The Effect of Foreign And Native Speakers In The Classroom

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One day after class last year two of my students, Sangmin Jeong and Eunjoo Lee, told me they wanted access to opportunities to improve their fluency as English speakers. The classroom was a space they developed their academic voice; they wanted to learn American slang, vernacular, and culture, to enrich their college experience. A few weeks later we’d created a group that met weekly to address these desires: Foreign And Native Speakers (FANS).
We hoped the group would be split evenly among native English speakers and non-native speakers (NNS), since a group of all NNS wouldn’t have the collective fluency in the English language or American culture that had birthed FANS in the first place. Fortunately, the group has maintained a good balance as its grown. Continue reading

Promoting Students’ Ownership

Part III
Part IV (coming)

. . . of Their Ideas and Their Writing . . .

Shyam Sharma, Christopher Petty

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do. –B.F. Skinner

Writing teachers generally tend to be skeptical about technological determinism that rules the academic airwaves these days. And yet, to the extent that they assume that more and newer technologies will automatically improve teaching and learning, emerging technologies can potentially erode, instead of enhance, students’ epistemological agency and ownership of their writing and thinking. In particular, a lack of caution while making the switch from paper to pixel to having students share their writing more and more publicly (both as product and as process) can undermine the very educational, professional, and social benefits for which the technologies are celebrated. It will also undermine our ability to meaningfully adapt new technologies to our specific pedagogical contexts and needs.

In this post, we discuss how and why writing teachers need to take deliberate approaches to promoting students’ sense of ownership of their writing which the shift from paper to interactive/collaborative spaces can potentially undermine. We discuss and demonstrate how writing teachers can promote students’ comfort, confidence, and confidentiality in their expression, and hence their sense of ownership of their work. We continue to build on the central message of the current series of blog posts, which is that it is becoming more and more important to teach the “literacy of sharing” alongside the literacy of reading, writing, and effective communication. We define “ownership” broadly in terms of how students engage with the process and product of their writing and how the tension between support and critique from instructor and involvement of peers enhances or undermines the motivation and epistemological agency of the writers. Of course, these are not only relevant when using technology; but in this series, we are focusing on the use and impact of technology (both its affordances/benefits and its drawbacks). That sense of ownership can be enhanced or undermined in many ways, depending on whether any technology is used pedagogically and ethically responsibly or not. Continue reading

Training Wheels . . .

. . . What a Writing Tutor Can Bring into the Classroom as a Writing Instructor

Michael Reich

There are many different approaches to both Teaching Writing and Tutoring Writing, but how do they intersect, where do they intersect, and finally, does a Writing Teacher have anything to gain from these intersections? In this post, I hope to lay out, through some examples in my classroom this semester, how and where they intersected for me, having the experience of being both a Writing Tutor and a Writing Teacher. I also hope, in this post, to describe some situations I’ve encountered where it seems intersections should happen between the tutoring and teaching environments, as well as the places where they can be deliberately brought together.

My example stems from an in-class experience. We were looking at “Telling Facts,” and trying to find out what the meaning of a telling fact was using Gene Hammond’s Book, Thoughtful Writing. Let me first lay out some of the theory in my mind before I explore the example.

In a Writing Center environment, I was advised that wherever possible, I should be hands off, and mind off when it comes to the student’s ownership over his or her writing. The mantra was, “let the student come to their own conclusions.” I should ask them questions to draw out their feelings and ideas. This method was not like the Socratic method where Socrates would ask questions leading the crowds to “his” answer, ora “directed” answer (Socrates believed he was leading the crowd to the “truth.” Everyone found out that they knew nothing from his style. That won’t help us in writing). Using leading questions was not my job as a Writing Tutor because I had to try to let the students do as much of their own thinking as possible. I started to wonder as I stood in front of my class, “Could I and should I follow the same methods I followed as a WC tutor here in the Writing Classroom?” The students knew things, or were constantly on the brink of knowing things on their own. Was it my job to lead them to something I thought of, which seemed easier than allowing their own thought processes to develop? Continue reading

Commenting Conundrums . . .

Part II
Part IV…

. . .  Teaching Students the Levels of Sharing

Christopher Petty and Shyam Sharma*

“I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud. “I must be getting somewhere near the center of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think –” (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) “– yes, that’s about the right distance – but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?” – Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

One of the great desires of writing teachers is to help their students write for “real” audiences, to connect students to “real-life” communities that might respond to their ideas. On top of engaging students in peer feedback/interaction about their writing, we also want to bolster their confidence in their own voice by finding ways to share ideas “about” the real world and “with” the real world.

