All posts by Lu Ann McNabb

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

Textual Collaborations: Preparing Two-Year College English Faculty

This post is written by members Holly Hassel and Kelly Ritter.

Since two-year colleges have developed an independent identity as sites of education, professional organizations have sought to define the specific type of knowledge and training that leads to successful outcomes for instructors in these settings. The first Guidelines for Junior College English Teacher Training Programs were published in 1971, while the “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty in Two-Year Colleges” were first approved by the TYCA Executive Committee in 2004 (Jensen and Toth 561). Each of these documents sought to distinguish what educational preparation best prepared instructors to work in two-year colleges.

In 2017, updated guidelines appear in both College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Why both publications? They will help those who are hiring instructors and want guidance in evaluating credentials or those working toward developing internal professional development programs. The new document, “TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College” also engages graduate programs and faculty in the conversation in ways that prior statements did not.

With the rapid collapse of tenure-track lines in English departments nationwide, graduate program directors (and other graduate faculty members who mentor candidates) have slowly come to realize that faculty positions outside the idealized R1 campus are what their students will likely hold. More slowly still, arguably, these advisors have come to realize the value of making positions at two-year colleges visible. But the traditional graduate program does very little to train students for this work. As Kelly considered these professional realities, she concluded that publishing the updated guidelines in College English not only makes (more) visible the history and value of training and expertise among two-year college faculty; it also lays bare the chasm that has long existed between graduate program training in English, particularly literary studies, and the work done at two-year colleges nationwide. As editor of CE, Kelly wanted to make this division known to readers. But perhaps more important than exposing this lack of training and calling for a renewed interest in preparing graduate students for two-year college work, Kelly wanted to make a larger statement about who reads our journals and why. The cooperative relationship between TETYC and CE (and CCC) has always been a strength of those journals; creating more dialogue between these audiences–and a more openly welcoming gesture toward the two-year audience to indeed find itself in the pages of CE is part of making that larger statement.

For Holly, the publication of the guidelines is both a responsibility of the journal and an opportunity to contribute to the growing body of literature on how graduate education in English MA and PhD programs can evolve to meet the needs of this time and place in higher education. Anchoring the September 2017 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College (a special issue focused on graduate preparation for two-year college English teachers), then, the new guidelines are poised to speak to audiences across the range of college English, writing, and humanities programs. The 2004 guidelines outline areas of formal preparation (for example, literature, grammar, composition theory and pedagogy, rhetoric and rhetorical theory, research methods, the adult learner, and teaching reading) and characteristics of effective two-year college faculty—being reflective, flexible, and understanding of diversity; participating in professional communities; collaborating with colleagues; and creating a student-centered learning environment. By contrast, the most recent “Guidelines for Preparation” more squarely calls on graduate programs to partner explicitly and in spirit with two-year college institutions in preparing instructors to work in open-admissions institutions.

In this way, the new statement is a road map for teacher-scholars in all sectors of higher education to recognize and make visible the specific conditions of two-year colleges as sites of employment, to highlight their value as potential employers of MA- or PhD-holding graduates in English programs, and to adjust their programs in curricular and professional work that will prepare their students to be educators who participate in the various organizations within the profession and engage in ongoing development throughout their careers.

What has further inspired College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College to highlight these new guidelines statements, however, is the imperative for the field of English studies itself to come to terms with some critical realities:

  • The definition of academic labor is shifting; the very shape of the labor force itself has dramatically evolved, as readers know, with anywhere from 60% to 80% non-tenure-track faculty among its ranks, depending upon which figure from any number of studies that one wishes to use.
  • Two-year colleges, like four-year colleges and universities, operate under significant reliance upon non-tenure-track labor; four-year institutions have recently become more cognizant of this labor force and thus should (in our view) see less separation from our two-year colleagues, not more.
  • Additionally, the concerns of four-year faculty—student agency, curricular development, revision, and innovation, shared governance, intellectual freedom, fair working conditions, cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, to name just a few—are also the concerns of two-year faculty.

It’s impossible to know whether this partnership between us as journal editors and the two issues will bear fruit. Reading audiences are funny things—they appear and recede, they celebrate, they criticize, they evolve. At any one time a reader might be picking up both the CE and TETYC issues and connecting the dots. Or it might be a historian, some years down the road, who pulls each of our issues out of the (probably electronic) archive and says, Hey, what’s this? Part of providing this annotation, this exegesis, regarding our collaborative work is to anticipate that future moment and provide a narrative for it.

