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The Common Thread of “The Underdog”

As I finished reading through each article that was assigned for this week, I noticed that there was a common thread pulling each piece together- the underdog. In The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University, Mike Rose describes college level writing courses, and that many consider such instruction (and essentially their instructors) to be “second class”.  He connects this to the popular feeling that students entering college should have already mastered a general basic level of composition skills in order to be accepted at the college/university. This “second class” view of both coursework and students elicits the idea that such work is essentially “remedial”.  While the view of college composition coursework as remedial, for it should have been previously accomplished, can be more debatable, the notion that unskilled writers (regardless of the level of study) are remedial is deeply examined by Rose. I found the historical background on the study of composition rather interesting, and in particular, Rose brings up writing and the term remedial to be historically trenched in medical and physiological waters. He writes, ” to be remedial is to be substantial, inadequate, and because of the origins of the term, the  inadequacy is metaphorically connected to disease and mental defect”(349). While the medical field and the educational system has evolved to provide improved understanding and services, it seems that regardless of the label, students who are not perfect , whether when of average intelligence entering college or when in need of services of some kind, are immediately labeled “remedial”.  This remedial label is damaging of the learning process and hinders students from greater development.

Sondra Pearl echoes this as she reminds us that we should not punish students for making mistakes, after all, isn’t it said that the only way to learn is to make mistakes? Through her research, she again takes into account the writing process as a whole and attempts to capture it. A “felt sense” is somewhat seen as well as she discusses the case of Tony. For example, she writes of Tony, “consistently voiced complete sentences when composing aloud but only transcribed partial sentences” (29). It seems that there can be a disconnect between what is known and what is applied to the composition.

In addition, she says of teachers, that we should not “assume that students have already been taught to write”. Although this assumption is what is made at the college level as discussed by Rose and what helps to make composition courses “second class”, when taking into account other levels/classes, whether HS, JHS, college, etc. one should never assume when teaching that  students already know something regardless of what topic or course is being taught. We all know what happens when we assume…

While it appears that many assume students should hold prior knowledge of composition – and this creates the remedial feeling- In a similar vein, Suresh Canagarajah writes students of bilingual backgrounds should not be cast as second-class underdogs among their peers due to what is assumed they do not know. Canagarajah pushes for educators to remember what the students already know. As we saw in Tony’s case, what is understood by the students may not necessarily be transcribed to writing. While these students too may experience difficulties, their unique language learning backgrounds may be used to their advantage and should not be ignored or cast aside in the classroom environment.  These students are also in a sense, “remedial” underdogs who are not given the proper “label” based on outside appearances, biases, or true understanding of what they are capable of.

As a sort of side note -One thing that I did wonder about was the differences among such students. Canagarajah states that in the terms of applied linguists he may be described as “a balanced bilingual who has acquired simultaneous bilingualism in a case of childhood bilinguality”(589). He has grown up learning two languages. This might make him if not at the same level, a similar level to that of his native English-speaking counterparts when concerning English (and perhaps at a much stronger overall linguistic talent as he speaks two languages). He determines to keep it simple and just use terms novice and expert, which does not truly take into account such specific differences. Yet, perhaps this might also be a strong indicator of something? I am not by any means denying the intelligence of students who happen to speak English as a second language and I applaud the idea that the special construction of their language and of “____ English” should not be dismissed or overlooked in the classroom.

Posted in 10 Second Language Learning.

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The Ideology of an error

     ” A skill, particularly in the university setting, is well, a tool, something one develops

         and refines and completes in order to take on the higher-order  demands of purer thought”

     In The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University, by Mike Rose, the author, includes the above definition from the American Heritage dictionary. Much of Rose’s essay deals with the conception the academic world has towards writing courses.This belief is firmly planted on writing as merely a skill, Rose  adds that because of  that view, writing is treated a “second class” (347). Moreover, it implies that it should be “mastered before one enters college and takes on higher-order endeavors” (348).

