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Transformative Education & Language Justice

Teachers need to transform the education field for the sake of their present and future students. English is not the only language that majority of the student population speak, as within the United States and the rest of North America, we live on land in which the Indigenous peoples’ mother tongues or cultural languages are not English. The U.S. specifically is a melting pot of diverse ethnicities, religions, cultures, races, and communities. Therefore, having English be the primary language for every conversation in schools puts students who have English as a second language in danger of failing in their classes.

bell hooks’ Teaching to transgress covers the importance of transforming the classroom and motivating students to change their ways of understanding and interacting with the world. Multiculturalism shows us how the classroom has been set up with boundaries that perpetuate biases. It makes us complicit in doing so, even with the best intentions. Students are shown to complain when they figure out that they will be talking about race, feminism, or class in an English class. This shows that students are not used to talking about these topics unless it’s in a specific rare situation. We don’t talk about these topics enough with young people.

Muriel Harris and Tony Silva cover the idea of approaching students with different needs in Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options when it comes to teaching ESL students. The proficiency of students whose first language is not English differs between students. Like students who are learning about race, feminism, and class for the first time, students learning to speak, read, and write in a new language will show discomfort with the unfamiliar fields. Contexts are different, with the influence from other languages and cultures causing a disconnect with the new material.

To reach language justice and transformative education, teachers need to come together with their students to break down the language and cultural barriers set up by the homogenization of American and western English-speaking classrooms. Teaching should involve allowing students to speak up in the ways they are able to, communicating with students as equals instead of talking down at them, and opening up dialogue for unfamiliar territory and new ideas. ESL students need to have educators that will approach them based on the specific needs they have. Multilingualism is important for educational programs to have, as everyone comes from different backgrounds and it is a disservice to ESL students to only prioritize english and only sometimes highlight another language that isn’t spanish.

Change is a Scary Thing

Please welcome Change to the stage!

Now I know that Change is a scary thing for many people, but for Bell Hooks, it is long overdue. In Chapter 3 of Teaching to Transgress, Hooks states “Many teachers are disturbed by the political implications of a multicultural education because they fear losing control in a classroom where there is no one way to approach a subject-only multiple ways and multiple references.” (Hooks). 

The Education system is long overdue for a radical change. Let’s look at History classes. We all have learned the story of Christopher Columbus in school and outside of the classroom have learned that he was a horrible person. Yet, how many stories have we learned in school about the Indigenous people who were here long before Christopher Columbus? Not many at all. Why is Christopher Columbus part of every curriculum yet the Indigenous people are always left out?

These questions start to illustrate why Hooks feels that change is needed in the Education system. Hooks herself wondered why so many white male authors are taught in English classes. Did you ever notice growing up how authors of color were mostly studied in February during Black History Month only? It’s these racial biases that are deeply embedded in the American Education system that shape teaching pedagogy. 

Growing up, you just kinda accept the fact that you are only studying one group of people (White males) during your Education career. As a kid you don’t really understand it, but as you grow older, you question it. And it makes you wonder how different your way of thinking would be if you learned about all different types of people. And it makes you wonder who benefits from keeping things the way they are.

Our next guest is Tutoring ESL Students. The article Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva is a perfect example of why multiculturalism is needed in the Education system. The authors state 

“The findings (and these should be seen as very tentative) suggest that adult ESL writers plan less, write with more difficulty (primarily due to a lack of lexical resources), reread what they have written less, and exhibit less facility in revising by ear, that is, in an intuitive manner-on the basis of what “sounds” right, than their NES peers.” (Harris & Silva).

If a tutor knows those things about adult ESL writers, it allows them to be much more helpful. Knowing that the writers plan less tells a tutor that they need to focus on the prewriting stage. The tutor might spend extra time going over strategies for planning such as outlining. This will help the ESL writer when it comes to writing their draft and it will allow the ESL writer to become more familiar with the prewriting process. This is one reason why multicultural education is important for both students and those who teach/tutor the students.

