Talking about the five-paragraph essay (as I so often seem to be), there was a great article in Slate recently denouncing the (five-paragraph) essay component of the SAT (one of the standardized tests taken by American high-school students as part of their university application). The title says it all: “We are teaching high school students to write terribly.” The article quotes Professor Anne Ruggles-Gere of the University of Michigan writing center:
“For those trained in the five-paragraph, non-fact-based writing style that is rewarded on the SAT, shifting gears can be extremely challenging. “The SAT does [students] no favors,” Gere says, “because it gives them a diminished view of what writing is by treating it as something that can be done once, quickly, and that it doesn’t require any basis in fact.”
The result: lots of B.S.
As Professor Gere says elsewhere in the article, the result is that college writing teachers like me have to un-teach what students have “learned” about writing — and it’s not just American students. International students trained to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or other English language proficiency tests also arrive with what Linda Flower has called a “limited literacy.”
Lest you think we exaggerate, here is a horrifyingly amusing blog post by Jed Applerouth, a teacher and doctoral student who takes the SAT regularly to help him tutor high school students to ace/beat the test. Since SAT essay raters are explicitly trained to ignore the veracity of the writing, here’s how to get a top score:
I stuck John Fitzgerald Kennedy in a Saxon war council during the middle ages, grappling with whether to invade the neighboring kingdom of Lilliput. Barrack Husein Obama shared a Basque prison cell with Winston Churchill, and the two inmates plotted to overthrow General Franco. Cincinnati’s own, Martin Luther King Jr. sought out a political apprenticeship with his mentor, Abraham James Lincoln, famed Ontario prosecutor.
Finally, an example of writing with absolutely no communicative value whatsoever. The SAT essay as anti-genre?!
(Hat tip to my Facebook friends and friends-of-friends for these links.)
I just returned from a wonderful few days in the beautiful Hungarian capital for the European Association of Teachers of Academic Writing (EATAW) conference. And congratulations to the organizing team for such an interesting and well-run event.
Many papers at the conference considered the relationship between English and other languages in higher education and (especially scientific) publishing. This put my contribution in an interesting light: I argue that the genre-based pedagogy we use gives students/scholars access to “cultural capital” that will enable them to participate in the knowledge-making work of their disciplines. But it could be argued that we are instead spreading the hegemony of English and forcing writers with their own cultural and rhetorical traditions to subjugate themselves to anglo-saxon domination. I still think that you can’t change a system — or even participate in it — until you can speak its language. What do you think?
My essay reviewing Yasuko Kanno and Linda Harklau’s 2012 book, Linguistic Minority Students Go to College has just been published in the open-access online journal, Education Review. The essay is called “Language Is Not the Only Barrier (Unless It Is),” and in it, I praise the book for breaking new ground in studying immigrant students’ access to and experiences in higher education, while politely (I hope!) critiquing some of the chapters for undervaluing the role of language in the success of non-mainstream students. I also discuss policies implemented by academic English programs such as the one described at the pseudonymous “Northern Green University” (and yes I did figure out the real identity, yes it only took a few minutes on Google, and no I’m going to tell!) and disagee that NGU’s program is typical of other university ESL programs. Nonetheless, the book is well worth reading, and I hope I’ve done justice to it.
And yes, the piece of paper on the table was my cheat sheet (I don’t get a teleprompter!). It was actually quite easy to tie my book into AWGS because Swales & Feak’s approach to writing is inextricably linked to language (grammar and vocabulary), and they were already using a somewhat functional approach to grammar. In fact, the third edition has a wonderful expanded discussion of old-new information patterns, which I develop in the last unit of Grammar Choices (my students’ favorite part of the book, usually).
We put a lot of thought into how much new terminology to introduce in Grammar Choices, and on the advice of Chris Feak (as in Swales & Feak) and our mutual editor, Kelly Sippell, I tried to stick to terms (technically, a metalanguage) that would be familiar at least to North American readers and especially to those using AWGS. I also wrote an expanded introduction which explains concepts that are a little less frequently used here, as well as a glossary. I was greatly encouraged at the Genre 2012 conference to hear Jim Martin, no less, of Sydney University endorse teaching materials that simplify systemic functional grammar’s daunting metalanguage into familiar terms, so hopefully my attempt to use functional principles with more “traditional” (structuralist) terminology will help writers benefit from the major insights of functional grammar without me having to explain it or them having to learn it!
While I was working at the University of North Carolina, I made a series of online workshops for ESL students who didn’t have time to attend the face-to-face sessions we offered. (I call them the bobble-head videos, for reasons which will be obvious if you watch one!) Since then, the Writing Center has reorganized their website (looks slick, guys!), and many of the links I’ve posted on the blog previously don’t work. So, here are the direct links to all the videos:
Update 1/22/13: The video links are not working — either there’s a problem with the server, or UNC has canceled its account with Panopto. I’m working on a solution, but in the meantime, please use the PDFs, and you can just imagine my talking head …
Paraphrasing and plagiarism 1: Using sources (video) (pdf)
Paraphrasing and plagiarism 2: Preparing a paraphrase (video) (pdf)
Paraphrasing and plagiarism 3: Writing a summary (video) (pdf)
If you’re in the great city of Philadelphia for TESOL 2012, please join me for two presentations on teaching graduate writing:
Making Grammar Choices in Advanced Academic Writing (introducing my new textbook, Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Writers from the University of Michigan Press). Thursday, 4pm, room 118B.
Preparing for Excellence: Strategies for Teaching Graduate Writing with Chris Feak, Grace Canseco, and Jennifer Greer. Friday, 10am, Marriot Independence Ballroom I.
UPDATED 3/25/12: Steve Simpson, Anne Zanzucchi, Christine Feak, and I closed down the Conference on College Composition and Communication (literally, we were the last session!) with our panel, Preparing and Supporting Graduate Student Writers across the Curriculum. In our session, we talked about a dissertation boot camp, joint construction in the language classroom, the use of peer review with native and non-native speakers, and the benefits of genre-based pedagogy as we considered how our universities can help all graduate students turn from novice writers into proficient writers and may even expert writers.
I spoke today at Penn-TESOL-East’s fall conference on the beautiful campus of Penn State-Abington. My presentation was titled “Discovering Writing with the Teaching-Learning Cycle” and it followed on from my earlier campaigns “beyond the five-paragraph essay.”
I just got back from the Penn-TESOL-East 2010 Fall conference on the beautiful campus of Penn State-Abington, where I presented the latest version of my anti-5-paragraph-essay crusade: “Real Writers Don’t Do It in Five Paragraphs: Content-First Approaches to Academic Writing.” That’s what happens if you don’t give a word limit for presentation titles!
You can view and download my PowerPoint slides and handouts from this page. (Yes, those would be the PowerPoint slides I couldn’t show because my laptop died.) If you were there, I hope you enjoyed this demonstration of the dangers of using technology in conference presentations. Where are my OHP pens …?
Feel free to leave a comment about the session or the materials!