12-10 Response

This week’s topic brought to my attention how infrequently I have considered encouraging my students to engage with their multilingualism (and, in turn, how telling that is of ESL composition’s place within the academy). As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of my students are non-native speakers, which I’ve tended to view as an obstacle rather than a unique opportunity for creative and potentially subversive work. Although I have stressed throughout the semester that using standardized English is not the most crucial element of strong writing, I nonetheless have attempted to gently correct recurring grammatical, mechanical, and usage errors that I’ve encountered in my students’ writings. Suresh Canagarajah’s article in particular made me reconsider how I approach these errors—or whether I should think of them as errors at all. Of course, Canagarajah does distinguish between “grammatical mistakes” and codemeshing, the former constituting “unsystematic or careless uses” (43) that do not suggest multilingual appropriations. But my point here is that I had never even considered incorporating multilingual negotiations of English in my classroom, assignments, or lessons.

​I was particularly interested in Canagarajah’s final example of her student’s literacy narrative. The student’s use of Arabic, visual designs, personalized addresses to the reader, and idiomatic expressions were both novel and critically engaging, I feel. It is the sort of essay that I would love to encourage my students to compose– but, with that being said, I wonder if Canagarajah’s example is an exceptional one? That is, would attempts to incorporate code meshing in ENG2100 fail to produce such impressive results? I think it’s important to note that Caragarajah’s example came from a graduate linguistics course, which is a far cry from first year writing. It’s not that I doubt the capabilities of my students, but I worry that they are at too early a stage in their academic/writing career to successfully engage with code meshing (at least at the level that Canagarajah’s student performs). I would be interested to hear if others share this concern, or if I simply do not have enough faith in my students!


12-3 Response

Reading Gammarino’s piece this week (“Class Barriers: Creative Writing in Freshman Composition”) was both inspiring and validating, particularly since I recently scraped my class’s final research-based argumentative paper in favor of a fictional rewrite of their first assignment, the personal narrative. This decision was motivated partially by some of our more radical seminar discussions, and partially by a desire to avoid reading seventeen uninspired essays over the next few weeks. My students have consistently shown the most enthusiasm and interest in class material when it involved producing something creative, so I initially believed that this assignment would be a perfect end to the semester.

As I began working on the assignment sheet, however, I grew doubtful: Was this too “easy” for a final assignment? Would it fail to engage or challenge my students’ critical thinking skills? Did it somehow reflect poorly on me as an instructor (was I not being “hard” enough with them)? In questioning myself this way, I was unknowingly reinforcing the composition/creative writing binary that Gammarino discusses and hopes to destroy: that composition demands discipline and active intellectual participation, while creative writing “does not engage the critical faculties in any potentially meaningful way” (21).

My solution, then, was to add more “rigorous” features to the final assignment: my students will rewrite their personal narrative in the voice of one of the authors we’ve read this semester, and they will conduct research on the author’s style, genre, artistic period, etc., ultimately producing an annotated bibliography with a minimum of four sources. This, in my mind, was the only way I could justify assigning a creative project in a first year composition course–not because I believe fiction to be a lesser form of writing (quite the opposite), but because I worried that this sort of assignment belonged in a creative writing workshop more so than a composition classroom.

I don’t regret adding these requirements to the assignment (especially because I wanted to ensure that my students gain some experience with scholarly research), but after reading Gammarino’s piece, I am less concerned with maintaining a rigid division between creative writing and composition in my classroom. As Gammarino points out, “the writer of fiction, like the writer of arguments, is constantly making rhetorical choices…Like a well-crafted argument, an effective fiction anticipates reader responses and plays off of them” (24). Put simply, teaching creative writing does not have to be incompatible with teaching critical analysis or rhetorical devices.


Composition in an Off-key?

“Today, we are witnessing a parallel creation, that of a writing public made plural, and as in the case of the development of a reading public, it’s taking place largely outside of school—and this in an age of universal education. Moreover, unlike what happens in our classes, no one is forcing this public to write” (Yancey 300).

The screen is the language of the vernacular…if we do not include it in the school curriculum, we will become as irrelevant as faculty professing in Latin” (305).


Yancey is very persuasive, erudite, and eloquent in this essay—her connection between the technology-facilitated development of a reading public in 19th century Britain and the emergence of today’s digital writing public is keenly insightful and (I believe) totally accurate. Her insistence on incorporating the tools of our time—the screen, the blog, the word processor, and more—into the composition classroom, along with promoting an ethos of circulation and social interconnectivity, is thoroughly sound and substantiated.

Why, then, did reading her essay give me a headache?

