Posted in CCCC 2013, Uncategorized

Perspectives on the History and Future of Basic Writing

With inconsistent internet and an overwhelming stream of panels (and textbook parties), I want to do a brief post on what’s freshest in my mind – the wonderful histories presented by Andrea Lunsford, Mary Soliday, Gregory Ott, and Kelly Ritter in “Perspectives on the History and Future of Basic Writing”  — and return later today to the panels on English language learners that I attended yesterday.

Both Andrea Lunsford and George Otte provided overarching, bite-sized histories of “basic writing” and how basic writing has become a contested field of study. Lunsford discussed the recurring Crisis in Literacy that we are once again in the midst of today. She discussed the concern in 1970, with the article “Why Can’t Johnny Write?” that invented the need for “remediation.” She discussed her first 4Cs in 1969 in which the chair, Geneva Smitherman, gave an address called “Black Language is Black Power”; Shaughnessy’s work in Errors and Expectations; and how in 1980 the 4Cs first included “basic writing” and how the field developed in the 1980s. Otte opened his talk discussing how the “definition” of basic writing and basic writers is perpetually unstable and called into question. What makes basic writing is a special kind of attention, according to Otte. He then charted that attention, beginning with Mina Shaugnessy’s attempt to uncover causation in error. He then discussed the cognitive turn from scholars like Lunsford and Mike Rose, and the critique of a purely cognitivist approach from Rose. From there, he discussed David Bartholomae’s critique of the emerging basic writing subject, that “in the name of sympathy and empowerment, we have once again produced the ‘Other.’” Following this would be Ira Shor’s critique of BW as “our apartheid.” While basic writing is constantly contested, Otte suggested that basic writing teachers and scholars need less a united front than a persistence of attention. Lastly, Mary Soliday used archival information from CUNY professors in 1970 evaluating their basic writers. Though there was no established scholarly field for basic writing at the time, she praised the observations of these teachers, such as form drives proficiency (i.e., when a student knows a subject, she/he produces more fluent writing). Soliday suggested that these observations – that “excitement is the hook on which we are engaged in intellectual life” – should continue to guide how we teach basic writers, that we should pursue academic inquiry rather than the modes (get rid of the modes, both she and Kelly Ritter suggested), that our basic writing courses should be more like book clubs, not the acontextual modal approach that is still dominant in basic writing textbooks.

Posted in CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Uncategorized

There’s Nothing Basic About Basic Writing

This panel has been discussed in great detail below. So let me just summarize a few key insights for me during this panel.

The panel began with Elaine Jolayemi’s discussion of “what is a basic writer?” and “how do institutions designate basic writers?” The framing of this as two separate questions in itself is insightful for me. These questions made me reflect on the multiple perspectives that might respond to this question — the student writer, instructor expectations, disciplinary conversations, and institutional objectives.

J. Elizabeth Clark’s discussion of teaching basic writing with technology addressed the reality that the digital is overtaking paper as primary media for composition (written and visual). As Clark pointed out, this reality exists not only for our students, but also for us as teachers. So how do we use technology in a basic writing course? Clark provided some resources for commonly used tech tools in the basic-writing classroom as well as concerns, such as access, that might problematize tech in the basic-writing course. I really appreciated the observation that, while many individual instructors might use tech, digital composition has rarely been adopted as widespread curriculum objectives. Lastly, the suggestion that BW instructors integrate tech in their courses a little bit at a time resonates with me. We, as teachers, need to acculturate to these technologies, so we should slowly and deliberately introduce them to our course (what a great analogy she referenced from Dr. Hacker about how babies must slowly be introduced solid foods).

Melissa Klages and Debra Berry discussed professional development for basic-writing instructors. How can we encourage more professional development for teaching basic writing? Klages makes the really significant point that this must happen through giving value to professional development activities. Klages then introduced her system of instructors reflecting on patterns in their class through her coding system, A Classroom Notebook.

