Re: snapshots -Reply

Thu, 18 Jan 1996 07:00:47 -0500

Greetings, y'all--

After lurking for quite some time, I have decided to come out of my
cybershell and join the ongoing discussion. Yesterday afternoon, in
a moment of relaxation after having sent my dissertation director several
chapters of my dissertation, I decided that I wanted to read and process
the current snapshots interchange. The first thing I needed to do was
to print out all messages pertaining to snapshots from Alice Trupe's (hi,
alice) message of 2 Jan. I know from past experience that I have trouble
keeping up with threads of discussion on lists on the screen.

So I take the print outs home and read them over. And not surprisingly
(I have read the research on coherence in online interchanges), I still
had trouble keeping up with the threads.

I start off with this bit of personal narrative to highlight the notion
of one's il/literacy. I feel competent in the close reading of a stable
printed text but not so with respect to the interactive commentary that
goes on online. Response # 1: Unless we define what we mean by the term
'literacy' wtihin a specific context, we should not use the term at all.
Would anyone out there care to launch an attempt at such a definition?

I also got the sense in reading the commentary that most of you come out
of a literature background with the teaching of writing as something that
came later on. I sensed an almost deficit model of the student writer,
developmental or otherwise. I came to the teaching of writing through
an MA in Linguistics (some theoretical and some applied) with a
certification to teach ESL. I cut my pedagogical teeth on Mina Shaughnessy's
_Errors and Expectations_. From her perspective and from that of first
and second language acquisition as well as work in error analysis, I have
found myself looking at student glass as half full as opposed to half
empty--what do their mistakes mean? How are they attempting to grapple
in writing (in a new language) with new concepts? And what can we as
teachers/mentors do to help them in this process?

I was also waiting in these snapshot interchanges for someone to mention
that writing occurs in interaction and negotiation with a reader. While
the issue of how well read someone is with that individual's ability
to express her/himself in writing is interesting, I think that more important
is the interaction/negotiation that occurs with a reader/responder in the
shaping of a particular piece of writing within a particular rhetorical
situation. Our responsibility as (writing) teachers is to find out where
a student is and, in the Vygotskyian zone of proximal development, help
that student get from point A to point B and beyond.

As for the discussion around the cognitive development of our students as
it relates to ours, I think we may be deluding ourselves if we think that
we use our developmental model as any kind of standard. Those of us who
can remember the day that our parents borught the first TV into the house
have certainly had differing kinds of stimulation than kids who have
grown up with talking toys. Sherry Turkle's 1983 _The Second Self_
develops these differences in cognitive processing rather well, I think.

I leave you with a question: Why do we study and/or ask our students
to study Shakespeare anyway? (Note: I am *not* suggesting that we don't).
If we follow the "well read/well written" line of thought, one might suggest
that reading S. makes one a better writer. But then what is it of Mr.
S. that does this--his syntax? his semantics (a lot of which has changed
in meaing over time)?

I have a 23 year old daughter, a Social Work grad of GMU, who took
courses in Shakespeare (along with the English majors) as electives, in
part because of her senior English teacher in high school. Her writing
now consists of writing up the notes on the psychiatriatric intake
interviews she does in her job with an HMO. She has been commended on
the quality of these notes, a skill that she learned with a mentor
during her internship working with dually diagnosed homeless for
two semesters last year. What part, I wonder, did her love of Shakespeare
play in her development as a writer in her current situation?

I am not suggesting that we should/should not teach S or anyone else.
I do think we need to see our students as writers and work with the literacy
skills they bring to us to help them in their development. I could
say more on that but I have probably used up your goodwill for a first

Ruth Overman Fischer
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA