Category Archives: Writing

Jeremiads, New Media, Adult Literacy Centers, and More in the New Issue of CCC

This post is written by member Jens Lloyd, editorial assistant for College Composition and Communication.

College Composition and Communication publishes scholarship in rhetoric and composition studies that supports college teachers in reflecting on and improving their practices in teaching writing. Our June 2017 issue, available online and in print, contains an eclectic mix of articles that should sustain rhet/comp teacher-scholars through the long, sunshine-filled days of summer.

Don J. Kraemer takes a deep dive into recent scholarship on ethics and morality in the hopes of distinguishing between the two oft-conflated terms. He argues that we should not conceal the ethical and moral foundations of our pedagogical endeavors, especially insofar as articulating these foundations can help to build the kind of classroom environments where all students can thrive as writers. Jeffrey M. Ringer presents a case study of a student whose efforts to thrive as a writer in a college course led him to take up the genre of the jeremiad. Studying how this student’s faith informed his rhetorical choices, Ringer encourages rhet/comp teacher-scholars to thoughtfully engage with the various resources that students bring to bear on their writing.

Stepping outside of the formal confines of academia, Jessica Pauszek teaches CCC readers about Pecket Well College, an adult literacy center in Britain. Pauszek’s archival and ethnographic study makes for an engaging, inspiring portrait of how learners can direct their own literacy education. Also widening the focus beyond the college composition classroom, Neil Baird and Bradley Dilger present their findings from a CCCC-funded research project that scrutinizes metaphors of transfer by documenting how students succeed (or not) in internships.

Courtney L. Werner examines the recent history of rhet/comp to surmise how the field has defined new media in response to radical shifts in composing technologies. Werner carries out an extensive analysis of published scholarship, offering insights that will likely appeal to those well-versed in the topic and also to those looking for a foothold in the evolving subfield of computers and composition.

The issue concludes with Paula Mathieu reviewing three recent books that disclose new pedagogical, theoretical, and methodological vistas for rhet/comp teacher-scholars.

Some of our June authors are featured in our podcast series. Check out these interviews for additional insights into the scholarship we publish in CCC.

Whether you are settling into your summer teaching routine, taking on new research and writing projects, planning your courses for next school year, or just enjoying a brief respite, we hope you indulge in this issue and all that it offers. We welcome feedback and questions about the journal (and our podcast series!) at ccceditors@gmail.com.

Jens Lloyd is a PhD candidate at UC Irvine.

Community Literacies en Confianza, Part I

This post is written by member Steven Alvarez. This is the first of two parts. 

In my book Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs, I focus on ethnographic case studies of two communities of students and families, the Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) and the Valle del Bluegrass Library (VBL). The communities were composed of emergent bilingual students and parents learning about schools as they learned English—in the case of VBL, students from preK to middle school, and for KUL, high school students. The two communities illustrated in two different contexts how emergent bilingual students and their families collectively navigated school systems and the English language with the help of after-school programs and their networks of members, teachers, and volunteers. I draw upon my experiences with KUL and VBL to create portraits of bilingual after-school communities that do this kind of work to offer relatable contexts that detail how schools and teachers can partner and draw from surrounding community learning. From these portraits, I explore what lessons we can draw from them that could impact how we teach writing in school. The focus on community puts the local knowledge and experiences of students and families in the forefront.

VBL had offered free after-school homework tutoring for emergent bilingual youths for over a decade. Located in a barrio of a small city in central Kentucky, the library mediated between the newly growing Latin American immigrant community in the area and local institutions, primarily local schools. VBL was the only bilingual public library in the state, and also the only one to offer after-school homework assistance, thanks in part to volunteer tutors and assistance from library staff. The homework assistance program served youth in grades K–8. Different VBL programs and events, however, were geared to preK, high school, and adult audiences.

Bilingual signs announcing homework help at VBL. The library was a valuable bilingual resource for the community.

The Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) after-school club formed in 2011 at a high school not too far away from the barrio where VBL stood. In fact, KUL often met at VBL since many students lived within walking distance of the library. Most of the KUL students had VBL library cards and had participated in the library’s programs when they were younger. With the coordinating assistance of teachers, KUL also partnered with a middle school to sponsor a mentorship program between students. KUL members met with middle school students to provide advice and guidance in English and Spanish to Latino/a students destined for their high school. KUL members encouraged the students to get involved in middle school activities and seek out ways to volunteer to help their communities. The KUL members noted the importance of making a strong academic start as a ninth grader, and how their community service prepared them for college and future internships.

High school student Bianca, with collaboration from the classmates in her ELL course at school, drew the artwork above entitled Don’t Cry. Bianca, a ninth grader, had migrated to Kentucky from Cuba earlier in the school year, and, since arriving, she had been a member of KUL. Bianca drew the figure and passed the drawing around to each of her classmates to write “don’t cry” in their home languages. Notice the rich linguistic diversity in her classroom.

Steven Alvarez is assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research explores the languages and literacies of Latino immigrants in New York City and Kentucky.

To read more of Steven Alvarez’s works, please visit Translanguaging Literacies and Community Ethnographies.

Steven Alvarez recorded Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World, an On Demand Webinar for NCTE.

What Happened in Your State This June?

This past month, nine policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Higher Education

California: Daniel Melzer reported that the Cal State System Proposed to End Placement Exams and replace them with high school grades and course work, SAT, or ACT scores. He cited faculty concerns over “lack of local autonomy regarding assessment and placement.” Daniel also shared that the Report on Acceleration Writing Models in California Community Colleges revealed student success.

Michigan: In University of Michigan Offers Free Tuition for Low-Income Students, Robert Rozema described the Go Blue Guarantee program for high-achieving, low-income students.

New Hampshire: Alexandria Peary explained the House of Representatives Bill Requiring Annual Report of Remedial Courses. HB 180 would require postsecondary institutions to submit annual reports delineating the number and subjects of courses offered, enrollment, and costs.

PreK–12

Arkansas: Similar to her report last month, Donna Wake notes in Charter School Saved by External Resources that the Walton Family Foundation provided the funding to allow a charter school, initially slated for revocation, to remain open.

Idaho: Darlene Dyer shares that Preschool Funding and Enrollment Climbs Nationally but No Funding for Idaho, concluding that “If 90 per cent of Idaho’s 3- and 4-year-olds do not have access to preschool (as current figures purport), the impact will be felt for decades in the local economy.”

Montana: Anna Baldwin explains the Scholarship Tax Credit now allowed for contributions to a scholarship organization and the conflict over monies going to religious schools.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower reported, [Governor] Wolf to Sign Law Granting Career-track Students Alternatives to Keystone Exit Exams. These students would be able to demonstrate competency through their grades and alternate assessments or industry-based certifications.  In Report Reveals Eye-opening Data on English Learners in Philadelphia Schools, Aileen submitted an excerpt from Newsworks revealing how quickly immigrant students in Philadelphia learn English.

Washington: Barbara Ward described the state of Washington grappling with Funding Woes in a special session to address the high court’s demand that the state pay a fair share of costs for teacher salaries. Barbara also wrote about Possible Changes in State Testing Requirements for High Schoolers, allowing students who fail state-mandated tests in English language arts to show their proficiency in other ways.

Both PreK-12 and Higher Education

New Mexico: In State of New Mexico Sued for Inequities in Educational Opportunities, Erin O’Neill notes that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sued, “claiming that budget cuts and underfunding are preventing Native American students, ELL learners, and low-income students from receiving the necessary educational opportunities guaranteed by the state constitution.”

Learning to Dance Made Me A Better Writing Teacher

This post is written by member Lori Ayotte. 

