Writing as Contested Practice: Response to Valerie Felita Kinloch

In “Revisiting the Promise of Students’ Right to Their Own Language: Pedagogical Strategies,” Kinloch examines the ways in which the original intentions of the 1974 CCCC document play out pedagogically in a 21st century classroom. She draws from her own teaching experience in an “interpretive attitude” (90) and “engaged pedagogy” (97) with students who are not native speakers of standard English and offers several practical suggestions on how to advance the study of composition by observing and grappling with the uses of other dialects. In addition to fostering a safe environment so that the students may “divulge critical information about their identities,” Kinloch encourages journal and freewriting (which she later uses as points of departure in classroom discussions), decides on reading lists with the students, and introduces exercises that explore aural/oral modalities of non-standard English (through song lyrics, poetry, and interviewing family members).

Although in one of her footnotes Kinloch admits that the article those teaching strategies that focus on students’ thinking “rather than doing (the act of writing and the difficulties that may come with this process),” I think that the article avoids the discussion of the practical aspects of student composition, including evaluation and feedback. Adam J. Banks, in Race, Rhetoric, and Technology, argues that any rhetorical and technical education must take up the three axes of theory, pedagogy, and practice. In my opinion, Kinloch’s argument would have improved had she dedicated more space to the theoretical and practical aspects of her pedagogy. Some of the questions that I wish she had asked in her discussion of the “rhetoric of rights” could be following:

  • What does it mean to write (whether in standard or non-standard English) and what role does print play in the “preservation of diverse language forms”? What does it mean for a dialect, such as Black American vernacular, to be “translated” onto a page/screen. What writing exercises can we create based on this inquiry?
  • Since the article is written in 2005, I find it surprising that digital literacy and digital writing are not addressed. Perhaps, in addition to exploring song lyrics and poems, Kinloch can expand her exploration of multimedia, phonetics, and orality into cyberspace?
  • Kinloch mentions access to the education materials only briefly when she says that “to talk of a rhetoric of rights […] is also to talk of the redistribution/reallocation of and access to literacy resources for all students” (88). Because she does not elaborate how these resources would be better used, I can only assume that she means material access. Banks, on the other hand, distinguishes between material, functional, experiential, and critical access to technology. In other words, it’s not enough to merely have the tools; it’s also important to know how to use them.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of Kinloch, because it’s apparent that she is actively concerned with the issues of writing pedagogy. But if we are to talk about writing as a contested practice, a practice that lies somewhere between the language shift and language maintenance (Smitherman, 25) and social engagement, we need to encourage students to start writing.

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One Response to Writing as Contested Practice: Response to Valerie Felita Kinloch

  1. legries says:

    Anastasia. Thanks for this thoughtful reply. You are hitting on something that has become a major talking point in rhetoric and composition lately–how do we actually focus our pedagogy on writing rather than reading, interpreting, analyzing, thinking. It’s not that you can ever really divorce these processes, but too often, in our classrooms, we spend so much time teaching students how to read, interpret, analyze, think critically in order to write that we run out of time to focus on writing as production, writing as making. The challenge then is how do you weave all of these together in ways that challenge students to interpret, analyze, and think critically on the page, not to mention of course write persuasive, elegantly, and coherently, etc.

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