English 16 – A Reflection

Retrospective

Introduction to Writing Studies and Digital Publication was unlike any class I have taken at Santa Clara these past three years. As a political science major, I am constantly writing and reading ‘academic discourse’ and holding debated with peers in the most formal settings. After this course, I may think twice about how I approach my future assignments (essays, readings, etc).

Blogging made me realize just how much I can write and how beneficial it can be to your academic writing. As I look back at all of my previous posts, I had no idea collectively how many pages/words I had written. It shocked me to see that I have pages and pages of opinions, quotes and ideas. Although some posts were better than others, each sharpened my idea of the reading and helped me talk through my opinions, my perspectives, and my questions/concerns about the readings. The content of my blogs was funny, serious, critical, analytical, and something confusing but reading them out loud to myself highlighted just how unique my voice is.

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This class also highlighted some major strengths and weaknesses of my CTW. I came into the course incredibly bias, absolutely despising my CTW and resenting my middle school for teaching grammar BUT I know recognize the importance parts of both of those. I guess you could say I have ‘grown’ in my interpretation and opinions on Freshman Year English Courses.

Writing Process Research Project

Introduction:
I interviewed a peer, Isabelle Lacombe, as she wrote a paper for one of her upper division Philosophy classes. Philosophy is her minor, so I expected her to have a pretty well-thought out writing process for such complicated papers, and I was right! I interviewed and watched her work in her apartment – a staple in her writing process. When she works, Isabelle has a very meticulous set up in her apartment. She always has tea, headphones, and a pillow on the back of her chair. She also positions her chair by the window for a little natural light and people watching if her writers block kicks in. Through conversation, questions & answers, and a flow diagram of her writing process I would like to think that I walked away with a pretty complete understanding of her steps. I wanted to observe her work & casually ask her questions instead of interview her after the paper was done to get a more candid version of her process. During interviews, I find myself sometimes exaggerating or misleading the interviewer because I am only reciting it from memory, not explaining it in real time. Hindsight, I feel like a could have sat down with her and interviewed her at the conclusion of her paper since she is so used to writing these research papers but this approach also proved very successful.

Presentation of Findings:
Isabelle took a very specific and interesting approach to her philosophy paper.The assignment was to create a fictional dialogue between Machiavelli, Karl Marx, a Utopian Prince, and John Locke. Due to the complexity of the assignment, Isabelle mapped out a very rough and flexible conversation for the characters based on their discussions in class.This paper was worth 30% of Isabelle’s overall grade in the class, a significant chunk for one assignment so she prepared and executed the assignment with slightly more attention to detail and concern. Off the bat, some differences she mentioned to me where how early she was starting, her trip to office hours twice before she even begun her outline, and the excessive amount of time and effort she put in to finding extra quotes for options.  “My professor is also incredibly particular about grammar and sentence structure so I have to be extra attention to the details. If I have more than five grammatical errors, he stops reading, gives it back for revision, and you have to resubmit it….” (Isabelle, 2/24/15). Isabelle decided to place her characters at the funeral of Calvin Coolidge, a controversial president who would give the three varying characters plenty to debate and discuss. After analyzing her notes, it immediately reminded me of Harris’ take on the writing process. Specifically, his thought that, “What matters most to me is now how this conversation ends, but that it is a conversation, an exchange in which both writer and reader, student and teacher, assert their views about the text they are working on together” (Harris, pg. 94). After using her notes to map out a rough frame for her dialogue between the two characters, she started pulling her quotes from the book – anything she thought would be helpful or relevant. By the end of her paper, she had roughly 15 left over quotes that did not fit, but it gave her options which ultimately helped improve her paper. Following a collection of other 50 quotes from the three characters, Isabelle started creating the script for the conversation. She decided on a setting, a time period, & a theme for their conversation. She developed a fairly sophisticated conversation, inserted quotes were they made sense, and concluded the paper. We finished the interview, then she revisited the paper three days later and tweaked grammatical errors and sentence structure. This constant processes of revision reminded me of Murray’s work, Decisions & Revisions in writing. “When the writer saw the major revision (as opposed to copy-editing) was necessary, he collapsed planning and revising into an activity best described as reconceiving. To “reconceive” is to scan and rescan one’s text from the perspective of an external reader and to continue re-drafting until all rhetorical, formal, and stylistic concerns have been resolved, or until the writer decides to let go of the text” (Murray p. 162). She constantly revisited paragraphs and reworked introductions to create, in her mind, the perfect paper for her audience.

