Tag Archives: writing

Voice and Student’s Rights to their Own Texts

For me, the most important part of any writing exercise is that my audience, whether it be in a paper or on stage working out some new material, is that my voice is heard.  The idea of “our voice” is what helps us be heard. Not only what it is we are saying, but also the nuances of the feeling and emotion we want to give off in our piece. Once again, we take a dive with the GOAT Peter Elbow and analyze the academic relevance, and even push back on the idea of voice in writing.  I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see that there seemed to be a considerable amount of push back regarding the idea of voice. I guess it is naive of me to think that our voice should come through in all of the writing we do. Then again, these points of contention seem to be focused mostly on academic writing.  In the reading, Elbow talks about how writing is such a prominent part of everyday life, and we need to use our voices in these practical situations. The best example is in a professional sense when writing an email or some other type of correspondence. Voice is essential for the reader on the other end to pickup the tone and ultimately how you feel about what is being discussed.  I found this very true in my own experience. Writing professional emails has been a part of my repertoire for the past 3 and a half years since I completed my undergrad in finance. One thing I learned that helps immensely in this situation is to use your voice in writing so that the emotion you are feeling comes through. For example, if there is something that you are unhappy about, it is important to make sure the reader on the other end can pickup that you are unhappy.  It is the only way for the issue to get resolved. One of my favorite parts of the article is when Elbow begins to dissect all of the different manners in which we use our voice. He first goes into detail on how we usually fall into this trap where we take an adversarial stance. He describes it as the “Either/Or Battle.” I find myself falling into this whenever my friends and I have a healthy debate. It does not matter what it is we are discussing, we always try and prove ourselves right.  Inversely, we are trying to prove one another wrong (which I seldom am). This rings true throughout most of our daily lives, doesn’t it? We all have a voice we want people to hear, and we will make sure out view is heard and taken seriously, while also poking holes in others opinions and views. It is an interesting way to look at voice, but also find it to be the most poignant. The next is probably the most underutilized sense of voice, and that is compromise. For the reasons Elbow mentions above, we do not like to compromise.  In anything. However, I am aware of the power and the intelligence it takes to compromise. Think about what it is. When we compromise, it is likely viewed as a concession to our point and saying that we have “lost” in this instance. It can be viewed, and this is my own take, as a skill. For one to compromise, one must be aware and intelligent enough to understand that there are many ways at viewing the same things. An almost infinite spectrum for to learn, grow, and understand what it is we are discussing. I’ve always said the most important part of any person is their awareness, and being able to accept contraries and find common ground in a debate or disagreement is vital for ones growth as a person and, in this case, as a writer.  I will never agree with the idea that there are times where your voice should not be made clear in certain types of writing and presenting. Voice is authenticity, and I would rather live in a world of authenticity (good or bad) than one where people need to dumb down there thoughts or views to appeal to another group or person. “They see a debate between right and wrong when it’s really a choice between two lenses or “terministic screens” (to use Kenneth Burke’s term). We need both because each shows us something about language that the other obscures.” This quote from the article definitely because I have a philosophy I try and live by, and it is this idea that there are no such thing as truths, only perspectives. And allowing ourselves to see the value and potential “truth” in a contrary point of view, not only are you allowing yourself to be a more present citizen of the world, you are open to to the understanding that ones voice is a composite of an infinite number of variables that can shape a person in a particular way.  I really loved reading this article as it put some things in perspective, and gives me more confidence than ever to be able to use, and most importantly, never lose my voice. 

