All posts by lindapham2019

“A Farewell to my Classmates”

Dear Dr. Zamora and Classmates:

Every time I enter my local pizzeria, I reread this quotation that hangs from the door. It is one of my favorite quotations, and it is appropriate for my last blog post for my English 5020: Writing Theory class. We all came from different backgrounds and life experiences, yet Dr. Zamora was able to create a supportive and nurturing environment where we were able to share our ideas and writings without fear of criticism and reproach. For me, I have always been a private writer who kept my written commentary to myself. By the end of the course, I emerged as a public writer with a Twitter account, a blog with 23 posts, and a podcast.

I would like to my classmates who took the time to read my tweets and my blogs. It made me smiled whenever I would get a ‘like’ or ‘a heart’. And that is what is so wonderful about this class, the genuine support and encouragement from all my classmates and my professor.

This class has been transformative since it resonated with me on the intellectual as well as the socio-emotional level. Not only did I get a chance to read and write about Elbow, Bean, Delpit, and Lauer, but I also got a chance to get to know Nives, Medea, Kevin, Dylan, Karel, Megan, Lexie, Teethee, Susan, Dana, Kendra, Fatima, and Patricia. This class was more than just a writing theory class; it was about a journey of self-discovery. I have emerged from this process as a more confident writer.

I hope to see you again at Kean, and for the students who are graduating, Congratulations! I know that you will be successful and happy in whatever you decide to do. I hope to stay in touch via Twitter.

Your Classmate and Friend,

Linda Pham (@pham-linda)

Final Project: Linda Pham’s Peace and Quiet Podcast

I recorded an Introduction to my Peace&Quiet Podcast. I had to record it several times, and I am not used to listening to my voice. Please listen to the Introduction, and provide me with some feedback. (I cannot attach my audio file. Do I need to upgrade my WordPress account?) I did not record my entire blog on “Helping Asian-American Student Find Their Voice.” I am planning to record in class tomorrow. I will bring in more Pocky for tomorrow’ class. Drive safely.

Introduction: First Podcast

Welcome to Linda Pham’s Peace and Quiet Podcast. I am a mother of three teenagers — twin sons who are 15 and a daughter who is 18. I am also an English teacher, an avid reader, and a budding writer who is interested in blogging about education, writing theory, current events, and social issues. I am trying to make this world a better place for my children and all children. Please sit back and enjoy my first podcast…

Helping Asian-American Students Find Their Voice

Asian-Americans have long been dogged by stereotypes that categorize 

them as “quiet,” “hardworking,” “bland” and “not exciting” — stereotypes that

the plaintiffs said appeared in Asian-American admissions files.

– Adel Hassan, “5 Takeways from the Harvard Admissions

   Ruling,” New York Times, October 2, 2019

The good news is that according to Judge Allison D. Burroughs that there were “no pattern of stereotyping,” “no systemic reliance on stereotypes,” and “no intentional discrimination.” However, the bad news is that Judge Burroughs noted “implicit bias” and “unintentional bias” in part of the admission officers, guidance counselors, and teachers who wrote recommendations. It is disheartening to discover that the ‘elite’ members of the 40-person Harvard Admissions Committee harbor “implicit bias” against Asian-American students and may have unintentionally discriminated against them during the admission process. Therefore, I am pleased that Harvard is reexamining their personality rating and providing clarification on when race should be used during the admissions process. However, high school guidance counselors and teachers across the country need to also reflect on their own “implicit biases” toward Asian-American students.

High school counselors are paid by taxpayers to advocate for students, and teachers are paid by taxpayers to educate their children. Educators and school personnel are paid to teach, counsel, and support our students — all of the students. That is our job. We need to be empathetic, culturally sensitive, and supportive teachers and counselors. We need to work in the best interest of all our students. During my teaching career, I would ask myself, What if this child was my son or daughter?

As an Asian-American English teacher with over 15 years of teaching experience, I appreciate students who are “quiet” and “hardworking.” Quiet students are introverts and prefer to listen; not all students need to be loud extroverts. We need both introverts and extroverts in the classrooms. (And, what is wrong with being hardworking?)

Nevertheless, I acknowledge that some of my colleagues are uncomfortable with a classroom of quiet students and feel that they are “antisocial.” However, the adjective “antisocial” conveys an implicit bias. Although my colleagues mean well, they do not understand that these students are not “antisocial,” rather they are quiet and reserved. And that is okay! There is nothing wrong with being quiet and reserved! These students need to find acceptance in the classroom. To help students interact with each other and develop social skills, I found technology helpful. For instance, students collaborate on writing assignments, work on projects, or discuss in small groups. 

If the teacher wants the students to debate, find topics that are interesting to the students in your class. Asian-Americans are not “apathetic,” yet another insidious stereotype and another example of implicit bias. There are specific issues such as education that they care about such as the protests by Asian-Americans in New York City regarding Mayor Bill deBlasio’s proposal to eliminate the SHAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test) and to change admissions into the eight specialized public schools in New York City including Bronx High School of Science, and Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan). It is the duty of teachers to discern issues that are important to their students. Ask them what they are interested in learning, discussing, and debating. What is relevant in their lives? What do they want to discuss? Ask them questions. Give them a voice. Engage them. Empower them.

Protesting Against Mayor de Balsio’s Proposal to Eliminate SHSAT

Another example of an issue important to the Asian-Americans is the protests in Hong Kong where Hong Kong citizens are fighting against the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019,” which allows extradition to mainland China. The Hong Kong citizens are concerned that this law may expand to political dissidents, civil rights activists, or foreigners who may run the risk of being extradited to China. The larger issue is that Hong Kong is afraid it is losing its autonomy and democratic freedoms under British rule. Please see the video titled “I Worried That  Will Die: Hong Kong Protestors Write Their Final Goodbyes” (New York Times, October 2019).

Hong Kong Protestors

These images are powerful since they dispel the myth of the “apathetic” and “apolitical” Asians and Asian-Americans. One further example is Andrew Yang, who is the first Asian-American to run for President. He is another example of an Asian-American defying stereotypes. Therefore, educators, guidance counselors, administrators cannot reduce Asian-American students to stereotypes. They need to get to know their students as individuals. That is their job — to get to know their students — all their students. Even the quiet ones.

Andrew Yang

Getting to Know Your Asian-American Students
1.) Educators, counselors, administrators, and Board of Education members need to attend their students’ extracurricular activities such as orchestra or choir concerts, Science Olympiad or Robotics competitions, or other academic events. Educators cannot limit their attendance to football games, plays, and musicals. They need to attend an array of extracurricular activities to get to know all their students’ interests.

2.) Hire more teachers and administrators. Asian-American students and parents need to see school personnel who look like them. These individuals can provide a cultural perspective, and they need to be involved in the decision-making process. In the same vein, Asian-American parents need to run for positions on the Board of Education so that they have a say in how the children’s schools are run. Ultimately, administrators need to involve all the stakeholders so that there is a better sense of community and cooperation.

3.) Do not impose your own cultural values on your students. Get to know your cultural values. Respect their cultural values. Do not judge your students. For instance, some students may be quiet but that does not mean that they are “boring,” “flat,” or “robotic.” If those negative adjectives come to mind or you are writing them down, then that is implicit bias. You are imposing your values on “other people’s children” (to borrow a phrase from Lisa Delpit).

In our multicultural classrooms, we need tolerant, empathetic teachers who find joy in teaching diverse learners.

Further Readings

Elbow, Peter. “Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries.” College English, vol. 70, no. 2, Nov. 2007, pp. 168-188.

Delpit, Lisa. “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 58, no. 3, 1988, pp. 280–299, doi:10.17763/haer.58.3.c43481778r528qw4.


Hassan, Adel. “5 Takeways From The Harvard Admissions Ruling.” New York Times, 2 October 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/us/takeaways-harvard-ruling-admissions.html. Accessed 1 December 2019.


Beyond the Classroom: Developing our Public, Professional Voice

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What were my expectations for my first graduate class? I was expecting to learn some writing theory, write a blog, conduct some research, and present a project. However, Dr. Zamora’s class has been truly transformative: I am developing a public, professional persona via blogging on my WordPress site, tweeting on my Twitter account, and expanding my professional network by applying to the Digital Humanities Institute. I have blossomed from a private writer to a public writer wanting to fly and expand my reach.

Student voice is important to me. Encouraging my students to share their stories, and find their voice is an integral part of my class. Therefore, I found Kendra’s and Karel’s presentations on voice and the readings (Elbow’s “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries,” “Brannon and Knoblach’s “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response,” and “Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum”) to be one of the most important topics and overarching theme in this course. Dr. Zamora has encouraged us to express our opinions in our weekly blogs and generously provided us with 40 minutes to present our research interest during our Discussion Leads. Along with student voice, there is student choice. Now, she is giving us an exciting opportunity to come together to collaborate on a class project. 

To encourage the theme of student voice and student choice, I like Emily’s and Nives’ idea of an Open Mic Night where Kevin can share his comedy act, Fatima can share her poetry, and Patricia can showcase her artwork. (Do we have any singers or musicians in the group?) I propose to have the event in Barnes and Noble so that we can enjoy our favorite beverages while supporting our classmates in developing their public voice. We can advertise this event to the Kean community; we can also record this first annual event on Facebook Live! and post the video on Twitter to increase exposure. As for my contribution, I am an experienced event planner who can help organize, promote, and emcee the event. I am willing to speak to the manager at Barnes and Noble.

I look forward to this class project because we all have unique skills and talents; if we all come together, we can make this a fun and worthwhile event!   

We are ready to spread our wings, and fly!

My Love Affair with Rubrics:

“Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria” by John Bean

“As teachers, our goal is to maximize the help we give students while keeping our own workloads manageable.” –John Bean 

Professor John Bean provides a comprehensive and balanced analysis of rubrics in Chapter 14 (“Using Rubric to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria”) of his book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. Overall, Bean is in favor of using rubrics in the classroom, and he advises teachers to “communicate grading criteria to students at the outset” (267), which is quite valuable advice. No matter what type of grading system you have, it is imperative to communicate that information to students at the beginning of the course. 

He proceeds to explain the controversy about evaluation criteria by acknowledging that is there is a “tangle of uncertainty” surrounding grading essays because teachers do not discuss grading practices with their colleagues (268). One teacher may consider her grading policy as “universal,” while another teacher may consider it as “idiosyncratic” (268). Hence, there is an amount of “subjective judgments” in terms of grading writing since a random set of teachers can assign a paper different grades. As shown in the Paul Diedrich (1974) experiment, where he collected three hundred essays written by first-year students at three different universities and had them graded by fifty-three professionals in six different occupational fields, he concluded that they were a range of grades with “no essay receiving less than five different grades” (268). Five different grades for the same paper is quite a discrepancy. What would have been the results if he had fifty-three English instructors grading the papers? There may have been a narrower range of grades. Nonetheless, Diedrich made an important point: grading essays is not a precise science because there is a “wide disagreement” about constitutes good writing. According to the fifty-three professionals across disciplines, What is good writing? Using factor analysis, Diedrich identifies “five criteria of good writing such as ideas, organization, sentence structure, wording, and flavor (or voice)” and was able to train evaluators to look at writing based on these criteria; his research was instrumental in creating “norming sessions” that helped train teachers departmental or cross-disciplinary to create a “communal standard” of evaluating writing (269). Bean calls this “pro-rubric” strand, which is used to increase reliability in evaluating writing (269).  

While acknowledging that not everyone is pro-rubric, Bean provides an overview of different kinds of rubrics before further explaining the controversy surrounding rubrics.

Different flavors of rubrics such as analytic, holistic, generic, task-specific (or primary trait), grid, or non-grid. It is up to the teacher to decide which rubric she wants to use in her classroom. This freedom of choice is an important buy-in for teachers since they can customize  the rubrics based on their grading philosophies and adjust the rubrics based on the levels of their students. Customized rubrics are crucial when evaluating the writing of Special Education and ESL students’ writings. If a rubric places too much emphasis on grammar and diction, an ESL student may earn a low score. A steady diet of low scores send a demoralizing message to the students that they are not good writers. Therefore, the option of choice is crucial — especially within multicultural classrooms and with diverse writers.

