“As I’ve Mentioned Before…”

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I wrote earlier about “insight on demand,” the way our assigned reflections require students to find and articulate an insight that demonstrates learning (and validates our teaching)—all according to a schedule. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered a different challenge in one of my advanced classes:  in individual project conferences and assignments, several students not only cited personal experience in support of broad generalizations, but they also cited previous self-citations (“as I’ve said before,” “as I’ve pointed out in my assignments,” etc.).  Personal experience is, of course, a valid source of evidence for literacy practices and language development.  But when personal experience is used as the basis for sweeping generalizations—or when disciplinary practice and tradition are summarily dismissed because they do not align with beliefs based on personal experience—we’ve got work to do. 

Photo by John Schnobrich via UnsplashPhoto by John Schnobrich via Unsplash

In my FYC and corequisite courses, I generally have to help students value their literacy experiences as a groundwork for further learning;  they too often dismiss their experiences as irrelevant or inferior.

But in advanced courses, particularly introductions to linguistics and applied linguistics for language pedagogy, I occasionally encounter students who seem to think that their experiences as language users or language learners are sufficient expertise to judge or ignore decades of scholarship.   Novel constructs or technical definitions of known terms are rejected in favor of personal definitions and understandings. 

My prodding during conferences this week yielded pushback along these lines (with my responses following in italics):

“Well, as I’ve said before, I do not believe that aptitude can be quantified…” (But does that also mean it cannot be investigated?)

“I plan to draw on my experience in the project; are you saying I cannot do that?”  (Of course not, but I did say that experience needs to be interrogated and interpreted in light of published research.)

“I can tell you about backsliding in language learning.  It happened to me.” (But did you look at how cognitive theorists define and account for such backsliding? They suggest it’s more than having a new teacher.)

Good teachers always provide explicit error correction.  (Of everything? Doesn’t the context of the error make a difference?)

I am a visual learner, so a good language teacher will give me visual input.  (Did you read Willingham’s review of learning styles? What would he say about this statement?) 

How do you respond when students privilege their own experience over a scholarly tradition or consensus?   What do you say when students resist substantive or reflective interaction with assigned readings or discussions?  I’d love to hear from you.

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.