Tag Archives: ENG 5020 Writing Theory & Practice

The Final Project

The thought of completing a collaborative final project by the end of the semester is a little daunting. During last week’s class, everyone had so many different intriguing ideas, so I’m definitely having a tough time narrowing them down and deciding which ones I like best. It’s also tough to articulate exactly what I want to learn from the project since we’ve covered so many interesting topics this semester. 

With that said, I do have some ideas about what I wish to learn, and I think all of them are connected to each other in a way that would allow them to combine into a singular project. First, I’d like to learn more about multimodalities and multiliteracies, especially in the context of the rapidly evolving digital age; I want to learn how to incorporate more than just text into my writing and research. 

In addition, I’m interested in bridging the distance between theory and practice, particularly in education. We’ve read so many decades old articles that call for changes to the way we teach, yet it doesn’t feel as though we’ve actually made many of those changes. 

However, I don’t just want to learn about writing in education; I also want to learn how to implement these theories into my own writing and learn how to make a career out of composition in the twenty-first century. Basically, I want to learn how to use the techniques and theories we’ve read about—specifically, multimodalities and/or multiliteracies—to navigate the modern field of writing in a digital context.

The topics I want to learn about are definitely influencing my ideas for what to actually make for the final project. I’d like whatever we create to be a multimodal digital artifact in order to reflect my ideal learning outcomes. 

A few ideas from last week stood out to me. For example, I’d love to make a mock syllabus or class website for a course on digital writing—Diana made some great points about how such a course could be used to connect students from different schools. I also really loved Sun’s idea about creating a game like Cards Against Humanity, but I’m not very clever, funny, or witty, so I don’t know how much help I would be with a project like that. 

Whatever we end up creating, I hope it’s something meaningful and useful to our future careers as writers. I don’t want to just complete this project to get a grade; I want to contribute something valuable to the discourse on writing while learning to improve my own knowledge and skills.

Voice and Power

“Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries”

In his article “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries,” Peter Elbow argues for two seemingly contradictory positions on voice, or the unique way each person’s writing “sounds.” Voice, he argues, is present in every aspect of writing, from politics to personal blog posts. We must pay attention to voice and teach students how to develop their own, as it enhances our understanding of texts and improves the rhetoric in our own writing. However, we must also learn to read without voice, focusing solely on text so that we can judge the content and its merits rather than being pulled in by a persuasive voice. 

As usual, I found myself agreeing with everything Elbow had to say. Admittedly, this could be because he has such a clear, convincing voice (which is refreshing after reading so many overly academic, jargon filled articles this semester), but I think even stripped of its voice, this article presents sound ideas. Elbow defends his position thoroughly, and he even calls out other scholars who have tried to argue against his point of view. 

As always, Elbow is also one of the few academics who offers practical suggestions about how to implement his theories into the classroom. For example, to teach students to pay closer attention to voice, he asks them to read a text out loud to convey its meaning to listeners. Reading texts out loud is great advice to aid in understanding difficult language, and I’d love to tweak this method for use in the Spanish classroom. However, I do wish Elbow had given more practical advice for how to teach students (and ourselves) to ignore voice and to focus on content, as this is an incredibly important skill for modern readers who—thanks to the Internet—are constantly bombarded by deceptive advertisements and persuasive politicians.

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children”

Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” was a thought provoking read about a difficult subject. Delpit exposes how black educators’ ideas are silenced by well meaning white liberal teachers who prefer to teach using a process over product approach. Delpit argues that in order to succeed, black students must instead receive explicit instruction on the “codes or rules for participating in [the culture of] power” (282). 

I have a lot of complicated thoughts about this article, and I’m going to do my best to articulate them clearly while also recognizing my own subconscious biases and my privileged position as a white, middle class teacher in a diverse school district. First, I agree in theory with the majority of Delpit’s arguments, including her outline of the “five aspects of power” (282) and her explanation of why many black students are labeled as “behavior disordered” due to misunderstandings of “veiled commands” (289). In addition, I’m glad she includes testimonies from black students and teachers, and I agree that these voices must be heard in order to create a more equitable education system, especially considering that—despite the diversity of the student body—teaching is a predominantly white field.

Despite agreeing with most of Delpit’s ideas in theory, I’m frustrated to read yet another article that seems to advocate for giving already overworked and underpaid teachers more responsibilities (in this case, instructing students how to navigate a complex culture of power in addition to teaching regular academic content). There is only so much teachers can do while working within the confines of the incredibly flawed education system, which is arguably a racist institution of power. 

Yes, white educators must examine their own privilege, but I’m not convinced they have as much power as Delpit suggests (although, maybe by saying that, I’m just proving Delpit’s fifth aspect of power). Obviously, as a white, middle class teacher, I have more power and privilege than my black, lower class students, but in the grand scheme of things, I myself feel pretty powerless at times: I’m powerless to change the broken, flawed, and outdated public education system, and I’m powerless against many of the injustices my students face (especially now, when remote learning is exposing and exacerbating achievement gaps between lower class black students and middle class white ones).

