The writing retreat flew by. I looked up, and it was July 1, 2020, already! Initially, I was reluctant to take a virtual writing retreat. I was tired of remote learning as a teacher and as a student. I was looking forward to getting lost in the Liberty Hall Museum, quietly writing in the rose garden, lying barefoot on a blanket, sipping a refreshing beverage, enjoying the tranquility of a summer day. At the very last minute, I decided to sign up for the course to get a jumpstart on my thesis, especially since I will have to return to the uncertainty of school in the fall.
I had modest academic goals for the retreat: get feedback on my research proposal and revise it. However, I have gotten so much more out of this retreat! You, my fellow writers, made this experience truly transformative. I have learned so much from all of you and have grown as a writer and as a person. By sharing your experiences, I was able to reflect on my own experiences as a mother, teacher, writer, and student. I share your self-doubts, struggles, and dreams. You gave me great ideas to bring back to my classroom:
Kate: I am going to create a Safe Place in my class;
Cheryl: I like your Table of Contents, and plan to use it in my thesis;
Fatima and Kefah: I learned more about your culture;
Jada and Kathryn: I love your youthful spirit;
MaryKate: Enjoy motherhood;
Jason: You are such a fun presence in the class;
Diana: Happy Anniversary;
Tethee: It is finally summer;
Kesley: Good Luck in September;
Jen: Any school district is lucky to have you.
Megan, Nives, and Medea: The Three Mouseketeers. I will see you in September.
At the end of the Author’s Chair today, it felt like Virtual Happy Hour with old friends, reminiscing about old flames, failed relationships, and dating. Ending with Kesley’s “Jackson: Good Ol’ and Reliable” was perfect, the cherry on top. Her light-hearted tone allowed us to relax and to let our guard down. We bonded as writers and as humans. We, an eclectic group of writers from different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds, connected on academic, philosophical, and humanistic levels. If the tumultuous world could see us today, pouring our souls to each other, revealing our buried gifts, supporting each other, listening to each graciously, and laughing out loud. Today is a reminder that art can connect people regardless of color, political affiliations, socio-economic status, so forth.
Sadly, I know people who are quick to self segregate, to be around people who look like them, think like them, and vote like them. They do not want to take the time to get to know people who are different from them. I chose not to self-segregate. My children are a beautiful blend of two distinct cultures; my best friend Robin is from Barbados; I am from Vietnam. In my life, I seek inclusion, diversity, open-mindedness, human connectedness, and truth.
Growing up, I was taught the conventional narrative of the American Dream, of going to college, getting a good job (with medical insurance), buying a house with a two-car garage, getting married, having children, taking vacations, retiring with a golden parachute. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, and Virginia Woolf teaches us, women, that we need to be able to financially support ourselves so that we can write and pursue our passions. In order to have a room of one’s own, one needs to be able to pay for it. Therefore, I am aware of my privilege of attending a remote writing retreat during COVID; while others are on the front line wearing surgical masks for eight hours a day, perhaps working two jobs, struggling to pay the taxes, and the mortgage.
Today, I am reminded of my privilege when I stopped by Wegmans, picking up California rolls, King Salmon rolls, shrimp rolls, and carrot cake when the tired young cashier looked at me and said, “My mother loves sushi.”
I looked at her, and smiled, “Yes, buy the rolls for your mother. They are cheaper and better-tasting than the ones in the restaurants.”
I do not resent people who do not have the luxury, time, or money or to bond with diverse people during a writing retreat. Then, I wonder, How do we connect with people who are different from us so we can learn, grow, and evolve as society?
So, I write. I share my stories to show people that I am more than a stereotype and that I am not an Oriental (as in a rug or vase) and that I am not a model minority and that I am not a math-science-tech person who works in ITand that I am not a China virus.
