And you only want me to re-read if you’ve changed the essay significantly since the last time I saw it.
And you’re revising because you’d like it to reflect what you said your work merits in your grade contract.
But more than that! You also want the essay to be better, more representative of what you’ve learned in English 431, and a more in-depth analysis of what you see happening in spaces where tutoring and mentoring writing occurs.
After reading the title above, you might say, “Hold on a second! It’s still April, and I haven’t turned in both of my Observation Essays yet–much less revised them. How can I possibly start thinking about what I’ve learned when I’m not done with it yet?” You may indeed need to do some writing and revising still, but we’ll set aside most of the remaining time in ENGL 431 so that you can meet with me to talk about revision and you and your peers can exchange drafts.
You all are done with what one could call the “content section” of the course. There’s only one reading left, and it’s intended to give us some ideas about what you could do to in the final reflective piece we’re talking about now. And there are only a few weeks of class left. So at this point I know you have deep thoughts about this tutoring and mentoring writing business. And you should share them–both with me and with each other!
First let’s look at the assignment itself. As you can see, it’s a pretty wide-open assignment in which I ask you to reflect on your learning, and on what you’ve learned to do. It can tell stories, connect to readings, mention inconvenient truths, discuss experiences, compare sites or spaces where writing happens, or all of these things. But most of all I hope it’s a short paper that you craft to tell me about the ideas and practices you think are important.
For today’s class I thought we might do some freewriting to isolate some of those moments or ideas you might use in the essay. Please break out something to write with and on and select one question from this first set to respond to. Write without stopping for ten minutes:
What do you know that you didn’t know before?
What do you know how TO DO that you didn’t know before?
What do you think your coursework in 431 shows us about you as a person (not just as a student)?
What does your work in 431 show us about your ability as a future teacher (possibly), graduate student in English Studies, or leader?
Then turn to people sitting around you. Share what you wrote with them? Maybe we can discuss one of these questions as a class?
Then please select some ONE question from this next list and do the same.
What do you want this reflective piece to show about you, your reading, your writing, your tutoring or mentoring ability?
How has your learning developed OVER TIME? Point to some things that could show us development.
What are the BEST things you’ve done, paragraphs you’ve written, points you’ve made this semester?
What other things from this course could you include in the essay? (List them)
And we’ll do some more discussion. Sharing ideas with each other about our plans for writing, I think, will help everyone get started with this final reflective piece.
Then we’ll talk a little more about assignment sheets. I get the sneaking suspicion that some of you believe that most college writing assignments are versions of the same thing. There are great differences in what different instructors are asking students to write!
At the same time, believing they’re similar (or the same) may be a reasonable belief if the assignment sheets students bring don’t contain much, or any, useful information. AND as a result, they leave students to guess about the professor’s true intentions.
Let’s practice today with one small part of the assignment sheet or prompt: the verbs used to name the TASK students are engaged in. Please get into groups and I’ll hand to each group a sheet of verbs and an Expo marker. Organize the verbs you see on this sheet into categories by writing them up on some part of the board. How many different kinds of assignments (based solely on verbs) do you all see?
Katherine and Savannah will be leading our discussion of Harris and Silva’s Tutoring ESL: Issues and Options today. They’ve got some fun stuff planned, I think, that might take the majority of the class period today. Looking forward to it!
We’ll be doing something similar with big Post-It paper on Monday as we wrap up our explorations of issues related to tutoring multilingual students. I’ll ask you all to work in groups to put these texts “in conversation with each other,” meaning that we’ll look for places that some of the SIX texts we’ve read:
Agree or disagree with each other. To be specific, I hope each group can zero in on these texts by focusing on ONE of the themes or issues listed below:
Insights into L1 or L2 language learning
Prioritizing concerns in revision plans
The issue of L1-L2 transfer
The role of the tutor as guide or teacher
Cultural differences and their impact on tutoring
Working with “error” and language difference
Communicating with tutees and mentees
As we end our readings for the semester, I’m interested in steering us toward what you feel you’ve learned, what insights are emerging for you, and how you think of yourself as a tutor and mentor now–all of which will be useful for your final reflection! This is one step in that direction so I’m super interested in what connections you’ll make here.