Analytic versus Holistic. In an analytic rubric, there are separate scores for each criterion such as ideas, organization, syntax, diction, and voice. Some instructors prefer analytic rubrics because they are more detailed and concrete — and coupled with the instructor’s comments — provide more substantive feedback. In a holistic rubric, there is one score reflecting all the criteria. Some professors prefer holistic rubrics because “philosophically writing cannot be broken down to components” (270). Overall, analytic rubrics provide more detailed feedback for revisions; whereas, holistic evaluation is faster and more suited for rapidly scoring essays.

Analytic versus Holistic Rubric Chart

Generic Versus Task-Specific. Both analytic and holistic rubrics can be either general or specific. General rubrics can be applied to most writing assignments, while specific rubrics are particular to that one writing assignment. Bean prefers the task-specific rubric. However, the general rubric is useful as a starting point for new writing instructors or for writing tutors since the rubric conveys the department’s general grading expectations. In my English department, we are given a general rubric similar to Figure 14.1 (General Writing Rubric Using Analytic Method) and are encouraged to customize and adjust it based on individual assignments.

Different Methods of Describing Performance Level. Bean recommends “a simplified step-down approach to specify different levels of achievement for each criterion” (276), as shown:   Meets Most Criteria Meets Some Criteria Meets Few Criteria

Grids Versus No Grids. Some rubrics are gridless. Instead of specific descriptors for each criterion, the instructor asks questions such as “Does the introduction effectively present the issue and the thesis, while evoking reader interest (10 points)?” (Figure 14.5) Gridless rubrics are helpful during peer-revision conferences since students can see what the instructor values in their writing. The problem with gridless rubrics is that it is difficult to assign a score within the range of 10 points. Do I give the introduction a 7? An 8? A 5? Scales can be problematic.

After Bean provides an overview of the different types of rubrics, he summarizes the controversies about rubrics; then he provides his own approach to rubrics.

Controversies About Rubrics. Composition researcher Bob Broad raises the concern of the “false notion of the universal reader” in that students believe that there is “agreed-upon standard for writing” (277). Broad argues that students need to grapple with the fact that “readers read in different ways” (277). In response to Broad, instructors need to explain to the students that there is no universal standard for good writing and that there may be a need within a department to achieve reliability in grading by conducting norming sessions so that instructors’ grading of essays is not too strict nor too lenient. Students appreciate consistency in grading essays. Critics also argue that rubrics oversimplify the writing process. In response to this criticism, Crystal Sands in “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process” acknowledges that rubrics may not be able to capture the complexity of writing but does not mean that we should dismiss them (268). She argues that rubrics coupled with the instructor’s written feedback are effective. She makes a valid point by arguing that rubrics should not replace marginal notes, end comments, and other written commentary. 

The Problem of the Generic Rubric. The one-size-fits-all does not work, which was proven in a cross-disciplinary research project conducted by Thaiss and Zawacki (2006), where they studied the criteria when grading students, and they found that “generic rubrics can’t accommodate the rhetorical contexts of different disciplines and genres” (279).  Therefore, generic rubrics need to be revised to meet the rhetorical context of their discipline. To illustrate, a history teacher may be more concerned with historical accuracy than an English teacher. 

The Problem of Implied Precision. Writing is art, and by reducing it to grids, categories, and scales implies a sense of precision. However, that is not the case. Good writing, like beauty, is elusive. We cannot assess writing, art, or beauty with precision based on rubrics, no matter how good they are.

John Bean’s Left-Brain, Right-Brain Approach to Rubrics. Bean selects a task-specific, analytic rubric with a simplified step-down approach. He reads over a small sample of papers to get a range and to assess problems in the students’ writing. Then he gives the paper a holistic letter grade based on overall impression, which is his right brain score.  He writes end comments and then makes recommendations for revisions. Then he staples a copy of the rubric and circles a score based on each criterion. The sum of the score provides him with a left-brain score. This process may seem time-consuming to use both holistic and analytic evaluations; however, Bean asserts that this left brain, right brain approach  leads to a “fairer and more thoughtful grades,” and the payoff is that “students never challenge the numbers” (281). Overall, rubrics need to clearly communicate to the students the instructor’s judgment of their writing and offer recommendations to improve it. Rubrics serve as a bridge between the instructor’s and student’s expectations.

Finding What Works for You –From Simple to Elaborate Rubrics. There is an assumption that elaborate rubrics are more specific and better for providing concrete feedback. To illustrate, the College Board streamlined its original 9-point AP English Language and Composition Holistic Rubric to a simplified 6-point Analytic Rubric. Please see the video on the change to the AP English Language and Composition rubric: https://images.app.goo.gl/g6Z9nfV9wjG158mYA. The shift from an elaborate 9-point rubric to a less elaborate 6-point rubric resulted in a streamlined rubric that is more concrete and more student-friendly. I am a fan of simple rubrics, and in my 10th grade English classes, I use single-point rubrics. Please see figure below:

Conducting a Group Norming Session. After scoring the essays, Bean recommends a norming session where instructors can discuss writing scores and identify problems in students’ papers. Thus, having a conversation about grading writing is an integral part of any English department. It is also important to involve students in this conversation.

My Final Thoughts. With increased class sizes, it is not feasible to provide marginal notes, end comments, and extensive commentary on students’ papers. Therefore, rubrics — along with brief end comments and suggestions for revision — are effective tools in providing students with meaningful feedback and suggestions to help guide them through the revision process. It is also beneficial to involve students in the process of creating rubrics so that their voices and opinions can be heard. 

Questions:

  • Are you always given grading requirements and/or rubrics at the beginning of your graduate courses?
  • Have you ever received a paper with just a grade and minimal comments? Based on  these minimal comments, did you learn how to improve for the next paper?
  • What is the difference between a rubric and a grading guide?
  •  Are you in favor of rubrics? Why or why not?
  • Predict your grade for this course. Provide a rationale for the grade. 

