Victor’s Last Post


Reading Canagarajah’s essay was a delight. The piece brought back many memories from my undergraduate years. The first college I attended in Italy, for reasons that would take me too long to explain, had a mostly-Mexican student body. While the classes were in Italian, we always spoke Spanish to each other, to the point that we often joked that we had invented a new language—a lyrical blend of Spanish and Italian: Itagnolo. The second institution I attended, also in Italy, was an American university. The student body there was extremely diverse, and although no common invented language was invented, we often made jokes of how each of us would speak English; how we would pronounce a certain word, coin a new one, or invent a phrase (“it’s va bene” remains one of my favorites, and I still use it today: it means it’s all good). What I mean to say by this is that Canagarajah is right on point when asserting that “[multilinguals] stick to their linguistic peculiarities and negotiate intelligibility through their difference.” Although all of us at the American university had enough proficiency in English to be at a higher-education institution, we by no means spoke like native English speakers. We constantly made mistakes (and made light of it). Our professors, too, would sometimes make mistakes (as not all of them were native English speakers). Because of this, I believe, we saw language—whether consciously or not—as malleable and negotiable, something we could play around with, struggle with, or expand at our own will. Plus, we were surrounded by Italians, who are famous around the world for their use of gestures. So I also think that Canagarajah is very right to point out the larger set of resources “for interpretation and communication.” Gestures in particular, I think, are extremely useful resources for communication, and pervasive as they are in Italy, it was hard not to incorporate them into our language (a quick Google search will reveal how many, how varied, and how generally awesome these gestures are).


I thought Buthainah’s example was very helpful in explaining some of the issues that “functional bilingual” students face. Mostly, I appreciated Canagarajah’s thoughts in her conclusion, for, respectful and open as we must be to the diversity encountered in different languages, we must at the end of the day sit down to give a paper a certain grade. A balance should be found, and it will be different in every case, but overall, I think that encouraging students to incorporate elements of their native language into their writing (in English) is a wonderful thing that we should all do.


As for Matsuda’s piece, I also really liked it! It was perhaps more informative than it was entertaining, but it is always helpful to keep these issues in mind, especially when teaching a composition course in which there are both native and non-native speakers.


Creative Analysis

The articles for this week’s discussion touched on issues in composition that I feel are directly related to the separation of English departments and creative writing programs in the academy. Studying Literature (capital L) seems to denote a certain type of critical writing that often dismisses ‘creative’ composition as less rigorous or less all together. This binary seems rather paradoxical at times considering students of literature, obviously, study canonical works of art. Furthermore, this separation seems to have trickled down to the students. For example, in my class my students definitely seem to have an understanding that there is a ‘serious’ type of writing that involves analysis and a ‘less serious’ type of writing that is creative.

Gemmarino relates this distinction to conceptions of what is considered professional in the field of English studies. The idea that we can rethink the way we teach students how to think critically by using creative writing as a tool to “de-essentialize” our stagnant notions of what it means to critically think does undo this professionalism in many ways. However, the classroom activities that Gammarino offers as examples seem like a fantastic way to bridge the supposed gap between what it means to write about/analyze a text and to craft a text. I particularly liked Melbye’s serious play writing activity and I think that students can use this triangulation to reflect on the relationship between the creative works, analysis, and their own ability to create and respond to their own work and the work of their peers.

I also found the student journal responses in the Bishop article to be, in a way, more interesting than the discussions between the theorists themselves. Bishop points out their confusion between the terms essay and story and also their very blatant fears about what skills they will need to be what they think is a writer. I thought that these entries were great examples of how students can and should interrogate what it means for them to be a writer. This also could allow students to problematize the term itself; make it their own!

While this all sounds lovely, the distinctions still remain as terminological boundaries. They exist. Furthermore, there are certain type of ‘writing situations’ that require a certain type of writing. This is more about communication than it is about genre. I don’t deny that these writing situations can be classed but I don’t necessarily think that these distinctions are implemented in a ‘top down’ fashion. There are undoubtedly different ways to write and think about writing. In other words, we write for different reasons- with different goals. Our personal goal for the writing may sometimes be the distinguishing factor. Writing a critical piece does require entirely different rhetorical skills than writing creatively. This doesn’t mean that I devalue (or that anyone should devalue) creative writing and the role of creative writing in the art of composition.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that the ways in which we distinguish our rhetoric must exist inside the realm of what Hesse would call “Imperialist composition” Creative writing should absolutely be integrated into a composition course for the very reason that composing a piece of writing-any piece of writing- IS a craft, which is the pivotal point for Hesse’s essay. ‘Crafting’ gives students ownership over their work and also, I think, can help students see their analytical work or rhetorical responses as a craft (as an art) as well. (Which is something for which I advocate!) I suppose I would pose the question: are there any negative results for dropping these boundaries or distinctions entirely? For example, if we could break this binary, what would that mean for our profession as such considering the bulk of what we write is actually expository, research based, analysis? Does marrying these two distinctions and ultimately fields, in some ways, reduce the very analytical act of critical theory in literature?



