learning: ENG112

Evidence of (pedagogical) Ultimate Achievement:

Sigh. I would like to continue to participate in my student’s lives. At least to observe their thinking continue to develop, learn from their experiences and ways of being, and/or possibly be a nudge or resource.

“…as a senior I was pretty confident in the way I had been doing things. When as a senior you have a writing teacher who comes along and basically tells you that you need to think in a new way it is frustrating. Where do I go from here? How do I perfect my new way of thought if I am graduating in a few months?” (keithjagger, Comment 21, keep talking).

“…in both the Junior and Freshman classes, we all had to overcome our own personal obstacles in order to succeed in the class” (pinkpanther89, Comment 6, keep talking). For instance, Gphelan explains, “I started off this year pissed off cause I didn’t know what was going on but I soon realized it was all out of my control and I gave up fighting and it worked out I suppose” (Comment 5, keep talking). Unknown29 sums it up this way: “If you get caught in a bad situation and you have no choice instead of complaining about it you might as well learn something from it” (Comment 3, keep talking).

“WIthout great diverging minds, there is no great learning, and in my mind, because i was able to disagree so freely with people early on in the class, i helped to aid the process of learning. We all have something to learn from eachother, but just because we’re learning, doesnt mean the teaching is coming from someone speaking at you. You dont just sit there and listen, you engage. ENGAGE!” (Oddity33, Comment 24, keep talking).

“Steph’s decision in involving her classes with online media is prepping us for what’s to come. Whether we’re for or against modern technology, we are going to have to adapt to it and somehow become engaged.” (hippo86, Comment 25, keep talking).

“I have learned after this semester that it is okay to be a little confused. But the idea of clarity will always remain a question no matter how many differnet teachers I continue to have for the last year and semester I have left at this university” (Carmella7, Comment 22, keep talking).

“We have been taught to write what we want, no rules or restrictions. How it is interpreted depends on the audience” (ciaobelllla, Comment 20, keep talking).

“Writing can have many effects depending on the audience and how it was written. Many people in this class have written how they feel and in return it has gotten responses back about feelings of feelings. While pathos can be used effectivrly in a paper it seems this may not always work. The audience might not understand your topic or the views your trying to get across, or the have no feeling on the topic because they don’t understand the pathos in the topic itself. Also, it seems to be taken out of context in many cases” (Shininginthewind, Comment 19, keep talking).

“When you write an article, a poem, any type of prose, you have an intended focus. You want someone to feel something, and you bring out those emotions with words. If you are writing a piece to persuade someone to feel a certain way, you want the reader to feel what you feel. This is a very intimate type of relationship, one that only words can help make possible” (anon136, Comment 17, keep talking).

“This class has helped me to realize that I am responsible for everything that I write, and that the audience is made up of people who have thoughts and feelings that are both very similar to and very different from my own. Through the use of the blogs and commenting the responsibility of the author has become more and more apparent, as has the idea that writing is just as much a reflection of one’s self as speaking is” (treschouette, Comment 7, keep talking).

“i feel more free to expand on my styles and topic for what i want to write about because steph does not restrict us very much. This is a way of being taught that i have not experienced before and i am starting to get used to it” (wright5, Comment 18, keep talking).

Why Knot?


“In a sense,” redbeardthewriter seems to reluctantly concede (!), “this class has succeeded marvelously. We are finally holding a conversation, something that has been demanded of us from day one, about our common aches and pains” (Comment 12, keep talking).

“I hardly ever related any of the assignments that Steph gave us. I didn’t recognize how everything was connecting until we started to write our research papers” (apple23, Comment 15, keep talking). “Isn’t it cool,” writes pylee, “to connect everything together?” (Comment 14, keep talking). Winglsammi explains in detail, “Spending the whold semester with Steph, I find that she tries to make connection between everything… (Comment 13, keep talking).

“From each reflection letters, I know that my writing has been improving a lot, because I know writing the first time is not good enough, we have to go back and forth to see how criticized it to a better way” (white78c, Comment 11, keep talking).

