Posted in CCCC 2013, Scholarship of Basic Writing, Social Media, Tech, What's New in Basic Writing

On “We are Borg: Composing Processes and Identities”

The session “We are Borg: Composing Processes and Identities” dealt with using multimodal composing to break students out of “genre knowledge” that might not be serving them in composition classrooms. The first talk was by Angela Laflen. Her talk was entitled “Charting the New World between Whiteboards and Slides: Composing Online with Prezi.” She demonstrated the ways that Prezi can be used to help students become more aware of the performative aspects of composition as they explore their online identities.

In her talk entitled “Negotiating Metacognition in a Digital Landscape: Multimodal Reflection in the 21st Century Classroom, “Anna Knutson demonstrated the ways that students use video in her classes to make more meaningful reflections about their compositions. The results, and the sample student reflections she shared, seemed really insightful.

Finally, Sara Hillin detailed two assignments that she uses in her writing course: the technoliteracy memoir and the text-to-webtext literacy project. Hillin described the ways that she used Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manfesto” and Katherine Hayles (I think) to frame the assignments. In the text-to-webtext assignment, students repurpose traditional essays into online texts in really interesting ways. In the technoliteracy memoir, students use “infinite canvas style” programs like Prezi to create literacy narratives.

The big take away from this session was that I now have some ideas for how I to integrate some of these assignments into my own writing classroom (or change some of my existing assignments). I’m also motivated to help students think more about identity as a crucial aspect of composing online and everywhere else. ~ Sheri Rysdam, UVU

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Posted in CCCC 2013, Politics of Remediation, Race, Scholarship of Basic Writing, What's New in Basic Writing

On “Honoring Vernacular Eloquence: Pathways to Intellectual and Academic Discourse”

This session featured Peter Elbow, “Multiple Versions of Written English: In Our Past—and Also in Our Future” and Sheridan Blau, “Vernacular Eloquence as the Foundation for a Vital Academic Discourse.”

Where are we in terms of the use of “multiple versions of written English” and “vernacular eloquence” in Basic Composition? I found this session to be delightfully controversial. Elbow’s advocacy for the vernacular is about making the sounds that the mouth likes to make and the ear likes to hear. It sounds poetic, like a song. Elbow argues that the best critics use the language that is pleasing. It is not about using a different, awkward academic language.

The shared theme from the talks is that mimicry does not work, and students should be allowed to use their own voices. Instead student voices evolve as their learning emerges in communities.

Blau offered workshop that teachers could reproduce in their classrooms–a rare practical application of a theory. The workshop went like this: students write a “commentary” in response to a text. In this case, Blau used the poem “Nineteen” by George Bogin for the workshop. With ongoing tensions between Composition and Literature, this seemed like a somewhat controversial choice. Nevertheless, in his workshop, he indicated that students write weekly commentaries throughout the semester. They post their work online. They also have to reply to at least one peer each week.

After explaining the assignment, the teacher asks the students, “Are there any questions?” As the questions emerge, the teacher indicates that s/he does not know what the final product will look like. Blau encouraged teachers to respond with “We’ll see.” Do we need a thesis statement? “We’ll see.” How long does it need to be? “We’ll see.” The idea being that students will discover the genre of the commentary as it evolves in the academic community.

After students write their commentary, in small groups of three, they decide together what a commentary might look like–what it’s features might be. It is not a list of what the commentary must look like or what the commentary must *not* do, but rather a list of possible characteristics. In this way, students discover the genre as they create it. They practice naming the features of this particular genre.

In the end, Blau encourages us to notice important points about sharing the commentaries and working together to determine the features of the assignment. Blau notes that each possibility (reading each other’s commentaries) actually opens up new insights for the listeners, insights they would not have had if they had only read their own commentary.  In this way, a thesis emerges in a community and as part of an ongoing conversation about a text. The thesis is something that lives when it emerges from discussion and argument from the class.  Blau states, “We are constructing the genre of the commentary on the basis of what we do and who we are.”

As part of the classroom practice, Blau selects commentaries to share in order to generate class discussions and raise issues. Blau reads commentaries in class to acknowledge real contributions to knowledge making. Students learn from each other and the teachers. Questions are important.  The work is published online.

This practice acknowledges the value of multiple perspectives. Students acquire a more critical literacy. Students see themselves as part of an academic conversation. They start to write in their home language. The language in which they speak and think and serve them well in their role as speakers and thinkers in this context. Students learn that they can expand the resources of their home language without having to abandon it, and they take on new terms and phrases that emerge in the learning community. Students learn that academic discourse is about the construction of knowledge and ideas. Students extend and expand their “language competence.” This practice offers a way of interrogating text and illuminating it. Finally, Blau says that the practice allows us to “witness students as intellectuals.” ~ Sheri Rysdam, UVU

Posted in CCCC 2013, Politics of Remediation, Race, Scholarship of Basic Writing, What's New in Basic Writing

Scott Lyons: “American Indian Writers and the Question of “Assimilation”

Scott Lyons began by confessing that he does not consider himself an expert in Basic Writing. Interestingly, his work seemed absolutely crucial to the conversations we’ve been having all day on teaching basic writing students.

