So far this course has challenged me to think of composition teaching beyond the five-paragraph essay. Admittedly, when I first entered this class, I saw nothing “wrong” with this essay; instead, I saw it as an effective way to organize thoughts into a cohesive and coherent piece of writing. In my experience as a private tutor, I used it to assess what was “wrong” with an essay and I relied on it as a strategy to improve students’ writing. Courtney’s review of Kutney’s article, however, named this assumption of First-Year Composition (FYC) as a set of strategies that will make a novice writer into an extraordinaire, is something that Kutney wrote will lead to the failure of the FYC program.

This assumption is something that has been reinforced by in-class discussions and readings. Throughout the history of composition teaching, we have seen it serve in several functions and work from many different academic paradigms. I found the function of “gatekeeper” (that composition served to keep access to higher education away from undesirable populations) most resonant—I think this is because as a woman and an ethnic minority, I had already suspected that things like essays and standardized tests were designed to keep me and those like me out. To me, this makes it even more interesting that I could at once distrust and buy in to these educational systems, because although I distrusted the Eurocentric system, I had no concept of anything in existence but this system.

Enter Richardson, who wrote on this very subject in her article,  Critique on the problematic of implementing afrocentricity into traditional curriculum: “the powers that be”. This article cites the disproportionate number of African-American students who are being placed in remedial college-level classes, the low college completion rate among African-American students, and lower scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress than their White counterparts as the context for her argument for an African-centered approach to knowledge and implementation in the composition classroom. Within this paradigm, Richardson wrote about her attempts to implement an Afrocentric approach to learning in the classroom, and she writes about its successes and challenges because, like me, students have a hard time grasping the fact that an Afrocentric approach exists and is a valid counterapproach.

My classmates were also interested in how to effectively teach a diverse FYC course. Melinda focused her research on how to create a classroom environment in which students from diverse backgrounds can thrive. Her review of Amanda Hayes article, “Op’nin’ the Door for Appalachia in the Writing Classroom,” articulated one of my most persistent questions: how do I implement these concerns into the composition classroom?  As she pointed out, Hayes does not answer this question in her article. Still, it was interesting to read her review and to be reminded that the scope of language/cultural hierarchies span beyond African-American/second language (L2) learners of English. It also articulated the relationship between language subjugation and cultural subjugation and possible erasure which is something that I would like to inform my teaching choices as a composition teacher.

Mae’s review of the Peter Barbatis article, “Underprepared, Ethnically Diverse Community College Students: Factors Contributing to Persistence” was interesting because she is also interested in what contributes to a successful diverse classroom. In this article review, Mae discussed students’ different motivations for “persisting” in a community-college. Some attributed their persistence to cultural differences, believing that their cultural group was stricter regarding academic progress. Others had long-term goals like wanting to provide for a family or complete taxes for people. She also highlighted the conflict that some students experience with balancing the demands of school and work.

This information has served to radically alter my thoughts about things like the 5-paragraph essay, and it has given me much to consider in terms of the type of classroom environment I would like to structure. Still, because of my degree program (M.A. in Applied Linguistics, TESOL track) I see myself teaching in a very specific environment (teaching English/the conventions of writing in English to L2 learners), and so I sometimes find myself unsure of how to bridge my ideas and the task at hand. The labor issues that we have spoken of in class and that Courtney blogged about in her review of the Carpini article that outlines some FYC hiring practices are concerning to me—we do have to get some sort of measurable progress out of the students we are teaching. To me, the thought of trying to design curricula that defines FYC; that balances the needs of L2 learners with an otherwise diverse classroom; that is not overly labor-intensive for myself (is that a legitimate concern? Or am I just being lazy?); that teaches and assesses writing; that balances expressivism and social constructivism; that does away with the 5-paragraph essay and yet still gets them to pass their exit exams—is a bit overwhelming.

There are solid reasons to move away from Murray’s process approach. As Jill noted in her review of the article, “From Rigidity to Freedom: An English Department’s Journey in Rethinking How We Teach and Assess Writing” use of a department-wide rubric to assess all writing assignments led to formulaic essays and portfolios, and uninspired assignments overall (Strouthopoulos & Peterson).  A faculty retreat where the simple question of what faculty valued in writing led to a two-fold approach of creating authentic writing assignments that relate to the real world and redesigning a rubric that embraced “the subjectivity of writing” (Jill). This corresponds a bit to Reid and Kroll, which also provide a framework for designing effective writing assignments; they, too, name authentic assignments as key in creating successful writing prompts. Flower & Hayes also look at the writing process outside of the process approach, preferring instead to look at composing as goal-directed and allowing writers to create their own goals.

In my own composition classroom, I think I would strive to combine the examples above with the considerations for my learners’ individual needs, as much as possible. Composition teaching, like nearly everything else I have encountered in life, appears to be a balancing act (or maybe in this case a juggling act) . I do think that if I take nothing else from the lessons above, I will seek to embrace learners’ backgrounds, modify the process approach and move beyond the 5-paragraph essay.

Works Cited
Delli Carpini, D. (2004). “Must be willing to teach composition”: the rhetoric and practices of the
          small college job searchComposition Studies, 32(2), 29-52.
Hayes, Amanda. “Op’nin’ the Door for Appalachia in the Writing Classroom.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 39.2 (2011): 168-83. TETYC. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ncte.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/journals/tetyc/issues/v39-2&gt;.

Kutney, J.P. (2008). “Guaranteeing the failure of first year composition; four assumptions about

             writing expertise. The International Journal of Learning, 15 (8), 223-227.
Richardson, E. (2000). Critique on the problematic of implementing afrocentricity into traditional curriculum: “the powers that be”. Journal of Black Studies31(2), 196-213 . Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2645913?&Search=yes&searchText=”elaine richardson”&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=%22elaine+richardson%22&gw=jtx&acc=on&prq=elaine+richardson&Search=Search&hp=25&wc=on&prevSearch=&item=2&ttl=66&returnArticleService=showFullText
Strouthopoulos, Chris and Peterson, Janet. “From Rigidity to Freedom: An English Department’s Journey in Rethinking How We Teach and Assess Writing.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College Sept. 2001: 43-62. Print
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