Specific Ways of “Reading” for Specific Cultural Texts


Reading Culturally = Intellect + Intuition
(Syayid Sandi Sukandi) A Fulbright Scholar

The following writing is shared in this blog for the purpose of sharing and for educational purposes only. Your comments and feedback are highly valued. Thank you.
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Syayid Sandi Sukandi
Dr. Joel Hardman
September 13, 2012 – Week 4
ENG 544 – Reading and Writing Pedagogy in TESL

Specific Ways of Reading for Specific Cultural Texts

Reading the two articles, written by Grabe, Birsch and Eskey, brings my mind back to the times when I taught the course entitled Cross Cultural Understanding in College of Teacher Training and Education in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. This course equips students in the college to learn how to engage with cultural concepts that are not similarly connected with their cultural background. What I could reflect after reading Grabe, Birsch, and Eskey is that there are specific ways that we should inform to the students regarding the activity of understanding texts containing cultural elements in them, even though the students might already have understood the linguistic elements of the texts.

The ESL students whose background primarily Indonesian cultures tend to view Western texts through the mindset that they already have. One of the meetings that my students and I had in the class was discussing about the concept of the melting pot and fish out of water of American’s life. These two phrases contain cultural elements. When the students read additional sources to understand those phrases, they had to read texts that explain what and how the United States of America is. Since students who are taking this course are students enrolling in the last year of their studies, they are expected to have good amount of skills to engage with Western texts, such as their grammar skill and their background knowledge. As Grabe points out, “Some of the strategies that are important for comprehension involve grammatical knowledge while others focus on processing skills and background knowledge” (51). Reading comprehension in L2 (Second Language) might not be necessarily assessed through how many cultural words, or content words they may know, but how they could get the overall meaning of the texts that they read culturally.

To be honest, though, Eskey’s article resonates with all dimension of understanding that I had since I was working as an English lecturer. He mentions that, “As human beings, we have what could fairly be called a biological instinct to learn to speak, but we must be taught to read in some particular culture that employs written language for some particular purposes” (7). This statement, to me, does make sense. A basic cultural text that we discussed, for instance, is the idea of technology. The value of technology in Indonesia might not be that similar with that in the United States. Technology is a tool for making life easier in terms of daily basis. For the society that already engage with “technology”, this word might mean something else. Another text that we discussed was about religion and faith. The idea of religion and faith in the Western society are not that strong compared to those in Indonesia I perceive. When I took current news dealing with religion and faith from the Western media, the definition of these words become different from what my students have understood in Indonesia. As a teacher, I gave them specific explanation that the discourse of such texts may not be correlated what they already know, but to some extents, they should be able to differentiate things that they should comprehend with the things that they could take as new definitions. Many specific words also are interpreted as political words, when they are being used in specific contexts. This notion draws my mind to see that specific ways of reading are for specific cultural texts. These modes help the students more in understanding different texts throughout their lives.

Misunderstanding in this expanded worldly communication can happen because of the lack of reading skills worldwide. Even when critical thinking comes to play, many students are not ready to face texts that are written outside their common circle, or to put it simply, their personal background. When they are asked to understand such texts, they resist. They also mention that the texts were wrong or the author has been misled in his or her mind. When this situation emerged in the classroom, I emphasize to my students that the frame of mind that we already have could be implemented to think critically for they read. However, to come into a better conclusion about particular ideas, they must read many texts with different topics so that they do not have narrow view toward many specific topics. “Poor readers avoid reading and lack of reading practice means they do not improve” (Birsch 9). Birsch’s idea is clear at this point. Our life improves when we could adjust ourselves with new things, especially when it deals with our students. Their ways of life are different from us. We might be used to typing with typing machine. Now, they have all these equipment. Our task is to lead them to better and meaningful ways of life. One of them is to help them “read texts” in different ways in order to get meaningful “image”, right?

Works Cited

Birsch, B. English L2 Reading. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2002. Print.
Eskey, D. “Reading and the Teaching of L2 Reading.” TESOL Journal, 11, 1. 2002. Print.
Grabe, W. “Research on Teaching Research.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 2004. Print.

