Week 8

Ok, you guys, my apologies first: I misspoke in class when I said we’d just do the three student essays for next week. Now that I’m looking back at the calendar, I see that we have the ideas you’ve been raising about lots of reading to discuss, and two blog presentations (we didn’t get to Weiheng’s last week, because we had so much with Elaine’s and Wooree’s.) So. We’ll still do the student essays, but we’ll slow the pace of that a little to accommodate the other reading.

  • For the three of you who volunteered to post student essays this week: post them here by 10/23.
  • For everyone: Read those three essays in the Dropbox folder and formulate notes and tentative grades on them by 10/30.

I’m saying this also because I think the readings for this week may help some of you think through pedagogical questions we’ve been discussing– about the ethical and political implications of grades and existing standards of “rigor”; about the best practices for collaborative pedagogy and peer review; about liking our students and wanting to be liked by them in return. A lot of things.

I am curious to hear what you’re going to find useful in Ching and Delpit, so I’m just not going to say another word. What do you like?

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9 Responses to Week 8

  1. Kate Bryant says:

    Regarding peer response activities, we’ve touched on the fact that setting these in motion without any oversight isn’t necessarily workable, since students don’t always have the tools to give feedback that advances the goals we have for their papers (loosely: to meet the goals of the assignment, to be interesting, to be coherent, to have clear claims and arguments.) At the other end of the spectrum is a situation with no peer response, like when I find myself trying to give a summary of something and sense that I am losing the room. I much prefer to have an idea of how to incorporate discussion into anything I’m reviewing, though I find that sometimes this works better than others. I was interested in Kory Lawson Ching’s argument that “we might more profitably think of authority not as something one has, but rather as something one does or enacts in practice. From this perspective authority ceases to be a static quality and becomes instead an index of a person’s capacity to act in a particular sphere of activity” (313). This also means that peer response can “[represent] less a transfer of authority than an extension of agency across the classroom” (314). This is potentially helpful for me both in thinking about my own authority, which sometimes feels tenuous, and as a sort of framing goal. How am I trying to facilitate a feeling of agency, which also hopefully will correspond to engagement? I often find my thinking swinging between the macro and micro- how do I revisit the idea of a thesis (which we keep returning to) in a way that drives home its importance? And then, what are the concrete activities I can do or questions I can ask to break this down? The model of “coparticipation”and “apprenticeship” she describes feels easiest to achieve in the conference hour. For the regular class hour I’m out here googling “how to test claims college writing activities.” In this Ching is less helpful.
    Lisa Delpit argues for a more explicit focus on teaching skills (which I take to mean: mechanics, grammar, appropriate style) though they are “best taught through meaningful communication, best learned in meaningful contexts” (25). I am getting acquainted now with the various mechanical issues that my students have and wondering how I can help them with these. Some are pretty minor, like weird capitalizations, and others are more distracting, like strangely constructed run-on sentences. Then there are the places where these “skills” issues seem to morph into more substantial issues, like how to write coherent sentences. Is it because they’re not comfortable with the arguments they’re making, or because they are using words they think sound academic, or do they just need practice with testing sentences, or do they just need to be urged strongly to keep revising? It’s hard to tell. There are some issues that are pervasive enough that it is likely the whole class could benefit from discussing them, while others are pretty specific. Again, the conference hour seems like a natural place to work on these “skills.” This week I’m wishing the whole class was the conference hour.