The formal and stylistic deviations within the text—the nontraditional use of margins, the subversion of the footnote, the inclusion of quotes, poems, and anecdotes parallel to the body of the essay, the atypical insertion of images—were intended, I imagine, to embody or demonstrate the radically new and dissenting composition model that Yancey promotes. I can understand and appreciate that decision, as it lends credence to both her rhetorical and ideological claims. But with that being said, I found the experience of reading this essay to be a test of my patience. The layout and design of the pages—the excessive number of images, quotes, or commentaries that crowded the page, the sometimes seemingly haphazard placements of those items, the unproductive disruption it caused in my reading process—reminded me of nothing else so much as the early days of personal websites, when internet neophytes created Angelfire homepages jam-packed with text columns, pixelated photographs, confusing navigational links, and flashy animated text, all competing simultaneously for the viewer’s attention. I am in full agreement with Yancey’s call for an actively multimodal writing classroom, but does that necessarily entail composing essays that look like this?

I of course acknowledge that this is a highly subjective response that I cannot justify other than saying that the essay simply did not agree with my rhetorical and aesthetic tastes (obviously I am very interested to hear what others thought of this essay). I support the disruption of traditional academic genres and forms, and encourage my students to challenge the dominant standards of “good” writing whenever they can, but the formatting of Yancey’s essay distracted and frustrated me far more than it excited and motivated me.


11-12 Response

What struck me the most about Beth Daniell’s argument in “Diossoi Logoi” was how similar it was, in essence, to Scarry’s and Miller’s essays that we read for last week’s class. Of course, the authors all used different rhetorical and methodological approaches, but their argument shared a central core: that some of the traditional elements of the composition classroom—the academic essay, for example, along with other pedagogical practices—do not foster the sort of creativity, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness that we wish to produce in our students. Scarry and Miller posited this issue in terms of its limitation on student—we might even say human—creativity and intellectual development: the closed, circular structure of the standard college essay, with its emphasis on arguing one definitive viewpoint, prevents students from making mistakes, experimenting with forms and ideas, and challenging closely-held beliefs. Daniell does not directly take on the academic essay per se, but she does echo many of Scarry and Miller’s sentiments regarding discursive writing and intellectual experimentation:

“Our anonymous sophist plays with words—and play is the operative word—to trick, surprise, confuse, and amuse…Over the last few years I’ve found this notion to be more and more significant in my classroom practice, calling into question, as it does, received opinion and challenging old assumptions…Consciously and intentionally inviting diverse propositions can contribute to a feminist pedagogy that helps students write and speak and so acquire and create knowledge” (83).

Like Miller, Daniell wants to challenge and question her students’ assumptions and beliefs; and like Scarry, Daniell seeks a new mode of writing that prioritizes exploration over classification.

However, Daniell differs from Miller and Scarry in that her primary interest in reinventing (or at least restructuring) the writing classroom is to encourage marginalized voices to participate more fully in the learning experience. Although Scarry does insist that the teaching of literature is the teaching of social justice (and therefore would most likely be sympathetic to Daniell’s argument) her essay feels less grounded (for lack of a better word) than Daniell’s. Incorporating diossoi logoi in the classroom allows for students, particularly marginalized ones, to consider, propose, and explore contrarian positions without fear of being penalized for doing things the “wrong” way—Scarry’s essay, in contrast, did not address the ways in which discursive writing can provide a way in for minority or non-traditional students.

I say this less to criticize and more to point out the many different ways in which the traditional argumentative essay can stifle or otherwise suppress certain voices, viewpoints, and modes of experimentation. It is for these reasons that I’ve been reconsidering my students’ final research paper—I’m not sure exactly what I would do in its place (and I know that I’m quickly running out of time to decide), but I want to assign them something that will encourage them to think in unique ways.


11-5 Response / Assignment Sheet

Scarry’s essay was inspirational for me, in spite of Miller’s sometimes crucial, sometimes unnecessarily harsh, objections to her idealism. I agree with Miller’s disappointment and perplexity over Scarry’s conclusion—that the “cause of justice and beauty might be advanced by teaching the footnote” (146-147)—and I certainly agree with his suggestion that Scarry’s institutional affiliation may have influenced the shape of her argument:

Scarry has chosen to give her audience and then her readers a glimpse of a life of the mind that is lived by only the smallest fraction of the profession—a life of endless speaking engagements, of listening to Said lecture one night on social responsibility and on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte the next, of reading Plato and Hobbes, Orwell and Rawls, of contemplating truth, beauty, and justice. (148)

I think this a vital point that Miller raises—that there exists a significant discrepancy between the teaching load of an Ivy League tenured faculty member, and the teaching load of an adjunct instructor or teaching assistant working at a non-Ivy; and furthermore, that this discrepancy in workload translates into a discrepancy in the experience of both the English department and academia as a whole. I believe this issue is critical to any discussion on the future of literary studies, and I appreciated Miller’s brief but salient notes on this topic.