But writing here, as we have, is also a way to talk through and to readers of the present, to challenge all of us to ask what kind of relationships can and should exist between two-year and four-year faculty, programs, and professional development? Who do we want our future faculty to be, and how do we want them to enter a story that has long had many tellers with sometimes competing agendas? We can’t answer these questions for all of us, but perhaps knitting the history and purposes of TYCA into the fabric of CE is a place to start.

Works Cited

Calhoon-Dillahunt, Carolyn, Darin L. Jensen, Sarah Z. Johnson, Howard Tinberg, and Christie Toth. TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College. College English. Vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 550–60.

Jensen, Darin L.,  and Christie Toth. “Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty.” College English, vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 561–92.

“TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College,” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 45, no. 1, Sept 2017, pp. 8–19.

TYCA. “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges.” Two-Year College English Association. 2004. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/TYCA/TYCAGuidelines.pdf.

Holly Hassel is a professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, a two-year college. Twitter: @prof_hassel

 

 

 Kelly Ritter is Associate Dean for Curricula and Academic Policy and professor of English and Writing Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

In Honor of This Year’s National Day on Writing, Write for Civic Action!

The following post was written by Nicole Mirra and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

In response to many of the recent controversies, injustices, and tragedies that have rocked our nation, folks are consistently turning to education in order to raise awareness and spark action. It seems that news organizations and nonprofit groups are offering resources weekly, whether in response to white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, NFL #TakeAKnee protests, or the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The reason for these outpouring of resources is simple—we know that young people turn to their teachers for guidance as they seek to make sense of what is happening in the country. As a society, we look to schools to process national events and to imbue the next generation with the knowledge, compassion, and values to do better than the ones that came before and make our nation better, kinder, wiser.

As a result, it is crucial that we teachers recognize ourselves as powerful civic agents, not only in the classroom but also in our daily lives. Ironically, at the same time that we ask teachers to help young people understand national events, we also often insist that they avoid wading into controversial waters and present a completely neutral, objective face to young people. As previous NCTE resources have explained, there is no apolitical classroom—everything we do in the classroom, from how we manage relationships with students to what texts we teach, transmits a political message to students about the nature of democratic life.

So let’s be conscious about kind of society we want for our students and ourselves. Let’s reflect not only on our classroom practices, but also on ways we can advocate for public education, our students, and our communities in our capacity as citizens.

In honor of the National Day on Writing, which is coming up on October 20, consider the various ways that you can write for civic action:

1. Make your practice public: Write a blog entry for NCTE! Contribute to the NCTE Village! Tell the world about how you are shaping the next generation of citizens in your classroom by sharing instructional strategies, curriculum resources, or examples of student work.

2. Write to your elected representatives: Tell the folks who represent you about the issues that matter most to you and your students! Here are some short webinars courtesy of the NCTE Studies in Literacy and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly that can help you get started:

a. SLAM School: Letter-Writing;

b. SLAM School: Contacting Your Representatives.

3. Get involved in NCTE Advocacy: Take a look at the NCTE Resources for Taking Action and Action You Can Do At Home and commit to one small action in order to make your voice heard on the issues that affect your classroom

While teaching is the most crucial civic action that most of us engage in on a daily basis, there is much more that we can do to make our voices heard at the local and national level. Writing is a powerful way for us to share our expertise with a wider audience and insist that educators have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our students, our schools, and our communities.

Diminishing the Disconnect: Student Perspective on Relevant Writing Feedback

This post is by member Shelby M. Boehm.

 Since becoming an English teacher, I have been dedicated to improving the writing of my students without taking away their author’s role in the writing process. During my first year teaching, I was spending hours giving feedback that in my mind was helpful to a writer, only to find out the outcome was virtually useless: few students were revising their work, and the feedback was not improving their writing on the same assignment or similar future assignments. I could not justify spending hours with a red pen when revision was not the priority for my student authors; however, I could dedicate time to increasing ownership in authorship within my classroom writing culture. By creating intentional spaces for feedback and revision cycles in my classroom, students now think critically and authentically about their writing, which has led to diminishing the disconnect between how teachers and students define effective writing feedback.

In my tenth-grade English classroom, we study multiple genres of authentic writing. After I give feedback on each draft of a piece of writing, I ask students to respond to two prompts:

  1. Identify a feedback comment (via Google Doc or in a conversation) that was helpful.

2. Discuss the impact on your revision process or on future writing.

Many of my conversations with students reveal that intentionally thinking about their writing due to this feedback process leads to the motivation for improvement, leading to revised, oftentimes better, writing. A student who previously did not self-identify as a writer said, “The comments that I got showed me what to work on, and especially after I read through again, I knew what I needed to change.” The mere presence of writing feedback causes the author to participate in rereading and reconsidering their writing, even if the feedback comment is a reminder of what the author already knew about their writing.

