Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Monthly Archives: August 2012

Blog posts and the woes and limits on time!

Please forgive me readers–these are rough notes for my class with little time to edit–I will work on this again–bear with me!

The Great Academic Mash-Up: Finding “our” voice in academic writing

The Domestic Arrangement
from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals

Wm went into the wood to alter his poems
writes Dorothy. I shelled peas, gathered beans,
and worked in the garden. This is Grasmere

where she picked and boiled gooseberries,
two lbs. of sugar in the first panfull
while Wm went into the wood to alter his poems

a trip he makes almost daily, composing
the lines she will later copy. Mornings
she works in the garden at Grasmere

which looked so beautiful my heart
almost melted away, she confides
while Wm’s in the wood altering his poems.

On one of their daily walks she observes
helpful details of Wm’s famed daffodils.
Then it’s back to the garden at Grasmere

where she ties up her scarlet runner beans
and pulls a bag of peas for Miss Simpson.
Leave Wm in the wood to alter his poems;
praise Dorothy in the garden at Grasmere.

by Maxine Kumin
From: Still To Mow, 2007



So were William Wordsworth’s poems really coauthored? Whose words are whose and who gets credit? What are the expectations in academic (and creative) writing over authorship and citation?


Pennycook adds much complexity to my own thinking about the “crime” of plagiarism and other forms of academic “dishonesty” and to complexify (to borrow Pennycook’s verb) my own and others’ thinking to include cultural and contextual factors.


Bell: interrupt lectures with questions; discussion in class as a kind of informal, interactional lecture (though it may not appear to be so), the importance of oral, in class decisions and instructions over the written (changing) syllabus, the importance of “group” exercises and spokespersons for the group.  Intimidation vs. who knows more informaiton or just how to play the academic game. 



Talk about starting class with my own original allusion—that I know of this poem and its likely my audience does not, proves a kind of authorial integrity—that I can pick up on the ideas of one academic in a given text and make interesting, original intertextual and interpersonal links—the connection I made between Pennycook’s discussion of the academic Nunan and his tendenacy to quote himself rather than always refer to the “I.”  I too have had this dilemma when I have created turns of phrase and forms of discussion in one written text (single-authored material) and want to quote elsewhere.  This becomes even more problematic in dual offered papers and books—when does the idea or phrasing change from being “mine” to being “shared” to being a third entity that needs to be quoted!!!??? 


Bell clarifies many ways in which graduate students in TESOL can demonstrate their understanding of a given text—like the above text to text and text to life connections; asking questions of the text, making critical assessments of a text (but also with attempts to find “redeeming value”).


International students need to recognize “writing as a social practice” (Bell, p. 83) and understand the expectations, strategies and skills that are required of gradute level writing as a practice of academic identity.  I am indebted to Bell for clarifying some of these implicit writing practices and find I agree and disagree with some of her advice.  For example, on page 83 she discusses a basic paper outline most of use in TESOL use for academic research papers:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Research Methods
  • Results (or Findings)
  • Discussion (and Implications)


But she talks about penchants for passive voice, formal (big ticket!) diction, and avoidance of the personal pronoun “I.” These were traditional stylistic choices that have dramatically changed as you can see by many of the readings we will do in this class that tend to favor the exact opposite (of course I prefer the opposite more formal/personal style so the readings demonstrate this preference. There is increasing flexibility in academic writing style, yet conforming to readers’ genre expectations can buy the writer a great deal of “consent” to learn from your writing.  A professor that has to hunt for you literature review or who suspects you have forgotten to quote an important reference, will be much less favorable in her assessment of your work, than one who can read a paper that has clarified its sections and styles.


In sum, what is important in all academic communication—be it oral or written—is to know as much as you can about the cultural and stylistic expectations as possible so that when you can help your reader/interlocutor understand the message. It is also important to know the rules so that if you “break” one, you are aware of it and more prepared to anticipate the consequences.  This doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes—you will.  In such a case it is important also to have read and discussed others’ experiences with similar mistakes (whether the mistake is incorrect citation or an accusation of plagiarism) and understand what your best options are for recovery.   This is part of the goal for this class.


I share these lecture notes on the wiki so that I may share them with you in either a 1) formal lecture; 2) informal discussion; 3) group work and presentation and/or 4) our virtual wiki dialogue!  I will be checking with your blogposts to see how you integrate others’ ideas into your own and come into your own academic “voices” in English—of course post modern theories require me to modify this kind of statement and recognize everyone’s “own” voice is polyvocal, made up of the many different written and spoken voices around us.  Our job then is to be creators of our own “mash-ups”—creating “our voice” through our own unique combinations of the voices that surround us.


Mash-up: a digitalrecording thatcombines andsynchronizesinstrumentaland vocaltracks fromtwo or moresongs

Why academics should have an annual physical AND intellectual

I just went for an annual physical.  Aside from seeing doctors related to having swine flu and babies, I haven’t had an actual physical check ups in the last ten years.  So I was surprised to learn that I have hypothyroidism, a condition that if left untreated, upsets the balance of chemicals in my system and can have all kinds of negative effects.  Fortunately, knowing this, I can easily treat it.  I began to think about the annual physical and how remiss I have been not to schedule it.  Thankfully, due to this condition, I will have to be much more vigilant.  


As an academic and creative person, I also wonder about the parallels for cognition and the critical mind.  While there is some debate among doctors about the merits of the annual physical, I would like to strongly recommend that all scholars undergo the figurative parallel: an annual intellectual.  Many of us have the good fortune to live long healthy intellectual lives in the academy, comfortable in our disciplinary domains, teaching a familiar list of courses, referring to an enduring theoretical foundation.  There is much to be said for constancy but the intellectual mind also requires annual check ups.  There are so many ways that we have for checking up on the health of our thinking–attending professional conferences, reading recent issues of academic journals to which we subscribe, challenging ourselves to teach new courses and update old ones.  This advice to have an annual intellectual is one that most of us follow as part of our professional practice.  Naming it as such simply reminds me to test and measure intellectual health in an expansive way, asking myself: in what ways has my thinking changed? What new concepts and ideas have I learned by engaging in my own varied professional development? What do new and varied kinds of students and young professors have to say about concepts and ideas I have long taken for granted? How are field specific conversations taking place outside my program, department, university, region, and nation? What kinds of activities might charge up my pedagogy and thought? What new genres are available? New media and mediums for healthy exchanges of ideas and foundations for new forms of action? 

I am so happy that by taking the time to have a blood test, I have the opportunity to be more vigilant about my health and wellness.  I look for the same kinds of opportunities for the mind–testing my ideas with a new cohort of students from China and Taiwan, diving into the process of writing poetry with a diverse group of educators, stirring with ideas at fall conferences such a Georgia TESOL and the Annual meeting of American Anthropologists.  

Good intellectual health is as complicated as good physical health and requires a great variety of activity.

What are your practices for staying healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Perhaps we can take time to exchange ideas!

Welcome to the New Semester – Fall 2012!

Looking forward to a new round of posts and blog-thinking this semester!

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