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“Humanizing” Our Writing


“Easy reading is damn hard writing” Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Difficult reading is always a form of the writer’s ego to show off his credibility, which is not needed by the readers” – Syayid Sandi Sukandi

This post has been discussed in one of my classes in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. It turns out that I even fall in love with writing. “The more I read, the more easier how to understand my writing is. The more I discuss with open-minded people, the more I can feel what the magnificent use of writing is” – Syayid Sandi Sukandi, A Fulbright Scholar of English

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To those of you who love to write, putting your ideas into writing would seem to be easy to do, especially when you have gained a lot of experiences in writing and jotting down your ideas into a meaningful piece of text. However, sometimes, before writing something, please ask yourself these questions, “Why should I write? What is it for?”

The questions of “Where are my readers? Who are they?” are connected with “Why should I write? What is it for?” These four questions are actually connected with the essence of the purpose of why we write. This is where the process of humanizing writing starts. From a novice writer into an advanced one, readers are always involved in certain ways. Peter Elbow, a distinguish Professor of English in the United States has stated that someone may write well, even without a teacher. It does not mean that the person does not need a teacher. What it actually means is that the teacher is only a facilitator. The one who should write more is the person him or herself. Understanding grammar well is not enough if someone wants to write well for the readers, except for him or herself per se. If you could answer the two questions above, you will have a sense of to whom your writing will be intended. In other words, your writing will have a purpose. Eventually, your writing will likely be successful.

Therefore, writing something complicated by using an easier written expression, help the readers understand our writing well. Briefly, specific words are for specific readers. As Georges Gusdorf mentions in his book, Speaking (La Parole), translated by Paul T. Brockelman in 1965, p.44, “…language cannot justify anything and everything. It is up to each person to assure the responsibility for his own language by searching for the ‘right word’”. Words will work better if the words can work well in the mind of the readers. If the readers do not have the same meaning as what the writer perceive about the word, the use of the word will create chaos in the mind of the readers. Eventually, what happens is, your writing becomes useless and meaningless. You don’t want that happens, do you? Or, after you wrote something, and suddenly said, “That’s it! I am done!” Is that all? In fact, writing is more than that.

What about writing for public? Writing for a larger audience? If you are a native speaker of English, what about writing for second language speakers of English? The specific “form” of language is used for specific “purposes”; even English has its specific form that is known as English for Specific Purposes. Namely, there are several words that can only be used within the context of business. For instance, “The bank has set its interest rates”. The word “interest” here is not the same as it is found in, “She interests me”. Consequently, we need to adhere that the words we use in expressing our ideas should be properly chosen for the readers. If you speak or write something interesting in your mind, but your listeners or readers do not understand what you are saying, the communication turns into a deathly hollow. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee mentioned in his writing Why Billinguals are Smarter in New York Times, “Nobody ever doubt the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?” Then, the question is, “Will a writer’s work be read if the writer writes with words that people rarely use?”

To make it brief, it can be stated in this simple phrase, “Think deeply; write simply”. Whatever we write in our writings, always consider the readers. Making our thoughts easier is a lot more useful than making it complicated for people. In this digital world, writing has become a life-style. Readers are the people whom our writings will take us to the next level. Humanizing writing sounds a pretty good thing to do by everyone, if they are in need of being understood well in this enchanting world.

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“A student without having an ability to show his or her credibility in an appropriate occasions will look like never learning anything” – Syayid Sandi Sukandi 

Reflection on Composition and Teaching of Writing: An Indonesian Perspective


This article is one of my works in studying Teaching of Writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. It is only one of the works that I have written so far. It’s just for an introduction. This writing might need some improvements but you could give feedback if you like. I publish this writing as a way for me to share what I have written to my friends and students who might find this writing useful for them after reading this article. Note: Please do not plagiarize this article. If you do, you will have to pay me with thousands of dollars! Thank you.

