Land Ahead

Overall, this course taught me how to better engage with the methodology of teaching. I learned how to define the tools incorprated into aspects of reading /writing/teaching  with regard to the stage of teacher and students. Mostly, I learnes how to better help my students by ensuring their academic voice develops through the highest standards of achievement at their pace. “Errors” help the teacher to assess and guide and need not be snuffed at. Neither should the academic rigour of learning be bypassed to accomodate a lack of enthusiastic academic engagement with texts.

The informational texts we read during this course expanded my knowledge base of basic writing, curriculum development, author bio analysis, and theory and practice of basic writing pedagogy. I feel enlightened by the design and instructors application of theories with us. My peers are all very passionate and knowledgeable about the topic and I feel enlightened by their input and discussions too.



Min-Zhan Lu

In “From Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle” Min-Zhan Lu discusses her struggle to separate reading for culture and reading for academics. She discusses the impostor syndrome she felt as a multilingual student. Ultimately, she sought to clarify the purpose of academic discourse and the place of home learning within that spectrum. Her background as a Shanghai Chinese dialectical native speaker, English language acquisitioned learner, Standard Chinese learner, home tutored and private schooled student creates the basis for her goal to merge the concepts of contextual reading and writing and other forms of reading and writing.

Min-Zhan Lu labels the excesses that some go to speak English imitating that of a native speaker, observing a sample of South Korean children who undertake surgery to eliminate pieces of their tongues (42). Lu argues that instead of trying to speak faultless standardized English, users of English should embrace its capability to transform as an active language, observing that “our sense of ease with a particular usage might inadvertently sponsor systems and relations of injustice” (48).

Lu’s method of delivery offers a technique to improve students’ education by employing academic discourse next to home-based discourses and stressing the alterations between them. Being benevolent in granting students more consultant and accountability to discover and reflect on how their ways of collaborating and thinking change based on revelation within academia. Lu pursues to address and apply contradiction to academic writing and Standard English. Lu offers an alternative conception of the relationship between basic writing theory and the overall discourse of composition. Lu critiques Shaughnessy in the supposition that students can gain self-assurance and aptitude with academic discourse “in isolation from . . . the dynamic power struggle within and among diverse discourses” (25).

Additionally, Lu takes issue with Shaughnessy’s decision to honor a proper rather than relative approach to other concord of academic discourse. In Errors and Expectations (pages 108 109) Shaughnessy makes the case that students may see the attainment of new meanings of accustomed words as a risk to their individuality.  A contingent method would highlight conflicts of connotation, but a prescribed method would treat the concept of unstable senses in a sort of void space, focusing on prefaces and suffixes of words to exemplify the same principle.

In Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach, Lu added to a collection featuring eighteen essays, divided equally between two sections. The first, “Struggling with ‘English Only’ in Composition,” discusses the evolution of language and provides background on how English Only policies have manifested in the college composition classroom. The second section, “Responses to Struggling with ‘English Only’ in Composition” offers calls to action for increasing linguistic diversity and a discussion of the real challenges presented by attending to these issues. Throughout the collection, the authors continually prove the need for language awareness in the classroom. The problem, Horner asserts in the book’s introduction, is that instructors falsely assume that their students are native speakers of English (1). By exposing attitudes promoting monolingualism, the book makes clear the need to study, teach, and assess language in all of its variations. He provides a historical overview of the evolution of language in the US, including dialects, pidgins, and creoles born out of the travel and expansion of settlers. For example, African American slaves used a type of plantation creole as a form of secrecy. Forgetting the history of a language, or linguistic memory, leads to the notion that some dialects are inferior to standard English.


Lu, Min-Zhan. “From Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle.” College English, vol. 49, no. 4, 1987, pp. 437–448.,

Horner, Bruce, et al. “16. In Praise of Incomprehension.” Cross-Language Relations in Composition, Southern Illinois University Press, 2010, p. 230. EBSCOhost

Lu, Min-Zhan and Bruce Horner. “Composing in a Global-Local Context: Careers, Mobility, Skills.” College English, no. 2, 2009, p. 113. EBSCOhost,

Horner, Bruce, et al. “Acknowledgments.” Cross-Language Relations in Composition, Southern Illinois University Press, 2010, p. ix. EBSCOhost

