Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Open Letter to All Beginning Graduate Assistants, Embarking on Their First Semester of Teaching FYC:

Laura Edwards

When I was hired to teach freshman composition, I was elated. And terrified. I’d never even taken Composition, and my teaching experience was with high school freshman, a very different kind of freshman than the ones I would be facing now. In a panic, I spent a lot of time on campus those three weeks, talking to colleagues and studying their syllabi– I even read through the recommended textbook, taking notes in the form of an outline throughout. Yet, all of these practices pale in comparison to one piece of advice given by a colleague; when asked if she had any help for a newcomer, she went to the wall of books in her office, pulled a worn tome from the shelf, and placed it gingerly in my hands. “Read this.” She said, and I looked down to find A Writer Teachers Writing by Donald M. Murray.

What I learned from that book was invaluable and led me into the first semester, if not more steady, at least more adept. It is with my own tale in mind, that I write this letter, to share why Donald Murray is one theorist whose work every FYC professor should be acquainted with, and to make your job a bit easier, I will break down exactly which of his ideas were most helpful to me that first year and the ones beyond.

First, why Donald Murray? To begin with, Mr. Murray is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and even more importantly for the purposes of this essay, a seasoned veteran at teaching FYC. He’s chaired departments and written multiple articles and books on his teaching methods, and out of those, I’ve pulled what I believe are the two most important aspects of Mr. Murray’s teachings: cultivating surprise in your students’ writing and writing with and for your students. These are two pieces of FYC that may not be as readily obvious as others, which is why I believe them most important to bring to your attention before you begin your career as a FYC teaching assistant.

The first method of teaching, cultivating surprise, occurs when a writer begins writing one way and realizes early in the process that there may be another topic more deserving of his time, or some other angle he hadn’t considered. In fact, it is Murray’s contention that “we write to surprise ourselves” (A Writer Teaches 7). Writing to cultivate that surprise, to learn something new about our topic and to decipher what’s most important for the writing project is an invaluable tool for our students’ arsenals.

How do we go about cultivating surprise in our students’ work? Murray began with a period of “incubation” (Berkenkotter 163) in his own writing as evidenced in a study done by Dr. Carol Berkenkotter, utilizing Mr. Murray as the case subject. This period of incubation was sometimes extravagantly long, even developing into years before some projects were concretely begun (Response 170). What is important to note when speaking of the pedagogy of surprise, also termed “responsive teaching” by Murray, is that the incubation period is not a once and for all process; in fact, it is after a writer begins writing and then questions what is on the page, that a new period of incubation, and with it, a “twist” or surprise in the direction of the project can occur. To write a draft and never pause and consider what is on the page and where the work is going is to deny the writer the pleasure of surprise in her writing.

But does this happen naturally for our student writers? Would that it did, but in most cases, it does not. Murray’s answer to this dilemma is “mini” one-on-one conferences with students, in which a student will bring a very rough draft or even a sketch of ideas for the paper. Upon arrival to the conference, Murray would ask his students very basic follow-up questions on what they have written so far, such as, “What did you learn from this piece of writing? What do you intend to do in the next draft? What surprised you in the draft? Where is the piece of writing taking you? What do you like best in the piece of writing?” and finally, “What questions do you have of me” (Learning by Teaching 159)? By doing this, Murray pulls the students out of the traditional role of an inexperienced student writer who tends to write a rough draft and revise on a sentence level into the tasks of the more experienced writer who questions general direction and the larger theme of the piece. What is most interesting about this technique is that Murray found his students asking the questions of themselves and answering them before he had the chance to ask (Learning by Teaching 159). He was teaching the students to revise with the “big picture” in mind, a needful part of any writing task and an ability which can be transferred across the curriculum.

Next, Murray encouraged his colleagues to put down their red pens and pick up a pencil to write with their students. As stated previously, Murray himself was a writer. Not only was he a journalist, but he also wrote several books, many on writing and teaching writing. He wrote two autobiographical novels, one following the loss of a child and the other after he experienced a heart attack.

Murray’s admonition to teachers to write was two-fold: first, he encouraged all teachers to write outside of the classroom, whether it be fiction or academic writing; and secondly, he promoted writing in the classroom along with the students. Roy Peter Clark, in a recent tribute to Murray states, “I can boil that knowledge [given to Clark by Murray] down into a series of statements about writing [one of which is]: That teachers should write with and for their students, in the classroom and the newsroom” (Poynter Online December 31, 2006). Murray didn’t only write outside of the classroom, but he practiced what he preached and wrote with his students, working through many of the same practices he assigned them, reading them his outcomes, good and bad, and discussing what made them so. He recounted one such occasion when he wrote to the same prompt he’d given his students in Expecting the Unexpected. When the timed protocol was up, he shared what he had with his students. He stated that the result was two-fold for him: “Support. I shared it with the class when they shared theirs, and they laughed. [and] Doubt. Since they laughed, I worried […]” Expecting 141). He goes on to describe how reading to his students impacted his work, helping to change his ideas, reform drafts.

One can only imagine the many benefits this practice had for his students. To see their teacher as one of them, experiencing the same self doubt and realizing that it is okay to fail in those early drafts (A Writer Teaches 8-9) enables a student to try, to write without heavy expectations, to be open to surprise, and to realize that writing isn’t a magical “taught” formula, but a daily exercise of revision, rethinking, and rewriting.

So, when you stand before your students this fall, remember to ask the tough questions; teach your students to think beyond sentence level grammar and into the heart of their projects; and write with them in the classroom and for them outside of it, sharing your failures and successes equally and without shame. And should you find yourself questioning this most humble of callings, remember how Murray answered the question, “Why teach writing?”:

"I continue to teach writing, because I will never learn to teach writing – even when I write books on how to write and how to teach. I can only continue to experiment with ways of creating an environment in which I can get out of the way of my students and watch – applauding – as they teach themselves the craft none of us will ever learn." (A Writer Teaches 245)

Works Cited
Berkenkotter, Carol. “Decisions and Revisions: The Planning Strategies of a Publishing Writer.” College Composition and Communication. 34.2 (1983): 156-169.
Clark, Roy Peter. “The Take and The Give: A Tribute to Don Murray.” Poynter Online.
December 31, 2006. The Poynter Institute. April 21, 2008. .
Madigan, Chris. “Applying Donald Murray’s ‘Responsive Teaching.’” College Composition and Communication. 39.1 (1988): 74-77.
Murray, Donald M. Expecting the Unexpected: Teaching Myself– and Others– to Read and
Write. New Hampshire: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1989.
---. Learning by Teaching, Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching. New Hampshire:
Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1982.
---. “Response of a Laboratory Rat– or, Being Protocoled.” College Composition and Communication. 34.2 (1983): 156-169.
---. A Writer Teaches Writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

What's the Problem With Academic Discourse? A Review of Literature

Juliet MonBeck

The goal of Composition Studies has historically been a contested one, characterized by a lack of consensus in not only naming a goal but also in the methodologies that have been put in place in order to achieve a goal if it did exist. Ostensibly, the main goal could be defined in simple terms, such as “to teach students to write.” However, both the simplicity and applicability of this goal are complicated by details like who is being taught, what texts students are being taught to write, and how that process is accomplished. Most scholars agree that teaching students to write successfully in post-secondary academic settings requires the use of an “academic discourse,” or the possession of “academic literacy.” Therefore, it would seem a simple matter of teaching students the conventions of academic discourse and giving them enough practice so these conventions could be sufficiently internalized in order to give all students the essential tools they would need to succeed at the university level. Once again, the problem is not as simple as it appears. The conventions of academic discourse are those of Standard English, particularly Standard Written English, and these conventions continually evolve from the practices of the dominant culture. What happens when members of non-dominant cultures (and social classes) are asked to adopt and internalize the discourse conventions of the academy? In this situation the educator must ask herself not only how to teach the conventions of academic discourse but, also, is it politically, ethically, and morally viable to go about doing so? And, if teaching academic discourse is discarded on ethical grounds, are whole groups of people being further marginalized by having their voices silenced within the academy and also by denying them the social and intellectual mobility that is the promise of higher education? The problem that seems inherent in the political ramifications of the process of enculturation into academic discourse has been tackled by many scholars in the hope that it can be reconciled.