Harris and Silva’s article raises an important point about how many ESL writers want tutors to correct the grammar of their work above all else. This makes sense from the perspective of the ESL writer because they don’t have a full understanding of all the in’s and out’s of the English language so a tutor can clean up their grammar since they have a more complex understanding of English writing. But this approach doesn’t address the bigger concerns of a student’s writing such as the organization of ideas and rhetoric. It is more important to help students understand these issues before dealing with grammar. Helping a student see that will allow them to focus on the main points of their work, rather than minor details. 

A Paradigm Shift

This week’s reading included yet another chapter from Bell Hooks’s book Teaching to Transgress. In this specific chapter, entitled Embracing Change: Teaching in a Multicultural World, Bell Hooks expressed her disdain for the lack of diversity in higher education and proposed a few solutions to this problem. Before I dive into her actual writing, however, I would like to commend Bell Hooks and other theorists who fought an uphill battle to create a more inclusive educational environment nationwide. While there are still issues in regard to a lack of inclusivity, the United States public school system (and beyond to a degree) has progressed greatly on the front of offering a more culturally diverse curriculum. Although a myriad of frustrating problems still plague the education system in this country, it seems that we are taking a step in the right direction as far as multiculturalism goes. Had it not been for scholars such as Bell Hooks and Paulo Freire fighting against these enormous problems pervading not only education but society as a whole, we would be living in a far worse world.

In chapter 3 itself, Hooks shares her own experience as a nontenured professor teaching at a university with predominantly white male professors. Most of these professors were resistant to the concept of a multicultural curriculum or made overtly racist comments when confronted with this new approach. Even in a course that focused on works written by women, there was noticeably low effort put into representing non-European cultures. Aside from the issues involving the professors themselves, many of Hooks’s own students were (at least initially) resistant to her multicultural approach. According to Hooks students would regularly make comments such as “‘I thought this was supposed to be an English class, why are we talking so much about feminism?’ (Or, they might add, race or class.)” (Hooks 42). This is understandable given that these students were not previously challenged to critically analyze literature on a philosophical or sociological level. Now when exposed to these concepts, they are confused and do not see the link between the subject of English and other disciplines. However, while Hooks describes many of her students despising her class for its more critical approach to literature, she also states: “I have found through the years that many of my students who bitch endlessly while they are taking my classes contact me at a later date to talk about how much that experience meant to them, how much they learned” (Hooks 42). It would seem that her approach had an impact on her students and opened their minds to a new lens upon which they could view and assess the world. Part of this approach, it appears, involved the students regularly sharing their own experiences and thoughts to one another which is a brilliant way to allow various viewpoints and cultures to blend.

The second assigned reading this week was “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options” written by the scholars Muriel Harris and Tony Silva. Right off the bat, I agreed with the authors that ESL students require, more than anything, individual attention in order to allow them to progress their knowledge of the English language. Far too often, it seems that ESL students are thrown into standard English classes and forced to either sink or swim. This approach is obviously insufficient and can cause ESL students to become discouraged and give up entirely. The key component to being able to tutor ESL students properly according to Harris and Silva, is to first understand the perspective of these students. If educators were able to put themselves into the shoes of their ESL students, they would soon learn that it is an immensely difficult struggle to learn both a new culture and language simultaneously and often at an inconveniently older age. This is why the authors emphasize recognizing what went well in the ESL student’s work first and foremost before making other comments. The main thing that these students require–particularly early on–is encouragement as they are taking on a monumental task.

In closing, an inclusive curriculum combined with devoting special care and attention to ESL students can go a long way in promoting a more diverse and ethical society. At the end of the day, the main goal of the education system should be to create ethical and functional members of society, and therefore we must focus on fostering a learning environment that represents multiple world views and cultures. The United States has a reputation for offering refuge to people of all cultures and draws its strength from this rich background. It is my hope that this core idea continues to progress into the future.

Paper, Slides, & Response to “Suggestions for Tutoring ESL Students”

Reaction Paper


My reaction paper and presentation are above. My response to “Suggestions for Tutoring ESL Students” is below.

