Research Writing Project Brainstorm

Social causes:

Because of my pragmatic philosophy background, I’m swayed this way, even more so when it comes to research writing. I think it’s a topic that’s even better for research writing than short course. The amount library resources and current events have to offer, plus if the focus was put onto social causes in Boston (the homeless issue, gang violence happening near Emerson, etc.)–it’d be a broad scope of what a project like this might be able to offer. I think about the public space of Himmer’s class sample and how that can relate to a social cause. There would be multiple genres available with this theme in mind: a profile of a homeless person; a letter to the state; a report on police changes occurring after the marijuana law passed; a commentary on illegal immigration policies–all of which would necessitate research.

Photoessays:

Right now, my group is brainstorming about photoessays because they can have a broad scope. A student could write about their family, using pictures of their family, and research their ancestry; or a student could take up a social cause by photographing the homeless population. In any case, the focus will still need to be put on the rhetorical situation, the proposition and the reasons, to an extent. I think a photoessay would work really well toward the movement to the final showcase, since it would be very much “seen” by the larger community.

An influential person:

I’ve also been considering with the idea of profiling an influential figure in a student’s life. I know such a project might become very “young,” like a project on heroes. But I think taking that type of inventory can help guide freshman who are currently embarking on their adult lives. Whether its a famous musician or family member, figuring out why someone is influential can help establish a student’s identity and place in the world. This project, too, could take on multiple genres outside of profiling, such as memoir or commentary, or even if they were to write a letter to the person (a letter, again, might be a little “middle schooly” but I think it could still be elevated into the language of the university). I’d offer these students academic articles; I can think of a few philosophers who have discussed influence and recognition, and I can think of famous speeches from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame about a musician’s impact on another; as well as the topic of “Art” itself and the passing down of values and culture (Marshal McLuhan, Hans Aarsleff). I think this topic could suit a college classroom if the readings are academic and research on the subject matter is more than “interviewing my mom.”

Classroom Observation

Before class time began, the students were quiet. The classroom was small and had eleven students, and the teacher had them form a circle to help bolster discussion. But the students weren’t in favor of discussion. Unless you count the discussion they were having on their phones, they preferred being quiet and sleepy. Sleepy, at four in the afternoon. Perhaps they were feeling down though, about the social scandal that’d recently occurred, how a conservative student, who took a picture with Milo Yiannopoulos, had been cyber-bullied until she fled from school. The teacher asked them about it, and they spoke about the scandal vaguely, as if they didn’t know what had happened, while saying they did in fact know what had happened, maybe because of not wanting to talk about it.

Then the meat of the class began. A student played a song for class, so that they could go over the lyrics. The research class has moved on from research paper writing to writing lyrics, to go over rhetorical situation, code meshing, assumptions, and proposition in a different way; to (as their teacher puts it in the unit III assignment) “make the jump from writing for specific outlets to writing as a creative outlet.” What is the proposition of the song, what is the rhetorical situation? In the song the student chose, the rhetorical situation seemed to be a breakup, how the breakup affected her and she wanted to communicate something. It was about love, some students said, how her ex once had strength and gave her strength, but because he metaphorically “cut his hair” and “literally” left her, they’re both weaker. After this initial discussion, about the song the student picked, they moved onto forming groups for their final projects.

At this point I discovered how freshmen, who although have been in college for several months still can be, at times, timid, when it comes to collaboration, have a way of compromising with their teacher. By compromise, I mean starting at what the teacher would like and slowly communicating their needs until they achieve what they need while not taking away from what their teacher had wanted in the first place. They wanted their teacher to form the groups for them, rather than them going off to discuss the project on a canvas discussion. Their teacher then gave them time to form their groups on their own, because he wanted them to form the groups on their own. But all the students remained quiet, eventually telling him why they’d prefer him to form the groups for them. So he set them into groups, deciding (he told me after class when I asked him why) it was a battle he didn’t really need to win, and if it made it easier for them to handle the final project, so be it.

