Edited Inksheds on Session 10: Negotiating Curriculum Goals (Joan & Gail, Shurli & Yaying, Winston & Audrey)

It is physically impossible to let all students in a big class voice their opinions Can this negotiation be transferred to an electronic discussion group where all students can post their suggestions, discuss them, and hear from the instructor what topics are going to be included in the course? (Response: Do electronic discussions appear transparent but bring other structural barriers?)

I love the idea of elastic exits - why should students have to "fail" instead of succeeding a little later than someone else? But money, money, money will probably block the exit. -- Betty

The common running metaphors here - space, boundary - how have these metaphors changed? Travel zone, dominance of context of situation, culture playing out in ecosocial systems.

A number of presentations, probably including my own, have been phrased in ways that imply the possibility that writing can be taught effectively as a set of skills, techniques or "tools". Can writing be taught as a set of discrete skills? Does it require "authentic" tasks? -- Rick Coe

We keep coming back to this, don't we? Voice. It is too easy, as teachers, to silence our students, to place our voices on top of theirs. We have agendas; we make those agendas theirs. And they let us--practically because they have to, in order to pass, but also because they think, "that's the way it is."

Shurli and Yaying

Speaking from my own experience, implementing this approach in practice is going to be extremely difficult for the teacher unless there is strong support from the administration.

Their presentation highlights how radical it is to actually recenter the cross cultural student as a site for inquiry. If the academic genres can survive the "contact zone" when/if asked to consider making room--and allowing the dispensing of knowledge as neutral commodity to be scrutinized in this way. -- Kathryn

Shurli and Yaying:

What I see you doing is moving the cross-cultural experiences from the margin of a writing course - where it tends to lurk in the form of "the ESL problem" to the centre, where it can be an object of explicit examination by the students, not just the professors. Basically, a course in the practices of scholarly writing could in principle be about anything. But it's so much better to make it about writing itself, even at the risk of some confusion, about what is content and what is method. -- Doug

Winston and Audrey.

Given the research that suggests that beginning teachers teach as they were taught, (that is, their own high school instructional experiences are their strongest teaching models) how can this program of the negotiated curriculum encourage positive change in the school system? (Response): the theory presented encouraged them to do otherwise and they did.

The "testimonial" that stays with me is the students have been different--more focused? Less focused?

It is an act of courage (and a powerful and liberating strategy for learners) for you to have entrusted the design of the curriculum to your students. -- Patrick

Good to see an application of Pat Dias's principles. I do see some subtle control here, however. Choice of readings for a course is paramount. What about having students research and choose readings themselves? -- Roberta Lee

I also wonder what would happen if I asked students what they want to learn in my (American) first-year composition courses. My fear is that they'd say the usual stuff: how to write properly, grammar, thesis statements, etc. etc.-- and I'd die of boredom before the semester was over. [comment: "me too."] [comment: Would it make any difference if you asked them to devise the ways that they would learn these things as well?]

I wonder how in a negotiated curriculum an instructor can ensure that theory is not merely "covered" but that it is made an intrinsic part of each of the areas/topics of study. -- Pat Sadowy

How can the diverse and sometimes conflicting relationships between the institution, the policy-makers, the professors, the less privileged sessional instructors and TAs, and the students be negotiated? Whose interests should take the top priority in this negotiating process?

Joan and Gail

We haven't talked much about the connection between writing and critical thinking. Perhaps we all just assume the connection - but I think what employers were saying was we need students who know how to think.

I wonder if in addition to including literary texts they had students read examples of business genres? This might help students turn a critical eye on business discourse rather than assuming that critical reading and writing is appropriate for strictly "literary texts".

I wonder if there is any literature about how writing in the mother tongue relates to such ESL students development as writers in English. I am sure there is a link--at least in terms of discovering habits and rituals as writers and their attitudes, e.g. hang-ups about mechanics, etc. -- Patrick

Response; yes, and this is where process and humanities, reflection become key."

Best of luck! What Joan found out about communications/language as perceived in business is especially useful. It suggests that writing/editing/communicating is regarded as a special thing, not required from everyone, and that it's an exclusive, proprietary, marketable, attribute. No matter how it fits into a common (business) cause, individuals control it and profit because of it! (Pens for sale.) -- Lynn Holmes

One thing that I found compelling about what Joan Page was saying about student/employee literacy in corporate contexts was the difference in perspectives about language use and communication between academics and corporate people. To understand one another, it seems that a mutual understanding of similar concepts for similar writing tasks is necessary. [response: Or an understanding of differences.]

"If you speak English with an accent, you can become Prime Minister, but not if you write in that way." This really struck me. And it's true. I think that as long as the accent does not seriously distort meaning, we'll all accept it quite readily in an oral context. In fact, we'd probably consider it outright unacceptable discrimination to do otherwise. So why does not the same principle apply to the written word? There's a lot to consider here for writing instructors. -- Jean

Very suggestive findings about the diagnosis of problems by the business community itself, esp. a specific kind of community. Makes me wish I could use the more elastic definition of plagiarism in evaluating my own students regurgitation of information.

Over and over during this conference I have been struck by how central the humanities are because of their potential for expressive writing as a seedbed for all other discourses. The need to develop a sense of voice and vision that free-writing, pre-writing and other such creative strategies certainly can foster problem solving…


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