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.