Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Existing research about FAL

As I continue to conceptualize my 'history of FAL' project I am thinking more about how to situate the course and my research (and figure out a research question that is both interesting to me/my field and granting agencies).

One thing I'm interested in is "what do stakeholders in FAL think it is?" In other words, what kind of course is it, what is the purpose of the course, etc. (There was a 2009 PhD study done on a similar topic though it was different than what I intend to do; more later on that.)

As it turns out there is already a fair amount of research or other relevant stuff related to the course out there. My own background inclines me, as I said earlier, to position FAL as a 'basic writing' course, but thus far there is nothing in the literature that draws on this, really. 

As far as I can see there are two streams of research, which may reflect the way the course has shifted. The first stream is more rooted in what I would call the 'softer' side of writing studies, e.g., narrative, voice, expressionist writing, etc. This mostly can be traced to the influence of the faculty member who first created the course. The second is more rooted in applied linguistics and EAP, with a bent toward UK-style "academic literacies" theorizing. This is probably due to the influence of the faculty member who began running it soon after. It is possible that we could be entering a "new" phase of FAL in which it is positioned in discourses of EAP/EAL in the multilingual/international university. My biases incline me to draw connections to translingual writing but it's too early to predict that.

 Here's what I'm finding so far, arranged chronologically:

Mamchur, C. & Apps, L. (2008). A personal path to self-efficacy. English Quarterly Canada, 38(2/3), 65-75
C Murray MA - not a ton  on FAL, but it includes an interesting description.
In Search Of An Intersubjective Storytelling Voice: An Ethnographic Narrative Across Two Continents

Shaw, C.D. (2009). Finding voice in the border space: An examination of the foundations of academic literacy course at simon Fraser university (PhD thesis)

Scott, C. (2010, May). Literacies of the (situated) self, others, and surrounding ecologies: Towards an ecological model of literacy. Published, peer-reviewed proceedings of the University of Victoria Conference on Literacy--Language & Literacy 2.1: Transforming Literacy Conceptions. Available at

Walsh Marr, J. (2011). Exploring identity formation and academic writing of multilingual students: Skipping through the academy (MA thesis)

Lee, E., & Marshall, S. (2012). Multilingualism and English language usage in “weird” and “funny” times: A case study of transnational youth in Vancouver. International Journal of Multilingualism, 9(1), 65–82.

Marshall, S. & Moore, D. (2013). 2B or Not 2B Plurilingual? Navigating Languages Literacies, and Plurilingual Competence in Postsecondary Education in Canada. TESOL Quarterly, 47(3), 472–499.

Hayashi, H. (2013). Becoming a student: Multilingual university students' identity construction in Simon Fraser University\

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When Basic Writing is Not Basic Writing: Notes on FAL

Quick thoughts on something I'm trying to devote some mental energy to, in the hopes of eventually doing some serious work on it:

I teach in a course called Foundations of Academic Literacy. It's the type of course that would easily be considered "Basic Writing" in the US, but it's very divorced from the origins of "Basic Writing" as I understand them.

(It's very likely that many writing courses that are at a 'foundational' or 'basic' or 'remedial' or 'preparatory' level also don't come from the same historical stream that traditional basic writing courses did, which was the open enrollments of the 1960s and 70s, and universities scrambling to 'deal with' students of the type they hadn't enrolled many of before, i.e. students from non-elite backgrounds. This is an oversimplification but if we look at CUNY in the 1970s and the way Mina Shaughnessy conceptualized the idea of BW, this is it in a nutshell.)

So, here's where FAL differs from BW:

1. There is no such thing as "first-year composition" -- in the sense of a required beginning college writing course for all students -- at my institution, nor is this a very common practice in almost all Canadian institutions. There are several reasons for this that are interesting but that I don't have time to get into (they have to do with, as usual, politics and ideologies in English departments). BW in the US is often understood as a "pre-FYC" course, but we have no FYC.

