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.

 

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.