ENGLISH 776: BASIC WRITING THEORY AND PRACTICE
Summer II, 2004
Dr. Shannon Carter 903-886-5492
MW, 1-5:30 email@example.com
Hall of Languages, Room 306 Hall of Languages, Room 115
Required Texts: (1) Bernstein, Susan, Ed. Teaching Developmental Writing: Background
Course Description and Objectives: “Basic Writing”—the term, the field of study, the profession, the very concept—is fraught with controversy. Tensions are plentiful, including excellence versus access, high school expectations versus those at the college-level, “school” literacy versus “home” literacy, and institutional needs versus student needs. I don’t mean to imply that the tensions here are completely binary; they are much more complex than that, as we shall see. Through our readings, discussions, and various writing projects, we will explore the theoretical, professional, disciplinary, political, practical, and ideological issues that make up and arise from these tensions in basic writing.
THEORETICAL questions driving this course include:
Identifying the basic writing: Who is the basic writer? How does a basic writer differ from other writers? Is there any difference? How can we tell? How might this difference be determined? Should we attempt to stratify writers in this way? What’s the function of (and the justification for) identifying this difference? What’s the function of this differentiation in the life of the student writer? When does a basic writer stop being a “basic” writer? What are the effects of being labeled “basic writer”? What standards can we use to effectively determine when a basic writer is no longer “basic”? What causes a writer to become a “basic” writer? Is it the label itself? What are some other possible causes? How can we know this? Should someone marked as a basic writer in one context be considered a basic writer in all writing contexts? In other words, is it possible that “Johnny Can’t Write” for timed essay exams like TASP but writes quite well in other, very different, perhaps even more complicated contexts? What’s the political function of identifying basic writers? the economic function? the institutional function? the pedagogical function? the ideological function? the social function?
Determining how basic writers write: What does the work of a basic writer look like? How can we determine that a particular text has been created by a basic writer? If “errors” are more likely to show up in texts produced by basic writers than those produced by stronger ones, why might that be? What do we mean by “error”? Why is that a difficult question to answer? What’s the function of identifying errors in student texts (or, in Shaughnessy’s terms, recognizing “patterns of error”)? What can a basic writing teacher do with this kind of knowledge? Does the writing process of a basic writer differ from that of other writers? If so, in what ways does it differ? What accounts for this difference? What’s the political function of identifying characteristics that may differentiate a text written by a basic writer from one produced by a more “successful” writer? the economic function? the pedagogical function? the ideological function? the social function?
Determining how a basic writing classroom should function: What do basic writers need to learn? Why? How should we design the basic writing classroom? Why? How does a basic writing classroom differ from a first-year composition classroom? Is there a difference? Should there be? Why? If so, what accounts for these differences? What do basic writers already know, and what’s the best way to design a basic writing classroom in order to draw from this knowledge-base? What’s the best way for a basic writing teacher to determine the knowledge-base of a basic writing student? What can we do about student resistance? What can we learn from it? What are the benefits of exploring what works (and what doesn’t work) in a basic writing classroom? What are the consequences?
POLITICAL questions driving this course, other than those I snuck in above, include the following: What’s the history of, justification for, and function of state-mandated, high-stakes testing like the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP), and the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)? What are some of the political, economic, ideological, and social consequences of high-stakes testing, especially as those consequences define basic writing and basic writers?
PRATICAL questions driving this course, other than those embedded in the questions listed above include: What’s a good way to make group work in a basic writing classroom? What are some good strategies for teaching basic writers to revise more effectively? to read more critically? to participate in class discussion more passionately?
We will be examining questions like those above, and we will be exploring the possibility that some of these questions may even be inappropriate to ask.
The major goal of this course is rather paradoxical: It is my hope that our few weeks together will both complicate and simplify your understanding of the basic writer and basic writing classroom.
Course Policies: I have included the following attendance, plagiarism, and student conduct policies even though I feel a little silly about doing so. In a graduate class like this, I feel certain no one would even consider violating these. But just to jump through all the right hoops required of a document like this, here goes . . .
Attendance: Graduate students are expected to attend every class and turn in all assignments on time. If class must be missed, students should contact the instructor beforehand as a courtesy. Students should contact other students after class to find out what they missed. As well, students are expected to participate fully in all in-class workshops, discussions, and responses to student and group presentations and other class activities. Refer to the course policy regarding late work (below) for more on this. As always, ask me if you have any questions. My door is always open.
Plagiarism Statement: Plagiarism (presenting someone else’s work as your
own) will not be tolerated. If you need more information about what constitutes
plagiarism, ask me or someone in the
Student Conduct: All students enrolled at the University shall follow the tenets of common decency and acceptable behavior conducive to a positive learning environment.
Americans with Disabilities Act Statement: Students requesting accommodations for disabilities
must go through the Academic Support Committee. For more information, please
contact the Director of Disability Resources and Services,
The Book Review (20%): Develop a BR on an approved, book-length study of BW. In addition to the written BR, I’d like you to develop a handout, make enough copies of it for the class, and present your review for us in a way that allows us to productively engage with it. We will schedule these ASAP. Please see “Book Review” (attached) for more specifics on this, including the list of suggested book titles.
The Major Paper (40% total): Develop a formal essay on an issue or topic in the field of basic writing. You will be presenting your paper to us during the last day of class. Much more on this very soon.
