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Scholars and teachers of basic writing students approach the integration of personal writing in the classroom in as many ways as there are personal writing genres. The following are several of the ways these scholars have successfully included personal writing into their basic writing classroom.


Susan Naomi Bernstein - “Instructional Note: Life Writing and Basic Writing”

Bertsein’s article discusses the life writing readings in the basic writing class room, criteria for choosing the readings, and life writing assignments. Some of the requirements for life writing requirements include clarity of “rhetorical situation…audience, purpose, and occasion for writing” (74). Students have three choices of genre for their life writing assignment: autobiography, biography, and fiction. Berstein also writes about how to grade very personal essays.

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Virginia Duym - “Beyond Basic: Synthesizing the Personal and the Academic”

In an attempt to combine the best aspects of personal and academic writing, Duym uses and cites the following integration lessons:

Akua Duku Anokye:
Virgina Duym provides an example of this integration from Anokye’s “Oral Connections to Literacy: The Narrative.” Anokye’s article “desrcibes the use of a series of oral narratives to lead into writing assignments, both narrative and more academic treatments of topics developed first in narrative” (8). Anokye uses story-telling “to give students ‘empowerment and authority’ even as it ‘encourages students to understand and appreciate their classmates’ cultural and racial diversity…and become active participants in the broader conversation of the community through writing’ (49)” (8).

Virginia Duym:
Duym has her students use writing logs in preparation and development for a major writing assignment. One that has “a theme of work or employment, uses personal experience and narratve in order to describe, analyze and evaluated a work situations, their own or someone else’s” (9). The writing logs use several different genres of personal writing as well as analytical skills. “Similarly, for each reading resonse, they summarize and give good personal response that calls for interpretations, situating the selection in its historical or social context, or application of idea to situations that they might be more familiar with” (9). Students pull their essay ideas from these writings.

Mary Soliday:
Duym sites Soliday’s “Translating Self and Difference through Literacy Narratives” for its focus “on how personal and communal voices translate into and critique academic discourse” (8). Soliday had her students write their own personal literacy narratives as they were reading other’s literacy narratives. With this assignment, students “[gain] authority in academic discourse from awareness not only of the multiple contexts of personal and community discourse, but of [their] opinions as [they] move from home to culture to school culture” (8–9).

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Leonore Hoffman - “Using the Letters, Diaries, and Oral Testamonies of Ordinary People to Teach Writing”

Hoffman has her basic writing students read the personal writings of “ordinary people” in order to help students “demystify reading and writing” (465). The “letters, diaries, and oral testimonies” allow students to “see that writing is significant to peple for a number of reasons,not the least of which is to learn about oneself and one’s world” (465). Hoffman follows these readings with several assignments possibilites from giving students the opportunity to answer the author in a letter, having students keep their own diaries, to writing an essay about some of the historial references addressed in the readings.

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Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk - “Personal and Academic Writing - Revisiting the Debate”

Mlynarczyk states that it would be hard for her basic writing students to “‘invent the university’ without using the primary resource they bring with them to college - their own expressive language, language that is private, not public, language that is close to the self” (13). In order to address this issue, Mlynarczyk has her students write about their readings in “informal reading response journals” before they begin writing academic essays (13).

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Molly Hurley Moran - “Using Private Journaling to Generate Personal Interest”

As described in her article, “Toward a Writing and Healing Approach in the Basic Writing Classroom: One Professor’s Personal Odyssey,” Molly Hurley Moran’s course focused on personal writing that would be used to shape student essays. Through journaling in and out of class, students were given the opportunity to find what she called their “felt sense” or their “aha” moment of inspiration. This would happen naturally as they journaled and engaged in brainstorming activities.

The students first wrote two personal narratives, then two thesis support essays, which connected to a personal experience or issue, and finally an argument. Each of these were derived from their private writing.

She also used small peer review groups and only instructed minimally on grammar, allowing the peer groups to figure out the grammar issues together. Her strategy was successful at both increasing students’ overall attitudes about writing, increasing the average student’s grade, and in creating confident writers, who were eager to share their writings in the class magazine.

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Wendy Ryden - Conflicted Literacy: Frederick Douglass’s Critical Model

Ryden’s article looks at the use of Frederick Douglass’s literacy narrative, and the implications of using literacy narratives in the basic writing classroom.