What's the Problem?
The modern teacher of composition has a classroom full of students with diverse identities and it is her job to enable all of these diverse individuals to be able to understand and use academic discourse in order to be able to successfully move on to higher education. The problem lies in the fact that students who are members of dominant culture are privileged in that the rules of their own speech and discourse communities share virtually identical linguistic rules, shared norms, and rules as to the “appropriacy of utterances” as academic discourse while other students' speech and discourse communities are at a far greater remove from the conventions of academic discourse (Bizzell, “Foundationalism...” 48-49; Swales 23). Therefore, students who are at a cultural and linguistic remove from academic discourse must first learn, and be able to use fluently, the conventions that differ from their individual experience. In order for a teacher to be successful at this goal it is essential to ask how one acquires knowledge of academic discourse and its genres. To briefly and succinctly sum up the vast theoretical work and research on this subject is to say that a student must acquire enough background knowledge of general academic discourse in order to enter more specific discourse communities as a novice and to progress along a continuum toward expert status, within those communities' genres, in a process characterized by assimilation, imitation, enculturation, and internalization (Bawarshi; Bizzel, “Foundationalism...”; Carter; Pare; Swales). The terms used to describe the process are so connotatively loaded when applied to identity that it is easy to see why it is easy to come the conclusion that “[m]astery of the socially privileged academic discourse may indeed threaten students with cultural assimilation and the loss of their native discourses” (46).

How the field of Rhetoric and Composition, as well as Education, address this problem of assimilation, loss, and equity of opportunity within the educational system are as diverse as the students the problem addresses. The disparity of approaches to the problem, however, are mostly theoretical and, as of yet, have little impact on the pedagogy of actual teachers or the experiences of actual students (Fernstein 39). Perhaps the reason that so little of the theoretical work done on the subject reaches practice is that there seem to be three different ways that the problem is approached. First, that the problem being addressed is the wrong problem to be focusing on. Second, that there is no problem, or if there is now, the problem will work itself out in predictable ways. And, third, that the problem is indeed as it has been outlined in this introduction but, the solutions for the problem are varied and somewhat nebulous.

Addressing the Wrong Problem?
The vast majority of the work in Composition addressing the problem of academic discourse and identity is addressed toward the differences that exist in students' academic and nonacademic lives with the emphasis on the differences in meaning making with regard to “language practices, rhetorical traditions, worldviews, and ideologies” (Soliday 402). The field of Composition has asserted that diversity and difference can be addressed by transforming ideas about diversity into “institutionally transformative pedagogy” within which students can “position themselves in ways that don't violate their own cultural integrity” (Soliday 402). However, the problem of meaning making and identity may not be the most pressing issue (or even one of the most pressing issues) in the struggle of non-dominant students to be successful both in the use of academic discourse and higher education in general. Mary Soliday argues that it is social class rather than linguistic or cultural diversity that effectively keeps non-dominant students from succeeding (in the same numbers as their dominant peers) in the world of higher education. She argues that the struggle of working-class students does not have to involve dissonance between identities but rather that hours worked outside of school, family obligations, lack of immersion and continuity in the educational process, and lack of money for supplies and tuition are functionally the barriers to success (403-409). “In other words, we don't affirm a student's inability to buy a computer or textbooks in the same way as that we affirm that student's street slang as a creative, oppositional use of language” (Soliday 404). Furthermore, the effort to develop pedagogies that only respect and affirm the diversity of language and epistemologies will do little to combat the problem because there is no real evidence that changing the way in which language is used or received in academic discourse will do anything to change the essentially selective functions of higher education (and academic discourse) that serve to maintain class distinctions.

Perhaps another way in which the wrong problem is being addressed when focusing on the linguistic and epistemological struggles of identity in students primarily is that the field of Rhetoric and Composition does not itself practice what it preaches. The aforementioned lack of goal in the field has resulted in a multitude of different approaches, theories, philosophies, and so on that all exist within one field (Anson 246-7). As the importance of the field is being recognized in colleges and universities, this dissonance has made itself known in the “disciplinary persona” of the field.

"...[M]uch writing in the field of composition tries desperately to sound scholarly. Because the field maintains so many bond to other disciplines, we end up wearing discursive hats [...] The more insecure we feel, the more we gravitate toward discourse that alienates in order to seem inclusive, that invites people to understand itself while closing the door on those who do not already belong. Scholarly discourse is often unapproachable. [...] People write to sound important, to give themselves legitimacy.Ironically, the frustration of potential new members reading unnecessarily complex or academic discourse may well have its source in the anxieties of the writers themselves who, a bit farther along, still feel less than affiliated." (Anson 259)

Seen in this light, how can a discipline that purports to aim at allowing inclusion of identity and diversity of voice within education be effective at solving this problem when itself embodies the very problem it is battling. An argument could be made that the reason why theories of writing don't seem to materialize in practice is because the discipline that is doing the theorizing does not seem to value the importance of the findings in its own practice. Therefore, the problem of academic discourse seems to be addressing in a hypocritical way. In other words, it should be theoretically acceptable to allow for diversity of identity and voice for education in general, but this diversity is not of enough importance, or perhaps is not seen as intellectually rigorous enough, to be allowed in the field of Rhetoric and Composition. This illuminates a secondary problem as well. If most of the work of teaching, the actual work of pedagogy, is performed by graduate students and high school teachers who are not members of the field, and may feel alienated and “less than affiliated” themselves by the field's discourse, how is the theoretical work ever supposed to be translated into practice? This leads to the conclusion that perhaps the field should be addressing the problem within the discipline before making definitive statements or theories about how everyone else should address the problem.

Problem? What Problem?
Another approach to the problem of academic discourse and identity is to assert that while there currently is a problem, that there are sufficient ways to deal with the problem already in motion and that through the gradual passing of time the problems will be resolved. One way of framing the issue in this way is to assert that, yes, cultural hegemony and academic discourse are bound up together but this should not be a problem (Clifford 396). The reason this is not a problem is because of the way that hegemony and power are related.

"Since power is also decentered in our culture, finding its energy in properly socialized subjects, the most ambitious undertaking is not to storm the hegemonic barricades. Instead we should do the intellectual work we know best: helping students to read and write and think in ways that both resist domination and exploitation and encourage self-consciousness about who they are and can be in the social world." (Clifford 397)

In this model, the use of academic discourse in the way that students “read and write and think” will enable them to resist cultural hegemony and open up possibilities for a changed future. Therefore, academic discourse becomes the tool through which students are capable of resisting the assimilation and loss associated with academic discourse.

Another way of framing the discussion of academic discourse and identity is to assert that it is individuals who bring about change to academic discourse and its conventions and that this change is happening all the time (Bizzell, “The Intellectual Work...”; Delpit). Therefore, as diverse individuals are assimilated into the conventions of academic discourse, it will change (is changing) to allow for more diversity Lisa Delpit argues this point using several examples of successfully enculturated individuals in support of this point and recommending that teachers show explicitly how academic discourse has and is changing and how the individuals contributing to that discourse are diverse as well. Another set of examples used to support the hypothesis that the dissonance between identity and academic discourse will resolve itself is that of dominant (white male) authors using alternate modes of discourse in scholarly writing (Bizzel, “The Intellectual Work...”). In this situation, the assumption is that these “mixed” or alternate forms of discourse must still be carrying out the “intellectual work of the academy” in the same manner as traditional discourse, and that these alternate modes are generally accepted, or else dominant writers would not take the risk of engaging in them (Bizzell, “The Intellectual Work...” 74). No matter what measure is used to judge the changing nature of academic discourse the assumption remains the same; that the state of discourse in the academy will change as the demographics of the individuals at work in the academy change.

Houston, We Have a Problem, How Do We Fix It?
Many scholars do believe that the problem with academic discourse and identity exists as it was presented in the introduction to this paper. The assimilation and loss that is associated with the acquisition of academic discourse remains a question that elicits a common theme in way of a solution among these theorists. Most scholars, those that do not agree that the problem will fix itself, come to the conclusion that the only corrective to the problem is to make explicit the political act that occurs when teaching academic discourse and writing (Bizzell, “Foundationalism...”; Fernstein; Giroux). Unfortunately, the details of what making explicit the political act of teaching entails are a little vague and so is the desired effect that this shift will bring about. The emphasis on this explicit politicizing of writing usually comes at the end of an article exploring the effects of teaching academic discourse and, as of yet, has no real basis in widespread practice and is not emphasized at all in typical courses designed to teach teachers to teach.

One theory that does explicitly offer a concrete way to include making the political act explicit in the teaching of writing is Henry Giroux's “border pedagogies.” Giroux asserts that while the theoretical world has changed dramatically with the lens of postmodernism and the waning of modernism, pedagogy has essentially remained the same in classrooms. Border pedagogy is offered as a way of emphasizing (and making explicit) the “primacy of a politics in which teachers assert rather than retreat from pedagogies they utilize in dealing with the various differences represented by the students who come in to their classes” (61). The borders that are being addressed in Giroux's conception of pedagogy are the gaps between theory and practice, academic discourse and identity, and affirming diversity and intellectual rigor. Through the use of border pedagogy Giroux envisions a “radical democracy, or a place where the needs of those being taught outweigh those of scholars or institutions” (66).

The problem with academic discourse is not simply an issue of power, politics, and theory. It is also an issue of practice, pedagogy, and standards. In order to find a solution that actually mediates the apparent dichotomies between these two statements it is imperative that scholars look at the issue of diversity in more ways than just linguistic or epistemological difference to include the realities of class within their institutions. New ways of envisioning the use of academic discourse in the field of Rhetoric and Composition and the ways in which affiliation is either encouraged or discouraged within it need to be addressed so that the gap between theory and practice can be closed. However, the scholarship on the problematic nature of academic discourse and possible correctives to the process of enculturation do not seem to take these two issues very seriously, or at least with not as much vigor as issues of meaning-making. Furthermore, there is another major problem with the solutions to mediating the dissonance between identity and academic discourse that is not addressed. First, that the bureaucratic nature of educational systems in this country and federally mandated “standards” influence pedagogy more than theory. In other words, public opinion is important to the actual funding and even legality of pedagogy as it is practiced. And, if public opinion is that pedagogies that maintain class distinctions and embrace a modernist or foundationalist point-of-view in regard to standards and content are essential to producing successful citizens, than the implementation of a politicized, anti-foundationalist or postmodern pedagogy becomes more problematic than individual teachers can reasonably justify, especially if there are no ties to a common disciplinary or professional obligation to teach toward social transformation. In effect, Giroux and others are asking individual teachers to take a leap of faith and introduce explicitly political pedagogies into their classrooms, in the context of a world that generally believes that politics and education should be separate entities, with no support (or net) provided from either the professional or theoretical worlds as the only ethical way in which to mediate the problems with academic discourse and identity.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

Teaching English to L2 writers: A review of literature

Christine Maddox

Students representing various cultures and speaking numerous languages are entering the American writing classroom intent on learning to successfully write in English. Accordingly, there are countless theories and strategies regarding how to best teach English writing to non-native (L2) English speakers. Much of the research in this area of study focuses upon the challenges of teaching L2 writers within the English classroom, specifically what languages should be included within the classroom and what teaching methods are most successful with L2 writers.

L2 student writers should be encouraged to write and speak in both their native language and English within the classroom (Bean et al., Sook et al., Steinman, McCarthy). Research shows that incorporating both languages into the writing classroom leads to increased proficiency in English (Bean et al., Sook et al., Steinman). More specifically, prewriting in the native language and later revising into English allows L2 writers to develop richer, more detailed ideas (Bean et al.). L2 students tend to feel less inhibited and more comfortable when writing in their home language, and so writing initially produced in native languages is often more descriptive and less restricted than writing originally written in English (Bean et al., Mlynarczyk).

Language is a social construct that develops through social interaction of “input” and “output” (Sook et al. 76). Language input occurs through a processing of what other people are saying and language output takes place during a linguistic response to the input. This means that students must be able to observe (input) and use (output) both languages freely in order to gain a solid understanding of and comfort with the new language. Therefore, encouraging L2 students to write and speak in both languages maintains the social aspect of language and facilitates a smooth transition into the English language.

Furthermore, the L2 students’ efforts to learn English are always influenced by current knowledge of their native tongue. These home language influences should be embraced within the classroom, because they guide the student’s ability to learn English (Steinman). For instance, a Spanish speaker’s knowledge of the Spanish tense pasado perfecto will help her understand the similar past perfect tense in English. Knowledge of how one language works will benefit the student as she attempts to discover and understand the intricacies of another language. Thus, writing instructors should encourage L2 writers to reflect upon their native language as they learn English and consider how their first language can help them in this process (Steinman).

Furthermore, research shows that it is helpful for teachers themselves to be able to speak both languages in order to create “interactional spaces” for L2 writers (Sook et al. 85). This fosters the development of both languages simultaneously and further aids in the English acquisition process. Since L2 students do not stop developing their home language following introduction to English, it is reasonable that writing instructors should encourage concurrent growth of both the native language and English within the L2 classroom (Steinman, Sook et al.). This can be done through the instructor’s own practice of both languages within the class.
Ultimately, separation of languages within the classroom leads to a separation outside of the classroom. Students will not feel comfortable writing in both languages in the real world if they don’t do so in the classroom and will most likely insist on solely using their native tongue for real-world written communication (Sook et al.). If the goal of writing instructors is to prepare students to write outside of the classroom, instructors must prepare students for the real-world interaction between both languages that inherently accompanies second-language writers.

Also, allowing for the use of both the native language and English within the classroom shows a respect for the L2 writer that will facilitate the adoption of English writing practices (Bean et al., Carr). The Western world has subjected non-Western peoples to the process of “otherization” – the identifying of non-Western cultures simply by the fact that they are not of the Western world (Carr 192). Thus, it is imperative that non-Western students hear all voices, Western and non-Western, within the classroom, in order for them to feel included and accepted as English students (Carr, McCarthy). This inclusion will help them feel comfortable enough to embrace the English language; thus, L2 writers must be given opportunities in the English classroom to tell their stories, speak and write in their native languages, and interact with their native cultures (Carr). Ultimately, this respect and comfort for their native languages will show itself in their willingness and eagerness to adopt and respect English writing skills (Steinman, Bean et al.).

While native language writing has proven beneficial to L2 students, writing instructors must remember that not every situation is conducive to native tongue writing within the English classroom. For example, exploratory and personal writing works well when written in the student’s native language, but exams do not because students will need to translate their writing into English and there will rarely be time for this during the exam period (Bean et al.). Each classroom assignment is situational and should be evaluated as such.

While it appears as if researchers agree that both languages should be used within the L2 writing classroom at some point, there are many discrepancies about how to best teach L2 student writers. Recently, the United Kingdom passed a ban on bilingual dictionaries in L2 examinations citing a 1998 study by Hurman and Tall which reports that dictionaries give L2 students an unfair advantage (East). However, not all research supports this ban; a 2007 study by Martin East reports that non-native students should be allowed to use bilingual dictionaries on L2 writing exams because they don’t offer significant advantages. Furthermore, L2 students report preferring access to bilingual dictionaries because they are helpful for looking up unfamiliar words (East). East’s research stands in opposition to UK’s ban; it argues that dictionaries should be permitted since they don’t provide advantages and are preferred by L2 students.

