Revolution Lullabye

June 10, 2009

Shor, Critical Thinking and Everyday Life

Shar, Ira. Critical Thinking and Everyday Life. Boston: South End Press, 1980.

Shor explains in this book how he practiced liberatory pedagogy in his writing classes of working-class, Open Admissions CUNY students. His pedagogy draws on Freire, and he applies Freire’s theories to argue against the motivations for and the attitudes transcribed by American vocational education. His theory of critical teaching, “extraordinarily re-experiencing the ordinary,” (95) is Freirian in nature, based in dialogue grounded in the subjectivity of the students, collaboration, self-reflection, and indisciplinary inquiry and investigation. This book contains several of his pedagogical assignments, strategies, and experiments from working with his Open Admissions CUNY students, a program that was cut, ironically, right as teachers like Shor were beginning to learn how to best teach these students.

Quotable Quotes

vocational education “narrows human development” and is a “socialization against intellectual life, against feeling, and against autonomy.” (51)

Notable Notes

this kind of pedagogy is difficult, anxiety-filled for the teacher

working against the hegemoies of mass culture and false consciousness

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April 8, 2009

Shaughnessy, Errors and Expectations

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Basic writers are not unintelligent; rather, their writing is riddled with errors because they are confused about the basic structure and patterns of sentences and academic prose. Shaughnessy defends her focus on the errors of basic writers by arguing that in order to teach basic writers, teachers must understand what the range of basic writing errors are, why students might be making them (shuttling between two different codes, second language issues, unfamiliarity with written English tenses, structures, and punctuation), and how teachers might help their students write better through addressing these errors (assignments and in-class exercises.) Shaughnessy’s drive is to demystify the common errors basic writers make (punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, syntax) so they can move towards expressing their complex ideas and thoughts in equally as complex and intelligent prose. Shaughnessy does not prescribe a curriculum or program, arguing that each basic writing program must be created for the context of the students’, teachers’, and institutional expectations and circumstances.

Quotable Quotes

Errors “are unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader” (12) Teachers shouldn’t ignore error or argue for theoretical conceptions of the relativity of error (diversity of linguistic structure) in a basic writing classroom because that type of approach dismisses two important points. First, students are hyperconcerned about error and want to know about it and fix their errors. Second, errors force a reader to extend more effort to understand the writer, an effort that not all readers make and thus results in a loss of communication.

Her book wants to cultivate “a readiness to look at these problems in a way that does not ignore the linguistic sophistication of the students nor yet underestimate the complexity of the task they face as tehy set about learning to write for college” (13).

“Far from being eleventh-hour learners, these students appear in many ways to be beginning their lives anew.” (291)

“College both beckons and threatens them, offering to teach them useful ways of thinking and talking about the world, promising even to improve the quality of their lives, but threatening at the same time to take from them their distinctive ways of interpreting the world, to assimilate them into the culture of academia without acknowledging their experience as outsiders” (292)

Notable Notes

Basic writing pedagogy must be taken up seriously as an area of scholarship, study

Context – early 1970s open admissions, City College (CUNY system), no guide for how to teach these students who had never before been in college, instructors just see a “chaos of error”

Data – hundreds of placement essays from entering students at City College 1970-1974

confusion and unawareness lays at the heart of the issue. Students need explicit instruction, need to be shown the patterns and structures, templates of writing sentences and academic prose passages.

need to fix errors without disrespecting the culture and language backgrounds of the students

Chapters: handwriting and punctuation; syntax; common errors; spelling; vocabulary; beyond the sentence; expectations

problem – does not adequately address linguistic differences, boils things down to looking at the errors in the student text without looking outside the actual paper, the larger history and social context

lots of pattern-practice, sentence-combining, learn how to express abstract thoughts and longer arguments

February 23, 2009

McBeth, Memoranda of Fragile Machinery

McBeth, Mark. “Memoranda of Fragile Machinery: A Portrait of Shaughnessy as Intellectual-Bureaucrat.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 31:1-2, 2007.

McBeth, the WPA for ten years at the City College of New York, reconstructs Shaughnessy’s role as an administrator through both the archived material of the program, containing her published and unpublished administrative documents, and interviews with teachers and administrators who worked with her at CUNY. In this recovery project, McBeth presents an alternate perspective on the work of Shaughnessy, explicitly showing how her administrative work informed her ideas about basic writing, development of writers, and literacy, and how her work in managing a large writing program gave her a place where she could conduct and gather data for her research. McBeth describes the work of WPAs positively, contesting the pessamistic attitude that WPAs are just managers over a large system marked by unfair labor practices. McBeth argues that WPAs are more than just managers: they are intellectual-bureaucrats who use their knowledge and expertise in rhetoric and their understanding of the production of writing to lead effective, educationally sound, and progressive programs.

Quotable Quotes

“The oft-tedious bureaucratic labors we will inevitably face may not deter us from the publish-or-perish work we need to complete, but on the contrary, may lead us to it. Applying our scholarly scrutiny and creativity to the administrative positions we hold may prove to make the WPA’s labors both more fruitful and possibly more rewarding (perhaps even pleasurable.)” (62).

The records “show the intersection between her academic life as a scholar, teacher, and administrator and, additionally, how those roles necessarily coexist and inform one another.” (62).

Notable Notes

shows how Errors and Expectations is more than a pedagogy manual – it is an administrative argument about how to teach basic writing students and structure a program that will meet their needs.

mid-term and end-of-term evaluations were a key resource and research pool for Errors and Expectations

February 8, 2009

Mutnick, On the Academic Margins

Mutnick, Deborah. “On the Academic Margins: Basic Writing Pedagogy.” 183-202.

How to teach and understand basic writers has developed from studying them through their errors (Shaugnessy), to in-depth cognitive research to understand how their thinking and writing practices, to finally seeing them in the larger political and social context, analyzing how they learn to appropriate and use academic language, and how academic language affects their home language and culture. Basic writing pedagogy is interested in how students from diverse cultures and backgrounds come into and work in the university, the relationship between language and meaning, linguistic theories of error, and the writing and learning processes of adults. New pushes in basic writing pedagogy include mainstreaming basic writers in “regular” first-year composition classrooms and developing competency requirements that aren’t tied to a particular university course.

Notable Notes

First forays: Mina Shaughnessy – CUNY Open Admissions; Horner “Discoursing Basic Writing”

Cognitive process studies: Perl “Unskilled”; Sommers; Lunsford “What We Know” – showed problems in analysis and synthesis

Social and rhetorical theories: Bartholomae Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts and “Inventing”; Gilyard Voices of the Self; Students’ Right to Their Own Language; Bizzell biculturalism; Tom Fox “Standards and Access”; Alice Horning “Teaching Writing as a Second Lanuage”

students on the social margins change through education but must develop their own consciousness, the new discourses they learn affect their home ones. Basic writing courses can transform the students, teachers, administration, and institutions

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