Author Archives: salemadmasu

Lit in Comp: Straightening out the Confusion

While designing a freshman comp class for my GTA application, I found myself conforming to the trend of avoiding literature in composition class, yet with no conviction on the value of including or excluding it from comp. Discussion of the Lit in Comp  debate has occurred in none of my reading or comp pedagogy classes but I did one day raise my hand and ask the question: Why is literature now obsolete in comp classes? The teacher straightened up in her chair and said: “It’s politics.”  The topic was opened and closed with the history of the power struggle between literature proponents and rhetoricians. The value in teaching literature in composition class or the value in not teaching it, never got addressed—apparently a tendency also present in the community of English Academia.

Despite the tendency, and also in spite of it, works that try to delve deeper into the pedagogical implications within this debate have begun to appear. I will talk about “A Place for Lit in Freshman Comp” by Gary Tate, “Literature and L2 comp: Revisiting the Debate” by Belcher and Hirvela and “Lit in comp classes: case against” by Francis and Barbara Lide.

I have yet to figure out where I stand in this debate, and the purpose of this research is exactly that. Though many current faculties might be tired of the argument and avoiding it in the classroom, prospective composition teachers are graduating without exploring a question that is of both academic and cultural importance: Can the addition of literature to the required texts of composition classes be of benefit to the students, or would it merely be a distraction and waste of time?

A Place for Literature in Freshman Composition, Gary Tate, 1992.

Gary Tate writes this piece to initiate the missing conversation within the Literature in Composition debate. His stance: “It is time for us to adopt a far more generous vision of our discipline and its scope, a vision that excludes no text”. His opinions are responses to the writings of others in the community and are informed by his taste (admittedly) as well as his long experience teaching composition. His opinions also come from a very wide outlook on education and the English class, one that encompasses all that transcends academia and focuses on the various themes and issues that students encounter and struggle with. “I am convinced that true education, as opposed to training, is concerned with much more than what we find in the various academic disciplines,” he asserts. It sounds a lot like Twain’s “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Tate speaks from his heart—from an affinity for literature and an enthusiasm for grappling with the issues of the world. He does however underline a salient point: “They should be denied no resource that can help them.”

The statement begs the question “how would literature help them?” setting up the conversation he is inviting.

Literature and L2 Composition: Revisiting the Debate, Diane Belcher and Alan Hirvela, 1999.

 

In this article, Belcher and Hervela cut the politics and get to the point. Their purpose: to explore the different theories and teacher experiences already archived, in order to find out if literature does indeed offer any pedagogical benefits. In the process of reviewing other articles on the topic, Belcher and Hervela encounter arguments by various scholars making the case that literature can indeed be of particular use for developmental writers, including L2 students.

Basic writing specialists like Bartholomae, Petrosky, Hull and Rose recognized that reading literary text can have triumphant results amongst basic writers:

  • Hull and Rose argued that literature invited “dynamic involvement in generating and questioning knowledge” a skill that Spack agrees is useful in other discourse communities as well.
  • For these basic writers who often turn out to be minorities, the use of multicultural texts can, as Severino (1997) puts it “help students recognize cultural differences and similarities” as well as provide “an antidote to the racial and ethnic strife that afflicts many communities and much of the world ( p. 116).”
  • Winddowson claims that literature promotes “conscious[ness] of the procedures we employ in the understanding of any discourse” (1979, p. 159) by requiring the exercise of interpretation.
  • For Krashen (1983), pleasure-reading which tends to involve light literary texts is “the most natural approach” to language proficiency.
  • Kramsch (1993) explained that the use of literature offers students variety by exposing them to aesthetics, and, narrative forms of discourse, instead of mere information-based reading and writing.

Hirvela and Belcher’s work in assessing the theories of those who have been active in the debate has a particular significance to the TESOL field. TESOL teachers are going into the teaching field without proper education on the benefits of literature to L2 students, and are hence not reaping the benefits. As a result of their illiteracy on this specific subject, TESOL professionals are also uninvolved in further enriching the information pool with their own findings.

The summary of literature advocacy that is provided in this piece also informs L1 English level by suggesting literature as one other means for students’ critical thinking and writing success. Though each of the above arguments are valid, they don’t assert the necessity of an education exclusively in literature. They do however insist on its inclusion to the variety of text genres used.

Literature in Comp Class: Case Against, Francis and Barbara Lide (1993).

