Monday, February 11, 2008

Status, Standard, and Change

Response to pages 1-34 of Richard Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing

While I do not feel like I have completely grasped everything Haswell has presented in the first 34 pages of Gaining Ground in College Writing, a few points have stuck with me and inspired further thought.

First is the relationship between status, standard, and change, particularly in reference to course learning vs. developmental learning. I feel that the way language arts standards at the high school level encourages a course learning approach, even though the standards themselves present a developmental philosophy. Teachers feeling pressured by state test scores and school rankings seem to take an “academic credit” approach to their teaching and abandon most notions of developmental learning. After all, focusing on academic credit by teaching to standardized tests and incorporating non-academic criteria into the grading system will get faster results than a strictly developmental model. His idea of status has me really reconsidering how I view a classroom of students, especially with ESL factors in the mix. I wonder how status affects an instructor’s view of class that has English 100 and English 100i students in the same section. Is grading different? Is development looked at differently in determining the grade?

Haswell admits that in setting up his observations of student writing that the “student from Greece is too confounding” (21). For simplicity’s sake I understand his motivations. But now that I have seen the results that have come out of these groups that do not write English as a second language, I naturally want to know how his observations would differ if there were several non-native English writers from a variety of language backgrounds and experiences. I’m not trying to find fault with his method. I just think that if I’m going to be teaching in California, a state increasingly growing in its numbers of ESL student entering college composition classes, I would like to see his work now shifted into that direction.

One of the things that I did have a little trouble reconciling was how much “growth” credit I can give to students that play to teacher expectations and schemes her or his way through education. Granted, it is an approach that displays a certain amount of wit, foresight, and well-delivered execution, but I’m not sure that it deserves the title of “growth.” I see it as a survival tactic, one that will eventually expose the weakness and show the lack of growth. Maybe my perspective on growth is biased. I’ll look into it.

I liked the examining of the two essays. Could we do something like that in class?

1 comment:

Jimmy Astacio said...

Mike, I agree with your comment about the student who writes well for some courses and not others as a faulty example of "growth." When we consider Haswell's discussion of status, etc. is what has the student really learned then? How to get by on some courses by using "survival tacticts?" I saw some of this when I did some grading of papers for a non-English class at HSU. The content, in many cases, was seriously lacking, and the global grammatical errors were atrocious.

Yes, I know, I don't want to harp on the grammar, but these were global, as opposed to local concerns, to use the jargon of 450. When a couple of us English students who were doing the grading confronted the instructor of the class about his requirements for the writing, we were told that all he was looking for was for the students to turn in the number of pages assigned, and for them to at least stay on topic. These students had turned in papers that appeared to have been written an hour before class.

Were they doing this because they knew that they could get away with it? Was this their survival tactic? I bet it was. If this is "growth," I hate to say it, but I think we may be growing backwards. Ok, I'll rest now until I read more of Haswell and can critique him in a more honest fashion.