The Elbow reading went really well with Brannon and Knobloch’s idea that it can seem that students sometimes do not have rights to their own texts.  It goes hand in hand with what Elbow was trying to convey in the article about voice. A quote I found compelling in this second article, “rhetorically more experienced, technically more expert than their apprentice writers. Oddly, therefore, in classroom writing situations, the reader assumes primary control of the choices that writers make, feeling perfectly free to “correct.””  I think this does a great job of encapsulating what the issue is. Going back a few weeks, we talked about how students are seasoned to write whatever it that their instructor may want them to write. The reader, who is the teacher in this instance, is the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to interpreting the writing and see if the student was “correct” in their analysis. Going back to the point I made earlier (sorry for all the jumps. I just think these articles work so well together!) what we may find to be truths may simply be our own interpretation of the material.  In an exercise as free and expressive as writing is, it is important that we stay mindful. And don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why teachers need to take these stances, and the duty it serves in being so critical of writing. But, just because something is an acceptable construct in our society does not mean there is another way of thinking about it. The authors continue to talk about how “We must replace our professional but still idiosyncratic models of how writing ought to appear, and put in their place a less authoritarian concern for how student texts make us respond as readers and whether those responses are congruent with the writers’ intentions or not.”  In short, we do not need to be less critical of student writing, but more open to the ideas the student is trying to portray, as long as things can be evidenced and defended. Voice works both ways; saying what we want in a manner in which we want, and the ability to take that dynamic and frame it in a way to understand what the writer is trying to say.  

Writing Assessment and my brief thoughts on “War in Translation”

The Yancey article about writing assessment did a really good job expanding on the ideas from some of the other articles that we have read this semester.  Especially with the readings on ranking and evaluating, I felt this was a great way to expand on the ideas and conversations that were born out of those readings.  Yancey begins by addressing holistic scoring in the 70’s and 80’s. We then move into describing the growth and acceptance of portfolio writing in up through the turn of the century.  The more we discuss and read about the utility in having a portfolio at the end of a term to all aggregate into a sort of illustration of growth for the writer over the course of the term they are in.  I also find that using portfolios as a mode of assessment allows for the evaluator to get a much better feel and idea of the student’s voice. As I have talked about in previous posts, I find voice to be an imperative intangible for good writing, good writing can only be good if it authentic coming from the writers true thoughts and perspective.  Yancey goes on to talk about “construct of writing “ and “consequential validity.” First, construct of writing. As it is described in the article, my interpretation is that the construct is essentially guidelines of sorts that aid in the assessment of writing due to it creating a uniform standard across what was being written. I liked what Paretti and Powell meant when they said “The ability to write one kind of document does not automatically guarantee the ability to write another kind of document.”  This spoke to how dynamic writing can be. For me, this really hit home. In my previous work, I have gotten so used to writing in such a “business formal” kind of way. E-mails, reports, plans, implementation, all are things that I have been responsible to write before, and through the time and practice I have under my belt, I have become very good in these modes of writing. To the above point, however, I do not have a lot of experience in purely academic or thoughtful creative writing. In all honesty, I feel somewhat inferior to my classmates as most if not all of them, it seems,  come from a discipline which fostered these types of writing and the kind of thinking allowing one to see writing through those lenses. This is a major reason why I am so excited to meet every Monday night. The dialogue and the sharing of our ideas and experiences allows for each of us to grow as writers in ways we would never have otherwise. Moving along to the idea of consequential validity. This speaks more to how the evaluation is viewed in it’s ability for writers to learn. Samuel Messick is quoted in the article as saying “To what degree are decisions made about students accurate?  To what degree are the decisions made about students appropriate?” And I think this sets a great foundation for the theory of assessing writing. Moving to current modes of evaluation, Yancey references a program at Washington State that talks about the assessment of writing and critical thinking. Critical thinking is such an imperative for being able to write at the level we have been discussing all season long. THe next theme, which I think compliments our class particularly well is social inequity and how writing can fight, or perpetuate these kinds of stereotypes in our society. Considering all of the work we are doing with equity unbound, this is a poignant theme for our class and our understanding of writing.  For me, I found these to be the most important threads of the reading, as the inquisition into the future of writing assessment is still very raw and hypothetical.