Two things to avoid, right? Perhaps . . . but perhaps NOT! (Cue music from a mystery movie: Dun dun dun!!)
No, in true ENGL 431 form there seems to be more nuance to the issue than “things to avoid when you’re working with writers.” Though the reading was a bit expansive, the ideas give us lots to work with.
In Reading an ESL Writer’s TextMatsuda and Cox’s theory of “reading” (which really seems like a theory of responding, not solely reading) focuses on ways to work with ESL texts, what they call writing by students whose native language isn’t (just) English: international students, heritage speakers, Generation 1.5, multilingual writers. They want to consider how tutors and mentors respond when confronted with “difference”–writing exhibiting some but not all of the features of NES or SEAE writing–and they place ways of responding on a continuum, from assimilation to separatism.
As a refresher, from p. 42:
Assimilation: “When a reader takes an assimilationist stance, the reader’s goal is to help the ESL writer ‘write linear, thesis-statement and topic-sentence-driven, error-free, and idiomatic English as soon as possible,’ encouraging the writer and their text to assimilate into the dominant culture. The assimilationist, then, reads differences as deficiencies–errors to be corrected.”
Accommodation: “The accommodationist reader’s goal is to help the writer learn new discourse patterns without completely losing the old, so that the writer can maintain both their LI and L2 linguistic and cultural identities. The accommodationist, then, reads differences as, well, differences. explaining to the writer how some differences may be seen as deficiencies by some readers; it is up to the writer ‘how much like a native speaker’ he wants to sound.”
Separatism: “The separatist reader’s goal is to support the writer in maintaining separate linguistic and cultural identities, and to advocate for NES readers to read ESL texts “generously” with more appreciation for multicultural writing. The separatist, then, reads to overlook, and therefore preserve, difference.”
Please get into groups of 3-4! (How much of this we do will depend on what our discussion leaders do at the beginning of class.) Talk about a time you were working with an ESL student and your approach the characteristics of one of the above. As Matsuda and Cox say, “The stances come down to ways of reading difference, and whether tutors should read to ‘correct’ difference, explain difference, or overlook difference.” It’s important as well to note that stances change over time, especially as one gets to know a writer over repeated visits.
The complexity for me lies in their assertion that if tutors are assimilationist, it may be because they feel the professors are as well–and that they want to spare the social stigma of having writing called out by instructors who aren’t linguistically astute.
NOTE: we can also do this with Carol Severino’s article, Avoiding Appropriation! (That is, we’d get into groups of 3-4 and talk about times we’d worked with an ESL writer. To what extent has an “act of appropriation” occurred?)
Severino’s definition of appropriation:
Appropriation usually involves the writer feeling, as I did when reading my Italian professor’s corrections, a loss of voice, ownership, authorship, or emotional and intellectual connection to the writing and how it was composed. Such an event–when control of a text is removed from an author who then feels alienated from it–might be considered an “act of appropriation,” although undoubtedly one can still learn language and about language use from the experience. On other occasions, however, when language has been reformulated in whole or in part by a teacher, tutor, or editor, for example, with the consent and participation of the student, we might conclude that the student’s writing has not been appropriated.
To Severino, “Most commonly, the issue of appropriating second language writing in general arises not in relation to control of topic or content, but to control of language. Here the disparity is in linguistic knowledge, not cultural knowledge; the linguistic repertoire of a tutor who is a native speaker of the language is far greater than that of her students.”
But again, depends on what the discussion leaders decide.
Today we march straight into a debate that’s roiling scholars in composition, rhetoric, and literacy right now: the place of, and support for, diverse or non-“standard” uses of language in student writing. What role should tutors play in enforcing “standard” language forms? As we’ll see, this gets to a deeper place than “don’t hate the player, hate the game”: it’s about how we see writing centers working with or against beliefs about the relationship between language and power.
Like many in our field (Canagarajah; Horner et al.; Perryman-Clark, Kirkland, and Jackson; Smitherman and Villanueva), we believe our students’ linguistic diversity is an asset that can enrich composition courses and curricula. As such, we emphatically disagree with a deficit model of thinking that positions students’ “nonstandard” languages and/or dialects as a disadvantage or barrier that must be “dealt with.”