Suggestions for Tutoring ESL Students: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When registering for the Spring 2024 semester, I noticed on the list of classes we can choose from that there are three electives that have to do with tutoring in or administration of writing centers. Working in a writing center in the future would be interesting to me–I could have the benefits of teaching without the drawbacks. (Imagine, one-on-one interactions with students without having to grade papers afterward–that’s living the dream!) I also had many ESL students in my former life as an English teacher, so I was very interested in this week’s article by Tony Silva, “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options.” In it, Silva offers strategies for tutors tasked with helping ESL students with their writing. While reading it, I looked backward, revisiting my interactions with ESL students to see how my strategies compared to Silva’s, and forward, thinking about which tips might be useful should I ever find myself working at a writing center. While I found parts of the article that could be useful to me, my response to this article was skewed toward the negative. On the one hand, I was really happy to read an article that offers some specific advice about how best to serve the ESL population in the capacity of a writing tutor. On the other hand, I was taken aback by Silva’s insistence on the limitations of ESL students.

Let’s start with the positive. What I found to be the most interesting in the article was Silva’s position that the social interactions between the tutor and the student are just as important as the teaching that goes on, and that, in fact, it may not be possible to teach the student effectively if there is a lack of cultural understanding: “[U]nderstanding and accommodating cultural differences is, to a great extent, what ESL instruction is all about” (Silva 527). Silva also suggests that it is important to learn how to differentiate between cultural preferences in writing and weaknesses in writing, and I support his conclusion that the rules of American English are not better or more correct “conventions and preferences,”  but rather “alternate” ones (527). He advises that American tutors should, if possible, learn about sources of potential cultural misunderstandings, like eye contact, personal space, physical contact, and customs surrounding time management, prior to working with ESL students (Silva 527). He also mentions that ESL writers may “come from cultures/educational systems where teachers are expected to be “tellers,” where those who don’t “tell” are seen as poor teachers, or where such casual interaction with relative strangers is seen as odd or inappropriate” (Silva 533). With Silva taking so much care to avoid positioning American ideas and rules as superior to those of other countries, I was very surprised when I reached page 533.

After enjoying the reading and finding it interesting and helpful, I encountered the following sentence: “Tutors need to tell ESL writers that it is unrealistic for them to expect to be able to write like native speakers of English” (Silva 533). Silva goes on to advise tutors to “explain that even non-native speakers of English who live in an English-speaking area for many years and write regularly in English maintain a written accent” (Silva 533). He goes on to say that the tutor should tell the ESL student not to worry because if native speakers “penalize them” for minor writing problems, it will only be a small penalty (533). While I think it is reasonable to tell a student that he will not learn how to write like a native speaker in the short time he is with a tutor, I think that it is not right to dash his hopes of ever doing so. For all of the good that Silva is trying to do by sharing his knowledge in this article, this part made a little alarm bell go off in my mind: Is he being racist? He’s not citing any evidence to support his proclamation that people who aren’t native English speakers can never write like native English speakers–he just declares it to be so, repeatedly. Are there exceptions and idioms in English that make it incredibly challenging to avoid making mistakes? Sure, but they are not infinite. If someone truly wanted to learn them, I believe they could. Silva is claiming that all ESL students, without consideration of the age at which they began learning English or how hard-working they are, are all equally limited in their ability to achieve true proficiency–this is stereotyping. Silva is saying that their lack of Americanness will prevent them from full mastery of English.

I had hoped that this comment was just a one-off, but to my dismay, it was not. Two more times in the article Silva positions ESL students as lacking the potential for full mastery. On page 535, he writes that “it’s not realistic to expect that an ESL writer will ever use articles like a native speaker does. ESL students should be encouraged to do the best they can and then get a native speaker to proofread their work” (Silva 535). I had a visceral reaction to the idea that the ESL students should “do the best they can” and then, when they reach their threshold of understanding, they can ask a benevolent and heroic native English speaker to lift them up from their state of confusion and carry them to the finish line. How patronizing! And, if there’s any hope that I’m just misinterpreting his position, he writes one last time that “even the most proficient [ESL students] aren’t likely to display native speaker-like intuitions” (Silva 535). It makes sense that they wouldn’t have intuition, but I would hope that an educator would understand that acquired knowledge can inform something like proofreading. And, for what it’s worth, I have encountered plenty of native speakers of English who were unable to hear the mistakes in their own writing.