  2. Lisa Delpit’s article was interesting in terms of how she believed one particular educational environment, the “open-classroom,” was the “most humanizing of learning environments,” (181) yet within this open classroom, her black students lagged behind the white students. Even when she slowly turned her class into a “traditional” one, her black students improved in their reading and writing skills, but still not at the same level as the other students. Years later, a conversation with a friend who adamantly believed that black children needed skills not fluency, gave her insight into the fact that teachers of black children don’t realize the “verbal creativity and fluency” that the black students express in their everyday lives when, for example, playing in playgrounds. She then speculated that maybe the writing process teachers, who were bent on the rules on the process, had not taken into account that the black students already possessed fluency, and that the black teachers were so against process writing, a “white folks’ project” (183). In a conclusive thought, Delpit advocates for “skills” within the context of critical and creative thinking (185). However, she does state that the point of her article is to come to the rescue of her “fellow minority educators” whose voices have been silence by even liberal colleagues who want to give voice to black students but are not willing to listen to their existing voices and the thoughts of the minority teachers as well.
    Kory Lawson Ching’s “Peer Response in the Composition Classroom: An Alternative Genealogy,” is an interesting piece of the history of peer response. I was surprised to find out that peer response started in the late nineteen hundreds and documented in an 1892 article where in a discussion about “composition,” an educator encouraged teachers to “let the pupils to some extent, correct one another’s written work, especially after the teacher has criticized as many papers as practicable before the class” (310). That must have been fairly revolutionary for a very conservative America at that time! The article is an exhaustive history of peer reviewing and intriguing as a piece of educational history. The main issue that is presented is whether peer response makes teachers feel disempowered in terms of their authority in the classroom. I don’t think this kind of power relation issue should be a problem nowadays, except perhaps in high school environments (I haven’t taught in any…). I feel that trusting the students will beget trust. I really don’t believe that more authority should come into play in the classroom as teachers,already have one built-in just by the fact that we are called “teachers.” The author finishes hoping that “the lessons contained in this alternative genealogy suggest that there are ways of thinking otherwise” (316). And I would agree.

  3. Zeli says:

    I will respond to the readings here, twofold:

    To start, I was pretty deeply moved by Lisa Delpit’s grappling with what I believe so many of us grapple with in our own ways as budding educators. In “Skills And Other Dilemmas Of A Progressive Black Educator,” Delpit seems to be grappling with that space(s) between the practical, the useful, and the idealistically forward looking. Of course, Delpit is being specific here. She’s speaking about concrete maneuver’s she has made– and continues to make– as a Black woman educator in specific cities, teaching predominantly young Black children. Still, it seems that something of her argument has been implicitly working in all of our fears, conundrums, musings, and excitements about teaching writing here at QC.

    I love Delpit’s critique of “fluency.” One of the passages that seems to be a profound arrival, in this essay, is this: “Maybe, just maybe, these writing process teachers are so adamant about developing fluency because they have not really had the opportunity to realize the fluency the kids already possess. They hear only silence, they see only immobile pencils. And maybe the black teachers are so adamant against what they understand to be the writing process approach because hear their students’ voices and see their fluency clearly. They are anxious to move to the next steps..”(25). “The next steps” here have much to do with “skills,” which are described as concrete mechanisms that will help to write in a way that orients them toward “success in America..(25).”

    The racial and ideological distance that Delpit shows us as existing between teachers who cling to ‘fluency’ versus ‘skills’ feels profound. The urgency involved in those who yearn to teach skills is especially vital in terms of the often innate listening that these teachers engage in with their students. They already know the knowledge, creativity, expressive tools that their students have. They aren’t so much trying to coax out these powers, as they have already listened to the resonances in their students utterances. But these educators do want students to employ their ‘fluency’ strategically i.e. ‘skills.’ Right?

    OK! So…

    This feels relevant to me, in a couple ways. Of course, creative writing–especially on an intro level– operates on another plain than english composition or grade school level english. To be honest, before I started teaching this semester, I was doing my best to see passed what I previously thought– and still think to some extent– to be false distinctions between creative writing and academic writing. To me, it’s fun, active, and challenging to think of all writing as a kind of gesturing toward the next word. Isn’t this what all writing is? But for my intro to creative writing class, I find myself actually leaning into a kind of utopian (for lack of a better word//probably why I’m harping on it so much this semester) impulse. I’m truly forcing myself to see the A in all of my students formal writing because I truly want them to confidently go further, and deeper, into revision and other genres of writing without fear of a judgemental gaze. Furthermore, I feel like this might have been different if it were an intro to poetry course or intro to play-writing course where their might be more time to focus on “fluency,” or the minutia of certain craft issues specific to given forms. However, in this class we focus on poetry, play-writing, and fiction… A kind of sampler.