They go on to talk about labeling, teacher awareness, and valuing difference in writing. But where does this perspective on language come from? Well, in some ways it starts with the SRTOL, a common acronym for a 1972 statement from the NCTE/CCC, a professional group of scholars and teachers of English and writing, called “Students’ Right to Their Own Language”. It starts this way:
We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.
You can read the document online, and you should! It’s fascinating. This post covers its major moves: its dismissal of “Standard English” or “Edited American English” (EAE) as a superior form of written English; its argument that you can “learn to write” and demonstrate that learning in codes or dialects other than EAE; its focus on English teaching methods as too concerned with imparting linguistic etiquette, and the classism/elitism of such efforts.
To summarize, I suggest that students must be taught the codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life, not by being forced to attend to hollow, inane, decontextualized subskills, but rather within the context of meaningful communicative endeavors; that they must be allowed the resource of the teacher’s expert knowledge, while being helped to acknowledge their own “expertness” as well; and that even while students are assisted in learning the culture of power, they must also be helped to learn about the arbitrariness of those codes and about the power relationships they represent.
But the conversation continues. Just last month at the big conference of our field, the keynote speaker, Asao Inoue, called on participants to answer the question, “How Do We Language So People Stop Killing Each Other, Or What Do We Do About White Language Supremacy?”The text of the talk is here; the slides are here. And the video of the talk is below:
It’s really worth watching, and builds to a crescendo by the end. And it asks us to take seriously the idea that we’re not doing enough to change the standard in “Standard” English:
The key is changing the structures, cutting the steel bars, altering the ecology, in which your biases function in your classrooms and communities. I’m saying, we must change the way power moves through White racial biases, through standards of English that make White language supremacy. We must stop justifying White standards of writing as a necessary evil. Evil in any form is never necessary. We must stop saying that we have to teach this dominant English because it’s what students need to succeed tomorrow. They only need it because we keep teaching it!
Later in the speech he continues with a parable about a starving person asking for food and a landowner saying he didn’t feel comfortable offering it: “It is meant to be an allegory for how we make decisions as writing and literacy teachers, particularly about classroom grading and assessment practices, about how we use a particular dominant, White standard. It is about our decisions to continue to reinforce White language supremacy in our classrooms that give many of us power over students, while we tell our students how much right they have to their languages, how much we care and embrace the diversity of languages that they bring and use, yet we tacitly contradict these messages by asking them to wait just a bit longer for us to feel comfortable enough to change our classroom practices, to change the way standards work against them, despite the linguistic truths we know about the communicative effectiveness of all languages.” (Emphasis added)
Well, we know where Inoue stands on these questions, and he’s explicitly calling on writing professors and teachers to do more. For another interesting read, full of playfulness and sharp critique, also read Vershawn Ashanti Young’s “Should Writers Use They Own English?”
But where do WE stand on all this? Well, I’m not going to lecture this out and ask you to respond cold. What I will do is ask us to pair up and ask each other some questions about our linguistic backgrounds.
Then, based on our conversations, I’d like us to come to some loose policies for issues related to linguistic variety/diversity in writing. What’s our role as tutors and mentors? What should be our goals when working with diverse students and diverse language practices? Tutors and mentors can’t “do it alone,” but they aren’t powerless, either. What would you say in response to our reading, and the above?
We’re going to do two things today. I’ve carved out some space for us to talk about the end of the semester and what we need to do to get there; then I’d like us to talk about this piece you read!
First, the handout I’m giving you right now (also in Google Docs form) is my best sense of the assignments and activities that make up this class. Doing them all at “contract level,” as I’ve indicated in the syllabus, earns a B. Doing more than that? Well . . .
Do the work and you earn a B. To earn more than a B (B+, A-, A), revise all your work extensively–beyond just meeting the requirements. To do this, come to my office more than once to meet with me about revisions and share new or significantly revised drafts with me. In other words, any grade higher than a B is based on the quality of your revisions and persistence in revision work. If the final drafts of your writing are really strong, you get an A.
When I made this promise at the beginning of the semester, I’d understand if you didn’t believe me! I’d imagine some of you are still wary, given that few of your other classes are set up this way. But the good news is I’m holding to it.
