Diving In

Amy posting for Ibtissim:

What I like about the readings regarding Basic writing is that they cover the assumptions then they get into what the situation really looks like and how to deal with it. It is difficult to imagine an established teacher or school being flooded with a new population they have never worked with before. It is even more challenging when that population includes students from different educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, in addition to their preparedness for college. It is a challenge to take but it is one as the readings suggest where teachers need to be open to experiencing this new situation.

BW is a democratizing force. For example the “No child left behind” project is one that created many of these classes and developmental programs. This kind of project is created mainly due to economic and social pressures. Including and educating more citizens by empowering them through education is a noble goal. Basic Writing classes, therefore, take the role of helping out in introducing these students to the world of academia. I believe that by keeping this goal in mind, teachers would be patient with a population of students they don’t know how to work with and work through understanding their needs and capacities.

As Shaughnessy points out in ‘Diving in”, teachers have to be aware of the influence cultural and linguistic backgrounds may cause different learning situations to occur.
Diving in means getting to know your students and deciding to be open to learn about them and from them. This step understandably is a difficult one to take but it is an important one to start to scratch the surface on working with such classes of writing with a good teacher preparation. It is not expected that a teacher becomes a cultural expert and linguistic expert for all the populations he/she teacher, maybe not even any of them. However, it is expected that the teacher is open to learn and realizes that these backgrounds may influence. From this point pedagogies maybe on how to use that for class purposes may arise.

The definition of a Basic Writer seems to be general on purpose. The definition seems to cover all those who are unprepared for college classes. Maybe this general definition serves the purpose of including the wide diversity represented in such writing classes.


4 thoughts on “Diving In

  1. “Diving in means getting to know your students and deciding to be open to learn about them and from them.”

    I, too, believe this is a key component of writing classrooms. And perhaps this is why I enjoy(ed) teaching in small towns. I knew/know my students not just as students in the classroom, but in their various roles in the school (being their coach–whether speech or basketball–also gives/gave invaluable insight and depth to understanding who my students are/were) and as members of the community.

    As teachers we must acknowledge, celebrate, and learn from our students and their vast background knowledge they bring to the writing classroom. This openness also helps to “de-scarify” (to use a quite technical term) the writing classroom, encouraging students to take risks with their writing.

    This can be summed up in one word: respect.


    • Neuteboom Response

      I would like to piggyback on this comment also in response to Ibtissim’s statement, “Diving in means getting to know your students and deciding to be open to learn about them and from them.” I agree that diving in requires knowing individual students and seeing them as people rather than objects of production to be categorized, assessed, and fixed (pardon my Foucauldian slip). I also think the process of diving in–and perhaps the more relevant purpose of Shaughnessy’s attitudinal scale–goes beyond learning “from them.” It’s that, too, but it also involves getting to better know ourselves as educators and honestly recognizing that we are humans influenced by deeply embedded prejudices ingrained at an early age through socialization and reinforced by further indoctrination from the institutions that perpetuate inequities. These inequities often pulsate at subconscious levels and manifest in ways that are easy to rationalize away–we tell ourselves this student just isn’t ready for college writing or we must uphold institutional standards. Whether I want to admit it or not, in retrospect, I can see my own shameful progression as a TA and later full-time instructor teaching English Composition and Foundations of English (basic grammar) through these phases of attitude and perception on the periphery of consciousness, within the shadow, as Jung might suggest. I believe one of the most difficult invitations of this essay is for teachers to turn the eye of assessment inward and to ferret out those prejudices that create the attitudinal walls that guard the tower.


  2. I wonder if expecting to learn from one’s students is more or less common in writing classrooms versus other disciplines? On the one hand, writing about students’ own experience allows them to bring their knowledge in to the learning environment more often than some fields. On the other hand, the perception that there is a “right way to write” may limit style, somewhat. Perhaps foreign language instruction particularly emphasizes a free-flowing learning environment that responds and expands to students’ experiences?


    • More, I think than other disciplines. There was a long period in which the mantra in comp studies was that the texts of the class should be the students’ own texts. And the expressivist approach was, in part, to privilege what students know and care about and get them to write about those things. Also, the challenge of apparent “contentlessness,” off an on addressed by movements such as post-Process and Writing about Writing (we should teach the history of rhetoric; we should teach writing research) means that writing teachers have frequently allowed students to explore their own disciplines, do projects related to other coursework, etc. That leaves the possibility of learning from one’s students rather more open than the lecture model, for instance.

      When you talk about the “right way to write” do you mean that writing instruction posits a “right way” and that might slow students down from insight that might teach the teacher?


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