Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reader-Writers in the Classroom and a Focus on Language

Dear Community 2.0 Compatriots!
Thank you for your comments on my last post. It always feels good to have careful readers respond (and in this case empathize, but also agree, expand, offer an alternative point of view) to my posts.
It’s easier now to put myself in my students’ positions when I ask them to post and comment.

There is so much going on with the start of the semester (for me, for them!) and this platform is relatively new (e.g., going to the blog, clicking on the links to documents on Google Docs or to Google Spreadsheet of Google Sites) and (as I posted last week), I’m running into technological difficulties/limitations that suck up time. All this to say that I can understand why some students’ posts and comments may be a little lackluster and perfunctory. I confess, I haven’t had time to read all of you Comm 2.0ers and they look so interesting….

And yet, you may have seen by the survey I sent around (another plug to get your students to take the survey! https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Promoting_writing_self-efficacy) that I have hypothesized that the promise of the reader-writer nature of Web 2.0 platforms can improve the writing self-efficacy of students—especially those who have been identified (and for them perhaps stigmatized) as English language learners.

My hope (and my hypothesis) is that through blogging (or whatever platform student writers are using) the built-in audience and sense of public-publication will engender a language-awareness that transcends trying to be correct in favor of trying to “communicate.”

We’ve all seen how “correct” language often inspires “simple sentences” that don’t even have enough sound and fury to signify nothing. They pile one on top of the other and maybe they get to the point but it has little to do with what the writer cares about and little to do with what the actual reader (someone reading a placement exam?) cares about. The effort, the point, goes out into the shadowlands of the reader’s and writer’s minds to die an ignoble death of insignificance. (Complex sentences—always a good sign that someone is reaching and risking for something—even at the risk of making an error to two or three... can end up getting everyone muddled, but at least there’s a world in there!)
Web 2.0 writing, on the other hand, has the possibility of being read and signifying something to someone and, I hope, sparking that magical realization that writing can change something, change someone, represent a thought that hadn’t existed before, concretize an idea that was only fleeting. You get the idea.

Here’s an example from last week.

In my LIB 100 course, we asked students to read an article called “The Language of Human Rights,” We then asked them to post a response about how language could be used as a way to either promote human rights or to suppress human rights. One student, let’s call him Student A, who is mostly quiet in class wrote the following:

people are wondering how they will make the world a bettere place i think the easiess way to do it is by using our voices. while million of people where wondering how to make anought money to feed the starving kids in somalie a 12 years years old ghannaen boy came up with an idia that help him raise over $80000 dollars U.S which he send in to somalie to help feed those kids, his idia was to use his young voice and write latter to induviduals and compognise asking them to do something for those kids who have no hope but to recieve donations to help them survive. for me this was an amzing way of saving life and there was at 1 in every 5 persone living in this world with the same hearth as this kid the world would hve been a better place for all.

He asked me to look at it for him—not whether the grammar was correct, but whether it was what we had asked him to. (Can you tell what his dominant language of education has been?) Once I got beyond the so English errors and misspellings, I thought this was a terrific example of exactly what we were talking about and told him so. There is such richness in these few sentences which I won’t analyze here, but he seemed unconvinced by me. (You know, I’m the prof!) How would others respond? These were the responses he received:

Student B: So true man raising voices against something can change the situation
Student C: I will have to agree with you on this. As I said on my blog language is a tool and if you know how to use it, it can help a whole group of people as the 12 year old ghannaen boy did. With his use of language we was able to raise awareness and rais up money. As you stated in this blog he wrote letter’s and this is one gret way to use language as a tool.

I’m not sure he was even going to read them, but when it came time for full group discussion, we asked what examples students had found on the blogs about language and human rights.

Student C began speaking about this post and I looked over at Student A. He was slumped in his chair with his iPod iBuds lodged in his ears. I said, Hey! We’re talking about your post! Student C was utterly articulate and enthusiastic as he summarized Student A’s blog post and gave his own thoughts.

Others joined in to comment and recount related stories.

What resonated for me the most, was that no one said anything about the errors, the misspellings. On the contrary, the talk was all about the content. What did Student A think? What do you think he thought?
That kind of affirmation—of having written something that others respond to immediately and passionately—can have an amazing impact on any kind of writer—but particularly struggling writers. It was a good moment.

Two issues that I am thinking a lot about:

1. How to create the forum where students do respond meaningfully to each other on the blogs. (I am in awe of Jason and Ximena; I’m not there yet.)
2. How to turn these blog posts into lessons of “language awareness” and get students to interrogate why (or why not) one would choose to adhere to standard writing conventions; when they would adhere to them, and how one might negotiate whatever lines or borders lay between them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about language and meaningful blog responses!

Meanwhile: Am I just resisting doing the Bloom’s Taxonomy!? I don’t mean to! Next time…?


  1. There are so many dialogues here - between different types of usage, e.g., arguing one's viewpoint, paying attention to voice, persuasiveness, grammar (or not), plus the pedagogical "dialogue" between online and in-person interaction that you describe so effectively.

  2. P.S. So what do you have against Bloom's, anyway? (kidding;-)

  3. Well, you have a good beginning here. Students will feel more comfortable about posting and commenting after they see that others are interested in what they have to say and NOT hunt them down for their spellos,etc. I think using the LIB to point where things are going well is a *very* good strategy.

    Once they are more comfortable with you, you can introduce language awareness. You might be surprised with some of the answers, though, just as I was surprised today to see that, on their own, students do not "read" a web page top to bottom but rather skip all over the place.

  4. Thanks, p.stadler, and dr. X: Yes: Who's to say one has to be linear as a reader? These are strategic readers!
    As for Bloom's taxonomy--nothing against it per se. Just seems like squeezing my experience into a convention and I wanted to talk about my experience. (Do students feel this way? Will I get a bad grade?) I'm sure I could say a lot. So... next. time. Maybe.

  5. Ah, I feel you on the Bloom's taxonomoy comment!