Switching gears, I would like to briefly touch upon “War in Translation” and the collaborative annotation dialogue we have been having with people all around the world who are also doing work within out Equity Unbound network.  First off, the reading is compelling. The each description is more vivid and haunting than the next. In the very beginning of the article, we get a look into the fear that is felt by all, especially the women, in this community.  As the article continues, it becomes even harder to fathom what it is to live in a place where freedom is not something that is accessible to everybody. The idea that there was such an emphasis on Mounzer to learn and write in English as opposed to her native arabic, to me, sheds light on a more dormant theme; that an escape from this place can come in many ways.  Not to say that she is not proud of the arabic language and her ability to use it. Rather, how it is a sort of vehicle for her to communicate with so many others regarding the struggles through war time.  

As the annotations go, this is one of the better and more though provoking exercises I have been apart of.  To see the brain trust all come together with all of these amazing takes and thoughts from thinkers all around the world, each with a unique perspective.  Kind of like we discussed earlier with the idea of “One Story,” this illustrates the point that each person has a unique perspective and life experience to come up with their own conclusions.  Moreover, I like that people can respond to another persons thoughts. I think it is this dialogue that makes this exercise so unique and exciting for those who are not only aspiring writers, but aspiring thinkers as well.

“Othering and Belonging” and “English Studies”

I found reading “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging” to be a fascinating read.  From the beginning, Powell and Mendendian laid out their objective of this type of study and kept the readers informed by explaining why each piece of information was significant.  One line from the article that got me thinking was”Where prejudice was latent, it is being activated; where it is absent, it is being fostered.” This, to me, was what set the table for me to frame the information and research in such a way where you never lost sight of what the article was illustrating.  Once I started reading about the Demagogues, I found another line that struck a chord. Right before they explain what Demagogues were, writers as “As empires fall, solidaristic nationalist identities may give way to latent or subordinate group-based identities.” An interesting way to kind of explain what the basis for the hypothesis and what it is trying to prove.  It reminded me of the Stanford Prison Experiment. It was a study done at Stanford University where they paid students to play the parts prison guards and prisoners. As the study went on, what was meant to be a mere simulation became a harsh new reality for those who were portraying the prisoners. I believe the article and this study at Stanford both touch on something that is thought provoking.  In both instances, (though through a different set of circumstances) there is a group of people who are being marginalized and one group who is making it their mission to consistently keep them oppressed. These are people in both cases that fall in to allowing their surroundings and circumstances create their place in society. The idea of “othering” itself at its core is this ideology that we group people together on a subconscious level and we create these groupings by using factors such as race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  Even if we do not intend to marginalize these groups and treat any certain way, or even simply paint them in a certain light, you will unknowingly make these types of judgements and classifications by grouping all of who share that distinct quality together in the same group. It is not always a negative thing and, frankly, it does not always have to be driven from the side of hate. For instance, take blue collar employees. There is nothing wrong, at all, of making an honest living by putting in a hard days work. However, there seems to be stigmas about those who have chosen this career path.  Some of the younger generations in particular definitely have similar thoughts on these types of workers. It is that way because there are now multiple generations that have been told and guided into the idea that you need to go to college and get an education to get a good job because you don’t want to end up being a plumber or an electrician. An entire generation has been lectured ad twisted into thinking that these necessary professions and trades are beneath those who go to college. I think that is a pretty good illustration of how marginalization and “othering” can happen and can be shaped by the climate surrounding us.  

As for the other reading this week, this was a more dense, theoretical piece on the history of rhetoric and composition.  My one major takeaway from this piece was how the construct, instruction, and evaluation has changed so much over time. It was also interesting to read about all of the different ways that people have looked at the field and its place among the field and study of English. One theme of the piece that I found particularly interesting is how there seemed to have been a previous emphasis on reading “other texts” and reacting to those instead of being able to create or “invent” for yourself.  Now, there is an emphasis on being able to write and create content about things you are interested in. Just recently, a friend and I were talking about how children in schools should not be forced to read boring, curriculum based material. They should be able to read about whatever they want that interests them. Allowing students to do so will make them more likely to read material that interests them, so they would theoretically find a love for reading as well as aiding in the students development as a reader.  This article “English Studies: An Introduction to the Disciplines” was informative and good at explaining the evolution of the study of rhetoric and composition. While I do feel like I learned a lot from the reading and as I describe above, offers a wonderful perspective on how much the field has grown, it was never lost on my how dry and kind of boring this subject matter is. Even still, it helped me understand what the approach to studying this discipline is built form.