Although she has not yet received a grade on the paper, I think she was fairly successful by using this writing process. Philosophy papers in particular can be incredibly detailed and difficult because the classes are so reading intensive and she has employed this process for several papers. Her process with almost scientific – and I think it was successful.

In comparison to other writer’s and their studies of processes, I think Isabelle was fairly balanced. She incorporated virtually every aspect of the class we have talked about – She inserted her own ‘voice’ into the paper, even though it was primarily made up of quotes, she utilized the power of ‘community’ conversations by taking notes on her classmates discussions and turned that around for her paper, and weeded through the ‘errors’ in her paper by doing multiple steps to her drafts and revisions.

Examples of Isabelle’s Notes on the Paper:

Notes on Calvin Coolidge & how her characters would view him:

Calvin Coolidge was incredibly modest, benevolent, humble, soft-spoken
-Knew he was not a ‘great man’ & believes modesty is essential to a successful presidency
-Ran an efficient, honest, and frugal government
-Modest, quiet, virtuous, soft spoken

Machiavelli thoughts on him: Would completely oppose the majority of Calvin Cooliges presidency & how he got there
Marx: Would not like him… see him as weak and lazy
Utopian Prince: Neutral toward liking him
Locke: Would be a fan, only did what was needed

Screenshots of Notes/Quotes:
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Example of some of the finished dialogue between the characters:Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.36.48 AM      Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.38.42 AM

Meet Isabelle!

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Critical Reflection:

My methods of data collection yielded several different types of evidence – Isabelle was incredibly comfortable letting my take screenshots of her finished product as well as her notes which was incredibly thoughtful, although I wish I had a bit more information on the structure of her course and the way discussions transpire (it seemed like much of her work came out of thoughtful class discourses led by the professor). If I were going to re-do this, I would ask more specific questions about the nature of the class specifically, especially for such an advanced and complex assignment (what information or direction was given ahead of time, did he provide examples, etc).

I believe my findings, although tailored specifically to this assignment, expose a lot about the benefits of preparing and outlining your paper. Isabelle was ultimately so successful because she took great care and time to finding appropriate quotes, outlining conversations, and detailed descriptions before she started putting it together. If all students put the amount of time and detail into their outline that Isabelle did, I think they would be much more successful.

I was slightly concerned taking pictures of her final product would cross some ‘ethical’ boundaries, but ultimately decided that because she was so comfortable and the assignment for her course had already been turned in by the entire class, it was harmless. I asked Isabelle several times if she wished to remain anonymous and she was comfortable being an open participant which helped me see no potential conflict publishing her work.

Myers & ReMembering the Sentence

“In terms of writing classes, what I am suggesting is not a fully developed program for teaching composition but some time and effort systematically included for work on sentences and words. Some of this may include the older sentence pedagogies but can take many other forms as well, using the insights of work in contemporary linguistics” (Myers 621).

This concept is something I think should be emphasized way more in composition classes at all levels – not just in college. Sentences will be sloppy without the correct usage of words and visa versa, time and attention must be spent on both approaches. This also ties in with her approach to how this is taught. When composition, grammar, or sentence structure is explained it can be SO dry (I am speaking from middle school experience) that students often disengage and begin to underestimate just how important it is in their writing. Although this article is slightly different from the rest, I do believe it ties in with the concept we explored in the past: If you are not able to effectively communicate your ideas, they are virtually worthless. By diversifying your words and sentence structure, your writing becomes stronger, more professional, and easier to read.