Going over this week’s readings, I experienced many of the same reactions as during last week’s readings, namely a “should this even be an issue? Of course there should be a conversation between the two disciplines.” Things, however, turned out not to be so simple. Right away, I would like to state my agreement with Gammarino in that composition classes should include at least one assignment of creative writing “just as they would any other composition assignment—for the goal finally is not to carve a special place for creative writing so much as a natural one.” The simple justification for this is that if composition classes should teach students how to write, then we should by all means also teach them to write imaginatively. Still, I think one of the many reasons for all the tension surrounding this issue is each scholar’s conception of composition. I think Hesse did a wonderful job of problematizing the issue (and he wrote a beautiful essay, too). I particularly appreciated his distinction between being “about” writing/composition (i.e. interpretation and analysis of texts) and “for” writing/composition (focusing on the production of texts). This is the kind of distinction that I did not find in Bishop’s essay, and although I was quite taken with many of her arguments, I found myself reacting strongly against some others. Her emphasis on creativity, writing against the norms, and experimentation seemed a bit excessive. Of course, I champion creativity, but I do not believe it is exclusive to writing—creativity concerns us all at all times, and, thus, I find the belief that writing is the ultimate mode of creativity somewhat pretentious.


In the end, I think the discussion should focus on the distinction that Hesse pointed out between analysis (or critique) and the more traditional conception of creative writing. That is, if I take a class on Charles Dickens, I will most likely be expected to write one or more papers analyzing, critiquing, and/or reacting against, etc. one or more of his works. Of course, in said analysis I might explore the ways in which his creative writing serves as a vehicle for social, political, or philosophical issues, but that does not mean that my writing has to be creative in the way that Dickens’s is. Were I to write a short story in a Dickensian style, I think the more appropriate context would be a creative writing workshop (for theoretical, but mostly for practical purposes). But maybe not! I am aware of how complicated the issue is; I know the lines between the two disciplines are blurred (one need only think of Samuel Johnson or Walter Benjamin or George Eliot), and I hope that we can discuss this in class, because I really am very interested.



I thought Pough’s piece was the most interesting because it showed the ways in which encountering feminist discourse (or any discourse written by a minority) can—and many times does—make us uncomfortable. As Pough rightly points out, the students in her class reacted more favorably towards pieces that were poignant but did not explicitly denounce the perpetrators of injustice. There is such a divide, I believe, also in the writings that came out of the AIDS epidemic. “Grief is a sword, or it is nothing,” writes Paul Monette, in a eulogy to his deceased partner—a piece in which he ferociously attacks the US government for its initial indifference to the crisis. “Go without hate, but not without rage,” he also wrote. 


I believe that such emotional and angry responses are not only valid and understandable, but also needed. Always keeping in mind how delicate these issues are, I think it is fruitful to expose students to this kind of writing, inviting them to step out of their comfort zone. Pough did well, I think, to present other writings alongside Walker’s poem, since by doing this, she let her students know that this is not the only possible reaction to the issue, but that it is still valid. In other words, I think we must always contextualize these works.


In the face of blatant and continued oppression, decorum is seldom effective. Offense is bound to be taken in the reception of these texts, and it is in the hands of professors to make sure that offense is taken in the most productive way possible.   


Victor’s Post!

