Weekly Featured Writers

Each week, 1-2 people will curate the ideas and writing from our class into a featured blog. We will use these blogs to connect with colleagues outside our course.

Jaxon Tweets

Thank you to the colleagues who are tweeting from #NCTE18. Bookmarking your ideas, looking forward to a day in CA when we can think about teaching again. Your tweets really do bring some normalcy...looking at you #nwp @PaulWHankins @dogtrax @Nicole_Mirra @anterobot @ProfHsieh

Author: kjaxon

Luke Scholl: The Rise of Writing (Chapter 4/Conclusion)

Luke Scholl: The Rise of Writing (Chapter 4/Conclusion)

The fourth chapter of Brandt’s The Rise of Writing, “When Everybody Writes,” focuses on how writers and writing work in relation to other writers. As Brandt states, “Proximity to other writing people—ample, ongoing, routine proximity—plays myriad, formative roles in the development and calibration of writing, writing skill, and writing consciousness” (158). Early in the chapter Brandt discusses the “scenic” nature of writing (137-139). She notes that due to the fact that writing is scenic, that is something that takes place and can be witnessed, people are more acutely aware of how it works in the world. Brandt explains, “Seeing and being seen, knowing and being known—these everyday events form a broad undercarriage for awareness about how writing fits socially, politically, economically, aesthetically” (139). She then connects the scenic quality of writing to how writers interact with other writers. Because writing is scenic, writers are acutely aware of the writing that exists in the world: “Proximity to other writing people invites, and often requires, close attention to their habits, working conditions, and potential attitudes” (144). She also brings in the concept of mentalities and examines how it applies to her study of literacy. Brandt acknowledges how reading has historically disseminated information and thus contributed to establishing “shared understandings” (135), among the people of any given time and place within literate societies. However, she notes that as our literacy practices become more and more writing based, rather than reading based, the way we form these mentalities may be shifting.

In her concluding chapter, “Conclusion: Deep Writing,” Brandt co opts her nemesis Nicholas Carr’s phrase “deep reading” and reworks it to form her own concept of “deep writing” (159). She contends that the evidence provided her book suggests that we are “entering an era of deep writing” (Brandt 160). She argues that our literacy practices are no longer typified by prolonged and intense reading of texts but instead that “more and more people write for prolonged periods of time from inside deeply interactive networks and in immersive cognitive states” (Brandt 160). She ends her conclusion by examining the how these changes in our literacy practices present exception challenges for education as our schools are “growing increasingly out of step with the wider world” (Brandt 165).

During our discussion in class, Dr. Jaxon asked the students if we thought of each other and our professors as writers, and whether or not we really ever collaborate on writing or just give each other feedback. To me it seemed that the general consensus wound up being that we had not really seen at each other as writers until graduate school. This sentiment extended to our experiences with collaboration; I believe it was Kelsey King who stated, “the collaborative nature of writing is definitely something I’ve learned about through school.” I think when asked about our feelings toward collaboration in writing, many of our minds jumped to the concept of ‘group work.’ And like most sane individuals our knee jerk reaction to ‘group work’ is to say, “I hate group work.” I found it interesting that, for many of us, the concept of collaboration in writing was immediately conceived of as group assignments in school, and indeed our discussion did primarily revolve around collaborative writing within school. I couldn’t help but wonder how negative experiences with group work in school might contribute to the persistent stereotype of the solitary writer; even though, the form collaborative writing takes in these types of scenarios rarely reflects the level of professionalism, commitment, and responsibility that one might find when collaborating with a colleague in a professional environment.

I also find it interesting that the knee jerk, “I hate group work,” reaction has always seemed to be so pervasive. In my own experience I have been part of groups that were pure nightmares, but also groups that worked extremely well and which provided me with incredible amounts of support; yet, I still stand firmly in the “I hate group work” camp. I can’t help but think this attitude has something to do with the nature of school and grades. As students we are keenly aware that we are constantly being assessed. Despite that grades are just letters they failure to live up to a certain standard could, like writing, have significant and very real consequences in the world and their lives. The sociocultural significance and pressures of grades heavy influence the nature of group work in school. If you feel one person is not contributing enough you are angry that their lack of commitment will have an adverse effect on your grade, and, on the flip side, if someone is doing a large amount of the work you become concerned about whether you are contributing enough.

 

Amanda Rhine: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Amanda Rhine: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

 

Writing is the Right Thing to Do for Literacy

In chapter 3 “Occupation: Author” in The Rise of Writing, Deborah Brandt starts off by stating “The belief that writing ability is a subsidiary of reading ability runs deep in American society and schooling. You can only write as well as you can read. The best way to learn how to write is to read, and read some more. Reading is the best way to exercise the mind” (89). These were all (almost verbatim) proclamations that I heard growing up, so I think Brandt really taps into the typical old school American literacy mindset here (not surprising since she’s Deborah Frickin’ Brandt). However, as Brandt discovered with Evan, reading and writing don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand––which is not a bad thing.

Evan had a well-known exotic animal website that “attracted the attention of a major publishing house for pet care books” (92) and published a book. As a result, Evan identified professionally as an author and has gone on to write magazine articles, etc. While Brandt was interviewing him about his literacy development and the role reading had, Evan confessed that he did not like to read, stating, “I’d rather be writing than reading” (92). This is not uncommon, in my opinion, since I can relate and know many authors who feel the same. Brandt was intrigued by Evan’s declaration and his literacy development being connected to broader industries of writing rather than reading (93), so she set off to do some research.

I won’t go into the details of Brandt’s literacy development research study, because there’s a lot of it in this chapter, but the main takeaway from Brandt’s arguments is that she advocates a “full return to the heritage of mass writing as a basis for advancing a genuinely writing-based literacy” (133). Brandt’s idea of this heritage is not based on the American idea that writing is dependent on reading––essentially that literacy theory has become obsolete. Brandt’s arguments are based on the “evidence drawn from the testimonies of thirty young adults who pursue literacy predominantly through writing; individuals who elect to write on a nearly daily basis and in genres long considered bulwarks (defensive walls) of a thoughtful reading literacy; individuals who have found ways to orient to writing even when the environment around them tries to orient them otherwise” (133). So while the notion of reading being a catalyst in writing advancement may still present be in teaching and sponsorship, writing is a significant player in literacy development by itself. It promotes a motivation for self-improvement that isn’t restricted to someone’s reading ability. Therefore writing-based literacy and reading-based literacy should not be lumped into one literacy development practice in order to be considered beneficial.

*Side note: I own the Kindle version of The Rise of Writing, so my page citations might differ from those of a physical copy.

Meredith Murrietta: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Meredith Murrietta: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Brandt starts out the 3rd chapter, “Occupation: Author” with the task of trying to differentiate between a reading-based literacy and a writing-based literacy. She claims that writing has taken a shadow to reading with regards to importance in our culture. Brandt seeks to argue that writing-based literacy is its own and does not necessarily stem from, rely on, or play second fiddle to reading. On page 96, Brandt discusses the concept of writing over reading. She stated that her research participants “would abandon the expected duties and pleasures of reading and begin writing in their minds as they sat over a text written by someone else,” and that this act “requires deliberate separation from the rules of reading.”

Although I can respect Brandt’s research and theories, I cannot personally relate to them and thus have a differing view. Brandt says that “learning to read is an expectation and a rite of passage for children in this society. But the idea ofbeing or becoming a writer has more profound aspirational power” (98). I couldn’t disagree more in my own walk. I found (and find) reading to be the motivation behind my reading-based literacy. I love to soak up information, to experience that lightbulb moment when reading others words. When it comes to my own writing, I hit constant roadblocks. I shared with the class about a webinar I recently attended through work, and how the speakers of “Thriving in Chaos” started out discussing brain research and how our brains react. The first priority of the brain is safety. If the brain does not feel safe, it will not progress past the first priority. It will be looking for ways to get back into safety. Fears, anxieties, etc. can cause the brain to lag in this danger zone. Unfortunately, if you are living in this state of fear, then you wont make it past the first priority on to the second, which is experiencing “something interesting”. This was a big wake-up call for me in all aspects of my life, and in this case, my writing. As I had discussed in my earlier blog post, there is fear of judgement when it comes to my writing. I believe this fear has hindered my ability to effectively write. We see this in many examples through this chapter with Brandt’s research participants. Whether it be individuals not posting on social media for fear of the implications, or a daughter who does not want her family to find her diary: the consequences of writing can absolutely cause hindrance.