“It is truly that maintaining a conversation via technology can be difficult, specifically when both the junior writing class and our english112 class are equally confused with the process. Fortunately, the topics we have been commenting on are controversial and unsafe (The Wall, Hawaii, Israel vs. Palestine)and summon different arguments” (balderdash1, Comment 8, keep talking).

“Although it may be frustrating at times, this class is a challenge and challenges sure as hell aren’t easy. You just gotta deal” (yepp0628, Comment 9, keep talking).


In the comments that follow, students from a major U.S. university reflect on writing about the situation in Israel/Palestine.

As you know by now, language matters. The words you choose and the tone you convey impress your audience in particular ways. Some of these effects can be learned and anticipated – to be used on purpose (logos, pathos, ethos) – and others will occur accidentally, unintended as “meaning” but meaningful nonetheless.

mrcapatiiller wrote about being quoted poorly, “I think my response was taken out of context or not very well used as I was just expressing my frustration” (random act of kindness, “we are all researching to fight for something” Comment 18).

It was one of those (damn!) unspecified pronouns that got us (me as writer, you as audience, and mrcapatiller as source) in trouble. The direct, exact, quote included an unspecified pronoun, which I ‘filled in’ with the referents that the context seemed to indicate. Some students read an equation of ‘legalization of marijuana’ being somehow ‘equal’ with ‘Hawaiian independence.’ I read the original statement as frustration and thought that the context of the paragraph in which I wrote clearly indicated the comparison I was making between those feeling optimism (social change is possible), those experiencing disbelief (Hawai’i is not a state of the U.S.?!), and the few who admitted a sense of helplessness.

One of the decisions you need to make as a writer is whether you want to want to understand the role of your words in a larger conversation. mrcapatiller’s statement by itself, in the bit published in response to an assignment, became important through its contrast with other statements.

Now, here is the original quote in its entirety. Do you see the context? and the problem in quoting it?

Laws and Lawyers and Legislation and stuff like that make me want to go live in the woods, much like how my project is making me feel. There is just so much red tape to everything these days u cant just kill someone with a bigger stick and say tough shit its my way now. I mean I’m not very big but I still think I’d be happier with our legal system if it worked that way. I feel bad for the Hawaiian nationalists that want to free Hawaii from America just like I feel bad for myself for wanting to legalize pot because it wont ever happen even though it is so obviously the right thing to do. maybe I’ll just go get a big stick and tell the Hawaiians to join me.

~ mrcapatiller, November 6, 2007

And, my citation in context:

unknown29 wrote “research is a really important step in writing…if we want to write something purposeful we have to do good research and apply the rhetorical situation to it” (comment #5). pbandjelly noted, “Everything that was presented with evidence…The speakers knew their case very well and any question that was asked of them they had a quick comeback and good support for waht they had to say” (comment #2).

mrcapatiller, though, is bumming: “Laws and Lawyers and Legislation and stuff like that make me want to go live in the woods….because it [Hawaiian independence, legalization of marijuana) wont ever happen even though it is so obviously the right thing to do” (comment #6). -( Why is mrcapatiller’s response so different than mjolliner89, who claims: “It was a relief to see the success of their hard work and solid belief. This case gives me … the knowledge that with earnest and quality research, lives can be changed (comment #12).

Stephanie Jo Kent, November 6, 2007

So now, what options? Could I have written it differently?  Could you (readers) have read what I wrote differently?  Could the original author have written differently?  Of course any of these changes “could” have been, but they weren’t, and so – in that situation – what do we do next?  What do we (you!) learn from this that you can share as advice or observation for me and each other?


“It is very upsetting to think that the Hawaiians must be unsure of their national identity” (w26s1, Comment 2).

“I never knew the history of the United State’s occupation of Hawaii and now that I do, I am somewhat bothered” (keithjagger, Comment 11).

Checkbox (quoted in the title, Comment 9) concisely summarizes an historical dynamic. Pedagogically, I am trying to operate on several levels, simultaneously modeling practical writing skills, laying groundwork for (a chance of) spontaneous dialogue, and enacting both a lived/living (organic) relationship among students and teacher (who is also a learner), and between the university setting’s “container” and the public sphere (i.e., the rest of the real world).