Another disagreement among L2 writing instructors focuses upon the types of L2 assignments and how best to structure an L2 writing course. Some research shows the benefits of regular journal writing in English as a means of increasing English writing skills among L2 students (Mlynarczyk). Journals encourage freedom and a removal from precise writing rules. Studies have shown that this freedom ultimately leads to an increased English fluency because L2 students don’t feel constrained by their lack of mastery of the English language (Bean et al., Mlynarczyk).
However, not all researchers subscribe to the idea of journaling as the best option for L2 writers. Others feel that lessons on the technical aspects of the English language are most successful with L2 students and should be considered a central part of the L2 writing classroom (Zielinksa). Instead of focusing on a departure from English language rules and boundaries as do journals, technical writing theories emphasize teaching students how to communicate for practical purposes. Examples of technical aspects taught within L2 classrooms are awareness of purpose and audience, completion of secondary research, organization of texts, recognition of sentence type, and formation of coherent paragraphs (Zielinksa). Proponents of this teaching method maintain that familiarity with technical writing rules enhances a student’s ability to write well in English.

Yet other research shows that creating connections between the students’ home languages and English facilitates optimal growth of English writing skills (Steinman, Bean et al., Sook et al.). For this reason, assignments such as Literacy Autobiographies and Contrastive Analysis Projects are employed within some L2 classrooms because they combine native languages with English (Steinman). Literacy Autobiographies invite students to explore how they developed the literacy of their home language while Contrastive Analysis Projects compare home languages to specific dimensions of the English language such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. This unification of the two languages builds a language bridge so the L2 writer can transfer skills from her native language to the English classroom (Steinman).

Another method about how to best teach L2 student writers doesn’t focus on the specific assignments within the classroom as much as the theories driving the assignments. Some research shows that genre pedagogies are the best way to teach L2 writers because they provide real world applicability, reassurance for L2 writers, and opportunities for collaboration and scaffolding (Hyland). Through genre rules and conventions, L2 writers learn how to successfully write in English because they can recognize a “regularity and structure” with the new language (Hyland 152). Genres provide reassurance for L2 writers, allowing them to memorize and follow rules that are socially constructed and established. Furthermore, genres make writing assignments meaningful and social for L2 writers, increasing their connection to the writing assignment and their growth as English writers (McCarthy).

Genre pedagogy also provides clear standards for assessment so L2 teachers can be detailed and thorough with student feedback (Hyland). Instructors know what is expected of students within certain genres because the rules are established. This is beneficial for both L2 student writers and instructors.

Clearly, there is a large amount of scholarship regarding L2 student writers and how to best help them achieve English literacy. Despite the large numbers of articles and research regarding this topic, educators have yet to agree on how best to teach non-native English speakers. Much of the research as it stands today is informative yet contradictory as researchers seems to complicate and/or contradict each other in their attempts to discover optimal teaching methods and classroom settings for L2 writers.

The lack of agreement among L2 researchers can partly be attributed to a dearth in research directly comparing native and non-native English student writers. No one has systematically looked at the differences between two similar groups of native and non-native English college-aged writers in regards to thinking and writing processes. How does thinking in a different language and the act of translating from mind to paper affect one’s writing process and the text produced? The current research will seek to answer these questions by examining two student populations at the University of Dayton: L2 student writers and native English student writers.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

Dialogue Journals: A Tool for Fostering ESL Writing Abilities

Wanda Huber

Journal writing is a powerful tool for fostering learning (English and Gillen 1). It has been defined as an “art and a science, providing a means to express a writer’s inner thoughts, emotions, and actions while also helping him or her reflect “intentionally and systematically” on a subject (2). Although theoretical scholarship as well as empirical evidence associated with journal use in building language skills is limited (English and Gillen 3; Hiemstra 19; Jayne 1; Mlynarczyk Conversations 11), the classroom studies suggest certain journal-writing practices as affecting the quality and quantity of student writing (Norton 63). Such productivity occurs through journaling practices that encourage students to make connections between their personal thoughts and the academic materials (Mlynarczyk Conversations 168). To foster students’ ability to communicate meaningful thoughts without inhibitions, teachers use journals, called dialogue journals, to engage in conversations with their students. The available research suggests that for students of English as a second language (ESL or L2 learners), a nurturing environment helps writers overcome their inhibitions (Orem 76). Overcoming inhibitions is easier when writers converse with their teachers and peers without fear of negative or punitive criticism (Weissberg 132 ). When learning to write, participating in a real dialogue is more effective than passive memorization (Cisero 231). Through dialogue journaling, ESL students become actively engaged in writing, gaining the one-one attention needed to improve their skills (Peyton and Reed 111).

History of Dialogue Journaling as a Learning Tool
Dialogue journaling is not a “theoretically generated idea, but a teacher-developed classroom practice. Teachers, researchers, and teacher educators developed the practice at a time when “the broader ideas of interactional participation in learning and the power of natural conversational discourse were becoming widespread” (Staton and Peyton 7-1). Dialogue journaling has grown from one teacher, Leslee Reed’s exchange of thoughts for the day with her students to yearlong journal conversations that provided her students with a forum to “ask questions, to complain, to request help in solving personal as well as academic problems, and to share feelings” to formal classroom-level research of the dialogue journal (7-1). During the time when these studies were forming, “a network of ESL and foreign language instructors” began to develop by word of mouth before written descriptions of the process were publicly available (7-4). These teachers were interested in understanding how to use dialogue journals in ways specific to their needs (7-4). In response to this need, many doctoral students since the mid 1980s have adapted their dissertation research to understanding how dialogue journals support learners in different environments.

Characteristics of Journal Formats, Purposes, and Goals
Dialogue journaling offers students opportunities to engage in intellectually reflective conversations. Because many models incorporate some form of scaffolding, students are continually pressed to question, clarify, reconsider, and expand on their thoughts in greater and greater detail (Fenwick 35). From such dialogue students become actively engaged in their own thoughts as well as others. Being engaged in dialogue with another person in writing has a much greater impact on their fluency than “copying or filling in blanks” (Mlynarczyk 130). Teachers can facilitate journal writers thinking by directing attention to gaps in writer’s content or areas that could be explored more deeply (English 39). A common purpose of such interaction is to help students formulate complex thinking into words on the page without feeling inhibited by the added pressures of using correct English.

Although journaling takes many forms—diary, learning journal, interactive reading log, theory log, electronic journal, and others—not all forms are conducive to improving students’ abilities to formulate their thoughts in writing. For example, a diary is typically used to record chronological events, and this activity alone is not enough to “bring about deep changes in a person’s life” (Hiemstra 19), deep changes referring to growth as a writer, learner, and as a communicator. Incorporating teachers’ comments and questions designed for continued reflection, however, readies the diary for supporting ESL learners develop (19). Although large scale research on the affects of journal writing pedagogies is lagging, most field studies that utilize learning journals, reading logs, theory logs, and electronic journal formats incorporate some form of dialogue or response to entries (Peyton 22). These types of journals are characterized as follows: a learning journal is a record of “thoughts, reflections, feelings, personal opinions, and even hopes or fears during an educational experience” (21); an interactive reading log is a “series of reactions or responses. . .of what [learners] are reading in their own voice or words” (23); in a theory log students “make notes regarding what they perceive to be theoretical concepts, salient points, truths, bridges to known theory, ideas to be tested, and gaps in the knowledge. . .provid[ing] a foundation for course content” (23). The conversation taking place in these journals reflects the overall subject matter and journaling purpose.

In an L2 learning environment, students’ dialogue journals are characterized by the particular focus such as learning language structure, a structural approach; improving communication skills, a communicative approach; or developing self-empowerment, a participatory approach (Orem 73). These goals can be the sole purpose for the journaling practice or they can be used in combination. A journaling practice grounded in a structural approach will emphasize grammar and language structure and is most often found in an academic setting with teachers focusing on correct usage and error correction. With such a focus, dialogues can be particularly helpful when teachers do more than correction, offering feedback on students’ improvement and other forms of encouragement and advice (73). When employing a communicative approach, the content of the journal entries are more important than grammar and correctness (73). The participatory approach to teaching ESL emphasizes students’ self-empowerment by letting the context of students’ experiences frame the conversation with the self and with the teacher and/or peers (75). In an adult ESL learning environment, the journal becomes a tool for students to understand themselves as writers, as participants in a new cultural milieu, and a more complex usage of the English language.

