Monday, August 27, 2012

10 Lessons of Summer 2012

So, summer is nearly at an end, and for whatever reason, this particular summer seems to have gone faster than any other of record in my lifetime. Whew! What a whirlwind! It's been a wonderful few months, though. I've really learned a lot. I taught an online Composition course that was just 4 1/2 weeks because it was a summer class. I also taught a 3-week academic reading course for incoming students. I worked on my dissertation, though I still haven't hammered out what I want to say. I started to try translating French to prep for my language exam. I prepared a syllabus for a Composition course that reorganized my class for a non-wireless classroom and managed to incorporate an additional project. I even put together a syllabus for another class I've never taught before, Writing in the Disciplines, which I can't wait to teach! And if you're wondering about my personal life, I managed to have my very first summer fling, see Central America for the first time, and finish The Hunger Games trilogy. Yes, it's been an eventful summer.

To take me into the fall, I wanted to recap some of the big lessons I learned this summer, inside and outside the classroom:
  1. Don't settle for less than you deserve-- in work, in relationships, in life, whatever it may be.
  2. Deadlines are important, even if they are self-set. Don't break them.
  3. Confusion and conflict can be productive.
  4. Honesty is the best policy, even when the truth hurts.
  5. Reach out to others. Communication is a two- (three, four, five, etc.) way street.
  6. Underachiever is actually more like under-motivated or lacking confidence most of the time.
  7. Hope is a powerful thing, and as with any source of power, it can be good or bad.
  8. Sometimes, it's nice to not be at the top of the totem pole.
  9. When the lifeguards say no swimming, you shouldn't swim out further than you can stand.
  10. Read in connected, interdisciplinary ways. Things don't happen in a bubble.
What are the big lessons you learned this summer?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

i h8 to tell u, but i can txt & code switch: Teaching Correctness vs. Teaching Rhetorical Choices

image from Big Ten Science
In a recent blog post on GOOD Education called "'Wat up wit u': Yep, Texting is Killing Students' Grammar Skills," Liz Dwyer explores the claim that texting is destroying writing and cites the findings of a recent study on 10-14 year old texters. Researchers found that the more texting a 10-14-year-old did, the more grammar errors they made in non-texting writing. Ultimately, Dwyer claims that this is not simply because kids are texting, but because they are not given adequate opportunities to practice the formal academic concepts of grammar in school due to the focus on high-stakes testing and quick-to-grade non-writing-intensive assignments from overwhelmed instructors.

While I think Dwyer is accurate in claiming that better writing instruction is needed, I don't buy it all. "Grammar" is, of course, one of those concepts that fascinates me. Grammar seems to be a blanket statement for everything sentence-level-related. The problem is, aside from the fact that people don't even always know what they mean when they use the term "grammar," that there is more than one form of grammar. What Dwyer and the researchers are looking at is not grammatical correctness, but Standard Academic English correctness.

Texting has its own grammatical rules. If grammar was completely unimportant to texting, there would be no language patterns, and we would have a hard time understanding one another. On the contrary, we easily understand text messages, sometimes more easily than "grammatically correct" academic writing.

Also, it's quite elitist to say that students who text don't understand writing or have corrupted the English language. Language evolves. New words come into existence all the time, as old ones disappear. If it didn't, we'd still be speaking Old English. Language is a living thing that adapts to the times. To stay stuck in a place where we believe that students only need to know the conventions of Standard Academic English is to disadvantage them. They will need all kinds of literacies to navigate the complicated technology-inundated 21st century.

I think we do students a big disservice by telling them they are simply "incorrect," red-penning their paper, hoping they stop using text lingo, and trying to pass that off as "quality writing instruction," which is what Dwyer seems to recommend. We need to teach our students about why we use certain conventions. What does Standard Academic English represent? Why don't we use text language in papers? What do these conventions symbolize and how do readers interpret them? We need to teach students to think about the rhetorical situation-- Who do they want to reach? What do they want to say? How? And why?-- not to apply a formula or use a set of prepackaged options. When they learn to do that, they can better communicate on all fronts, not just the academic or the technological.