I also conference with students frequently throughout the writing process to understand not only what they need in terms of writing improvement, but also who they are as developing writers. Receiving a draft is often half the battle; many students discount their talent and worthy experiences before even picking up the pencil. The act of writing is also the undertaking of using our personal voice to communicate ideas that are sometimes still developing on the page. These conferences help to build trust and create a culture encouraging vulnerability that leads to risk-taking and ultimately improvement in writing. I want to encourage my students to see themselves as bold, intrepid, evolving writers, so I work purposefully to create a classroom environment that honors exploration and reconsideration. During conferences, I ask my students these questions to think critically and authentically about their work:

  1. How do you define a writer? What characteristics does a writer have that you see in yourself? Do you consider yourself a writer?
  2. Show me a part of your work that you’re proud of. Explain.
  3. Show me a part of your work that you feel could be improved. Explain.
  4. Show me a feedback comment that helped you revise your work, and explain how you revised your work.
  5. What drives your decision to revise your work?

A focus on writing feedback has tremendous impact on both student outcomes and my instructional practice. This intentional space results in more student-driven revisions and therefore more conscious attention to developing as writers. In my experience, getting students to think about their writing after they submitted a piece was half the challenge; these feedback cycles now make that thought process an intentional part of our writing routine.

Shelby Boehm teaches tenth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. She can be reached at sboehm@pky.ufl.edu or on Twitter @TeamBoehm.

The Complex Work of a Simple Police Report, Part II

(Adapted from the book Genre of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System)

This post was written by member Leslie Seawright. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

Prior to my research efforts at the Jackson Police Department,[i]  I had always heard that police could not write, that police reports were worthless documents, and that no one should ever trust what a cop wrote down. It was also well known in my academic and social circles that police reports were not allowed in court because of how poorly they were written (a misnomer). My initial research into police writing revealed similar sentiments. Prosecutors, police chiefs, defense attorneys, and even officers all complained to me about how poorly police reports are written. I heard this anecdotally in casual conversations and in formal interviews with police chiefs, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The mountain of texts dedicated to improving officer report writing skills demonstrates the problems associated with report writing. Names like How to Really Really Write those Boring Police Reports, Plain English for Cops, Painless Police Report Writing, and my favorite, The Best Police Report Writing Book with Samples: Written for Police by Police, This is not an English Lesson, say a lot about how reports are viewed by officers and superiors. Report writing is seen as boring, difficult, convoluted, painful, and overly concerned with grammar. The manuals typical solutions are templates and simplified demands to include the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why of every encounter. They largely avoid the context of police writing as a rhetorical situation fraught with complicated audience needs and multiple, often conflicting, purposes.

It became clear after reviewing police academy materials and sitting in two different report-training sessions that report writing was always discussed from a deficit model. Police cadets were instructed on how to write a coherent paragraph and use the correct word for a specific meaning. They were also instructed on how to organize the report, detailing the events chronologically. However, the majority of the police academy training I researched was spent on ground-fighting tactics, shooting practice, crime-scene investigation, and multiple-choice test preparation. At the police academy in Arkansas, only 8 hours out of 430 were devoted to report writing (Seawright).

When I asked officers, lawyers, supervisors and others what made a police report a “poor report,” the answers varied wildly. Officers seemed to think that poor grammar created poor reports. Supervisors and chiefs complained about a lack of professionalism in reports. Stephen Mathes, the police chief at Jackson Police Department, complained that “basic grammar” just was not present in police reports. He noted,

We are not just taking a raw recruit and trying to teach them law and                                               police tactics but basic grammar in some instances. . . . [I]f a defense attorney                             picked up a report that was poorly written they are automatically going to                                   say, here is a person I can attack. I can attack credibility.

However, the lawyers I spoke with complained that their most serious concern regarding police reports was the amount of information that was often left out. Two hours after my interview with the Jackson police chief, I sat in the office of Chad Rucker, a local defense attorney, who stressed the importance of the police-officer narrative over grammar in report writing. He emphasized, “Only in telling the story can all the details of the case come to light. Grammar does not matter. It could be written phonetically for all I care, just put down everything that happened.”

