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Changing the Way We Think

March 1, 2011

Department: English
Professor: Dr. Denise Pastor

Empowerment might be the catch phrase of the day, but it is a way of life in Dr. Denise Paster's writing classes.  The new Master of Arts in Writing degree at CCU is changing the way we think of English Composition through ENGL 604, Composition and Rhetoric.   It is not only refining graduate students' writing skills, but these students are also learning how to use teaching to build on the understandings about language, writing, and context their own pupils bring to the classroom.  The graduate students are creating open communication by stressing the  importance of student voices, as they position them as writers entering the academic community. 

Bridging practices, which grounded many of the graduate students' seminar projects, invite students to engage in academic discourse in light of their own values and principles. These projects explored ways to help students begin where they are, and build on their skills through critical thinking as they enter new academic settings.

There are several subject matters being explored by the graduate students enrolled in ENGL 604 last fall.  They include projects that explore the connections between the theories central to the fields of composition and library science, question implications of proofreading practices, and examine narrative's position in academic discourse (in light of working class literacies).

Graduate student Matt Fowler is researching screenwriting as pedagogical practice.   Screenwriting is a great way to allow students to draw on the multiple dialects they bring to the classroom and build on these.  He states that an "individual's qualities should be valued and not stripped away," which can be achieved by valuing the "competence that the students already possess." By teaching students screenwriting, students are empowered to participate academically in a media driven society, thus allowing them to also see the ways in which their voices can be validated.

Another graduate student, Cameron Scott Wright, is teaching remedial education at HGTC.  His project works to acknowledge and affirm the skills remedial students already have, and  transition them into insiders', or students who can communicate effectively within a higher education setting.  By questioning the implications associated with the term remedial, Wright works to challenge how these students are often positioned as lacking.   He explains, "These students are not broken and don't need to be fixed."  Rather, the students need to remediate the literacy practices they bring to the classroom as they engage with the ways of speaking and writing valued in academic settings.

Dr. Paster and her students presented their research on Bridging Practices at the South Carolina's Council of Teachers of English Conference, which was organized around the theme
of Bridging Practices.   They are also working on an article to showcase the importance of the bridging practices their work showcases.  They hope to encourage teachers to think differently about dialogue and dialects while building students' language skills.  Ultimately, the skills gained through the MA in Writing will allow these graduate students to increase their own critical thinking and academic writing while promoting empowerment.