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Gregory Shafer - Using Letters for Process and Change

In “Using Letters for Process and Change in the Basic Writing Classroom,” Gregory Shafer used letter writing in his basic writing classroom in order to increase students’ comfort and familiarity with their own writing.

One of Shafer’s main goals was to get students “to feel that they had had a voice worthy of respect” (61). In order to accomplish this, he created a letter-writing assignment for the students in his basic writing classroom. Shafer chose to have students write letters because he felt that it gave students a chance for success by centering writing on “the real world of most students” (Shafer 62). Along with the practical aspect of practicing letter writing, his assignment allowed students to be creative in their approach to the assignment. Students wrote to people involved in their personal lives, deceased loved ones, and some even wrote as fictional characters.

Before the letter writing assignment, Shafer described his classroom environment as “resignation and sober resolve,” however, after the students began working on their letters, Shafer noted a “dramatic change in the atmosphere, [with] a fulminating sense of enthusiasm pervading the discussions” (61, 63).

While letter writing steered away from skills-based instruction, Shafer still focused on the writing process with his students. He stressed drafting and revision, which some students struggled with: “many were frustrated as they confronted the fact that writing is not linear, step-by-step process” (Shafer 63). He addressed this frustration by sharing a letter he had been working on with students in a workshop setting. Schafer also stressed the importance of instructor’s writing and sharing their own work with their students.

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Peter Elbow - Class Magazines

Elbow wants his first year students to see themselves as both writers and academics. In order to get students more comfortable with their identities as writers, he publishes a class magazine four times a semester in order to get students comfortable with the idea of reading their own writing. By getting students to see themselves in a “community” of writers, the distinction between being a writer and an academic begins to blur. Also, he wants to get students to engage with texts, and say what they really think of them, even if the texts are written by prolific writers and part of the hallow canon. “We must try to come at these strong important texts:--no matter how good or hallowed they may be—as much as possible as fellow writers—as fully eligible members of the conversation: not treat them as sacred; not worry about ‘doing justice’ to them or getting them dirty” (74). To Elbow, academics are readers, and being part of the community helps students to interact with these texts, and themselves.

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Linda VonBergen - Using Poetry to Shape a Narrative

With a goal of academic discourse in mind, Linda VonBergen used poetry to help her students shape their narratives from having an expressive aim to having a referential aim instead. Using Countee Cullen’s poem “Incident,” her class analyzed the point of the poem, the form the narrative took, and the understatement Cullen utilized the end.

With this in mind, students constructed their own narrative essays, using Cullen’s poem as a framework. They were to discuss either a personal experience with prejudice, or a significant achievement in their lives. The three paragraphs would mirror the three stanzas of the poem. The first paragraph contained the setting, the second paragraph relayed the incident, and the third paragraph detailed their reaction to the incident, possibly using an understatement at the end, instead of the hyperbole that VonBergen often witnessed in student papers. The result was that narratives had more of a clear point and more concise language, similar to what one would expect from an academic essay.

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Jeffery Berman - Reader Response Journals

In Berman’s Literary Suicide class, students were asked to respond to the readings with their personal reactions. They wrote in a diary and once a week they could volunteer their diary to be anonymously presented to the class orally. Many of the diary responses detailed the students’ own suicide experiences. Berman notes that the diary entries were better written than the formal essays, however their overall writing did improve.

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Rosemary Winslow and Monica Mische - Using the Hero Quest

Winslow and Mische started with readings that explained the archetype of the hero as well as traditional hero quests/narratives. Then they wrote a myth of their own in preparation for their first major assignment. They view a slide show of images of the hero and hero quests. They are asked to write about what they see in the pictures and to connect this back to what they have learned about the archetype of the hero and the elements that make up the narratives. Next they listen to a related poem from several points of view, which allows them to see how each of these characters can be embodied in the same person.

After this, they listen to a lecture about the slides, which leads to several writing assignments. One assignment is creative, asking the students to select a slide and compose a narrative from the point of view of the character pictured in the slide. This functions to show that “details must carry the arguement in both aesthetic and academic texts” (need page number). The second assignment draws on the first, by requiring specific visual and textual evidence (details), but switches from a creative focus to a thesis driven paper. The third assignement asks students to compare and contrast two buildings (one old and the other modern).

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Page last modified on July 27, 2007, at 08:17 PM