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1020 Pilot Project, Discourse communities, Transfer

Piloting the New 1020, Part IV: A Focus on Detroit and the Politics of Discourse Communities

Note: This it the fourth in a series of blog posts chronicling the piloting of the new ENG 1020 Curriculum. You can find all entries in the series here.

When Jeff Pruchnic detailed how challenging adopting a new curriculum was given how tightly he wanted to hold on to old assignments that were natural, familiar and memorable in his recent blog post, I thought of my own resistance to Piloting the new 1020. For me it wasn’t so much a new curriculum and adopting new assignments, it was more so finding the comfort and confidence to trust in the collaborative process. A process where a group of invested and talented instructors came together to: a) investigate how people learn to write for various audiences, b) share, combine, and develop new strategies to make use of metacognition and reflection, and c) weave together readings on transfer and genre studies, personalized teaching practices, and notions of academic literacy to coagulate a list of revised learning outcomes.

I’ve learned a lot over the course of several mid-day summer staff meetings, most importantly, I’ve learned how valuable conversations with other teachers can be (hint, hint: check out the 1020 teaching circle site), especially when there is an end goal in mind. As a result a focus on key concepts like discourse community, rhetorical situation, genre, reflection/metacognition have become frameworks for teaching 1020 students the relationship between production and consumption of genres, and how analyzing genres from home, public, or professional discourse communities can provide students with rhetorical knowledge of genre conventions are used in various settings to support unique positionalities.

One major component of the new 1020 pilot curriculum is a shift from analyzing community based genres to analyzing genres composed within academic discourse communities. This component is the basis of the first assignment of my 1020 course, and the trajectory used to scaffold proceeding assignments.

However when composing an assignment sequence, I wanted to create a space where students were able to problem solve and seize opportunities for rhetorical insight right here in Detroit. My first assignment, a personal discourse community ethnography asks students to utilize definitions and descriptions of discourse communities from James Gee & John Swales to illustrate the workings of a discourse community where in which they’ve obtained insider or expert status (detailed here). This assignment will hopefully familiarize students with key concepts like genre, rhetorical situation and reflection while also providing them with ample opportunity to show their interpretation of these key concepts by assessing what makes their engagement with genres/literacies (literacy as defined by Ann Berthoff, the ability to construct and construe in graphics and language for representations of our recognition) and discourse community.

Of course, like Jeff’s meme project, which is super cool, we shall see what the future holds for the discourse community ethnography. This assignment is fresh, new, and daunting, albeit based on the discussions I’ve had with students thus far, teaching the term discourse community as a framework for understanding participation as an insider and listening to students reminds me of the complexities of upward mobility. Particularly how vulnerabilities that often times “nonpriviledged” students possess that “privileged” students don’t (in some cases) can be easily condemned once you understand the source of the vulnerability and it’s connection to language, society and power. Or how joining a discourse community like a church or social organization could actually mend those vulnerability through solidarity.

LaToya Faulk received her MA in Rhetoric and Writing Michigan State University in 2009. She joined the department as a lecturer in 2011 and is currently teaching ENG 1020.

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