Pedagogy of Liberation: Freire and Delpit

“Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one.” 

-Paolo Freire, 1968

Although Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire was written in 1968, his critical theory allows us to examine the socio-economic and political struggles of the 21st century, as exemplified by the #MeToo Movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and the Same-Sex Marriage through the paradigm of oppressed vs. oppressor. 

Freire asserts that within humanity, there are “two real alternatives: humanization versus dehumanization.” Humanization, according to Freire, is every person’s “vocation” or natural inclination; yet, humanization is both “negated by injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence,” and “affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice.” So, in other words, people intrinsically want freedom and justice; however, dehumanization occurs when people’s humanity is stolen from them. Interestingly, dehumanization occurs when oppressors are stealing the oppressed’s humanity because “it is a distortion of the oppressor’s vocation of being a full person” — that is, an oppressor oppresses an oppressed because he does not see the other person as a human. The oppressor loses his humanity, his sense of compassion and empathy. He is no longer a full person. To illustrate, women in the #MeToo Movement want to regain their sense of human dignity by suing rich, powerful white men for sexual harassment; African-Americans fight for their fundamental right to live by exposing police brutality and use of excessive and lethal force; and the LGBT community fight for their right to get married. It is “not in the three groups’ destiny to be dehumanized,” but instead, it is an “unjust order” that engenders dehumanization. 

Interestingly, according to Freire, it is the oppressed — not the oppressor — who must “restored humanity in both the oppressed and the oppressor” because the oppressor does not have the “strength” to liberate both himself and the oppressed. Why would Harvey Weinstein or Daniel Pantaleo admit to any wrongdoing? Freire argues that the “power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed would be sufficient t free both of them.” Furthermore, the power of collective voices can also be powerful enough to “restore humanity” in both the oppressed and the oppressor. Does Harvey Weinstein appear remorseful? Somewhat. Is Daniel Pantaleo upset that he is no longer a police officer? Perhaps. 

In order to liberate themselves and the oppressors, the oppressed may garner solidarity from supporters but Freire makes a distinction between “true generosity” and “false charity” in that false charity is a ‘hand-out’ to the “rejects of life” which further make them dependent; whereas, true generosity is a ‘hand-up’ where the oppressed is provided with the necessary skills to uplift and to liberate them. Think of a teacher. An empathetic teacher who acts in “true generosity” would have high expectations for her students, even students who look different than her and her children. She equips her students with the necessary skills to be successful in life, while the sympathetic teacher who doles out “false charity” would have lower expectations for her students because she feels sorry for them. She does not adequately equip them with the skills necessary to be successful in life. 

Why would the oppressor (e.g., the teacher or the boss) relinquish his power? No, the oppressed must fight for her freedom. In the fight for freedom, Freire cautions the oppressed by saying that they may become the oppressor themselves; this idea evokes the image of the pigs at the end of Animal Farm, where it was difficult to discern the difference between the pigs and men. Freire warns that the oppressed may suffer from a “duality” where they fear “authentic existence, but at the same time, fear it.” For example, some slaveowners have argued that they provide for their slaves, and therefore, there is no need for freedom. Once they are freed, they will need to think for themselves and fend for themselves. Are the oppressed equip with the necessary skills to take care of themselves. So, Freire ends with a central problem of “How can the oppressed as undivided, unauthentic beings participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?” 

The first step in creating a pedagogy of liberation is to create a democratic, student-centered classroom where the teacher is more of a facilitator of learning rather than the ‘sage on the stage.’ At this juncture, I will focus my discussion on Lisa Delpit’s “Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.”

Although it was written in 1988, Lisa Delpit’s issue of voice, power, and authority is still very relevant in classrooms and boardrooms. Delpit starts her essay with vignettes of minority faculty or students (or to use Freire’s term, the oppressed) members in English departments who have been silence and sidelined by their majority white peers or colleagues. To quote one black Principal, she says, “It becomes futile because they think they know everything about everybody. They don’t want to hear what you have to say. They only want to go research what other White people have written.” Here frustration reverberates in the hallway of academia as reported in the news recently that the students at Williams College are boycotting the English Department because of “history racism, sexism, transphobia, and other violences” (https://reason.com/2019/11/11/williams-college-english-boycott-racist-violence/). The oppressed faculty member is revolting against their oppressors, demanding to be treated with dignity and to be promoted equitably. They refuse to remain silent.

In terms of writing pedagogy, and in turn, liberation pedagogy, in the classroom, Delpit argues for process writing rather than skills-oriented writing. She further examines power in the classroom by making the following assertions: 

1.) Issues of power are enacted in the classroom.

2.) There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.”

3.) The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the classroom of the rules of the culture of those who have power.

4.) If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier. 

5.) Those with power are frequently least aware of — or at least willing to acknowledge –its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.

For a critical teacher, she must have high expectations. She must believe that her students are capable of higher-order thinking and reasoning. Students, regardless of levels, must be challenged. She also argues that it is not the school’s job to change the homes of poor, nonwhite children to match the dominant culture of power since she maintains that “each child’s culture and heritage is unique; however, there is a mainstream culture and mainstream language (Standard Written English) that they all must learn.” Delpit ends her essay with a powerful call to action: When educating other people’s children, we must include the parents and educators who look like them in the conversation. White teachers and white administrators cannot make all the decisions on how to educate other people’s children.

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Involve the parents when teaching other people’s children.

Power Dynamics in Writing Theory

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 Whether it is the writer’s authority in the teacher-student relationship (“On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response” by Lil Brannon and C.H. Knoblauch) or the rhetorical power of a writer’s voice (“Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries” by Peter Elbow; or the public voice in civic writing (“Why Civic Writing” on the NWP’s CEWAC website), the issue of writing and power is an undercurrent in English, specifically in writing instruction. Through the lens of this writing-power paradigm, I re-evaluate my relationships with my high school English teachers and college English professors.