“Discussion Leader” Activities (25%): Okay, this is going to seem much more complicated than it really is. At some point during the term, you and a partner will be responsible for kicking off an online discussion with a follow up (face-to-face) discussion based on the online response to your discussion starter. For the ONLINE component, you and your partner will create a post (about 100 words) that synthesizes and analyzes the readings/discussion of the previous class and the next class. For the FACE-TO-FACE component, you and your partner will synthesize, respond to, and offer further fodder for reflection in no more than 500 words (and hopefully not much less than that). We will schedule these today. Please see “Discussion Leaders” (attached) for more specifics on this.
Participation in the Online Discussion (15%): Before 6:00 pm each Saturday—other than the week you are scheduled as “Discussion Leader”—you will be expected to post a response to the reading, your classmates, and the DL (“Discussion Leader”) Online Post.
A Word on Class Participation:
As you know, a graduate seminar depends on the engagement of everyone in the class discussion, with everyone being willing t share and try out ideas. We respect each other and we know how to keep the discussions intellectually rigors yet safe and inviting. Just enjoy yourself and each other. I know I will!
BOOK REVIEWS (20%)
Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary: The Struggles and Achievements of America’s Underprepared. NY: The Free Press, 1989.
To be reviewed by __________________
David and Anthony Petrosky. Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts:
Theory and Method for a
To be reviewed by ________________.
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors
and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. NY:
To be reviewed by _________________.
Mutnick, Deborah. Writing
in an Alien World: Basic Writing and the Struggle for Equity in Higher
To be reviewed by ________________.
Dickson, Marcia. It’s Not Like That
Here: Teaching Academic Writing and
To be reviewed by ____________
DiPardo, Anne. A Kind
of Passport: A Basic Writing Adjunct Program and the Challenge of Student
To be reviewed by ______________.
Laura. Rethinking Basic
Writing: Exploring Identity, Politics, and Community in Interaction.
To be reviewed by _____________.
Horner, Bruce and Min-Zhan Lu. Representing the “Other”: Basic Writers and
the Teaching of Basic Writing.
To be reviewed by _____________.
DISCUSSION LEADERS (25%)
Description of Activity: At some point during the term, you and a partner will be responsible for kicking off an online discussion of key issues in the field and a follow-up (face-to-face) discussion based on the online response to your discussion.
Assignment: For the ONLINE component, you and your partner will create a post (about 100 words) that synthesizes and analyzes the readings/discussions of the previous class and the upcoming one. For the FACE-TO-FACE component, you and your partner will synthesize, respond to, and offer further fodder for reflection in no more than 500 words.
How will this work?
The Cycle: (1) Create an ONLINE POST that will serve as a discussion starter. (2) Post it to the class list by noon on the Friday before the relevant face-to-face discussion. (3) Your classmates will be expected to post their responses to your post and the readings by 12:00 pm the next Sunday. (4) Develop a short DISCUSSION STARTER for the face-to-face discussion, generate enough copies for each member of the class, and present it to the class. We’ll take it from there.
THE ONLINE COMPONENT will require you to summarize the key issues you see emerging from the readings/discussions from the previous class and the assigned readings for the following class. Bring these readings, discussions, and ideas into conversation with one another. Work both with them (Peter Elbow calls this the “believing game”; David Bartholomae calls it “reading with the grain) and against them (Elbow’s “doubting game” and Bartholomae’s notion of “reading against the grain”). “Reading,” in this case, means not only reading the words on the page but also “reading” the class discussions, your own experiences and value-sets, and anything else you think will be useful to us in working with the ideas emerging from all this. Raise questions, if you like. Offer a quote or two from the readings that you find particularly juicy or perplexing or infuriating. Share an experience and bring it into dialogue with all this. Bottom line: Just get the discussion going with a meaty, substantial post that shows you have thought really hard about what our readings have to offer and what they don’t yet seem to offer.
DUE: Post this discussion starter (about 100 words or so) to the class list by noon on the Friday before the in-class, face-to-face discussion the following Monday).
THE FACE-TO-FACE COMPONENT will require the Discussion Leaders to synthesize the key issues they see emerging from the online discussion and add to it by pushing past it and against it and asking us to do the same. You don’t need to solve anything for us at this point. The debate will rage on, and we will probably need much more information before we can offer any firm solutions. NOTE: Make each of us (including me) a copy of your typed, single-spaced, one-page discussion starter for this face-to-face meeting.
Advice for both Discussion Leaders and the class involved in this discussion: Push these ideas to the breaking point. Develop new ways of looking at these key issues. Encourage and engage in that rigorous give-and-take of ideas and arguments that make graduate school so powerful for us.
Why are we doing this? (1) One way to wrap your arms around key tensions embedded in basic writing theory and practice (in fact, any academic field of inquiry) is to identify “themes” relevant to your particular needs and experiences (past, present, and future) as a teacher, student, intellectual, public advocate, and any other life role that is important to you. BTW: I believe this strategy is helpful to all students getting to know a new area of inquiry, even basic writers. (2) Comprehensive exams? To prepare for them, try digging into your cumulate readings for key “themes” in similar ways, always considering what is most meaningful to you and why. (3) Publications or conference presentations? Same thing. Get to know a field by synthesizing the major issues folks in your field care most about, the arguments and issues with which you most identify, and the gaps and unsettling aspects of these arguments. If you care quite a bit about these issues and you know why, dig into them. Your contributions to the field are likely to be embedded into that space.
This assignment should not only help you synthesize and analyze aspects of scholarly debates in basic writing, but also offer some relevant and practical teaching experience in leading class discussions (in two quite different social spaces) and putting collaborative theories to work.