Aisforastronaut describes the learning activity:

“We are all researching to fight for something,” is an interesting and powerful post if you know the context. We learned about Hawaiian Independence in class through a film, and the freshman writing students had to post comments about it. Our job (the juniors) is to figure out what else Steph’s post might mean. There is a lot that can be taken out of this. Right now, Steph’s two writing classes are working on research papers. Through this post Steph showed how to take other people’s words and using them to develop an argument and present information by using citations (by crediting them). Steph just took words and ideas (research) from students’ comments to make a meaningful post that ties many possibilities together (Comment 5).”

Relevance of Good Research

At the practical level, balderdash found it “interesting how the post created a conversation with student blog posts instead of factual documents upon which usual arguments are based” (Comment 27). Students noticed specific skills and conditions necessary for writing a good research paper:

“To write a good research paper we also need a lot of resources,“ says pylee (Comment 31), a sentiment echoed in the vernacular by treschouette as the “need to do ‘hella’ research” (Comment 21). This means “you need to know the facts!” (anon136, Comment 1), “[recap] everyone’s opinions” (ajch, Comment 26), and be selective by “pick[ing]the best line” (unknown29, Comment 19). E388 summarizes: “With every argument, there are different sides, and with that comes the different reasonings why we each favor one side over the other” (Comment 22). “In this type of a situation, an informative argument,” explains mjollnir89, “…conciseness and accuracy are the most important aspects. The arguing party is in charge of garnering massive amounts of information and sifting through it to obtain the useful facts and combining them into a logical train of thought” (Comment 29). The most pithy argument of the need for good research came from confusioniseasy:

“You need to understand information on all levels and sides,

so if something is thrown at you, you are

not squashed like a bug and look like a fool”

(Comment 15).

Adding to a Conversation

With respect to laying a foundation for further dialogue, students’ respond by summarizing and reflecting on the specific example of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s case to the World Court, displaying different points-of-view, as well as critique the case (debating the merits of the Hawaiian nationals’ argument) and the activity (its effectiveness as a teaching tool). Beginning with the critique of the pedagogical method:

“[The DVD] was hard for us to watch…because it was assumed that we had more information than we did” (redsoxfan218, Comment 23). Keithjagger presented a different side: “the DVD on Hawaii was good in the fact that it showed us there is something to be learned from the manner in which the Hawaiians argued their case” (Comment 11). From the dvd to the blog was another layer that evoked comment: yepp0628 admitted that the transition “slightly overwhelmed me. I had to read the blog two times to fully comprehend and see the connection in the arguments” (Comment 30), while redbeardthewriter expressed a starker reaction: “I don’t really understand if Steph is looking for something in particular or looking for me to dredge up another idea on the matter” (Comment 17).

It remains to be seen whether an actual dialogue about Hawaii’s status will develop from students’ responses, but the range of perspectives necessary to provoke new thinking is present. w26s1 describes the situation as a “catastrophe” (Comment 2) – from the context I do not know if w26s1 refers to the Hawaiian nationals’ successful case in The Hague or the US takeover of Hawai’i. ““50 states, after all,” says rocketsredflair, “is an even number that has fit nicely on the US flag” (Comment 4). Carmella confessed to a state of “turmoil as to the relevance to Hawaiian independence” (Comment 8).

Oddity33 observes: “its amazing how many people can have such different opinions and ideas of one text” (Comment 7).

“The fact that more than a hundred years have gone by and Hawai’i has not given up their kingdom (well not entirely) and that they have recieved international recognition as a Kingdom and not a state of the U.S. is incredible” (hippo86, Comment 13).

“[T]he Larsen’s team comes up, the people in the team try to fight back the United States. They become the first one to speak for Hawaii kingdom and people” (winglsammi, Comment 28).

Iplayball muses, “i am still unclear as to the exact stages of “occupation” that the us is in hawaii. The question that comes to mind is “did the u.s somehow take control of hawaii without permission? and if so isnt it ironic that america fights other countries for doing this exact thing?”” (Comment 20). Adc92388 echoes iplayball’s concern: “The whole ordeal makes us as students consider the role of the government in our daily lives, and how we want to be treated as citizens” (Comment 16). Providing a contrary view, checkbox argues, “The fact that the US was repeatedly invited to participate in these proceedings and chose not to do so is not a confession of guilt but an announcement of indifference” (Comment 9). RandomActofKindness went further, “I’d rather go fishing” (Comment 18).

