Thursday, May 10, 2007

Learning and gaining from My Own Experience

All the way through this semester, we read, discussed and learned together a whole list of issues regarding to basic writing, basic writers as well as basic writing pedagogies. I still remembered at the first meeting in English 621 class when Dr. Cadle asked us the question of why we chose to take this class, my answering was “to learn how to write because I’m really interested in writing itself.” At that time I didn’t realize this course is actually aiming at teachers who teach basic writing rather than learning how to write as writers! So starting from kind of an inappropriate direction, I set out! Then throughout this journey, I found out that I indeed have learned a lot!!

Struggling desperately in the hardships of writing down my papers in all the three courses I’m taking this semester, and of preventing my heart from being hurt by all the difficulties I was encountering in this very process, I couldn’t figure out how much I’ve learned and gained! For my poor and sorry performance in my papers in all the three subjects, I experienced the lowest hollow of completely losing my confidence in writing and even feeling I had no hope to improve at all; I experienced the time that I almost decided to give up this course and thought writing was not my thing; I experienced feeling ashamed of myself because of my terrible performances and grades coming out…

I felt like I myself was the representative character in our readings of this course! How could that be??? But IT WAS! I for several times fell into the meditation on why I was what I was that time and how I could make a difference of myself in writing, then the reasons showed up in front of me: I telling myself the truth didn’t pay enough attention to it, didn’t work hard on it and even didn’t have the tendency of trying to make progress! In other words, I didn’t put all my heart to cultivate on it! Not because I didn’t want to improve, but because I totally lost my confidence and had been stuck there for such a long time! Because some objective stuff distracted so much my energy and attention, my work for example.For an exhausted body and heart, no improvement seemed possible!! Further I realized that as a result, I devoted too little time to my study and that’s where the root reason of everything lied! I don’t think I’m too dump to write well and incapable of making progress, and I couldn’t persuade myself to believe that’s where I was supposed to be, so I decided to do something! I spent more time on my study and consulted my classmates—I kind of dared to talk with my professors about my papers, I asked from my classmates to borrow their former papers to learn from, tried to do the readings and assignments more carefully, and by chance I once had a short talk with Dr.Cadle then I found that communications between teachers and students are of great importance and essential! We could get to know what teachers’s standards and requirements for papers and assignments are and what their constructive advices are for you, at the same time, they could know more about you, about what you are thinking and thus have more ideas and accesses to help you to improve!!

Considered as sort of a summary of my study in this semester and also as a deeper understanding of the readings of this course, my own experience helped me realize fairly a lot: I learned to reconstruct my confidence bit by bit, I got good advices and great encouragement from my professors who once wrote down the sentences as “This is a good start of a good paper…”, “good summaries and good comments, if you could work on more your sentences and grammar…”, and said to me in person the simple but powerful words “Thank you!”. I was fully filled with encouragement, motivation and strength! I really want to say to all my professors and my classmates: MANY THANKS TO YOU ALL! WITHOUT YOUR GREAT HELP, I COULDN’T MAKE PROGRESS AND REGAIN MY CONFIDENCE AS A WRITER! ALTHOUGH I STILL LACK OF A LOT IN WRITING, BUT I’LL KEEP GOING AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE OF MYSELF!!! THANK YOU AGAIN!

Reflections on the Chat with Amie Wolf (3)

To continue my former topic, I would like to explore further Amie’s talk and share more what I’ve thought about regarding to it.

Back to the old issue of whom basic writers are. Objectively speaking, basic writers are those whose writing lies in the basic level, which means that to grasp the fundamental factors of writing should be the main task for them, including appropriate formats, grammatical correctness, clear expressions, etc. As I mentioned above, that’s ONLY the OBJECTIVE and PROFESSIONAL measurement of basic writers, and also that’s just something showed up on the SURFACE, so what’s the SUBJECTIVE measurement of basic writers and what’s the value and significance of looking into this measurement? Meanwhile what’s HIDING underneath this surface and what would this finding help?

The SUBJECTIVE measurement is usually held by teachers, tutors and the people concerned. That’s something either the attitude or the judgement in these people’s mind towards basic writers, as well as how they think whom basic writers are. To me, rather than classify them into the category of the “not smart”, the “not intelligent”, even the “stupid”, I prefer to hold the opinion that they are students of the same kind who have devoted less time, energy, concentration and work on the soil of writing, which might be caused by either a sense of frustration writing once brought to them or lost of interests or indifference in writing itself. If we could think this way, my belief is that the problems we see in these students may turn out to be much easier to handle, and the burden we put on our shoulders of conducting a big project of transforming their thinking and writing ways will be alleviated, for that the students indeed in themselves have the talent and competence of writing well, the treasures have already been stored in them, thus they actually hold tremendous potentialities ready to break out ONLY IF there’s some sort of sparkle to light it up! We teachers ARE the sparkles!