Whether the journal focuses on syntactical/grammatical constructions, reading experiences, theoretical concepts, or personal interactions, the experience offers students writing practice. The dialogue journal will usually provide occasions for three types of reflection: those that engage the writer in reflection on future, present, or past actions or events. Being engaged in a writing situation constitutes a learning experience (Boud 13). This point highlights the basic qualities of reflective models that work from the assumption that “learning from experience is an active one” (Boud 12), requiring engaged thinking. In that moment of learning, writers challenge their own perceptions, notice their own processes and intervene on their own behalves (13). As an active process, learning occurs by re-evaluating past experiences, recognizing recurrent situations, and anticipating future responses based on the new information that arises from self-evaluation. Anticipatory reflection focuses on the context of a journal entry, exploring the writers’ goals for their writing, clarifying what is hoped to be gained from the journaling experience as a whole and then planning to work to achieve those benefits.

Issues, Benefits, and Obstacles of Dialogue Journaling in an ESL or Adult Literacy Course
Although it seems reasonable to assume that writers will be more motivated to participate in a journaling practices when their own personal learning goals are at stake, the research is not that simple. Student motivation is a complicated issue that alludes researchers. Some researchers believe student motivation in becoming actively engaged in a writing activity arises from beliefs that dialogue journaling directly leads to improved skills (Jayne 62). However, other researchers believe that whether or not students recognize the personal value arising from dialogue journaling, having a forum to communicate with their teacher one-on-one can often motivate students to participate and thus reap the benefits without intending to do so (Jayne 62). Such motivation seems to be enhanced when students feel their analysis or their thoughts are being taken seriously and being evaluated by real-world standards (Fallows and Ahmet 19).

In a classroom setting, students, teachers, and institutions expect writing to be evaluated not only on content but for language usage as well. This claim is especially true for the ESL learning environments. The tension from the need to assess student writing in dialogue journaling and the need to simply engage students creates a tension for teachers. This tension can shape students’ writing because when being assessed they will naturally be more interested in displaying what they know versus what they do not know. This type of performance is in direct opposition to successful dialogue journaling because “reflection involves focus on uncertainty, perplexing events, and exploration without necessarily knowing where it will lead” (English 16). For dialogue journaling to benefit writing and thinking abilities, students need to feel free to “express their doubts, reveal their lack of understanding, and focus on what they do not know” (English 16). Creating a comfortable space for writers to explore what they do not know, willingly exposing their intellectual inadequacies in classroom or group settings, often hinges on the relationship writers have with readers (Boud 16). If the role of a teacher’s response is of corrector, a writer is not free to explore in their writing concepts that are relevant and/or infused with mature thought but designed to please the teacher and thus limiting the journaling experience. Addressing the tensions at the start of a dialogue journaling experience is essential to dealing with the opposition between creating a writing environment where writers feel safe from criticism and one that pushes writers to advance their efforts and improve their skills. It is important to note that most often when the practice of dialogue journaling is employed for developing better communication skills, it functions in tangent with other classroom procedures and pedagogies. This is important when seeking to alleviate such tension as some teachers may choose to clearly identify strictly reflective work from work that will be assessed or graded (Boud 17).

Providing a forum for students to think and write without scrutiny can have great effect on writers developing fluencies (Mlynarczyk Conversations 13). The validity of this claim is implicit in a journal entry of a twelfth grade ESL student, who is asked to comment on her experience dialogue journaling with her teacher
What I have learned from the journals is how to write about my ideas. . .I can write what I want, and when I am writing, I have ideas about what to write. I sometimes don’t like it when teaches tell me what to write and I’m not interested in what I’m writing about. I feel bored and don’t enjoy it. The best thing about the journal is it keeps you thinking about what you are writing. (Peyton and Reed 27)
The experience of dialogue journaling for this student reveals an important element of a successful dialogue journaling experience—providing topics learners are interested in and the opportunity to share those ideas (Norton 69). Echoing this assumption, Joy Peyton and Leslee Reed quote Loban’s assertion regarding the need for students to be given an opportunity to write genuine communications: “‘. . .pupils must apply whatever is studied to situations in which they have something to say, a deep desire to say it, and someone to whom they genuinely want to say it’” (qtd. in 27). Providing a forum where genuine communications can take place is a chief benefit of a successful dialogue journaling practice.

In her dissertation, Veronica Jayne points out a number of student surveys that parallel the above student’s comments, addressing how the focus on content and not grammar correctness motivates active engagement in writing “‘you don’t scare for the structure,’” “ ‘even spelling is wrong, I don’t care. Just writing more,’” and it’s good psychologically because every time we see mistake, you know, it is not good for the students. They are too much demotivated’” (Jayne 10-11). That these students feel motivated to write because their grammar is not corrected does not imply a lack of interest in learning to use correct grammar. In fact, not all students react positively to conversing with their teachers outside of a writing/assessing relationship. Some students may even find writing that is not graded on its correctness suspect (Jayne 11). The issue of grammar correction is complicated by the fact that no evidence supports the belief that students’ benefit from grammar correction. A study comparing two groups of learners, one with a focus on error correction and the other with a content focus validates the belief that error correction does not help writers improve the quality of their writing. This study reveals the group receiving error correction produced writing with no improvement in content and with less complex texts while the other group improved in complexity and content (Jayne 12). That in addition to a diminished complexity in writing the students whose writing was being corrected began demonstrating avoidance behaviors points to the need for teachers to be educated in how to respond to student writing since it can effect their motivation to actively engage in a writing practice.

How to Respond to Journals
For teachers interested in helping students developing their skills, a dialogue journal is a useful tool that depends on teachers’ appropriate responses. Responding to student writing is a critical teacher skill (Shin)—unfortunately, one that ESL teacher training often omits. Many teachers and researchers lament this point and believe training imperative (Orem 70, Jarvis 79, English 88, Shin). In general, teachers are “largely unprepared, marginalized, and isolated practitioners” (Orem 70). Orem, Jarvis, and Shin recommend that teachers interested in teaching L2 language learners need training and practice in dialogue journaling. The hope is that by teachers engaging in a reflective practice of their own and in conversation with their supervising teacher, they will “see how their own ideas are changing and developing as the course proceeds and to test their practice against the theoretical ideas to which they have been introduced” (Jarvis 82). Through praxis, the anticipated outcome is that teachers “will come to understand their own actions better, but will use journals as a way to engage in their own research. . .gain[ing] practice in asking questions (73).

In Shin’s study of pre-service teachers, she incorporates a reflective learning journal with ESL tutoring, asking student teacher’s to reflect on each tutoring experience immediately following a tutoring session, to make connections to previous sessions, and to question what has worked and what has not as well as to anticipate methods for improvement. By “emphasizing the importance of providing contexts in which teachers use their educational experiences to construct an understanding of their philosophy of teaching, as well as their strengths, weaknesses and potential as teachers, the reflective approach enables prospective teachers to integrate theory and practice and to plan their personal and professional development” (Shin). More simply, to be effective educators requires educators to be reflective practitioners (English 33).