Metalcircus expresses doubt, if not disbelief, asking, “Is there really any chance….[the U.S. will concede Hawaiian sovereignty]?” (Comment 12) Pragmatically, kmb04 outlines a common dilemma: “even with a deep research your argument can still fail. Sometimes it is not what is being said but who is saying it…. This does not mean that those with no power should just give up, what they say still sticks out in some people’s minds and even if they can’t change the actions of an entire country, they can change the actions on a person to person basis” (Comment 6).

Beyond the University: From Academia to the Real World

“I want to believe that for lasting change to occur, intelligent thoughtful action must be taken.” Likeboldcolors continues, “But it’s so slow. It can be really frustrating to wait and have the patience to stick with the processes necessary” (Comment 14). Like research, actually talking through the differences and making compromises in order to shift out of conflict is painstaking work. I had asked if it is possible for people/s in conflict to “argue peaceably.” Oddity22 suggests such an idea is “an oxymoron. I always believed that a disagreement was one thing and an argument was a completely different thing, an argument was a disagreement gone crazy. Peaceably arguing? i dont know” (Comment 7). Aligirl22 defines a critical factor:

“…both parties have to want to argue in a peaceful manner.

Its much easier to fight with force and anger and hatred…” (Comment 3).

Ciaobella adds a layer of interpretation, speculating as to why and how the activity is useful to me (as teacher/learner):

“Steph uses quotes from blogs that her students have posted in regards to the U.S and Hawaii. She uses these quotes possibly to advance her own knowledge of the current situation and asks us, being her students, to post our opinion creating new thoughts and ideas” (Comment 10).

Yes, my own knowledge is advanced on two levels: in terms of content (the struggle Hawaiian nationals face in gaining US recognition of their claim), and at the contextual (abstract) level of distinguishing discourse (habitual, patterned ways of speaking certain set knowledges) from dialogue – Ciaobella’s generation of “new thoughts and ideas.” Of course, these are some of the ultimate goals of quality research: not only summarizing the perspectives on a particular issue (topic) but also actually adding an observation or recommendation or angle that allows new or different understandings to develop. The process of assigning students from different classes to read each other’s work does seem to inspire a high(er?) quality of interaction: “I can totally see my fellow classmates minds at work. One believes this conflict [between Hawaiian nationals and the U.S. Government] to be peaceful, while another believes that there is no chance for the problem to be solved” (pinkpanther89, Comment 25).

Two updates: The University of Hawai’i campus at Kapiolani will offer “Introduction to the Hawaiian Kingdom,” a 200-level course in Hawaiian Studies, this spring. David Keanu – who presented the slide show in The Hague during the Proceedings of the International Tribunal – has just had an article accepted to be published in the Journal of Law and Social Challenges (San Francisco School of Law), vol. 10, Fall ’08. The article, “A SLIPPERY PATH TOWARDS HAWAIIAN INDIGENEITY: An Analysis and comparison between Hawaiian State Sovereignty and Hawaiian Indigeneity and its use and practice in Hawai`i today,” (available for download as a pdf) distinguishes between the tribal sovereignty granted by the US government to (some) Native American tribes and the independent sovereignty recognized by Great Britain and France (1842) and the U.S. (1849) and reaffirmed by the 1999 international arbitration proceedings at The Hague of the Larsen Case.

A question lingers:

Now what? Does the conversation end with the articulation of varying points-of-view, different capacities for hope, and limits to imagination? Or do we find a way to carry on talking a new kind of talk based on learning the diversity of opinion and complexity of obstacles? Shall we go through the motions, saying all the things that have already been said over-and-over again, or shall we find ways to say things that have not yet been uttered – and keep saying them until they lead to change?

