Teachers Act Up!

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

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

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