    All this being said, my worst fear is that I’m coddling my students or giving A’s too freely. On the one hand, I have made it clear that participation and revision in terms of the end of semester portfolio, are the largest factors of their overall grade. Perhaps, I misspoke in my earlier paragraph. Perhaps I don’t even know how to view their first drafts as anything other than A material, given that I think I see and feel some sort of imaginative and/or performative fluency happening in all of their drafts. It would seem unfair to expect true mastery (something I’ve seldom attained as a young writer!) in a genre/form a lot of them have never tried before! Right? But I’m grappling with the doubt, endlessly, if this is the write choice.

    An intro to creative writing class seems to carry responsibility that is geared more towards empowering young writers to further their interest & skills than it is to prepare students for college writing and future academic success, write? The way I’ve tried my best to anchor the class in concrete skill is by pointing out specific possibilities in all their first drafts and providing at least one editorial suggestion that I request they use for their portfolios. I ask students, during every workshop, to speak on their peers work in terms of possibilities for 2nd drafts. I.e. what they want to know more of… This usually brings some kind of craft issue into conversation.

    This leads into Kory Lawson Ching’s “Peer Response in the Composition Classroom: An Alternative Genealogy.” I was mostly vindicated by Ching’s essay, although it was interesting to glean some theory and history with respect to the evolution of peer response in english composition classrooms. The part of me that felt vindicated, as both creative writing student & adjunct, was arriving at the Ching’s articulation of “coparticipation.” At its best (of course– sometimes this isn’t the case, and I don’t mean to generalize) creative writing workshops seem to foster the kind of coparticipation that Ching defines as an “alternative genealogy.” Ching writes that this alternative genealogy “…is a different way of configuring agency. Instead of binary distinction between teacher authority and student autonomy, this view (of history) foregrounds the way peer response reconfigures the participation of students and teachers in the practices of the writing classroom.” Participation is such a key part of this phrase “coparticipation.” Truly… It seems to require both more outside effort as well as spontaneity for teacher (me) and students alike.

    So far my class seems to be underpinned and completely reliant of some of Ching’s principles with respect to coparticipation, collaboration, & “zone of proximal development”, however, I’m always looking for anchors. It seems almost inevitable that some students participate more than others. I feel like my students and I have been doing a pretty decent job at holding one another accountable to respond thoughtfully to peer work. Still imbalances do exist in terms of who isn’t collaborating as much and who is bountifully collaborating. I’m trying to think of ways to device strategic collaboration in workshops that doesn’t lead to merely putting a quieter student on the spot.

  4. Zeli says:

    oh my… excuse the typo’s once again… I always “paste” way too soon.
    “write choice…” quite the slip, haha. EDIT TO: “Right choice.”

  5. Caleb Fridell says:

    This passage from Delpit was striking:

    “Progressive white teachers seem to say to their black students, ‘Let me help you find your voice. I promise not to criticize one note as you search for your own song.’ But the black teachers say, ‘I’ve heard your song loud and clear. Now, I want to teach you to harmonize with the rest of the world.’ Their insistence on skills is not the negation of their students’ intellect, but an acknowledgment of it: ‘You know a lot; you can learn more. Do It Now!’” (184)