By birth order, I am a caregiver. I am the oldest child who was given the enormous responsibility of caring for my younger siblings while my mother and father worked long grueling hours. As an adult, I am a mom who makes sure that everyone is fed before I sit down to eat my meal. At times, I feel as though I am Atlas, holding the weight of caring for my family’s well-being, the uncertainty of returning to school in the fall, my career pivot, and my educational dreams on my tiny shoulders.
I am exhausted! Too tired to think, too tired to write, too tired to socialize. To help me cope with my bouts of negativity, I need to be mindful. I remind myself that this blue period shall pass, and I need to set time aside to recharge. That is why Teethee’s post on hanging out with friends and going to the beach reminded me of the need to relax and to replenish myself. I am running on empty, and need to refill. Yet, COVID complicates my plans, especially when I am living with the lingering fear of What if I get COVID and affect my high-risk husband? (Damn, I resent COVID.)
Then Fatima, with her gentle smile, gifts me with poetry and jazz to uplift my soul. Her blog on jazz reminded me of one of my favorite songs, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
Yes, I have a wonderful life. I have the opportunity to pursue my dream; in fact, we are all pursuing our dreams. We share common goals of getting published, earning a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree, and finding our passions. For some of us, our dreams were interrupted by children, family, illness, finances, or some other reason. However, we have never given up on our dreams. We hold it dearly in our hearts, waiting for the ‘right’ time. Do not listen to the naysayers who say, “You are too old” or “You’re not good enough.” Langston Hughes shows us that it is better to try, then never to try at all.
I am trying. My goal for this writing retreat is to seek feedback on my research proposal and to revise it. I look forward to researching the intersection of equity and educational tools such as laptops, printers, internet access, and online grammar checkers. Furthermore, I want to learn more about grant writing to secure a grant for students like Daniel, who want access to Grammarly Premium. That is enough.
Week 2 of the Writing Retreat: Peer-Supported Learning, Feedback, and Revision
After writing a 25-page research proposal replete with a Literature Review and an Annotated Bibliography, I now have to revisit this proposal, seek feedback, then revising, which is a daunting task since writing, just like housework, is a never-ending task. Allow me to digress: At this point in the writing process, all of my high school students would stop the writing process, usually after one draft (if I am lucky). However, I do want to instill in them that at some point in their academic or professional life, they will need to compose multiple drafts of writing work (i.e., college essay, recruiting letter to a coach, business letter, letter to a judge, so forth). Revision is such an important aspect of writing, perhaps the hardest, at least for me.
Therefore, I am appreciative of the feedback that I received from my fellow writers and Dr. Zamora today during our intimate group discussion. During the meeting, I asked, “How long does my thesis have to be?”
“It is up to you,” Dr. Zamora responded.
That simple statement is quite liberating! I did not have to follow a protocol? My Master’s thesis does not need to be 100 pages, with 50 sources, an Annotated Bibliography, so forth? In terms of length, it is up to me?
So, this afternoon, I did a lot of thinking and rethinking, trying to reimagine my research proposal. On the one hand, I enjoy research and reading research proposals. I like the idea of entering an intellectual conversation and sharing my perspective. On the other hand, some people may consider online grammar checkers a boring topic. Yet, I feel as though there is a void in this type of research, and I would like to explore this void. Let me further clarify the purpose of my research proposal. Let me also ask, Is this topic boring? Is it worth pursuing?