The good news in this situation is that we now have access to more and more venues; there are now applications that allow students to do peer review/interaction and sharing/publication of their ideas in more and more convenient ways. However, in order for us to make educationally, pedagogically, and ethically good sense of that good news, we must start by recognizing that the paradigm shift from paper to screen and from personal screens to public display of one’s writing on the web is not an all or nothing deal.

As we ask our students to share their writing–their unformed thoughts, the process of their writing, and any of the products of their writing that they may not be comfortable sharing with anyone beyond the teacher because they wrote it to “learn” not “publish”–with broader and broader audiences, we are responsible to let them decide how far they want to go beyond the attention and support of us as teachers and the additional support of their peers in class toward the center of attention and access on the world wide web. As writing teachers, we are best equipped and most responsible to teach our students the “levels” and tradeoffs of risk and reward by teaching/promoting the “literacy of sharing.” Continue reading

Why are they so quiet? 

 by Liz Kotseas

“Why are they so quiet?” is a common question from teachers who want to encourage English Language Learners (ELLs) to collaborate with peers or participate during class discussions.  I, too, wondered why some of my students in ESL writing classes were quiet and why they waited until after class had ended to ask questions.  It wasn’t until they began to share details of their educational experiences that I fully understood the impact of how the elements of communicative competency were factoring into their verbal and written participation.  Known as sociolinguistic competence (Canale), this ability to understand social protocols in various settings is one element necessary for ELLs to achieve academic fluency.

When teaching my classes, I like to begin the writing process with a topic students can easily connect with and hope to eventually spark discussion and/or debate.  At the start of this semester, students in my ESL Advanced Composition course were asked to respond to “China: The Educated Giant” written by journalist Nicholas D. Kristof.  Students analyzed and evaluated the pedagogical differences between their home country and the US.  Please note, while both educational models have their flaws and benefits, I share the following student’s observation because it adds credence to the weight and need for understanding of sociolinguistic competence:

China’s education does not train students in critical thinking.  However, students of US often share their opinions about articles with no fear of right or wrong.  Therefore, there are no right or wrong answers. In the US, good answers are always correct.  In China, students are given answers and their opinions don’t matter.  When I was in China, my teacher explained a poem in her words.  When I shared my opinion by telling her this poem can be understood in another way, she was mad.  She said her answer is the only correct answer to the test.  After that, I never shared my opinion anymore.

As international freshmen are just beginning to adjust to their new academic environment here at Stony Brook University, they fear they may upset their peers and professor by saying “the wrong thing.”  Thus, they hesitate to respond to questions or speak up in class.  In contrast to the teacher centered instruction most ELLs have received, they quickly notice their professors at SBU respect and welcome their ideas, and they eventually do feel comfortable asking questions or voicing opinions. Continue reading

Using Digital Stories in the Writing Classroom

Cathleen Rowley

Sometimes I obsess over writing assignments I create for my classes. Should I use a novel or story or essay for a text analysis assignment? What is the best way to explain the researched argument and how many parts should I break the assignment into? But for my WRT 303, the personal essay class, I know my final assignment is going to be a digital story. The digital story is a short film that can combine videos, photographs, music, sound effects, and narration. It’s an assignment that I think has a lot of value for the student in that it is a new and compelling approach to the personal essay.

In WRT 303, the subject of the course is  the personal essay. The assignments I use in my course include short informal writings, two longer personal essays, a personal statement and a digital story. A digital story can be used for other purposes–such as arguments or informational pieces, but I will be discussing using it for personal essays. In an earlier post on this blog, Rita Nezami provided compelling  reasons to teach the personal essay.  The personal essay itself is a somewhat ambiguous form and can take many shapes. In the introduction for The Art of the Personal Essay, it takes Phillip Lopate thirty-two pages  to try and define exactly what constitutes a personal essay.  One of the points  Lopate makes is that, “the essayist attempts to surround a something–a subject, a mood, a problematic irritation–by coming at it from all angles, wheeling and diving like a hawk, each seemingly digressive spiral actually taking us closer to the heart of the matter” (xxxviii). His idea of getting at the subject from different angles ties in neatly to the digital story. The story can include images, text, narration, and music–all of which can help lead to the center or the heart of a story.

