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 CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Race

Race, Language, and Access: Possible Futures of Basic Writing

This afternoon we delved into basic writing and whiteness; the role of basic writing in Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs); race-conscious basic writing pedagogies; and basic writing and “Generation 1.5” students with scholars Scott Lyons, Beatrice Mendez-Newman, Min-Zhan Lu, Shirley Faulkner-Springfield, Steve Lamos, and Wendy Olson.

Steve Lamos started off the session framing it with the work of Nedra Reynolds: “Dwelling” as Embodied Spatial Practice.

“People’s responses to place—which are shaped in large part by their bodies, by the physical characteristics they carry with them through the spatial world—determine whether they will ‘enter’ at all, or rush through or linger—and those decisions contribute to how a space is used…”

He was interested in using Reynolds’ conceptualization of dwelling as a way to understand BW spaces and transforming them into third spaces.

Min-Zhan Lu explored “A Translingual Approach to Basic Writing.” She explored several myths of monolingual classrooms: Edited American English is a neutral tool, other languages and English varieties interfere w/ learning EAE, writers must be fluent in EAE before they can tinker w/ those rules (i.e., know the rules before you can break the rules). Instead, Lu explained, ask students to reflect on context and identity projected by these rules.

Scott Lyons presented on American Indian Writers & the Question of “Assimilation.” He explored the nature of assimilation as primarily economic, not cultural. This “settler colonialism” is apparent today in the forces of capitalism. Lyons’ question on assimilation: what would happen if a student could not participate in the political market? He argues that Lyons argues native kids need the language tools to participate in the marketplace.

Shirley Faulkner-Springfield focused on Standard American English as racism. Here, she’s very much in conversation with Villanueva’s talk early today, focusing on the arbitrary nature of rules. Faulker-Springfield probed 3 key concepts in teaching basic writing: deficit, initiation, translingual.

If we believe our students’ writing is “deficient,” how do we engage in conversation with our students? Do we really believe that they only discourse our students need is the discourse of academia?

Beatrice Mendez-Newman presented on “Listening To and Learning From Student Writing.” She talked about her students, the geographic challenges of teaching in Southern Texas, showed photographs of her students and then samples from their work. All of this led to some of the observations about challenges for students:

  • lack of college readiness;
  • lack of college-going culture (limited family support);
  • entrenched language deficiencies;
  • instructional scaffolding that fails to take ethnographic realities into account;
  • continued insistence that Gen 1. 5 students are ESL students;
  • these students don’t fit the Shaughnessy and company basic writing definition.

For me, the point that Gen 1.5 students are NOT ESL students and that the students don’t fit the “standard” basic writing definition are incredibly important and crucial to national dialogues about basic writing and race. These points, so true, too for my students in CUNY are too overlooked in the larger discourse.

Mendez-Newman Offered This List of Possible Pedagogical adjustments:

  • agressive one-on-one conferencing;
  • extended atention to Gen 1.5 and immigrant writers;
  • listening and learning: what are the students truly trying to say in their apparently incomprehensible texts?;
  • professional development;
  • knowing students’ stories;
  • less is more: fewer writing assignments, more writing time and space;
  • writing workdays for processing writing and conferencing;
  • incentives for on-line feedback and in-person conferencing;
  • audio feedback.

This post written with additional reporting by Sara Webb-Sunderhaus @webbsusa and Marisa Klages @mklagesnyc