That being said -- and maybe this is point (1a), FAL was created as a kind of "pre-W" course; in other words, it was created to serve the needs of students who are deemed (though we can talk more about why they are so deemed) to not be "ready" for W-courses. The W-initiative, that is, a pretty straightforward implementation of disciplinary, writing-across-the-curriculum-inspired, genre-aware, writing-to-learn-enhanced courses, was implemented around ten years ago pretty successfully by a series of units staffed by rhet/comp specialists that have since completely disappeared from the university (the specialists and the units). So FAL does have a status as being "pre" - something, but the thing it is "pre" is multifarious.

Despite this difference -- which may or may not be a big one, practically -- the perceived need for FAL probably comes from the same place the perceived need for BW does: some students "aren't ready" for university writing for some reason, and they need to be.

2. Related: a quick-and-dirty understanding of why the students "aren't ready" relates back to the unique context from which FAL emerges as distinct from BW. While BW was considered a reaction to the influx of urban, working-class, ethnic minority (etc) American students in the 70s, FAL can be said to be a "reaction" to the unique cultural context of 21st century British Columbia, which includes both a recent influx of immigration (which certainly has been steady for many years, but seems to have picked up in the last 20 years especially) and a huge increase in international students at both the K-12 and university level, a trend that is very likely to continue for a variety of reasons. This maybe isn't that different from CUNY in the 70s, but the unique national and local contexts of Canada, BC, and the Vancouver area make the "issues" different.

One of the "issues" -- and maybe this is point (2a), is an much bigger emphasis on ESL (or EAL as it's usually called at my institution) in the local educational culture. Perhaps because of the waves of immigration we see here, the question of how to support English learning is on everyone's minds, and my institution in particular has begun a major initiative (CELLTR) to in part reconceptualize EAL and multlingualism at the university and create new initiatives, programs, etc. to support English learning and learners and teachers across the university.

FAL then, because of its context,  has shades of both "basic writing" and "ESL" without being either; it was born as a result of an American-style WAC initiative, but is also run in many ways like a British-style EAP course (i.e. a course that gets interational students ready for English-medium university work). However, there is such a "Vancouvery" mix of students -- L1, L2, international, local, so-called 'gen 1.5,' students who went to Canadian or other international schools abroad, etc etc etc -- that it's hard to imagine any one-size-fits-all approach being appropriate for the course. The multicultural and transnational character of the student body to me suggests to me the need to look to British models that encourage all students regardless of background to become ethnographers of the language and culture of the university, and explicitly to work together in 'mixed' groups as they do this. Some of this happens naturally in FAL, but it could happen more*.

This is a larger issue that goes beyond FAL and probably extends at least to CELLTR. While FAL wasn't part of this initiative, which only began a few years ago, both can be seen as the result of an institution waking up to who its students are and the kind of university it wants to be.

[* Another very important issue I don't know enough about yet is what institutional pressures make FAL what it is, which is a rather rigid, high-stakes test-oriented course at the moment, though this wasn't always the case. I'm going to be looking into the history of FAL over the course of the next year to try to learn about where it's been, how it got to where it is, and where it's going.]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is Writing?

"What is writing? Why does one write? For whom? The fact is, it seems that nobody has ever asked himself these questions." - J.P Sartre

What is writing?

Could you answer that question, if you had to? 

Could you come up with a program of research that could answer it?

Could you assemble a panel discussion of people wide-ranging enough to represent every discipline and approach that would attempt an answer?

Could you come up with a definition that a linguist, a poet, a teacher, a rhetorician, a novelist, a literary critic, a critical theorist, a philosopher, an editor, a journalist, an anthropologist, a computer programmer, a comic book author, a calligrapher, a college student using Yik Yak, a Bible translator, a blind person, a graffiti artist, a three year-old child learning to form the letters of his name, and an MFA professor would agree on?

Would it even be worth it to try?

Why not?

"In short, the study of writing is a major subset of the history of human consciousness, institutions, practice, and development over the last five millenia, and composition--the learning and teaching of writing--is in the middle of all that." - Charles Bazerman

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On Being a Lapsed MLA Member

I became a member of the Modern Language Association in 2014, mostly because I was on the job market, grad student memberships were cheap, the convention was in the city where I live, and I wanted free access to Interfolio. (I was already using the JIL as a non-member.)

Becoming an MLA member was sort of a deferred dream come true. There was a time in my life, probably around age 17-22, that I assumed, hoped, or wished that I would one day be an English professor. I have always loved to read, and even as my academic career took me further and further from literature (the last time I really engaged with the academic study of literature was reading almost all of Middlemarch for an aesthetics class at Humboldt State in 2006), and from English departments, I have often said that I see myself as an "English department person." My main interest in life (apart from first-order things like family) is books, and reading and writing.

But frankly, whenever I get a small glimpse of what goes on in of the humanities today (as opposed to education, applied linguistics, and TESOL, which are fields I actually work in), I feel like getting out of "English" was the right thing for me to do. I like where I am compared to where I might be if I had seriously considered literature as a career. 

Yet I can't stop thinking about wanting to engage with the MLA, even though I have decided to let my membership lapse. It's not just that I still want to believe somehow that I have a future as a tweedy, bookish professor (rather than the sometimes obnoxiously practical non-tenure-track writing teacher I am); it's that the MLA represents a lot of stuff that I really do think is important.

I got what I assume will be my last issue of PMLA in the mail yesterday. As usual, I am only interested in reading about 20% of it, and the rest doesn't feel relevant at all, but the 20% I'm interested is riveting. Over the past year I've read in the PMLA about endangered indigenous languages, the adjunctification crisis and attempts to better the working conditions of contingent faculty, forgotten work by the 20th century Chinese writer Eileen Chang, the meaning of public intellectual work, the debate about translingual writing that's been brewing between L1 and L2 writing scholars, and a bunch of other stuff that feels vital and cool to me.

When I think about jumping in to the conversation, though, I have to step back. (And not only because you have to submit things like 40 years in advance to get published in the PMLA.) I don't work in an English department.  I don't even work in the humanities at all; much as I feel sad saying this, I'm just not trained to think like a humanist. (I might have a humanist's heart, but I have a language educator's brain.) And I don't work in the United States. (The MLA, like most American professional associations, is pretty US-centric, which is perhaps understable, though I did have to wonder at the sheer absurdity that the people who ran the conference put up signs referring to "ADA Elevators" -- that's elevators per the "Americans with Disabilities Act"-- when we were literally in Canada.)

So I don't think the MLA is for me, for a number of reasons, but I'm glad it does what it does, and I mourn my lapsed membership, in a small way, the way you might mourn leaving a country, or a community, or a religion: I don't speak the language any more (if I ever did), but I know I'm missing something by not making the effort.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Resources for creating a translingual writing course (to be continued..)

I am helping plan a course that draws on translingual writing pedagogy, and this is a list of some useful resources.


Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur 2011
Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach

NCTE 1974
Students Right to their Own Language (NCTE resolution)

Matsuda & Matsuda 2010
World Englishes and the teaching of writing

Canagarajah 2014
ESL Composition as a Literate Art of the Contact Zone Bibliography

Cosmopolitan English and Transliteracy

X You
Potential Readings

Rotten English
Writing in Nonstandard English
A Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers - Xiaolu Guo
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan
James Joyce
Irvine Welsh
Sherman Alexie (???)
Ha Jin

Countries to look to: Sg, India, Nigeria, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, Aus/NZ, Japan/Korea?, Eastern Europe...

Monday, October 26, 2015

10 things to think about if you are starting a PhD

1. I know that the constant barrage of thinkpieces about Why You Shouldn't Do a PhD is annoying, but do take some time to think about your motivation. To be honest mine was sometimes questionable; part of it was the fantasy of my own office and having "Dr." in front of my name. (And those things are both pretty awesome, yes.) Try to admit to yourself what it is you want out of this.

2. Related: be very suspicious of the notion that educational debt is "good debt." When it comes to loans, I made some terrible financial choices during my graduate studies, and some necessary compromises in the 6th year of my PhD that I will have to deal with for years to come. Budget and work so that you are not paying more tuition than you have to.

3. So: start planning now -- NOW -- for fifth- and sixth-year funding. Assuming you came in with a four year scholarship (and if you came in with no funding you should really be thinking hard about whether it's worth it), you need to be very aware of your options when that dries up. If you're in Canada, write a kick-ass SSHRC your third year, if you're eligible. If not, look to your home country, private foundations, other institutions -- really work hard to see what is available.

4. You should at least consider quitting at some point. Dark nights of the soul are common and even to be welcomed -- it means you're taking it seriously!

5. Learn to live with regrets. Choosing a PhD closes a number of doors, even as it opens others.

6. Don't let your supervisor or anyone else strongarm you into doing research on their topic. I know this is different in the sciences, but I am very grateful that I had a supervisor who let me develop a topic and an approach that was completely my own.

7. Your goal should be to stop thinking of yourself as a student. This will happen on its own, eventually (though I have a friend who said she didn't stop feeling like a student until she'd been a tenure-track professor for six years), but keep it in mind. Remember that grad school is part of your career, not preparation for it.

8. Don't stop reading and thinking outside your discipline if you don't want to. Resist the pull of hyperspecialization and keep your mind flexible.

9.  Go out. Don't sit all day. Run, walk, hike, go out for beers, go to concerts, have lunch with friends. Do these as often as possible, especially when you're writing your dissertation. It will prevent you from feeling paranoid and isolated.

10. Pray without ceasing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Meaning making is not semiotic

Not everything is semiotic. The making of "meaning" is actually what Wertsch argues that it is; all human meaning-making is in fact "mediated action."

However, it is a mistake to argue that language is the only mediated action that makes meaning. It is even a mistake to argue that other semantic/semiotic processes are the only mediated action that make meaning. (E.g. visual, spatial, audio, etc.)

In fact, physical and emotional interaction with people, entities, and things are also mediated action and hence, meaning-making activities. It is a mistake to think that meaning-making is always a conscious process.That is, there are meaning-making processes that cannot be interpreted via other channels.

The making of meaning is the making of a life, a home, a family; it is the intangibility of the space between people.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On getting a non-tenure-track job

As I alluded to in my last job-market post: I got a job. The contract arrived today.

For the last six years, I've been telling myself and everyone I know that I don't really want a research position, but a teaching position. That's mostly been true. But I found myself this year applying for research and teaching positions in equal measure. I'm not sure why that was -- I think it's because that's what is expected when you do your PhD at a major research university (which almost all of us do, after all). It's just the next logical step in your career. 

But: I got a teaching job.

It's a non-tenure-track teaching job, but it feels like there is, in fact, a track. I kind of think of it not as a [non]-[tenure track] job, but a [non-tenure][track] job.  The dean (my dean? Can I say that now, my dean? Is that weird?), in his provisional offer email, referred to it as a "continuing-track" position. Your could say it has a "track"; that "track" could even eventually lead to tenure ... but it's not "tenure-track." It sounds odd, I know. (You can see this article for some information, though I don't totally agree with everything it says.)

What does this mean, in theory and in practice?

Most obviously, it means that my salary is lower than it would be than if I were an assistant professor, and that I'll be evaluated 80/20 on teaching and service (as opposed to 40/40/20, with research in the mix), and have a standard load of 8 classes a year instead of 4. It also means that even if I've been working there forever, I can still be fired if it's deemed budgetarily necessary.

That all sounds rather bleak if your PhD has been gearing you up for a TT job (though guess what? Only 23% of Canadian education doctoral graduates are TT professors!) but here's what else it means. Unlike some the contingent positions that are more and more the norm in academia, I get things like: an office, options for course releases, options for study leaves (every 6 years), prospects for promotion (from lecturer to senior lecturer to, in theory, Teaching Professor with tenure, which is identical in salary scale to any other tenured Professor position), and so on. And less tangible things, too, like being a member of the faculty in the department (with full participation in everything but tenure & promotion committees), having my web presence in the same place as all the other faculty members (professor or not), startup funds and pro-d money and eligibility for internal grants.

