This week I’d like to talk about the Horner/Lu/Royster/Trimbur piece on translingual writing approaches. I’m choosing this piece because I very deeply value the concepts they present about the decentering of “Standard English” in our classrooms, but I do not feel that I’ve figured out yet how to effectively implement such a practice in my teaching. Obviously, a specific methodology is something that the Horner et. al piece stops short of offering, and I agree with their evaluation that we need not wait on the perfecting of such a methodology before we begin this necessary work. However, I can say that I, personally, run up against several difficulties when trying to decenter “standard” English in the English classroom, and I think those problems partly result from my lack of concrete strategies: I am relying largely on “changing the kind of attention [I] pay to our language practices” (313) and vocalizing that to my students. I spend a lot of time teaching standard practices while vocalizing that they are no better than other practices and that they are situated in the specific sphere of the American academy. I understand that such attempts are insufficient and incomplete, but even these beginning, tentative efforts to decenter Standard English pose the following distinct difficulties:
First, my students often aren’t buying what I’m selling, and for perfectly understandable reasons. They seem to be able to get on board with the idea that, theoretically, other languages and dialects are equally valid and expressive, and they may find such explanations to be heartening or affirming in important ways that are not wholly visible to me. However, what they do express is that they still want to be taught the standard. This, in my eyes, is a reasonable request in that the standard is what many/most of their other professors will judge them by, and the name of the course I teach is “College Writing.”
Second, I deeply value providing instruction in the analysis and editing of minute, sentence-level concerns. I value this because I know that I myself, as a writer, do some of my most productive thinking when I am honing phrases: for me, there is something about concern with the detail that opens up my understanding of the blueprint. Because of this, I am wary of my own tendency, in trying to decenter Standard English, to shy away totally from teaching principles of sentence construction. I want tools to help my students do close work with their language that do not privilege standard usage, but I’m not sure that I know what those tools are yet.
I suppose both of these concerns boil down to the facts that I feel compelled to utilize and offer to others the lower-order skills I have gained over the course of my education, that I want to teach those skills without claiming their superiority over any others, and that the strategies I’ve used so far to try to balance those two truths have felt decidedly weak. I’d love to talk more in class about what kinds of strategies other people have been using or to talk about other people’s opinions on grammar instruction in general. I know that I am quite conservative in my desire to teach “standard” usage at all, even though I constantly preach the kinds of ideas presented by the Horner piece to my students, too. I’m uncomfortable with the conservative nature of this position, but I’m also clearly not ready to let go of it yet, either. I hope this post reads as a seeking out of better methods rather than a defense of monolingualism, because that is how I intend it.