On the flip side, I thoroughly enjoy my reading-based literacy, not only because I don’t feel hindered, but also because the words I read and apply from others have significantly changed the courses and actions of my life. Towards the end of the chapter, Brandt states that “what matters in writing is its rhetorical value, its projective and transactional value, its effect on others. Even in writing, then, reading is what counts” (128). Ultimately, as we have seen quite often as a foundational piece in literacy, it comes back to the human connection. Literacy is built and truly sustained through social means (even if not explicitly social). As readers and writers, we are communicating. We both have something to gain from this interaction.

Several other questions were raised in class, the following are a few:

-If our culture really values reading more than writing, why is it that we pay writers and call that an occupation?

-Do boundaries in writing, or being told to write, take anything away from creative writers?

-Is there really a difference between writing masters and writing sponsors?

Ibe Liebenberg: Brandt, The Rise of Writing, Chapter 2

Ibe Liebenberg: Brandt, The Rise of Writing, Chapter 2

In Brandt’s chapter two, “Writing for the State,” there is a clear connection made to chapter one’s idea of a ghostwriter’s inability to relinquish the emotional costs that are not deferred, or distributed with the transfer of work produced. One of the observations made in chapter two is that of an individual’s inability to write themselves out of work produced (86). This idea worked into our classroom discussion of whether to write ourselves into a paper or just get the job done for the grade, especially when there is no interest in the subject matter. It seemed like for most the public workers interviewed, they did not mind the writing in their field of expertise, so there was no lack of interest, but they felt it was too difficult to remove their voice. The contradiction of having a human write for the “state” or “government” but as a nonhuman element made it difficult for the workers to not use any of their own self. But the government knows how messy this can be: “Most intriguing is how government, including the courts, readily recognizes the intimate intermingling of the writer subjectivity with institutional mission as the dangerous mix that potentially undermines the government’s voice when employees speak out in the public domain and the political arena” (87). This intermix of human writing for a nonhuman entity will always have some form of human interference, but the government’s concern is to play a role to limit it.

We talked about how writing and teaching at the CSU level is constricting and limiting to both teachers and students. A student’s voice is rarely heard in a place where they feel that they are trying to appease the teacher. Likewise, professor’s feel the constraints of the administration. It raised the important question, do we have any reading without constraints? It seems like there is always some sort of filtering. We are almost always reading it for a reason other than our own. But constraints are sometimes good when thought of for something like creative writing. This is because it forces a form on the writer, or a lens to help write in. Where the opposite effect would seem to be limiting a creative writer, certain constraints actually apply parameters that allow the writer narrow their focus to just writing, instead of form or subject. Too much freedom can often result in a lack of focus.

Chapter two also gave examples of how even the most scientific and self-removed writing can still be misinterpreted and skewed to fit the reader’s intentions, ultimately to influence an audience for someone else’s own agenda. This was the case with the writings of the scientist Melinda Lucas, who was a part of a complex thirty year “unbiased” study. She describes the complexities of her study and how everything she reports and deals with is just data. But when it is “rerepresented” (68) by media or other special interest groups, its interpretation is skewed by  someone else’s agenda. In her case, a group wanted to use the data to save jobs, but we can see that even the most removed writing from the human bias can still be used and manipulated for others agendas and unprofessional interpretation.

The chapter finished with the idea that “There is no Occupational Safety and Health Administration for literacy” (87) to with help an individual writer who is writing for government in some form. Instead individuals like the police officer Henry Pine turned his writing into a means of releasing the emotional baggage by using his writing and record keeping as a way to transform daily experiences at his job into a journal to help export some of the psychological strain from himself to the actual report itself.

 

Sam Malain: The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Sam Malain: The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

One of the moments that resonated with me the most when reading Deborah Brandt’s The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy was one that was briefly addressed in the class discussion. In the section on ownership Brandt states, “In the workplace, authorship is associated not with writing a text but with managing the writer. The work-made-for-hire doctrine has been the object of considerable commentary by legal scholars” (Brandt 21). During the classroom discussion on this particular section the idea of its relation to students was brought up. The question of where students fall into this model provides for an interesting discussion. Considering students under this model is problematic for a number of reasons the first of which is it contradicts the apparent purpose of the school as an institution. While there have been multiple theorists who posit that schools, as institutions, only serve to model proper behavior in citizens, particularly compliance and the ability to follow orders (I’m thinking Althusser but am not positive I have the right theorist). However, if we take the purpose of the school to enlighten or to facilitate literacy or education for the sake of human betterment, which is the purpose argued by many to be the purpose of schools, then the for-hire model of authorship is deeply problematic. If using the latter model and schools are intended to be places of growth and actual learning, rather than of conditioning and conformity, the notion that the institution is employing a work-for-hire model of authorship goes against the purpose it claims to serve.

The idea that the institution is concerned with managing the writer rather than with the writing itself suggests that while the institution might look to serve a positive function, it really is functioning in a way more akin to Althusser’s model. If the school is concerned with managing the writer and not with facilitating new writing, or ideas, this suggests that the purpose of the institution is to constrain creativity and to create compliant workers intended to churn out texts/works for a power bigger than them (schools, employers, etc…). While it might not be outwardly apparent that this happens in schools, I think most students would testify to the contrary. While there are always going to be constraints on the writing done within a classroom setting, it must fit the curriculum at the very least, these constraints are often taken in unnecessary or seemingly excessive ways. One of the prime examples that comes to mind is students being forced to conform to obtuse writing standards that limit both the content and form of the students’ work. This reinforces traditional literacy practices and asserts that there is only one correct way to write, which in turn reinforces behavior most desirable for traditional capitalistic model of employment in which those who toe the line are much more sought after than those who can creatively problem solve. In short what I am attempting to say is that rigid guidelines, and managing of the writer, serve a purpose if the school is intended to churn out more worker bees for hive, but run counter to purpose of the school if it is supposed to be a place of actual learning and intellectual advancement.

Eli Coyle: Brandt’s The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Eli Coyle: Brandt’s The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Intro & Chapter 1 of The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy by Deborah Brandt

The introduction of Deborah Brandt’s The Rise of Writing brings up the idea that digital technologies and digital literacies are responsible for a rise in daily mass writing. Accompanying this is the emergence of the so called knowledge or information economies that aren’t based in “manufacturing things so much as services–knowledge, ideas, data, information, news” (3). One claim Brandt brings up is, “For perhaps the first time in the history of mass literacy, writing seems to be eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence” (3).  Brandt then wonders about the implications of a mass shift from a reader based perspective into a writing based economy. While the historical value of writing has lied in the reading of it, authorship then takes on a different prestige as society starts to develop a more formative role in its written literacies. One distinction Brandt brings up in her sponsors of literacies is the idea that reading is more often associated with, “leisure, pleasure, worship, intimacy, and social approval and writing more readily with work, adult business, trouble, embarrassment, subterfuge, and trauma” (6). She also notes the role of the workplace in catalyzing changes in written literacies. Writing for Brandt, implies a much more controlled and regulated act than that of its counterpart reading and that is reflected in the role of writing in the workplace:

It became connected not to citizenship but to work, vocation, avocation, and practical living. Writing belonged to the transactional sphere, the employment and production sphere, where high-vaulted values of personal autonomy, critical expression, or civic activism rarely found traction and where, in fact, unauthorized writing could well lead to recrimination, if not incrimination. Rather than being protected in the Bill of Rights, the people’s writing came to be regulated by contract, labor law, and copyright, as writing skills were rented out as part of production  and profit making. (2)

This is a rather curious observation that Brandt has brought up and it is ever more apparent that with the development of the internet, literacy has started to shift more into a written based economy. Especially with the development of social networks, email, and text messaging, written literacies are being utilized much more often than they ever were previously .

However, despite the spillover of written literacies into the practical and leisurable realms of society, writing still operates and functions under a economic productivity brought about by government and business. Brandt talks about the roles of ghostwriting and copywriting through which successful people and higher realms of power subordinate their written literacies onto those that labor and author the written work. This practice brings up the idea of authorship and who truly owns the writing that is being produced and circulated. Brandt says, “Indeed, the idea that a text belongs to the person who writes it is not the only concept of authorship that can be found in current US copyright law. When it comes to writing undertaken within the scope of employment–in other words, the writing done by most people in society–copyright turns inside out under a provision called “Work Made for Hire,” the law is careful to sever writers from ownership claims over the texts that they write at work” (20). With this in mind, authorship takes on a more convoluted and conflicting stance giving ownership of literacy to the company or business.

The role of ghost-media-social networking is a similar issues that raises questions of authorship, intent, and accreditation and leads one to question the true author of the work. We see the roles of ghostwriting as well in law and in politics as ghostwriting, “especially highlights power exchanges between writing and social structures, and also illuminates assumptions about underlying reading and writing processes that enable such changes” (31). In a sense, the act of writing in a work or school based environment is a laborious act and those that dictate the content (teacher, lawyer, politician) possess the power over the work.  

Jaxon: Sponsor Problems

Jaxon: Sponsor Problems

In “Sponsors of Literacy,” (1998) Deborah Brandt offers a compelling and complex look at the concept of sponsorship. Through case studies, she demonstrates how literacy learning and usage is brought into existence by sponsors, and defines the term to mean “people, institutions, materials, and motivations involved in the process [of learning to read and write]” (p. 167). Brandt’s essay provides a lens through which to think about “who or what underwrites occasions of literacy learning and use” (p. 166). Because sponsors have the power to both encourage and discourage access to literacy practices—and the power to choose which practices are valued—sponsorship can lead to both positive and negative experiences with access to literacy and its uses. As Brandt points out, “Sponsors are a tangible reminder that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, [or] coercion…” (p. 167). Her observations point to the power institutions and educators hold over those attempting to gain access to literacy practices and to become active agents in the world. Brandt’s essay becomes particularly useful in examining and critiquing my role as a literacy sponsor, particularly as I design literacy experiences.

I’ve blogged about course prep before. I love designing learning spaces. But I also know that every time I design a course, I will most likely—even with the best of intentions—get in the way of my students’ cool ideas. Every time I choose a reading, create an assignment, plan for the day, I know that I am both potentially opening up and limiting students’ literacies. As one of my students, David, articulately shared in a draft just today: “I’ve learned to be more compliant with hoop-jumping in other classes. But beyond that, I’ve come to understand that even a situation like that may yield little nuggets of insightful gold if I approach the course with a more open mind, and regulate my own inquiries to the margins for further exploration when there is time, and the teacher isn’t looking…and certainly never on a test.” David makes a stunning statement. His willingness to imagine his own goals for literacy as marginal and “time allowing” can’t be the best he can hope for. And literacy sponsors, particularly college faculty, should consider how our assignments get in the way of fruitful, student-driven inquiries.

In our graduate course on literacy studies this semester, we’re wrestling with the problems of literacies: valuing students’ right to their own language, thinking about how we push on the conservative nature of literacy learning in educational settings, and considering our own compliance as sponsors in institutional spaces. As much as I like to believe that I can open up possibilities for literacy learning, I’m so very clear that I pick the readings, shape the conversation, and frame what and how we read and write. My hope is that the graduate students can find room for their own questions within the confines of our course, that they see the readings and assignments as heuristics to play with, not algorithms to follow.

 

Ideas for our blogs

Ideas for our blogs

What do we want to say about literacy studies so far…

literacy practices

literacy events

sponsors and sponsorship

new literacies

context

social practices

social nature of writing

the great divide

oral vs written cultures and texts

civilized vs primitive

othering and east/west binary

our own literacy practices

digital literacies

situated literacies

autonomous

ideological

assimilation

“standard”

disrupting the idea of standards

bidialectalism vs bilingualism

rising literacy standards/changing practices

Seneca Schaffer: Moll & Gonzalez “Lessons from Research with Language-Minority Children”

Seneca Schaffer: Moll & Gonzalez “Lessons from Research with Language-Minority Children”

