“As new teachers enter New Dorp, for example, they might be told to teach this writing ‘program’ without having engaged in the intellectual work of searching for and responding to the most pertinent needs of their student writers And it can’t be assumed that the student of New Dorp five years from now will be more or less the same as current students and in need of the same kind of instruction. . . a new crisis will emerge that only committed and empowered teachers will be able to solve.” – Creativity is Not the Enemy of Good Writing
“Worst of all is the category of problem that many English teachers just call “awk”. . . this happens when kids simply haven’t mastered enough linguistic structures to express anything by the simplest ideas. This is why basic narrative writing is easier for these kids: You only need on kind of sentence structure to tell your readers what happened first, next and last.” – I’ll Have What They’re Having
“Kids are more likely to become engaged, thoughtful writers if they feel comfortable and competent with language. But at present, we expend too much effort trying to get children to ‘live the writerly life’ and ‘develop a lifelong love of reading.’” – How Self Expression Damaged my Students
The three passages above caught my attention while doing the reading for this week.
I think the first is the most important and the one that most closely resembles my own concept of pedagogy (obviously on my mind since we’re writing our philosophies). As new(er) teachers, the most difficult experiences in the classroom are usually because of the disconnect between what we thought our student issues would be and what our student issues are. Or, perhaps put more precisely, the difference between the ideal student we imagined as we wrote our syllabus over the summer and the students who were sitting in our classroom on the day we arrived to teach for the first time. Each time we finish a lesson or an activity, I think it’s safe to assume that all of us are reasonably sure what it is we would do different next time. Because of our “newness” we’re trying to figure out how to really address the problems we’re running into. However, once we’ve gained confidence as teachers, we’re more likely to teach out of habit than to be continually responsive to the needs in the class. I think this is especially true for adjuncts who teach 4 or more classes, sometimes at different institutions, and (like our students) simply don’t have the time to be as critical on a daily basis of what and how we are teaching our students.
The second and third are more closely related, but look at the issue from opposite sides. The second quote is a perfect example of the difficulty teachers, who have shown competency with academic language, pinpointing exactly what makes “good” academic language. There’s a lot more to say on this point, but I think I’m trying to tackle too much in this post already. I think I just couldn’t edit this out since I liked it so much.
I generally hated the piece from which the final quote is from. I think it had a frighteningly racist bent. However, I think the quote acknowledges two important ideas: First, that students are rarely competent in language of academia and second, that students come to our classroom knowing they are not fully competent and this affects how they write. I had a student express to me today that she was “not a good writer.” When I asked her more questions it became apparent that she felt she was not a good writer because it didn’t come naturally, as she felt it did for her siblings, she didn’t use “big words,” and because she “never liked reading, even as a kid.” We determined through more discussion, that her “issue” with reading was attentiveness (she often indulged in opportunities for distraction via her phone, she never took notes on her readings, etc.). Further, in her previous schooling she had regularly produced writing above the standards of this class. I had before me as student who had demonstrated proficiency in what I was asking, was sure she could do the work, was insightful in class and yet had decided she was “not good” because it didn’t feel natural. I think it’s important that we help students become comfortable with the language of the academy because it is a language of power, but also to be relieved from the need for it be natural. Most of us as instructors are not even fully competent (isn’t that what the dissertation is for? And don’t those memes of Feminist Ryan Gosling and Academic hand gestures point to our discomfort engaging in this discourse?).