As a result, a most important mission for teachers to accomplish besides giving instructions and guidance is, working on as stoneworkers polishing the rough surface of these seemingly ordinary-looking “stones” so as to let the UNIQUE brilliance in each of them SHINE OUT by firstly building up their confidence through finding out their intelligence and then showing our recognition, secondly drawing their attention and attracting their interests into writing by stirring up their willingness and eagerness to write after the training of letting them write down whatever happened and is happening in their real lives and whatever they want to express out to the outside world, finally they will realize that writing is really a true-fun, it’s an awesome medium to communicate with the rest of the world, and it can also be the most intimate friend of themselves—it’s no longer a headache boring and terrifying them! The students are becoming much more willing to improve their writing ACTIVELY and AUTONOMICALLY! At the very last, you’ll see all your goals and expectations beautifully achieved and fulfilled!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Reflections on the Chat with Amie Wolf (2)

I couldn’t agree more with Amie’s pedagogy of encouraging basic writers to “focus on narrative and autobiographies” and form a habit of “write everyday”— informally. From my own experience and also by noticing others’s, I found out that most of times, either because that we have difficulties in finding something in our mind to write down about or because that we couldn’t get anything exciting and enjoyable from the very conduct of writing, we feel that it’s boring to write and has no fun at all, furthermore, we regard it unworthy, meaningless and even procedural—to show the writing to teachers is the only purpose—as a result, we are becoming more and more reluctant to write—then no doubt, we’ll fail in the actually beautiful, magical and incredible Writing Kingdom! What a pity!!

It’s not because our life isn’t interesting at all, it’s not because we are really sorry writers, and also it’s not because we were born with no talent of writing! IT IS because we seldom pay enough attention to our daily life, seldom observe it with our eyes and minds, afterwards, feel it with our hearts! Everyone has great potential to become a wonderful writer, only if he or she tries—in appropriate guidance and direction!

Here comes the very matched way—to “focus on narrative and autobiographies” and to “write everyday” informally! WHY? Because narratives of whatever events are coming from our real daily life (here not including fictions) and autobiographies are the most widely and closely related to ourselves which would most likely fire up our eagerness and enthusiasm to write! If we could lead students to focus on these two respects of writing material, their interests of writing will be aroused for everyone has at least something to say about what happened in their real life and themselves and what’s their reflective feeling about that, gradually, they will probably unveil the mysterious muffler of Writing itself! In this process, they’ll improve their ability of observing things and if they notice more they would like to notice much more, thus they would have more and more real material to write about! Everything in their observation by then will become much more interesting and fun! It will finally mean something to them and writing will become an essential part in their life! Moreover, if we could at the same time encourage them to try to write everyday just informally regardless of all the forms and conventions and everything else which would always distract their attention on writing itself, it will for sure speed up their progress in writing!--Practice Makes Perfect!

If we could continue to stick on this pedagogy, I believe it would eventually turn out to be pretty efficient and fruitful for teaching writing!!! Both teachers and students will benefit a lot!!!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Reflections on the Chat with Amie Wolf (1)

Chatting with Amie was really inspiring for me, which threw me out to rethinking over some important issues closely associated with basic writing, basic writers as well as basic writing teachers when we are approaching to the end of this semester.

To our first question, Amie answered that there has been a negative perception toward basic writing, that is, the BW students always regard their BW class as “dumb” class. So I continued the trend that if it is the case, then the students may probably regard themselves as “dumb people”, “less intelligent’, and “incapable of writing well”, not to mention what others (their teachers, friends, parents, etc) would think of them, as a result, what’s going to happen? The BW class is much more likely to fail from the very beginning! Because what? Because that the students and all the people around them have no confidence in them at all! While confidence by itself has the magic power of overthrowing everything! No doubt it’s DOOMED to reach failure!