I understand that Tony Silva is in a helping profession and that the whole point of this article is to help people. I understand that he has years of experience under his belt and I cannot deny that there are useful strategies offered in the article, some of which I have used in the past to help my own ESL students succeed. But after working through my thoughts on Silva’s comments, I don’t know whether I should trust any of Silva’s suggestions if some of them are patronizing and soul-crushing. I may work at a writing center someday, but I know for sure that I will never tell another human being that he will never be as good at writing as I am. No way, no how.

Oh – Change, Change, Change . . .

~~~~Anotha week, anotha blog post ~~~

Classmates! I hope all is well with you!


Ahhh ~~ Another chapter from Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by Bell Hooks. One of my favorite readings from this course thus far! In my first blog reaction, on the introduction and first chapter, I talked a lot about Hook’s trauma in learning and academia and the unfairness of it all. I was angry yet inspired by her story of learning as she put her academic oppression into research and action. And, in Chapter 3, we get further insight into Hooks’ research, the seminars held for professors, and her findings and observations from suggesting the idea of changing the curriculum and teaching practices. What I found most interesting was the resistance and lack of appreciation for ethnic minority cultures from academic professors. The unwillingness to accept change in academia seemed absurd to me. I get it – change is scary and uncomfortable. No one likes any form of change because it requires new perspectives, new insights, adjustments to routine, and an overview of processes and patterns.

With change, comes discovery. Unfortunately, many of us fear to discover, because what is found cannot be unseen, and this can refer to literally anyone or anything, and can be taken literally or figuratively. What shocked me most were the many professors who had to “unlearn racism to fully appreciate a democratic-liberal arts learning experience” and their inability “to cope effectively with so much difference” within their classrooms because aren’t educators life-long learners? (Hooks, 39). Isn’t that the very purpose of being an educator? – to do the difficult work of discovery and bestow such knowledge onto the next generation? Isn’t being a life-long learner the teacher’s version of a standard professional oath?

Once I graduated with my Education degree, I became a life-long learner. I pledged (to myself as a future educator) to never become too emotionally attached to any of my beliefs or constructed perceived preconceptions of reality because I’d then be limiting my potential to understand all those who do not live mylife. Everyone has a story, and all stories have an antagonist or some form of an “enemy.” For hook’s, her enemy was the oppressive nature of white supremacy leaking its way into her learning experience. For me, my enemy is my neurodivergent self. Although an enemy of mine, my anxious lens is a hidden strength as well. I think what Hooks has done is commendable – to study the enemy in such a way that helps understand their thinking processes, which to me, is the only way to educate others on how not to become the enemy themselves. Perhaps, that’s why I’m an intellectualizer – trying to understand myself to learn how to effectively cope with life and all the forms of learning that takes place during a human’s lifespan.

Anyway, I hope research on liberal-democratic learning continues within the fields of Education and Writing Studies because the system is broken. For some reason, many students feel they can’t use their authentic voice at school, and I’m referring to both writing and speaking. With that being said, I want to try and answer this quote: “What does it mean when a white female English professor is eager to include a work by Toni Morrison on the syllabus of her course but then teaches that work with out ever making reference to race or ethnicity?” (Hooks, 38). It simply means that this professor shows interest in the idea of diversity but continues to hide behind her veil of truth to avoid discovering the many truths that differ from her own. And, if any student were to ask her, “Why don’t we read more literature from Hispanic, Asian, or any other ethnic authors?” She can pull out her safety net (AKA the syllabus) and point to Toni Morrison’s name and say, “Look! We are!” without really addressing the issue at hand. And, to me – that is the definition of laziness.


Francesca Di Fabio



From what I gathered from Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, is that writing tutors (like educators and professors) must do the individual inner work and research to assist diverse learners in their college writing centers. I noticed many similarities between this reading and that of Bell Hooks’, the underlying commonality being adjusting expectations in writing, and to adjust expectations, we need to undergo a process of change. Specifically, by understanding the cultural differences between the composing process of ESL and NES students.

We talk a lot about the importance of voice in this course, as many of our assigned readings reflect the research on this controversial problem area. From reading literature on voice, to attempting to analyze my own voice, I’ve noticed that voice in writing encompasses everything that helps defines us. And it would be silly to say that our ethnicity, race, and cultural upbringing does not help define us? If researchers in Composition and Writing Studies want to argue if the idea of voice in writing even exists, then they should take a good look at the writing struggles of ESL learners, as it has been proven that every culture comes with rhetorical strategies and exceptions in writing. I’d like to put some emphasis on this quote, “With our heightened awareness of multiculturalism, we are also more aware of cultural preferences that are reflected in writing” (Harris and Silva 527). Such cultural preferences, if not understood, can be looked upon as weaknesses rather than just differences, which will only further the damage to the ESL student’s self-esteem.

So, I’m going to bring up the idea of change again. From both readings, I’ve gathered and concluded that learning needs to change. I know for some – many probably, learning has never been an issue. But learning is certainly as issue for American minorities, those from other countries, and those with disabilities. Perhaps, if you do not fall into one of those categories, you’ve never really had to think about all that desperately needs to change within the learning processes of the American Education System. A thought process that avoids change because, in this instance, you never desperately needed change in learning. And, this type of avoidance thinking is not your fault, nor anyone’s fault in particular. There are many topics of injustice that need change, but I could not tell you much about them, simply because those topics are not my story or truth to tell. I’ve never experienced the need of change in many areas of my life. ~~ I suppose change comes with the realization of privileges and advantages in one’s life ~~


Francesca Di Fabio

American History X, Y, and Z

The topic of multiculturalism in the classroom has been striking a chord with me over the past few days as if the hands of fate were carefully planting seeds for what this blog might become. As a lifelong insomniac, it is a semi-regular occurrence that I might wake up at four o’clock in the morning and either go for a walk or turn the television on looking for a movie that I could hopefully, but unlikely fall back to sleep to. 

This morning that movie happened to be American History X, which has always been one of my favorite movies for its emotional depths and societal nuances that it navigates harshly, but fairly. In the movie, a young, impressionable Derek (Edward Norton) is raised by a father who is a racist. Derek’s character attends a school with an African American professor (who I believe was a Phd in the movie) as his mentor. At first, Derek is impressed by the perspective this professor offers and what the books he is reading, including Native Son, offer in terms of a deeper understanding of a culture entirely different too his own. I had not read Native Son the first time I saw this movie, and did not remember its mentioning until seeing that seen again this morning. Last year while working at a school with a fairly multicultural student population, the book was recommended to me. To say the book devastated me was an understatement. Seeing that seen today maybe me realize just how tragic Derek’s story was as he went from someone who went from being interested in the ideas and plights of others to taking his father’s racial ideations to an extreme, becoming a neo-nazi skinhead, a group of people I am somewhat familiar with, having grown up in the New Jersey hardcore music scene. 

Without spoiling more of the movie than necessary, I will say, that despite his horrific beliefs, Deker never seems to stray from the initial respect he had for that mentor. 

I am two things simultaneously as a person, and before I state what those two things are, I must say that I am not phrasing this in such a way as to put myself down, but merely to suggest that I have a lot to learn. I am both a lover of culture and what I would consider relatively uncultured. I can condemn the atrocities of what is going on in the middle east as people die in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but if asked to define,  describe, or sum up the ways in which that part of the world came to be congested with conflict, I would fall short of being able to aptly give any form actual details as to just how we got here. 

While I was teaching, my classroom was a mixture of races, ethnicities, religions, and genders, and I will be the first to admit that I was intimidated, not understanding how to properly form a classroom that embraced culture how I wanted to. Bell-Hooks mentions that there is not enough education on how to make the educational experience inclusive and I couldn’t agree more. I thought about teaching books such as Native Son and Yellow Wife in my classroom at times, but was terrified as to what my students would think. “The white man teaching us our own history.” I was never able to find the proper way to negotiate this line within myself. Bell-Hooks mentions that we must acknowledge that a lot of us were taught under a single norm system where we were taught to believe certain things were universal. While I can’t say whether or not I agree or disagree with this, I can acknowledge the fact that I don’t remember ever having a single teacher in English who wasn’t Caucasian, or recall reading any books relating to the cultures, reading literature by African Americans outside of black history month, or reading about any genocides besides the Holocaust, which was represented by The Diary of Anne Frank as a teenager and Number the Stars as a child.

Bell-Hooks believes that there must be a way for a teacher to go through a training program where they can express their own concerns about teaching a multicultural curriculum in a multicultural classroom, and while I love this idea, I don’t quite know what it would look like. This sort of training, while it may be a brilliant idea, may fall short in addressing diversity because of the nature of how much diversity there is in the world. How can one teacher preparation program teach me the ways in which to handle teaching culture? How would it tackle LGBTQ books (Insomniac City), African American literature (Their Eyes Were Watching God, A Raisen in The Sun), literature of the Middle-East (Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns), or other books with such vast cultural offerings (Tattooist of Auschwitz, Life of Pie, Killing Commendatore). There are more cultures than there would be time for a training program to tackle in my eyes, so how would you choose what cultural sensitivities to exclude?

I find there to be a bit of irony to what happened in the meeting that was held at the University with Bell-Hooks, which started as all-inclusive but eventually did not allow for students to attend until things got contentious over comments made by professors that could be seen as racist. I guess the university decided, that it was more important for the teachers to educate themselves than it was for the students to educate the teachers by excluding those voices, a bit of irony in there somewhere.

Some of the old guard of professors spoke up and understood that a change was needed, but were uncertain as to go about the change. To an extent I can sympathize, I love living in my own inclusive world, but understand the world is not as inclusive. I could have filled my classroom with a third African American literature and a third of literature written by Hispanic authors, and I would still be missing countless perspectives and stories that my students could learn from. It is not my fear of losing control of my classroom that hindered me, but the heavy weight that comes with picking and choosing the cultures and perspectives to focus on in such a finite amount of time.

When reading Harris’s pieces on tutoring ESL students, I think back to my former classes where many of my students were fluent in English but had been raised with Spanish as their first language. This article gave me a better understanding of what those students went through in some of their more fundamental childhood years as they negotiated the rules and regulations of multiple languages, places, and cultures. I’m thankful that some of them did get the one-on-one attention that Harris deemed necessary for these students to be successful.

Harris believes that when prioritizing errors, a teacher or tutor should first acknowledge what is well done in the work. While I find this to be fundamental to teaching writing in general, I think it takes on a different, more significant weight when looking at the works of an ESL student. Students who come from other backgrounds, while processing the rules of English, will still find ways to frame and structure English and obtain a unique voice through this. I think of Murakami as my favorite example of this, as many of his works are written in such a way that they are overwhelming to me. They give me a sense of surrealism and confusion that somehow draws me in in ways that many other authors fail to. We all see the world differently, yet we all also express how we see the world differently, even in one language such as English, and I think this is a crucial thing for a tutor to navigate when determining what does and does not work within a developing writer’s offerings. While students can be easily classified as ESL students, that title branches off into hundreds of different directions, each ESL student is different and has been shaped by culture and change, and because of this each should be respected and treated differently. I feel Harris addresses this by highlighting an important aspect of tutoring ESL students is to first study multiple pieces of that student’s writing to understand their trends, patterns, and voices. 

Harris also references the differences in how the writing process occurs between ESL students and native English speaking students, and shows that studies indicate that ESL students will often focus less on what “sounds” right during the revision process. This is interesting to me as on one hand, I feel as though many of us do this, reread while focusing on what sounds write to our ears, however, part of what I love about works that have been written in other languages but translated to English is that they sound different, often completely different, but they also sound right to me. This is perhaps why I am so often drawn to the writings of Japanese authors (not manga, but translated novels). They are written in English, yet are composed in a style that inspires me because of certain gorgeous qualities I find within it like their cultures are flooding through the translation, building a dream for me.

This might be my longest blog entry to date, and I would love to continue, but truthfully… I am a straight white man who grew up in New Jersey, I am probably not the voice that should be listened to on any of these subjects.