Since Shin’s study is not a generalized practice for teacher training, teachers need to rely on the available research for knowing how to respond appropriately to students journals. Researchers have identified three basic types of teacher responses as helpful: those that affirm, those that direct attention to gaps in thoughts or that provide insight or clarity of thoughts emerging in the writing, and those that “enter a conversation with the journal writer by probing, extending, and connecting (Fenwick 35). Whether the responder is the journal writer, the instructor, or a peer, responders take on different roles through which to listen and respond that depend on the writer’s intentions and the relationship between writer and responder (Fenwick 41). Tara Fenwick characterizes these responses as those that comfort, mirror, provoke, direct learning, portray a friend-in-dialogue, elevate students knowledge, and/or act as a biographer (41) Although most of these roles seem self-explanatory, a few require additional explanation. For example, as a biographer the responder reminds the journal writer of their overall development that has taken shape, opening the door for changing established narrative patterns; as a mirror, a teacher’s response will reflect a students thoughts or questions (41). As a general rule, teacher response will be most helpful if have a casual tone, use personal examples, ask questions to help writer’s clarify their thoughts (Fenwick 41; English and Gillen 91). Taken from Kirby and Liner’s work, Fenwick outlines suggestions for responding to student writing:
•Be an active reader
•Encourage the student to share excerpts from the journal writing with classmates
•Suggest future topics. Notice profitable digressions
•Write an extended response, a short poem, or ask questions
•Avoid empty comments like interesting, nice, or good idea
•Be honest with students
•Look for something good
•Avoid sarcasm. Even offhand humorous comments in writing can be hurtful.
•Take a break. Respond to just a few journals at a time (41)
Fenwick’s final suggestion to take a break speaks to the main obstacle for engaging in dialogue journaling—time. Writing and responding to journals in a full practice is extremely time consuming and can inhibit the development of this practice (English and Gillen 85). To avoid burn-out, teachers should be realistic in their expectations. Some instructors have dealt with the lack of time by broadening their students’ audiences, adding peer groups to the conversations (Mlynarczyk Conversations 174). Because of the amount of work involved, teachers need to understand that they are not only helping students in their reflective practices but the act of responding to others’ thoughts serves to help clarify one’s own beliefs (175). Because of the time constraint, teachers and students need clear, yet flexible, guidelines established in the beginning of the practice so that expectations can be realistic.

Although researchers believe dialogue journaling is invaluable to learning and should be taught more consistently in higher education (English and Gillen 85), there are those that argue for caution. They believe not enough is known about how to properly respond to students and worry that the crossover between the professional and the personal implicit in dialogue journaling has serious ethical implications: “The point is that by engaging students personally and encouraging them to communicate openly in their journals. . .we invite personal response (Weissberg 140). Leona English echoes Boud and Walker’s belief that educators should “avoid demanding that learners reflect on critical incidents in their lives or ask learners for too much disclosure, especially when there are inadequate support services to counsel learners in crisis” (30).

When the professional teacher engages students socially there is danger that the dialogue journal “will turn into unexpectedly significant social events (Weissberg 141). This may be due, in part, to the fact that L2 writers “may not share our cultural or personal values, or our assumptions about what constitutes socially appropriate discourse (Weissberg 141). These ethical concerns ought not be trivialized as they “arise every time we discuss an issue, put something into practice, engage in dialogue with colleagues, and interact with learners” (English 34). Because dialogue journaling is a practice that is being embraced in the field, some basic principles to adhere to are useful as more field research and reflection are being conducted: Practice respect, justice, beneficence, self-awareness, and caring when conversing with students and when handling the private information found within their journals (32-3).

Although dialogue journaling provides the one-to-one relationship that ESL learners require, helps writers feel more confident and less afraid of criticism, supports pre-service teachers in developing their practice, creates meaningful writing experiences with real-world implications, the benefits of dialogue journaling are not without risks. Dialogue journaling makes teaching a personal practice, a practice that grows in the interstices between the personal and the professional. From this in-between place, teachers invite students to engage in a dialogue. Although such a dialogue can be framed and the parameters of appropriate conversation delimited, real reflection is difficult to control. When students and teachers are engaging in personal conversations, the typical parameters of what is appropriate to discuss and what is inappropriate become blurred. For example, if a teacher, mirroring a student’s reflection, shares that she has dyslexia, should the student be held accountable for keeping such information private? Should the teacher? Teachers need more than basic guidelines and common sense when determining how to handle the inevitable ethical issues that will arise when engaging students in dialogue. Because of the specific nature of the individual issues that may arise, it is impossible to list how to handle every situation. Conducting a large scale, multi-leveled survey could uncover invaluable information for the practicing teacher. Thee questions might include asking teachers and students who have engaged in dialogue journals about their specific experiences such as describing the ethical dilemmas experienced, the manner in which they were handled, the final outcomes as well as imagined outcomes if the situation were handled differently. It is reasonable to assume that this research will uncover similar situations that teachers and students have faced, multiple ways in which they have been handled, and multiple outcomes. Providing teachers with such information, could serve teachers’ in knowing the best manner in which to handle those border conversations in a manner that fosters learning with uncompromised ethics.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

Class Changing the Classroom

Jessica Fentress

“The BA degree determines whether individuals will perform mental or physical labor, and it also determines the amount of autonomy they will have over their work” (Soliday 732). However, structures within the composition classroom and the world of higher education as a whole often alienate working class students who need the Bachelor’s degree in order to cross socioeconomic lines into the middle class. Socioeconomic class in the university can, therefore, function as something more than a “distribution of resources” (Lindquist). Socioeconomic class is part of a larger power struggle that leaves educators in a position of having to force change in order to give their working-class students a fair chance at entering the university and the wider world of the middle class.

Earlier research focused primarily on linguistic concerns to explain why working class students faced problems in the college writing classroom. A close analysis of studies conducted prior to 1983 found that many of the studies had inconclusively proven linguistic differences in the writing samples of members of working and middle class students. Middle-class boys ages 12-14 were found to write more and use more subordinate clauses than their working-class peers. The middle class was given credit for using more adjectives, more elaboration, more modification, writing longer essays with longer, more complicated sentences, and being more adept at basic utilitarian genres such as thank you letters. The working class, in contrast, was given credit for having more capability in narrative and description that relied on more concrete details to communicate (Poole).

Still other studies reviewed found no differences at all and suggested that working class students had, in effect, been schooled out of that which marked their written communication as working class. While Poole concludes that there is no evidence that there are linguistic differences between the classes, she does point to a much larger truth about the studies; nearly all of them judged writing by middle class standards, rules, and definitions, which leave educators with only two options if they want to acknowledge class differences and refuse to disdain basic aspects of their student’s history: they can romanticize the value of being working class and refuse to impose academic discourse upon their students’ native way of making meaning, but this would not grant working class students basic access to the power structures of a middle-class society, or they can strip working class students of their identities and basic views of the world and allow them access to the university (Poole). Either of these are unacceptable solutions.

More recent research focuses on innate ways of thinking and acting in social settings that may make classrooms alienating places for working class students. The research indicates that working class students are often criticized for using cliché phrases (Seitz). It also indicates that working class students may have difficulty questioning authority or exhibiting their own intelligence in class, leading professors to think that they are not engaged, active participants in the class (Tingle).

Current research also seeks to explain the “shortcomings” of the working class. For instance, Seitz is quick to explain the fact that cliché phrases may be part of a larger coping system that helps working class students to hold onto their old world while trying to enter the middle class, and Tingle is quick to point to research that studied the parenting practices of working class and middle class parents and found that working class caregivers discouraged exhibitions of intelligence or the criticism of sources of power.

While identity and socialization issues are important, there are also more pragmatic difficulties faced by working class students that have nothing to do with language. Institutions of higher learning are expensive, and as the funding for public higher education is cut, so too, is the number of working class students who can afford to enter and stay in the university. Working class students are often forced to work more hours outside of class in order to pay for their education, severely limiting the time they can spend on class work. They, therefore, often find themselves under too much exhaustion and financial strain to finish their degree in four years, or, indeed, at all (Soliday).

Given these differences more recent research seeks to explore the best approach to teaching composition to working-class students. It is quick to conclude that a formalist axiology does not work. Formalist pedagogies can drastically endanger a working-class student’s abilities and liberties within the English classroom. Formalist axiology teaches the rules of middle-class discourse with very little regard to the patterns and talents that working-class students bring with them to the classroom (Shor). While Shor advocates the critical /cultural studies approach to teaching composition as a way of giving students power within the classroom, other researchers have been quick to point out the many problems with critical/cultural studies.

The problem with critical/cultural studies ultimately arises from the fact that critical/cultural studies professors, while trying to liberate their students from the dominant middle class discourse, ultimately force adherence to an anti-dominant ideology with its own foundationalist standards of how students should go about being freed in the first place (Bizzell; Lindquist; and Seitz). The critical/cultural studies classroom often replaces the authoritative, fundamentalist standard of academic discourse with a method of analysis (Bizell) that is often foreign to working class students. The new standard logic, which relies heavily on objective, deductive reasoning alienates working class students who may have been socialized to favor inductive reasoning based on personal experience and emotion (Lindquist; Seitz).

