This week’s readings forced us to confront this question from Doreen Starke-Meyerring (2005): What does it mean to be literate in a globalizing world? Surely, this is a significant question, and one that requires our attention. Starke-Meyerring (2005, p.493-494) proposes the following three strategies to engage with the literacy demands of global communication:
- investing in curricula rooted in a global worldview
- engaging in “boundary work” that encourages inquiry, reflection, analysis, and negotiation
- developing more diverse and open learning environments
These present huge, complicated expectations for us in our work as teachers of writing. For some, the response to these demands is clear. For others, the answer continues to be shaped gradually.
For this final blog, I’d like to begin from the place I started out seven weeks ago—the Writing Center—and how “boundary work” takes place here. It is the work that happens between student and coach. “Boundary work” is fueled by “interactivity and integration” as its participants “reflect on, articulate, share, and negotiate their own literacy practices as well as collaborate with others…to build jointly negotiated transcontextual work spaces and literacy practices” (Starke-Meyerring, 2005, p.493). Student and coach engage in the effort of thinking through, discussing, negotiating, and ultimately, closes with the student making choices, deciding how to proceed with the piece.
Writing Center Sessions: At the boundary of instructor and coach
As I collaborate with writers, I sense that the quality of my interaction depends on how I manage the space between my being instructor versus coach. As a coach, I am expected to be less directive, more open-ended in approach than I would be in class. Stepping into a session urges me to reflect: Are my responses appropriately less directive? Do I invite the student to reflect on why choices were made in the piece? How can I encourage the writer to consider ways to clarify still murky ideas within the piece?
At the same time, as I sit at the Writing Center, I carry with me instances and memories of classroom interaction. I see similar patterns of inquiry between the writers in my class and the writers I meet with at the session table. I glean gaps of understanding and can be tempted to anticipate patterns of errors in mechanics, sequence, or elaboration. Yet, I know that if I do act from this capacity—at least knowingly—I am not coaching. I am directing, and that is not what a writing coach does, at least in most cases.
Collaborating on the idea-level means to engage in more exploratory, dialogic thinking. Sitting at the session table means to be a reader to a writer and for a writer’s work. In most cases, it reminds me that the writer I meet with, while negotiating between stylistic choices and assignment expectations, still owns the work. And as such, I need to remind myself of the boundaries between coach and instructor as I begin my sessions.
Writing Center Sessions: At a writer’s in-between place
The Writing Center is a place where differences are acknowledged and honored and where conversations explore, not judge. This creates space to ask questions, dissect ideas, and consider meanings. Students come here between classes, between papers, between drafts, and they write and engage on the edges of understanding, identities, and language.
Students might come at a point between an early draft and a working draft, ready to discuss whether ideas from one draft translated clearly to the next—whether thesis is clear and supported adequately. Or they might come in wanting to clarify expectations as they tell about their understanding of an assignment versus what is found on the printed copy. Non-native English speaking writers come in with drafts written on their own—products of exploration into written English—wanting to find out whether their sentences make sense to someone else. These concerns lie on one space, and with collaboration and conversation, might transition to another, acquiring new meaning in the process.
And sometimes, writers come in having to reconcile who they are and what they stand for versus what their writing demands from them. I tell again of a student I see weekly who struggled with providing refutation in his argumentative writing. I assumed that his lack of familiarity with argumentative writing was causing the difficulty, so we set out to clarify the concept of refutation and generate examples of such in relation to his claim. Further into the conversation, however, he assured me that while he now better understood what refutation stood for, he will continue to struggle with it because it just was not “him”. Pointing to the list of objections and questions we listed, he admitted that he would never think of those objections—those were not his thoughts. He would never think that, so it didn’t seem “right” that they should appear in his work.
I thanked this student for his insight, and most importantly, for his trust. We proceeded to discuss refutation and its role in argumentative writing—ideas we had already gone over several times before—but at this point, because of what had been said, we proceeded with some clarity. This student’s reluctance to engage in idea generation was not because of ignorance or a lack of comprehension. He understood what it meant to refute but was not sure he wanted to or perhaps, needed to. The demands of this argument piece was wrenching him from familiar ways of understanding himself—as one who did not oppose so openly and directly—to be someone who must oppose an idea held dear. Writing this paper for Comp 1 (Eng 121) brought him to this in-between-ness: how he knew himself versus that which he was forced to be, boundaries clashing.
Where does all this talk leave me? The reality of global communication challenges me in many ways, most of which I probably have not even considered well enough. But this is a start. It will help me grow as a writing coach to figure out ways I can move towards literacy in a globalized environment, and to work with the writers who come in to do the same. How do I, as coach, invite myself and others to “take pride in our human identity above all other identities…not by offending others, not by claiming supremacy” as written by Muhammad Yunus (1999) but by engaging in that valuable “boundary work”—the reflection and analysis of one’s literacy practices? (Starke-Meyerring, 2005, p.493).
My work at the writing center constantly informs and challenges my work as instructor, so the question echoes in my classroom as well. I am urged to find ways to proceed with this “boundary work” in order to prepare student writers to respond effectively to the demands of this globalized world they live in. How do I enable the same reflection, analysis, and negotiation in my instruction? What language boundaries must be blurred or maintained in order to develop students’ communication practices effectively? What “standard” of English enables students to participate in a globalized world?
Catherine Wallace, in “Local Literacies and Global Literacy” poses a significant insight,
“…our best response to the global future of English is not a resistance to the language that provides us with a living, nor even an apologetic defence, but a rethinking of what kind of English best serves the needs of its users for the twenty-first century” (2002, p. 101 ).
She exhorts us as teachers of English to examine ways we frame our instruction, ways we engage with our learners and writers. As she offers that valuable insight at the opening of her chapter, she closes with an even clearer challenge,
“…our resistance as language teachers need not be to the teaching of the language itself so much as to the grosser kind of cultural and linguistic imperialism which continues to characterize some…practices. The reductive thrust of this…fails to make available to learners an English which can serve the…function of critique” (2002, p.108-109).
Standing at the edge of some understanding for now
Working at the boundaries of literacy and communication necessitates critical thought. As an instructor of writing, especially in a community college tasked to ensure learning opportunities for its students, this is of profound importance. What we discuss in class should not be merely a preparation for a job to be complied with, or a role to be filled. Literacy’s goal is not only to provide one with a means to earn, but alongside that, its greater goal lies in empowering learners to reflect, analyze, and critique situations they find themselves in so as to make better choices for themselves. Because, ultimately, it is in making these more informed choices that better, healthier, more meaningful lives are possible. And that, indeed, is a worthy goal.
Starke-Meyerring, D. (2005). “Meeting the challenges of globalization: A framework for global literacies in professional communication programs”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19: 468-499.
Wallace, C. (2002). Local literacies and global literacy. In D. Block & D. Cameron (Eds.), Globalization and language teaching (pp. 101-114). New York, NY: Routledge.
Yunus, M. (1999). Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty.