Friday, May 4, 2007

Switched to Google Reader

By the way, I've switched from Bloglines to Google Reader. As one would expect from Google, it's much prettier. You can view a list of posts with snippets instead of Bloglines' clunkier view posts so-many-days old, making it look basically like Gmail. And it does have folders in addition to Gmail style tags, so you can easily condense the list. It's also an easy switch, since you can simply click "export" from Bloglines and then "import" from Google Reader.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Content Matters

The first time I discovered plagiarism in a student paper, I was pretty shook up. This student was making a D in my class and had gotten an F on his latest paper. But it hurt me when a sentence sounded off and I had to check Google. Now that was my first semester teaching, so Sara Biggs Chaney might have been a bit more hardened against the experience, but in her case she had high hopes for the paper and the A student who had written it. Where my student may have been desperate or confused about using sources, Chaney's student was likely expressing a disrespect for academic writing and Chaney herself despite being quite capable of handling the assignment (31).

In composition, we tend to focus more on presentation than content. This makes sense, because writing isn't really a content course. We need to help students work with whatever content to produce good essays. But Chaney felt she'd made a mistake by ignoring the content of Amber's paper about the irrelevance of paper writing. She felt that Amber could become academic by going through the motions of academic writing (30), but Amber still believed paper writing was not important. And Chaney didn't really listen to her ideas. She was interested in the paper, but only formally. She wanted to see the moves of academic writing, but basically ignored the content.

I'm writing a paper in another class in which I connect this deemphasis of content in composition classes to the Foucault's author function, as explained by Gail Stygall. That is, while it makes sense in a composition class to emphasize the form of writing, to talk about the moves of academic writing, we really can't neglect the actual content if we want our students to be real writers. Real writers and readers care a lot about content. If we start ignoring the actual content of our students' papers, we're basically dooming them to perpetual student-hood. I can imagine where Amber's beliefs about the irrelevance of paper writing were only strengthened by the fact that her writing teacher thought she could write a great paper which condemned the entire process--writing, then, is just an act. It doesn't do anything, it doesn't say anything, and it certainly doesn't prove anything. In the real world, Chaney would likely have made her actual disagreement with Amber's content central to her evaluation of the paper. She might have conceded that the argument was well made, but she'd have given center stage to the fact that it just didn't hold up.

Now we can't grade our students' papers on how well they fit the beliefs we already have, but we can be a little more honest about our subjectivity and the role content plays in good writing.

Works Cited

Chaney, Sara Biggs. "Study of Teacher Error: Misreading Resistance in the Basic Writing Classroom." Journal of Basic Writing 23.1 (2004): 25-38.