. . . and keep saying them

keep saying them until

saying them until they

saying until they lead

until they lead to

they lead to change

lead to change

to change


says redsoxfan218 (comment #7 of “I already miss those Hawaiians“).

unknown29 wrote “research is a really important step in writing…if we want to write something purposeful we have to do good research and apply the rhetorical situation to it” (comment #5). pbandjelly noted, “Everything that was presented with evidence…The speakers knew their case very well and any question that was asked of them they had a quick comeback and good support for waht they had to say” (comment #2).

mrcapatiller, though, is bumming: “Laws and Lawyers and Legislation and stuff like that make me want to go live in the woods….because it [Hawaiian independence, legalization of marijuana) wont ever happen even though it is so obviously the right thing to do” (comment #6). 😦 Why is mrcapatiller’s response so different than mjolliner89, who claims: “It was a relief to see the success of their hard work and solid belief. This case gives me … the knowledge that with earnest and quality research, lives can be changed (comment #12).

ajch adds a voice of critique, “they assumed the audience knew more on the topic to begin with, then they actually did” (comment #8), which is a complimentary concern to assuming that the audience knows what’s in your own mind more than they can actually mindread. PinkPanther89 adds that not all issues are of equal significance, although I would nudge back and ask what is of consequence that debates about body piercing enable us to bring into focus? I’m not sure I can say as much for Wright5, who concurs with PinkPanther89: “The Lance Larson case is much more serious and intense” (comment #13).

treschoutte adds a new term, describing the arguments as “peaceful” (comment #11). Is it possible that people can learn and/or choose to argue peaceably?

redbeardthewriter expands on an argument raised by ntourloukis in the Junior writing course. You’ll have to read the detailed critique for yourself, I cannot pull out a paraphrase and do either the economics or identity politics any justice: “These people are nuts” (comment #14). I will say, though, that I think the argument about legal precedence having no bearing is a stretch, if not an outright admission that US national law is a scam. mjollnir89’s summary cuts through some of redbeard’s hyperbole: “The fact that Larsen’s team was able to dredge up documents from the 1800’s and use them effectively in a modern court hearing is amazing. It showed me the different ways in which a conflict can be approached.

winglsammi seems to agree with redbeardthewriter, stating “everybody in the world know that the United States will not give up Hawaii” (comment #15). There is a potentially confusing historical element about the US use of Hawai’i during WWII. I say this information is “confusing” because I do not know how relevant the US military’s use of Hawai’i is to the facts or ultimate outcome of the matter of national sovereignity. (Which reminds that there are, actually, international laws regarding “occupation” – the US is supposedly following these in Iraq in the here-and-now).

Finally, for clarification, the US was repeatedly invited to participate in these Proceedings and chose not to do so. (They may have submitted written documentation of some kind; I am not sure.)

It just so happened that the day I had planned for the first-year students to do an activity called, “My Day in a Sentence,” was the day of a bomb scare. Following my own logic concerning parallel processes between the juniors and first-year writing students, I had asked the first-years to

1) blog about their day and eventually boil their experience down to one sentence

2) post a “Reply” to one of my blogposts about “learning that lasts,” in which they were to include their sentence, discuss what they have learned/are learning from ENG112 that they believe will stick – as in persevere into their future – and post a link to their original commentary in which they worked out how to express their “day” in a single statement.

The first-year students’ actual comments do not seem “to follow” from the content of what I posted in “learning that lasts,” which was geared toward the junior writing class in which I document evidence of a crucial leap in their learning curve and admit that a particular lesson plan asked too much in one day. However, if one reads the entire discourse (all the links), I think some themes come into view that show the underlying pedagogical logic.

The communication department’s curriculum for the junior writing course privileges the semiotic method of analysis. This method came into renown during the 1980s and is regarded by many as past its prime. Nonetheless, semiotics is an excellent framework for developing genuine critical thinking (as opposed to simple regurgitation). The core transferable skill is the asking of questions. Recognizing when and where questions need to be asked, and figuring out how to aim questions so as to generate the information one needs in order to comprehend the contours of a conversation – and thus be able to say something that indeed adds to the conversation – is one of the most basic skills of academic writing.

The first-year students are learning how to ask questions of their own writing. While some are more specific than others in terms of what they are actually learning, almost all of the first-year students are able to articulate something fairly concrete. Of course this is exciting pedagogical evidence. 🙂 Meanwhile, the coincidental timing of the assignment with the unpredictable event of “a device in Herter Hall” allows a window onto some student reactions to this event on our campus. I collected the excerpts from each student post that mentioned the bomb scare onto one of the juniors’ CourseWiki pages. I placed this information there (instead of in the first-year CourseWiki) because I might come up with an assignment for the juniors – although I have not decided what that might be and/or how it could fit in with their curriculum.

