"To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."
-John Coltrane on Uplifting Others

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 5: Code Switching and the Freshman English Classroom

  During class, we had a lengthy discussion on grammar errors in the freshman writing course. Specifically, we talked about the degree of punishment necessary for comma splices and vague pronoun referents. I really like what Kerry wrote on this topic, and will be using her thoughts as a spring board.
  Particularly, I think her comparison of freshman writers with ESL students. The mistakes students make in "academic writing" is similar to students learning a new language. Kerry insists that as instructors, we should help the students learn from these mistakes, as we would someone learning a foreign language.
  I proposed in class the incorporation of code switching exercises in the classroom. Code switching is a sociolinguist term that means that people switch linguistic codes depending upon their audience. Most examples involve students who speak several different languages or interact with groups across socioeconomic backgrounds. However, I submit that code switching occurs in a much wider demographic. For example, here is a brief comparison in my life: I spoke differently when I worked the line at Outback Steakhouse than I speak now in front of my classroom. I speak differently in this blog than I do when conversing with my son.
  Code switching, to me, is not necessarily as dependent upon ESL or economic status, as the intended audience. That is why grammar is irksome to students; it involves learning new codes. When I was in public school, I had grammar principles drilled during English. I had to diagram sentences (FULL NERD DISCLOSURE: I still get excited about sentence diagrams. I love deconstructing sentences, and seeing how the individual parts work.). Now a days, I am not sure how much grammar instructions students receive before entering college freshman writing. Perhaps someone viewing this post can shed some light on this.
  One of the biggest struggles I have had thus far as a composition instructor has been helping students identify an article's audience, and because I've tied audience to codes, I created an exercise that I hope helped students. Before class, I wrote several intended audiences onto index cards. I had the students split into small groups, and passed out the audience. The students then had to summarize an article's contents, keeping in mind their audiences. The original learning outcome was to identify rhetorical choice, and how audience affects the contents' presentation.
  However, a subsequent outcome goes back to code switching. One group whose audience was "frat boys" found themselves trying to incorporate a certain type of phrasing. They wanted to refer to their audience using "bro" or "dude." I told them to shy away from stereotypes. Perhaps in teaching for academic writing, I should encourage students to resist the urge to write "academically," to use complex sentence structures or convoluted words. Maybe I should stress clarity of thought over pre-conceived notions of "higher" writing. Maybe in teaching freshman writing, I should help students ease into academic codes, and in this way, help them avoid grammatical errors.
  What do you think? Share some horror stories of bad grammar, or is code switching a viable solution in the freshman writing curriculum?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 3: The Lore Box

  In "The Geography of Knowledge," Louise Wetherbee Phelps expands on North's concept of the "lore box." Where North sees lore as "the accumulated body of traditions, practices, and beliefs in terms of which Practicioners understand how writing is done, learned, and taught" (qtd. on 868), Phelps defines it as "procedural knowlege," meaning there is a reflexive moment (869). The accumulated knowledge of North's model must go through periods of revision, addition, and editing. In other words, it goes through experience. Phelps writes, "Lore is experience that has been expressed, circulated, imitated, sustained, and confirmed by repetition, achieving canonical status as 'common sense' through its range of cultural distribution and its staying power" (869).
  As I am new to teaching, I am gathering procedural knowledge for my lore box. Here are some items I have placed in my box, either through my limited personal experience or through observing good teachers. I invite you to comment on my post, and share your knowledge, that I may build, reflect, and refine my lore box.
Lore Box:

  • Online discussion (through discussion boards or blogs) leading to classroom clarification
  • De-center the classroom through online learning and student-led discussion
  • View my role as facilitator/mediator instead of taskmaster/master of the "knowledge"
  • Weekly writing assignments that prepare students for lesson's objectives
  • Annotation sessions
  • Writing prompts based off current issues (allows for civic engagement on local, state, federal, and/or global levels)
  • Validation before Criticism in comments
  • Set daily writing goals and stick to them
  • Comprehensive, detailed, and timed lesson plans 
  • Integration of visual media to engage students and break up lecture/discusssing
  • Project-based learning (Social activism/Civic engagement)
  • Social contract theory (have students help construct classroom policies)
  • Think of revision/editing process as a "do over," instead of busy work
  • Group work built on Vygotsky's ladder
  • Develop voice through identifying audience
  • Overwriting for summaries and creative writing
  • Expansion/Contraction exercises

Work Cited
Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. "The Geography of Knowledge." College English 53:8 (Dec. 1991): 863-85.            .pdf file.

Week 3: What's the purpose of freshman writing?

  The reading for this week discussed for the most part the theory-practice split in composition studies. Kerry, acting as classroom instructor, divided the class up into a Socratic Seminar, and posed three questions for the group. They were:

  • What's the ideal relationship between practice and theory?
  • Is there anything that mediates that relationship?
  • Can there be a discipline without practice and/or theory?
  If I may, I would like to share my brief thoughts on these three questions before diving into the purpose of freshman writing. In regards to the ideal relationship between practice and theory, some in the class posited the division is largely constructed by connotations surrounding these two words. The relationship could be viewed as mutually beneficial (symbiotic) instead of parasitic or in constant opposition. I drew a venn diagram with theory and practice overlapping each other. I believe that theory and practice anchor one another, and inform each other. Yes, there is theory for the sake of theory, as there exists practice not informed by theory.
Borrowed from maass.nyu.edu, from this lesson plan
  I believe the mediating force between theory and practice is layered and contextualized based on community. On one level, composition teachers share ideas through an academic community. These ideas disseminate in conferences, department meetings, and idle chat. Professionals glean ideas and theories from one another. The more basic level is the classroom. Professors have an obligation to their students. As they implement or experiment with different theories or practices, they should chart how these new thoughts work within the classroom environment.
  Finally, a discipline should be reflexive. It should challenge and be contentious. It should develop new theories that can reshape the discipline. In composition studies, the nearly complete transition from physical to digital communications is a point of discussion. How do composition theorists accommodate for new modes of communication? How do the old citation models work within an "open source" community? The composition classroom is in a state of flux, and professors have a responsibility (some would say ethical imperative) to adapt to their students' changing world.
  This final idea (on which some theorists and practitioners will vehemently disagree with me) leads to the subject of this post: What is the purpose of freshman writing courses? Are they to simply prepare students for the rigors of academic writing? Are they developed to teach them critical thinking skills? Are they shaped in such a manner to prepare students for civic engagement? Ultimately, the question is up to the individual professor or writing program. For my own opinion, I think freshman writing courses teach students critical reading skills that transition to writing, as well as "real world" engagement with difficult topics. A rhetorical reader can create critical distance from a topic, gather information, and form their own decision. Perhaps I am pulling from ancient rhetoric from Greece, but freshman composition classes help students become better citizens in their communities.
  I am intrigued with social activism models in freshman writing class, and how a professor can help students become engaged at the local level. I have not implemented those principles, but it is something I am considering for another semester.