Teaching high school sophomores how to use an apostrophe can be the bane of my existence. Sometimes, I cringe when they plant commas willy-nilly in their essays.

English teachers lament how after weeks of writing instruction, some students do the opposite of what we have taught. Occasionally, a teenager’s rewrite winds up worse than the original. Some pupils master a skill in one assignment, and, in the next, struggle to execute that same skill.

My perspective of the learning process changed when I learned to ballroom dance at age 38. I rediscovered how it feels to be a beginner in a new discipline after being a veteran in front of the classroom.

Teaching the art of writing can be frustrating. Learning the art of dance is equally as daunting, however.

To dance well, I had to master the rhythmic equivalent of writing well. In composing a compound-complex sentence, for example, I have to use commas properly. In dancing, I have to insert proper punctuation with my body as I move to the melody. Once, during a cha cha, I moved without pausing and my teacher commented that I had just “danced a long, run-on sentence.”

For me, that was an epiphany. I now use what I have learned as a dance student to shape my practices and philosophies as a writing teacher.

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Instilling Passion

My passion for dance began when my grandmother introduced me to MGM musicals with screen legends such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Gene Kelley. I loved watching the glamour of the sweeping ball gowns and the sophistication of the smoothly-paced foxtrot. As a toddler, I’d grab my raincoat, pop open an umbrella and prance around the house, belting out “Singing in the Rain.”

It’s challenging to awaken students’ passion for writing when many dread it. In my classroom, providing a variety of writing approaches eases this fear. Some teens love free writes, but others quake in the face of open-endedness. Those who crave creativity but need structure enjoy mimetics, such as a personal essay that mirrors Charles Dickens’s famous paragraph of contrasts: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Students who hate personal writing can explore the life of someone they love by conducting a one-to-one interview and reflecting upon it. More practical-minded teens eagerly approach my resume unit; they are sold on real-world application. For those who shun writing altogether, composing digital videos or drawing comics can be a first step toward telling a story. Each of these modes fits under the vast writing umbrella, and each can spark an appreciation for the craft.

Bad writers Can Improve

As teachers, it’s dangerous to assume that bad writers will not improve much. Before I took lessons, I was a bad dancer. Friends compared me to Seinfeld character Elaine Benes, not only for our petite stature and curly hair, but also for her dance moves as a “full body dry heave set to music.”

During my first dance lesson, I thought, “I’ll be lucky if I last six months.” (How often do we hear some students say, “I’ll be lucky if I pass”?) Soon, I learned the basic steps of several dances, which gave me an elementary vocabulary with which I could move around the floor: a box step, a back rock, an underarm turn. I loved it. With practice, I improved, eventually performing in recitals and competitions. Thus, with effort, our weakest student writers can become competent too, and it is important for teachers to recognize even the smallest writing progress as major gains.

Respecting the Learning Process

As I continued dancing, a basic vocabulary was not enough. Technique played a greater role. Just as an essay cannot properly stand without certain elements – an introduction, body paragraphs, a conclusion – I could not properly stand without a proper frame and connection with my partner.

It is impossible to learn everything at once. I learn a new step, and minutes later, I forget it. I work on hip movements weekly, but I still struggle to execute them naturally. If I focus only on hips, I may momentarily forget about arms or footwork.

I have discovered that when a student works on one skill, a related skill temporarily weakens. At times we may feel as if students are stagnating, but that is how any learning happens – with advances, stalls and backtracks along the journey.

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Practice

Six years after that first lesson, I have become an advanced dancer, at last wearing ball gowns I once would have merely admired. This transformation happened because I practiced between five to 10 hours every week. I estimate that I have already been dancing for a few hundred hours more than my 10th grade students have sat through ELA classes in their academic lives. ELA addresses reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, so my students have spent a relatively small amount of time specifically on writing and grammar. I can’t expect mastery or even proficiency in many writing areas – my students have not yet committed those skills to their brains’ muscle memories.

