All posts by Kathryn Birchfield

Group Project Thoughts

When thinking about the idea and themes within “Voice of Chaos” it was, at first, hard to decide what I wanted to write and create to reflect that. I have many ideas that will probably continuously change as we prepare the chapbooks.

I have spent a lot of time staring at a blank page. Writing, crossing out, writing again. Getting up, walking away. Staring at the blank page from across the room, but I think I have something. Maybe. I don’t know if it is poem or prose or just words, but I think I have something. A starting point.

In creating art, digital art is what I enjoy most. I actually have a piece I previously created that with a few touch-ups will be exactly what I want to represent my voice in the chapbook.

The hardest part was finding material. We found thread and needles, but it was hard to find the right paper. I think the best option would be for all of us to look at paper together online and see what we each gravitate towards. It is hard because we won’t be able to feel it, but I think it will be the best option with time constraints and trying to find times for all of us to meet outside of class.

I think I have a good start on my parts of the project and can see this coming together quickly if we can get the contents knocked out. The time to create the chapbooks shouldn’t be too long.    



Murray’s article on product versus process was really interesting. I have thought a lot about the idea that too rigid of a rubric regarding writing assignments can stifle a student, and he makes this exact point. If the goal is to teach a process, then when assigning a very specific paper, specific topic, etc. the teacher is bombarding into the process and taking that step away. I have always said that prewriting is the hardest part for me as a writer. I just like to jump in and then see how things go and it makes sense that prewriting is difficult when, for most of my schooling, that part was done for me.

Thinking of teaching a process can be harder to grade, in my mind, so I see why product is the default. I always see how this default setting has hindered students in learning to write and in honing their writing craft.

I love the implications that Murray lists, especially giving time for students to dream and think about their topics and ideas. That is half the battle and, for me, ¾’s of the fun.

Wiley’s article discusses the idea of formulaic writing, and a specific formula called The Schaffer Approach. He talks about the positive and negatives teachers have brought up. One thing I think about it is this word “formula,” we know and have talked about the importance of words, and I think in writing the word “formula” can be problematic. If one is worried about students or any writer being stifled or too dependent on a formula, I believe it is because o the notions surrounding the word.

Many times, in mathematics, they use a formula as a one-way route of answering a problem. You use the formula, or you don’t get the right answer. We are not mathematicians. In English, a “formula” does not have to be this rigid. We can take a process, approach, step-by-step workshop, etc. and meld into what we want it to be. These “formulas” can be broken apart and we can slowly phase them in or out, or only use parts we feel are beneficial, etc. We take tools every day and work them into our lives. We don’t have to take our life and fit it into a tool. The same goes for writing and teaching. It isn’t always the tool or approach that is the issue, but how we use it that can be problematic.

Class Project

Thinking about the brainstorming session we had last class and our time constraint, I feel the best option would be the chapbook. I love all the ideas that were pitched and would love to do any of them, but I feel with each of our values and hopes for the project, this is the best route to go. We can add a digital element, find a way to get printed copies for each of us (maybe uploading it to Amazon KDP?) and find common themes that can be broken into parts for each of us. We can incorporate writing and art into it and really make it what we each want it to be.

English, Language, and the Classroom

Writing or thinking in a cohesive essay format has been difficult this week, so each paragraph will be its own entity, its own thought.

Baker-Bell’s article was a quick introduction to the direction we need to head in within the classroom, but I felt that it fell short. I described the article to a friend as a “thesis proposal,” that it was a good start, but didn’t dig deep enough in its considerations. It brought more questions than answers to the surface.

Baker-Bell made an excellent point at the beginning of the article that the article while looking through the lens of her lived experience could be connected to other systems of oppression and that “an antiracist language and literacy education has to be intersectional.”

Lived experiences are foundational to understanding each person within a classroom and how to teach them.

Standardized tests are stupid and while I get it, I don’t get it, and how our teachers supposed to bring in antiracist language and code meshing into the classroom while also teaching these standards that they are required.

Teaching racist language (this just meaning the current structure or the language that Baker-Bell is writing against) half the time in the classroom in order to hit your metrics would still be problematic because then it would simply teach that in order to “succeed” (at least in education) this type of language is the type of standard.

I feel defeated and kind of tired of individualistic approaches to anti-racist language/classrooms. They are important but they are also not the point, in my opinion. We should be brainstorming and trying to figure out how to disrupt change at a systematic level. I don’t know if all of these are made simply to find a way to incorporate anti-racist language for a teacher that doesn’t know how and to make 1 classroom antiracist or if it is in the hopes that if enough do this then something will finally change systematically. I don’t’ know the purpose but I know that it can feel really defeating to constantly look at these and think “that’s great, I hope a teacher does this, but now what? What’s next? How do we take this up a notch?”

Hearing the Silence

I recently had a conversation with a friend about representation and diversity. Mostly, we spoke about it in literature, but also in life. Hooks’ introductory pages of chapter 9 really brought that idea to light and made me rethink what representation really looks like. When we think and speak about representation and diversity, we usually don’t speak on gender, it is usually on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and maybe gender itself, but not usually gender in relation to things other categories. It makes me rethink the representation I have seen.

I think Hooks’ shined light on black feminism is something a past class of mine spoke a lot about. We talked about how a lot of re-tellings of fairy tales and other stories are happening and they just replace the character with a woman of color but don’t change the narrative to reflect her. These types of adaptations are more about quota than about stories that highlight culture and lived experience. Another thing it makes me think about is the way we talk about inequality between men and women. Closing the pay gap is “hard” for them already, but which are you talking about? White men are paid more than white women by something like 60 cents more on average, but the gap is widened with how much they are paid versus women of color. There is a pay gap between white women and women of color. It makes you think who are we really fighting for?

In Hooks’ chapter 10, she discusses the importance of dialogue. I agree that conversations, real, hard, true, conversations can create bridges. We have spoken in class about burned-out teachers, and she really highlights the reality of what that does. The chapter ends with “being a teacher is about being with people” and that really hit me. It is so true and yet so forgotten.

They way I reacted to Delpit’s reading was similar to the way I reacted to Hooks. They were both eye-opening. When breaking down the five aspects of power, number three was the one that caught me the most, “The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture who have power.” It is so true, and I spent a lot of my higher education doing more unlearning than learning in many ways. It wasn’t hard to make diversity in literature my focus in the last two years of my undergraduate studies, true diversity, true representation, learning when to sit down, and hear the other person. That’s how we make change. Hooks highlight dialogue, but we have learned what true dialogue is and many of us can forget that second part. We listen to form our argument, to persuade, to see where we can make our point get across, but that is not dialogue, that solves nothing. That doesn’t help the children of color in your classroom. We think because of our education that we know “better,” but we only know what we know and that’s fine. That’s why we have to have true dialogue and we have to not just listen but hear. I think silence is the number one common denominator for these articles and silence is the simplest and most common form of oppression as both Delpit and Hooks point out in different ways.

There are people who need to be heard, and wherever there are people who need to be heard, there are people who need to hear. And there is nothing wrong with being the person who needs to hear.

Language Versus English

The readings this week were on topics that are very important to me. Graduating high school with a distinction in languages and getting my TEFL certification in November of last year, thinking of the multilingual world as it relates to writing and teaching writing has always been an interest to me. Throughout the last six weeks of class, we have discussed many ideas of what teaching writing should and should not do for or prepare students for and we again see this in Matsuda’s article.

Matsuda talks about how teaching writing to students is not about preparing them for the world in academics in the US; teaching writing should be about preparing them to competently and equitably take part in the diverse world around that “has been, and always will be,” multilingual. The article brings up the importance of languages in teaching writing and the importance of recognizing the cultural differences of our students as it relates to language. One thing that Matsuda said that really stuck with me was that “issues concerning language have long been underrepresented in the mainstream discourse of composition studies,” and I completely agree. What is funny is that Elbow kind of disagrees with this in his article when he discusses that more are focusing less on a critical controversy of voice, but of World Englishes.

While Matsuda is pushing beyond World Englishes into multilingualism, World Englishes lives on that edge and in a way that brings the two pieces together. I don’t think we can discuss World Englishes without talking about voice or multilingualism. Teaching writing isn’t about teaching English or one standard English it should be about learning to interact with Multilingual pieces and World Englishes.

Writing isn’t about English, it’s about language

I think it’s easy to forget that writing is about more than standardized formats and grammar. It’s when we break these “rules” that writing comes alive (even if it is not always done purposely). This is where Matsuda and Elbows articles come together to discuss language.