So the first thing I’d like you to do is to fill out the sheet. I won’t collect this–it’s for you–so you can feel free to write yourself whatever you want (notes of reminder or encouragement, for example) and stick it on your fridge to remind yourself of what you need to do. But pay particular attention to the final questions! They ask you to plan out how to make sure all your work is in on time and, if you want, revised.
Take about ten minutes right now and write up how you’re doing in here. Starting in a few weeks, and over a few different days, I’ll ask you to think about something I think is entirely separate: what you’re learning. Today we do the former so that later on we can fully attend to the latter.
First let’s talk about what you commonplaced out of this article, so that we can assess at the outset what we reacted to.
Then let’s work to practice the strategies themselves! First please open your Either/Or paper or one of your more recent observation reports. Then pair up with a partner! (I know the author says she’s talking about peer groups, not tutorials, but working in groups bigger than two might prove time-consuming.) Practice AT LEAST ONE of the following steps with your partner:
SAYBACK. What is your whole paper about? Tell or write your partner. The first step is to ask students to verbalize detailed summaries, or what Elbow and Belanoff call “sayback” (22-24), which moves students toward consideration of writing as an extensive utterance, rather than a patching of details they can pounce on. A variation on this technique is moving through the paper and relating what each paragraph “says”-a portion of Bruffee’s “descriptive outline” (40-43). [ . . .] The presence of a tutor for this practice is important to model the activity of writing the response, to join in as a responder, and, if necessary, to urge the students to write and then share their responses. In writing, students have time and space to articulate their responses individually before they use them as a springboard for group discussion.
FREEWRITE your sense of the paper as a MEAL or THE WEATHER and share with your partner. Here, students are asked to draw pictures of the writing, give images of the “writer-to-reader relationship,” and compare the piece of writing to animals, persons, or weather. It invites playfulness and is initially seen by students as foolish and corny, yet it produces serious and often striking results. [ . . .] It can also move students toward consideration of rhetorical factors, such as the writer’s attitude toward the topic and task, of audience and purpose. Writing and sharing of such feedback anchors the discussion it further generates, justifies comments and suggestions, and provides distance from both the author and the text.
SWITCH LAPTOPS with your partner and offer a “movie of your mind” for this paper. One of the most powerful and extensive ways to record the readers’ reactions is through “movies of the reader’s mind” (Elbow and Belanoff 30-35). In this feedback readers are asked to record their reactions (“what’s going on in their heads”) as they go through the text. It makes them see writing as “doing” something to them, realize their expectations, predictions, identify their stance toward the text, locate areas that cause given reactions (like confusion), as well as substantiate a general sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the text.
Then we’ll share out our sense of how these “worked,” how it worked to sponsor or promote more and better talk about revising. And what do you imagine you could accomplish in asking students to work with each other’s writing in this way?
Finally, this quote seems to me like the heart of it:
In a group, however, the role of the tutor should evolve from that of the most experienced responder and model to initiator and facilitator of student response and finally to moderator and equal participant in collaborative negotiation. In terms of instructional responsibility, unlike in an individual tutorial, the tutor in a group needs first to help the students become more effective readers, then responders, and eventually step away from the instructional role and become a participating audience member on similar terms with the other students, or perhaps even a mere observer. This gradation of functions implies that, progressively, the tutor needs to let the students become more independent as they learn about writing and the range of revision strategies, as they become better readers of each other’s drafts, and as they learn effective response.
First off your reactions. What were your experiences with writing immediately after high school? Did you:
Take a “Basic Writing” course before transferring to Chico State?
Test out of composition/Academic Writing (GE Area A2)?
Take a series of writing courses at a community college?
Take the English Placement Test (EPT)?
Do the economics of college credit—baccalaureate, transfer, financial aid, etc.—shape people’s reactions to college courses? One argument: the construct of the Basic Writing class, the “basic” curriculum, created basic writers; instead of “fixing” students, as if that were possible or warranted, it created a box and then shoved students in. Student frustrations, teacher frustrations.
Let’s place this piece in some historical context. “Composition” is largely an American invention that focuses on developing students’ general reading and writing skills (if such a thing exists!). As I’ve mentioned before, composition courses started during the panic around one of our very American literacy crises, in about 1876, when Harvard faculty realized that their newest students couldn’t read Latin and Greek fluently–and more than that, didn’t have those upper-class sensibilities. So composition was in some senses always “remedial”: designed to “fix” students’ literate skills and habits of mind so that they’d be “prepared” for the real, upper-middle-class work of college. Always focused on basic skills, always preparatory, always boring. (I don’t think this, of course! But as the course nationwide that college students take most often, our tendency is to think it’s another thing in college to “get out of the way.”)
But another way to look at it was as a way to increase access. “Remediation” through this lens was originally a progressive impulse tied to increasing access to college by offering to bring students “up to speed.” Since that first supposed literacy crisis in 1876, bouts of progressive energy spurred the creation of new colleges and “land-grant” universities all over the country, which through the Morrill Acts agreed to take on more and more of what we’d now call “first-generation” college students: students who were the first in their families to enter higher education. Each successive wave of progressive action opened more doors to people attending college, but posed more problems for teachers not trained in process pedagogy who’d actually teach writing, not just assign it. And “Basic Writing” was the most recent of these efforts, coinciding with the “open access” movements of the late 1960s and 1970s.
TL,DR: The “Basic Writing” Rodby and Fox are discussing are those remedial efforts focused on bringing writing skills “up to par,” with new writing courses created to “remediate” students. The “Basic Writing” that Rodby and Fox are opposed to is most often viewed as pre-college-level work, not given college credit–so you have to pay money to take it but you don’t receive graduation credit in return. Ouch! They note the “irony” in eliminating the thing that was promised to help students “get prepared” for college–but succeeded only in frustrating them and slowing down their progress. So if they’re not opposed to student success, and are generally for access, what parts of “Basic Writing” ARE they really opposed to?
Well, this article gives us how that looked at Chico State before about 1990 (almost 30 years ago!): English 16 and 17 (Basic Writing courses) into English 001 (the for-credit course now called ENGL 130). Since then we’ve changed the names and some of the specifics, but generally the program and its rationale are the same.
Still, the piece needs unpacking. As a piece of “fine theory,” some of its claims are a bit dense, and many ideas are thrown at us. So let’s unpack it.
In groups of 4, please find a passage or two that you really responded to (or perhaps commonplaced) and share that with your group. What was it about that part of the article? Feel free to choose something that confused or frustrated you–or, of course, something you agreed with or applied to your life.
Let’s share them and talk about what you’re noticing!
Here are some of mine:
p. 87: “But while the basic writing courses changed, the economy legitimizing them did not.” Their point, which I think we realize, is that there’s no necessary relationship between what you learn in a class and the credit you’re offered for it. And perhaps that our ability to make a course more meaningful won’t automatically change the system in which it operates.
“They didn’t need to learn something basic first.” This seems like an example of where our folk language for writing and schooling fails us. Everyone seems to call for a “back to the basics” movement! But what if no one knows what “basic” might be, or if their idea of “basic” isn’t really basic after all?
“It was almost as if Valerio’s learning disabilities might disappear within a context that was not a testing ground.” Studies by McDermott and others have shown many more cases like this, especially one of “Adam,” in which this also proved true: students placed in certain high-stress situations, like school, can be perceived by others as less competent than they are. Is it a wonder that some people feel they’re not good writers? Or good test-takers?
p. 94: “Students need to construct a mental model of what writing is in this new context.” Writing isn’t uniform but changes drastically from situation (or context) to situation. And since it’s hard for all of us to remember what we learned in an early situation and apply it accurately to a later one, constructing a mental model of what needs writing can be difficult. We’ll talk about this phenomenon, often called “transfer,” a bit later in the course.
Welcome to English 431, Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing One-on-One. The course’s title is a long-winded way of telling you what we’ll do in here: explore different theories and practices associated with writing workshops, in which groups of students come together to share work and receive feedback under the guidance of a writing mentor or leader. That’s us!
In this blog and on the static pages above, you’ll find all the things I’ve uploaded to the site for us to use in this course. This is a four-credit course, three credits of study and one credit of internship in a writing workshop or tutoring space. Email me if questions! cfosen at csuchic0 dot edu (changing the symbols you see to the real deal).