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Response for Bartholomae’s, Gilles’, and Chase’s Ideas on Composition and Teaching Writing

Getting involved as a lecturer of English at College of Teacher Training and Education in Padang makes me thinking about developing ways of how to teach writing in effective and efficient way without sacrificing too much times reading students’ papers and grading them. Usually, I got used to applying the system of rubrics. Later in the second year of my teaching experience, I realized that this system had consumed much of my times until I could not have times to read other textbooks to adjust my understanding beyond materials that I usually teach. Since I was teaching Writing I and Writing II, or, let’s say, Composition 101 and 102 at the college, I found that teaching writing needs specific method which is applicable in the classroom setting. After reading Bartholomae’s, Gilles’, and Chase’s Ideas on Composition and Teaching Writing, I found that teaching writing should not be as hard as I had experienced. In my case, which is absolutely different from the case happening in the United States, English is not the first language that my students use in their daily life; however, they have to know this language, especially its written system in order to enable them in reaching their career paths in the future as teachers of English at senior high school. At this point, Chase’s ideas are relevant. As Chase points out, “composition seeks to help students develop skills and abilities that will enable them to be more successful as they take courses in their academic programs” (14); it means that, at this time, I reflect myself as a lecturer who is professionally involved in the process of guiding them in terms of developing their writing skills although writing itself is commonly known as “sophisticated” skill by a large number of my students. Therefore, I admit that the knowledge that I learn in composition studies so far would be highly useful in the process of teaching writing to my students. My students will have an ability to make use of their writing skill so that they can be academically successful in the discipline that they study. In the same time, they will have skill that they need later in the next scene of their life, which is commonly known as applying for a job.

In relation to teaching, the concept of what Chase has mentioned is applicable as well at the college in which I am professionally involved. “Teaching is fundamentally about community, about the relationships between individuals and the larger groups of which they are a part. In terms of composition, this means helping students write more effectively so that they become more fully contributing members of the communities in which they live and work” (Chase 15). After knowing this concept, I say myself that teaching means, analogically, functioning as a bridge. This bridge connects students and their community. Connecting students to their community through the aspect of writing would be a high involvement of what teachers of writing should do. I would be a part of the community, too. Therefore, what I can think of as an instructor of writing at this time is that the usability of the students in their community in terms of the students’ writing skill would be the best outcome that teachers of writing could have fulfilled and realized.

In this respect, Bartholomae states that “…the goal of writing instruction might be to teach an act of criticism that would enable a writer to interrogate his or her own text in relationship to the problem of writing and the problems of disciplinary knowledge” (17). This idea seems framing my thought that “the relationship” of writing and the “disciplinary knowledge” is crucial thing to be considered by teachers of writing. Since I am teaching Cross Culture Understanding at the College as well, I assume that the instruction that I give to them should be designed thoroughly as a way for me to expand the students’ writing skill, while the content is derived from materials taught in the Cross Culture Understanding subject. I predict that this method would be a great step in designing writing assignment in the classroom. The reason is that in one side, the students would learn how to write well and in the other side; they also could have an ability to express their “thought” through the content that they have learned.

Regarding the process of teaching writing – as a teacher of writing – one needs to view this profession as a medium to collaborate with other teachers. “Being a teacher means working with other teachers. It means connecting what we do day by day to the outcomes for our own classes and for the curriculum as a whole” (Chase 16). In this point of view, it seems clear that the teacher needs to improve his or her teaching style. The way how to do this is by collaborating with other teachers and by sharing the teaching experiences in improving curriculum. One teacher might find or have useful technique in teaching; meanwhile, the other teacher would still be in the process of finding which technique that is useful and suitable for him or her personally. Therefore, what I can comprehend in this way is that the writing teachers could advantage themselves whenever they do the discussion or the sharing activities in teaching writing within their peers.

Dealing with composition, composition programs are somehow new for department of English in Indonesia. Even though the Department of English is already available in almost all Indonesian universities and colleges, it seems that the distinction of this department into Composition studies will create new dynamics in the movement of teaching English in that country, especially in the dynamic of teaching writing. In general, the most well-known concentration within English department in Indonesia is Linguistics. This field of study develops into TESOL (Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages), as in the Applied Linguistics, which is now known as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Meanwhile, the concentration of Composition and Rhetoric for English department graduate students seems to be unavailable in Indonesia. In this respect, Gilles emphasizes three reasons of why composition programs are important. The reasons are “service mission”, “literal arts mission”, and “working collaboratively” (2-8). This would seem to be able to answer such phenomenon above. By looking at these three important reasons, as explained by Gilles, it is clear to say that Composition Studies could be placed and developed as a discipline within the English department that is available in Indonesia. In a holistic point of view, I think that the purpose of improving democracy in Indonesia would be positively reached because students will learn that the concept of learning writing is not learning how to write per se, but more on how to be able to express their thought in a way that contributes positively into the democratic society.