Researchers, however, offer different solutions to the problem of a foundationalist standard of “appropriate” logic. Lindquist advocates a pedagogy in which the teachers’ role is not one of critiquing students as “honest skeptics,” but one of “strategic performance” in which teachers work “to tactically position themselves as conduits for students’ affective responses to the paradoxes of nostalgia and ambition in working-class experiences.” This sounds like the “British pedagogical approach” that allows students, not merely of the working class, to do research in their native discourses without favoring or enforcing academic discourse (Bizzell). While this may be good for the emotional well-being of working-class students, Bizzell finds fault with it, claiming that working class students often learn only one thing from such a course: “that they don’t want to have anything to do with academic discourse. They leave school. Thus, indeed, they escape the threat of assimilation. But also[…] they escape any possibility of changing their disenfranchised social status” (Bizzell 49). Bizzell, therefore, advocates a two-pronged approach to teaching composition to diverse student populations at large.

First, she advocates a rhetorical approach to teaching composition that allows student to “demystify” academic discourse by immersing them in the academic community to the point of “socialization.” Second, she advocates recognizing the fact that academic discourse is not a rigid and unchanging monolith. Rather, it contains many revolutionary strands that can and do change what is acceptable in the university. It is therefore the responsibility of educators to advocate for change that will allow for a more inclusive academy and world at large (Bizzell).

Political change is called for in other arenas. Some research recognizes the ways in which the basic structures of the college composition system can inhibit working class students’ abilities to succeed in the university and the middle class world at large. Shor and Soliday, both writing from the City University of New York, insist that language policies at the university level are for the express purpose of limiting working class and minority students’ access to the university. They claim that policies which use standardized tests before students enter the university to place specific students in remedial courses based on their familiarity with white, middle class discourse are intent upon “cooling out” students and lessening their career aspirations or ability to attain a Bachelor’s Degree. Soliday points out that
Remediation and assessment may foster students’ progress at some institutions, but Barbara Gleason and I have evidence that both acted as internal barriers by slowing students’ progress toward a BA at CCNY. While tuition was soaring and the poverty level of minorities was increasing in New York City, our students could neither use their financial aid to pay for remedial courses nor enroll in required core curriculum courses while simultaneously completing remedial requirements. We felt that the remedial program was not receiving adequate funding or intellectual attention from the institution commensurate to its functions, and we had collected evidence that the CUNY WAT [a standardized test used for placement] did not accurately predict who would succeed in a college writing course. (Soliday 738)
Shor explains this problem in more shocking terms by stating that his students who succeeded in spite of the fact that they should have been in remedial courses were the possessors of “illegal literacy” that caused them to have to jump through hoops such as taking a freshman composition class, passing it, and then having to go back and take the remedial course in order to get credit for it. This frustrates him and his students, and leaves Shor claiming that these are the policies that uphold the “regime” of middle class “white supremacy.” Furthermore, Shor claims that the problem will get worse as national standardized tests replace individual institutions’ English competency tests as ways of tracking students and assigning them to remedial instruction.

Both Shor and Soliday advocate, as does Bizzell, political action by professors to change both the way that writing instruction is taught and the system in which it is taught. However, none of these studies measure the effectiveness of their respective approaches in creating change and opening the university up to students of the working class. All of this research is hypothetical, based on what researchers think practitioners ought to be doing, not the actual effect of changing classrooms and political institutions on retention and education of working class students, which seems to be all of the researchers’ ultimate goals. Perhaps this is the result of the fact that change like this will have to happen very slowly, but finding an effective way to prevent composition from serving as a roadblock to student success is a critical component to educating working class students who need access to wider power structures in order to help themselves and help change the system.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

Multiple Intelligences Theory in the Composition Classroom: A Review of Literature

Jamie Feltner

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, researcher and Harvard lecturer of Psychology and Education, published a book that explored the potentialities and wide range of human intelligences. Frames of Mind asserted that human intelligence was much more multifaceted than society had previously assumed, and introduced Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory in which he states that there are multiple intelligences humans are capable of cultivating, not just the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences typically valued in education. Gardner went on to claim that society’s traditional standards of measuring intelligence were seriously flawed, and through his research he formulated a list of seven possible intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal.

Researchers have continued to investigate Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory in order to examine its validity and to study methods of implementing MIT into our education system. This research is especially vital in the field of composition, a key field in which educators have had to battle the deeply help beliefs of what intelligence consists of and how to measure it. In order for composition educators to abandon the traditional beliefs concerning intelligence and the methods of measuring it, research connecting MIT to the field of composition (including possible benefits, consequences, and methods of application) must continue to be conducted. And though the research surrounding the topic has been mostly relegated to the sidelines of the field, there have been some important breakthroughs and conclusive findings, three of which I will highlight in this review: (1) There is an inherent connection between composition and all other intelligences; (2) By encouraging students to explore these connections there are benefits and, likewise, by prohibiting students from exploring these connections there are negative consequences; (3) Teachers could use MIT to help “unskilled” writers find their niche.

In Frames of Mind Gardner declares connections between all seven types of intelligences he outlines, and asserts that in order to appropriately express oneself in writing and accurately decide upon the right framework for expressing words and ideas, other intelligences, in addition to linguistic, are required. Since writing is a blend of several distinct human intelligences, composition students, as multifaceted individuals, should be provided with assignments and activities that activate and develop all of their intelligences (Etim, Grow, Sword). As researcher Peter Smagorinsky mentions in his article “Constructing Meaning in the Disciplines: Reconceptualizing Writing across the Curriculum as Composing across the Curriculum,” most human activity in general (in our daily, academic, and professional lives) involves some combination of Gardner’s intelligences. To disregard this truth in terms of writing assignments and assessments only puts composition students at a disadvantage. By acknowledging that there is an inherent connection between composition and all other intelligences, it is acknowledged that there is not one standard way of learning and, therefore, there should not be one standard way of assessing (Abhorn).

By encouraging students to explore these connections, composition teachers will soon see the benefits. For starters, by having a conscious awareness of their intellectual strengths and personal intelligences, (which vary between students) students might be able to implement behaviors and habits better suited to improving their own personal composition process (Abhorn). By having the freedom to identify their own “right” ways of learning and demonstrating their skills, students will begin to show more promise for possibility as they individually interpret assignments and respond in their own intelligent way (Hearne & Stone, Sword). Since MIT forces students to abandon their habitual linguistic mode and write (and read) for different purposes, “MI-inspired teaching can facilitate the kind of critical-creative thinking that will allow… students to flourish in an increasingly multidisciplinary social and intellectual environment” (Sword, 248). One of the composition teachers’ responsibilities is to prepare their students for the world outside of academia. As Hearne and Stone state in their article “Multiple Intelligences and Underachievement: Lessons from Individuals with Learning Disabilities,” “a good language arts program is one that expands the communication potential of all learners through the orchestration and use of multiple ways of knowing for purposes of ongoing interpretation and inquiry into the world” (447).

By either denying the existence of the connections between multiple intelligences and composition, or by denying students the opportunity to explore these connections, negative consequences arise. If most school writing is either strictly informational or analytic and refuse to incorporate other intelligences, there are inherently many limitations of what schools treat as legitimate ways of writing and thinking (Smagorinsky). And by focusing on reading and writing in a strictly traditional sense, what Gardner refers to as “cognitive revolutions” associated with the other learning intelligences may not occur (Gardner, “Frames”).

Lastly, through research with “unskilled” writers, it has also been hypothesized that Multiple Intelligences Theory could be used to help such writers find their niche. “Unskilled” writers, along with At Risk Children, Exceptional Children, The Academically Gifted, and ESL students, need appropriate lesson planning and assessments that touch on their needs and highlight their abilities. This could best be accomplished by incorporating multiple intelligences in writing, not only the “standard” linguistic intelligence (Etim). Those students having difficulty writing could turn to other intelligences for inspiration. In fact, research by Hearne and Stone has shown that focusing on creativity in a more nontraditional sense can prompt better writing samples from students labeled with a Learning Disability.