 Elbow’s article is really interesting because we get a well-rounded view of the conversation that surrounds voice and made me think about how I interact with it in my writing. I think voice as a tool for feedback can be helpful when expounded on. A comment like “the voice here is off” is very helpful, but when you can explain that it can be helpful. Elbow also made me think about the idea of “a voice” versus “your voice.” Elbow says that if you don’t get the voice right in the piece it can backfire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “your” voice but the voice of the piece. I think the biggest issue surrounded the discourse around voice is this distinction and how each person defines it.

The article also made me think about how I write in relation to voice and how I outline without voice, with facts and stats and resources, but take notes with voice, and draft with voice. Then I revise twice with voice in mind and then again without voice.

I think both articles are important to thinking about what we want our students to leave classes with an understanding of and what we want to be able to achieve in the future.

Empowering Students Through Feedback

There is so much to say on the topic of student feedback, so much to discuss and debate. Peter Elbow in his article “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking” and John C. Bean’s chapter “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers” from his book Engaging Ideas really highlights the importance of the right kind of feedback.

Elbow’s article was very intriguing, and I agreed with him on most of his ideas around feedback. Elbow advocates for moving away from ranking and holistic scoring and moving toward more evaluating and even non-evaluating (low stakes) assignments. When discussing ranking and holistic scoring, he talks about how many who are in favor of this type of feedback say that their rubric is based on things that all/most readers would agree on, and he challenges this idea. Elbow points out how rare it is to find a group of people who would be in such agreement and that when those cases occur it is a small group with like-minded values and ideas, and shouldn’t we be looking for a diverse and wide group for evaluating papers? He argues that agreement shouldn’t be a goal and I (ironically) agree. What is research if not debate? As a writer and a student, the more eyes I can get on my paper, the more thoughts and perspectives, the better.  

He also talks about the effect of ranking and holistic scores on students. One note he made that really resonated with me was, “But oddly enough, many ‘A’ students also end up doubting their true ability and feeling like frauds-because they have sold out on their own judgement and simply give teachers whatever yields an A,” (Elbow, 190). I wholeheartedly agree. I have chosen topics and written many papers, not caring if I enjoyed, liked, or even cared about what I was writing, as long as I knew what I was producing would be something the teacher would enjoy or grade highly.

Too many times, I have played Ariel and given my voice up, not for a Prince or love, but for a grade and an opinion that in the long run didn’t really matter.

In writing for school, I have always played it safe, and Elbow highlights that through non-evaluative low stakes exercises teachers can push their students to take risks in their writing and that this process without evaluating or ranking can still improve the writing and has more benefits than evaluating or ranking have: it leads to clarity, more interesting voices, livelier and more fluent writing, and investing and risking more in their writing. All things that are at the crux of teaching writing and what I would hope all teachers want their students to improve upon. 

His last advocation in the article is for liking and having both students and teachers like the work they are doing and reviewing, respectively. This section really made me think about projects that I have conjured up with so much passion and then set aside. I never considered the importance of liking my work at all stages, but it makes so much sense. If you Google or ask many people how to write a novel, you will get different answers, but all would tell you to write the first draft before revising, to write and focus on the words that come next because when you don’t like your work you lose momentum in wanting to continue with it and your first draft might be something you don’t like. It’s also important to get other eyes on it that even with criticism will highlight the parts that they like, and sometimes those eyes are that of a teacher (and they are usually the first set of eyes on that paper which is even more influential). Elbow talks about how readers’ liking your work can help you like your work and that you can realize the writing is terrible, but you still like it and vice versa that the writing is great, but you hate it. It really makes me think hard about my writing and be more thoughtful about the people I share it with.

John Bean’s article was a little different from Elbows. Bean really focuses on the teacher aspect and takes on more of a teacher role himself. He walks us through not just the benefits of the right kind of feedback but gives examples and step-by-steps. One of the first comments he makes in the article was really shocking for me and something I never thought about as a student, he said, “Sometimes [teachers] do not treat students’ work in progress with the same sensitivity that we bring to our colleagues’ work,” (Bean, 317). This was a short but eye-opening sentence for me.