Horner, Bruce, et al. “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach.” College English, vol. 73, no. 3, 2011, pp. 303–321.,

Lu, Min-Zhan and Bruce Horner. “The Problematic of Experience: Redefining Critical Work in Ethnography and Pedagogy.” College English, no. 3, 1998, p. 257. EBSCOhost

Lu, Min-Zhan. “The Vitality of the Ungrateful Receiver: Making Giving Mutual between Composition and Postcolonial Studies.” JAC, no. 3, 1999, p. 335. EBSCOhost

Min-Zhan, Lu. “Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?.” College English, no. 8, 1992, p. 887. EBSCOhost

Lu, Min-zhan. “Fish.” Prairie Schooner, no. 2, 1991, p. 61. EBSCOhost

Context in Basic Writing

As an impostor “developmental” director, I’d choose to use techniques that encourage the stages of research by having students define the topics explored in the texts, research information related to those topics in a library “to acquire the ability to explore, use, and analyze information resource to meet research objectives” with the help of a librarian during a class period, create a presentation individually to share with peers, and peer reviewed assignments with instructor created rubric (Haller 214). In a 1997 Journal of Basic Writing article, Mary Moran argued for reading aloud to employ deeper focus on reading and style for the basic writer who is not a superior reader when faced with revision of writing assignments. Most of what my course themes would consist of are discussion, recalling information, and exchanging ideas about themes that come up to exercise the skill of thinking critically and analytically in addition to writing assignments that support their development.

Ideally, I’d read two novels and a few short stories; namely, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye because both stories deal with themes of race and gender in differing ways. These works are more modern “classics” and encourage inquiry into heavily studied topics relevant to contemporary culture for students. Assessment outcomes should “include both reading and writing competencies” and so my proposed syllabus depicts techniques that encourage skill development in both (Haller 214). Students should be able to “read [and] think […] critically and analytically by practice of reading aloud in class and reading assignments at home (Haller 214). Students should also gain a better understanding of logos, ethos, and pathos in writing through discussion and analyzation of texts in written and digital format.

So, here is a summary of proposed course levels one and two, and level three is an expanded syllabus of class proposals:

Course Level One:

Writing assignment about a memorable time, place, person, or object, why it is important, and how it impacted their lives. This assignment serves as a means to get to know students. I do it with my new students to assess their writing. Although they enter the program with grade equivalency scores that determine their educational functioning level, a paper can’t tell you what they will. Usually, students flourish in this writing assignment when considering the heightened level of focus and dedication to the task. Reviewing their responses and providing written feedback (not criticism, but acknowledgement) help in the development as well.

Next, students will read other creative writing pieces, poetry, informational texts, and respond to themes that interest them in written format.  Honestly, it would be nice to read  The Metamorphasis and base the class on that text. But, some other examples I’d consider are:  Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, reading an excerpt from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, reading Toni Morrison’s Recitatif to exercise evidence based writing and seperation of fact and opinion, reading Saranj Naidu’s poetry, reading Eudora Welty, and reading Shakespeare. These texts all lend themselves to many interpretations, but there are so many others to choose from. Also, prompt questions in digital format for students to respond to can be given to assist in the development of thorough responses.

Discussing the way things are put together.

Course level Two:

Once reading and thinking critically are thoroughly engaged the writing process in response to themes should demonstrate a deeper understanding of “evaluating and using evidence” (Haller 211). Digital (and visual) engagement with the text, and library and information literacy (conducted by a Librarian during a visit to library) would be a vital component to the course as well (Haller 211). The goal is to ensure that “inquiry [is] a holistic process of reading and writing” (Haller 210).

Students will choose from a list of poets and authors (or choose their own) and research their works, autobiographical information, and create an annotated bibliography of 5 of their chosen authors works and choose one poem to discuss. Library information is utilized heavily in this aspect of the course.

Course Level Three:

Class 1: Read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in class (separate continuation of assigned reading outside of class), discuss/recall frames in narration, and discuss author’s autobiographical information in relation to textual content of work, discuss themes of race and gender, read an excerpt from a supplemental text such as Gabrielle McIntire’s The Women Do Not Travel: Gender, Difference, and Incommensurability in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (2002) as an introduction to academic discourse about the text.

Though, an article more recent and an excerpt from an interview with someone who has primary familiarity with themes related to Heart of Darkness or the Congolese would be ideal to help students define the “task and development of information seeking strategies” (Drake 222). Also, an overview and discussion of rhetorical principles related to the readings will help students “evaluate the product and process” of the texts or visual aids (Drake 222).

Class 2: In-class reading of Heart of Darkness (continuation of reading assignment for outside of class), watch Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death 2003 documentary about the colonization of the Congo and compare contemporary representations of the Congolese colonization (such as chocolate hands for sale) to Heart of Darkness (assignment to finish watching documentary with provided link if time runs out).

This visual aid will provide students with the opportunity to engage with the information from the text in “digital age” format by encouraging identification of rhetorical principles being employed in the documentary and writing a short essay on their discovery (Drake 247). Their essays should show some skill at “synthesis of information” (into a written work for this case) (Drake 222).

Class 3: Instructor-student close reading of specific scenes, briefly explicating important moments in the story to provide examples of close reading skills, students will choose specific sections from the novella with a partner and design a unique presentation of the textual information such as: a skit, power point, or class discussion (3 to 5 discussion/research questions posed to the class and peers are provided with some answers from presenters); also, all of the assignments will be presented at a later time.

Or, students could look up contemporary news about the Congo such as Nina Strochlic’s March 22, 2017 National Geographic article titled “Why Pygmies Are Dealing Weed to Survive” and make connections with that information to the current state of American democracy concerning the legalization of medical marijuana (for the purpose of recognizing the historical effects the exploitation of the Congo had on the people, for example, and how America benefits from the trade/further exploitation of the country).

Though, this may be too many options being thrown to the students and one assignment of re-writing an alternative ending to the novella would suffice. Getting students to share/exchange those revisions with peers to workshop ideas and revise writing based on an instructor created rubric is ideal; but, the opportunity for deep research seems limited in this assignment. Overall, the goal is to get students to design something that showcase their skill at understanding the text, relating the information to contemporary culture, and conveying those connections to others.

Class 4: In class reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

The topic and structure seem restricting as students should have some form of creative writing as basic writers to develop their own voice which makes the reading/writing process more hollistic. Also, reading supplemental short stories, poems, articles, or newsprint informational texts gives room for the student to gain a clearer picture of the information being presented.

Class 5: Students develop presentation of significant scene from the book with a partner or develop a 3 page essay about a topic they find interesting related to gender, race, or any other theory suitable for the course.

Class 6:



Mcintire, G. “The Women Do Not Travel: Gender, Difference, and Incommensurability in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 48 no. 2, 2002, pp. 257-284. Project MUSE, doi: 10.1353/mfs.2002.0032

Common Core’s Range

What Jolliffe discusses in chapter 7, The Common Core Standards and Preparation for reading and Writing in College, brings attention to basic writers’ inability to sometimes explain conceptual understanding and demonstrate the ability to apply and build on complex topics with evidence. The Common Core standards guide has been recently adopted by policy makers to train instructors in Adult Education to ensure college readiness of learners. What seems most important in lesson planning (other than content) are the verbs a teacher may use to enhance students’ depth of knowledge such as: evaluate, analyze, synthesize, demonstrate, recall and apply. What some instructors discover is that students do not understand what these words mean when applied to practical application. However, students are encouraged to meet the standard, supersede it even, but not give to give up, because “contemporary college students’ reading abilities constitute a problem for their academic […] success” (137).

Also, these standards are associated with habits of mindfulness, so it would seem the Common Core is a guide to structured mindfulness in teaching and learning. Common Core standards have a common sense approach to developing students’ depth of knowledge, but (according to my Common Core standards trainer) the ‘creativity of the instructor’ also plays a role in how well students are able to apply and build on new skills. Creativity is the demonstration of original ideas, without the ingenuity of the instructor, students may miss out on learning opportunities due to lack of interest. That interest is created by students “grappl[ing] with works of exceptional craft [that] extends across genres, cultures, and centuries” (138). For the development of a syllabus or lesson plan the diversity of the lessons creates that extension. It has been stated by KLL that students’ miss out on learning opportunities by not learning things they are not interested in, I agree, but the dominating culture of literature in terms of what’s “in” and “out” makes the standard norm in range of exposure to various texts narrow. Maybe that restricted perspective may lead too much permanence in literature, which is why some outside of the field or basic writers think it is a ‘dead’ field.