The question now, though, is how do you structure this in classes that will not bore the students. I do appreciate Myers idea of templates to respond to this complaint. Once students master this, more advanced writing will develop!

Shaughnessy & “Errors and Expectations”

“So absolute is the importance of error in the minds of many writers that ‘good writing’ to them means ‘correct writing,’ nothing more. “As long as I can remember,” writes a student, “I wanted to be an English teacher. I know it is hard, keeping verbs in their right place, s’s when they should be, etc., but one day I will make them part of me”” (Shaughnessy pg. 392).

Shaughnessy’s lesson made me rethink how I have traditionally approached the teaching of grammar – I suspect having grammar force fed to me for nearly five years could bias my opinion but before reading her article I was less than thrilled about grammar continuing to be taught in college. Her article brought up so very important points I had not taken into consideration before. You could be one of the most brilliant philosophers or thinkers of our generation, but if you are not able to effectively communicate your thoughts they are virtually useless. You must learn how to properly communicate before the content of your work can even begin to be respected.

She speaks to this more by saying: “But when we move out of the centuries into Monday morning, into the life of the young man or woman sitting in a BW class, our linguistic contemplations are likely to hover over a more immediate reality – namely, the fact that a person who does not control the dominant code of literacy in a society that generates more writing than any society in history is likely to be pitched against more obstacles than are apparent to those who have already mastered that code” (395).

These ‘obstacles’ will only begin with a lack of respect for the content presented if you cannot master the language you’re presenting it in. A paper flooded with slang or grammatical errors will overshadow whatever ideas being presented. These quotes certainly made me rethink my, admittedly jaded, approach to grammar in FYCs.

Harris & ‘Error’

“I think the idea of freshman English, mostly, is just to get them to write complete sentences, get the commas in the right place, and stuff like that – the stuff we would like to think the high schools do and, in fact, they do not. But as long as there’s a need for freshman English, it is going to be primarily a matter of the least common denominator of all the jargon” (Harris, pg. 114).

I think Harris touches on a really important, often overlooked aspect to Freshman English Courses (and in my opinion their biggest flaw). With such a high emphasis on grammar & syntax and virtually none on actual content, students are being robbed of one of the most important parts of studying English. This is not to say that grammar is not important but it should not be the sole focus of the course.

I was fortunate enough to cover virtually every aspect of Grammar in middle school. I went to a private middle school who was renowned for its English courses and I knew how to diagram paragraphs by the time I graduated. I then spent my four years in high school going over the bare minimum covered in middle school, only to repeat the same thing in my CTW.

In order to refocus the FYC, we need to start from the beginning and completely restructure how English is taught starting in High School (if not middle school). College is where you are given the opportunity to explore some of the worlds greatest writers and the content behind their words, not how grammatically accurate their writing was. College should be an open space to debate philosophy and thoughts, not comma placement and incomplete sentences. We should restructure how English is taught at the most basic levels to change this mistake at the College level. 

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Berkenkotter & Revision

“If we are to understand how writers review, we must pay close attention to the context in which revision occurs… When researchers remove writers from their natural setting (the study, the classroom, the office the dormitory room, the library) to examine their thinking processes in the laboratory, they create ‘a context of a powerful sort, often deeply affecting what is being observed and assessed'” (Berkenkotter 156).

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Although I appreciate Berkenkotter’s desire to enter the brain of the writer and dissect their process, thoughts, and approach to their work, I feel her study proved the task nearly impossible. A continuation of this study would be seemingly never-ending as the writer continued to revise and tweak their work. I find myself doing this constantly – if there weren’t a deadline for assignments they would be continuously unfinished. I plan out virtually every detail of a paper, from hand picking sources to structuring an outline, tweaking the outline, beginning the paper and deleting it only to being again. Perhaps I am bias because my own process is so complicated but trying to ‘separate the dancer from the dance, the subject from the process’ (157) seems virtually unimaginable.

