Friday, December 3, 2010

Topic: College Students' Negative Attitudes Toward Academic Discourse

10-second review: Students have a negative view of academic discourse as controlled by professors in lecturing in large lecture halls and in expectations in writing.

Quote: “Beth writes: As I sit in my lecture halls and watch as students play computer games, text and sleep, it perfectly portrays how the discourse community is unbalanced, lost and ultimately no longer a community…. 500students sit in the dark and try to take notes on a power point that is being read word for word by the professor. There are no discussions or debates where students can ask questions, voice their opinions and bounce ideas off of each other.”

Quote: “Significantly, Beth writes that students are literally ‘in the dark’ in lecture-based classes. She desires a classroom where students’ ideas serve to ‘balance’ a discourse community heavily weighted toward professors.”

Quote: “Students write that large lecture classes make them feel ‘invisible,’ ‘alienated,’ and ‘anonymous.’ Academic discourse makes them feel ‘frustrated,’ ‘excluded,’ and ‘ostracized.’ ”

Comment: We all know that large lectures exist at large universities. One of the strengths of the community college, on the other hand, is the absence of large lectures and the existence of relatively small class sizes.

However, another side of the issue about academic discourse is understanding what it is. Students need to learn that a range exists in writing [and in lecturing] from informal to formal discourse with stages and mixtures of language in between. Students need to learn when to use informal language [close to the characteristics of conversation] and formal language in writing and speaking and when to use them appropriately.

Following is my [RayS’s]description of the characteristics of standard, edited, publishable and formal English:

What is standard, edited, publishable English? The closer students are to conversational English, the farther they are from what I think of as “standard, edited, publishable English” or “formal” English.

In formal English, I discourage the use of the word “there” because, as the opening word of a sentence, “there” postpones the direct expression of the subject of the sentence and causes a problem in subject/verb agreement. The word “there” tends to be used too often by inexperienced writers. Unnecessarily repeated words are the hallmark of inexperienced writers.

I discourage the use of “it,” “get” and its cousins, “getting,” “got,” and “gotten,” and the word “thing,” all of which tend to be needlessly repeated as well as lacking in precision. These words, used sparingly, give a feeling of informality, but needlessly repeated, they clog expression.

Of course, I discourage unnecessary repetition of words of any sort.

I encourage making clear reference to the demonstrative pronouns, “this,” “that,” “these” and “those.” “This idea…”. “That issue….” “These participants…”. And “Those designs….”

I encourage use of the active voice. Direct expression has its virtues.

And I encourage looking for and fixing parallel structure and dangling modifiers which interrupt the flow of expression.

The result is what I call “standard, edited, publishable Englishor, “formal English.”

If students learn to write in a range of styles from informal to formal, they will understand and use them appropriately and will no longer view academic discourse as “the enemy.” RayS.

Title: “ ‘The Expression of Wise Others’: Using Students Views of Academic Discourse to Talk about Social Justice.” F Kurtyka. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2010), 47-60.

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