Besides, by establishing Composition Studies as concentration in the graduate level within English department in Indonesia, Indonesia will, in the long run, have candidates of writing teachers who will positively contribute to the education of student writers whose thought would be needed for the development of Indonesia. As Gilles mentions, “Indeed, the ability to use standard written English effectively creates options for students; it gives them freedom in choosing lives and career” (6). It means that it is a job opportunity for the students. They will have chances as well as opportunities to go global. In terms of lives, the students have their own freedom in expressing themselves as long as the writings that they produce are informative, critical, thoughtful, factual, useful or beneficial for the community in which they are involved. Moreover, by having a degree in Composition Studies, the students will have core concept in viewing the importance of writing and the value lies within the process of writing production. This skill can help them grow better as a qualified person for the country. “It is, rather, a set of problems produced by a wider, more diffuse set of practices and desires, usually brought into play by instances of language change or variety (or by the possibility that writing might change or be various)” (Bartholomae 11). This idea stresses that writing itself is developing, especially its content. The content could be from everything that is happening around the students. Then, the students could elaborate the “content” that they see from daily life into meaningful texts that can be read, evaluated, or even used by every interested readers.

Above all, what I conclude from Bartholomae’s, Gilles’, and Chase’s ideas is that the best way I could do as a lecturer is to engage with the students in the classroom setting and to understand their way of thinking through the mutual interaction so that I could play a role either as a teacher but also as a facilitator. As Gilles points out, “Guided practice in writing is what developing students need most, and some students need more time to develop than others. (6). Chase also mentions the same thing. Chase states that “teaching writing has the power to be an intellectually transformative experience, but transformation will occur only if we are prepared to engage our students on the one hand and to engage with our colleagues around issues of curriculum on the other” (Chase 16). Through their ideas, it is obvious to say that the role of me, as the writing teacher of my students, or, possibly as the lecturer of writing, would be to make the students engaged with things within and beyond classroom. In the same time, working collaboratively with other lecturers who are working in the same department as I do is also a good thing to do, especially in developing the capacity of mine as a lecturer whose one of his professional tasks is designing and developing curriculum for teaching writing to the students.

Works cited

Bartholomae, David. “What is Composition (if you know what that is) Why Do We Teach It?”. Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change. Ed. Lynn Z. Bloom, Donald A. Deiker, and Edward M. White. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996, 11-28.

Chase, Geoffrey. “Composition, Community, and Curriculum: A Letter to New Composition Teachers”. Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Ed. Duane Roen, Veronica Pantoja, Lauren Yena, Susan K. Miller, and Eric Waggoner. Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, 14-16.

Gilles, Roger. “The Departmental Perspective”. Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Ed. Duane Roen, Veronica Pantoja, Lauren Yena, Susan K. Miller, and Eric Waggoner. Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, 2-8.

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Thanks to my Professor, Dr. Henderson. The class discussion empowers me even more as a student, especially as an active listener and thinker.

The Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45


History of English Literature

(Written in 2007, published in this blog in 2011)

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The Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45

The Education of Act in 1870 that makes the elementary education compulsory for people in the age of 5 into 13 is the factor of the development of literary public, the rising of popular press, and the mass production of ‘popular’ literature for a semi-literate ‘low-brow’ leadership, that those at the end shows the existence of rapid expansion of unsophisticated literary public at this century. Moreover, the increasing access to literary and to education in general, led to profound changes in the reading public. The ability of writing a letter besides reading ability is the real example of literacy ability in the wartime because 1900-45 is the time when World War I happens.

Characteristics of Twentieth Century Literature:

  1. after 1918, ‘Modern’ defines the effect of literature that are to expand its range, to fragment its solidarity, to enlarge and profoundly change its audience, its forms and its subject matter.
  2. the influence of Sigmund Freud works about ‘unconsciousness’ as a sort of psychological theories among other theories has influenced literary works; therefore, the characteristics of this century is that there are many works of art that are difficult to read because readers have to prepare themselves before reading the works by understanding psychology, anthropology, history and aesthetics to get the meaning and the values of works. It is then, existing the ‘Against Modernism’ as ‘Modernism’ is the key concept of this era that means to battle the chaotic writings.

Poetry, Novels, and Drama

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