English for Academic Purposes (EAP, henceforth) at UW-Milwaukee offers ranges of courses for these students for whom English is not the first/only language/dialect. EAP students come from different language and cultural backgrounds and gather as one community with one purpose—to get better at English. However, #uwm812 exposes us to readings that challenges our long-held beliefs regarding this community, especially with regards to student errors/mistakes. Especially thinking about the early readings, for example Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors & Expectations raised intriguing questions student errors produced by Basic Writers (BW). Also, Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children also highlights the debate surrounding standard vs non-standard English that gets to the very definition of what should be considered standard English. Both Shaughnessy and Delpit discuss student community who has multilingual and multidialectal language background—something Vershawn Ashanti Young and Suresh Canagarajah also underline in their works.
EAP students’ mistakes can be open for interpretation, or better yet, up for debate depending on who is looking at it or from what angle. EAP teachers from a pure linguistic point of view may see a rather non-standard language form as a mistake while a first-year writing instructor may see it from a rather rhetorical vantage point. Just thinking about the word “mistake” itself, the question is who is missing the take (pun intended) on the apparent student error? Suresh Canagarajah’s piece “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued” that we read gives a good example for this complex issue. Canagarajah examines the Chinese student’s “peculiar” use of “can able to” in the same sentence as that makes sense in the student’s first language. However, judging solely from prescriptive grammatical rules of standard English, “can able to” is an error of redundancy since “can” and “be able to” has interchangeable meaning in English.
Now this can be ruled out just as a discreet and individual example. However, my personal experience teaching EAP students at UWM resonates with Canagarajah’s example. During my tenure at UWM EAP, one of my Saudi students pronounced the word “people” as “beoble”. Another student with Arabic language background would pronounce the word usually (with P sound) but write “beoble” when he would write it on paper. Now because of my familiarity with Arabic language, I know Arabic does not really have “p” sound in it. So, these apparent mistakes were rather transfer from their first/other language. Therefore, this community of students who are dynamic in their linguistic repertoire, may produce language forms that is apparently erroneous, but actually stem from their meta-linguistic abilities. Students with more than one language may make apparent mistake that is open for such interpretation. When EAP students make these apparent mistakes, there may be more than just grammatical errors that is happening there.
I am using the word “apparent” here because on face value they may seem like a mistake however, upon deeper reflection, and also possible active negotiation with students these mistakes may come out as another form of language. I am echoing Canagarajah here, “To meet these objectives, rather than focusing on correctness, we should perceive "error" as the learner's active negotiation and exploration of choices and possibilities.” (593). However, does this mean a student never make mistakes or every mistake is some sort of meta-linguistic activity? I do not have a definitive answer to this question. It is complicated to say the least, and students do make mistakes.
So, how do we approach this student community in terms of assessing them? One way to go about it, is to talk with the student in person to find out what he/she was thinking while s/he was languaging. Also, important is more coordination between teacher communities too since teachers from different background may look at these mistakes differently. For example, looking from a language instructional perspective, mistakes may seem just like mistakes. However, teachers of rhetoric may look at these mistakes from a rhetorical standpoint. I am not saying one is better/more important than the other, on the contrary one (language instruction/teaching) can complement the other (rhetoric). Therefore, as much as we need to think about student communities, we should also think about teacher communities too. Teaching and learning both are communal.
This week’s readings were Rebecca Lorimer Leonard’s “Multilingual Writing as Rhetorical Attunement” and A. Suresh Canagarajah’s “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued .” Both authors work with ESL / TEOFL and multilingual teaching & writing. Below are some highlights from both the articles and the class discussion.
The class discussion centered on fostering strategies and values to teaching multilingual writing and speaking. The general concerns were basically how to serve students to the best of their ability, and how teachers may want to consider different approaches and what do teachers value when it comes to language learning and composition in the classroom.
Pluralism and Space
Canagarajah supports a “pluralizing composition” (p.587) or the co-existence of approaches between multilingualism and monolingual standards. He explains, “they compel us to think of English as a plural language that embodies many norms and standards” (p.589). Primarily, what new strategies or approaches can teachers provide which students can use in their writing and speaking now (‘pedagogy of space’ as he puts it) rather than over a period of time as proposed by Elbow’s two-pronged approach (p.598)?