Why Do I Write?

Writing is the best outlet for ones emotions. No matter what the emotion is (happy, sad, angry, jealous, inspired, etc.) writing is a form of therapy. A vehicle to channel your feelings and energy to something you care to share, whether that is something you share with others, or simply a way for you to release those thoughts and reflect on those feelings by yourself. This is why I write. I use writing in a way that allows me both escape and confront elements of my daily life. As an aspiring comedian, this dynamic is allowed to flourish. Acting as a means for me to constructively let out my thoughts and frustrations with a creative element which I find to be fun and challenging. My writing is not always done a comedic context, however. Although I jot down ideas and thoughts I have through out the day with the purpose of adding a comedic element, it feels nice to simply express my feelings on a particular thought. I may never use those notes for a bit that I perform on stage, but I still have a feeling of relief and calmness whenever I write these things down. For me, the most important thing is get those thoughts and feeling out, and stand up comedy allows me to do it in a constructive, creative manner in which I feel like I am offering something to the local comedy community. Considering that my writing is inherently limited by this, however, I am looking forward to broadening my horizons and writing in other capacities that we will go over in our studies in the English and Writing Studies program here at Kean University.

Starting graduate school gives the the same sort of feeling, especially pursuing a degree in writing. I am both excited and nervous with the semester starting to get into full swing. Personally, coming from a background in finance, banking, and insurance, I am still getting used to studying English. Naturally, it is already much more pure reading as opposed to working through problems out of the textbook and keeping up with how the markets fluctuate on a daily basis. This new opportunity excites me because of the nature of what I am studying: writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and my stand-up aspirations have aided me in finding a way to channel my desire into something meaningful. I view the graduate program in English and Writing as way for me to refine and expand my possible avenues for this type of expression. One more aspect of my life I am hoping to refine is the overall structure. Working for so long for a company and an industry that you do not have a passion for is one of the more difficult things that I’ve ever had to do. Personally, I have found it rather difficult to put my all into something that I do not enjoy. To me, being able to give such a large part of me to my Masters degree in something that truly excites me is an absolute dream come true to me at this point. Even more important is that it has given me something to strive for professionally. My hope and overall go is to use my experience of going through this program as the foundation of my larger goal of obtaining a PhD in Writing and Rhetoric so I can become a college professor. With that in mind, I am excited to immerse myself into the program and it’s content and structure to help me achieve my ultimate goal. Finally, at the end of the day, graduate school is a new challenge for me to test myself in my reading, writing, and critical thinking abilities. To this point, I have also enjoyed meeting the other students in the program. Everyone seems so determined and driven. I believe this is the foundation for a great co-learning experience. With everyone’s backgrounds being so diverse, it is in my opinion that we will all encourage each other to be bold in addition to allowing all of us to learn something about each other and our uniquely diverse walks of life. Writing, after all, is about communication. What better way to illustrate that then to communicate your ideas and perspective to a group of like minded individuals.

Why I write and why I decided to go to graduate school could both be answered the same way; I want to find something that brings me a feeling of fulfillment. Whether it be in a performing capacity or in a more traditional, academic setting, I look forward to pushing the limits of my writing, thinking, and creative abilities. I am also believe that having the opportunity to explore all different types of writing will help me grow as a person since I will be exposed to all types of written expression. Graduate school is not a challenge I take likely, but it is certainly a challenge that I am ready to take on with all of my effort and energy. I know in the end, if I apply myself, and can accomplish each of the goals I have set within this program.