He writes about his experience teaching at a tribal college in Minnesota. He was the first PhD to be hired at the college to teach writing. There were four full-time instructors. There were three Ojibwe teachers and one white teacher. Because of his degree (and not his experience, he assures us), Lyons quickly became the head of the department. One day, the white teacher, one of the best at the school, came to him in tears. She said that she felt like a bad person. She wanted students “to be themselves.” She wanted them to be “the sovereign people that they are.” The teacher said she “did not want to be a part of their assimilation.”

Lyons acknowledges this teacher’s concerns and does so by showing some of the black and white images of assimilation that many of us are familiar with. Lyons included a “before and after” picture of American Indians in schools of assimilation. The “after” photo has been noticeably lightened. The clear message is that assimilated students actually have lighter skin.

The whole story is not just about assimilation though. There were prominent arguments for annihilation as well. Lyons shared newspaper excerpts from notable writers, like author L. Frank Baum (writer of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), who wrote that it was “better that they die.” Lyons demonstrates that these writers seemed to simultaneously revere the American Indian culture, while they depicted them as vanishing tragically *but necessarily.*

Lyons makes the distinction between cultural assimilation and economic assimilation. Cultural assimilation usually includes religious assimilation to Christianity. However, economic assimilation is a crucial part of the story too. When it comes to economic assimilation, American Indians have been historically exiled. Lyons argues that progressive pedagogy understands economic assimilation and the role education plays in that process.

Lyons ends this talk by returning to the image of the teacher crying in his office, the teacher who does not want to be complacent in the assimilation of her students. Lyons ends by making the following points. If you want to help Indians engage “settler culture,” you need to not see yourself as a bad person. “Rez English” is not useful because the market that we share does not use that language. Lyons states that teachers should point out that English is an American Indian language now. Finally, he encouraged teachers to emphasize the importance of studying the writing of American Indians.

from the panel “Race, Language, and Access: Possible Futures of Basic Writing”

Moderators: Steve Lamos & Wendy Olson

Featuring: Scott Lyons, Beatrice Mendez-Newman, Min-Zhan Lu, & Shirley Faulker-Springfield

~ Sheri Rysdam, UVU

Posted in CCCC 2013, Politics of Remediation, Scholarship of Basic Writing, Uncategorized, What's New in Basic Writing

At “Basic Writing and Race: A Symposium”

Here are some of my thoughts on Victor Villanueva’s talk, “Toward a Political Economy of Basic Writing Programs.”

After earning my PhD at WSU with Victor Villanueva as my mentor, I still don’t tire of hearing this work. It is his way of engaging an audience that probably resulted in his talk ending with a standing ovation. He drew chills, goose bumps, and, no doubt, renewed, re-inspired, and motivated his audience to think about their programs and their teaching in new and innovative ways.

Basic Writing programs are almost always in crisis. Sound familiar? It seems like every few years, a basic writing program has to argue for its existence. That is because, Villanueva states, crisis is a necessity of capitalism. Remedial writing programs are also a product of capitalism.

Basic Writing exists because *institutions* too often fail to educate women, people of color, and the poor. Too often, Basic Writing students are viewed as the ones with the problem. Villanueva encourages us to remember that basic writing students are not the problem. The problem is a function of capitalism, which requires an exploitable class of people. Race, class, and gender have been the most exploitable population, and it is not mistake that Basic Writing programs are largely populated with these people.

Villanueva reminds us that BW is not in need of remedies or in need of development. There is no illness. There is no cognitive dysfunction. We must stop thinking about our students in terms of deficit and needing to be “prepared” for classes beyond basic writing.

Instead, writing needs to happen across the curriculum. Teachers and administrators of basic writing need to be in conversation with other disciplines to allow these writers to exist within the larger university—not exiled to their remedial classes. Part of this work means giving these students college credit for the work that they do so that the exploitation of paying for credits that do not count toward a degree does not continue. This is an especially crucial aspect of supporting our poor and working-class students.

According to Villanueva, if Basic Writing is going to move outside of the deficit model, where the teacher/missionary/savior “converts the natives,” basic writing must “enter in to a dialogue across the disciplines” so that students see their community, see themselves as a crucial part of the university, and understand how to gain access.

Of course, Villanueva’s talk was far more nuanced in addressing issues of assimilation, enculturation, and identity. These are some of the quick points and observations that stand out to me.

I cannot think of a more energizing way to kick start CCCC 2013! Stay tuned! ~ Sheri Rysdam, UVU