Sunday, May 2, 2010
Literacy Democracy Advocacy: CCRC Forum on Basic Writing
At the forum on basic writing last Friday, the presenters (Rebecca Mlynarczyk, George Otte and Deborah Mutnick) shared information about their new book and a summary of a basic writing (bw) survey they have been conducting via survey monkey since 2007.
You can download the entire book at the WAC clearinghouse website. Go here, and then click on the books section in the menu. The book,Basic Writing, appears in the Reference Guides to Rhetoric and Composition section.
It seems like Chapter Five of the book might be a good resource for bw in the future, as it contains many references to innovative models for bw in college, including the Stretch Program at Arizona State University, the Accelerated Learning Program at Baltimore Community College and other models.
The actual presentation included a discussion of the book and some issues that remain unresolved in the field of Basic Writing. As with all parts of higher ed, there is grave concern about funding for the future of basic writing programs. More so, though, there seems to be a lack of consensus about the future of the field in practice. The authors did not suggest a clear path for program administration and development in the future, nor did they suggest that one model of instruction is most effective. Perhaps this is a reflection of the diversity of skill sets, cultural backgrounds and institutional situations where basic writing exists.
Nonetheless, audience members expressed the need for 1)professionalization of the field (with more graduate courses in bw theory and practice), 2)better funding and preparation for adjuncts, 3)an embrace of the possibilities of multimodal instruction, 4) a "rebranding" of the field and the instructional environment, and 5) further articulation of the theoretical split of colleges who choose to or decline to provide basic writing courses. This last project is what Prf. Mlynarcyzk called a decision making process for institutions that traditionally involves a split between access and excellence, where institutions that provide access for BW students are perceived as less "excellent."
As most of the people in attendance were CUNY based, the discussion also turned to the history and current status of BW in this college system. With the history of Open Admissions and the work of M. Shaughnessy and others, CUNY is a leader in the field of BW, but the demise of the classes in the 4 year institutions in the nineties seems to have left a chasm in access and for research. Interestingly, the ability for students to enroll in a senior college vs. a community college at CUNY is determined by a one point difference on admissions test scores. Several speakers at the presentation suggested that BW was absent in name only from the senior colleges, as student ability does not vary significantly across the CUNY schools. I think it is true, however, that community perceptions of the schools themselves do vary significantly and some of that access vs. excellence division is pretty clear, if not really true, among the CUNY institutions. In my opinion, the division between access and excellence is a false dichotomy, but I think the role of the university is equally to educate students and to create new knowledge through research, not one or the other.
Profs. Mutnick and Mlynarczyk have also been working on a survey of basic writing across the US for the past three or four years. The survey is available to view here. They presented their findings at the 4cs and are beginning to embark on conducting qualitative components of the survey and analyzing their continuing assemblage of outcomes.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Language and Cognition in Mike Rose
One passage struck me as asking a current and unanswered question in Lives on the Boundary:
Yet what remains is the disturbing tendency to perceive the poor as different in some basic way from the middle and upper classes--the difference now being located in the nature of the way they think and use language. A number of studies and speculations over the last twenty-five years has suggested that the poor are linguistically deficient, or at least different: They lack a logical language or reason in ways that limit intellectual achievement or, somehow, process information dysfunctionally. (Rose 221)
Rose goes on to mention the sociolinguist Labov as one of the first scholars to critique such notions, but I would like to know how Labov's critique can be supported by cognitive science. I wrote down some of the Rose articles we looked at in class last week, but any other titles or names of writers specializing in these questions would be appreciated. It seems to me that the logic of language is probably not only determined inside the mind, but also by environment: isn't that at least partly how dialects develop? Maybe the question of universal human grammar as advanced by Chomsky also figures into this conflict.
This quote reminds me of that beautiful phrase of Shaughnessy's: "the intelligence of the student's mistake," also mentioned in Rose's book. To find and understand the source of mistakes in writing is a difficult task that maybe requires interaction beyond reading and responding to papers, but also active dialogue between instructors and students.
Posted by wynne at 8:06 PM 0 comments
The tutorial center that Mike Rose helped to streamline in "The Politics of Remediation" was a vibrant center for learning where he had a great opportunity to understand more about the process of writing.
I thought the story of Suzette was a particularly apt description of the situation of many writers who are eager to express their knowledge but struggle to meet the perceived standards for writing in college. The following quote described the writers' and writing tutors' conundrum:
Many people respond to sentence fragments of the kind Suzette was making as thought he writer had some little hole in that part of her brain where sentences are generated. They repeat a rule: "A sentence has to have a subject and a verb and express a complete thought." No matter that the rule is problematic, if they can just graft it into the fissures of the writer's gray matter, she'll start writing good sentences. But, Suzette didn't have was a command of some of the stylistic maneuvers that would enable her to produce the sophisticated sentences she was reaching for. The more skilled tutors got at listening and waiting, the better they got at catching the clue that would reveal what Shaughnessy was fond of calling the intelligence of the student's mistake. (Rose 172)
To me, Rose's story illustrates the futility of solely focusing on grammar and sentence-level correction in writing, unless it is combined with an introduction to and analysis of the broader possibilities of expression that come from stringing thoughts and ideas together (using transitions, conjunctions, commas, and active verbs, of course) in paragraphs and pages. When I write, I think about subjects and verbs last, when I am checking for clarity, not while I am building paragraphs out of ideas. Instruction in the logic of grammar can be used to great effect in improving student writing, but I don't think that learning the vocabulary or rules of grammar necessarily makes people better writers. The stylistic maneuvers that Rose is writing about above are acquired most easily from reading widely and practicing writing, but good style is also about a simple awareness of the meaning and uses of words. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the best ways to incorporate grammar instruction into the composition classroom or tutoring session.
The stories of James and Lucia in this chapter also illustrate ongoing problems students face in their transition to college. While professors and lecturers may be well-versed in both the technical demands of university level writing and the nuances of their particular fields' discourses, they should not assume that first-year college students, or third or fourth year, for that matter, have the same knowledge. Instructors may scoff at students who can't write literary analysis, but if literary analysis is never modeled or explained, what else can be expected? How could intro courses in writing or bulk lectures in various fields improve the way they introduce what it means to write or produce other work for the academy? Likewise, what is the relationship between mastering academic discourse and success in the world outside college?
When learners lack the basic functional skills or knowledge necessary to articulate specific goals, the effectiveness of learner-centered instruction is reduced because learners are not self-directed. Instructors need to provide intensive support that will help learners first recognize and describe their needs so that they can then develop specific goals. pg. 18//24 in the copies.
This statement stood out to me because I meet a lot of students who need help articulating their goals before they can start working to achieve them. While it at first seems confusing that instructors might have to create opportunities for self-direction for students, perhaps it can be achieved through careful combination of activities and materials. Practicing reflection about learning may lead to a better sense of purpose for learners, thereby engendering more self-awareness about the direction of lives in general. For example, in the realm of problem solving in math, I often give my students the answers to word problems and ask them to explain how the answer can be found. By focusing on the process to obtain the answer, students are forced to articulate their method, not just to find the correct answer. This simple exercise, repeated in math and other disciplines, might help students to think more about how they learn, and the tools they use to solve problems. Although math might seem far removed from goal articulation, I think that people who engage in reflection of one sort are more apt to be reflective about all their actions...
Adult Learning Bibliography
Here are a few publications related to Adult Learning and Development from the course in the L&L program on that topic last year.
Herman, Lee and Alan Mandell. From Teaching to Mentoring: Principle, Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Knowles, Malcolm. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston: Gulf Publishing, Revised Edition 1990.
Merriam, Sharan, Rosemary S. Caffarella and Lisa M. Baumgartner. Learning In Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide Third Edition. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.
Wlodkowski, Raymond J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults, Revised Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.
Fenwick, Tara J. Learning Through Experience: Troubling Orthodoxies and Intersecting Questions. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.
Marsick, Victoria and Karen Watkins. "Informal and Incidental Learning." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (2001): 29-34.
I'm a little late to this conversation, but I wanted to add that I learned so much from the readings Megan provided and the discussion she conducted in class.
I also wrote my paper about Braille literacy. One book that I used for research was: Foundations of Braile Literacy by Evelyn Rex, et al. This text included some interesting commentary about the sensory "discrimination and perception" of Braille readers.
Teachers who are fostering Braille literacy have to provide their students with opportunities to become "active explorers" of their environment through touch. I think this effort probably compares to the efforts of teachers to create awareness of print in a sighted learner's environment.
Even though we might at first think that learning by touch and committing information to memory is much different than learning by sight, cognitive science has shown that the actual processes in the brain are similar. The most significant difference is that information or experiences recorded in the tactile memory are more fleeting than those recorded by sight.
I think research into the way the brain processes information can provide a lot of insight into the best ways to affect learning in our students. The findings above indicate that while blind students may use a different mode to acquire literacy, they are participating in exactly the same kind of learning as a sighted person. Showing learning processes associated with Braille literacy might help to reinforce the argument in favor of Braille education.