The tenth anchor standard seems a bit restrictive in highlighting the “range and content” of student reading.  The “range” consisted of “seminal U.S documents, the classics of American literature, and the timeless dramas of Shakespeare” (138). Doesn’t seem like much variety. So, where exactly does the Common Core standard hold up to leaving no child behind if every child isn’t included into the lessons they are learning? As the Common Core standards trainer would say ‘the creativity of the instructor’ comes into play here again. Of all the poetry, fiction, drama, and informational texts, the lesson planning would have to be inclusive of multiple types of authors outside of the “classics”. I do not argue to do away with the classics but how can students “integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats as well as in words” by only engaging with the “classics” (140). Ideally, I’d cite a few quotes from an article arguing for more inclusiveness of diversity in English discourse from the ILA I came across last week, but will have to come back later and add those.

Reading to Write

The main audience of the International Literacy Association is the educators who teach RLA and writing skills in their respective roles on various educational levels including a foreign audience. Because writing is our effort to communicate our symbolization and understanding of the world, it serves no true purpose to teach only academic writing, or only creative writing, or only narratives, etc. What students’ benefit from most are the writing experiences they have in class, not for the grade of it, but for the reflection involved in the process approach to writing. Synthesizing information requires an engaging of that information on diverse levels in addition to expanding the conversation in relation to that information. It’s hard to teach experience, but it is easier, with technology, to activate areas of learning not usually stimulated through reading only. Reading to comprehend is a wonderful experience, but can that comprehension lead to questions that lead to more research?

While reading Reconnecting Reading and Writing by Alice S. Horning & Elizabeth W. Kraemer, I found their connections of the principles of reading and writing to initiatives of the International Literacy Association to be valuable in measuring how much time could and should be spent on a certain method of instruction. Horning et al. suggest “students have difficulty reading critically in order to use source materials appropriately, and will benefit from reconnecting reading and writing” (8). In order to reconnect the students’ reading and writing a synthesizing of multiple platforms of written expression can be combined to allow the student more opportunities to interact with the text. The various forms of interaction with a text gives the student multiple ways of thinking critically about a topic, connecting that topic to the world, and expressing that connection to others in a clear, detailed form. It also important for that student to be able to identify with the information they are receiving in some way. Identifying with information is easier said than done when a student is not interested in a text, for example. Interest level can be difficult to increase for students who do not ‘see’themselves as a part of the social aspects of engaging in discourse and reading.

The International Literacy Association approaches the act of reading as a “socio-cognitive” act (8). Once the “Why Literacy” tab is clicked, the note administrators’ offer is that literacy connects people. The connection made through the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, [and] compute” textual information is proven in the aptitude for people to communicate effectively in print, audio, and digital format. This synthesizing of information is crucial in the classroom for the basic writer who has not had much experience formally connecting information to communicate ideas. Although, people synthesize information often to convey information, the structure of academic writing defines the process of synthesizing that information and communicating those ideas effectively on multiple platforms. The knowledge and skills students learn enables them to be more confident in their reading and writing skills. I asked my students what were the more difficult aspects of reading and writing to them and they responded that ‘expanding’ their thoughts was most difficult, while some found that ‘punctuation’ was most difficult in writing. This expansion of thought seems easier, in my experience, from using multiple forms of transmission to interact with texts and information because the reader/writer is forced to engage different regions of the brain (when considering a psycholinguistic approach). So, meshing reading and writing into one class would involve reading a text aloud together, stopping in between to analyze certain portions of the text as we go, individual reading of the text, and writing a short response to 3 to 4 questions that the instructor may come up with. I suggest very specific questions that create the need to analyze the text from a formalists’ perspective.

The International Literacy Association provides a platform for educators to find resources for and examples of methods that introduce students to and develop students’ skills in theory and in practice. Reading is more than looking at words to summarize what occurred, but some basic writers do not understand how to formulate and answer the complex questions that arise from reading a text critically. The association supports the notion that “readers must be able to analyze texts to see how parts fit together […] be able to synthesize different readings on the same topic [to] see a range of perspectives [,] be able to evaluate the material” and use all of that information to create a sound response to academic discourse and add to the conversation (Horning et al. 10). Even first year Harvard graduates were “proud of the input they had in the scholarly discourse of their classes” (10). As such, all students would benefit from feeling as though they have made a contribution to developing ideas and knowing their addition to discourse arose out of their own blending of information.