If you want to read the original post and its entire chain of comments (about what ENG112 students are learning), go here: learning that lasts.

How do students write for civic action? The writing curriculum for both the first-year students and juniors at UMass has a civic component: students are required to identify a social problem, research the issue and its context thoroughly, understand the structures in society that set the boundaries for possible resolutions, and then target a particular individual or group of people who has an actual chance of effecting a change that moves the problem toward a solution.

The students I’ve taught over the past few years know only how to write a research paper on the problem itself; in general, none of them know how to situate the problem within larger social contexts, let alone devise an actual path through the chaotic maze of cultural and institutional systems toward a desired endpoint. In other words, these students have been trained to write in a vacuum, as an exercise to satisfy a curriculum. Recently, a bright student in a junior writing class balked at the idea of actually sending his writing anywhere. “I’m not going to publish in the Collegian! That’s not who I am!” He wants to write to a friend.

Other students have suggested the Internet as an outlet to the larger, less concentrated populations they wish to address: college students, for instance, or young girls struggling with eating disorders. Someone suggested email.

The Technology Fellows have been discussing the efficacy and ethics of using social networking sites as either sources for study or outlets for student writing. The question is why a teacher would ‘move in’ to (colonize?) territory that has been created and maintained as social space, especially when there are so many other internet resources such as blogging and wiki’s.

Critiquing the writing that occurs in social space seems a worthy task, especially as students present themselves online through these media (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Black Planet, LiveJournal, Xanga, Good Reads, Dairyland.)

My immediate reaction to having students publish to these social networking spaces was, why? The image in my mind was of a standardized requirement in the curriculum, e.g., “for this assignment everyone must publish to a social networking site.” Ick. (I struggle with the enforced conformity of students being restricted to common formats anyway, which are usually chosen for the convenience of the teacher.) However, I can see the benefits of potential circulation if students’ publish specifically targeted writing to a social networking site. Probably I am now going to encourage some of my students (with suitable topics and addressed audiences) to experiment with getting their work distributed through a social networking site.

Meanwhile, the ethical jungle thickens, as I just came across an interesting critique of over-spreading a new information sharing concept and template, from SiliconValleyWatcher.

A social media release is a revised press release that is functional for journalists operating in the computer/information age. The problem is with the use of social media releases to bypass journalists. Tom Foremski proposed the original notion, and a couple of designers have developed and promoted a template.

While such overt public announcements are not (yet!) what students will do, there is obviously an element of promotion necessary to circulate their texts to intended audiences. (The Writing Program is also worried about the circulation of texts to unintended or even undesired audiences.) The question raised by Mr. Foremski regards the respective roles of “journalist” and “citizen” in the construction of public knowledge. Mr. Foremski is absolutely correct in stating:

Companies and their PR firms create self-serving materials. And if those materials, under the disguise of social media releases, fool readers into thinking these are the same as if written by journalists– it does not make the world a better place.

I absolutely agree. Student/citizens are not (yet) representing larger corporations. But, can they (we?!) “fool readers into thinking” that our information is as good as that written by journalists? (Is this what Mr. Foremski means by “the same”?)

Similarly, if those self-serving materials find wider distribution than news stories written by journalists because of sophisticated tricks and techniques–it does not make the world a better place.

Again, I agree that material with the widest distribution is almost always that which garners the most support and believability (along a widely-varied continuum from gullibility to credibility). Pedagogically, I wonder how students will ever develop the skills to discern the differences for themselves if they are not “out there” gaining practical experience. If some of them do write well enough to convince others, this is an optimal achievement of the intended curriculum, is it not?

A retort against Foremski’s concerns comes from Kevin Dugan. He points out that content is the issue, not format. Hmm. I’d say both matter a great deal (see Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us). Dugan’s view adds nothing of substance to the deeper questions about who has the authority and wherewithal to shape public attitudes that inevitably orient individual identities to participation or passivity.

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