Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"Revisiting the Contact Zone"

After reading and discussing Jeffrey Maxson's article on his translation and parody assignments, I was still left with an uncertainty of the effectiveness of his methods. The premise I would think, is that by translating academic texts or prose into slang, the student demonstrates their level of comprehension of that text. However, I don't remember a lot about comprehension (as a concern or object of the assignment) ever being mentioned. And even so, how much should reading comprehension be a part of a basic writing class? The author's objective then is to open up the contact zone between teacher and student. I would say he blew it wide open! He opened up the class papers to vulgar profanity (which would not normally be acceptable in an academic paper), even encouraged racist writings, which in my opinion have little do with basic writing skills. I believe that by encouraging the students to write in the slang they are most familiar with, he is denying them an opportunity to become more fluent in another discourse. I might get some hate comments from that last sentence, but aren't these students in basic writing because they're not familiar enough with standard English?

After reading my paragraph above I've come to the conclusion that I probably don't appreciate or understand contact zone pedagogy well enough. I do hope, however, that "reverence" of academic texts can be challenged in other ways that don't involve such uncomfortable power struggles between teacher and student.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Teacher Identity

Constructing Teacher Identity in the Basic Writing Classroom has been, for me, the most compelling article of the semester. Not only would I of course be interested in the subject of the teacher, but I was deeply impressed with Taylor's ability to assess herself as a teacher. And even more than this, I was surprised and moved that many of the terms she used to describe herself on her journey through Graduate Student teaching sounded an awful lot like those the students of basic writing used to define themselves. This essay drew me in because I could relate to Taylor's writing more than I could to a well-known name in the field like Mike Rose or someone like that.

As far as Taylor's teacher identity journal entries I was struck, as mentioned before, by the honesty she expressed, even when she sounded like a BW student herself. For example she expresses a transition she went through as follows: "Sometimes I felt like I lost a little bit of myself" (219) This is very similar to the process basic writers go through of assimilation. In theory, one must lost a part of the "outsider self" to become a member of the new community. The process for Taylor ran it's course and she was able to replace the part she had lost; "a questioning, engaged and often troubled teacher." (220) This is the journey of the BW student as well. She makes it clear, that through her journal entries and earnest mindfulness of who she is becoming as an educator, that she too is on a search for her academic identity. "This article suggests, then, that teachers might benefit from taking into account ways to engage in dialogue with students about how they are seeing us and not just about how we are seeing them." (227)

Ed. Halasek, Kay and Highberg, Nels P. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Mahway: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 2001.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What is Literacy?

When prompted by the course instructor to define literacy, I, like many others in the class, defined it as the ability to read and write. This seemed to be the main concensus throughout the class. What Jerrie Cobb Scott is suggesting though, is that this is a "narrow definition" that encourages teachers to only look at the problems presented by non-mainstream groups whose literacies may differ (207). While I truly liked her definition of literacy -"ways of knowing, accessing, creating and using information", I am not sure I agree with the fact that to be truly literate one must be able to interpret verbal texts and create a social, personal and academic meaning from it. I still hear or see print advertisements that I just don't get. I'm sure there are many allusions in movies I see that I miss, or if I know it's an allusion to something I don't have the knowledge to comprehend it's meaning. I'm not sure this means that I lack literacy. I think it could point to a lack of cultural knowledge but no more. Ane no, I don't think that thourough cultural knowledge is essential for true literacy. I think that the ability to articulately express ideas and concerns (in whatever language you are operating) on paper or verbally in a manner that is not so egocentric, and the ability to interpret other's attempts to do the same, is literacy. I agree with Cob Scott that the "bottom line is that both knowledge and the care we take in delivering knowledge are important." (212) The more tools an individual has at their disposal to gain and share knowledge can be called the tools of literacy.

Ed. Halasek and Highberg. Landmark Essays. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beyond the Sentence

Here I am writing about Mina again. Perhaps I'll give you some variety next week (Dr. Cadle)!

Wow! That's a lot to swallow for one reading! Mina steps out of some of the practical and gives us some theory. I've chosen to comment on her writing as I enjoy the non-political tone that focuses solely on the education of the student. Of course, theory of education is always going to be somewhat political; but hers is not written in contradiction of anyone else's ideas. This chapter is where the spirit of writing is explored, not just the mechanics. Writing becomes an entire process with technicality and inspiration combined. She details an interesting idea of using charts to improve or elaborate on ideas! Who wuda thunk it? These charts are, in essence, "conceptual maps of where he is going or where he has been." (249)
Back to her spirit, I'd like to point out her unwavering belief in the student. She points out that the BW is actually quite capable of coming up with idea and purpose just as well as the experienced writer; he is just not able to bring it to completion. The only differences "lie in the style and extent of elaboration." (226) Even disorderly papers of basic wirters have their conventional logic, just expressed in non-academic models. (237) This is refreshing and, I believe, could possibly be the basis for any and all effective pedagogy-do away with all of the angry political rhetoric regarding the repressed minority and replace it with a fundamental belief in the student, whatever their class or race, and many of the same results can be achieved. (Yes, I'm expecting comments on that last statement and that's ok).