I fear my response to Brooke’s text will come off as reactionary, but I nevertheless have to express my disagreement. Brooke’s identification of the student and the writer as two mutually exclusive roles is strikingly reductive. Firstly, I took issue with the fact that the article is basically equating the notion of “student” with “teacher’s pet,” which I personally find offensive (and I seldom get offended). Secondly, I ask myself when being a student became so disreputable. I pride myself in being a student, and given the career path I have chosen, I will always be one. I, too, think of myself as a writer, and yet do not sense any conflict between these two. I imagine Brooke has decades of teaching behind him, which I do not; what I have is my experience as a student, and as such, I actually appreciate the authority of a professor. (I understand the intricacies and dangers of the authorial and authoritative figure; I understand the aversion to institutionalized power that has prevailed in the last fifty years; I understand and appreciate the fundamental need to question the systems [be they epistemological, ethical, etc.] into which we are born—a need that is at the same time an expression of maturity, enlightenment, critique, or however we want to call it). Still, when I enter a classroom, I do so with the full knowledge, or at least hope, that the professor knows more than I do. In an act of trust, I place myself in her hands, expecting to be taught and to engage in thought that I might or might not agree with. I do not find this oppressive; as a matter of fact, I find it liberating. Brooke quotes Knoblauch and Brannon, who argue that “school writing alters the normal circumstances in which writers take initiative to communicate to some reader […].” I find it extremely shortsighted to argue that there are normal circumstances in which a writer comes to her craft (and, to be honest, a little contradictory for a paper who is arguing against institutionalized normality). My best writing, for instance, has come out of class discussion—be it as an elaboration of something I have learned in the classroom, or a reaction to it. This, however, entails that something must be presented to me in class; I believe professors have the responsibility and obligation of, in a certain sense, guiding their students, and this implies (at least) a tacit form of authority; it implies the presence of a certain set of material and rules. I am a firm believer of knowing the rules before breaking them (here, I think of poets who imitate Modernist poetry believing that Pound or Eliot had no idea whatsoever of the poetic rules they were breaking; or critics who think deconstruction can operate outside of the system). Ultimately, I take issue with Brooke for assuming that students in high school or even college are intellectually mature; I do not think they are (I clearly wasn’t, or even am). That’s why we study. The people I have most looked up to in my life are all professors, and to have seen them as my peers when they taught me would strike me as arrogant. I appreciate Brooke’s attempt to find innovative ways of teaching (I encourage it, in fact), but I do not think that he has to do so by undermining other ways of teaching and operating.


Victor on Grammar

Fascinated with this week’s readings! And surprised, too, given that one does not usually associate grammar with fascinating. The debate surrounding issues of teaching grammar and style is very much still alive. Even though I felt that Micciche, in trying to vindicate grammar, somewhat stretched the term of “rhetorical grammar” onto other similar yet distinct realms of language, I found her discussion very intriguing and insightful. That is, at some points, I felt that she was discussing prosody or diction, rather than grammar (although these are all certainly related), but even so, she touches on what really seems to be the point of many of these essays: that grammar is rhetorically charged and that, as such, it points to the artificial nature of language, and by association, to our constant manipulation of language for a particular end. Style, then, is inevitably linked to grammar. And even though Milic distinguishes three different views of style, it seems to me that these readings adopt the theory of ornate form, or rhetorical dualism, in that they clearly distinguish between form and content, and particularly in the effects that a particular form can have on an audience. The last decades have certainly seen a demystification of the longstanding conception of grammar as a fixed entity and its implications; nevertheless, I particularly appreciated that they all still value grammar and style, not as only possibly existing in one way, but rather as polymorphous. The SMG rightly advocates for teaching a “particular level of style not as more correct but as more appropriate for specific rhetorical situations.” Micciche several examples are particularly fruitful for the classroom (Eminem!). In order for students to be fully understand the importance of grammar and style, I think we must present them with unorthodox examples that they might easily identify with (or at least recognize culturally), so that they can see how each variation brings with it a certain connotation.


Victor’s Post

I must say that I quite enjoyed following Susan and Edward in their research. Although I think we all have different ways of “getting the job done,” it is also imperative to give students some guidelines about research and direct them to more appropriate resources. In our day an age, because of the almost unrestrained access to information we hold, information literacy is an extremely important skill. To be honest, there is not much I have to say, except reiterate how important it is to engage properly (systematically, discerningly) with a given topic. McClure very insightfully points out Susan’s lack of engagement with her research, and I believe that as instructors we must begin by trying to encourage students to find topics that they are interested in, or at least to find a particularly interesting aspect of a topic they have been assigned. Once that has been achieved, students should realize how helpful yet ultimately insufficient Wikipedia and Google are. Of course, I use these resources all the time, but they seldom yield very advanced or insightful results. They are seductive, of course. I would like to take an example from last class: in reading one of the student essays that Professor Blankenship brought to class, a quote by Emerson caught my eye (it didn’t “sound” like Emerson, perhaps too pop, too modern). I looked it up on Google, and many, many websites (Goodreads included) attributed it, in fact, to Emerson, but failed to give its source. I eventually found a couple of sites that identified it as a misattribution of a passage from E.E. Cummings’s “A Poet’s Advice.” The point, however, is that I had to go out of my way to discover this, and this is something that we seldom want to do. (Also, this is not meant to harm the student’s grade!!). As McBeth’s tip sheet for the RefAnnBib shows, research is not necessarily an easy process—it must be thoughtful and organized. It must be, as the title belies, reflective. So I’m thinking that meditation can also be a good thing to practice while we are doing research!