Writing an autoethnography about my experience with grammar is an act of rebellion (Ellis & Bochner, 2011). As a Vietnamese boat person and now an English teacher, I offer my experience with grammar as an ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) learner and now a writing teacher. Although I have a B.A. in English and am pursuing an M.A. in English Writing Studies, I would not consider myself a good writer. What is the origin of this insecurity? In retrospect, I trace my identity as a writer to elementary and secondary school, where my teachers were quick to point out my subject-verb agreement errors with their red pens. Many students, like myself, felt the impact of the symbolic red pen, and new research shows that corrections do not improve students’ writing skills; in fact, “they may have a negative effect on students’ attitudes” (Semke, 1984). In other words, the affective (emotional) factors are just as important as cognitive factors (Semke, 1984). The corrections-only approach may have a detrimental impact on students for the rest of their lives. However, there are teachers who are “Language Police, Syntax Snobs, Usage Nerds, or SNOOTS [“Sprachgefuhl (or the character of a language)Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance”) or (“Syntax Nudniks of Our Time”)] (Wallace, 2011). In faculty rooms across the country, one can hear the SNOOTS’ war cry: “These students cannot write! They do not know grammar!” On the battlefield, the English teacher takes out her weapon of choice, the red pen, to correct the grammatical errors. In a way, the pen is symbolic of the power the teacher wields as she corrects her students’ errors (Freire, 1970). After correcting the paper, she tops it off with a low mark, leaving an indelible mark on the novice writer who feels a sense of inadequacy and bitterness toward writing, the teacher, and the entire educational system. The student feels demoralized, yet the teacher feels that she is doing a good job. There is an obvious disconnect. Why would a writing teacher uphold such an oppressive pedagogical philosophy? Writing theorists point to unconscious bias in part of the teacher. Paulo Freire theorizes that the authoritarian teachers who focus on correcting students’ errors want to maintain power over their students; he argues for a pedagogy of liberation where there is a shift from a teacher-center classroom to a more democratic, student-centered classroom where the teacher is more of a facilitator of learning rather than the ‘sage on the stage.’ In terms of writing pedagogy, Lisa Delpit postulates that white teachers are teaching “other people’s children”; these teachers may lack empathy because the students they are teaching do not look like their children. Delpit argues for process writing rather than skills-oriented writing, so the focus is on the students’ effort and not on their errors. Consequently, John a. Powell and Stephen Menendian (2017) argue one of the major problems in the 21t century is “othering,” which is a type of prejudice where one group may see another group as different from them, thus, marginalizing them. Othering occurs because of the desire for power and unconscious bias. In the case of teachers, they may be a desire for intellectual authority in the classroom and perhaps unconscious biases.
It was so appropriate to start the class today with a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver titled “Summer Day” and to dedicate this class to the theme of Paying Attention. As I mentioned in class, I loved the details that Mary Oliver incorporated into her poem, especially the careful detail of the grasshopper chewing back and forth (and not up and down). Here is a reading of “Summer Day” by Mary Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CL6bKVbJQ.
It is incredulous to me that she spent the entire afternoon watching a grasshopper. I must confess that I never slowed down to watch a grasshopper for a minute yet along an entire afternoon. I had things to accomplish, groceries to be shopped, dinner to be made, clothes to be washed, essays to be graded, kids to be transported.
COVID slowed me down. I did not need to transport my three kids to their activities; I did not need to commute to work. And this writing retreat provided me with an opportunity to reflect, think, write, read, share, and connect –all in the comfort of my home.
I am always in search of a good book, so I was excited when Dr. Zamora introduced me to Ocean Vuong. I adore his first name, Ocean, and the title of his book, On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. I cannot wait to read his book! I also admire him for having the temerity to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. As a writer, I have self doubt; all writers have self doubt. Is my writing good enough? Will it be published? Yet, Ocean at the young age of 31, is a New York Times bestselling author and a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner. Wow.
Thank you, Dr. Zamora, for introducing me to Mary and Ocean.
What motivates me to get up every morning? After years of chasing money and prestige, I quietly figured out my purpose, and the tagline of my Peace and Quiet blog succinctly conveys it: “Making the world a better place for my children.”
My mother never wanted kids; she never wanted me. When she was 17, she had me. My Vietnamese name, Tu Nhi, means “firstborn.” I was also a girl, not a boy. I do not begrudge my mother’s honesty. She was too young to have a child; in a way, I took her youth from her. As a mother myself, I understand. I get it.
I vowed not to be like my mother, who was always too busy, too preoccupied, too tired. When I was pregnant with my firstborn child, I desperately wanted to be a good mother. I read manuals on parenting, talked to more experienced mothers, joined support groups, yet I felt insecure about becoming a mother. I have no fear of bungee jumping or speaking in front of thousands of people, but my deepest, darkest fear is that I would turn out like my mother.
Sometimes, I would sit alone in my car and cry, crippled with fear and anxiety. Afraid that my husband and children will see that I am a fraud and a failure. When they were babies, I was afraid that I would drop them, especially when bathing them in a slippery bathtub. At night, I checked on them, afraid that they may succumb to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). When they were toddlers, I was afraid that they may fall into the pool and drown. I never was able to relax when they were around water. As teenagers, I was afraid that they would hang out with the wrong crowd and end up on drugs, vaping, or doing drugs. These fears were irrational and all-consuming, but I did not want to be a ‘bad’ mother.
Nineteen years later, I am happy to say that I did not turn out like my mother. Just like my plants, I cared for and nurtured my three children — twins, Adam and Adrian, and Diana — who are now 16 and 19! They are just fine. I did not drop them. They did not drown in a body of water. They do not smoke nor vape.
Since my children are older now, I have a little more flexibility regarding my path in life. I am exploring all the possibilities. I am not sure if I want to continue with teaching or pivot in a different direction. I do know that my career pivot will involve making this world a better place for my children (and all children). Therefore, I chose Professor Howard Gardener’s quotation to represent my values. No matter what I do or my children do, it has to benefit society. I gently remind my children that their mother was a Vietnamese boat person who emigrated to the United States in 1979, after the fall of Saigon. I was given the greatest opportunity to live in the United States. With that opportunity comes great responsibility.
Day 2: Getting to Know My Classmates (Tuesday, June 23, 2020)
Writing is a window into a person’s soul. By reading and responding to your posts, I get to know you a little better.
I appreciated Dr. Zamora’s “shout-outs” this morning, which prompted me to read all my classmates’ daily reflections on the first day of the writer’s retreat. Here are my thoughts as I read my classmates’ hopes, dreams, and fears, and struggles.
Dr. Zamora: Every time I gaze at the image on the homepage, I desire to be transported to South Carolina where the beach is a beautiful walk away.
Jada: I care to read your letters. I love your open and genuine tone. I look forward to reading more of your letters.
Fatima: Since I have never been a confident writer, I admire your confidence as you state in your opening sentence, “My gift is writing.” Thank you for your wisdom and your simile: “My writing space is everywhere” and “Thoughts sprout like flowers.” Yes, ideas are always dancing around in our heads. We need to write them down before they blow away.
Megan: Your reflection resonated with me since I struggle with bouts of insomnia too. I am struggling with issues that are deeply buried and hidden. I also find myself struggling to breathe in deeply too. Once we return to our ‘normal routines,’ I hope we are able to find solace and sleep.
Tether: Just like you, I wasn’t ready for the first day of ‘class.’ I just finished teaching on June 16, and June 23 arrived so abruptly. I was also inspired by classmates, and their enthusiasm was infectious. I love the idea of a “writing hideout,” to escape the mundanity of everyday distractions of cooking, cleaning, paying bills, answering emails, so forth.
Kate: I love “meeting 17 new writing friends.” As a bonus, some of these new friends are writers and teachers. I did not realize all the jargon floating around; thanks for pointing out digital literacy, electronic literature, social-emotional, writing space, and fluidity.
Jenn: I look forward to reading your thesis on teaching writing to students with disabilities. I plan on working on my thesis on online grammar checkers during the writer’s retreat and would love to hear about your experience. At times, I feel that there is more fluidity with writing.
Marykate: I love being a student again, too! Wow, that is amazing that you already have three chapters of your novel. I cannot wait to read it!