    I think it’s exactly right to call the former attitude, to borrow her friend’s phrase, liberal nonsense! The “progressive” would like to assume equality where none exists––it’s just obviously the case that our segregated public school system has not served our students as it has the freshman students of, say, NYU––which leads to this condescending application of some pretend universal standard by which all students are to be judged. It only hurts the student already disadvantaged and obscures the real wages of inequality as “a certain paternalism creeps into the speech of some of our liberal colleagues as they explain that our children must be ‘given voice’” (184). I’d like to draw a connection to the point Tompkins made in the article from last week about the necessity for students to move beyond relating academic questions only back to their own experience and feelings––to move into the kind of real radical or critical thinking Delpit here again advocates. Early in the semester, I was very happy to have lively classroom chatter sparked when students introduced into the discussion whatever pop-cultural reference (universal to them; making me feel so much more than six years older). I might say they were engaging in a kind of native fluency; and what a relief from indifferent silence. But I have tried to hold them to a certain level of rigor, have, in other words, asked them to learn more. By the time of my last class, the professor observing was “impressed” (I’m sorry for boasting, but I am very proud) at how well “so many of the students [were] discussing some very complex texts and ideas.” In that class nearly every student spoke without my prodding, and in their comments often referenced a line or moment in the reading, then paraphrased the author in their own words before making their observation. This is a formulaic skill that I have drilled into them, maybe, but to Delpit’s point I think teaching them this necessary practice of careful thinking does not mean they are any less speaking in their own voices. They’re only sharper, more critical voices, better suited, I can only hope (if it isn’t too grand to imagine), to change the world into which they’ll graduate.

  6. Many of our class readings have discussed how we can provide our students with the agency to write while guiding them in their right direction. Lisa Delpit’s article was interesting to me because of her struggle with what her students need to thrive in a writing course. We’ve already agreed that to guide students in their right direction, we have to be careful to acknowledge and listen to their voices, so this article reinforces that. Perhaps what stood out to me most was Delpit’s point that “certain paternalism creeps into the speech of some of our liberal colleagues” (184). How we guide our students must be free of language and thought that assumes that they don’t already possess some agency. It’s not just their voices we need to acknowledge, but the agency they already have. In Kory Lawson Ching’s article, I’m interested in peer response as “less a transfer of authority than an extension of agency across the classroom” (314). I was surprised at the concept that peer review was somehow viewed as a way to lessen the burden of grading papers, since “coparticipation” requires so much planning and mediation on the part of the instructor. The greatest benefit of peer review is that it encourages conversation about writing and about a text. In other words, as students review each other’s papers, they convey their knowledge to each other, which means they perform an integral step in the learning process: clarifying what they know. Peer review, then, can be seen as agency in practice.

  7. Farrah Goff says:

    In response to Ching’s piece, I think there are some valid points, however, I like the other people here seem to be struggling to strike the balance (side note: couldn’t that basically summarize the difficulties with teaching as a whole? Striking the perfect balance in whatever task is presented…) between the need for student autonomy in peer response and instructor input and organization. Ching writes, “the key ingredient for successful peer response is student autonomy. But in this particular theory of collaborative learning.. Teaching authority stands in opposition to student autonomy” (306-307). I take issue with this statement for a variety of reasons. The first is that I personally believe everyone in the classroom is working towards the same goal; to become the best possible writer they can be. If that is true, how could it possible stand that the teacher is in opposition with the students? Second, especially in my morning class which is not part of an FYI group, the students would not even know each other if I did not encourage group work and arrange their conference groups. While my students in my afternoon class (part of an FYI program) are more familiar with each other and therefore more willing to engage in group assignments, my morning class is more likely to sit silently, unless I enforce the importance of group work. Third, too much student autonomy (and lack of direction which Kate mentions) does not encourage a productive group and peer review session but rather has them look at a task for a brief minute and then engage in their own conversations. By offering guidance, usually in the form of a worksheet, I find students get the most out of their peer review sessions.

    Moving on to Delpit’s piece, I am once again struck by the reflective difficulty in which Delpit details her own journey to find the balance between pushing what she is taught is the right way to teach (e.g. “Open Classroom” “Fluency” etc) in comparison to what she actually has found effective (e.g. “Traditional Classroom” “Skills”). I am left with my own introspection as to why there must always be a dichotomy, why must it always be two open ends, where is the balance I keep striving for… I digress. Rather than instructional, Delpit’s article felt like a reflection, not all that different from these weekly blog posts. Her statement, “black teachers, on the other hand, see the teaching of skills to be essential to their students’ survival” is perhaps the most important takeaway I can find in this piece (25). It stresses, which the conclusion of the piece achieves, the need to teach students who perhaps are otherwise apart, different, not presented with the same opportunities for “fluency”, or not from the same background the way “harmonize”. Through the teaching of “skills” it is essentially adding a tool to a student’s toolbox where perhaps they had none or if they had any did not have the right tools. This is, as Delpit says, “not a negation of intellect” but a recognition of the intellect and therefore the capacity to achieve what is being asked. The ability to meet an assignment is just part of the work. Rachel has previously reflected the difficulty she sometimes has with her students consistently presenting her with intro paragraphs despite their lack of relevance or her lack of request for them. I think the idea of being able to have a student simply meet the outline of the task is present her.