When originally planning my 303 course, I was influenced by Cynthia Davidson and Kristina Lucenko who were using digital stories in their classes. They were generous in sharing ideas and examples. There are also links at Writing@Stonybrook  for digital storytelling. which includes a digital storytelling subject guide from the library. To create the stories, students use iMovie or Windows Moviemaker  which are free programs. I schedule library  workshops for sessions on an introduction to digital stories and an introduction to Audacity (a free program for sound). Continue reading

The Meta-Game: Focusing on Skills in the Writing Classroom

Katherine Miscavige

There was a discussion earlier this semester on the Composition and Rhetoric listserv about the transferability of the skills we teach in the writing classroom.  To a certain extent, we are valued for and tasked with teaching students a broad skill set that is supposed to support them in the rest of their college careers – and hopefully, as educated citizens, the rest of their lives (a tall order, to be sure!). This is why every student is required to take writing and pass an independently evaluated portfolio. Being a good writer is deemed essential for success in the university and beyond.  I want to suggest that if we teachers of writing keep students focused on the skills themselves—if we get them to play the meta-game—we can maximize the effectiveness of our assignments, highlight the transferability of our teaching, and make the most out of our very precious and limited time with students.

Transferability is one of the things that makes teaching writing unique. Another, closely tied to this idea, is that writing is perhaps the least content-driven class taught at the university.  In biology and chemistry and history and psychology there are facts and theories to memorize and be tested on.  There is, I suspect, a reasonably consistent content taught in microbiology classes the world over.  Not so in writing. We don’t even give exams.

To teach the things that lead to “good writing” there are as many strategies and curricula as there are writing teachers.  There is no set of essays that every budding writer must read – there are multitudes of wonderful and engaging possibilities. There are endless potential topics for assignments and there are even many potential types of assignments.  When I first started teaching writing, the sheer breadth of possibility sort of freaked me out. Where does one begin?! Now when I’m grading portfolios it is a source of wonder and pleasure to see all the different ways in which good writing teachers inspire their students. Continue reading

Faith as a Foundation of Professoring

Matthew Miranda

 As a second-year professor, I’ve found some of my first-year anxieties were year-one specific.

I’ve come to realize no matter how eager and willing I am to make myself available for each and every one of the living breathing miracles in my classes, no matter how sincerely I stress there’s no reason they can’t all get an A, and that the surest way to an A is to focus on the process of writing rather than the product, they enjoy a significantly greater agency in our mutualistic relationship than I do.

I’ve come to realize that my students enjoy the right to self-determination, just as I did when I was in their shoes (even if some of them can’t imagine that I did not in fact spontaneously generate in the classroom the day the semester started, and that my life actually exists beyond class lessons and office hours). So some of them will care too much about their grades, and some too little; some will worry so much their worry will worry me, and some will only ask for help two hours before their essay is due; some will view college as a springboard to a career, and some will see it as mere counterpoint to the “school of life,” and skip my class because it’s sunny that day, or rainy, or because they get 4 absences, or because…just because. Continue reading

Understanding Veteran Students – Part I

Roger Thompson

As writing instructors, we see a much wider swath of the student population than other faculty.  And, as writing instructors, we are likely confronted with personal histories in ways that faculty in other disciplines encounter.  Those ideas were at the heart of much of the research Alexis Hart (faculty at Allegheny College and a Navy veteran) and I have conducted in recent years.  I wanted to share some of our findings as a way to encourage our intellectual engagement with the diverse student population here.  That type of engagement often leads to concrete changes in how we do our work and, often, compelling dialogue in the classroom.  If you are interested in more detailed analysis and description of our work, please visit our CCCC White Paper site.