Work Cited:
Shaughnessey, Mina. Errors and Expectations. OUP:New York, 1977.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Shaughnessey's Elimination of Confusion

The more Shaughnessey I read the more I get the sense that the dark clouds of deciphering error are clearing away for me personally! I am beginning to see and feel some clarity, or at least some hope for clarity, with her sorting through of the basic writer's errors. My favorite author/theorist of the semester is now established; it's Shaughnessey. I'd been wading through all this theory of all these authors of how to deal with errors, cultural differences, "conflict and struggle" and so forth that I forgot what the class was really all about. I've found that if I stick to Shaughnessey's basics, I as a beginner in the field, am less confused! By "Shaughnessey's basics" I mean concrete definitions like syntax problems are "problems that keep a sentence from working or being understood" (47). I get that! She then gives many examples, drills, practices and suggestions, and just when we feel a little overwhelmed with absorbing all of this, she gives us a clear conclusion on page 89 to take away with us: "Pattern practice and sentence-combining exercises can increase the frequency of mature sentences". I like this style of telling her theory bluntly without too much fluff or highly academic sounding filler. In her approach to basic writing the goals become clear-to suggest some of the reasons behind these errors (158) and the priorities become pronounced-to consider ways of bringing errors under control (158) . She is eliminating confusion for the teacher, who then in turn can use her methods to eliminate confusion for the student.
This practical approach to errors is encouraging for me as a future teacher, one will be working in a classroom of real students who will have the same real problems Shaughnessey discusses. Not only do I need to be aware of the multicurality of a classroom and the different discourses the students will bring with them, I need to know how to approach it and be equipped with the right tools. Thanks Mina for providing these tools which will make my future teaching life a little easier!

Shaughnessey, Mina. Errors and Expectations. New York:Oxford University Press. 1977

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bizzell and Min-Zhan Lu

I believe Bizzell takes an approach that conflict is to be minimized in the transition into the academic. In the case of basic writers this transition can be filled with "estrangement from home" (20), "bewilderment" and "a clash of ways of thinking" (17). She acknowledges these issues without trying to minimize their effects on students, but she ultimately believes that the struggle is worth it. I too think that there are many benefits of acquiring the academic world view. First of all, in order to succeed in any community one must be able to communicate in ways that other members of the community can understand and interpret in the way the communication was intended. I personally believe this entirely. Not only will a student need to learn this academic dialect just to make it through school, he/she will ultimately learn that this is a discourse that holds a very privileged position in society (20). So, while students with conflicting home views and dialects have farther to go to master this new academic world view, Bizzell's "hypothesis is that they will also find it's acquisition well worth the risks" (20).

Min-Zhan Lu seems to take a different approach to conflict. (Let me clarify first that most of the conflict she speaks of is cultural). In her essay Conflict and Struggle:The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing? she expresses her view that many teachers are "hesitant to consider the possible uses of conflict and struggle" (52). She discusses the ideas of repositioning, accomodation and acculturation as methods previsouly used to deal with struggle, methods most associated with Bruffee, Farrell and Shaughnessey. She contends on pg 32 that these experts view "conflict and struggle as something to be dissolved". Lu, though, seems to want to live in Anzaldua's "borderlands" and suggest that "teachers can and should draw upon students' perception of conflict as a constructive resource" (32). Ultimately, by alienating students from their home culture in the academic field, educators are encouraging feelings of incompetence, frustration and failure. According to Lu, conflict and struggle are the "preconditions of all discursive acts". (33).

If this is true, and I see this as a big "if", how far can I have possibly come in the academic discourse? I never had to overcome these cultural differences in a basic writing class. I liken more to Perry's students that never really had too far to go to be assimilated into academia. What, then, are the means in which students like myself coming into this academic world view achieve "all discursive acts"? According to Lu I haven't. Maybe that's why I liked Bizzell's essay more! ;)

Works Cited:

Bizzell, Patricia. "What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College?" Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Halasek, Kay and Highberg, Nels P. Ed. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 2001.