 

Francis and Barbara Lide take a firm stand against the arguments that literature merits being in composition classes. Since literature-using composition classes rely on reader-response writing assignments, they argue, students are in a position where they read one discourse and write in another, wasting the learning-by-imitation chance that exists in a class where the reading and writing are of the same genre. The authors contend that the discrepancy in discourse between the assigned reading and the assigned writing “makes itself felt in the very verb tenses of the writing: narrative literature is written in the past tenses and in the pluperfect; it is written about in the eternal present as well as in rhetorical choices, vocabulary, concepts, etc…, making the help of literature rudimentary to non-existent (112).” Lide and Lide emphasize that literary discourse is relevant in few professional fields and academic disciplines, thus failing to be relevant in much of students’ lives outside of the English class. The authors urge curriculum makers to reevaluate the benefits of literature vis-a-vis composition when allotting the limited time in the composition course to literary texts.

*           *

The articles I have reviewed here are not based on statistical research or experiments and rely instead on the authors’ and their colleagues’ theories and experiences as instructors. This should in no way undermine their contribution to the debate as they each highlight points that can’t be neglected in the overall consideration of the English class’ purpose and its place in the university. Still, we all ache for the correct and only answer to “should literature be taught in composition class or not?”

The controversy and even antagonism present in this debate are largely due to the variation in people’s view of the purpose of the composition class. The matter seems to lie entirely on a simple difference in value: some are for the arts, some for students’ success in the university and others for the academic pursuit of social equality. Most would agree that students need all three, plus preparation for the professional world. Many would advocate for an exposure in multi-genre literarcies.  The limited time that a freshman year comp course offers prevents teachers from catering to all these educational needs and forces them to choose fewer discourses to focus on . Instructors end up choosing what they are most passionate of, which in my opinion is a perfectly good justification as they are bound to teach best what they are most interested and best versed in. However, when making their choices, instructors should ask themselves: At what cost am I choosing what I am choosing? What is my pedagogical priority? What is the purpose of freshman year composition?

We cannot be sending students into the world without professional writing skills. We should actually go through the trouble of making sure they have the crucial and practical skills to write CVs, formal letters, grant proposals, and so on. These skills fall completely in English jurisdiction, as I see it.

We also cannot send students into the world without being confident of their ability to process the world. Teaching the world means teaching applicable literacy and teaching for well-roundedness, which life in our diverse population absolutely requires. It involves teaching the professional discourse, media literacy, social and cultural literacies and art appreciation. Art is a prevalent discourse, special in its ability to invoke beauty.  We can’t allow the art of the written world to eclipse into extinction.

The general education system should be sharing the responsibility of teaching some of these literacies and composition instructors should craft their curriculum avoiding redundancy. San Francisco State University restructured its general education curriculum to require a literature course that is its own entity, alleviating freshman composition’s need to teach written art.  Having segments like media literacy and social/cultural literacies would also help tremendously. If the responsibility to teach critical thinking—which is what these literacy classes amount to—is delegated to General Education, composition teachers would finally get to teach composition—that is, the craft of writing. Additionally, they would have the time to cover more genres of writing, including professional writing, blog writing, persuasive writing, etc…Only in the composition class that teaches composition would there really be an education in discourses—emphasis on the plural.


Advertisements

Blog #4? — lit in freshman comp?

I’m changing my mind.

While designing a freshman comp class for my GTA application this spring break, I found myself conforming to the trend of avoiding literature in composition class, yet without any more conviction than I’ve ever had. While the evolution of the purpose of the English course has been explained to me as being the main and bureaucratic reason that English classes have once again abandoned literature for rhetoric, I haven’t to this day been exposed to any text that rationally disproves the usefulness of literature in composition classes.

The more I think about students attitudes towards literature, the more I’m convinced that by merely judging on the basis of interest, literature should be minimized in comp classes. Yet I am a fiction writer. I’m here with my bias and a hard-to-resist desire to share my passion for fiction in the given context. I am a fiction writer, which also goes to say that I’m an artist, and like all artists, I find myself concerned over the legacy of art that is being passed on to the next generation and the various political agendas that threaten that legacy. In brief, I worry that we are producing students who will be incapable of appreciating art in the conviction that it’s more important that students learn social criticism and learn to write with logic.

In a general consideration of the economic purpose of education, literature seems to fall short in providing “real world” skills. But is that true? Is reading expository essays to write expository essays so sensical that all other methods are comparatively mediocre if not useless?

Should we be so gung-ho about equipping our students with social awareness and a sense of logic to process and articulate it all, even at the expense of art for the sake or art and beauty for the sake of appreciation? Are we okay with producing artistic-philistines? Let’s face it, only students who are artistically inclined and interested study art ( that is if they don’t feel economically pressured to study something “practical”) and the art section of the general education system disregards the need to teach students to think artistcally.

I’m just saying, critical thinking should be counter-balanced with artistic thinking and our system is deficient in that aspect of education.