Medea: Since I love your stories of your family, I look forward to reading your memoir. Although the Writer’s Retreat was not at Liberty Hall, I enjoy the comfort of being at home writing asynchronously, sipping my green tea.
Jason: Being connected and engaged during remote learning is essential. And Dr. Zamora was able to set the right tone and mood yesterday in creating this community of writers.
Kelsey: This idea is so powerful: “I write to be free.” Please explain how writing frees you?
Cheryl: I met you last year in Professor Keifer’s class. I hope you had a productive sabbatical.
Diana: My daughter’s name is Diana, so I will not forget your name. I miss hot yoga and savasana. I am glad to read that your husband is so supportive and helpful, especially when you are trying to write.
Nives: It is nice to see your face during the Google Meets. I am glad to read that you have conquered some of your fears. I need to learn to overcome my anxiety. The older I get, the more difficult to accomplish. I like the title of your memoir, Seashell, it reminds me of human beauty and frailty.
Kefah: I appreciated your extended metaphor to the Wizard of Oz, especially when you painted yourself as a bricklayer, paving your own path.
Lexie: I really liked your quotation: “I write for relief.” Writing provides us a means of releasing our fears, anxieties, and doubts, especially during such uncertain times.
Katelynn: I started graduate school as a private writer, too. However, I realized that I can still be a private writer and a professional public writer. It is not a binary.
I hope I did not miss anyone. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. I leave you with a paradox: Although we are different, we are similar.
After abruptly shifting to remote learning on March 17, 2020, I did not get a chance to reflect on my experiences as a graduate student and as a high school English teacher. In terms of my graduate experience, my professors smoothly transitioned us to remote learning without sacrificing academic rigor. In my Digital Literacy class, I was able to leave with a digital story treatment filled with memes and gifs that chronicled my emotional journey during COVID-19. In my Research Methods class, I managed to write the first 15 pages of my research proposal along with an annotated bibliography. During the writing retreat, I plan to expand my research proposal. I look forward to Dr. Zamora’s feedback.
Since I had great professors during remote learning who taught me Slack, Zoom, Google Meets, Blackboard, and various other educational technologies, it made my transition into remote learning quicker and more efficient. I did not have to quickly learn how to implement new technology platforms since I was accustomed to using them as a graduate student. By the second week of remote learning, I was able to successfully schedule both Zoom and Google Meet sessions with my students. By the end of the school year, I felt confident to be a marshal for the first virtual graduation, which was conducted via Zoom. From the experience with remote learning, I agree with Dr. Zamora that socio-emotional during remote learning, a period of isolation, is paramount. It is important for our professors to connect with us; it is important for us, educators, to connect with our students, their parents, and our colleagues. Humanity is crucial during remote learning.
However, by the end of the year, I had enough of remote learning. I was mentally exhausted and was not looking forward to September 2020. What would the first day of remote learning look like in September?
Fortunately, Dr. Zamora provided such a great first day of remote learning. It was organized, multimodal, and interactive. Here are my thoughts about today’s first day of remote learning lesson:
I liked the suggestion of everyone switching their view to grid-view since it created a sense of community and connectedness.
I also enjoyed the Two Truths and One Lie icebreaker since it was engaging. Based on my experience, students during Google Meets were checking their social media and not paying attention to one another. However, with this particular icebreaker, the audience had to listen to one another to find discover the “lie.” Everyone was engaged and learned new information from one another. Listening to one another is essential in creating a sense of connectedness.
I also plan to provide information on slides so students can hear and read the directions. Having directions in writing is like a comforting blanket; students can refer back to them when needed.
I also liked that Dr. Zamora focused on participation and that participation is an important part of the “grading.” Yes, engagement and collaboration will be a major part of my grading policy in the fall.
Multimodal assignments such as posting a picture of your writing space create a community of writers. The photograph gives the audience a glimpse into your little part of the world. It creates a beautiful sense of intimacy.
