Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Grammar in the writing center

Lori Salem, a college writing-center director, points to one more way in which higher education reproduces economic and social inequality: “the very students who are most likely to visit the writing center are the ones who are least likely to be served by our traditional pedagogical practices.” One problem with those practices: writing centers typically treat matters of grammar and usage as “lower order” concerns.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has placed its interview with Salem behind the paywall. But here is an excerpt from Salem’s 2016 paper “Decisions . . . Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center?”:

Treating grammar/correctness as a “lower order” or “later order” concern means that frequently we do not address grammar much (or at all) in our tutoring sessions. For privileged students who grew up in homes where a white, middle-class version of English was spoken, this approach might be okay. But affecting a genteel disregard for grammar concerns makes no sense if we are working with English language learners, with students who spoke a less-privileged version of English at home, or with any student who feels anxious about grammar. If we regularly dismiss or defer (“later”) students’ questions about grammar, this doesn’t make those questions go away, nor does it fundamentally alter the terms on which grammar is understood in the university or in society. It simply leaves students up to their own devices to deal with those questions.
I’m reminded once again of Bryan Garner’s observation: “Standard English: without it, you won't be taken seriously.” To dismiss or defer a student’s questions about grammar is to do that student a disservice.

A related post
W(h)ither grammar

[The quotation in this post’s first sentence is from the 2016 paper. The distinction between “higher order” and “lower order” concerns appears to originate in Thomas J. Reigstad and Donald A. McAndrew’s Training Tutors for Writing Conferences (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1984): “After tutors have addressed the higher order concerns [thesis, tone, organization, development], they turn to LOCs [lower order concerns], concerns that deal with units of sentence length or smaller. The emphasis shifts from the draft as a whole to sentence structure, punctuation, usage, and spelling.”]

comments: 0