What do students need to learn and what’s the best way to teach it?

In Literature in the Composition class: The Case Against, Francis and Barbara Linde contend that literature fails to provide what the students need–learning the academic discourse because it is by imitation that students adopt discourses and literature is not of the expository style that the students need to practice and neither is it a globally useful discourse.

Gary Tate, In A Place for Literature in Freshman Composition, gives three reasons that explain the obsoleteness  of literature in comp classes: “the pedagogical sins of teachers in the past, the revival of rhetoric, and changing attitudes about the purposes and goals of freshman composition.” He re-buts each of those reasons with 1) English was then taught by lit professors who only knew how to teach that 2) the overzealous “rhetoric police” was eager to enforce rhetoric and rhetoric being a ready substitute, lit lost despite the possibility of correcting instruction 3) with so much emphasis on academic discourse, we are close to turning English as a “service course”, one whose purpose is to cater to the other disciplines.

Tate asks, did we give up too much when we surrendered to the Rhetoric Police. He says we definitely lost some words like imagination and style.  “To assume, as many seem to do, that inventive procedures or the plotting of cognitive strategies do more than scratch the surface of the human mind thinking and imagining is to trivialize the creative act of composing. And to ignore the study of style as just another of the many misguided concerns of current-traditionalists (lips curled, again), is to deprive our students of the linguistic possibilities that just might elevate their prose above mediocrity, to use another unpopular word.”

save readership with Young Adult Literature?

Middle class white parents seem to have a good hang on introducing their children to reading at a very early age, however, the push dwindles by the time these children get reading assignments from schools and by high schools, students who grew up reading, report not liking reading any longer.

High school English classes seem to have a way of ruining reading for students who had come in enjoying reading, and having a further repulsing effect on the students who never got in the reading habit to begin with.

Parents and teachers cater to children’s reading level and interest throughout their childhood but right around high school, that catering ceases and students are forced to make a leap from leisure and interest-fitting reading to canonical literature, without much of a transition.

Me personally—

Thank God for trashy books about sex power and murder. If I hadn’t read any Harold Robbins and Sydney Sheldon, I most definitely would have never become a reader, let alone a writer. Had I never discovered that guilty pleasure literature, it would have entirely been on the Catcher in the Rye to get me back into reading.

I enjoyed The Catcher in The Rye for it’s personal and conversational tone (I up to that point had never read a book that starts out by addressing the reader). Also, I was a fourteen year old reading about a sixteen year old– very relatable. I did seek books with those qualities in the Young Adult section and found some that I very much enjoyed. But that was me– I’m sure that I didn’t have many friends helped my readership a ton.

Things are a lot different now, young adult fiction being highly successful with the advents of Harry Potter and Twilight series but the at risk minority students are not influenced by this literary trend as white children are.

One wonders, would we have even more reading teens if young adult is incorporated into English class curriculum, particularly young adult that can attract those minorities by reflecting their discourse communities? With the big choice in YA titles aren’t there any books that student’s interest and teachers critical thinking pedagogy can coincide or compromise?

One thing is for sure– canonical texts haven’t created young readers.

. African and African American Children’s and Adolescent Literature in the Classroom: A Critical Guide. Black Studies and Critical Thinking. Volume 11 (ED527839)

Connecting with Texts: Teacher Candidates Reading Young Adult Literature (EJ932959)

Naughty or Not? : Exploring Controversial Content and Core Universal Themes in Contemporary Young Adult Literature (ED514611)

Promoting the Comprehension of Teachers and Students Using Young Adult Literature

Young Adult Literature and Adolescent Identity across Cultures and Classrooms: Contexts for the Literary Lives of Teens (ED519751)

Writing Homer, Reading Riordan: Intertextual Study in Contemporary Adolescent Literature (EJ955307)

Graphic Novels, Web Comics, and Creator Blogs: Examining Product and Process

Young Adult Literature Research in the 21st Century (EJ932953)

Multiple Selves and Multiple Sites of Influence: Perceptions of Young Adult Literature in the Classroom (EJ932958)

readership, young adult, and where it all goes wrong

Middle class white parents seem to have a good hang on introducing their children to reading at a very early age, however, the push dwindles by the time these children get reading assignments from schools and by high schools, students who grew up reading, report not liking reading any longer.

High school English classes seem to have a way of ruining reading for students who had come in enjoying reading, and a further repulsing effect on the students who never got in the reading habit to begin with.

Parents and teachers cater to children’s reading level and interest throughout their childhood but right around high school, that catering ceases and students are forced to make a leap from leisure and interest-fitting reading to canonical literature, without much of a transition.