  8. Weiheng Sun says:

    Sorry for my late submission. I was grading my students’ papers for the past four days and finally finished and gave back to them. I had a severely anxious time when I read one student’s paper. A Chinese girl in my class wrote a paper that greatly confused me. The paper tried to present a thesis and supported by three claims, but her lexical choices (grammatical mistakes) prevented me from understanding what she is trying to say. I tried and even could not fully understand her thesis. In her paper, she also tied to personal feelings and experiences, instead of interpretations from the text. Each topic sentence of her body paragraphs is exactly copied from the first paragraph (they are repeated again in the conclusion.)

    Lisa Delpit’s work helped me reflect upon the issue of “fluency” and “skills.” Have I really tried to hear her voice? What advice should I give her? Should I emphasize that she needs to clarify her sentence? What is the assumption behind such practice?
    In the comment, I wrote that she needs to clarify her thesis and main claims first, and back up her thesis and claims by textual evidence, instead of personal feelings and experiences that are not connected to the text. I also emphasized the sentence variation. In the end, I ask her to revise her paper.

    What should I teach her for the rest of the semester? Should I emphasize the skill so that she can express her thought more clearly? Should I emphasize the critical thinking so that her essay has an arguable thesis and is better organized? These two issues seem interconnected and affects each other, especially in her case.

    Ching presents a new perspective of the history of peer review, helping me reflect on the practice of peer review in class. I organized a workshop on thesis today, in which I had two groups of five students, reading and commenting all the others’ first paragraph of their essay 2. During the process, there were moments when commentators stood on one side of an issue and gave feedback to the writer, while I had a different thought from them. Then they were waiting for my comment. My concern is, what if the commentators lead the writer away from the right path? What kind of guidance and instruction should I give? How much should I interfere?

  9. Woo Ree Heor says:

    What struck me about the Ching article was its understanding of learning process as a sort of two-way intellectual authority in which neither teacher nor student takes full control (if such a thing is really possible). Instead of understanding authority as an object of gain that either teacher or student holds at the expense of the other, Ching envisions a collaborative composition process in which “Students do not learn from teachers or from peers, but rather by engaging in the practices of writing and reading alongside both. This is a dialogic view of learning” (315). This comes from the understanding that authority is not a zero-sum property that student and teacher attempt to take from each other. I’m curious to see this concept play out in a tangible lesson plan (regionally) or syllabus (more globally). Would it look drastically different from the familiar “teachers have too much control, let’s give some to students” model? Considering that “authority” in a classroom may mean different things to teacher and student (as Ching seems to acknowledge as well), what would be the means to let both parties “enact” authority while maintaining a useful and coherent learning experience?

    Delpit touches on the topics that I (and all of us, presumably) have been encountering in my class from the start of the semester, namely that some students simply do not stand in the same starting point as the others. In Delpit’s case, this mostly concerns the open classroom tactics and the focus on “fluency” which does not equip black students with the skills they need to be taken seriously in an academic or professional settings. ESL students often seem to face the similar, but not the same, kind of limitations when they feel the clarity of their writing is capped due to what’s perceived as insufficient grasp of “proper English.” Of course we can assure them that regardless of their “English skills” the strength of their writing will show if it is truly there, and we can tell them about the Language Lab (and we all know that isolated in-class grammar drills don’t do the job). However, we keep turning back to those skills that we try to downplay when we provide comments for their writing. This might be a more mechanical, more technical problem compared to Delpit’s struggles against Fluency vs Skills dichotomy, but it would be interesting to think about how teachers can convey the skills, or proper tools, for academic writing to different students with different sets of needs.

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