Lu, Min-Zhan. "Conflict and Struggle. The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?" Representing the Other. United States: NCTE, 1999

Friday, February 9, 2007

To Quote Mina Shaughnessey

I've titled my blog "To Quote Mina Shaughnessey" because it seems that's what everyone does! I've noticed that in all my readings, there are many quotes from and direct references to Mina Shaughnessey and her work. From all of our readings so far, I would be bold enough to say that she is the author and creator of Basic Writing discourse. Even Bartholamae remarks on the "kind of saintly status given Mina Shaughnessey" (Halasek and Highberg ed. 171) It all stems from her work with Open Admissions and branches out from there in other's writings and critiques of her and her work. I, too, would like to quote Mina Shaughnessey now. I read one of her statements, not in one of her own books, but as a quote from the introduction to Representing the Other. Page xi quotes Shaughnessey as saying "Wherever the new students have arrived in substantial numbers English teachers have begun to realize that little in their background has prepared them to teach writing to someone who has not already learned how to do it". That's when the whole point of this hit me! It was like a revelation. Teachers at the college setting really aren't prepared to teach writing on this level. Most instructors expect their students to have already mastered basic grammar, spelling and punctuation. So that's what this class all this theory is really about! I'm learning how to give instruction to students such as these whereas before I would have not been prepared. This has brought a more personal approach to my thinking as how to best foster writing skills in what will someday be my own students. I believe I will even be more personally involved in the readings from here on out and I do not want to be one of these ill prepared teachers. I won't have an excuse after this class! Thanks Mina!

Works Cited:
Horner, Bruce and Min-Zhan Lu. Representing the Other Basic Writing and the Teaching of Basic Writing. National Council of Teachers of English, 1999

Halasek, Kay and Highberg, Nels P. ed. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc, 2001

Thursday, February 1, 2007

First Week's Readings

I was glad to read in other's blogs that I wasn't the only one who didn't know what basic writing was! The first week's readings, though, have since given me a better understanding, a more concrete definition of basic writing.
One of the themes that kept recurring in our readings was that of basic writers more often than not coming from disadvantaged social situations or being of ethnicity. I must confess I had never put the two together before. I always thought that some people just had the writing talent, and some just didn't. Growing up in Springfield MO I never saw a difference in grades and race. There just weren't many minority students to compare with the whites. There were good white writers and poor white writers.
It seems that the authors' experiences, though, mostly stem from the poor and minority students. Mina Shaughnessey (p 3) states "Most of them had grown up in one of New York's ethnic or racial enclaves". At City College Adrienne Rich used her energies "in work with disadvantaged (Black and Puerto Rican) students" (p 3). It's hard for me to continue at this point for fear of saying something politically incorrect and offending someone. But as this is supposed to be my avenue for free expression of thought, I'll continue. I think what I am mostly trying to sort out for myself is this question: Is basic writing different at MSU than at City College?
It's the same in that basic writing involves errors of all sorts. It may be different, though, in the backgrounds of the students. MSU does not have an open admissions policy so some minimum requirements must be met. I'd like to ask Janelle or Ian how many papers they get in the 100 class that are almost incomprehensible. Probably not as many as those in the first few years at City College!
To wrap things up for everyone here, It's just interesting to me to note what differences we may see here as teachers in basic writing, as compared to more diverse populations such as NYC or

Halasek, Kay and Highberg, Nels P. eds. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 2001.

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Defining Basic Writing

I feel like a basic writer right now, just trying to define what basic writing is! However, based on the video "A Conversation with Mike Rose." PBS. I learned about the types of people who usually end up in basic writing. I think by defining (or attempting to define) these writers as a group helps to define the idea itself. Basic writing courses are most often composed of students that have never been told they are good writers. This is almost a quote from Mike Rose himself. Therefore, on the surface, basic writing is the application of composition and grammar fundamentals to students who "aren't good writers". This makes, to me, the most obvious definition of basic writing. It's teaching the basics to those who haven't yet learned.

There is also a more broad, vague definition that comes to mind. This is more difficult to define. I think back to Janelle and Ian, the GTA's that visitied our class and how they had a very difficult time coming up with a definition of basic writing. In their attempts to define this, I heard them say things like these students need more individualized attention. These students need more personal guidance. This other definition, then, must be about more than sentence structure. It's about trying to have these students approach writing in a new or different way than before. I believe that basic writing involves more encouraging of students to apply personal life into writing while at the same time trying to teach how to use language. I believe basic writers are writers who are not convinced that they can use language. Not only do they not know to how to use language to make a formal essay or research paper, but to convey a personal idea, like a story or personal narrative.

Basic writing then, is writing that obviously contains more errors than the upper levels of writing. But it is also coming from writers who have not been taught, or convinced, that they can construct words, sentences and phrases into something meaningful for themselves.