Me personally—

Thank God for trashy books about sex power and murder. If I hadn’t ready any Harold Robbins and Sydney Sheldon, I most definitely would have never become a reader, let alone a writer. Had I never discovered that, It would have entirely been on the Catcher in the Rye to get me back into reading.

I enjoyed The Catcher in The Rye for it’s personal and conversational tone (I up to that point had never read a book that starts out by addressing the reader). Also, I was a fourteen year old reading about a sixteen year old– very relateable. I did seek books with those qualities in the Young Adult section and found some that I very much enjoyed.

That was me– I’m sure that I didn’t have many friends helped my readership a ton.

Things are a lot different now, young adult fiction being highly successful with the advents of Harry Potter and Twilight series but one wonders, would we have even more reading teens if young adult is incorporated into English class curriculum. With the big choice in YA titles aren’t there any books that student’s interest and teachers critical thinking pedagogy can coincide or compromise?

One thing is for sure– canonical texts haven’t created young readers.

. African and African American Children’s and Adolescent Literature in the Classroom: A Critical Guide. Black Studies and Critical Thinking. Volume 11 (ED527839)

Connecting with Texts: Teacher Candidates Reading Young Adult Literature (EJ932959)

Naughty or Not? : Exploring Controversial Content and Core Universal Themes in Contemporary Young Adult Literature (ED514611)

Promoting the Comprehension of Teachers and Students Using Young Adult Literature

Young Adult Literature and Adolescent Identity across Cultures and Classrooms: Contexts for the Literary Lives of Teens (ED519751)

Writing Homer, Reading Riordan: Intertextual Study in Contemporary Adolescent Literature (EJ955307)

Graphic Novels, Web Comics, and Creator Blogs: Examining Product and Process

Young Adult Literature Research in the 21st Century (EJ932953)

Multiple Selves and Multiple Sites of Influence: Perceptions of Young Adult Literature in the Classroom (EJ932958)

Blog #3 — attempt at an answer…

These were my questions in post #1

My question is, are we waiting for the day when everyone somehow masters the dominant discourse or are we waiting for the day that there is no such thing as DOMINANT DISCOURSE?

Are we, us future pedagogues, sitting here to debase the dominant discourse down to the mainstream discourse and improve the mainstream by a few more degrees so we can end up something accessible but not so shamefully mediocre?

If we continue to subscribe to the dominant discourse, won’t the dominant discourse continue to dominate us?

===================================================

I haven’t actually found the answer, not from the readings nor from what I remember from the class discussions.

The only relevant text to this issue of discourse is Ferdman’s Cultural Literacy which promotes the inclusion, celebration and emphatic incorporation of students’ ethnic backgrounds and culture into the curriculum.

Accordingly, the answer within this practice of Cultural Literacy, is one that focuses away from the dominant discourse in order to offer a more tailored literacy. Ferdman’s ideology stems from the notion that one is not literate until she has mastered her own discourse– the discourse of her own culture and ethnicity– a concept that actually might make sense even in the context of an “American” education, that is to say– one of diverse participants but also one pressured by an upper-class discourse.

 

 

What’s wrong with what we’re doing now?

(testing)

1) What’s wrong with what we’re doing right now? Why are we having this conversation? Are we pressured to appease the pluralists, afraid of being called racists, so much so that we’re missing the obvious, we are one country, we must operate united, we can’t just all do our own thing because a segregationist society is arguably a very unhealthy society? The word “Homogenous” is a dysphemism– While we can all agree variety is necessary for the survival of all entities, union, connection and integration are as well.

2) What does Americanization mean? If over generations, ethnic groups become “Americanized”, it’s that they are adopting “American ways” but also, in the process of blending into the dominant culture, inevitably, infuse the dominant culture with traces of their own culture. Unless insisted upon, homogeneity is more difficult to achieve/is less naturally occurring than heterogeneity– Am I not right?

The awareness that these thoughts on literacy and discourse dominance are bringing is helpful in acknowledging that some students will need more pedagogical help (and one that is customized to their bi-cultural disposition), than is already offered to them. However, couldn’t there be a very likely backlash to indoctrinating this notion of cultural identity into literacy pedagogy– perhaps one that instead of increasing the confidence of that minority, actually alienates them by placing particular emphasis on their background and making distinctions between their culture and the dominant one? Perhaps some students will need it, but considering its application on a more universal level, it sounds and may manifest as the anti-thesis of equality. Does anyone else think it’s actually a recipe for bad morale, exactly the opposite of what’s intended?

Can we not take the example of how resistant students are to being placed in ESL as a sign that such micro-teaching can have negative attitudes and repercussions?