I think the issue of power is more complex than black versus white; although race is absolutely integral to the discussion, class plays a large role, as well. Delpit even mentions that “poor White people” face some of the same issues as black people when trying to navigate the culture of power, but she diminishes this point’s importance by relegating it to a footnote (282). With this in mind, I’m not sure it’s best to teach black students to assimilate into the current power structures, which really only benefit a small (but incredibly wealthy) percentage of society. Shouldn’t we instead be exposing the cracks in the current systems of power, showing students who is keeping them down and how they’re doing it? 

This position is perhaps too idealistic; I doubt schools, which are notoriously conservative institutions, will be advocating for societal revolutions any time soon. But I think Delpit’s article is even more quixotic because she advocates for “societal change…from the top down” (293). Firstly, I take issue with the implicit argument here that teachers, many of whom work multiple jobs to pay off exorbitant amounts of student debt, are somehow at the “top.” Yes, most teachers are white and middle class, and again, they do have more power than their students, but using only those qualifiers to determine power creates an incredibly limited and narrow perspective. Secondly, I don’t believe that change can ever come from the top down, because the people on top want to stay there. Historically, hasn’t most change come from the bottom up—from grassroots movements, from organized protests, from the masses getting out and fighting for what they believe?

I know I got a little off topic here, and I worry that by shifting the conversation to include class, I’m just another one of the white liberal teachers who is silencing the dialogue about race by ignoring valid concerns about how best to support black students in the current education system. It’s difficult for me to know whether my disagreements with this article are reasonable, or if my subconscious biases are rallying against ideas that challenge my position of privilege. Either way, I know I must continue ruminating on the ideas Delpit discusses and examining my own privilege and power in the classroom in order to create a more equitable learning environment for my students.

Multilingualism and Multiliteracies in an Outdated System of Education

Globalization is rapidly changing our society, but schools haven’t been able to keep up. Paul Kei Matsuda’s article “Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World” and “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” by Courtney Cazden, Bill Cope, Norman Fairclough, Jim Gee, et al. discuss a few of the ways our current education system is failing to prepare students to succeed in a globalized world.

In “Teaching Composition,” Matsuda discusses the importance of making writing courses accessible to students whose first language isn’t English. The population of college students is rapidly growing more diverse, and many international students face writing challenges that native English speakers don’t. For example, Matsuda points out that writing is practically a second language for native speakers, so it’s even more of a challenge for second language writers to figure out complex systems of grammar that don’t exist in their native language (40). 

Not only would making writing courses more accessible benefit multilingual students, but it would also benefit the monolingual English speakers who must prepare to write for a global, multilingual audience (50).  I whole-heartedly agree that monolingual students are woefully unprepared for the demands of working and researching in a globalized community, especially in comparison to scholars from countries where multilingualism is the norm. I wish American schools would start preparing students for this reality as early as elementary school, when children are malleable enough to learn new languages and to be more open minded about communicating with diverse communities.

Although I agree in theory that “all sections of first-year writing courses [should be] ESL friendly” (45), I have reservations about implementing this strategy in the classroom. Of course, inclusion of diverse students and viewpoints is always a positive, but it’s unfair (to both teachers and students) to place additional expectations on teachers to cater to such a broad population of learners while not making any structural changes to the education system. Giving teachers a few extra hours of training to “work with a broader range of basic writers” (46) isn’t enough to account for the tremendous societal changes that globalization is causing. 

The idea that our education system needs to make major changes in order to adequately prepare students for a globalized world returned to me as I read “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies.” This article is dense, yet it also manages to discuss a wide breadth of issues that affect our education system in the modern world. (Well, at least it was modern when the article was written; though most of their ideas are still relevant, the authors do believe that “information superhighways” and a future filled with “virtual shoppers” are ludicrous, sci-fi fantasies [64]. Both the internet and Instacart would disagree.)

One relevant issue the article discusses is the transition of our society into “fast capitalism” or “postFordsim.” We are no longer in an Industrial Age of production lines and strict managerial hierarchies (66), but our education system still functions as though it’s preparing students to work in an early twentieth century factory. Again, I’m struck by the dire need for structural changes to our outdated education system. I watched a great video on this topic in my undergraduate Social Foundations of Education course. It covers a lot of topics similar to the ones in the article in a much more palatable, less jargon-filled way.

I can’t cover all of my thoughts on this stimulating, informative, thorough, and extremely academic article; there are so many thoughts and questions I could raise about metalanguages or subcultural differences or the broader impacts of fast capitalism and globalization, but I want to focus on a key idea that resurfaces throughout: Students must be designers of social futures. 

This idea that students must be “active participants of social change” (64) is the core of what I believe education should do; a good education must prepare students to enter society with the skills, knowledge, and empathy necessary to become leaders and to make positive changes in their communities and the (now globalized) world. 

In order to revitalize the education system to teach students to function in this globalized world where multiliteracies are a necessity, the authors believe that educators, through the process of “Designing,” must use the “Available Designs” (or the current educational resources and discourses) to create the “Redesigned” (which is a new, “transformed” resource more relevant to modern society) (74-77). This section of the article is very theoretical and academic, and I wish the authors could give more concrete ideas about what a “Redesigned” education system that accounts for mulitliteracies and our rapidly changing society would look like.

Ultimately, after reading both articles this week, I’m even more convinced that our education system needs to undergo radical, structural changes in order to meet the needs of students in an ever-changing and interconnected world.