Rhetoric and Print

So much emphasis is placed on the vernacular versus print in basic writing discourse, as is the case with Basic Writing by George Otte and Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk. The authors support the idea of tolerance in varied forms of English and a reference to comfortably code switching from academic discourse to more relaxed language usage. But, I argue for acceptance. Acceptance shuns the notion that one form of English is better than the other, but establishes a base line of communication all parties can agree on. Unfortunately, all who helped in the evolution of English language rules were not all parties who must learn the rules now.

Otte claims students should be taught how to engage with and produce academic writing, but not to disregard their natural spoken dialect as “inferior” when compared to print (84). The concept of acceptance sort of rebuttals Shaughnessy’s approach to errors in basic writing. Although the author commonly refers to this process as “tolerance” the term has a negative connotation to begrudgingly accepting something deemed as outside of the norm. To classify basic writers as substandard and to then harp on Black English Vernacular (as Shaughnessy does) negates dialectical studies of regional language usage, such as the infamous Northern “can I have a gum” or “may I have a coffee” as opposed to the Southern “cup of coffee” or “piece of gum.” I’ve heard various genders of a variety of races of all socioeconomic classes in the North say “a coffee, a gum” and have never heard a Southerner of any race or socioeconomic status to say the same. Shaughnessy’s theories conclude these errors as being “wrong” only and not also simply different (84).

Although, one could argue if a student is American and taught to be more comfortable with code switching then that learner could be labeled as an ESL student. If this situation were the case then are not most basic learners close to being labeled ESL students? According to the article, the ESL department had not experienced an increase in participation just yet and so in defining the basic writer must have included elements of foreign learners. Otte points out that basic writers have a number of “incalculable variables” contributing to overall writing other than Standard English (88). Since George Otte is more concerned with digital scholarship and blended learning this text seems to forge his own journey to ‘seeing’ the writer and the writer’s language and not so much the writer’s racial or economic status. Basic writing instructors deal with “cognitive development and social identity” while Otte and Mlynarczyk also point out that the lack of enlightened approaches to addressing errors could have also led to the use of technology as a “medium” to correcting errors (89, 90). As the focus of error shifts from “oversimplification” to the students’ actual thinking process Otte has moved the field of basic writing to a pedestal other theories can reach for.

New methods can be utilized to enrich the basic writer and avoid errors. Christy l. Wenger in Yoga Minds, Writing Bodies: Contemplative Writing Pedagogy argues that the entire student must be engaged to avoid errors. To engage fully, mind and body develops the cognitove functioning of the student. Indeed, students are simply too “different” and “diverse” to be measured by standardized means (94). The statement seems to contradict the discourse of basic writing because the very essence of instruction still comes down to correcting the different and diverse “errors” teachers encounter.

Forming Habits of Mindfulness

Writing is a good method to build intuition. Intuition is the ability to understand something immediately without much reasoning, but this skill comes with experience and practice. Mutnik confirms that the act of reading and writing must be taught to be viewed as meaningful with purpose and not a development of life skills by drilling correctness into assignments (190).

The practice comes in the form of review and revision. Being intuitive is being mindful of errors, but intuition is also knowing, as an instructor, when thise errors do not take away from the discourse of the student. The experience may come in form of writing in response to a novel or article, but more likely from interacting with others. Rhetoric doesn’t always lend itself to correctness and therefore the logic and structure must be connected to tangible occurrences and intangible concepts.

Mutnick highlights that the concept of ascertaining language skills verbally is the foundation on which some scholars have built a rebuttal to. These scholars would argue that basic writers learning with a separation from familiar cultural influences will produce proper literacy skills (190). But, dialectalism and biculturism are an intrinsic part of mastering language. Bartholomae in “Inventing the University” claims that students must even see themselves in their own writing in order to add to the academic discourse they are learning. Within that learning process imitation is the driving force behind learning. Although I do not completely agree with this concept, because I think the act of reading scholarship leads to better writing and habits of mindfulness help to develop the growth of the writers actual writing abilities along with instruction.