     It is because  of seeing writing courses as “second-class” that students suffer from a stigma: unskilled writers. Writing courses, according to Rose first began with the oldest of all ivy league Universities-Harvard. Rose studies the etymology of the term remedial, to further analyze the distorted view remedial courses receive, he says, ” to be remedial is to be substantial, inadequate, and because of the origins of the term, the  inadequacy is metaphorically connected to disease and mental defect”(349).  It must be considered that although students need to perfect written language has seized to be looked at from a mental malady perspective, the term is still connected to its origins. Consequently , the focus is for the teacher to act like a “successful physician … to be something of a diagnostician”(351). The problem with this view is that like a physician the teacher is supposed to isolate and treat the malady, without considering the “growth of the writer or the social context of the error” (345-346).

     Sondra Perl’s The Composing Process of unskilled College Writers, presents findings from a study of five unskilled students and offers implications that shed some light in respect to understanding the social context of errors.  Perl explains that teachers, ” need not to “punish” students for making mistakes, and they need not assume that students have already been taught to write”(38). In The Place of World Englishes in composition Pluralization Continued, Suresh Canagarajah, unlike Rose gives students a profile, and focuses on ESL and multilingual students.  Canagarajah, points that students with these characteristics should not be looked at lacking , but rather as an individual who can contribute to the richness of English language.  Furthermore, the author states that Metropolitan English is viewed as an exclusionary language by language learners, and calls for the globalizing of the language.

     Aside from detailing how  World Englishes emerged from post colonized nations  appropriation of  the English language in addition to their native homeland’s.  The author explains that today’s American classrooms shelter many multilingual students and that rather than focus on their written mistakes teachers should utilize creative ways to negotiate the norms relevant in diverse context. Sondra Perl, insisted that by “imposing another method of writing instruction upon the students’ already internalized  processes without first  helping students to extricate themselves from the knots and tangles in those processes”(39).

     In  Canagarajah’s pedagogy, the home /first language may not be a hindrance, but rather a resource”(583). Unlike  Rose, who calls for “affirming a rich model of written language development and production” (357) without offering  concrete examples, Canagarajah offers “code-meshing” as opposed to Peter Elbow’s “code-switching” , and says , that “code-meshing; is “motivated by pragmatic sociolinguistic considerations”.  I agree with Canagarajah in that “code-meshing” is empowering and welcoming; and on the wrongful “the assumption that multilingual students are always bound to err in a second language denies them agency” (609).

Some questions then are:

* Has the teaching of writing lost its significance, if so, to what do you attribute his view?

* Are teachers willing to allow students to use their own variety of English written in academic work?

* Are we failing multilingual students by isolating their lengua madre in their quest to learn the English Language?

Posted in 10 Second Language Learning.


As promised, links to two articles about computers grading standardized tests:

Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously,” NY Times

Robots Are Grading Your Papers!,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

Posted in 7 Grading, 9 Standards, Prof. Ferguson.

The Hare and the Pineapple

Here’s a link to a PDF of the ACTUAL exam with the standardized text in question.

Posted in 9 Standards, Uncategorized.

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Nationwide Standards

We’ll talk about this in class today, but here is a link to the new ELA Common Core standards that some of you mentioned in your comments this week:

Posted in 9 Standards, Prof. Ferguson.

Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves

Just in time for this week’s readings . . . an article in the New York Times on a recent problem with a standardized test question.

Link to article

Standardized Testing Is Blamed for Question About a Sleeveless Pineapple [pdf link]

Posted in 9 Standards, Prof. Ferguson.

Calling on Standards to Meet Today’s Challenges

In The Problems of National Standards, Lil Brannon challenges Miles Myers idea that national standards will provide the opportunity to solve the literacy crisis in America. She feels that national standards create an oversimplification of and diversion from real problems that plague today’s students. The challenge is to not perpetuate the literacy crisis by oversimplifying ELA standards that indirectly aim to foster an environment that is not student-centered and teacher led. Restrictive national standards are creating an environment where “competing and diverse human needs,” students, and teachers are being “managed” by institutions (Brannon 441). Therefore, students and teachers, the ones who should be supported, suffer.  The teacher becomes invisible. Student needs are not met.