It was from then on that Miller and I diverged: his criticisms of Scarry’s idealism (while sometimes appropriate, as in the previously mentioned instance) seemed confusing and contradictory given the idealism of his own proposal to restructure the argumentative essay into a free-form, liberating reflective essay. His main grievance is with the conventional college/argumentative essay that produces a very formulaic and redundant kind of writing, essentially closing off the reader to unfamiliar or new concepts. Miller calls for an essay that serves as “a means for slowing thought down; as a technology for generating reflection; as a practice of entertaining other possibilities than the ones that seem the easiest to defend and substantiate” (150)—is that not what Scarry called for in her own essay, albeit in a more romanticized fashion? I understand that Scarry’s essay was something of a prompt for Miller’s text, but aside from calling out her occasional naiveté, I’m not sure why she was the center of Miller’s diatribe. The essays appeared, to me, to be more similar than different (although I wonder if Miller would balk at such a comment).


I have not yet introduced the final research paper to my students, but currently they are working on their close reading assignment:

Close Reading Essay

Length: 1,800-2,100 words / ~ 6-7 double-spaced pages

For this essay, you will look at one of the works we have read (or watched) and perform a close reading on a selected passage, ultimately making an argument about the meaning of the text.

In a close reading, you should search for some meaning behind the words themselves, some meaning that is perhaps not on the surface of the text itself but is implied, hinted at, or perhaps even inadvertently conveyed by the work. Your job is to show how your interpretation, your explanation of the work’s meaning, can be supported by details of the text itself—this involves using plenty of textual evidence to support your claims. Throughout your paper, stay very close to the text, explaining or “unpacking” important meanings that might be missed at first glance. Avoid simply paraphrasing what is said in the passage. You will of course have to include summary in your paper, but ensure that you are interpreting or saying something about the summarized passage.

Some topics that you may want to explore include:

  • The significance of a particular image, scene, or description
  • A structural or linguistic feature of the text, such as the uses of repetition, word play, metaphors, similes, or descriptive phrases
  • How a particular character is portrayed, and what the author is trying to say via that portrayal
  • The significance of certain characters and their interactions with other characters
  • Some ideological message that the author is conveying via the language, characters, scenes, etc.

Note that if you decide to analyze a film, the same concepts apply but you must think in terms of scenes and images.

Remember to structure your paper in good writing format, with an introduction clearly identifying your thesis; body paragraphs in which you present your analysis and include textual support; and a conclusion that closes your essay effectively by offering further insight into the implications of the analysis.






10-22 Response

This week, I was particularly interested Thomas Wilcox’s essay “Composition Where
None is Apparent” in the Theories of Style collection. Wilcox essentially argues that
incorporating literature into the writing classroom can prove difficult, since the structure, style,
and content of then-contemporary literature is incompatible with the methods for teaching
composition. Of course, “contemporary” in 1965 meant postmodernism, magical realism, Beat
poetry, etc.—all movements that were, indeed, rule-defying, genre-blending, and artistically
shocking to the mid-century literary public. I recognize, then, that Wilcox might have had a
different argument were he writing in the twenty-first century rather than 1965, but I still wonder
why unconventional or innovative literature would be so wholly irreconcilable with successful
composition instruction. Wilcox sounds highly alarmist and even somewhat fearful when
discussing these new literary movements:
We have novels, plays and films in which realism dissolves into fantasy and
fantasy seems terrifyingly realistic; in which all is various, aberrant, and
uncircumscribed; and in which anti-heroes wander senselessly in nightmares of
anti-form…This is the literature we now have; and everything about it would
seem to contradict rather than affirm the principles of language and of
composition we have confidently endorsed for decades. (10)
It seems obvious to me that by presenting students with literature that rejects standard grammar,
form, or organization, that we are in fact teaching them standard grammar, form, or organization
(albeit somewhat indirectly); one must first understand the rules in order to break them. A
postmodern novel, for example, that abruptly abandons all punctuation and dissolves into
gibberish is rhetorically effective only because one understands that “standard” or “proper”
fiction should not abandon punctuation and dissolve into gibberish. Speaking from my own
experience, I recently assigned my students a Paul Auster short story that plays around with form
and genre, and questions the reliability of both its narrator and of fiction more broadly. Rather
than throwing my students into a state of abject perplexity or terror, this story piqued their
interest and led to a productive class discussion on the “truthfulness” of narrative storytelling. I
presented them with this story not necessarily as a model for their own upcoming narrative
essays (although I did encourage them to get creative and experimental if they so desired, which
is perhaps something that 1965 Wilcox wouldn’t approve of), but as an example of the vast
possibilities of writing; that is, how language can be manipulated in a countless number of ways
to elicit different responses from the reader.
Is Wilcox’s vision of composition instruction outdated, then? Or at the very least, can we
say that it is simply a product of its time? Or am I mistaken to discredit Wilcox’s argument?


