Finding Hope—While Not at the 4Cs

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I need to make a confession: I fell into a snit of professional jealousy and self-pity a week or so ago. Why? I did not get to attend the 4Cs in Chicago (Conference on College Composition and Communication).  

Instead, I reviewed preliminary bibliographies for students in my Introductory Linguistics class and worked with corequisite writers preparing to write profiles of discourse communities. The students had read and tried (with mixed success) to summarize Dan Melzer’s essay, “Understanding Discourse Communities,” and they were exploring their chosen communities through websites and social media. One of the most engaged writers in my multilingual class was struggling to identify a target community.   

 

I sat down with the student to think through some possibilities: 

“What’s your major?

“Not sure—I really don’t have a direction in mind.”

“Well, what interests you?”

“I don’t know. I played football in high school, and I like to watch sports, but I don’t really follow a team or anything.”

“How about music?”

“Nah.”

“Well, how about church—you’re a youth leader, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t really want to write about that.”

 

Back and forth. I don’t think this student was being purposefully unyielding. He was looking for a purpose for writing this paper—and he couldn’t find one.  And he is just the sort of resourceful student who—absent a compelling reason to write—could easily turn to AI to generate a paper. He knows (because we’ve talked about it), how easily ChatGPT could get this job done. He also knows he would gain nothing by that choice. Yet he has not seen what he could gain by doing the assignment, either.

“I like our class.  Could I write about our class?”

He selected a topic, but I sense, for the moment, it is a perfunctory choice. If all goes as planned, somewhere during the process, he will discover a purpose and find that the work itself can be energizing, that there is a rush of satisfaction as a text begins to take shape before our eyes.  If all goes as it should, and that’s a big “if.”  

Over the past couple of years, the moments where classes go “as they should” seem to be less frequent. I find myself looking for ways to bring energy and joy into classrooms where students (corequisite and multilingual students in particular) are struggling to engage.  

So when a colleague began posting pics of tables of friends and presentation titles and plates of amazing food from Chicago, I got jealous.

 

But then I saw this (https://twitter.com/CCCCSLW

 

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I would have loved to have been in that room, talking hope with my colleagues. But I thought about my struggling writer—who had decided his writing class, of all things, was a discourse community he could write about. He is indeed a multilingual border crosser and change maker.   

I began to watch for the Second Language Writing Standing group tweets, drawing vicarious energy from the insights and questions they posted.

 

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What a lovely thought: we can practice embodying hope—even those of us who did not make it to Chicago.

 

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My colleagues are giving voice to questions that are critical to me, and in doing so, they challenge me to go back into my classroom with hope.

 

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This series of Tweets on February 18 connected me to colleagues—and reminded me that I do not teach in isolation. The sense that I am doing so much but never quite enough is shared.

 

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Indeed.  I am grateful to whoever managed the Second Language Standing Group’s Twitter during the conference, as this non-attender found renewed hope and community through them.  I will go back to class with my struggling writer and his discourse community profile. This work with multilingual writers sustains us—and brings hope.

 

The CCCC Second Language Writing Standing Group’s Twitter is managed by Analeigh Horton, currently a graduate teaching Associate at the University of Arizona and Outreach Coordinator for the CCCC Second Language Writing Standing Group.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.