Reading Summary: Lessons from Research with Language-Minority Children

Moll and Gonzalez (1994) use four language minority examples to explore and advocate for utilization of various literacies for accessing knowledge resources and extending beyond the limited, learning boundaries of the “typical” classroom. The author’s first, and ideal, example of such an approach is represented in the intricate, pedagogically innovative, and resource rich Spanish-English bilingual, elementary school in Arizona. Students jump between different linguistic mediums to “accomplish personal, academic, or intellectual tasks” (440). Although likely spruced up by the authors’ wording, students are conducting practices crucial to even higher education. Such examples force me to reflect on my own education in comparison and wonder what the heck I was doing.

The structure of this educational program seems to push students to take advantage of all social, cultural, and literate resources to expand beyond the limitations of the classroom. To encourage broader and more practical knowledge, Moll and Gonzalez explain that it’s necessary to take advantage of the “funds of knowledge” located within local communities.

These “funds of knowledge” are represented in the rich and diverse range of skills and knowledge held by members of the community, ranging from gardening, to mechanical work, to music, to cultural traditions, to medicine, etc. Spurred by a variety of needs/purposes, it was discovered that some innovative students from working class backgrounds picked up mechanical or mercantile skills. In one instance, one parent’s musical abilities were gradually incorporated to improve the educational experience of students. These examples emphasize the “potential that can be harnessed by transcending the boundaries of the school and making inroads into the funds of knowledge of the community” (446).

The second example explores how instructors guided (through questions and discussion facilitation) students use of language to access various sources of knowledge and help them “develop a collaborative approach to science” (446). These resources of knowledge were not only instructors, but also fellow students. Similarly, the third example delves into how instructors facilitated cooperation between students and teachers for research practices. Students were “shown the ropes,” given responsibility and respect of peers to execute an educational, class-external, purposeful task.

The authors’ fourth example takes a look at another, bilingual (English and Navajo), student-centered curriculum aimed at developing “the children’s concept and problem-solving abilities in the context of culturally salient experiences and topics, while promoting competency in Navajo and English” (450). Through the bilingual approach of inquiry-based tasks, “it allowed children, through their own interactions and explorations to use their knowledge to solve new problems” (450). Through this culturally integrated and learning-active approach, researchers were able to more effectively encourage multiple literacies and respect learners’ identities.

The authors assert that “none of these innovations will last unless teachers are able to overcome the intellectual limits of traditional schooling for these children” (451). Teachers and students need to go beyond the walls of the classroom, take advantage of various “inside” (imagined) and “outside,” (real) knowledge resources and create innovative, practical and meaningful ways (like projects) to apply them (452). With these wide arrays of literacies, language minorities need to be seen possessing assets, rather than deficiencies. Their backgrounds should be acknowledged, respected and incorporated into the learning process if we intend to improve the effectiveness of education.

Personal Thoughts

Even with English as the lingua franca of the world, the U.S. will gradually learn how much it’s missing out on economically, and personally by not becoming better acquainted with the rest of the world, its languages and associated cultures.

In particular, the authors emphasize this approach for the “working class,” but I can’t help but feel that this approach should be seriously considered for all socio-economic and educational levels. Perhaps the authors were implying that those of a higher ‘class,’ receive or have access to such resources and “working-class” do not, or those on the ‘upper’ scale either receive it and/or have such entitlements later that such skills aren’t necessary later in students’ futures.

While I agree with the advocation of the authors, I can’t help but think that this dated mentality should now be pretty common in education, even though there are not as many funded programs exercising this ideal. As someone who is more pedagogically focused, I agree with the authors’ viewpoint, but I can’t help but feel it’s necessary to express how groundbreaking but demanding such a program would be for educational institutions, their instructors, students, and parents. To support the demands of such a program, participation of the local community would be essential in promoting its success.

I’m all for the innovation of educational approaches, “mainstream” and for language minorities, but the mere fact that we are having these conversations about learning forces me to ask: have we have become so embedded with pedagogically time and cost efficient practices of standardized education that we’re so distanced from the actual purpose of education and diverse, equally beneficial (if not potentially better) alternative approaches to facilitating purposeful and fulfilling learning? Should we not then be directing bigger questions toward our educational system?