Victor’s Response

This week’s readings didn’t elicit much of a response from me. Possibly because rather than revolving around a heated issue, they simply gave very helpful tips for evaluating the work of students. Walk’s piece was particularly useful in making me think of commenting on a student’s paper more as a conversation that I am having, not with the paper, but with the student her or himself. “Marginal comments are by nature dialogic,” Walk says, and I cannot but think of the innumerable comments I received on my papers and how much they helped me develop as a writer. Nevertheless, one of the most fruitful experiences I had in my composition class came from actually sitting down with the Professor and going over my essay. I think these kinds of meetings are invaluable because they allow both parties to express themselves in ways that because of time or other factors, doing so in writing makes harder. 

The chapter of the SMG was also quite helpful (as were the rubrics in there!!), especially in its insistence on designing clear assignments, since, in many ways, we get what we ask for. The different criteria for grading were very interesting, too. I, for instance, had never heard of contract grading, and although I am not necessarily a big proponent of it, I do think it allows us to think of the process in a different, more personalized way. This, I guess, leads to the broader question of grading in general, and the seeming contradictions between the aim for individual attention and the need for standardization in education. But this, I think, is a different story…


Am I making helpful comments ?

The readings this week were right on time, as I am in the middle of grading my first papers. I spent a lot of time on the first drafts offering feedback, so as I am looking at these papers, I really understand the first line of chaper 5 in The St. Martin’s Guide, “ In a sense, it is unfortunate that we have to grade student essays at all…”

On the other hand, while reading Kerry Walk’s essay I was reminded how important comments on student writing actually are and the impact these comments make on the students. It IS a personal and lasting intervention. I believe that sometimes I forget this while I am jotting down comments, albeit carefully, left and right on student papers. One of the biggest “take aways” for me from these essays was the breakdown of each part of teacher feedback that both Glenn and Goldthwaite and Walk offer. I always write terminal comments, and I prefer offering feedback that refers to the essay as a whole. This causes me as a reader to slack a little bit on the “in paper” or marginal comments. I used to use a number system, and put numbers into the paper and then on another page write comments because my comments were so ridiculously long. After the readings today, I realized that this may not be helpful at all for the students and may be really overwhelming.

I am definitely interested in using writer’s letters and reflections but I didn’t do this on my first assignment. I am wondering if it is too late to implement this? Or if I can still do this when I return the papers? In any case, reflective letters seem to be a great way for students to assess themselves and also to really focus on the structure of their own work, rather than take my comments as law (or perhaps ignore them). Ultimately, I want to know that my comments are effective and my one question for today is how do I know whether or not these comments are helpful? Can I gauge this in a way that isn’t completely time consuming?


Freedom to see Language as Play

When I think about incorporating other forms of technology into the composition process I start to get very anxious. I start sweating. This is not an aversion but a lack of confidence in my own ability to wield the necessary technological prowess necessary to bring all of these different ‘modes’ together but also maybe a crotchety old unfounded fear that the visual will take over the alphabetic texts and they will cease to exist.

After reading the Palmeri text, I realized that the unconscious actions that make up the writing process is something that we can engage with and possibly have better access to through multimodal types of composition. I think it was inspiring to think about how this approach could make writing more of a play than a theoretical process existing outside of the writing itself.

To switch gears a little bit, the Adam Banks keynote was a breath of fresh air for me! It was like listening to a pep talk, and I really felt as if he offers the justification for multi-model forms of composition in that there are ways in which the stagnant, academic discourse that sort of forces students to conform loses a lot of students but also really doesn’t bring with it the sort of freedom that writing really can give an individual. I like the idea that by combining these things, students and professors can really connect on different levels and that these combinations could bridge gaps that maybe seem unbridgeable. Bank’s speech itself was refreshing in the sense that I feel that encouraging students to incorporate their own types of languages and ways in which they express themselves is a form of composition in many ways. I think we should be messy, even though I do still fault the monster that is the academy for brushing the importance of rhetoric and composition aside. Overall, this was an extremely uplifting and inspiring set of readings and I would love to do a multi-model project with my class for the final writing assignment.