After groups were formed, they shared the lyrics they’d written for class, which were posted on a discussion forum. What impressed me most was how confident they all suddenly were. Where before they had difficulty sharing their thoughts in discussion or forming groups on their own, here, in a creative mode, they shared extremely personal aspects of their life. The first person to read his song discussed a bad breakup, the next also read their poem about heartbreak. One student discussed her insomnia and read her poem about the psychological inability to sleep and depression it caused.

One student really stood out. English was her second language. It was her turn to read her poem, and she tried to explain herself, “You see. This is maybe better if I sing. Because it’s…you know…the emotion is not in the written… you know what I mean?” She wanted to sing the song because that was how it was set up; it wouldn’t make as much sense to read it word for word. And in that room, an acoustic setting so small her voice surrounded everyone, she demonstrated an incredible, confident talent. Where she was shy speaking English, she was confident singing English, which she’d been classically trained in.

As they work toward the final project, this class, I think, with them sharing their lyrics, opened them up to each other and helped them come to terms with rhetorical situation (why they chose the heartbreak or insomnia to write about) and the different methods of communicating a certain purpose.

 

Reading Student Writing

I’ve read three essays on how to read and correct student writing. The most helpful, in terms of learning how to teach: Rather than “correct” mistakes, diagnose mistakes. Read for the meaning of the essay, and give feedback based on that meaning. Ask the question, what is the author’s intent?

“I read your college application essay. First of all, college has two L’s.”

Bartholomae, The Study of Error. In this essay Bartholomae suggests student error should be diagnosed. For example, a student writes “I had accummate ten dementic and had to…” If a teacher tells the student they’ve misspelled “accumulate” and “demerit” and goes on to teach the proper spelling through repetitive exercises, they’ve only treated the surface level misspelling and failed to get to the root of the problem, especially if they’ve noticed a lot of other spelling errors in the student’s paper. What would be best would be to have the student read the paper out loud and work from there. This particular student, John, the reads the above sentence, “I had accumulated ten demerits and had to…” So what’s really going on here? John has read the current sentence, as it’s written with the misspellings, the correct way because to him the coding on the page has the correct meaning. Rather than considering the sounds of the letters, he’s considered the shape of the words he’d memorized. To him dementic makes the word demerit. To help the student learn the error, a teacher needs to diagnose the problem, and from there teach the student how to edit on their own.

Pal Kei Matsude, Reading an ESL Writer’s Text. In this essay, I learned how to read ESL writers. Primarily, avoid reading ESL essay as deficient because it doesn’t comply to the norms of English. What’s most important when reading these essays: If I see many errors on the sentence level (such as “dementic” or “childrens”), I should figure out the meaning the writer was going for and work from there, instead of dismissing the writing as unsuccessful and uneducated. Often teachers will want this writer to assimilate to English. Tell them what they’ve done is wrong and they need to fix it this way. But that assimilation practice can make the ESL writer consider their native language as inferior, and so they are inferior. Another option is accommodation, where a teacher helps the student learn the proper discourse patterns without forcing them to lose the their linguistic differences. And then there is the separatist approach, where ESL writing is read “generously” and multicultural writing is better appreciated on its own grounds. For me, After reading this essay, I think it’s important to consider any essay in terms of its meaning, and I worry a separatist approach will not delve into the problems of the essay’s communication. Even if the multicultural aspects are appreciated, the student still needs to revise–it would be wrong to assume every error was because of a language problem, because perhaps the essay still wouldn’t have driven home its purpose–That’s why it’s important to listen to the writer and understand where they are coming from, to see if the writing and their goals are linking up, no matter which language they speak.