The literacy crisis, Brannon suggests, “arises from the tension between America’s promise to the individual that he or she will have full access to intellectual resources and the needs of capitalism to have a differentiated, stratified workforce” (Brannon 441). If this is true, the definition of “literacy crisis,” as the term is generally understood, would be a sham. In addition, literacy would be a privilege for some, not a right. The focus for national standards should be to provide all students with a language arts curriculum that allows for them to have an equal opportunity to learn and grow. These standards should not be created under false pretenses. If standards are marketed to address the evolving needs of every student in America so that they will have the “language resources they will need to participate in the world of tomorrow,” as mentioned in The English Language Arts Standards, then standards must do this. But if they fail to do so, they will only perpetuate the misery that seems to exist for so many students and teachers.

Brannon also calls on readers to take action and support rights to academic freedom in the classroom. National standards will not support learners if guidelines are too strict and do not allow teachers the freedom to address the unique needs of their students. These individuals should not be treated as a homogenized group of people who are carbon copies;  they should not be expected to learn in identical ways. A teacher must be allowed to tailor the curriculum to be able to support those who have unique needs, problems adjusting to the standards prescribed.  Material that does not support learning needs to be adapted. Furthermore, as Lori Kixmiller submits, in Standards without Sacrifice, in order for students to be successful and become proficient, “we need to teach them to analyze a writing situation by determining the audience and what to say to them – something our formulaic models often omit” (Kixmiller 31).  Standards should not turn into “repressive dogma” that restrict a student’s right to learn from material that engages them.

Existing standards create an environment where it is “…more important for students to be polite and not criticize – a position supported by the invisible teacher…” (Brannon 445). It is crucial for students to question what they are asked to learn. They will need this skill in the outside the classroom where it is important to question the environment in which they live. Otherwise, they risk not learning to take control of their own life.

Posted in 9 Standards.

Standards in Place

One of the major tenets of both articles from this week’s reading is that authentic writing experiences rather than academic exercise are the best way to enrich and inspire students to do their best work. I agree that we should not always be gearing up (prompting) to hit the mark, choose the right answer, or meet the standard. Like Booth, Kixmiller gives an account of a student who found her voice within the confines of (and almost despite) the curriculum. The effects of slight variations in assignment design can be massive, as John C. Bean tells us. An effective English teacher is one who is able to teach whatever standards are around, and give students the opportunity to truly improve literacy skills. When teachers develop authentic prompts rather than academic exercise, they give students a chance to take Booth’s rhetorical stance. We have been over this before in week 4 Writing Assignments.

I do not believe that the problem with meeting the standards lies here. Regular education classroom teachers, overwhelmingly, know what they are doing. To add to the facts that they are highly qualified and educated: they get a great deal of supervision; they have guidelines made clear to them, they receive a set number of hours of professional development every year, and they have pacing calendars and other schedules to follow depending on their school’s curriculum. I say all this to say that a teacher knows how to balance many ideals and (still considering whichever standards are current) create writing assignments that are authentic. The standards are just another thing to add on to the pile. Teachers still have to face bigger issues! It is evident when a State Exam asks students to respond to meaningless allegory about talking pineapples racing hares that not everybody is on the same page. Mixkiller says, “Students should never write for purposes not grounded in real-world experiences.” The article wants teachers to use real-world writing like: Email to a friend, Email to a co-worker, Email an instructor, Email to a loved one, Write a letter of complaint, Write a letter of compliment, Write a letter of concern, Compile research on a car, Compile research on a house, Scrapbook a birth, Scrapbook a wedding, and Scrapbook a vacation. (I agree and have already been working on ways to adjust this list to my classroom.)

The Brannon article could have been called; Standards Do Not Solve Literary Crisis – A Call to Arms. Brannon encourages questioning of leadership decisions (p. 445 end), resistance to standards, and calls it the “imposition of standards,” and “repressive dogma.” Says NCTE isn’t engaging the politics of reading and writing. I agree that the NCTE standards are as dogmatic as they are idealistic. One of Brannon’s biggest issues is that standards can dictate student and teacher action. She says, “…the teacher is out of the picture, merely a supporter and an orchestrator, not a transformative intellectual” (444). This is part of a bigger issue – something Stanley Fish is worried about in What Should Colleges Teach. Leave his penchant for grammar out of it for a second and you realize that he does not want any outside groups dictating what goes into our curriculum. He is pro-educator freedom. Brannon would say that no outside group should say what goes into our standards.

The NCTE Standards are very detailed but thorough and talk all about equity and access to education. They talk about, especially in Standard 4, students gaining knowledge of audience and the social nature of language. They talk about, in Standard 5, writing for a wide range of strategies and using their own experiences as resources for writing. I am having trouble poking holes in the NCTE Standards. Perhaps it is something so good that it is too good to be true.

The New York State ELA standards could be seen as a summary of the NCTE if you like your medicine short and sweet. Although closer examination might prove to find a few inconsistencies, structurally they are alike. I do not fully see the problem, for any teacher of English, with keeping these standards in mind. That the authors of this week’s articles did research and  compared various vignettes and scrutinized the NCTE’s politics and so on … only says to me that there are still people (scholars) out there who will still advocate for teachers and drum up the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” song.

But what if I was made in 2003? What if I got my license in 2011? My point is what if I’m a new teacher who has followed up on standards since my first day in teacher education courses? I have my standards in place.

If you want to challenge and question authority, after reading both sets of standards from this week’s reading ask yourselves:

Are standards “anti-teacher”?

Are standards just for failed schools?

Are standards progressive education?

Posted in 9 Standards.


As current (and future!) teachers, it seems as if we’ve been repeatedly hit over the head with the importance of standards. As a student teacher, I had to make sure to address them in my lesson plans (which by the way, were plans created by The College Board who created said lessons to align with the common state standards) but I have never truly read an extensive explanation of the national standards as stated by the NCTE.
To sum up the NYS standards, students will use language through reading, speaking and writing to understand information. As readers, speakers and writers, they will make connections from the various forms of texts to their own lives, thus understanding different points of view. They will analyze and critique ideas and information and be able to present opinions from different perspectives on a variety of subjects. Lastly, they will use these skills of reading, speaking and writing to communicate on a social level with other people and to not only explain their point of view, but understand that of others as well. These four standards are obviously very broad and a lot can fit within the parameters of just one of these standards. They can also easily work in tandem, piggy-backing off one another.
In the introduction to the national standards, NCTE states, “Because language and the language arts continue to evolve and grow, our standards must remain provisional enough to leave room for future developments in the field. And it is important to reemphasize that these standards are meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.” They urge teachers to look at the 12 standards and see which ways they as an educator can connect them. Many of these 12 can be seen reflected in our NYS set of four. Students are reading different types of texts to understand different dimensions of human experience. They are making connections between their lives and the text as well as communicating various points of views with different audiences. In all of these standards, students are applying learned strategies to understand and communicate with people around them.
For these pieces, connection and communication seems to be the significant idea (because language arts is after all, a language) and it is prevalent in Lori Kixmiller’s piece, Standards without Sacrifice: The Case for Authentic Writing. She opens the piece with a story about a disengaged student who finally begins to participate in the class research assignment when she discovered both a topic that mattered to her and an audience that was sympathetic towards her. Kixmiller stresses the need for authentic writing or rather, writing that students believe in because their audience goes beyond just the teacher. They must think about their audience because they won’t be constantly writing these formulaic pieces all their lives. People write e-mails, letters, lists, etc. Each piece is addressing a different audience and Kixmiller states that authentic writing “helps students cultivate unique voices.” I’ve definitely seen instances when students get to choose their topic and they approach the task with a level of enthusiasm I had not previously seen. And that is not to say that these authentic writing assignments cannot be designed to address standards and include curriculum requirements- they just seem like a breath of fresh air amongst assignments centered on teaching to the test.
While Kixmiller approves of writing that encourages students to explore their own experiences, Brannon discusses the debate between conservatives not wanting to intrude on private experiences and the NCTE document that frames student experience as the “ground” for interpretation. On page 443, he states, “In both cases “experience” is unproblematically there as something one has either to be hidden or to be explored, but never critically engaged as a place to question our constructed positions in language.” Brannon uses the example of the student writing to the school board about motorcycles in school to showcase the fact that these standards do not perpetuate proper interaction between teacher and student. The teacher is “merely a supporter and an orchestrator, not a transformative intellectual” and the student is not challenged to explain his answer. He is merely told that it is important to be polite rather than to question or criticize. To Brannon, standards are not suggestive and helpful guidelines, but rather the end to a teacher’s academic freedom.

Posted in 9 Standards, Uncategorized.

Evaluate Your Courses

Posted in Prof. Ferguson.