 

Class response to article.

Brittany DeLacy: Dyson & Smitherman’s “The Right (Write) Start…”

Brittany DeLacy: Dyson & Smitherman’s “The Right (Write) Start…”

In “The Right (Write) Start: African American Language and the Discourse of Sounding Right,” Anne Haas Dyson and Geneva Smitherman discuss how dialect, particularly African American Language (AAL), plays into a classroom where a standardized version of English is valued. Their outline of their research discusses their goals of the article and tells readers that they are questioning the system that is in place, while asserting that they understand students having an understanding of Language of Wider Communication (LWC).

Dyson and Smitherman present a case study of Tionna, a 6-year-old who has a good grasp of the language that her cultural dialect (AAL) values and this tends to transfer into her writing. When asked to write about why her teacher is the best, she has to meet with the student teacher to edit the piece. Or, as Tionna calls it, she has to do her “fix-its.” When the teacher stumbles into a sentence that does not follow her standardized version of English, she repeats Tionna’s writing back to her, “‘She is nice but if you be bad’ – let’s listen to how that sounds. Do you think that sounds right? ‘But if you be bad?’” (974). Since Tionna has grown up with sentence structures like “but if you be bad,” she does not understand that it needs to be corrected.

Dyson and Smitherman go on to point to the popular character Junie B. Jones. Junie B. Jones speaks in a way that “would fail to meet basic standards” (977) of standardized English based on her dialect in the Junie B. Jones novels. They point out that Junie B. Jones is seen as having “innocence and naivete” (977) based on her dialect, and show the discrepancy between this and an “at-risk” child like Tionna.

The research shows that children use the “voices of families, friends, media figures, and teachers” to “find their way into writing” (978). They argue that teachers need to have the understanding that students come from different cultural and dialectical backgrounds and that a mastery of “the so-called proper way [to speak] is not a precursor to learning to write” (978). Correcting a child will not help the student if they do not see the problem or if they do not have the problem in their dialect.

Although AAL is widespread across the globe, they give the example from Orlando Taylor where he shows that when “someone speaks with a French accent, it’s perceived to be very positive because the people are perceived positively . .The problem is that African American people and Black people around the world are perceived by dominant societies to be inferior, and so their language is perceived in a similar way” (980-981). They show that this mindset is contributing to students like Tionna being corrected for their dialect.

The article goes on to give more examples of how Tionna’s dialect was “fixed” in her writing, but Dyson and Smitherman show how it is correct in AAL. They point out that since Tionna’s teachers did not have an understanding of AAL, they were unable to help Tionna see the difference between dialect, instead just correcting her to their “right” way of speaking and writing.

When Anne Dyson went back to visit Tionna a year after their initial data collection, she brought a book that Tionna had loved called Three Wishes (990). This time, when Tionna read the book, she corrected all of the AAL examples from the book to be in the standardized version of English she had learned in school, adopting the idea that AAL was “wrong” or “incorrect.”

At the end of their article, Dyson and Smitherman argue that we need to value bilingualism and bidialectalism in the educational system. They argue that “the language(s) should be taught with a broad stroke, that is, including the culture, history, values, experiences, and sociopolitical realities of the speakers of the language(s)” (994) as a way to understand and engage in other cultures within the classroom.

In class, we looked at this piece in connection with Luis Moll and Norma González’s work with bilingualism in schools. We created posters that put these articles into conversation with each other. Both pieces valued cultural incorporation, social background, broad understandings of literacy practices, overcoming standardization present in traditional schooling, and embracing differences in the classroom. Although Smitherman and Dyson dealt more with bidialectalism, we agreed as a class that these were all important values for understand literacy across cultures.

Some questions that I still have after reading this piece are: how can we begin to incorporate a system that values bidialectalism? What kind of training can we implement for educators to have a better understanding of different dialects? What can we do to help children communicate across dialects while still being valued for their dialect?

 

Dyson, Anne Haas and Smitherman, Geneva. “The Right (Write) Start: African American Language and the Discourse of Sounding Right.” Teachers College Record, Vol. 111. 2009. 973-998.