Monday, May 12, 2014


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.


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