Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ways with Ethnography: Teacher Freedom and Community Building

There's quite a bit of rhetoric today surrounding the ideas of "standards" and "back to basics," but much of this rhetoric ignores the fact that teachers in the classroom must somehow connect with their students in such a way that students will continue their learning as a lifelong process.  What we see in Shirley Brice Heath's Ways with Words is that teachers who have been empowered with lessons in ethnography are better able to reflexively adapt their teaching to meet the specific situation of their own students.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ethnography - The Invisible Social Justice

I have long wondered what it would be like to work at the cutting edge of a field of study, to introduce new concepts, or to apply prior methods in a new ways.

The two readings for today - Philips's The Invisible Culture for the book club and Heath's Ways with Words - have both been seminal works in the ways they've revealed the importance of ethnography in examining the deep relationships between language, culture, and the social structures which define our societies.  Both authors were writing at a point in time when the influence of science overshadowed many of the important contributions of quantitative analysis, and I think their works reveal just how unknown and "invisible" many aspects of human culture are to those of us who are comfortably position within our own lives.  And yet, for all the strength of their insights, I don't think these texts have reached some of the audiences who most need them - teachers, public leaders, and students.  In this post, I'd like to consider why this may be.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ethnography, Power Dynamics, and Perception in Research

 In preparing for my teaching internship in the fall, I continually find myself trapped in search of the "right" study methodology. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Perceptions of Literacy and the "Literacy Crisis"

I've long thought there's a literacy crisis - or at least a writing crisis.  After reading Gee, though, I'm not sure if what I'm seeing is a "crisis," or if instead my own perceptions of writing are simply coloring the ways in which I see people "succeeding" according to my own personal expectations.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Epistemology and Writing: Ethnographic Analysis of Social Knowledge

My first question, upon starting the Lillis article, was to wonder how ethnography could be considered "deep theorizing," or why it would be considered a "methodology" instead of simply a "method" of research.  For me, preparing for my teaching internship in the fall, ethnography has been one of those data-gathering approaches I've considered and nearly discarded.  It's complicated, it brings up additional ethical issues, and it can make it more difficult for an IRB to get approved.  With today's readings, though, I'm seeing that ethnography represents more than simply a means of gathering empirical data, but also an overall attitude regarding what constitutes data within the larger question regarding the importance of context in writing research.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Linguistic Awareness: Going beyond "Teaching to the Test"

In the political realm, there's been a tremendous degree of focus on "accountability," particularly in education.  In reading the article by Horner,, I'm struck by certain parallels between the "traditional" approaches to linguistic diversity and today's model of "teaching to the test" which has resulted from "No Child Left Behind."  The challenge for educators, I think, is to prepare students to meet what Michael-Luna and Canagarajah identify as the "high stakes" game of writing in Higher Education" while also convincing non-educators of the value of linguistic diversity, as Tardy advocates.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Political Implications of Pedagogy: Contrastive Rhetoric and the Strangely Liminal Space of Cultural Relativity

I never tell people that I am trilingual. I will sometimes admit that I can speak three languages, but I prefer saying I've "learned" German and Arabic. But I'm not good at learning languages. Instead, I'm good at surviving the learning of languages. I can pick up grammar patterns no problem - when it comes to vocabulary, it's like trying to memorize the water dripping out through cupped hands.

And yet, I know that when I speak German, I become a different person. Well, somewhat different. Because in Germany, people don't really wait in lines for food. There is no pausing to think about your order at the check-out window. You either order, or the next person orders and pays while you're still wondering what you did wrong in the process of trying to get food. So when I speak German in Germany, I tend to be a bit more assertive. Well, at least when it comes to ordering food.

For me, phenomena like this have always seemed like simple "cultural differences." Kind of like the anecdote of the American astronaut who went hungry while staying aboard Russia's Mir. Unaccustomed to the Russians and their ways of simply grabbing food, he wasn't getting enough to eat. Finally, one day he just gave in to rudeness and starting grabbing food himself. His Russian colleagues, noticing the change, only asked what had taken him so long.

The problem, though, is that these "cultural differences" are more the result of mass perception rather than individual reality. There are plenty of Americans who never wait in line for food - it's just that I'm not usually among them. The problem for teachers and scholars, though, is that one person's experience creates a cultural reality.

(I'll post more soon. --Ryan)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaching Students as Peripheral Participants

After reading Canagarajah's article on peripheral participation, I've come to realize that we can help our students position themselves as discourse participants trapped in a similar situation.  As students, they lack both the positions of power necessary in order to be heard and the background knowledge to fully participate in the discourse.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Linguistics as (not so) Hidden Racism?

In the past, I’d never really thought of linguistics as an inherently political field of study. Yet as we see in the readings, our understanding and privileging of certain linguistic habits is tightly intertwined with our perceptions of what is “right” and “correct” - and these perceptions are themselves built upon cultural hierarchies.  The result, I think, could be that the longstanding forms of structural discrimination that we've been fighting for many years may actually be continuing (at least at a cultural level) through the marginalization of dialects.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ENG 540 - Global Englishes and Popular Culture

For my first post for English 540 at Illinois State, I'll be responding to readings by Pennycook, Gee, Bamgbose, Bolton, and Matsuda.  Mostly, these readings represent an introduction to what it means to study English from a descriptive cultural perspective rather than simply a prescriptive or "language-focused" approach to what English "is" or "should be."