Some Assumptions that Underpin Our Research

1. Writing classes are different than many classes and because of standard practices like small classes, peer review, conferencing, and personal writing, likely have higher probability of disclosure of veteran status.
2. The veteran demographic continues to grow.  The trajectory has been increasing for a variety of reasons.  As of the beginning of 2013, more than a million student veterans were taking benefits.  Cumulative numbers are much higher.  Despite widespread reporting on predatory recruiting practices by the military, most service members continue to come from middle-class, white family backgrounds.
3. The effects of our culture at war will continue to linger in the popular consciousness, and the surge in enrollments of student veterans will give way to a surge in enrollments in family members of student veterans.  Indeed, the head of SBU’s student veteran association is a family member of a vet.  This demographic is largely ignored, but equally important.
4. Combat veterans make up less than 3% of the student population of veterans.
Key Findings
  • Two-year and online colleges and universities appear to be providing most of the first-year writing courses for veterans.  This fact likely is a result of several factors, including the desire of student veterans to more inexpensively and quickly fulfill general education requirements at two-year institutions, the ease with which general education requirements transfer to four-year degree-granting institutions, the ability to take certain courses while still in the military, and the flexibility of scheduling that two-year and online colleges provide to veterans, who often return to school while also having families or work obligations that limit their capacity to enroll full-time in classes at traditional four-year institutions.
  • Despite the fact that most veterans seem to be taking first year writing courses at two-year and online colleges, those institutions have fewer resources to provide training to faculty or to offer resources such as disability services, psychological counseling, or informal lounges/gathering spaces for their student veteran populations.
  • A limited number of veteran students seem to be enrolled in upper-level writing courses within departments of English or departments of Writing or Rhetoric at four-year institutions.  This may be due to the anecdotally more popular majors pursued by veterans (including social work, law enforcement, politics, international relations, business, and engineering).
  • Writing centers do not track veteran students who use their services, though several writing centers staff we interviewed indicated they were aware of veterans using their services.  We recommend that Writing Center Directors consider hiring veteran students as peer consultants to work in the Veterans Centers on their campuses (if available) or sending other peer consultants to the space(s) in which veterans already gather and are comfortable.
  • In general, while many writing faculty have some awareness of the presence of veteran students in their classes or on their campuses, they have not received any formal training on veteran students, military culture, or military writing conventions (less than 5% had received training).  On many campuses we visited, WPAs and other writing faculty were either unaware of the presence of Veterans Centers on their campuses and/or had not made any contact with the directors of those offices.   At those schools where veterans and military families are being actively recruited, and at those institutions who are in particularly close proximity to high populations of veterans and military service members, we recommend that WPAs make a conscientious effort to contact the directors of these centers (if available) in order to coordinate training and to sponsor events that signal awareness of the military population on a campus, such as film screenings, readings, and celebrations of writing.
  • Most writing faculty who have taught veteran students tend characterize them as mature, serious students who seek frank, direct guidance as they develop as writers.  They report that the veterans often serve as role models or develop leadership roles in class and that they tend to be “mission-oriented” and timely in their approach to completion of assignments.  Many professors also remarked on the value of the varied cultural experiences and broader worldviews that veterans tend to bring to class discussions and writing assignments.  Veteran students often welcome the opportunity to write about topics related to the military and veterans such as VA benefits, job placement, homelessness, etc.  We recommend that faculty facilitate the opportunity for veteran students to research and write about such topics, even while faculty conduct classes and craft assignments that allow veterans to maintain their privacy about their history of military service.
  • Because not all student veterans self-identify to faculty, faculty may be unaware of the veteran students in their classes and therefore may unwittingly be inattentive to those students’ needs, as these “invisible” veterans may be reluctant to seek additional help and/or may have some difficulty relating to classmates.  This is especially true of military servicemembers’ families, many of whom may choose not to disclose their status as a child or spouse of a veteran.  In those institutions with high veteran and military presence, we recommend that faculty consider including statements directed toward veteran students and their families on their syllabi as a way to communicate the classroom as a safe place.  Here is a sample statement from a colleague at Georgia Southern University: “I recognize the complexities of being a student veteran or being a dependent of a student veteran. If you are a student veteran, please inform me if you are in need of special accommodations. Drill schedules, calls to active duty, complications with GI Bill disbursement, and other unforeseen military and veteran-related developments can complicate your academic life. If you make me aware of a complication, I will do everything I can to assist you or put you in contact with university staff who are trained to assist you.”
  • Consideration of gender, race, or sexuality remain on the periphery of discussion of veterans on campuses.  While there were some notable exceptions, these topics were largely invisible.  We note that our interviews were not targeted toward discerning information about these topics, and we note that if any particular difficulties around them were present on a campus that they would likely not have been disclosed to outside interviewers.   Nonetheless, our site visits suggest that discussion of these topics were not vital to any training or any orientation for student veterans, and they were largely nonexistent in any training for faculty or staff.

A note on TBI and PTSD: Many of the symptoms of these injuries manifest ways that are hard to distinguish from other issues.  Symptoms such  as slow cognitive processing, difficulty organizing time, difficulty accessing resources, difficulty controlling emotions, and difficulty enacting solutions can be hard to identify, even for the sufferer.   Many times, these are virtually invisible disabilities, but they are in fact disabilities.  Our job is to recognize that they are, in fact, real injuries—as real as a missing limb—and to afford accommodations as needed.

Twitch Plays ePortfolio?