Key Highlights from the Class Discussion
Rhetorical Attunement & Sensibility
Lorimer Leonard explains “how writing across languages and locations in the world fosters as rhetorical attunement: a literate understanding that assumes multiplicity and invites the negotiation of meaning across difference” (p.228). She also states, literate repertoires are not static (p.228), and language learning is interactive, engaging and it entails language negotiation. She further explains, “one way to think about this difference —monolingual writers hear a note; multilingual writers hear a chord” (p.244).
Other Highlights from the Class Discussion
A side note: Although I was a little intimidated in taking this class and since I do not come from an English composition and teaching background, I wanted to give a shout out to the instructor and the classmates for the sharing of their thoughts, and experiences on Rhetoric and Composition.
Best wishes to all of you in both your teaching and academic careers.
In English 812 this week, we created timelines of the major events and concepts in writing and English pedagogy that we’ve read about and discussed over the last few weeks. Interestingly, some of us brought larger social movements into our timelines, illustrating the effects of cultural context on pedagogical trends. These timelines helped us to track the ways in which the approaches to teaching English have evolved and fluctuated in tandem with these larger social movements.
We then shifted our focus to the book Language Diversity in the Classroom (2003), which was written in part as a response to surveys conducted by the CCCC and NCTE. These surveys revealed a disconcerting lack of teacher knowledge about language diversity. This book sought to fill in some of those gaps and provide a platform for discussion among scholars in the field.
On Erasure and Forgetting
Some of us raised the specific issue of teaching in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and questioned if the field has or has not changed in terms of approaching English as a “global language.” In Language Diversity in the Classroom, Victoria Cliett explains that English teachers should not focus on “a solely domestic concept of ‘standard English’” as to do so would put the field at a disadvantage in the global community (67). Cliett goes on to discuss the Honolulu conference which, in 1978, “produced a formal statement…that affirmed the need to continue inquiry into the development of English as an international language,” essentially calling into question the primacy of Standard American English (68).
To this end, a group of student teachers were studied to determine what effect knowledge of World Englishes would have on their attitudes and pedagogies. These TESOL masters students were provided varying levels of instruction on World Englishes and language diversity; the results, not surprisingly, demonstrated that teachers who had exposure to more, and more complex, instruction on language diversity had indeed developed more nuanced perceptions of students and their varying languages.
All of this 1970’s studying of and pushing for an increase in language diversity training for student teachers raised the question of why this largely doesn’t seem to be happening even now in 2018. It is concerning that so much work and thought has been put in on this subject, yet the average English educator in America may still not be receiving training on language diversity. The work of decades passed seems to go largely unrecognized, and sometimes erased, in the larger field.
That said, more small change may be occurring than we realize. For example, there is at least one course – titled Language Acquisition for Children of Diverse Backgrounds – that is focused on linguistic diversity as part of UWM’s teacher training program.
The concept of work erasure was once again raised with the discussion of the CCCC committee’s compiled materials for teachers, a project the team worked on for four years in the 1980s, but then decided not to publish. The ultimate choice not to go forward with the work was in response to the diminishing conversation about language diversity in the classroom at the time.
Another 1980s event that is discussed in Language Diversity in the Classroom is California’s passing of the English Only law. California was the first state in the nation to pass such a law in modern times and it is explained that the state was targeted for this action as a result of its very diversity. We discussed the ways in which this targeting can be read as a form of racism and an attempt to silence home and family languages and diminish cultures.
Thinking in New Ways: Think Tank session
To delve into the subject of tangible classroom changes, we held our own think tank session to begin breaking open our own perceptions of teaching and learning. To do this, we thought about classroom spaces, where learning occurs, activities for learning, assignments, means of giving feedback, and what we perceive as positives experiences of language and culture. We placed these concepts alongside the goals of dialect equality, awareness of language diversity, contextually-responsive pedagogies, and rhetorical effectiveness.
Some of the key points from our think tank included:
There are many additional books on the value and intentional use of varied dialects. Code Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms by Rebecca S. Wheeler & Rachel Swords and Code-Meshing as World English (Vershawn Ashanti Young & Aja Y. Martinez) are two such works for further reading.