Wednesday, February 7, 2007

New Ways of Thinking

I realize that we talked about the following topic in class a little, but I wanted to further divulge the subject as I think it's an important one and one I'd like to think through it more thoroughly. So... In The Discovery of Competence by Kutz, Groden and Zamel, chapter three expresses, "...the classes that will bring students into this community must necessarily focus, in a conscious way, on the students' development of new ways of thinking as well as their acquisition of new uses of language” (37). The chapter then gives examples of theories, such as Piaget’s, to discuss the development of the students’ minds in these basic writing classes, though I’m not sure we need a scientific/psychological explanation to understand the patterns of these students.

Piaget makes the comparison of the mind of a basic writer to that of a child learning his/her first language. I think this may be a little harsh, though helpful in some ways. However, as we discussed in class, we cannot technically compare the mind of a child to that of an adult and feel good about ourselves. So what’s really happening? My theory, and it seems obvious and non-genius to me, is that these basic writing students have not had opportunities to successfully practice higher-order thinking skills, and therefore do not know how to accomplish these skills in writing or otherwise. So the solution? Teach them to think in these new ways! Because the adult is in fact an adult, it should be an easy task… if the teacher can show the student these new skills in a way that is understandable and meaningful. Sometimes telling a student to write a persuasive paper where they take a position on a topic boggles his/her mind for some reason. But if examples are given from the students of fights they’ve had recently with their friend, neighbor, mom, boyfriend… and those examples are used to explain the perimeters of a persuasive paper, all of a sudden it makes sense. Just like with any person, context makes all the difference. So it’s not that these students don’t have these skills in them somewhere, it’s that perhaps we don’t have the correct methods to bring them out. Maybe I’m simplifying too much. I tend to do that. But I know for sure that too many things that could be simple are often made much more difficult than necessary. Let’s not complicate the matter, but just get the job done.

Friday, February 2, 2007


After reading the "Introduction" to Errors and Expectations, I felt overwhelmed, out of control, and under-prepared to face the students described in this chapter. Everything in my being cries out to help them and teach them a tool...communication in the written form… that will allow them to be successful on many levels in the future. I already feel tired just thinking about the importance of this task. I feel the same pressure with my ESL students. The question I always ask myself is, “How can I make this lesson, this chapter, this unit, this semester the most effective for my students?” Sometimes I dream of good ideas during sleep, and sometimes I have nightmares of not doing my best. The plight of a teacher runs deep to the core, and yet the rewards can be so great that the hours of worry and preparation all seem worth it in the end.

“Much about the ‘remedial’ situation encourages this obsession with error” (Shaughnessy 9). These problems seem to run across the board, even amongst Advanced Placement students. The requirements for obsession:
Reality of academia… urgency of the students to meet their teachers’ criteria… the awareness of the teacher and administrator that remedial programs are likely to be evaluated (and budgeted) according to the speed with which they produce correct writers, correctness being a high measurable feature of acceptable writing (Shaughnessy 8-9).

When these are the focuses of education, then education is no longer the focus. One textbook can not save the world, nor can one type of teaching. Just as Adrienne Rich pointed out in “Teaching Language in Open Admissions” printed in the book Landmark Essays, every class, and likewise every student, has a different feel, a different mood, and different goals. One text or theory or idea that works for one class, may fail miserably in another class (Halasek 10-11). In my opinion of a short amount of time in the teaching profession, it seems that the outside forces of budgets, state requirements, standardized testing… has completely ruined and terrorized the individualized teaching that our students desperately need. What’s the solution? Each person has his/her job in the education circle and most of those jobs don’t collaborate with each other leaving huge gaps in the system and students who don’t know which way is up. Yes, I complain loudly, but it’s not because I think I have a better way of doing anything, but because I’m frustrated for those who are being left behind. My heart is for the student.