Nancy Sommers, Responding to Student Writing. In this essay, Sommers goes through possible pitfalls teachers might fall into when commenting on student papers. Often, teachers will edit sentence level issues, such as word choice and commas, and then make broad points about why the entire essay needs to be revised (so then those sentences will likely not be the same sentence in the end anyway). Overall, the types of comments teachers make appropriate the student essay: Rather than students writing for their own intent, they write for the teacher (Whatever the teacher wants the student to do they’ll do). However, often the comments are contradictory. How can I fix this comma and also do more research? Moreover, the comments aren’t specific enough. “Think about your audience more” doesn’t really help a student to revise an essay. It would be better for a teacher to make specific comments about the text, address the logic of the essays crucial points, and ultimately force the student back into the “chaos” of the essay, to get into the fray of the paragraphs and really rewrite for their intent.

 

Dissensus and Consensus

I want to discuss dissensus. Trimbur brings up how consensus will, at its best, orchestrate dissensus in the classroom. Create an environment of multiple voices. In a writing classroom, rather than there being some single mind, some Cartesian model of existence, we get many voices from different power structures and different values, coming together to converse–a real conversation of conflict and struggle.

What was most interesting to me in reading the Trimbur and Bruffee was their use of philosophy and philosophers, which helped me understand their work more easily. As someone from a philosophy major, collaboration was the name of the game. Every class was based in discussion. It’s strange–nine people can read the same text and form nine different opinions about it based on our previous biases and value structures. In the end we come away understanding the dialogue, the work itself and our interpretation of it, better, even through the disagreements.

I can especially see where Dewey comes into play with Trimbur. Collaboration and pragmatism in the classroom is crucial in understanding how we can learn–grow and change. Rather than entering an established law and way of thinking, entering the classroom to learn the single-mind, digest it and regurgitate it, the classroom is always changing, as the conversation is always changing, as there is dissensus–useful conflict–and consensus–a certain coming to terms. To put it in perspective, before Dewey much of philosophy was bent on the established order. From Descartes to Kant to Hume to Spinoza, all came into the conversation from the basis of metaphysics–what was in the air, the question of ultimate experience, itself in terms of religion, ideals, the universe versus the self. And Dewey argues they all were really going back to the church in certain respects. The established order of biblical order. For Dewey, he wanted philosophy to ground itself into the practical. How can we use our reasoning capability to consider what a a specific thing, like the classroom, should function. Rather than asking, “What is education?” Dewey asked, “How should we teach the given class, the given students, the given society?”

What language do I speak?

A translingual approach entails respecting multilingual writing, not making foreign languages “secondary,” and ultimately a classroom where difference is respected. Makes sense to me. From what I’ve read on the subject from Trimbur, Lu, Anzaldua, and others, a translingual approach has much to do with the self: students who speak English as a second, or third, language might tend to find their home language less viable academically–Less important. It disadvantages them. While they should be rewarded for speaking multiple languages, instead their identity seems banished from the classroom.

When I was an undergraduate, I was all about English. And not just English–American. A standard for me was to say I spoke American, to scoff at the idea I spoke English. I was, without a doubt, one of those students who saw the foreign language requirement at school to be unnecessary and annoying (Probably because my older brother, Dan, spoke Spanish fluently and went to college for it, and so I distanced myself from that type of study as much as humanly possible; perhaps from a fear of not excelling as well as he did–but this isn’t a psychoanalytical post).

At the same time, I very much relate to the idea that “virtually all students who are monolingual in the sense that they speak only English are nonetheless multilingual in the varieties of English they use and in their ability to adapt English to their needs and desires.”  Because in the end, because of my fast way of speaking, my addiction to old-fashioned comedies and every musician this side of the solar system, I have arrived at my own jumbled language. Particularly in the way I communicate with my friends. Other than a select few, no one else has a clue what I mean by “GG,” “It’s niara,” “oomama,” “Oh my Lantan… Although I don’t think that’s particularly what they were referring to in their paper. Also, coming from a Jewish upbringing, I use boychik, oy gavolt, and have a particular inflection to my accent… Coming from a childcare background, my exclamations have been replaced by poopyhead, fudge, Timbuktu, and I avoid phrases like I hate, I can’t… When something is completed well, I’ll say coo coo cachoo; having been raised with Dan, I’ll say mi madre, instead of my mom, and vamanos when I want things to get a move on…
Do these things belong in Academic writing? The point is, I think, that no one on the planet really speaks one language. Depending on the situation, whether I’m with my friends from elementary school, my college friends, my family, or talking to a strange, I’ll use a different language to serve the situation. And to say my own language isn’t as valuable as Standard English, would be an attack on me personally; just like to say Spanish or French isn’t as valuable is disrespectful.