Compared to the pathway many starting PhDs expect (I certainly did), which is a 4-5-year PhD that seamlessly leads to a tenure-track job, this job might feel like a consolation prize.

The thing is, though, it doesn't, at all. It's exactly what I needed: a job in the city I live in (where we want to live & where we started our growing family); a job where I have no pressure to publish; a job where I can build on the networks I started to establish during my PhD but continue to expand at a new institution, doing work that will help me develop professionally.

So: It's not a "tenure-track" job. But I'm pretty happy with it. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

My job market scorecard, Spring/Summer 2015

When we last checked in about the job market, I'd applied for 11 jobs and had 2 first-round interviews. All of those jobs ended up being no-gos. (One was cancelled, and another was reposted, so I'm considering that a new app for this round, since I applied again.)

Those applications were all turned in September-November of last year. Below are the ones (9 in total, 4 of which I interviewed for) that I sent in March-April of this year. Note that most are non-tenure track -- 7/9 of them, in fact.

In general the application process for these positions moved a lot faster, whether that's because they were desperately trying to fill the TT positions in time (and possibly had an internal candidate, in at least one case, and blazed through the whole thing as quickly as possible), or because for the non-TT jobs the departments don't have time or resources to woo fancy candidates and are often working with a pool of people they already know.

In the end, with both seasons taken into account (the "regular" TT season and the random non-TTs and late postings), I ended the year having applied for 20 jobs, getting 6 interviews (2 TT, 4 NTT), and, finally, one job*, which I'm a little concerned I'm jinxing by mentioning it since it's not signed, sealed, and delivered yet, but which I expect to start on September 1.

Rejection after interview

Large Canadian university (teaching writing) (NTT, 1-2 years)
Large Canadian university (EAP) (NTT) [verbal rejection (chair was a friend); fewer hires than anticipated]

Rejection email without interview

Christian SLAC, northwest (ESL) (1-yr VAP)
Christian SLAC, northwest (rhet/comp) (TT, reposted job that I interviewed for last time)
Christian SLAC, midwest (admin/comp) (NTT)

Didn't hear back/presumed rejected

Small Canadian university (rhet/comp) (NTT, 1 year)
Catholic university, midwest (L2 writing) (TT)

Withdrew my application
Large Canadian university (teaching L1/L2 writing) (NTT)

Offer made and accepted

Mid-size Canadian university (teaching beginning writing/education) (NTT)*

(*See a future post about this position, coming soon)

Friday, May 08, 2015

Dissertation Defense

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 12:30 PM - Room 200

Joel Heng Hartse
Department: Language and Literacy Education
Acceptability and Authority in Chinese and Non-Chinese English Language Teachers' Judgments of Language Use in English Writing by Chinese University Students

Thursday, March 05, 2015

My job market scorecard, Fall/Winter 2014-2015

2014-2015 is the first year I've seriously gone after the tenure-track job market. And it may not be my last, since I didn't get a a TT job.  I'm always extremely curious about other people's experiences on the market, so I thought I'd share what I've been up to and how it has been going.

The thing I've learned the most from all this, which I had heard many times but didn't quite believe, is that in almost all cases you do not hear back from people, even those whom you have interviewed with.

Anyway, here is a list of what's happened with my applications. I'm a second language writing specialist finishing my PhD this year. I applied to 11 TT jobs, and had two interviews.

I'll follow up later with a spring version of this post, maybe at the end of the summer.