April 7, 2010 4:20 PM
The graduation rate data may or may not be accurate, depending who you ask. For example, the Comptroller for NYC questioned the validity of about 10% of a research sample of 196 people who earned diplomas in 2008.
That said, the retention issue is perhaps the most popular conversation in public education today. I think that retention and graduation depends as much on positive social/personal support in the school and community as it does on the quality of the content delivered in the classroom. I am not a public school teacher, but in the GED classroom, a majority of drop-outs are due to outside pressures and complications, not lack of skills or access to instruction. Early and ongoing intervention in these students' lives is the only to keep from losing them in class. Based on a workshop I attended about advising last week, the same reasons for attrition apply to credit bearing courses at the community college level in NYC. I would venture that high school students in the urban environment share many of the same personal/social concerns as young GED and community college students. While politicians and administrators want to focus on delivering the content students need to achieve in the workplace or college, I feel like "soft skills" for managing life (and graduating high school) may be ignored. I know that many people would make the argument that these survival techniques are best learned at home, but what if you aren't growing up in a supportive environment? Don't we see that highly supportive, SMALL charter high schools with good counselors improve graduation rates? Besides $, why can't this be a public school model, too?
As for the teachers, could it be possible that the undergraduate and graduate training they received under-prepares them for the workplace, just as they in turn seem to be under-preparing their own students? Besides being current on pedagogies, should teachers equally be masters of their subject matter? Changing the standards for teacher education might help the content mastery of students in the long run...There are some english ed programs housed in English departments, for instance, but maybe post-secondary education for teachers needs to become a collaborative effort of education professors and subject specific academics.
Thanks for all your comments. In response to a few questions above and in the other blog posts, I'm posting some links and possible answers here.
The Community College Research Center published a study of outcomes of I Best programs in Washington state. You can access a pdf of their study at http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/ and searching for I-BEst in the search bar. The study is the first search result. The information presented compares student outcomes from IBest and non-IBest adult education and credit courses.
Someone mentioned the discussion around whether people should earn college credit in integrated vocational programs. According to Amy: Some states such as Washington (IBEST) already offer fully "credited" and articulated pathways for vocational and college programs. CUNY does not but I think the idea is increasingly part of discussions about how to create stronger links between workforce development and higher ed.
As for linking with adult literacy programs outside the CUNY system, I'm not aware of any formal linkage between programs. We do maintain lists of CBOs (Community Based Organizations) that we use to recruit potential students. I'd like to hear more about everyone's perspective on the possibility of using the IBEST model for adult learners who are at the most basic levels of literacy.
Thanks again for all of your comments and participation in the presentation.
GED programs are way more expensive to run per student than the cost of metrocards.
Concerns about targeting only advanced students with this program are valid. However, the best part of this program is that students earn college credits that are paid for by DOE. I would guess that the average additional cost of $500 per student that the article mentions is pretty low, if compared to the average per pupil spending citywide.
When I lived in Washington, I taught at a tech high school that was a magnet school for 16 high schools. This was an alternate route for students in their junior and senior years, where they could earn credits while acquiring skills for a specific profession. Culinary arts, vet tech, nursing, and construction trades were among the programs offered. Washington also has a college/high school program called Running Start. Its described on this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running_Start
For many of the students I meet, and for myself, too, I think one of the greatest perceived consequences of no college degree is economic. Here is a link to a bureau of labor statistics graph detailing the relation between education and pay circa 2008:
That said, the social/cultural consequences of not earning a college degree are less statistically quantifiable and less universally agreed upon than an education's monetary value, but equally present as a subject for consideration in and outside the academy. People like Arne Duncan, Stanley Fish, the professor who owns the building I live in, and the students I work with in GED classes cannot really dispute the economic value of a college education, but their social positions and cultural backgrounds determine diverse takes on why or if college is of consequence to them beyond the monetary benefit it is supposed to yield.
In my own education, college gave me the practice I needed to write more accurately and academically (although that may not always be reflected here) and become versed in the practice of engaging into inquiry about how knowledge and ideas are constructed. I bet that outcome is a bit different for a student of biology, as opposed to philosophy. The outcomes described above are practical consequences of training in a specific discipline. They are largely impossible to obtain in high school or in the library, because they are dependent on learning between peers and professors, and shaped by the community in which they occur.
Achieving any of the practical outcomes of college training depends on ascribing to, or at least acknowledging, a set of social norms practiced and advanced by whatever college one attends. I would venture that some, if not all, college graduates retain knowledge or practice of these norms as they conduct themselves in social, familial and business interactions. College is not the only venue where certain norms are advanced by a majority, but I would say that it is one with great impact.
February 15, 2010 5:04 PM
the link didn't post in the previous comment; here it is again: