Praxis Blog 9.22.14

This week I’ve had a difficult time coming up with an “exhibit,” a practical exercise or policy or what have you that would be informed by our readings. So much of the work seems based more on attitudes and responding to context rather than concrete practices. I think that a lot of the things that many of us plan to do already can contribute to a classroom where students feel safe expressing things in non-standard English. For example, peer workshops in which the students discuss with one another why they chose particular phrases, what those phrases communicate, and so on can contribute to the sort of negotiated texts Canagarajah discusses. Similarly, making sure that readings for class represent a range of different voices from a range of different contexts would be valuable. It seems to me that any class that worked with genres would be a case study in how we use different voices for different tasks–which seems different in scale, not kind, from the type of “codeswitching” that is frowned upon by our authors–but nonetheless would allow space for a voice that more closely approximated natural speech than academic jargon.

I think that the concrete practice that I would take out of these articles will be something like this: discuss, at the beginning of the semester, what type of writing goals each student wants to work on. I don’t mean that students will give me a list of things they’d like to learn, and I will make sure they learn them, but rather that we’ll have a joint conversation about the types of skills they’d like to have at the end of the semester–and if we have different ideas about goals, we could discuss them openly.

What I’m getting at is this: it feels unfair to me to make a value judgement about the student’s desired growth as a writer. My first impulse is to note mechanics or grammar only minimally for students writing English as a foreign language, or those using non-standard dialects, and to focus instead on structure, content, and other big picture issues. As a teacher, I’m ok with my students writing with an accent–missing articles, subject-verb agreement, or non-idiomatic language–but I know that won’t universally be the case throughout their education and career. I feel like it could be unfair to follow a philosophy of ignoring language fluency issues  that I know will not be ignored later down the road. If FYC is a service course, that service is in part to my students–to give them the skills to write at a level their disciplines expect. So, basically, my policy would be transparency through conversation. Perhaps one ESL student really wants comments on syntax and grammar, and another would rather not get bogged down in mechanics. I prefer not to choose for them, but rather to have an open conversation about the politics of standard English–a conversation that I think would be just as helpful to native speakers as to those who grew up speaking other languages.

Praxis Blog 9.15.14

My “exhibit” this week is actually drawn more from last week than this week, but it was inspired by the Deletiner piece on negotiated curriculum. I was not particularly sold on her pedagogical approach, and don’t know that I would leave such a large piece of the curriculum up for joint-creation (though perhaps it would be interesting to leave a week or two, which I hadn’t considered), or give quite so much of the work of evaluation to fellow students, but her essay reminded me of an idea I really liked from last week–Miller’s group conference idea from Strategies For Teaching First Year Composition. The plan is basically this:

Students in groups of three or four will distribute drafts of a project to one another, and then we will all meet as a group to discuss them together, making sure that everyone at least makes one positive and one constructive comment on each. At the end, everyone shares their plan for revision.

What I really like about this idea is that it helps pull together the different types of feedback a student receives, and hopefully can keep them from privileging only the teacher’s feedback. As Miller points out, this could improve how students see their ability to comment on the writing of others, and encourage them to listen to one another. For a large class, too, or for someone teaching a lot of sections of comp, I feel like it could be logistically really useful as well.

 

Praxis Blog, 9.9.2014

Exhibit:

For use in 101/181.

I’m thinking about establishing a practice at the beginning of every class to begin with a free write responding to a question or quote that I’ve chosen. From a practical standpoint, perhaps I’ll have students have a course journal that I’ll evaluate solely on completion–I’ll think about other ways I would get them to use the journal somewhere down the line. Perhaps they can draw from these brief writings to develop revised and peer-workshopped blog posts.

Explanation:

I’m hoping that this daily writing will accomplish several things:

a) gather focus onto the material at the beginning of class

b) help students that may have a harder time speaking up with figuring out how to contribute

c) get the students comfortable with writing as a discipline–something that must be done regularly and methodically

d) develop ideas and even paragraphs that can be developed into graded essays

e) introduce whatever my goals for the class period are–so if we are talking about invention one day, they could have a brainstorming exercise, or if we’re focusing on revision, they could review one of their previous free writes and suggest revisions.

I’m hoping that using a specific prompt will be helpful for me, too, as it will force me to articulate my daily objectives.

I’m drawing directly from a couple of our readings here, without much revision–both Lyday and Jolliffe suggest this method as a way to structure class time. I think that these writings, as well as discussions about them with the whole class and in small groups could be a helpful exercise in invention.

I’m also hoping that these free writes will help students engage with topics and figure out where their own interests lie. I’m thinking of Stancliff, who, channeling Ramage, Bean, and Friere, writes that they “see writing largely as an act of posing questions, of ‘problematizing.’ They stress that successful writing projects begin with a question that comes from the writer’s life experience, one in which she or he has a personal stake as an individual and/or a member of a community” (267). By using the daily journal as a place for individual engagement with course topics, I’m hoping to help get students involved.