I will end this blog with a story of my upcoming weekend, and hopefully provide a bit of hope for the future to those that see the challenges behind navigating cultural bounds. Tomorrow, I will be working on a college recommendation letter for a former student of mine, a young, quick-witted Hispanic, LGBTQ child. While it may be unethical for a teacher to have favorites, it is safe to say we had a very interesting dynamic, this girl was a straight a high school student, yet had no interest in college before meeting me. The last day of the year, she gave me the gift of a goose statue (I was known as the silly goose teacher) and a letter that I currently have framed in my bedroom. In that letter, this child, who was an ESL student growing up, thanked me for making her fall in love with writing again after she had been discredited by many who came before me, and expressed how at her future college graduation she would be thanking me for the support and guidance I provided.

There is hope for a multicultural classroom, the road may be bumpy, but perhaps it’s getting smoother a little at a time

Writer’s Voice and Reader’s Perspectives

Writing in my voice is important. It seems like everyone is always trying to get me to write in their voice, make me write the way they think is good writing. Writing the dialogue in a story confuses people, so they tell me to write something else, to “show, don’t tell”. But what does that even mean? How do I show without telling within dialogue? Within a story, you have to explain the narrative in order for the audience to know what is going on.

Reading about voice is its own strange thing because, what’s the difference with voice in writing? I procrastinate often, so my pre-existing notions about voice in writing comes from my perspectives on other writers. Those perspectives show me that voice in writing changes constantly.

Reading is a activity that switches between easy and difficult because the text and the context of the text switches up in its style. Reading for school is harder than reading for leisure because the word choices and speech patterns are academic, meaning that they are tailored to scholars who read in a specific expert way. They can read and understand scientific words and write well using said scientific words. Readers who read for leisure or read educational works on their own time seek out things they can understand easier, things that won’t use words that are mainly used in academic settings. Words that everyday people understand are the ones that will catch readers’ attention.

The voice in these works switch between academic and informal when the context changes. For me, the voice I read in a book will reflect in my head depending on the context. When I read an educational text for school I get frustrated because the voice is trying to make its point in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. When I read an educational text for myself on my own time, the voice makes sense to me because the works I seek out are straightforward and detailed in their explanations. Also, schoolwork makes me procrastinate because I don’t like my major, so my motivations dictate the voice I read.

Unraveling a Contradiction

After last week’s reading by bell hooks, this week’s readings were a return to a more demanding, academic style of writing that required more focus from me. As I waded into Peter Elbow’s text, “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries,” I encountered many unfamiliar names, so I grew concerned that I would be lost unless I researched every unknown person. Eventually, though, I saw his point, and it was an interesting one. Elbow wants his readers to “engage in two contrary activities: paying lots of attention to voice and pushing away considerations of voice” within the same piece of writing. While his argument is interesting, I think that it’s difficult to put off acknowledging a finding during your first reading because you know you’re not supposed to address it until your second reading. Elbow’s recommendation to both pay attention to and ignore voice might be a huge challenge for many readers (7).

In “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers,” Sommers shares her findings on how different types of writers engage in revision. Had I read her article in isolation, it would not have occurred to me to look for similarities between revision and voice, but I noticed them when reading Sommers’ article on the heels of “Voice in Writing,” by Elbow. For instance, when Sommers examines the approaches of the experienced writers, she finds that they initially focus on getting “closer to their meaning” at first, then later address “vocabulary and style” (386). The writers are engaging in “two contrary activities” in their writing, focusing only on meaning at first and then only on developing their voices. The writers celebrated by Sommers are employing the tactics recommended by Elbow. Sommers seems to agree with Elbow’s position on how to approach voice in writing. 

As we move through the readings in this class, I am learning more about what I need from them. When we read articles solely about theory, I feel unfulfilled; I always have a desire to know how the theory would actually be put into effect. When I can see an idea move beyond theory into practical application, it is much easier for me to understand. This week, Elbow presented a theory, and I felt the familiar urge to know how that story would end in real life. Luckily, Sommers’ article was there to fill in the blanks.