Here raised the task for us either teachers or tutors or teachers-to-be: What should and could we do to cope with this situation? Otherwise hardly could we construct anything on this basis. Not only mustn’t we comment on the students being “dumb” (as a tutor did mentioned in Amie’s talk)—that’s our minimal PROFESSIONAL ETHIC as teachers, but also shouldn’t we think at the bottom of our heart that way—the reasons why teachers being teachers lie in that there are certain people in need of instructions and improvements, and THAT IS what teachers holding this title should work on and contribute to, so for this sake, we should forbid ourselves certain thoughts, certain words and certain actions as well, to be qualified as teachers. Building upon this solid rock, we then have to do something further. We need to show our respect to students no matter to how much degree they failed to reach our set-up goals and fulfill our expectations, we need to find out and recognize the merits, the advantages, the talents and the intelligences from whatever fields they participate in in each of them, and most importantly to SHOW our RECOGNITION OUT to them! In addition, try to encourage them to keep practicing writing and ease their worries about making mistakes during this learning process. I believe in this manner students would surely regain their confidence of writing well and making a progress then eventually make a difference in their writing! Worthy to mention a little bit, teachers’ attitudes toward students can play a vital role in achieving our final goals! Kind and pleasant countenance should be recommended and could work better when we point out or correct the mistakes or shortcomings in their writing, since anyone would be inclined to accept a mild and friendly way especially when exposing to their own mistakes. Thus, to build up a harmonious and mutually trustworthy relationship between teachers and students is also of great importance and should draw our enough attention.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Are We Misleading Them?

Shaughnessy points out in her Errors and Expectations the notion that basic writers, “have not been trained to recognize their own intellectual vibrations, those inner-promptings that generally reveal to writers where their best energies lie” (82). Instead, they have always been trained to develop in the opposite direction—“to try to understand or catch the sense of what someone else wanted them to do, as if the theme they were to write existed elsewhere in perfect form and their task was to approximate it” (82). This point of view exactly reflects what I was thinking about in which way we should guide and train basic writers to achieve something, should we always educate them what they are supposed to do, what they are not supposed to do and how? By doing these, are we always interfering with their own thinking and action about writing?
We should admit that appropriate direction and suggestion for them is always good and should be advocated, however, if it is becoming too much to be helpful for them and even would end up with great interference, then should we meditate on what we are always tending and have already been used to do? I think SO. In my view, we have been trying too hard on reshaping them by restricting and even destroying their own features and by filling them with our teachers’s stuff, instead of focusing on and mining what have been stored deeply in themselves. My advice is to divert our focal attention to their INNER WORLD and cultivate them elaborately, rather than pay too much attention to the OUTTER INPUT to them. We’ll see something coming out different and much more pleasant!!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Survive Originality from Consolidation

Let us look at the two examples:
1) In my opinion I believe that you there is no field that cannot be effected some sort of advancement that one maybe need a college degree to make it.( LE 107)
2) A person with a college degree has a better chance for advancement in any field.( LE 108)

At first when I considered about the two sentences above which are quoted by Min-zhan Lu in his Redefining the Legacy of Mina Shaughnessy: A Critique of the Politics of Linguistic Innocence, all my mind was focusing on how refined and simplified and advanced as well as academic the latter sentence is ( let alone whether it is the student's revised sentence or the modal one the teacher might pose for the student) in a clear-cut contrast of the former one which is not only grammatically wrong for some places but also kind of burdensome because of the seemingly unnecessary "fillers"--In my opinion and I believe, however. Later on after I went through the sentences again and again I finally realized that what a big mistake I have made for my previous critique about them! As Min-zhan Lu highlights so many times, different ways of using words--different discourses--might exercise different constraints on how one "crafts" the meaning "one has in mind."( LE 107), obviously the grammatical mistakes were all corrected and right now it seems more like a production of the academic English, however, at the same time, it lost the original thoughts and ways of thinking and expressing which the student was truly meant to convey at his or her first thoughts rooted in his or her specific political background.

Again and again Shaughnessy focuses her attention on her advices of "tasks" to be done by the BW students which are actually around the same issue, that is, the acquisition or mastering of " a new variety of language--academic English".(LE 106) To my thoughts, because Shaughnessy's solid viewpoint is that the students' home languages of a wide variety of social and political backgrounds have kind of no intersection with the academic English, so the only thing the students are supposed to do is to fight against their own languages and get rid of the influence of their own backgrounds and get as much as they can the access to academic English, in another words, to substitute their most familiar most beloved home languages which are defined as not formal and not appropriate and even illogical-sounded with the widely spread and adopted and acknowledged "academic English". Furthermore, I realized that, most of the times at the instance of gaining something you think right and meaningful, you are losing something else which is probably the most valuable treasure of yourself !!

Here, specifically, while the students are learning how to neglect their home languages and write only using the academic language in which their grammar mistakes are corrected, they are losing their personality and originality and creativity and writing as well as language styles all showed in their former writings! Are we teachers really doing the right things? Are we for sure making benefits to the students?

In this way, I found the action put into practice from Shaughnessy's essentialist pedagogy is going against what she promotes: to master the academic English and conform themselves to the rules of this formal written Language by abandoning a whole system of their own stuff is against her goals of "ultimate freedom of deciding how and when and where to use which language"( LE 106) and "help students attain discursive options, freedom, and choice"( LE 106). The more the students will learn all the rules and regulations about the academic English, the deeper degree they'll fail in achieving the goal of "the ultimate freedom"and "discursive options, freedom, and choice"!

