Sunday, January 22, 2017

"English and Me" assignment revisited

For FYW this time, I'm going back to the "English and Me" assignment for the first writing project of the semester. I wrote about the "English and Me" essay before, but I've made some small changes to the actual assignment that I hope better emphasize the "English learning doesn't take place in a vacuum" part of the assignment from the first draft. I was having trouble in the past getting some students to go from relatively individual(istic) stories in the first draft to second drafts that brought in more of the familial, social, and political contexts of their stories. So in addition to reading Amy Tan's "Mother Tongue" and Gloria Anzaldúa's "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," we read an interview with José Orduña about his new book, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement. (I haven't read the book yet, but I just received a copy.) I like how in the interview, Orduña says he wanted to emphasize in his book that "'my story' didn't begin and end with me." I think that's a good place to start with for students when you're asking them to write a literacy narrative/autobiography.

Here's the latest version of this assignment, which I've renamed (problematically, perhaps), a "literacy narrative":
So far this semester, we have written in the guided self-placement essays about our experiences learning languages and learning to read and write in English. We have also have read two essays and an interview that present different approaches to the question of how multilingual writers relate to English. Despite their differences, authors Gloria Anzaldúa and Amy Tan (and interviewed author José Orduña) share such themes as the multiple varieties of language that they use and how those varieties relate to their sense of identity; the roles of formal education in their language use and identity; and the ways in which they “shuttle” among languages and identities.
They also share some narrative techniques, such as code-switching (some would call it “code-mixing”) among languages and language varieties, mixing short descriptive anecdotes and more explanatory or argumentative prose, using dialogue (remembered or imagined) to bring the other people in their essays to life, etc.
In this first essay, I would like you to describe your own previous experiences with the English language, particularly as they have led you to study in the United States and at Northeastern University. Consider, too, José Orduña’s argument that our stories don’t begin and end with us—that they start with the stories of those who have come before us and extend beyond our own lives. As your previous writings for this class (including the placement essays) have shown, English use and learning doesn’t take place in a linguistic or social/cultural vacuum. Explore the connections among your encounters with English and the larger social and cultural contexts which you have experienced.
Also, like Anzaldúa and Tan, don’t feel limited to writing in one language variety or writing only about (standard) English. Consider in one of your drafts (perhaps the first draft) trying some of the techniques used by Anzaldúa and Tan. You can always get rid of them if you don’t like them or they don’t work for your audience.
Some possible areas to help you brainstorm (but don’t feel limited by these suggestions):[1]
  • Misunderstandings based on English language differences (and your attempts to work out them out orally, through writing, or through other channels like texting, body language, etc.)
  • Being corrected or correcting others
  • Emotional dimensions of everyday language use/learning (like impatience or frustration, fear, a feeling of accomplishment or success, connection to family, etc.)
  • Locations of English use/learning (schools, workplaces, airports, etc.)
  • English dialects or accents experienced or used in different contexts or environments
Your essay should eventually have a thesis that is supported by what you say, but for the first draft, which we will share in class, what you write might be more “loose.” Think of your first draft as exploratory—a place where you can think about what you want to say, rather than worrying so much about how to say it. (We’ll worry enough about how to say it later on in the writing process.)

Remember to post your drafts on time to Digication. Late drafts will hurt your “process” grade for the assignment and will make it harder for your partners and me to read and respond to your writing.
  • First draft: Write a short (about 750+ words) narrative of a particular moment in your life as a learner/user of English. Describe it in detail and make sure that through the use of your detail you make it clear to your readers (us) what is so memorable and/or important about that particular moment. Don’t ignore this experience’s connections to the lives of others (family members, etc.)—try to bring those into your story, as relevant. If you don’t have one particular moment that stands out in your mind, you might describe two or three moments and narrate how they reflect whatever changes you went through in your relationship to English on the way to NU. Due: before class on 1/23
  • Second draft: This is the first draft that I’ll be directly commenting on. Develop your essay beyond that one experience that you described in the first draft. You might bring in other experiences, or you might write more about the contexts or implications of that experience. Consider what those experiences mean—not just to you, but to a larger community or group. Think about your responses to your classmates’ first drafts (and theirs to yours) and how those responses might point you to new or different perspectives on your relationship to English. This draft should be at least 1000 words. Be ready to talk to me in your conference about your essay and your partners’ feedback. Due: before class on 1/30
  • Proofreading draft: This is the next-to-last draft—the one we’ll be proofreading before you turn it in. Revise based on your partners’ and my comments about your second draft. Due: before class on 2/6
[1] Adapted from Jay Jordan, Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities. Urbana, IL: CCCC/ NCTE, 2012.

We'll see how it goes--first drafts are due tomorrow.

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