Noetheless, Bartholomae’s argument stuck with me, that a student must see themselves within privileged academic discourse to become better writers. Being a good writer involves communicating effectively on various levels. Effective communication in general and in academia are powerful tools. But, to harness that power the student must be intuitively aware of themselves, and their logical and emotional processes in order to respond to stimuli. Within the state of that awareness the reader becomes the writer and the critical component to synthesizing information begins in mindful habit formation.

While reading “On the Academic Margins: Basic Writing Pedagogy , a film named Innsaei was brought to mind. The purpose of this alteration in the education setting is to heighten the awareness of adolescent learners through theoretical engagement in writing and contemplative meditation to stimulate social and intellectual growth. The program is known as Mind Up and the process has proven to be successful in it’s goals. The act of reading aloud and discussing critical literary concepts with children is obviously beneficial, but the unique aspect of the program is how these students relate these literary concepts to their own lives and knowledge of how the brain functions as an organ. For instance, the amygdala regulates aspects of thinking altered by emotions such as anger. These emotions cause a pre-frontal cortex reaction which these students can link back to how they respond to frustrating situations or why the wolf ate the three little pigs in rhetorical discourse and writing.

I see the critical theorists developing in these adolescent minds and wonder if meditation and interacting with intuition and writing in-class would be beneficial for the college/adult student? Mind Up seems to be teaching error by teaching students to accept the biological tendency to encounter “error” within ourselves and thusly the people we meet, characters we read about, and writing habit errors we form when we aren’t mindful.

Assimilating Writers

I’ve been told a few times that college is meant to create questioning of and curiousity about societal and academic forces. What constitutes good writing in place of bad if the identity of the writer is lost in the structure of “good” writing (8). Where would books like Krik?Krak! From Edwidge Danticat come from had she lost her identity in the development of her skills of writing? Not that Shaughnessy’s theories are not valuable, but while she neglects to mention much about reading to assist in decreasing errors, she does point out that basically the rigidness of good writing “assimilate[s] [students] into the culture of academia without acknowledging their experience as outsiders” (292). Reading standard and other unique texts seems to provide a smoother form of the act of studying correct standard English.

Sometimes learners come from diverse backgrounds that allow for a unique verbal and written expression of their relation to the world around them. I wonder sometimes where and at what point did someone forget about this student? It’s a question I keep coming back to. How does someone who made it to the 9th or 11th grade or even graduate high school not be able to compose seemingly basic sentence structures? Who failed them along the way or gave up on their learning? It isn’t my role to navigate the woes of their life, if they feel they have any, but reading a student’s paper with basic errors at certain levels can be a bit saddening. When I see certain errors, I know that reading a short book at some earlier time in the student’s life may have corrected some small mistake before they continued to make it for years.

I concluded that the eduction system is not fair and sometimes neither are the cards we are dealt in life. The cards some learners are dealt do not make for a good hand in good writing, whether it was a less than enthusiastic teacher or gaurdian who let discipline slip away and error take over. So much so that the same glaring errors seem to be implanted into the make up of the students’ mind and they will make it over and over again. Sometimes, it’s hard to help those students, especially when they don’t actively work to help themselves and depend to heavily on intruction alone to make them better writers without applying the skills consistently.

Nonetheless, native and non-native English writers do assimilate to the structure of academic writing by instruction and by reading. My own writing has changed to reflect a more educated and yet assimilated version of my previous writing self. Now, I make less basic errors and some complex errors. Sometimes, I still make basic errors too from poor proof reading. I have a tendency for fluff and not facts, poetry and not critique. Perhaps, I will leave switch up my sysntax to seem more clear and instead become less lucid. Either way, all writers bring a set of unique styles to their tone, syntax, and general writing structure. All writers can convey alot in simple language.

I wonder sometimes if my own sense of self is lost in the rigidness of academic writing, does my ‘voice’ come through clear? I know my students struggle with the same thoughts on different levels, but their voices come through mostly loud and clear to me in writing and we create a bridge together with their language to correct errors. However, it’s also important to allow them the writing space to feel safe with having those errors. As Shaughnessy points out, error is important but not as much as we think and teachers should weigh the costs of instructing only to error and be willing to cut out a focus on error if it’s not helping students (120, 122).

Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. Oxford, 1977. Print.

