errors and Expectations. It is hard to believe this is the same student, let alone in the same semester when reading the two examples of writings. Not only is the grammar and syntax much improved, but also the "voice" of the writer seems on another person on another level. It is wonderful to think that if you teach to the best of your ability this might occur. Of course you have to remember there is no guarantee, but there is still that hopeful possibility you could help a dedicated student to that extent.
I also am very glad that Shaughnessy provides a bit of a basic syllabus, which could help you to teach a student to reach such achievement in improvement in writing (289). Even if your first year of students do not make such bounds, at least you may avoid similar results as David Bartholomae's first year teaching writing (Bartholomae 172). Naturally, a teacher has to be willing to be flexible even with such a simple syllabus. A teacher must be willing to adjust to help the class with their particular problems.

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. "The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Landmark Essays. 18. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras P, 2001. 171-84.

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Conflicting Styles

I thought in the essay "Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?" Min-zhan Lu's idea about conflict being vital to teaching basic writing to be an intriguing idea (Lu 136). It made me question my comments of an earlier blog. I had stated earlier that I would want to put my students at ease at the beginning of the class. Now I am thinking they should not get too comfortable, because some friction can be very conducive to writing. So the key thing may be to have the students feel comfortable about the class and writing, but use possible conflict in their writing so as to develop ideas, like for argumentative papers.
When I think back about writing I have done, especially ones I enjoyed doing, they were often started by a conflict I felt passionate about and upon which I wanted to express my views. So if an instructor could get a student to look at writing as a way to air grievances or as a way to express his or her views on a subject it could really help them get started writing. The first draft or two may be very rough rants, but the student could be shown how modifying the writing would strengthen the content and therefore the power of his or her words.
I was glad to be introduced to Lu's idea of conflict in her essay. It gave me something new and important to consider about basic writing. I also liked how she sectioned the kinds of teaching styles and the different instructors who promote them (Lu 136-52). In that way the article gave a good introduction to many kinds of philosophies in the field through the decades. However, I found that with so many examples it was hard to find Lu's own points on the subject of basic writing.

Lu, Min-zhan. "Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies of Preconditions of Basic Writing?" Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Landmark Essays. 18. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras P, 2001. 135-57.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Chicken Scratches to Hunt and Peck

It was kind of funny to me to read about poor handwriting being a sign of poor English skills in Errors and Expectations (Shaughnessy 14-5). I found it funny due to the fact I have been teased about my handwriting for years and I have a B.A. in English. Though I am not saying that I have fantastic English skills. I am usually told my penmanship is horrendous or cute like a third grader's. I am a frequent writer. I write a lot for class and for a creative outlet. I also usually write on paper with my favorite number 2 Ticonderogas. So the use of a computer as opposed to handwriting does not really explain my poor penmanship. Though I think our discussion in class about computer usage now compared to the importance of handwriting during the time of Shaughnessy's book was an important factor to consider.

I found it interesting Shaughnessy put handwriting and punctuation together. Though I love English and am in graduate school, those two fundamentals had always been two of my writing weaknesses. It has made me wonder if my own writing problems have some kind of link as well. One explanation of the connection from Shaugnessy was "Thus matters like handwriting and punctuation and spelling become important, if only because without some measure of ease, without being able to assign some operations to habit, or even to indifference, the novice writer is cut off from thinking (14)." I think one of the differences for me was that I was not self-conscious about it. So helping these students to just write and edit later will help them get their feet off the ground.

Works Cited

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Two birds with one analogy

I rather enjoyed the analogy of the two starlings compared with the teaching of basic writing from The Discovery of Competence by Eleanor Kutz, Suzy Q. Groden, and Vivian Zamel (1-6). I thought the situations worked very well together to illustrate Groden's point. One similarity between the two situations of helping frightened birds and teaching basic writing students that struck me the most is the sheer awkwardness for all who are involved in both matters. I believe that might be one of the biggest obstacles to teaching basic writing. The same I think is true for helping frightened birds. The awkwardness for myself as a teacher is knowing the best way to start the class. The students' feelings of awkwardness might stem from knowing that English is not a subject in which they are strongly competent. That is why I think it would be key to start off the class by putting the students at ease a bit. I think that was demonstrated by the part of the starling analogy where Suzy Groden was asking the birds questions in futility (1). As Groden puts it about beginning to try to catch the birds, "I found this thought rather daunting (2)." I must admit the thought of teaching my first basic writing class is the same. I hope to attain the tools I need to start my first class off in the right direction in this class. I certainly do not want my students to have to keep flying into glass by mistake. Rather I would prefer them to write with flying colors, but one must be realistic that there will mistakes made by them and myself from learning. However one of the keys to it is to keep in mind mistakes are natural and part of the learning process for all.

Kutz, Eleanor, Suzy Q. Groden, and Vivian Zamel. The Discovery of Competence. Portsmouth,
NH: Boynton/Cook, 1993.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What is basic writing

From the different sources we heard from in class on Monday night I started to get a sense of what basic writing is. Basic writing seems to be a style of English that does not focus on aesthetic or any fancy language usage. Its main focus is to be writing that communicates. Grammar and usage are important to writing, but they are not the most important. From what the GAs Janell and Ian and the video of Mike Rose seemed to be saying that getting your students to feel confident about writing is the number one thing. This makes sense if you think about it, because you can not really help someone with their writing if you do not have samples of it. I believe writing is something one becomes more comfortable with, and often better at, the more the practice doing it. So it makes sense to try to find the best ways to get students to commit words to page. Naturally this often differs from student to student. Which I believe Janell mentioned when she said certain students preferred writing about personal experiences and others preferred writing on a subject of interest to them. Another interesting example of this was the story Mike Rose told Bill Moyers on the PBS video about the young boy who was a student of his and a fan of rap music. That he was able to get the boy to start writing by using rap lyrics was great example of how there are many ways to get a student to write. Which getting the student to write in any style is the key to making them more comfortable and therefore more forthcoming with their writing. That is vital for students being able to learn basic writing.