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...