Fortunately, I have had positive relationships with my English high school teachers at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, NJ; my white English teachers encouraged me, a Vietnamese, working-class refugee, to express my opinions in a majority white, upper-middle-class. One English teacher, in particular, Ms. Dermond, with her curly red hair cut in a bob, was very supportive of me. She gave me a college essay book to help me write my college essay. Years later, I returned to Mainland Regional High School to thank her and my guidance counselor, Dr. Phillips. Unfortunately, Ms. Dermond left, and Dr. Phillips passed away.

While in college, I experienced what Brannon and Knoblauch described as this “awkward English professor-English student relationship” where the professors, especially the newly-minted PhDs, had the “authority” over their students since they were “intellectually maturer, rhetorically more experienced, technically more experienced than the apprentice writer” (158). Since the English professors were published writers, experts in their field, they did not believe undergraduate students had much to offer; therefore, their writing did deserve “serious consideration” — hence, the professors did not spend time reading their undergraduates’ essays. The mundane task of grading essays was tasked to teaching assistants, which freed up the professor’s time to work on more important tasks of writing and publishing. To further explore this power relationship, Bannon and Knoblauch provide a power paradigm of an “Ideal Text” in that “the teacher knows best” and “there are two types of paternalism: conservative and liberal. The conservative teacher underestimates the student’s competence; whereas, the liberal teacher exaggerates the student’s competence” (159). Both types of teachers are equally destructive. Brannon and Knoblauch agree that “there needs to be a change in attitude in the teacher’s attitude and the teacher-student relationship, as well as a change in pedagogy” (161). I propose that this shift occurs on both the high school and college levels.

Proposed Shifts in Teacher-Student Relationship

  • Take the student’s writing seriously.
  • Transfer power (or “return to choice-making”) to the students.
  • Use multiple-draft writing so that students can “reassert their points.”
  • Provide students with opportunities to revise their writing so that the focus is on improvement rather grade justification.
  • Encourage students to close the gaps between “intent and effect,” which also helps with metacognition. 
Intent (Stated Intentions) 
My relationship with my former teachers and professors. 

Effect (Actual Effects of My Writing)
Analysis of power dynamics in English class through a personal example.
  • Use one-to-one conferences, peer-group collaborations, and comments on students’ essays.
  • Ask students to self-evaluate. My students grade their writing using a rubric that I provide for them. It is a helpful exercise that shifts the power relationship since students have control over their grades.

Another way to return control to students and to empower them is by helping them to develop their voice. Why is it important to give power to students in the classroom? And in turn, why is it essential for our professors to empower us, students? Why is important for our professors to listen us? Peter Elbows explains the importance of achieving this power shift by asserting that “…the anti-elitist attitude political desire for a fairer and less oppressive society — a desire to give more power to students and citizens at large” (168). Interestingly, Elbows links power in the classroom with power in society wherein teachers are not teaching students only writing but the confidence and skills to become informed citizens equipped to participate in a democratic society — and not an authoritarian society where “parents know best,” “teacher knows best,” “professors know best,” and “political leaders know best.”

Throughout the first part of his essay, Elbow engages in a power struggle with his colleagues by debunking the critic’s claims against voice instruction. He asserts his authority, his voice, and his rhetorical power by citing Greek sophists, Plato, and Aristotle’s either/or fallacy, citing examples of voice in the classroom, in social media, and in politics and the lack of voice in the classroom, stating the limitations of compromise, and then proposes “embracing contraries” in this voice debate. In essence, Elbow asserts that it is agreeable for theorists ‘to agree to disagree’ .

It is not until the middle of his essay does Elbow addresses the question of how do we make writing audible? One strategy that Elbow proposes is read aloud, which I use in my classes. To illustrate, I have the students record their writing and read their writing out loud. Sure, listening to “a good recording of a text” can be especially helpful for ESL students or struggling readers or students who do not want to read out loud. Another strategy is to have students read a chapter out loud, or to read “crux passages” in classes. (179) So, voice is helpful with reading. Elbow also provides advice in developing voice and self. He suggests that writers develop a genuine rather than a sincere voice. What is the difference between sincere and genuine? The problem with sincerity is that it not be believable. (Think ‘fake nice.’) However, being genuine is being real, natural, and being believable. He also suggests that we consider “resonance,” which is a connection to the audience. 

A final way to empower students is to have the students engage in civic writing so that their voices, their opinions can be heard. The NWP CEWAC provides helpful resources such as the Civic Writing Rubric to encourage civic writing. The rubric addresses Organization, Opening/Closing, and Linkage of Ideas, which is accessible for students.   

Overall, civic writing is real-life writing that citizens engage in a democratic society. We need to promote more civic writing to help students become global citizens.

Just Say No to Formulas in Writing; Do Not Erase the Sentence

I am pleased to report that in the Edison School District, a middle-class suburban school district in New Jersey, we do not teach formulaic writing that Jane Schaffer and her colleagues use in the San Diego school district. Schaffer’s approach to writing about literature and personal experience is too mechanical; it is similar to computing an algebraic equation.

Image result for algebraic equation
Compare this algebraic equation with Schaffer’s Formula fo Writing Literature and Personal Experience

Formulaic Writing at its Best: Schaffer’s Formula

Topic Sentence 

Concrete Detail 1 (CD=facts, evidence, paraphrase, proof reference, quote, or examples)

 Commentary 1a (CM=2 sentences; analysis, interpretation, explication or personal reaction)

 Commentary 1b

 Concrete Detail 2

 Commentary 2a

 Commentary 2b

Ratio: 1 CD: 2 CMs

Word and Paragraph Requirements:

  • 8-sentence paragraphs
  • Minimum of 100 words
  • Introduction and conclusions = 40 words
  • The introduction has three sentences

In trying to figure out why these teachers are resorting to such extreme forms of formulaic writing, Judith Langer reports that teachers and school districts resort to formulaic writing because of high-stakes testing. Students need to pass state-mandated tests for funding; if students do not pass, then teachers and administrators will be laid off. I just hope that this formulaic type of writing occurs a couple of month before testing, and afterward, the teachers resume their curriculum.

In poorer school districts where reading is not encouraged at home, it presents a problem for teachers. English teachers have only 40 minutes to spend with students. In classrooms with block scheduling, those teachers may have 80 minutes of class time. Students do not read on the weekend, during breaks, or during the summer. In response to this reality, teachers provide silent, sustained reading time in class (SSR). Without good models of writing, these students need more scaffolding and more structure when writing. As Langer reports, struggling writers do need “carefully structured assignments” along with graphic organizers but not teachers should not “repetitively assign the same assignments.” Teachers need to vary the types of writing assignments because it will be repetitive and monotonous for both the students writing the essays and the teachers reading the essays.

And yes, Langer is spot on when she concludes that a remedial student’s diet cannot consist only of “workbook drills, fill-in-the-blank exercises, and other test-prep materials” since this type of curriculum is “not relevant in their lives.” Although teachers agree with this line of reasoning, school districts are in a bind since administrators are afraid that students will not pass standardized testing without a test-prep class. In our school district, we have remedial English classes for struggling students such as ESL and special education students who have failed to pass one of the high-stakes standardized testing requirement, which is mandatory for high school graduation. These remedial classes, and perhaps Schaffer’s formula, may come in handy for these particular students, since these desperate seniors want to graduate from high school –even if it means producing formulaic writing.

Enters James Collins. He offers a viable alternative by suggesting that Schaffer’s formula can be used as one possible strategy for struggling writers; that is, teachers should teach strategies and not formulas. Collins argues that student-writers need three types of knowledge: 1.) “declarative, which is information (or facts) about writing”; 2.) procedural, which shows “students how to accomplish a task”; and 3.) conditional, which teaches the “students when to make choices.” Collins also makes an essential distinction between formula and strategy in that students do not apply a strategy “mechanically” as in a step-by-step formula but to learn to use different strategies (or tools) to “understand how to adapt a form to a particular situation.” To use an analogy, a writing teacher needs to teach the student that he cannot only drive in a straight line, but he also needs to make a left and drive in reverse. By using a formula, the student learns to write just one way. He does not learn to adapt to different writing situations. Therefore, he argues for “multiple writing strategies” and that these writing strategies are “social constructs,” where there must be a dialogue between teachers and their students. Teachers need to teach students when and how to use different strategies. To conclude, Collins states, “Writing instruction needs to equip student-writers with the tools (or strategies) to support their writing choices.” In other words, writing teachers need to allow students to think for themselves and to make writing decisions for themselves.

Once the student-writers learn how to write, then the writing instructors need to respond to their writing. In his essay “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing,” Peter Elbow’s argues for more “low-stakes writing” and more “minimal, low stakes responses” rather than critical responses. For instance: When I give my students feedback, I use the “mix response” where I praise the students’ ideas or writing techniques, then I tell them what they should focus on when they revise. I write, “Revise for…” Since I am the writing coach, I provide my students with opportunities to rewrite for a higher grade. This approach works well for me, especially since my students appreciate an opportunity to revise for a higher grade. 

Aside from providing feedback, how do we help improve student writing? As an adult writer, I have used sentence imitations and sentence combining and controlled sentence mutations in my writing. I use these strategies as revision strategies to help me improve my writing style. Adult writers use these strategies to help them improve their syntactical style. In “The Erasure of a Sentence,” Robert Connors provides some strategies for writing “longer, more mature, more varied, and more interesting sentences.”

Sentence Imitation 

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Sentence Imitation in Writing
  • In Francis Christensen’s article on “The Generative Rhetoric of a Sentence,” he teaches students to start with a simple sentence then attach phrases and clauses (or “free modifiers”) to produce a cumulative sentence. This strategy is helpful for writers who write simple sentences. As a revision activity, teachers can ask students to add a prepositional phrase or an adverbial clause to a sentence.
  • In Edward Corbett’s “The Use of Classical Rhetoric,” he introduces the strategy of imitation, defined as “emulation of the syntax of good prose models,” where “students copy passages, verbatim by admired writers.” This strategy may be useful when teaching rhetorical strategies in speeches. Teachers can ask students to copy a passage from their favorite speech so that students can internalize the structure of the speech.
  • Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester added a helpful strategy where the student was to asked “to read a provided analysis of the model’s structure” before creating an imitation. For a struggling writer, a brief discussion of the model’s structure may serve as a helpful guide.    
  • Edmund Miller combined sentence imitation and sentence combining by having students copy a passage and then make some changes to the passage.” He coined this approach as “controlled composition.” That is an exciting approach that goes beyond copying a passage. It requires critical thinking. 
  • By the 1980s, sentence imitation fell out of favor because critics claim that it thwarts individuality and creativity.

Sentence Combining

Image result for sentence combining
  • In 1957, Noam Chomsky introduced the idea of Transformational-Generative (TG) Grammar, which cast aside traditional and structural grammar. TG led to sentence-combining, which is the process of joining two or more simple sentences by using “embedding, deletion, subordination, and coordination.”
  • By 1985, sentence combining was slowly “erased” since critics James Moffet wrote that there is more to writing than syntax. He wrote, “we need to be concerned with the “meaning, motivation, purpose, and point.” 
  • Moffet is right. There is more to writing than syntax, and there is a causation-correlation fallacy; if a writer can mechanically combine clauses, that does not necessarily make him a good writer. 
  • Therefore, I maintain that sentence imitation and sentence combining should not be altogether “erased” (forgotten); preferably, these strategies should be used as revision strategies to help writers create longer and more varied sentences. 

Waiting for the Next Wave: Writing Assessments in the 21st Century

  “Important questions that continue to vex us today:

  • Who controls the writing assessment?
  • What the construct is that is being tested?
  • How we define validity and how that matters?”

      –Kathleen Blake Yancey, “Writing Assessment in The Twenty-First Century” 

What is good writing? Who decides what good writing is? How do we decide what good writing is? In her essay “Writing Assessment in The Twenty-First Century,” Kathleen Blake Yancey provides a history of writing assessments in three waves: 1.) Before the 1970s, there was a focus on testing, which was used to make high-stakes decisions regarding college admissions and college placement; 2.) From the 1970s to the 1980s, there was a focus on the writing process and holistic scoring; and 3.) From the late 1980s until the turn of the century, there was a focused on portfolios. Current waves in writing assessments include writing and critical thinking, writing and social inequalities, and the use of digital technologies in writing.   

In the first wave of testing, it did not work because it was a highly stressful “reductive practice” done to my students and students worldwide. Students were overly concerned with the SAT score and not necessarily on good writing. Highly competitive students spent too much time studying for the writing section of the SAT by memorizing grammatical terms such as misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, split infinitives, and passive voice. As Yancey points out, the writing section of the SAT in the 1980s was an “indirect measure” of writing where students were asked to find errors on a multiple-choice assessment. The assessment did not measure if the students could write clear prose; instead, it measured if students could identify errors. Therefore, college professors realized that just because their students did well on the verbal section of the SAT did not correlate with good writing.

In the second wave of writing assessment, the College Board decided to institute an essay on the SAT. They used holistic scoring to ensure consistent scoring. As first, students were asked to write an argumentative essay; then they were asked to write a rhetorical essay. Students were given 30-minutes to write a formulaic, five-paragraph essay. Once again, this type of assessment did not measure good writing. Now in 2019, Ivy colleges do not require students to take the writing section of the SAT. Instead, some colleges such as Princeton require students to submit a graded process essay with the teacher’s comments, which I believe is a step in the right direction. 

In terms of current moments of writing assessment, Yancey briefly mentions that there is research at Washington State University to examine critical thinking in writing assessments. I am interested in finding more about their research because most teachers, including myself, assume that writing requires critical thinking. As for writing and social inequalities, I am very interested in Sandra Murphy’s research on the cultural construct of writing and the validity of scoring non-native speakers. How do we fairly assess non-native writers? I have ESL students in my classes. To ensure their success, I give them extended time on writing assignments and opportunities to rewrite their essays. When I grade their essays, I take into consideration that they are ESL students. However, I do not believe that all teachers believe in this humanistic approach, which also sheds light on social inequalities and writing. We need to make sure that there is equity in the evaluation of writing assessments. We cannot penalize students who are non-native speakers. We need to provide these students with accommodations so that they can experience writing success. 

I am most excited about the most current wave of writing assessment: the use of digital technology in writing. Teachers, like myself, need to be taught technological writing tools so they can teach their students. To illustrate, I have used successfully various digital technology in my classes, such as Google Sites and Voice Recorder. Students like technology. I intend to use more digital tools in my classes to help my students become digital citizens. All students, regardless of them going to college or not, need to learn the use of digital technology in writing. (Please read “Should everyone go to college?https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/learning/should-everyone-go-to-college.html)

Therefore, in terms of writing assessment, writing assessment needs to be more inclusive. It cannot continue to b reductive. 

  • Who controls the writing assessments? (Decision-makers need input from students, parents, teachers, business leaders, and professors.)
  • What the construct is that is being tested? (Decision-makers need to realize that not all students will want to attend a traditional four-year college. The writing assessments need to prepare them for the world. They may not necessarily need to learn how to write a rhetorical essay. However, they need to learn to write a business letter, an email, a resume, or a cover letter.) 
  • How we define validity and how that matters? (If we ask students, parents, teachers, business leaders, and professors what matters in terms of writing, it may lead us closer to answering the question of what matters? Moreover, by including the voices of all the stakeholders, writing assessments will be more authentic, more equitable, and more valid.)

So, let’s sit back and wait for the next wave.

Some Good Ideas about Writing, Failure, and Rubrics

“Writing is a discovery.”

I had writer’s block this weekend. In the summer during Kean’s Writing Project, I had already read and blogged about Donald Murray’s “Teaching Writing as a Process Not a Product.” So, I had to reread Murray’s essay to glean new insights. What I found interesting about Murray’s essay is that he divides writing into “three stages: prewriting, writing and rewriting” and claims that prewriting takes up “85% of a writer’s time.” Yes, prewriting takes the majority of my time. Maybe, 75% of my time. Before drafting, I read the essays, think about what I want to say, think of a unifying theme. Then I ask, How are these essays connected? What fresh ideas can I provide? Then, the next stage is drafting, which Murray believes takes “only 1% of a writer’s time.” Not necessarily. During the drafting stage, I find myself simultaneously writing and rewriting so drafting takes up more than 1% of my time. (Please see a screenshot of my Revision History.) When drafting, I am also rereading, rewording, and rearranging sentences and paragraphs. A writer can approach writing in stages as Murray describes; a writer can also weave back and forth from drafting to revising as Nancy Sommers argues in “Revision Strategies for Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” So, in a way writing is both linear and recursive.

Drafting takes more than 1% of my time.

Eventually, I overcame my bout of writer’s block with a cup of tea and a dose of something to say. Writing is a form of discovery. Writing allows me to clarify and articulate my beliefs and values about writing, teaching, and myself. I am not too concerned about the grade nor impressing my audience, nor do not have the pressure of” publish or perish.” Unlike Geoffrey Carter (an assistant professor of English) who may be under pressure to publish. Carter churns out an illuminating essay on writer’s block by providing us with historical information on the term. He concludes his essay by advising writers to remedy writer’s block by “researching things before starting writing”; “playing with names such as Bergler-Burglar; or creating puns and anagrams.” Toward the end of his essay, Carter provides a remedy for treating writer’s block. He says, “When faced with the process of creating something, rather than just giving up, writing about anything that comes to mind — even if it is just fooling around with words — can sometimes motivate real work.” Dear writers, do not give up. Just start writing. Write anything that comes to mind. Fool around with words. Research words. Define words. He provides some good ideas on starting on drafts.

From this quotation, one can extrapolate that low-stakes writing like blogging may eventually lead us to “some real work in the future” — perhaps an M.A. thesis statement. One day when rereading my blog posts, I hope to discover a topic I would like to write about extensively. From my first drafts, I hope to stumble upon greater discoveries. This quotation also reinforces the idea of low-stakes writing in the classroom. Let students journal, write, doodle, draw. Let them create. And as Murray reminds us, “Shut up. When you are taking, he is not writing.” How true. At times, I need to remind myself to stop talking and allow the students to write. 

Most teachers are successful students. Most graduate students are successful students. Failure was not an option for them. They did not have to go to summer school, nor did they have to repeat a grade. They never experienced years of academic failure. That is a problem: perpetual academic failure. I am not referring to an occasional failure here or there, but years of failure. In my 10th grade English class, failure is not an option. Last year, none of my students failed English; none of my students attended summer school. Therefore, teachers must provide numerous opportunities for students to experience sweet success by giving them opportunities to rewrite, to provide extensions, and to provide unconditional encouragement and support. Therefore, I concur with Allison Carr’s perspective on failure. In her essay “Failure is Not an Option,” Carr urges teachers to “normalize failure” and to provide an “alternative view” of failure. She wants us to see failure as a conduit “to more creative, risk-taking, and an opportunity to explore a new direction,” especially when it comes to writing. I strongly believe that writing teachers are teaching process-writing rather than product-writing. By guiding students through the writing process, the students are more likely to take more risks and be more creative. By giving students opportunities to rewrite their essays, it will encourage a growth mindset. By giving quality rubrics before writing, it will communicate the teacher’s expectations to the students so that students are not second-guessing the teacher’s expectations. This approach will help in preventing failure, which could be a misunderstanding of the teacher’s expectations. So, Crystal Sands’ conclusion in “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process” is spot-on: We must provide specific rubrics along with quality feedback. Rubrics should not be merely an assessment tool. 

Now, it is time for another cup of tea…

Let them experience sweet success!

Dissonance: Writing Teachers and Student-Writers

As a high school English teacher, I have diverse student-writers in my class. On one of the spectrum, I have students who are overly concerned about grades; on the other end of the spectrum, I have students who simply want to pass. The students concerned about the grade are less likely to take risks in their writing. They ask, “What do I need to do to get an A?” Then I have students who write only first drafts. They do not want to revise their writing. They do enough to pass. Sure, I have all my students revise their writing using a Revising and Editing Checklist where they check for global errors (e.g., development of ideas, the flow of ideas) and for sentence-level errors and mechanical errors. I also encourage students to take stylistic and syntactical risks when writing. I also encourage them to consider audience, purpose, and modality. Some revise. Others do not care enough to revisit, rewrite, reorganize, or rethink.

Yes, they have been taught that revising is more than looking for “replacing vocabulary words” (Sommers 381) and more than looking for “repetition of words” (Sommers 382). Yes, they have been taught to revise and to revise often. Yes, they have been given opportunities to rewrite their essays. Yes, they have been taught that revising is not a “linear,” step-by-step, or mechanical. Rather, it is a “recursive” process of going back and rereading a word, a sentence, or a paragraph. Yes, they have been taught that writing and speaking are different modes of discourse since a speaker cannot revise the spoken word. 

Nonetheless, I find Nancy Sommers’ case study of revision strategies of student- writers versus experienced writers illuminating. In the following chart, I summarize her findings in the following chart and offer suggestions for writing teachers.

Student Writers’ Revision Process 
Experienced Writers’ Revision Process
“The students understand that revision is a rewording activity.
Revise for Form: “The experienced writers describe their primary objective when revising as finding the form or shape of their argument.”

Best Practice: Student-writers need to be given models of good writing. 
“The students list repetition as one of the elements that they worry about the most. They are aware of lexical repetition but not necessarily conceptual repetition.” (It appears that the students are looking to see if they repeated the same words in their writing.)
Revise for Audience: “The experienced writers imagine a reader (reading their product) whose existence and whose expectations influence their own revision process.” 

Best Practice: Students need to know that they are not just writing for the teacher. The students need to know that their writing will be shared with their peers in the classroom and outside the classroom and with members of the larger school community.
“The students stop revising when they decide that they have not violated any of the rules for revising” such as starting a sentence with a conjunction.
Revise for Meaning: “But these revision strategies are a process of more than communication; they are part of the process of discovering meaning together.

Best Practice: Teachers need to create revision assignments that are meaningful to the students. 
“Because students do not see revision as an activity in which they modify and develop perspectives and ideas, they feel that they know exactly what they want to say, then there is little reason for making revisions.”

Reimagining Revision Assignments and More Best Practices

Both Antero Garica in “How Remix Culture Informs Student Writing and Creativity” and Sara Deniz’s syllabus: “I Would Use the Kitchen Sink”: Writing as Re-Vision, Re-Mix, Re-Search: A Course Syllabus provide examples of how to make writing assignments more meaningful and more relevant to students. Here are a couple of ideas that I liked and intend to use in my classroom

  • Remixing is a fun form of revision.
  • Use popular culture, music, television, and even video games as a source of evidence. (A majority of my students like video games, so if you know a way to make video games educational, please let me know. @pham_linda)
  • Learn technology so you can teach your students how to use it.
  • Or, have them create a parody such as Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float (Plume, 2009).
  • Rewriting Opportunities: “You may revise the final draft of an essay for a better grade as many times as you need over the course of the semester.
  • Guided Free-Writes (first 10 minutes of class): It is used as a way to take attendance.
  • Exit Slips (last five minutes of class): It is used to measure the level of engagement.
  • Wall-Postering: a technology-free activity
  • Re-Visioning Experiments: 1.) Rewrite the ending of a narrative. Then write a paragraph explaining the change. 2.) Omit a paragraph or chapter from a reading selection. Then write a paragraph explaining the deletion. 3.) Listen to a TedTalk. Then type out only the words you hear while listening to him speak, neglecting those that you either can’t hear or miss because of the timing on your keyboard. Then write 1 paragraph reflecting on the process and/or the resulting text.
  • Re-Search Journal Entry: Select one page or passage from the reading selection, and identify a possible “Re-Search” topic or question: something specific that you would like to know more about in the world. Explain this topic in a short paragraph, including why you chose it. 
  • Please feel free to add to this list. @pham_linda
  • #unboundeq