I miss blogging, and I am excited to learn from Dr. Zamora and all my classmates, old and new.
Overall, I had a great first day and look forward to tomorrow when I will be working in small groups and with Dr. Zamora.
Starks & Trinidad. “Choose your Method: A Comparison of Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory”
At the end of my Research Methods Class, I appreciate the comparative study that Starks and Trinidad on prostate cancer screening, where they use three research methods: phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. They provided a useful hourglass metaphor (Figure 1) illustrating the similarities and differences among the three research methods. It appears that these research methods are different in the beginning and end but converge in the analytic and post-analytic stages, especially in the sharing methodologies for decontextualizing and recontextualizing data.
The researchers decided to use a comparative approach since they were undecided in terms of which research design to use. It is refreshing to read that other researchers struggle with this intellectual decision. I also struggled with my research design. Earlier in the course, I had decided on grounded theory, then decided against it since the coding aspect appeared overwhelming. Then I entertained the idea of a case study and phenomenology, but obtaining IRB approval during remote learning may cause further delays in the completion of my research proposal. So, I have decided on autoethnography, which is similar to phenomenology, in that both incorporate elements of a narrative in its research design.
Another exciting aspect of Starks and Trinidad’s research study is that they have three different audiences with three different goals: the novice researchers, researchers who are familiar with one research design but another, and teachers of research methods classes. In retrospect, I believe that they accomplished their goal of providing a framework for researchers and teachers in the three different research designs. In terms of their secondary purpose of deciding which research method to use during prostate cancer screening, I would recommend the Discourse Analysis: How the Discourses of Medicine and Public Health Construct Doctor-Patient Roles and Identities. By providing novice doctors a script when discussing prostate cancer screening with patients, the conversation will be more precise. The discourse analysis approach will produce more beneficence than the other two research methods. In a way, Starks and Trinidad had two purposes for their research study. Therefore, it is crucial to keep in mind the purpose of the research when deciding on a research design.
In my research proposal, I like the idea of multiple audiences and goals. My first audience is graduate and undergraduate students and the impact on online grammar checkers on their writing. The second audience is high-school English teachers or content-area teachers and writing instructors who are interested in helping students revise and edit their writing. My third audience is a decision-maker who may need the data to purchase the online grammar checkers for the entire institution.
In terms of Sampling, the researchers contend that it is not necessary to have a large sample of quality data. The average sample size is 1 to 10 participants. I had initially assumed that a larger sample size would produce quality results; however, it does not hold.
A key difference in the design is within the Analytic Methods, specifically under the Coding section, where phenomenologists are writing stories of people’s experiences, and discourse analysts are coding people’s language for patterns, themes, and roles. In contrast, phenomenologists use “a constant, comparative coding process” through three stages: 1.) open coding (“examining, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data”); axial coding (“reassembling data into groupings based on relationships and patterns within and among the categories identified in the data”); and 3.) selective coding (“identifying and describing the central phenomenon”). Hence, a novice researcher may need guidance with the coding section of a phenomenological study.
Although the researcher may use self-reflection in the analytic stage, they must refrain from inserting their preconceived notions. In phenomenology and discourse analysis, researchers must “bracket” themselves where they set aside their assumptions so as not to bias the research study. In terms of products of a research study, there are surveys, explanatory theories, and stories.
I want to end with the most helpful takeaway, the Methodology (Formulating a Research Question) to help me formulatemy research questions:
What is your experience with online grammar checkers (Phenomenology)?
What discourses are used, and how do they shape identities, relationships, and activities? (Do the copy on Grammarly such as Awesome! motivate writers?) (Discourse Analysis)
How does the social process occur in a particular environment? (Grounded Theory)
The last question did not necessarily fit with the purpose of my research proposal, so I can rule out grounded theory (which I did). I would say that this exercise is helping in deciding the research design. Overall, this study is valuable to researchers and had wished that I had read this earlier in the semester.