Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Additional Reading

 In addition to the items listed in my paper's works cited page, I found these articles and the book particularly useful and interesting.  Each one of them comes with practical applications so hopefully some of them will fit your needs. I will update this list time to time so be sure to check back again.

Multi-culturism & composition classrooms

Recently I wrote a short essay about the much valued dialogic approach in composition classrooms as well as to cast a doubt on the outcome of students' “skills” as a writer.  It appears to me that the issue of multiculturism is at the core of dialogic teaching. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Is Grammar teaching really useless?

Every week, we read a good combination of composition theories and texts by philosophers, scientists and rhetoricians (mostly from Europe).  We were required to write a short response that could spark a meaningful discussion based on questions formulated by discussion leaders from the weekly reading.  One particular week included an essay about grammar teaching and the argument centering around the effectiveness of it.  I wrote the following as a response to the skeptic point of view about grammar teaching.

Monday, May 12, 2014

We had a great mid term everyone enjoyed doing (it was so hard for me!).  The professor had us create a dialogue using five rhetoricians and compositionists from the readings and creating one fictitious character of our choice to defend our argument. 

What could be a better way to make sure we did all the readings and understood the theories and argument than this assignment?  My SO exclaimed, "What a brilliant assignment!" (well if one is creative). 

Of course, my dialogue was about grammar teaching.  Here is my best shot if you are interested and feel free to continue the dialogue with your new character!


so many kinds like this everywhere.
what works really?

This spring, from Plato to Bakhtin, I had a great opportunity to learn various rhetorical theories and their connection to current and past composition pedagogy and practices with a group of extremely erudite thinkers and professor who had the Socratic method under his belt. It was great but a difficult class because he made us think, question and create meaning out of a passage, sentence or even phrase. The readings were intellectually stimulating but not so much emotionally. That is not to say that I was not interested but there was hardly a time when my emotions got the better of me and said something reacting (you know the knee jerk reaction) to the texts – until I read Min-Zhan Lu’s “Professing Multiculturalism: The politics of Style in the Contact Zone.” In the article, she talks about one of her case studies in which a Chinese student wrote “can able to,” instead of “be able to.” No matter how you look at it, it is a grammatical error (OK if the word error sounds harsh, misunderstanding) for anyone’s eyes and a simple correction, indicating that “can” and “be able to” are  synonyms therefore using both at the same time will be considered redundant, would suffice and let’s move on (to something more important or beneficial, perhaps). Lu’s method of “correction” was to turn this “error” into an exercise, involving a whole class to analyze the cause behind the student’s use of “can able to” referring to the dicitionary defined meanings; the class concluded that the “error” was deemed natural after examining cultural transference manifested in that expression, “can able to.” Eventually the student came to full understanding and learned the rule. I can understand if the discussion involved a literary text with an intended effect of a purposely made error but this simple grammatical mistake for this (modal and adjective won't be connected each other)? This therapeutic way of reaching “agreement” of right and wrong seems dialogic pedagogy taken to its extreme. The rest of the students have to sit through and participate in the whole exploration process to find a rationale for the “new usage” created by the non native speaker of English. It is a composition class, not a political or philosophical class for which such discussions have merit.  One of the teacher’s goals, I believe, is to foster students’ independence so that they “can able” to self correct their mistakes (or culturally affected utterance) by understanding rules.
Just when I was thinking about what really should be the goal for a composition teacher, I came across this conversation with my colleague at work. A college student, in his late 20s, said he had put together (including research) a five-page essay (literary analysis) in a mere few hours and receive an A on it. Not knowing the assignment or the instructor, I have no way of proving his claim –he may be exaggerating, the assignment perhaps too easy or instructor too lenient. However, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume he did spend only a few hours; the assignment is reasonably challenging; the instructor is a fair grader.
I actually tried it sacrificing my own assignment.  The result?  You guessed it. The skills that are required to produce an A essay involve a complicated process. Gather materials, sort ideas and information, find relevancy in it, make argument and write coherently with correct grammar and syntax. I believe the aim of a composition teacher is to instill those skills in students to produce written work that is to be evaluated highly and that the teacher is expected to possess such skills and excel in them and to be bestowed on his/her pupils. In this kind of traditional teacher/student dynamic, I wonder how effective it would be to employ a much supported dialogic way. Let me be clear to you. I am all for “dialogic” pedagogy and perhaps it is the best way for one-on-on situation as in tutoring when instruction is supplemental in nature. But composition classrooms have to offer something –skills or knowledge for students to take home with to put it simply, write well. When I say this, I know I would be asked what it means to write well. Surely, it is completely a subjective statement but the fact is, as far as writing concerned, there is such a thing as the universal esthetics. I am beginning to really question the validity of more "democratic" style of teaching and observe how this "trend" started and the way to restore the old school teaching style.  Actually, restoration is not really necessary because despite being idealized in theory, it is not implemented as there is not a set formula for teaching.  I wonder why.  In this blog, I wanted to share my thoughts after experiencing a rigorous Rheto/Comp class.