Tuesday, January 30, 2007

They Choose to Be Here

In the writing center, I work with such a variety of students. From those who honestly only need help with grammar and usage (ESL graduate students) to those who have difficulty understanding how to analyze instead of summarize. I distinctly remember working with a student whose professor had handed his response back ungraded and told him to go to the writing center. I don't know what it would have felt like to have been the student who was (in essence) told that what he had to say didn't count unless he could say it in academic English.

But he was there. Despite his obvious difficulty with academic English, this student not only had the courage to come to college, he had the courage to come to the writing center to get help instead of throwing the paper away and giving up.

When I worked with special ed high school students, I was sometimes rather frustrated and concluded they shouldn't be there. After all, if you can't read by the time you're in high school and you don't care to put in at least a little effort, then what is the point? But being only fourteen, they didn't have a choice. That's not the kind of situation that Adrienne Rich and Mina Shaughnessy write about. Shaughnessy was probably right that the basic writers were "strangers in academia, unacquainted with the rules and rituals of college life, unprepared for the sorts of tasks their teachers were about to assign them" (3). But they wanted to be there. Maybe they didn't want to be in a writing class specifically, but they chose to enter college, and Rich points out, "Many dropped out (a lower percentage than the national college dropput rate, however); many stuck it out through several semesters of remedial English, math, reading, to enter the mainstream of the college" (4).

I want to continue to remind myself that basic writers are here by choice and that motivation is key to their success.

Works Cited

Rich, Adrienne. "Teaching Language in Open Admissions." 1973. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2001. 1-13.

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.


Reader1 said...

I agree that this is would be a refreshing difference between high school and college. The college students should have more motivation to succeed. Great point.

S00nerfan1 said...
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S00nerfan1 said...

I think that using the word "motivation" as being the key to their success is right on. I have seen too many high school students fail assignments just because of lack of motivation. However, when I speak to them about college, they seem to believe that they will breeze right through. I can't imagine the shock they must go through once they find out how many English courses they will need to take in order to graduate.

Amy said...

They should go to Drury. Last I knew, there's no writing class requirement, it's supposed to be learned by doing it in other classes. I'm pretty sure you can graduate without touching the English department (though literature courses satisfy part of a history requirement and writing courses satisfy part of a creativity requirement).

Wordage said...
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Wordage said...

Sorry for the sloppy comment - I rushed.

Wordage said...

What I had tried to say in my unsuccessful attempt at a comment was a note of appreciation and understanding for the lack of content you have noticed in student writing. I too have noticed many students struggling with writing for content. Is it a lack of understanding in their topic, intimidation of asking the teacher for help, or just the intimidation of writing?

Amy said...

Honestly, I think a lot of it is that the techniques that worked for them in high school aren't working anymore and they don't understand why. Of course, sometimes the techniques didn't work in high school either. But I think a lot of time the students can't hear what they're being asked to do because they've never been expected to do it before.

For instance, sometimes they just regurgitate information from what they've read instead of critiquing it because they can't believe that they're really supposed to include their own insights.

They don't always realize that they need help, even when they're not doing well. They might misidentify their problems (thinking that it's a grammar issue, for instance) and just keep hammering away doing the same thing.

kuertenccool said...

The student's true story reminded me of my own experience here as an international student.Last semester when I just came here I met so many difficulties,including in study and also in life.I felt frustrated and sometimes wanted to give up.But at last I cried to say to myself that I was so brave to choose to come America to study and I should be proud of myself!I think for any non-native speaker to live in another country is not easy,but so long as we try our best,I think someday we can achieve our goals!!"When there is a will, there is a way."