Writing ePortfolio Corner

Cynthia Davidson

twitchpokemonimage

Today’s Writing ePortfolio Corner isn’t so much about eportfolios as about the possible future of interactive spaces for reflection (which eportfolios are).
I’m talking about the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon that is taking the web by storm this week.  Full disclosure:  I know nothing about Pokemon.  I never played it.  This is a pleasure that passed my generation by–well, some of my generation will yell that’s untrue, but we had to go back and reclaim that pleasure, with our children probably.  I’ve reclaimed some gaming pleasure, but not this one.  But everyone knows that Pokemon is a major shaper of childhood experience.  (Or it was–our current students refer to it as “old school.”)
“Twitch Plays Pokemon” is a channel on Twitch.TV, which is a live streaming channel for video gamers. It is best known as a channel where people can watch other people playing games 24/7.  This is done for both education (people watch to learn how to play the games) and entertainment. TPP is very popular–the site has recorded over 300,000 unique visitors in the week since its launch– but few gaming streams have caught the imagination of academics so quickly.  Perhaps it was only a matter of time, in this year of discussions of MOOCing and the ascendancy of online education, that a crowdsourced embeddable gaming platform would be an object of intense fascination to the public and to academia.
The game channel describes it as “a stream that lets you play Pokemon with a lot of other people by typing commands into chat. It was created as an experiment to test the viability of this format, the way people interact with the input system and the way they interact socially with each other.” On the side frame of the channel itself, there is a scrolling chat log of participants’ comments.  The comments generally are of the nature of “ANARCHY!” or “bird Jesus lives,” both references to the gameplay (which is a sprawling narrative of a political and religious nature, so the comments aren’t just random silliness).   The creator of “Twitch Plays Pokemon” has been feverishly sought out by gaming newsblogs such as Joystic, but he (only gender confirmed)  is protective of identity, preferring to be referred to as “The Trainer.”
There have been quite a few blog posts reporting on (Kotaku” in particular has been buzzing), analyzing, or reflecting on this event and almost all of them actually embed the game itself, which can be shared like a YouTube video, in the blog post.  That means that anyone reading one of these blog posts has nearly instant access to jumping into the game and playing.  “The Trainer” has provided an FAQ on the channel page explaining how to do just that.
I’m fascinated by the idea of bringing actual shared interactive experiences into a personal website, like an ePortfolio or a blog.  It’s something that we can do more and more, and it changes the nature of writing in a direction that began with hyperlinking.  The nature of summary and analysis of texts, whether strictly verbal or multimodal, changes when readers can click on a link and check the text themselves.  This can be compared to the Protestant Reformation when, after printing made the Bible available and literacy expanded to a great portion of the population, members of a religious community could offer their own interpretations of the preacher’s text references without having to go through channels.  Access is easier and, if not instant, nearly so.
Some may question if this is the proper use of an ePortfolio, which should be the showcase of an individual.  However, many of our students are producing interactive media, if not in their Writing courses, in other courses (such as the Game Design course taught by Lori Scarlatos in Tech and Society at Stony Brook University).  I would love to see my students create an interactive live stream such as this and embed it into their ePortfolio along with analysis, research, and reflection–and if they don’t create it themselves, follow in the footsteps of bloggers like Xav de Matos on Joystic who embed the work of others and provide the metacommentary.  That metacommentary then becomes another potentially ground for interactivity, for conversation, in the blog comments.  Those commenters can then check out the game and play it.
The beauty of this is that there are so many way to approach metacommentary.  Some bloggers comment on the programming and the access, some on the mythology of the game, some on the sociology involved in choosing a democratic or anarchic style of play or the building of community.  All are rich conversations to have, and can lead to deeper consideration and research.
Experiments like this stretch our concept of audience as well.  Audience has a dual role, possibly:  one as participant in the original event embedded in the site and one more traditional role as audience of the metacommentary.  Prepare for this audience to be less under your spell as a writer, more easily distracted by his or her own experiences, more challenging of one’s comments.  The attraction of participation is also competition for one’s words.
There are additional logistical things to watch out for, of course, such as increased flow of traffic to the server.  Also, the platform has to allow for embedding of the live feed (in this case, a Flash object that would have required an account upgrade prevented a direct embedding. You can visit an example in my WordPress blog.  Digication currently does not support the embedding of Flash objects, but other kinds of live streams are supported, such as Ustream.) However, if a student’s ePortfolio is set to semi-public access, only those with a local account will be able to access that page.  There’s a good chance that the student’s ePortfolio may become very popular–especially if it’s set to Public access.