First round interview w/subsequent rejection:

Christian SLAC, Pacific Northwest, rhet/comp [position later re-posted]
Mid-size California university, TESOL

Rejection email after initial application:

Major Canadian university, TESOL
Catholic SLAC, East Coast, TESOL
Southwestern R1, TESOL

Rejection email with implication that I was on a longlist and was still maybe sort of being considered even though I wasn't on the shortlist:

Pacific Northwest R1, comp/TESOL [position cancelled, in the end]

Silence for a long time, or forever:

Catholic SLAC, Pacific Northwest, rhet/comp [eventual rejection email 5 months from application]
Catholic SLAC, California, rhet/comp [rejection eventually]
Mid-size Canadian university, TESOL [no reply]
Mid-size Canadian university, rhet/comp [Snail-mail rejection letter 5 months out]
East Coast R1, rhet/comp [no reply]

Monday, January 12, 2015



Dissertation crunch time week, day 1: got my email inbox down to zero.


I attended, for the first and perhaps last time, the Modern Language Association convention last week. Everything they say about this enormous, bloated conference and the humanities scholars who attend it is true, I think. It's huge, and weird, and kind of full of itself. It was also pretty fun and I got some free books. Here's a rundown.

WEDNESDAY: The day before the conference began, I took part in something called the MLA Subconference. You can find a manifesto written by the organizers here; basically it is a kind of alternative/"underground" (probably the wrong word) conference for scholars in MLA fields (i.e., English departments and other humanities fields) who have an activist/labour-movement/anarchist/leftist bent. I don't know if I have any of those things, but I care about a lot of the same things they care about, so I was happy to be there. I presented on a project a classmate and I are doing on 'predatory' open access journals, which is a topic that needs a lot more scholarly attention. I hope to be able to share more of this work soon, but in the meantime there is a video of it here starting at about 17:30.

THURSDAY: I saw Suresh Canagarajah speak about his Translingual Practice book, which I have read parts of, so his talk wasn't really new to me, but it was nice to get some more insight into how writers deploy "non-standard" English in academic texts, particularly high-stakes ones. I also caught the tail end of a panel on "the future of the History of English" which was really interesting in that it showed how very traditional English language scholars (e.g. medievalists, or people who study Old English, or people who study very old texts in English, and so on) are dealing with the explosion of interest in world Englishes. It made me remember the history of English course I took in college fondly, and made me wonder if I'd ever be qualified to teach such a thing. (I don't know if I could!)

I also saw a great group of talks on using digital tools in the classroom -- presentations that mercifully did not follow the apparent MLA tradition of just standing up and reading an essay, which is just unbearably dull. There was one about "digital storytelling" that I found pretty overwhelming and cool at the same time. It made me think about the possibilities of multimodal/digital/social composition in, say, FYC.

The highlight of the day was dinner with my friends in the TESL writing group, along with Dr Canagarajah, who graciously agreed to meet with us. It's not a stretch to say that many young applied linguists -- particularly those who are NNESs or from outside North America -- see him as a kind of mentor, and our group is no different. He gave use some valuable advice on writing and publishing in our field. I also got to eat butter chicken poutine, which was totally worth it and I would do again.

FRIDAY: In the morning I went to a panel on "making room" for rhetoric and writing studies in the MLA. This was too much MLA inside baseball for me as someone who has been outside the world of English departments (and "English" as a discipline torn asunder by territorial fights between literature, creative writing, and composition, among others), though I did come away learning that the MLA is interested in publishing books on rhet/comp. My favorite session was probably the one on Students' Right to their Own Language (the famous 1974 CCCC/NCTE resolution) which got at some very interesting things regarding the history of Basic Writing scholarship, the place of multilingual comp pedagogies in pre-service composition teacher training, and the implementation -- if such a thing is possible, or desirable -- of SRTOL in the classroom. It seems like a resolution that was passed with good intentions but which is widely viewed with suspicion by teachers, and maybe even students!

SATURDAY: Saturday I had my first and only "MLA interview" -- the infamously nervous-making first-round job interview in a fancy hotel room -- I  went down to the Fairmont hotel and took the elevator up to the 6th floor where I had a preliminary interview for a tenure-track job. It went quite well, I thought, but I think I'll remain taciturn about it for now.


I'm setting aside this week to work, work, work on my dissertation and a few other things. If it goes well, I'll post an update on Friday. If not, I'll just slink away quietly...