Carla Maroudas discussed placement — one of the biggest issues at my college. She asked the audience who used Accuplacer or COMPASS at their colleges for placement, and a significant majority in the audience raised their hands. She mentioned MOOCS that provide tutorials for students to study for these high-stakes tests (the stakes of which they are often not fully aware). This discussion related to the first panelist — how do we accurately define the basic writer through assessment methods?

Lastly, Amy Edwards Patterson discussed day-to-day activities and approaches in the basic-writing classroom. As she said, the research shows that retention improves when students feel connected to their instructors and their classmates. She then gave examples of getting-to-know-you activities and a really intriguing-sounding essay assignment “You Don’t Know Me,” as well as briefly discussing service learning/community engagement to increase retention.

I feel like I forgot someone’s name who presented (and I know I missed many wonderful insights), but much thanks for touching on so many topics and the conversations that followed in the Q&A. To the next panel…

Posted in CCCC 2013, Uncategorized

My first 4Cs, my first post: Translingual pedagogy

With a large international-student population and a suburban community increasingly diversifying due to urban gentrification, I teach in an incredibly linguistically diverse two-year college. My precollege writing courses, for example, have students from China, South Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan  Vietnam, Mexico — and I’ve probably forgotten others! This diversity is a privilege and challenge. Therefore, a key objective for me at this conference is to better understand how to teach in a “multilingual” setting in ways that value non-English languages and cultures, resist linguistic hegemony, while also preparing students to navigate future “academic” writing situations. On the one hand, I want students to maintain their linguistic identities. Yet as Adrienne Rich writes, “This is the oppressor’s tongue / yet I must speak to you.”

Workshop: Crossing BW/ESL/FYW Divides: Exploring Translingual Writing and Programs

The first workshop I attended (but, unfortunately, didn’t catch all of) already troubles my language above. Instead of multilingual pedagogy, this workshop defined and gave examples for translingual pedagogy.  So I’d like to lay out just a few of the insights from this workshop, though, unfortunately, I had to miss the last part of it.

Defining/Theorizing Transcultural Pedagogy

Juan Guerra presented a very enlightening tripartite way of considering dominant ideologies of literacy and approaches to language difference. According to Guerra, the traditional paradigm, monolingual pedagogy (“life in the either/or”), encourages assimilation, code segregation, and is a colonizing project. Multilingual pedagogies give a “tolerant conception of literacy” (“life in the either/or”), but are still neo-colonial projects that encourage “code switching” and “acculturation,” but maintain linguistic power relations. Translingual pedagogies (“life in the neither/nor), on the other hand, value the hybrid, “code meshing,” and is a decolonizing project.

As Debarata Dutta suggested in her presentation, the binaries that still operate in multicultural pedagogy, such as “native” and “non-native” speaker, still associate the native speaker with being “American” and dominant. Dutta wants to overturn the common belief that native speakers teach non-native speakers English and non-native speakers teach native speakers “culture.”

Curriculum and Assessment:

Asao Inoue presented on assessment practices for translingual pedagogy.  His key question was: How do you create conditions for translingual pedagogies to be effective?

Borrowing from Ira Shor and Peter Elbow, Inoue laid out grading contracts as an assessment method that values labor rather than product. As Inoue suggested, “When grades used to judge writing, hegemonic English is always used for that judgement.” Therefore, the absence of grades on writing and focus on labor deconstructs hegemonic approaches. It encourages error and failure are natural part of learning.

Dylan Dryer and Paige Mitchell offered an assignment sequence on “language and the self” and discussed how, in portfolio assessment, translingual writers are often critiqued in wide-ranging, inconsistent ways, whereas monolingual students are more uniformly praised.


I had to duck out of the workshop early, so I missed some of the other conversations about translingualism. Most of these speakers referenced first-year composition courses for translingual pedagogy. So I’m left with the questions about translingual pedagogy in basic writing courses, which seem even more focused on “fixing” the non-linguistically dominant student.