When I think back on all of my academic career and the teachers that I felt connected to and remember as being influential teachers with my writing, they all had one thing in common: they took my work seriously. For those teachers, my work wasn’t just another essay or assignment or just some 6th grader’s idea for a book, the works were that of a future and current writer who was asking for honest feedback and criticism and they treated it that way. This idea is so important, but I think it’s groundbreaking. To have teachers who take your work seriously, especially at stages when you don’t feel comfortable calling yourself a writer, it is life altering. I think it can be really easy for teachers to forget that there are individuals behind each paper, and I understand that, either Bean or Elbow, I don’t remember which one, spoke on how reading wasn’t meant to happen on a scale of 25-50 papers, that isn’t how we consume writing. Just like you get into a flow of writing, I believe you can get into a flow of marking/grading/evaluating and it can be easy to disconnect from the writing and the person who wrote it. Looking at a student’s work similarly to that of a colleague’s is invaluable.

Bean also showed how students have interpreted simple comments and stresses the importance of positive feedback. He talks about direct criticism versus mitigated criticism and that students prefer mitigated criticism and it’s more helpful for any writer. He also discusses how revising isn’t just editing but “rev-visioning” and I really loved that. As an editor this is so important and something many people tiptoe across because we feel like we are “changing” their paper or idea, but presented in the right way, it is just something for them to think about, it is another perspective, and they need that (we all need that) to grow as writers. Bean spends a lot of time giving examples and shows exactly how to take what he has discussed and put it into practice, which is so helpful. It’s hard to just understand that you need to change the way you do something, but he really helps show where and how to start.

Both articles made me reflect on ways teachers and professors have influenced my writing, both made me see ways I can improve my peer feedback and commentary when I am editing for work or extracurriculars. I feel like a more aware student and while these are important articles for teachers and future teachers; I think they are imperative ways for students to empower themselves and challenge the feedback they have been given.

Lauer Article Reflection

This was a very interesting reading. I have read a similar article about the history of writing composition and English writing studies as a college curriculum, and it made similar points. I liked the understanding and mergence of rhetoric and composition and the way that Lauer explains that. I also thought it was cleverly formatted, instead of it being a chronological and year by year it was by topic which is really helpful when trying to look at so many facets of this somewhat overwhelming topic.

There were a few concepts that really stuck out to me, and voice was one of them. First, I think I should point out that this article within itself is such a clear indication of the importance, but also of the challenges that we face in the English curriculum. There are so many theories around every definition of every aspect of writing, and the few paragraphs on voice show that. Lauer points out that there is “traditional advice” surrounding voice, but that there are many professors that counteract that and/or take that and mix it with another topic, such as ethos, to create this secondary or a new theory/meaning.

I think a lot about the many different ways you can use an English degree, but there is a very distinctive view of the degree in the world, and I think this article can really highlight why that is. Seeing the multiple ideas around every single concept it is easy to see why it can be hard to build a curriculum and just label it “English” without those secondary labels (literature, language, writing, etc.) it is hard to know what you will get (although even with the labels that can be tough). That mixed with understanding the history of the college curriculum really helps to understand the courses, professors, degrees, and just the view of the degree.

I also found the section on “Literacy Development, Writing Dysfunction, and Writing Diversity” really intriguing. Lauer wrote about how in 1974 there was this shift to support students writing in their own dialects. I found this intriguing because this is still a big topic today and I don’t believe that the support that Lauer speaks on is still present; however, there is a push for it more now and one that is still being combatted. It is crazy to think about how far this particular fight has gone.

Overall, it was a very thought-provoking piece about things I didn’t know or realize the way they were originally incorporated into curriculum versus how these topics are being taught/discussed currently.

Welcome to Write from the Ground

I did a little About Me blurb on my blog home page, so I took a screenshot of it and added it here.

I don’t have one specific reason for pursuing an MA in Writing Studies, but for many possibilities. I say that to mean I’m unsure what exactly this MA will lead me to next, so there is a whole myriad of possibilities that I considered when thinking about joining this program. Initially, I wanted to get an MFA, but I didn’t even consider graduate school until my last semester of undergraduate school and didn’t feel fully prepared to apply for fully funded graduate programs so one of my reasons for pursuing an MA in Writing Studies is to prepare me for that step (if I decide to take it). Another reason is because I didn’t feel finished with learning English and writing styles. I knew there were so many things I wanted to continue learning such as improving my scriptwriting, learn to be less long-winded (obviously, that hasn’t happened yet), learn to use more poetic and less mundane language, how to be more creative in the approaches to writing, and try to let go of the academic writing style and format I’ve learned in school and work. I continue to list more reasons, but these are the top two, so I will leave it at that.

I am obsessed with language, phrases, cliches, and everything about the written word, but I also have a passionate for all the arts. So here are some photographs and graphic drawings that I have done that I think can give a little insight into who I am.