To Discourse or to Talk?

Elbow’s essay,  “Reflections on Academic Discourse: How it Relates to Freshmen and Colleagues,” and Bartholomae’s essay, “Inventing the University,” at first appear to come at college writing from opposite sides of the field. For Bartholomae, the college class ought to teach academic discourse in the mode of communication that universities give students access to. Students must appropriate the language of the subject to better suit their writing, to learn the audience and manipulate them “or accommodate her motives to her reader’s expectations.” Whereas Elbow argues that writing classes should teach nonacademic writing, and by adopting a specific, high level discourse a writer is detaching from the audience. College is short and life is long. Plus,different subjects, such as history and psychoanalysis, use different types of jargon and modes of communication. So in that way, B and E are juxtaposed. However, Bartholomae is often referring to being an “insider,” which I think can fall in line with metacognition. According to Elbow, if students always use ordinary language, their own thinking about a discourse will come much easier, and they will be more frank, rather than trying to dazzle with unnecessary academic riffraff. Bartholomae wants students to be able to see any discourse, recognize it, and adapt to it, so that they can write well and communicate their ideas. So there is something similar in that idea of playing multiple roles through what we know.

The readings for me raise a few questions:

A first-year writing class ought to prepare a student for the subject they ultimately choose to major in, so why even teach it in a separate department? By that I mean, perhaps a student who knows they want to be a psychology major should have their first-year writing class with the psychology department. It may be true what Elbow says about life being long and college being short, but if a student’s profession is completely based on their major (e.g. psychology) isn’t that discourse and jargon something they will take with them throughout life? And by that I mean, is there really a “college” language? Aren’t academic journals separated by their subject matter? Engineering, American history, 19th century Russian literature? Perhaps then the first-year writing program should aim at helping students decide where they want to be within all the possible choices of discourse and how to quickly adapt to the vast assortment of them; and it should help them come to terms with this new thing in their life: college, scholarly articles, being an adult, being a member of politics and the world–which I think Emerson’s first-year writing program does.

The Call to Write

For me, the call to write is a ghost.

“The Choices Writer’s Make”—more so, Jerald Walker’s essay on Michael Jackson, “Before Grief,” and also June Jordan’s essay “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan”—got me thinking: why do I write? What is the rhetorical situation of my fiction? For me, it’s different from a societal need. Not to pigeonhole the “rhetorical situation,” but it does tend to demonstrate that the reason to write ought to be based on a necessity of action. Action in the sense of external. What the people, or planet, needs. Michael Jackson dies, people wonder why they should care—they call him a freak show, they question his legacy—which compels Walker to write his essay, in a sort of defense. Sure, it’s not always a defense—someone might want to forward a new idea, like Jordan’s essay on Black English versus Standard English, because they foresee a benefit to interested parties, or they aspire to interest more parties. Still, in that, it seems to be a question of benefitting society. The exigence, often referred to in our literature, seems to be that of the external requirement.