Empathy

Now when I read my students’ essays, I am more empathetic. I innately understand that they are novices who need hundreds more hours before they can carry out all components of writing: content, detail, organization, style, spelling, grammar, tone, voice, word choice, sentence variety. Now I give them much more time to write in class – where I can guide them – and much more variety in assignments so they can continually practice and play with words. I also write with them as often as possible so I can understand how long it takes to come up with a topic or the best way to organize our thoughts to suit the prompt.

One of the best professional development activities I’ve experienced had nothing to do with pedagogy or my content area. Dancing has taught me how to learn and, thus, how to teach.

Lori Ayotte is a 10th-grade ELA teacher at Sharon High School in Massachusetts. She also teaches a graduate course for teachers in writing instruction. She has been published in The New York Times, Rhode Island Public Radio, English Journal, and The Sun Magazine.

Using Literature to Shatter Our Entrenched Views, Part II

Pulitzer-Prize–winning journalist Sonia Nazario was the keynote speaker at NCTE’s 2014 Annual Convention. What follows is her reflection three years after the publication of Enrique’s Journey. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

I’ve always focused on those not getting enough ink – women, children, the poor, Latinos. The journey of these children, of Enrique, had to be told. Amid all the noise, information, and rhetoric, and regardless of where one lies on the political spectrum, these children are still migrating. Their stories have forced me to rethink my own entrenched views, challenge the narrative we’re fed, and find new solutions. As I stressed in my NCTE keynote, stories penetrate where stand-alone facts do not. They inspire common values and purpose. Immersive nonfiction can bring change. We have seen it time and time again through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle. These stories help us better understand our collective reality and ignite a fire for improving our communities and the world.

Enrique’s Journey is doing that. This one boy, this one story is humanizing immigrants in the United States.

Since the publication of Enrique’s Journey, I have been contacted daily by students and teachers about how this story has changed their perspective about immigrants. I get emails from students raised by white supremacists and skinheads in Arizona. From African American students in south Chicago who shared that black and Latino students did not interact but now relate better—after all, so many African American families were torn apart as part of the great migration out of the south during Jim Crow.

And I hear from so many Latino students. These students finally see themselves in a story, feel a sense of pride at being part of the fabric of this nation’s story. Many also begin to understand they are not alone in the resentment so many hold towards parents who made the difficult decision to leave them for so long. A rage like that is so consuming that their education suffers. Teachers share stories of finally connecting with students that they were previously unable to relate to. For the first time, some students don’t want to leave class at the end of the period– they aren’t done listening; they aren’t done sharing.

This engagement is critical for children landing in classrooms across the country. Children of undocumented parents are growing seven times faster than others. The current crop of kindergartners will see the number of Latinos grow from 17% to 30% of the population by 2050. These children will fill the void as we “baby boomers” fade away. Unfortunately, this same group has the lowest educational attainment of any group.

Unlike when I started to study child migration two decades ago, today many immigrant children landing in American classrooms are running from threats, from governments that cannot or will not protect them. These children are refugees. I used to believe immigration was an issue that had to be addressed in the US. Now I know the solutions must be focused on addressing what is pushing children out of a handful of countries—El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. The most effective funding will be spent on US programs that are showing promise in reducing violence in Enrique’s home country of Honduras.

For better or worse, I will continue to be these migrant children’s voice and advocate so they do not have to return to a country where many face danger and even death.

I invite you to keep sharing Enrique’s story and to view my TEDx talk to help bring new solutions to your students.

Thank you for continuing to educate others about this country’s newcomers.

Sonia Nazario is an award winning author and journalist who writes about social and social justice issues. Enrique’s Journey, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, is among the most assigned nonfiction books as a common or summer read at high schools and middle schools in the U.S.

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Read NCTE’s Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth here.

Also read an interview with Sonia Nazario in the November 2014 Council Chronicle: Sonia Nazario Believes It’s an Educator’s Role to Expand Students’ Horizons.