The essence of meaning shouldn't precede and isn't independent of language, that's what Lu illustrated to us by the large number of concrete examples and supporting theories.

Let's help the students survive their ORIGINALITY in mind from the CONSOLIDATION during the process of learning the ACADEMIC ENGLISH!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

"When a writer breaks the rules of word order that govern the English sentence, he usually disturbs the reader at a deep level"E.E 90, the first sentence came into my mind that it tells me how important the correctness of the word order thus the logic of the sentences.Some students due to careless so they pay little attention to that, so it can really make the readers confuse. So I think teach them to be logical in thier writings is very important and in this way, we can help them to build up a more concret foundations of thier techniques of writing.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Second, both Bruffee and Farrel explicitly look for teaching methods aimed at reducing the feeling of 'anxiety' or 'psychic strain' accompanying the process of acculturation."(p142 LE)
To my opinion, I think this orientation toward this direction is really a good teaching method and will surely see the relative effects if we continue to stick on this guideline of reducing the feeling of " anxiety" and "psychic strain".In the relaxed and anxiety-free or low psychic strain conditions, students tend to be with higher spirit to think and write and they must become more creative in what they want to write and in the way they convey their ideas.

In most circumstance,the same for teaching, when we can provide and make a very relaxed atmosphere and environment, it can be an advantageous factor objectively, and in this way it can consequently bring about the good and positive results subjectively to the students themselves!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Unity & Diversity

I just want to say something about I heard from one of our classmates in class--He mentioned the subjunctive feature of punctuations.

I agree that although we have a fixed,unified way of using punctuations, and we are all used to obey these rules and principles--that's a good thing and we need to know and obey them. However sometimes or in some not formal situations I think that we can just feel free to use whatever punctutions we like to express ourselves--a lot of times it is really important to use our self-invented punctuations--full of our own personality and kind of special feeling--that just can not be conveyed by the normal standard punctuation, and at the same time we can make the writings more diversified!

That's the reason why I think he said punctuation is sometimes subjunctive rather than objective.So probably once a while we need to both write our own punctuations and understand others in this kind of sunbjunctive way!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Several Little Thoughts

After this Monday's class,I fell into kind of meditation about what exactly graduate classes look like and what actually American way of study should be,then I suddenly realized that since I have already been in America and been a member of the graduate class,I should let my ways of thinking and expressing be more likely to the ways of Americans--that is ,feel free to express one's own thoughts and opinions no matter what they are--which is indeed good to learn for a Chinese student, I, who once is too shy to do.

After the class I reread the books carefully and this time I found myself something eager to say about what I have read.

Nothing, it seemed, short of a miracle was going to turn such students into writers. Not uncommonly, teachers announced to their supervisors (or even their students) after only a week of class that everyone was probably going to fail. It comes from page three in Errors &Expectations. These sentences throwed me into somewhere else I read before:You are not what you look like at present, but are what others think you can be and should be.To my opinion, the students came from various academic backgrounds surely had a countless number of problems and errors in their writings,but that was common and natural-- some just had very little or poor education in the previous years of their lives. As teachers, since they had to face these kinds of students, their obligation and responsibility was to firstly find out what the students' problems or common errors were and then try their utmost to help them improve step by step, little by little. Among this long process, the most important guideline lied in that teachers must first of all have a strong sense of confidence in their students,secondly encourage them to build up the same strong sense of confidence in themselves--they can improve, they can write well or even excellently! How can teachers make this? My advice is that they can achieve it simply through thinking that all students are good at writing after a process of proper training and instruction, through telling them that they are making a progress, and also through trusting their ability and encouraging them all the time! Then you will see one day they will become the good writers that you for a long time thought they would become someday!!
Isn't it the happiest thing in your life that because of your optimistic attitude toward the seemingly helpless students and also your constant efforts, you finally turn them into the shining gold?
work cited
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My understanding of Basic Writing

At the moment that I first heard the question of how to define basic writing, my thought came into the definition of basic writing in my native language,that's Chinese.I think to some extent, they are more or less the same.

In my point of view, one piece of basic writing should be first a complete structure overall,it always comes in the formation of 3 major parts:the introduction of central ideas of the whole passage, the explanation of why you think in that way,and at last the conclusion of your main thought of the whole.Also, in more details, the expression of basic wrting should be easy to understand by others,at least in an organized and clear-cut way.It doesn't need to be creative and originative both in format and language.

This is my understanding of basic writing.