That is not why I write fiction. However, there is a “rhetorical situation.” My need to write is far more physical, as I’m sure it was, in part, for Jordan and Walker. After the cop killed Willie Jordan’s brother, after Walker read a post about how his idol had been called a freak show, a deep, guttural necessity forced them to their notebook or computer. My reason for writing happens constantly, from that feeling. I’m walking down the street, I’m working in a preschool, I’m riding the train. I see something, I hear something, which creates something, which I can’t put my finger on yet. At night, it comes back to me: What is that? I hear it, I see it, that image, that moment. What do I do with it? Nothing for now. It’s hard for me to come to terms with it. Wait, there it is again. It’s clearer. It spurs other images, other ideas. Why do I write it down, though? What compels me to stop everything and put the words into a notebook, then bring the notebook to the computer? The answer is simple: whatever it is that’s creating the story is following me around like a haunting ghost. And I’m Whoopi Goldberg. The reluctant psychic, who ought to interpret it. Or else it might keep lingering. That’s the situation.

Beyond Cognition, From Silence to Words

Trimbur’s “Beyond Cognition” reminded me of my philosophy days. Lu’s essay, “From Silence to Words” reminded me of a memoir. Trimbur’s essay used multiple authors to prove a point; Lu used her own life and one guy’s epigraph on communal discourse to come to terms with her childhood and draw from it the positives. Lu starts her essay with the death of her mother, whereas Trimbur opens his essay with a problem, the inner/outer metaphor.

When I was a philosophy major, we often did what Trimbur did. We discussed philosophers, their theories and arguments, all for the sake of a final conclusion. Trimbur seems to have done that here. His mode was, in my opinion, argumentative. Despite how strong he made the argument of the inner/outer metaphor, he knew he was going switch gears. The metaphor itself reminded me of Kant’s phenomenal vs. noumenal plains of existence. I do see his point at the end about Bakhtin, about how much of our language derives from outside sources, various voices.

I don’t think they reached similar conclusions, though. I don’t exactly mean that. Maybe I misread one of their pieces. Lu’s essay had everything to do with dichotomy and homogeneity; Trimbur’s essay seemed to have to do with where we begin to write and egocentrism. They both would agree that the voices from the outside pervade our inner language. For Lu, the voices of school and home fought each other for greater territory. For Trimbur, the voices from the outside completely create our inner language, or so it would seem. Maybe I’m just not getting it, though. Also, Lu’s conclusion about communal discourse seemed to have more to do with opposing viewpoints, whereas Trimbur’s seemed to have to do with the creation of viewpoints in general and where to begin when writing.

On My Teenage Essay Trauma

So I’m starting WR600: Teaching College Composition—learning about the writing practices of Emerson, primarily the the short essay genre, but other things too. Which gets me thinking about my old essay writing. Which was quite a traumatizing experience in high school for the exact reasons explained in Writers and Readers: Creating Meaningful Essays and Supportive Writing Communities. Back then, my essays were all about making a point, and that point tended to be something expected by the teacher, some preordained right answer, a matter of whether or not you actually read what you were supposed to read.

My high school history teacher, this short sixty-year-old woman who seemed to have a crush on me, taught our class an essay-writing rule that I’ve obeyed, to this day, like a marching order: A THESIS MUST BEGIN WITH THE WORD ALTHOUGH. As in, “Although the American Revolution seemed to be an uprising of the common man, the men in charge of state politics were the bourgeoisie of their time.” That way, you’d move through the paper from point to counterpoint, destroying the opposing side like a slow but steady war.

In college essays changed only in that I was writing either philosophy or English papers, many of which were a rehashing of what I’d already learned. I’d explain Plato’s position on Love and whether or not it could stand the pressure test of whatever rebuttals I could come up with; or I’d critically analyze Poe’s short story with the critical essays I’d been found in databases. Every essay, without fail, I use that although thesis. And it worked; grade-wise, at least. Despite it’s prescriptive model, it really did set up a well-rounded paper, where the counter to whatever I was arguing served a role that strengthened my overall conclusion. Like it says in Writers and Readers, even a structured essay model can be quite liberating. Although I still write thesis statements like I did in high school, there’s a lot of freedom in what kind of thesis I want to write; granted, in this class they’ll be propositions, so I wonder how those will be different.