Although a writing process and the study of it is complicated, I applaud her for trying to analyze it. The process, after all, is (in my opinion) the most important part of any composition course & product. I believe Carols very detailed description of Murrays writing and process highlighted this – the sheer time and effort it takes to produce wildly (and publicly) successful pieces like his is truly remarkable.

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Process or Product?

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I think the idea of process vs. product is a worthwhile debate – which is more important? How we reach the end or the product at the very end. I think each writers process is incredibly individual and drastically effects the quality of work turned in at the end. From what I have noticed with fellow peers, their work supports the idea of process over product. If you plan ahead, compartmentalize your time, and mull over the topic (focus on the process) your product is typically a reflection of your continued effort. If you focus only on the end product and not on the proper steps and time to get there, your work will most likely be a reflection of the carelessness and disregard for a meanwhile ‘process.’

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Harris & “Process”

“What matters most to me is not how this conversation ends, but that it is a conversation, an exchange in which both writer and reader, student and teacher, assert their views about the text they are working on together… If we want to understand writing as a social process, we need to cultivate a similar sense of reciprocity, of how a text emerges as part of an ongoing conversation between a writer and her readers” (Harris pg. 94).

Harris’s book seamlessly connects, each chapter relating to the next and each concept building upon the last. You have to ‘grow’ as a reader and writer, develop a ‘voice’ to achieve your best writing, and achieve that voice through a ‘community’ of unique and open people. Freshman year composition courses should utilize the process described in the quote above – it should be an exchange of ideas, not one student or teacher talking at the other but instead TO each other. Through this open exchange and learning to listen as well as share, the entire community walks away with a new perspective and approach to the topic at hand.

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Last year, I took an Honors Political Philosophy course as an elective. As a political science major, I am fortunate to have most of my classes structured as this one was – an open exchange of opinions and ideas. Our professor threw out a fairly general question in the beginning of class related to the readings and let the class take it on. Through debates, open conversation, and discussion of classical readings I walked out of each class with a more sophisticated understanding of the reading. Political Science is fairly personal to everyone so each of my peers are invested in contributing to the conversation and expressing their opinions.

Royster & “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own”

“So my appeal is to urge us all to be awake, awake and listening, awake and operating deliberately on codes of better conduct in the interest of keeping our boundaries fluid, our discourse invigorated with multiple perspectives, and our policies and practices well-tuned toward a clearer respect for hu- man potential and achievement from whatever their source and a clearer understanding that voicing at its best is not just well-spoken but also well-heard” (Royster page 40).

Royster takes a very unique approach to an authors voice. She kind of combines all of the perspectives of Harris and others, seemingly stating that your voice should be compiled of several other perspectives, ideas, and styles and this can only be achieved through close attention to others personal anecdotes and experiences. I have noticed this in my everyday life – I start saying different phrases or words depending on who I am around, I start adopting a different outlook on small social situations depending on which friends I find myself with, and I adjust my writing to the reader. After awhile, I find myself combining all of these different ‘voices’ into one voice I use during the majority of my speech and writing.

I think this speaks specifically to Harris’s idea of an all-inclusive community where each member contributes their own unique voice and opinions. Without the expectation of a communal ‘answer,’ participants hear other perspectives but can modify and adjust their opinion depending on the effectiveness of their peers. When we sit back for a moment and respectfully listen to the words of our friends, peers, bosses, colleagues, and others we may learn much more than we initially thought.

The only part I find difficult or could possibly pose an issue is her want to look at the world only through a subjective lens. It would be virtually impossible to accomplish anything in your personal, professional, or academic life when everyone is looking at the world and its issues entirely subjectively. Besides that, I think she has an incredibly effective approach laid out that can be directly applied to FYC courses.