Error Samples and Basic Writing

Shaughnessy argues that teachers are the answer to students’ writing issues. As an Adult Education Instructor, I could not agree more. Learners in this program are tested per every 40 hours of instruction, so there is a statistical component to ensuring that instructors are teaching and that their methods are effective. Now, some learners enter into the program with very high functioning levels in RLA and writing with little grammatical errors while other native English speakers find it difficult to compose basic sentences.

In-class hand written assignments and prompts allow the students the opportunity to write freely, make errors, and gain direct feedback on that piece of writing. There can be a conversation in response to their writing, a highlighting of errors, comment on structure and logic, but not a harping down on the fact that subjects and verbs must agree, spelling matters, or syntax is powerful.

After each assignment, the students writing improves. Paragraphs become longer, their thoughts are expressed in more vivid language, and they try to utilize concepts we’ve gone over in response to their last papers in an effort to prove to themselves and me, I suppose, that they are learning and actively growing from one week to the next. But as Shaughnessy points out, “good” writing does not equate to “correct” writing all of the time (8).

Shaughnessy also points out that basic writing students prefer the vernacular to standard American English because they associate more pleasurable experiences with speaking to peers (10). I find that some of my students tend to write how they speak when they replace standard words for dialectical preference. For instance, sometimes they might replace “did” for “done” in the sentence “…what I done to get where I was…” or starting off a sentence with “Like how you…” as if they were speaking aloud to explain something to a friend. There has to be a teaching of the balance between learning and knowing the rules, and when you can break them based on your showcase of skill throughout the entire writing piece and maybe then a quoted vernacular idiom isn’t SO bad later in the assignment if it is absolutely necessary to get the point across.

My fellow classmate, Jane Bear, made mention of how the error examples Shaughnessy shared became a little irritating to read after awhile. I can understand that feeling, although I haven’t had the exact feeling, I am reminded of the overwhelming feelings that arise for a brief moment after I read 15- 20 papers and only 2 to 4 of them are almost error free. I re-read each paper and make sure I’m responding in a way that allows them to see the error, I offer guidance on what to focus on during their individual study hour, and what is already working in their writing as encouragement. Alas, the rewards come around after the next assignment and they work harder, and feel proud to have “fixed” some nagging mistake. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. Oxford, 1977. Print.

Rich in Error

pencilpusherIt is a stirring experience to encounter adult learners who have less than basic writing skills. Sometimes, to my own disappointment I have forgotten that people exist who do not understand how to write. Even I lack some skills that could be considered “basic” to writers much more advanced than me. A deeper lack of understanding about the field is exposed when one forgets about composition.

While reading the student sample of passage-b I was jarred and immediately taken back to one of my first times encountering an adult semi-literate person that I was partly responsible for the growth of in writing and reading at least. Mina Shaughnessy’s article captured my attention when she stated that “College English teachers who encounter passage-b type writers for the first time are not likely to know where to begin or whether to begin (2),” and for sure I was one of these teachers. Although not college-level, encountering a college age or older learner who writes similar to the student of passage-b does cause a slight panic within me.

Panic begins to set in as questions start to dart through my mind: What aspect of language arts suits this student best? Should I start with modifiers, syntax, nouns, capitalization, spelling, what went wrong in this person’s life that they missed out on learning these things? Am I capable of ensuring their writing and reading development? To what degree are they responsible for this? The institution? While I understand the college professor has the freedom to overlook, in a way, that student, I do not. So I wondered when reading this particular article how a composition instructor alters the method of delivery for the other types of lower functioning students.

Luckily, a fellow classmate (for privacy reasons I will call her Skem Fleafer) mentioned that she is in “a constant state of revision” as a composition instructor and that “some errors in writing have the potential to make it a richer experience for the reader.” Now, I thought about what enrichment could be found in the errors and I concluded that the growth comes from the mutual exchange of knowledge between both teacher and student. Somehow, in the exchange of error and correcting we discover new information about students and develop innovative ways to address those errors quickly or have them be avoided all together.

The stage of student and pupil is laid out to produce learning for all parties involved in the play. So, I suppose the richness is in the vast amount of learning a reader can get from jolting errors and minute mistakes because once they are recognized, teachers are again called to the mission of seeking out methods of correction, lesson delivery, and constructive feedback. The art of teaching really gets to spread its wings in the light of error and I agree that that is pretty enriching.