10-15 Response: RefAnnBib

(Apologies for the late posting, I was having wifi troubles earlier today)

I was especially interested in Mark McBeth’s Reflective Annotated Bibliography and how it ensures that our students’ research process is thorough. I’m considering incorporating this assignment somehow (possibly by replacing another major assignment, or by reducing the percentage that their final research paper is worth) but I’m curious as to whether this is slightly beyond the capacities of first semester freshmen. A colleague of mine at the Graduate Center took a class with Mark McBeth recently and had this assignment in lieu of a final paper for the course; he said that the experience was challenging (in a positive way) and engaging, but extremely time-consuming and occasionally difficult. The fact that a graduate student in English struggled with this assignment makes me concerned that it may be, as I suggested, slightly too advanced for my students. I would, however, still be interested in assigning this to my students if I perhaps modified the requirements somewhat and made it a little shorter and easier for them.

This leads me to another question, which is: how much creative liberty are we as instructors allowed when borrowing, adapting, or otherwise incorporating other instructors’ assignments? Are there any professional or ethical guidelines that we should keep in mind, or are we free to pick and choose elements of various assignments in order to create our own Frankenstein assignment?


10-8 Response: Comments and Grades

This week’s readings were all very useful in providing an uncomplicated but comprehensive guide for commenting on and grading papers, but two points in particular stood out to me: Kerry Walk’s assertion that “Comments illustrate to students that their papers are written to be read” (31) and Glenn and Goldthwaite’s suggestions for course-based grading criteria in The St.Martin’s Guide (138-139). Walk’s comment, although simple and perhaps even self-evident, really resonated with me— from class discussions and reading responses, I have discovered that most of my students have had a less than favorable experience with past writing and English classes. Many have complained that their past assignments felt like meaningless busy work, or that their instructor was simply fishing for the “correct” answer and not interested in what the student actually had to say. Others have said that they felt a disconnect between their writing assignments and the rest of their academic and personal world. Walk’s statement, therefore, seemed like the answer to this problem: by providing genuine feedback on their papers, students will realize that their assignments are not merely busy work and that they are not submitting their final papers into an empty void—that someone is actually listening to what the student has to say.

The course-based grading criteria suggested in chapter 5 of The St.Martin’s Guide was likewise very helpful and illuminating for me. For the first formal assignment, I presented my students with a grading criteria that I developed on my own. I tried to be as transparent as possible with them, and have repeatedly told them that if they have any questions or issues with my grading criteria, they can discuss it with me. However, after this week’s reading, I’m now inclined to try out a class-based criteria for our upcoming papers. Not only would this force the students to really consider what exactly constitutes “good” writing, but it will, as Glenn and Goldthwaite say, “make them participants in the process rather than mere pawns of other powers” (139). As we’ve discussed in past classes, we have to strike a balance between instructor-centered and student-centered classes, and allowing students to determine the grading criteria of their assignments seems like an ideal way to achieve that balance. I would be interested this week to hear from any others who have used a course-based grading criteria, in order to learn what does and does not work


First Writing Assignment & Discussion Topic

Quintana Narrative Essay Assignment Sheet

The first major assignment for my 2100 class is a narrative essay. The majority of my students are non-native speakers and have expressed great anxiety over composing a formal essay, so I wanted to provide them with a somewhat relaxed first assignment that would allow them to be creative and to write about a topic they are already well-acquainted with: themselves. My hope is that this assignment will foster their writing fluency, so to speak, and better prepare them for later assignments that involve more rigorous research and writing. Additionally, many of my students have been extremely reluctant to participate in class discussion, and it is my hope that in composing their narrative essay, these students will feel more confident in themselves as writers and therefore more comfortable speaking in class.
As for discussion topics, I am interested in presenting on “Students’ Right to Their Own Language (and Identities).” However, given the primacy that this issue has held in my class so far, I would also be interested in presenting on active student participation in the classroom.