There seems to be plenty of research supporting the importance of integrating MIT into the composition class. The gap in research seems to stem from the question of how to integrate MIT into the composition programs on a large scale. For instance, books with individual MIT lesson plans are easy to find, but the route to take in order to create a large scale change in the education system has yet to be suggested.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

Incubation in the writing process—for those with loose screws: A Review of Literature

Mike Dunekacke

"Aha." We've all probably experienced the aha moment. You've walked away from a frustrating task or question with no answer, and then later—maybe minutes, maybe years—the answer pops in your head while you're taking a walk, washing dishes or maybe just sorting screws.

Former Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, once told me he goes to his office everyday to write. If nothing comes, he stays in his office for a set amount of time and does something—anything. His favorite way to kill the time is sorting jars of miscellaneous screws purchased at thrift stores. He takes the assortment of screws from someone else's forgotten shop and just begins sorting them by size and type.

Kooser would certainly rather be writing. But if he can't, he knows that he needs to be in this space and ready. He's waiting for the words and, judging from the volume of work Kooser has produced, it's a good strategy.

When considering the writing process in academia over the course of a semester, I found very little about incubation—about providing the time for an idea to germinate. It's all about direct activity: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing are the common steps given for the process. And the end goal is always quality writing. We expect students to produce quality writing for discourse communities they are unfamiliar with, yet we ignore one part of the process that provides so much fruit for practicing members of that same professional community: incubation.

From anecdote to evidence
One simple reason that incubation has been largely ignored by composition scholars is because it is most commonly considered an entirely subconscious process (Dively, "Preludes" 22, Dively, "Incubating" 92, Gates 60-61, Wells 407). Opinions differ on the degree that incubation is subconscious, but—even if it is entirely subconscious—that shouldn’t prohibit the consideration of incubation in the writing process. Psychologists and philosophers certainly haven’t limited their considerations or study of the thought process buried in the subconscious—nor should we—considering the possible benefits to students of writing.

As noted, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of incubation in the writing process. However, if you would rather not accept the testimony of writers like Cather, Hemingway, King and Kipling, researchers are just beginning to explore incubation (Dively 47-48, Emig 6-8).

First on anyone’s list to read if they are considering researching incubation, should be Dr. Ronda Leathers Dively’s book, Preludes to Insight: Creativity, Incubation, and Expository Writing. Dively’s text provides the best synthesis and summary of the history and scholarship concerning incubation and the writing process, and she takes that work a step further with case studies: chapter five considers undergraduate students, and chapter six focuses on graduate students.

After what must be close to a First-Year Composition universal, Dively spent several frustrating semesters having students write six essays on six different topics. Far from approaching expertise, the students were more often skimming the surface and summarizing basic concepts. Dively knew her students needed a change, and the goal from the onset was not necessarily to directly consider the effects of incubation. Her goal, like so many other FYC professors, was to teach students to be better writers.

Dively didn’t reduce the amount of writing. Instead, she allowed the students to write six papers on the same subject, honing their understanding of the topic and their familiarity with the nuances of the discourse community. During this time, there was time to incubate, and there was activity. The work entailed research, talking about your ideas with others (in class and experts), and writing a draft. Incubation is not about procrastination—a worry that that was initially expressed by Dively's students (158).

The result? Not only significant improvements in the writing, but an increase in confidence in the students, and, Dively hints at—an increase in transfer to other writing situations (174).

And Dively isn't alone as she looks to the study of incubation to delve further into the creative process. Other scholars are also implementing studies to determine the benefits of incubation (Coskun 471-474, Wells 407-408). Both of these scholars are concentrating on what might be called forced incubation. Coskun's emphasis is on small group research and brainstorming whereas Wells' work is directly focused on writing in the academic community.

The interesting point of Wells' study is that the professors who implemented some type of active incubation strategy were more creatively productive (measured as the number of published articles in refereed journals) than those who did not (408). Specifically, Wells indicated that the professors, "who intentionally set manuscripts aside for a period of time to allow for the incubation process tended to be the most productive" (408). The same result occurred in Coskun's research—albeit in small groups. The groups that used forced incubation were able to brainstorm more ideas in a controlled setting (474).

In both of these studies, there is emphasis on the structure of the incubation. The amount of structure varies widely (from a matter of minutes, to simply implementing some type of formal break) but the results are both positive—more production of what is essentially considered creative work.

Other scholars are beginning to look at the science behind the process of incubation. Although I did no direct research into this aspect, Dively touches on the some of the predominant efforts under way in considering physical explanations for the benefits of incubation, including neurobiological studies measuring cortical arousal, the effect of neurotransmitting hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ATCTH), and even some exploration into what some have thought to be more traditional chemical facilitators of incubation (such as alcohol) (Dively 27-28).
Block and Transfer
Two of the points uncovered that show the most promise if incubation is implemented into writing courses include overcoming writer's block and the enhancement of transfer of writing tasks from one class (or writing situation) to another.

Transfer was briefly mentioned previously in regards to Dively's work, but she was not the only scholar to highlight this possible benefit of utilizing incubation in the writing process. Incubation, in effect, feeds on related material and experience (Gates 64). Thus, providing the opportunity for incubation can assist the student in—not only drawing on items of content that will assist their writing, but—developing on previous methods and composition strategies that have worked for them in the past. In a way, this aspect of incubation as a facilitator of transfer knowledge is also similar and useful in tackling the current concept—and practice—of writing to learn that is becoming more popular in writing programs.

Janet Emig first raised the idea of using incubation as a method important to writing to learn in 1964 (6-11). Although she never directly used the term incubation, there is little doubt what she is talking about as she quotes a passage by Amy Lowell, "An idea will come into my head for no apparent reason; 'The Bronze Horses,' for instance. I registered the horses as a good subject matter and … consciously thought no more about the matter … what I had really done was to drop my subject into the subconscious, much as one drops a letter into the mail box" (10). What Emig seems to be getting at in her article is that artists have historically used incubation to create, to learn their own craft—and that this process is more likely to provide rich results for our students than the attempt to force them into a rigid structure of completing multiple essays on unrelated topics where the student has no time to sit with the idea and develop their own thoughts.

And developing thoughts when it comes down to completing the final task—actually writing the product—introduces us to the final concept that was raised in this research on incubation in the writing process: the use of incubation to overcome writer's block.

The two reasearchers that both addressed block directly where Krashen and Coskun. Coskun, again, was studying the impact of incubation techniques in a small group brainstorming session. Krashen, on the other hand, was looking the writing process.

Specifically, Krashen notes that our current instruction methods serve to trivialize the importance of incubation—in-class writing assignments, timed essays, and sit-down written tests (11). Alternatively, incubation should be seen as a critical part of the process and should be considered an "essential component of revision" (11). He notes that the failure to include incubation in the writing process can actually be a cause of the block—causing apprehension and fear whereas taking the break and providing the time to incubate "may help the subconscious solve the problem" (11).

The investigation of incubation in the writing process is clearly in its infancy. Dively offers the most thoughtful work on it thus far, but her work isn't flawless. Future case studies by Dively, or other scholars, would benefit from more active measurement—more evaluators of the student work—if nothing else. Dively's personal testimony of the improvement of her students is one piece of evidence, but opening the data to a larger pool of composition experts would give her work greater weight.

One might envision a combination of the case study with additional focus provided by creativity scholars like Coskun—who tend towards a methodology more rooted in the traditional, scientific approach to study and measurement.

In effect, such a combined effort could serve to legitimize what so many professional writers have anecdotally already told us—that incubation benefits the writing process. The problem with this is that few institutions, let alone programs, are going to be swayed by anecdotal evidence.

However, if the goal of writing programs is to produce better writers—to produce students that can write effectively across the curriculum—we should be exploring all ways to achieve this. Incorporating incubation into the writing process doesn't seem like such a stretch when we consider how many programs have implemented other techniques that, at the time they were initially implemented, were also seen as alternative—such as freewriting to help students unlock their thoughts and practice writing. Exploring the alternatives to a structure that is currently broken seems like a legitimate approach.

For works cited, see annotated bib.