So in a matter of hours, a police chief told me that grammar really mattered to defense lawyers, and a defense lawyer told me he could not care less about grammar in reports. How was it that the police report genre could elicit such varied and contradicting expectations from its readers?

Genre of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System tells the story of one police report as it travels through the judicial system. The chapters are organized in order to analyze the writing and reading process of the officer writing the report and the report’s subsequent readers. By highlighting the work that a police report does and the multiple purposes and audiences it must serve, the book ultimately addresses the power dynamics of writers and readers in the judicial system, and examines who is served (or not served) by police reports.

It is important for us and for our students to understand how genres operate in powerful institutions. We can prepare students for these environments by helping them think critically about the role that written texts play in organizations and the complicity employees have in recreating the institution through documents. When students understand the role that employees play in supporting powerful systems, they can better decide what role they want to play or how they might change that role, versus blindly following the dictates of the genre and the system.

[i] Jackson Police Department is an alias.

Leslie Seawright is assistant professor of English at Missouri State University. Seawright’s research interests include workplace communication, community literacy practices, technical writing and intercultural communication. 

The Complex Work of a Simple Police Report

(Adapted from the book Genres of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System)

This post was written by member Leslie Seawright. This is the first of two parts.

Six years into our marriage, my husband came to me to express his desire to quit his job and become a police officer. After the initial surprise of his decision had passed, I supported his career change and watched from the sidelines as he entered the Arkansas Police Academy. Shortly after, I decided to make my own drastic career change and enrolled as a full-time graduate student at the University of Arkansas. While my husband was learning how to interview a suspect, perform a J-turn in his patrol car, and defend himself from a knife attack, I was learning how to question students about their writing processes, perform a discourse analysis, and defend an argument.

On most Friday and Saturday nights you could find me riding shotgun in his patrol car as a “citizen ride-along.”  I became a staple at pre-shift officer briefings and Jackson Police Department charity events and award ceremonies. The more time I spent with officers, watching them perform their jobs, the more I realized how critical the writing that officers produced was in the justice system. I started asking my husband about his writing process, what went into writing a report, and how that report was used by the prosecutor’s office. My initial investigation led to more questions than answers. I soon found myself committed to a research project that spanned seven years, five research sites in three different states, and hundreds of hours observing and interviewing officers, lawyers, judges, and police academy trainers.

Genre of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System tells the story of one police report as it travels through the judicial system. The chapters are organized in order to analyze the writing and reading process of the officer writing the report and the report’s subsequent readers. By highlighting the work that a police report does and the multiple purposes and audiences it must serve, the book ultimately addresses the power dynamics of writers and readers in the judicial system, and examines who is served (or not served) by police reports.

The book begins on the scene of a domestic disturbance with Officer Lewis (pseudonym) interviewing suspects and witnesses. It then follows his police report as it makes its way to several different readers in the court system. At each stop in the literacy-event chain, the report is critiqued in ways not envisioned by Officer Lewis. The police supervisor needs more information about injuries sustained in the disturbance. The prosecutor is infuriated by witness information left out of the report. The defense attorney questions the lack of explicit consent in the report for the officer to enter and speak to the suspects in the home. Finally, the judge assumes the officer is apathetic and thus forgives his lack of details in the report, including a lack of information on whether or not Miranda rights were read prior to questioning the suspects.

Despite these reader critiques, I suggest that Officer Lewis is not a bad, misguided, or nefarious police officer. Officer Lewis and nearly all police officers are asked to produce objective, rhetorical documents, a request most of us in English studies realize is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This book seeks to examine the conditions under which officers write reports and the police report genre itself. In addition, it analyzes how power is circulated and distributed to readers through the police report.

When officers are limited by genre constraints and their misinformed notions of reader expectations, it does not merely impact the officer, the department, or even the court.  Police reports that leave out important details or fail to piece together critical evidence impact victims, suspects, their loved ones, and all who work in the system. If we can understand how officers write reports and why they make the choices they do, we can then address issues we find in report writing and create changes in the power dynamics that shape the justice system across the nation.

It is important for us and for our students to understand how genres operate in powerful institutions. We can prepare students for these environments by helping them think critically about the role that written texts play in organizations and the complicity employees have in recreating the institution through documents. When students understand the role that employees play in supporting powerful systems, they can better decide what role they want to play or how they might change that role, versus blindly following the dictates of the genre and the system.

Leslie Seawright is assistant professor of English at Missouri State University. Seawright’s research interests include workplace communication, community literacy practices, technical writing and intercultural communication.