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!


Thoughts on Lisa Delpit and Standard English


I feel I should clarify that this post focuses on Delpit’s chapter rather than the other readings or multilingualism as a broader concept.

I agree with Lisa Delpit’s statement in her chapter, “No Kinda Sense,” from The Skin That We Speak about embracing students and their interests wholeheartedly. While I acknowledge this is a controversial position, I’d prefer for my freshman composition students to write about anything under the sun that interests them, including themselves, their hair, their boyfriends and girlfriends—whatever they want—and learn to do so in standard English, than for my students to adhere precisely to topical assignment guidelines that I set forth in whatever version of English they choose. I realize we’re teaching them how to follow assignments, and that’s an incredibly valuable skill, but isn’t it a bit arbitrary to insist that they learn “follow the assignment” skills while dismissing “use standard English” skills as dated and oppressive? After all, I—the instructor—write the assignments. I am white, female, American with ancestry in the country dating back to the Revolutionary War, the beneficiary of a very privileged education, and I have my own set of unique political inclinations and perspectives on the world. I write assignments that I think will interest the students, but I make judgments about that through the lens of my own subject position, and I’m just making educated guesses. Why do I have any more right to demand that the students follow an assignment that happens to bore or alienate them than I have to ask them to use Standard English? My own education has taught me to scrupulously observe prompts and assignments in certain formal circumstances—on the Bar Exam, for instance—but in less formal contexts like ordinary school papers, it’s often best to critique the prompt or even stray from the prompt in the interest of creating a really good piece of writing. Why should I ask my students to do anything different? What’s wrong with making content as light and fluffy as the students please if they learn writing skills in the process? Why should composition courses use heavy-duty social and political thematic content instead of hairstyles, sports teams, cartoons, and breakups? Is it because we’re afraid the wrong person will come across a student essay about braiding customs, judge it as frivolous, and cut our program’s funding?

Of course, I’m never suggesting anyone needs to be a grammar fascist (my usual caveat), and I present the above with the notion that we have a responsibility to our students to teach them how to write in ways that will serve their own future interests. I do not mean to suggest that students’ language skills should be homogenized so that they eventually may become better employees for their employers’ sakes. But if we’re going to encourage them to dream of greatness within the existing system according to its traditional, capitalist, bourgeois, white(?) metrics of success, shouldn’t we equip them to fulfill those desires? Perhaps what Delpit’s daughter says is true, and it really is “their problem” if prospective admissions committees and employers reject her for her nonstandard language style, but if we’re going to embrace that, maybe we should also examine the assumptions we’re teaching about what paths in life are laudable and even satisfactory.

Along similar lines, I am not sure I agree with Delpit’s statement that students don’t speak in class because they are afraid that nitpicking teachers will criticize every little stylistic idiosyncrasy of their speech. Perhaps Delpit is right about that in the context of the first school her daughter attended—a predominantly white, upper-crusty private school—but I think that attitude is the exception by far. Some of my College Now students—high school seniors—struggle to grasp the concept of the complete sentence, and yet they tell me their high school English teachers give them As and praise their intelligence. They have high GPAs and some have even skipped grades with their schools’ encouragement. Some of them turn up their noses at the prospect of attending any CUNY college, let alone a community college, and they dream of being doctors, lawyers, and research scientists. But most can barely crack an 800 on their SATs and are daunted by the prospect of having to labor over a medical or law school application essay; they shrink in horror when I tell them they will have to do quite a bit more work after the application essay if they actually get into medical or law school, not to mention in college. These students are blatantly receiving a lot of welcoming, warm encouragement; they are obviously being told they are smart and should shoot the moon, but most don’t understand basic elements of Standard English. I do not believe that’s because someone is teaching them Standard English in an unwelcoming way; clearly, they are being welcomed, but no one is trying to teach them Standard English.

At what point should these students experience the rude awakenings to the fact that they haven’t been taught the skills they need to fulfill their dreams? When should they discover that college and the world of professional work expect much more work and more standard usage of English than anyone has ever asked of them? Clearly there is some kind of disconnect, some moment of disappointment and despair that probably has a lot to do with the low graduation rate from community colleges in the CUNY system. I don’t have the answers, but I do feel obligated to try to furnish students with some skills that no one has offered them before; at least then it’s their choice whether to learn and use them or not.




12.10 Response

I’m really glad we’re covering multilingualism and the composition classroom because this is something I don’t feel like I know much about. The readings made me think about two of my students at a different school. They are both ESL students and have been noticeably struggling with their grammar and, also, their ability to organize their ideas in high stakes writing assignments. I had been trying to work with one of them individually, meeting with her to talk about additional drafts, and allowing her to rewrite assignments because I know she wants to improve and practice her written English. On the last assignment, she said, “I’m not giving you this draft yet because it’s still all in Portuguese. I realized it’s easier for me to write it that way and then translate it.” She sounded very happy about this “discovery,” but I felt frustrated and disappointed in both of us. It was like she was giving up. While I thought I was providing helpful suggestions, comments I have and would give on another student’s draft, one who grew up speaking and writing English, I realize these suggestions might not have been right, or might not have been enough, for her particular situation. In any case, they certainly weren’t working well enough to keep her from writing a draft in Portuguese! But, I don’t really know where to find guidance on particular strategies for working with ESL students, so in this regard I feel somewhat helpless…

As usual, I liked the practical suggestions, such as departmental workshops on teaching ESL writing and listservs to discuss working with ESL students, found in Matsuda’s “Composition Studies and ESL Writing.” I would agree with Matsuda’s suggestion that composition departments try to incorporate second-language writing into their curricula. While I know we have the T sections at Baruch, I still hope we can talk about the other resources Baruch has to offer both faculty and students.

The Delpit and Canagarajah were also really interesting. I especially enjoyed reading the excerpts from Buthainah’s essay and seeing how Canagarajah and Buthainah identified and analyzed her rhetorical and aesthetic choices. I look forward to hearing the class’s thoughts on these articles.



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?


12.3 Response

By the end of reading Gammarino, Hesse, and Moneyhun, I felt a bit like the student Moneyhun describes, who asks her parents (composition and creative writing) not to fight. All three authors seemed to be involved in a struggle I guess I don’t feel that much a part of. Who are these people saying that we can’t blur the line between creative writing and composition? That we can’t draw on one discipline when teaching the other? Maybe my feelings might have to do with my position, the fact that I am not full-time faculty or administration and thus am not privy to the departmental discussions and goings-on that these authors might be. Also, because I am an MFA who is teaching composition, that there is a link between creative writing and composition is obvious. Not to say that the two are the same, but there is crossover. I am certainly for incorporating creative assignments into a composition class and vice versa. And I think the institutions where I studied were for it, too. As an undergraduate I remember the two being linked: In my school’s mandatory composition class, we were asked to write autobiographical narratives and in what was essentially English 101, we were asked to write our own endings to a story we had read over the semester (both creative writing type activities). In my MFA program, along with our writing workshops, we were required to take literature classes and write analyses on the works we read (okay, perhaps this falls more into “English” than “Composition” but still, it was “academic writing” vs. “creative writing”). Furthermore, for our theses, we had to submit academic papers on a topic of our choosing, in addition to our partial creative manuscripts. So, in my career, I’ve felt that academic writing and creative writing have worked well together.

One thing I’d like to add that was not touched on in the articles: I believe that, in addition to helping students develop their own writing, the MFA workshop is built to produce teachers of writing. Any kind of writing. The whole format is essentially teaching practice. As a student responding to another classmates’ work, you are required to assess if the author is achieving his or her purpose, if the organization is working, if the sentences are clear, if something needs to be explained further or should be explained less or eliminated, and then you are asked to articulate those assessments both in writing and in front of a small group. You are also (if you want to be helpful and also not come across as an asshole) meant to express these comments in a polite and thoughtful way. It doesn’t hurt if you can determine what would and wouldn’t work best for certain classmates (just like certain, less confident students need more encouragement and other, overly confident students might do for a bit more criticism, so too, do writers). These are skills that we use all the time as composition teachers who talk about and grade student writing. Although this all has to do with the teachers of composition and not with the content of the courses, to me, this has been the greatest evidence of the partnership between creative writing and composition.


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.



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.