Grammar & equity in the writing classroom

The Grammar Debate

Thank you Darline for walking us through a smart consideration of Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar by Patrick Hartwell.  Darline’s link:  Presentation Powerpoint

Scholars have been arguing for decades whether grammar should be taught formally in schools.  Some research suggests that teaching grammar does nothing to improve composition. Other scholars insist that grammar is basic and necessary, and that we face a literacy crisis today partly because of poor grammar instruction. But one thing the article does make clear is that much research has been done on this topic. 75 years’ worth of research, and yet, the issue of whether grammar is foundational to writing instruction still remains unresolved.  As we read Hartwell together, we come to apprehend that the complexities of linguistic tradition(s) and language acquisition makes it difficult to pinpoint a “perfect formula” for the role grammar must play in writing pedagogy. Perhaps formal grammar instruction pedagogy should be overhauled instead of scrapped altogether.  Effective writing instructors know there is not just one way to learn, and we accommodate different learning styles in schools and universities with various classroom procedures and pedagogies.  Whether we will ever be able to agree on a clear and final role that grammar must play in writing instruction, it seems to me (and Darline as well) that we must teach it in some capacity – offering it as a tool in our students’ toolboxes.  It is a critical tool which can aid in the metacognition and metalinguistic awareness of their own acquired knowledge.

Our ongoing discussion of equity

From a concern over the role that grammar might play in a writing classroom, we turned our attention in the second part of class to the question of equity. The rapid acceleration and adoption of digital content for learning is a pressing catalyst for digital equity.
So what does it mean to be a “good” digital citizen in a globalized context? How can we recognize and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers. How can we work together to create and sustain equitable and just learning environments for all?

We first took a look at the article by Paul Gorski which share three critical terms: -cultural competence, -cultural proficiency, and -equity literacy.  Presented like ascendent steps on a skill-based latter, these terms have helped us think through the goals we make or take to building a fair learning environment.  Equity literacy (as the most desired of the three skills to attain in this tiered formulation) describes the skills and dispositions that allow us to create and sustain equitable and just learning environments for all learners.

We then took a moment to spend time with Sherri Spelic’s thoughtful prompt which makes us think further about the blindspots that are so inherent when teachers design their learning environments.

We also looked at this powerful showcase of how bias and prejudice work on our hearts and minds:

Finally, we took a closer look at how racism works.  I think it is important to note that curiosity about human difference (in and of itself) is not a problem.  It is actually a significant POSITIVE trait to have an inquiring mind and want to learn about something you don’t know about.  But there is much revealed by how you might ask a person who is different from you about their difference.  There is the kind of curiosity that opens up dialogue (encouraged and critical to any learning) verses the kind of curiosity that is bathed in privilege and arrogant ignorance (see below video).  The distinction makes all the difference:

In addition to these food-for-thought prompts, I also want to share with all of you the second Equity Unbound Studio Visit we conducted this week regarding the work of striving for equity in our classrooms – it was certainly another profound and timely conversation:

What is next?

  • Please read Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality by Michelle Gibson, Matha Marinara, and Deborah Meem.  Christina will present on this article in the first part of our seminar style class time.
  • Write your fifth blog post, reflecting on Christina’s chosen article as well as any thoughts you are formulating about the equity discussion overall.  (I encourage you to take a peek at the Studio Visit above to prompt further thoughts.)
  • Don’t forget you can tweet comments/thoughts and your blog post to the #unboundeq hashtag!
  • We will continue with our #unboundeq activities (on the theme of Equity).  For our second half of class, I will focus on the TED talk on “intersectionality” from the  Equity Unbound suggested activities.  I think this selection might be a good follow up to the Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality article.

See you next Monday!  Enjoy the weekend.

Dr. Zamora

Monolingual methods & the ? of Equity

Teaching Writing in a Multi-Linguistic World

Another thoughtful evening spent thinking about crucial issues in current writing theory and practice.  Thank you Vee for a thoughtful presentation which guided us through Teaching Composition in the Multi Language World (Matsuda).  Your coverage of the article layed the ground work for an interesting discussion, and the choice to share a video from the television show “A Different World” about college students who attend Hillman College (a HBCU- Historical Black College/University) was particularly instructive. One of the characters from the show speaks “African American Vernacular” and had trouble understanding “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare in her First-Year English class. Until she realized, it was all about translation.

This video served as an illustrative entry point for all of us to keep in mind when considering the politics of language instruction in general.  As sense of legitimacy and power conferred in the mastery of language (in writing) requires a certain kind of determination, as well as a ceaseless supply of intellectual curiosity.  As we have read, Writing Centers, tutors, first year Comp programs often create learning environments where the ELL student is an afterthought.  There is little preparation and even less effective policy that truly supports this vast population of learners.  This is a truth despite the dramatic diversity of our local context.  Our own NJ could very well be more multilingual that the UN (or at least on par).  And still, we have little in place to support this multi-linguistic reality in our shared learning contexts.  Our discussion revealed that the ELL reality is not for the faint of heart.  To learn institutionally under such limited resources while experiencing a  dismissal of any previous global, cultural, multi-linguistic knowledge often becomes part of a sting of stigmatization & “remediation”.  What remains is a profound challenge that is rarely confronted comprehensively (whether by educators or institutions).  I am glad that within our discussion we covered an acknowledgement of the psychic truth of ELL experience.  For any academic consideration of these issues (through theory) should always be rooted in a compassionate understanding of that inherent struggle.  What is clear that we need further support from a professional development standpoint.images-3

Thinking about Empathy & Bias

For the second part of class we turned to the recent Studio Visit with Equity Unbound.  The topic of the informal conversation for this cycle was Empathy & Bias, which was a perfect follow up to some of the questions we had been considering re: the mono-linguistic bias of writing studies and composition studies.  This meaningful conversation covered much important ground, from thinking about identity, borders, and translation, to considering intersectionality and the problem of “cultural taxation”.  We also contributed a bit to the #unboundeq twitter feed to add some reflection.  In addition, you are invited to share thoughts in your next blog post:

What is next?

Have a relaxing and replenishing autumn weekend.  I look forward to our time together on Monday.


Dr. Zamora

On Voice (…and bearing voice in translation)

Peter Elbow on Voice

Thanks Jeanne for a thorough presentation of  Elbow’s theoretical writing on voice:  “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries”.  Jeanne spoke eloquently about the concept of “voice” with a clear lens into the key points of Elbow’s article.  We thought together about what makes up a “voice” as writers develop.  “Voice” is framed by Elbow as a rhetorical tool – a writing skill that needs to be considered (applied or withheld) depending on writing context.  Is the goal of teaching writing to develop the self by honing voice?  Or is voice a misleading metaphor?  Perhaps we do not really write, …for we are ultimately written by culture?  When facing these tensions around the concept of voice in writing, Elbow pointed out the problem of either/or thinking which often leads to a “compromise” mandate. (And compromise often becomes problematic way of understanding the complexity of perspective.  The result is often a watered-down middle-of-the-road take away).  Elbow thoughtfully favors both/and thinking.  Thinking that might instead include two opposing perspectives in relief, standing side by side for us to apprehend in stark contrast, in order for us to gather a more depthful understanding of why there might be such distinct/disparate perspectives.  (What a timely reflection to have at this point, no?)

….So what does a deeper dive into modes of thinking have to do with the construction of voice in writing?  The voice-as-self verses the voice-as-role debate illuminates that “voice” is indeed the perfect lens or metaphor for language as both material and historical.  As Jeanne pointed out the fact that Elbow always defines voice from an auditory/aural perspective.  And some of you followed up by sharing insight regarding the embodiment of language.  We know things in our body.  How do we give that kind of knowledge voice….in writing? …and in our lives?  What other ways can we claim “voice” (….other than through the polished act of writing text)?  It is important to take note that we can establish voice with our other senses.  Thank you Jeanne for sharing with us Molly Bartholemew’s work in order for us to think this idea through some more:

To Equity Unbound

From this rich theoretical conversation, we moved on to the #unboundeq public annotation of Lina Mounzer’s  profound article entitled “War in Translation”.  Thank you all for adding to the growing responses and conversation (link below).

What a powerful group read on the heals of our discussion of the embodied voice!  Lina Mounzer’s writing drove home the millions of ways that bearing witness and giving voice (in the act of translation) is a dangerous-but-powerful, burdensome-but-critical act.  I cherish the ways we are weaving together so much beautiful “food for thought” in our small classroom learning community, as well as the global one beyond our classroom’s walls.  As our class continues its journey through Writing Theory & Practice, we are contributing to #unboundeq by illuminating the essential role that writing and storytelling plays in bridging human understanding:

What is up for next week?

  • Please read Teaching Writing in the Multilingual World by Paul Kei Matsuda.  Vee will present on Paul Key Matsuda’s article and the politics of teaching writing in a multilingual world.
  • Write your third blog post, reflecting on both Matsuda’s article as well as any thoughts about the “War in Translation” #unboundeq group annotation. Don’t forget you can tweet it to the #unboundeq hashtag!
  • We will continue with our #unboundeq activities (on the theme of Equity).  For our second half of class, I will choose an activity or two focused on the issue of Equity from the  Equity Unbound suggested activities.

See you next week for more rich conversation and reflection!

Dr. Zamora

From our memory to our field of study…

Reflecting on the field of Writing Studies

Reading I think there is some momentum building now for our class as a whole.  It was wonderful to start our discussion this week with some reflective freewriting (a low stakes write-to-learn approach) while connecting with our own memories of how we learned to write, as well as how we were taught to write.  I think this is an important reference point to keep in mind as we embark on the journey of considering theory & practice today (and how an understanding of writing has indeed evolved).  I am also pleased that we had a chance to apprehend the formal field of Rhetoric & Composition in order to understand our own place in an ever growing field.   Some key issues that reverberate for me based on our shared reading of Lauer’s ‘Rhetoric & Composition”:

-The fact that in the past rhetoric and reasoning functioned at the center of civic culture (Consider the peril of our working democracy today….what role does reasoning play in civic discourse?);

-The complex relationship between reading & writing (…I think we will turn to this complex relationship over and over again with questions of our own);

-Does writing construct or merely transmit knowledge?;

-Is writing social or individual?;

-The disciplinary politics of writing – how writing is often understood as a teaching practice verses a research pursuit.

I have shared your excellent notes from class on our site for your reference.  It will be interesting to circle back to these opening freewrite questions as we close our semester to yield more insight into the overall journey.

The Danger of the Single Story

After our opening discussion of Janice Lauer’s article on the field of Writing Studies and  Rhetoric & Composition, we turned our attention to our Equity Unbound conversation.  This week the theme is “Empathy & Bias“.  What better time to engage in such reflection than a time when the American political landscape bears profound evidence of a failure to listen and imagine what it might be to be in somebody else’s shoes.  As our legislators struggle with personal testimony and an understanding of what it takes to fill the position of the highest court of justice in the land, we took some time to consider the danger of a single story vs the importance of many stories.  To listen to a story you do not know is just as critical an act as having the space to be able to tell a story.  Make no mistake, stories are the key to human understanding in the face of difference. And they are intimately connected to human power.  Stories generate a power to yield,  shape, and transform our perception.

Together we watched Chimamanda Ngaozi Aditchie’s TED talk called the Danger of a Single Story:

We also contributed a “flash” twitterchat (which is still unfolding on our #unboundeq hashtag for those jumping in asynchronously from different parts of the globe).  Your responses were insightful and prompted so much more reflection.  A glimpse of a few #unboundeq moments here:

We will continue to reflect on Equity Unbound‘s two week theme of  Empathy and Bias as we pick up on our general discussion for next week.

What is up for next week?

Looking forward to Monday!

Dr. Zamora

Moving beyond the “warm up”…

It was lovely to start our time together last class looking more closely at our Course Calendar.  By collectively curating your own readings for the course, you are also starting to think about what you are innately curious about when it comes to the writing process.  There is already a sense of your diverse interests emerging reflected in your initial selections.  I can guarantee that each of the selections made thus far will be an important part of the overall learning “take-away” you are building upon within Writing Theory & Practice.  At any rate, I think our Course Calendar is starting to shape up effectively, and I hope you take a close look at the Reading Roster again to make your second selection for the “Round 2” of presentations that will come later in the semester.


We also spent a bit of time acclimating to the backchannel platform of twitter by participating in the Equity Unbound twitter scavenger hunt.  As you know, Equity Unbound is a global online community and our professional learning network for the semester – and it also is a  growing conversation we will continue to have beyond the four walls of our literal classroom.  We will discuss many important issues regarding writing and learning in the digital age with the #unboundeq network.  The #unboundeq scavenger hunt has been a great way to jumpstart the growth of the open online community, and we have all made some initial contact with educators and students from around the world through this opening activity.  Remember, you can always jump back in there and participate asynchronously in order to sharpen up your twitter skills before we start to engage more purposeful content about equity and intercultural learning together.

With all that #unboundeq fun around our “mystery objects” over the past few days, we also stumbled across an issue that sparked us to create a twitter petition for Alt-text accessibility.  (The use of Alt-text helps to ensure images shared on Twitter will be more fully accessible for more people. Visually-impaired Twitter users who use a screen reader, for example, can understand an image only when Alt-text is used, allowing text accompanying an image to be read aloud through the screen reader.) I am impressed that the #unboundeq community has rallied around an inclusion issue early on:

What to anticipate for next week’s class:

We will start to build some momentum for our class.  We will engage in some reflective freewriting while connecting with our own memories of how we learned to write, as well as how we were taught to write.  I think this is an important reference point to keep in mind as we embark on the journey of considering theory & practice today (and how an understanding of writing has indeed evolved).  We will also discuss the formal field of Rhetoric & Composition via Janice Lauer’s article in order to understand our own place in an ever growing field.   We will discuss some key issues that come up based on our shared reading of Lauer’s ‘Rhetoric & Composition”.  And last but not least, we will also dip into the next phase of Equity Unbound activities by watching and reflecting together on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The danger of a single story.

To do:

  • Read Janice M. Lauer “Rhetoric and Composition”;
  • Post you first blog post!: -Reflection on the Lauer reading & anything you did/learned so far from Equity Unbound; you are also welcome to add general thoughts re: the start of grad school

See you next week and looking forward to it!

Dr. Zamora

Our first step into “Equity Unbound”

It was a pleasure to connect with all of you  earlier in the week, and to have the opportunity to hear a bit about each of you.  With this foundation course for our MA in Writing Studies program (aka Writing Theory & Practice), I am confident that together we will become a diverse community of thoughtful writers.  Collectively, we will share a wealth of knowledge and experience with each other.

I am already looking forward to our class next week.  Our first move for class is to join the “backchannel” for this class by joining the Equity Unbound community in conversation!  Equity Unbound (aka @UnboundEq or #unboundeq) is an emergent, collaborative curriculum which aims to create equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries and contexts.  As an #unboundeq connected course, we will participate in a networked conversation with other thinkers, activists, artists, scholars, educators and students around the globe.  Along the way, we will also focus on issues that are critical for every writer in the digital age.

I look forward to jumping right into the #unboundeq “fray” with activities from the first theme of Equity Unbound – Introductions and Identity. For the coming week, I encourage you to do one of the introduction activities. The #ALTCV may be the most detailed way to introduce yourself, but feel free to try an Unintroduction or a quick “View from my window” and/or pin yourself to the Unboundeq map (if this does not pose risks for you).

A forecast of what is to come:

In class on Monday 9/17 (at 5pm ET), our featured activity will be the Twitter Scavenger Hunt, described here. We will all have a bit of fun acclimating to our networked learning environment and discover how to use twitter productively in community.

On the agenda for 9/24:

-We will discuss our first reading (Janice M. Lauer’s “Rhetoric and Composition”and do a bit of collaborative writing and #unboundeq activities as well.  -We will also work together on the course calendar – matching each discussion leader to some of the selected readings.  (Please come with a selection of two readings as a “first choice pairing” and also a selection of two readings as a “second choice pairing”.  -We will also settle our course calendar.  (Please pick out two dates on our calendar that might work out for you).

Please remember to forward to me your url for your course blogs as well as your twitter handle.  Each of your sites will be “fed” into this course site.  When you post your first blog for the course by 9/24, you will see it appear under our “student blogs” section shortly thereafter (like magic ;).  Make it a habit to tweet your blog post each week to our class hashtag – #unboundeq.

Over the course of our semester together I hope we can develop a rich backchannel discussion on twitter which will extend our on-going conversation while opening it up to those who might be interested in similar matters re: writing in a digitized globalized context.  And also, please remember that for each class meeting you should develop the habit of reading through your colleagues blog posts as you prep for class.  It shouldn’t take too much time, but it will no doubt enhance our discussions and our overall class reflection.  I hope that some of the insights that you share in your blog posts end up becoming significant “entry points” for our in-person discussions.

Looking forward to this semester with all of you.  See you next week.


Dr. Zamora

Welcome to “Writing Theory & Practice”

I have been looking forward to meeting all of you and getting this course underway for sometime.  I know it will serve as a foundation for many of you as you carry on your academic journey in Writing Studies.   And perhaps more importantly, this class experience will expand your reflections as you continue your exploration as a writer.

This course will be an open (online), connected (networked), co-learning (participatory) experience.  Our ENG 5020 Writing Theory and Practice course will also be participating and collaborating with “Equity Unbound” aka #UnboundEq “Making Borders Meaningless”.  Equity Unbound or #UnboundEq is a global community and conversation focusing on intercultural learning and digital literacies on the open web – it is also known as an open online “collaboratory”.  (I have co-created this online community and conversation along with my partners Dr. Maha Bali from the American University in Cairo and Dr. Catherine Cronin from the National University of Ireland-Galway).  All Kean University students in ENG 5020 will also be active participants in the global @Unboundeq project.

One factor that often leads to boredom and lack of energy in the traditional classroom is the way that learning is perceived as a passive activity—a thing that happens to students. What you learn and how you learn it is decided by someone else, without considering what you care about, what you know already, or what you want to learn.  Part of the idea of an open class comes from giving you the opportunity to influence the course.  As we build a foundation for Writing Theory & Practice, and consider what it means to write in a global interconnected world, I want to place value in the interests and ambitions that each of you bring to this course.   What do you want to learn during out time together?  What do you want to make during our time together?  Please remember to reflect on these key questions throughout our shared time together. There will be flexibility and choices along the way as you determine some of  your own learning outcomes for this course.

Through discussion and negotiation we will identify shared purpose and a mutually beneficial learning agenda, we will compose many collaborative documents, and we will embrace peer-to-peer cooperation and learning. During our first meeting we will meet and get to know each other a bit, and we will discuss why we have all chosen to converge for this experience.  I sincerely look forward to this extended consideration of what we call writing.  I know that through our collaboration we will lay foundations of knowledge which will no doubt influence your future practice.

See you soon,

Dr. Mia Zamora