Editor’s Introduction

John Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Rock County, john.pruitt @ uwc.edu

April means not only National Poetry Month and the occasional, strangely placed sleet and snowstorm that sounded like a billion pins dropping onto Rock County most of yesterday. It also means that my chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta English Honor Society holds its annual game show to raise funds or supplies for a local nonprofit. This year, contestants paid an entry fee of pet food or litter for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin.

In the tradition of this low-stakes competition–winners receive $20 gift cards–the questions are based on bad customer reviews of bestsellers and popular classroom texts, that is, the time honored and relatively canonical. Aligned with our food drive for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin–ANIMAL BOOKS

Let’s play a couple rounds…….Which book is this disgruntled pet owner cursing?

My dog has a collapsing trachea and I figured this book would explain how to do the surgery so I did not have to pay the veterinarian big $$$. I read the book cover-to-cover and I still have no idea how to fix my dog. Thanks for nothing, jerk.

a. James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small
b. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
c. Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Doolittle
d. Fred Gipson, Old Yeller


How about this one, from a jaded animal lover making a life decision:

This book was not my cup of tea. It definatly [sic] shows that we as human can help nature. This book left me wondering if it was really worth my time.

a. Robert McCloskey, Make Way for Ducklings
b. Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist
c. Tania James, The Tusk That Did the Damage
d. T C Boyle, When the Killing’s Done

Finally, let’s remember that not all animals are as docile as our pets:

A mediocre attempt of horror is really not strong enough to hold any weight at all, causing the narration to die half-way through the book. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t come back as an evil zombie at all, despite odd attempts of performing resuscitation to the corpse.

a. Stephen King, Pet Sematary
b. James Herbert, The Rats
c. Peter Benchley, Jaws
d. Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

We also gathered much more than I’d expected:

Dry dog food- 246 lbs
Dry cat food – 55 lbs
Wet dog food – 15 cans
Wet cat food – 30 cans
Dog Treats – 12 bags
Litter – 30 pounds
Pet toys – about 20 various toys
Cash – $68

Please adopt and adapt this idea for your own fundraiser. The grumpier the reviews, the funnier the results!
30728117_1689740131122355_666905337558728704_n.jpg

Editor’s Introduction

John Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Rock County, john.pruitt @ uwc.edu

First an announcement: Wisconsin English Journal will be presented with a 2017 Affiliate Journal Award at this year’s NCTE convention, and I’d like to thank all of our authors, readers, reviewers, and the editorial advisory board for this recognition!

And second, this double issue represents a significant transformation of WCTE’s periodical, and we invite your direct participation. The new WEJ offers expansive and interactive features for both for readers and writers now given the opportunity to improve communication, inclusiveness, and connectedness.

Prior to this issue, WCTE published WEJ semi-annually as a collection of peer-reviewed submissions propelled by pedagogy, theory, and research. After publication, each journal remained static. Writers rarely, if ever, received feedback despite e-mail addresses listed at the end of each article.

To keep pace with the evolving landscape of our professions, WEJ must effectively mirror the needs and preferences of the organization and show current and prospective members of WCTE that they will have much to gain by reading, contributing to, and interacting with the journal.

Based upon the above discussions, the editorial board decided upon the following priorities:

1. Continue to peer-review longer, scholarly researched papers on theory and praxis;

2. Encourage pre-service and tenured teachers at all levels to share best practices, classroom narratives, and assessments in short and long experiential articles;

3. Request that teacher educators share the work of their students in themed sections;

4. Review new, revised, and re-released publications looking at education, learning, and the teaching of English in diverse ways;

5. Solicit opinion or issue-driven pieces of current interest to the profession.

In order to complete this transformation effectively, we turn to readers to communicate and continue the conversations begun by the writers. Therefore, each publication in WEJ will include a comment function that will animate and reveal the organic nature not only of the journal itself, but also of various pedagogies and classroom practices. We encourage our readers to express interest, offer suggestions for application, disagree with major premises while offering emendations, and indicating that the piece has been used with results that can be measured and shared.

We need you to do this! Welcome to the new Wisconsin English Journal!

From the Editor

John Pruitt, Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Rock County
[PDF version here: From the Editor]

In January I’m set to teach Contemporary Women Writers, and, as always, the anxiety of assigning the perfect texts that I and my students will eagerly pore over loomed large. In years past, I turned to the critics and award winners, mostly with success, occasionally without: of course, if my students hate a short-listed Booker Prize nominee, they obviously lack the artistic and literary disposition I demand in my classroom. Right?

It nearly happened again, this time with Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book, its dust jacket covered with glowing reviews from Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and other renowned publications. I sort of liked it—it was actually a little too pretentious, I thought, so I decided to shun the professional readers and turn to common readers for their reactions. My students, after all, are common readers themselves, so I sought out reviews from their peers.

That’s how I serendipitously discovered the BookTube Network, which I understand happens with most great discoveries: the Venus de Milo, the Uluburun shipwreck, the Galapagos Archipelago, Uranus…Thousands of videos about books and reading abide here, assuring me that even millennials continue to turn to the written word. In fact, here’s what I learned from them about The Flamethrowers:

“Much of this book just isn’t very good. It’s actually pretty bad.”

“Reading this was like sitting in the back of a cab in a strange city. You’re pretty sure you’re headed somewhere but it’s taking forever and it looks like you’re going in circles.”

“There are some good passages, but they’re hiding deep in long stretches of clunky writing where nothing, literally nothing, happens.”

“This reads like a book that I should like in a literary sense, and I’m not positive that it worked out like that. I pretty much struggled through it, and was relieved when I reached the end.”

“If you’re craving substance, engagement, something, this book will leave you wanting.”

I did think about this approach before I decided not to assign the book. After all, Amazon is replete with negative (and hilarious) reviews written by jaded adolescents forced (as they put it) to trudge through another dull classic, but I don’t teach those students. In college, they may take my literature courses simply to fulfill a Humanities requirement, but they have options in music, art, philosophy, and other disciplines as well. And, frankly, I don’t care if they can psychoanalyze Hamlet or deconstruct Joyce or queer Woolf. I don’t want to do that myself.

I care only that they continue reading for pleasure when my class finishes. That’s also why I teach primarily contemporary literature. Very few English majors cross my path in the two-year system, so current novels speaking to current events will more likely engage those who may never again enroll in literature courses.

So, while I do turn to the London Review of Books for personal reading, I turn to the young masses for classroom reading. As we know, despite how much we want them to love Dickens and Faulkner, if our students hate what we’re teaching, we all suffer.

From the Editor

The Writing about Writing (WaW) movement has grown popular over the past few years, and I’ve joined in.

I teach first-year composition every semester. In fact, I’ve taught these and equivalent courses every semester since I became a graduate teaching assistant in 1998, and I’ve experimented with a number of approaches emphasizing rhetorical knowledge, critical thinking, writing processes, knowledge of conventions, and literacy for composing in electronic environments. I also required a textbook with thematic readings on popular culture, gender and race controversies, diversity, moral and ethical debates, and the elusive American Dream.

Then one day, during a unit on reading and writing arguments about sustainability, a student blatantly asked, “Can’t we just learn about English?” It was a good question that I took seriously. Frankly, I don’t want to moderate political discussions; I’ll let the political science instructors handle that. I’d much rather discuss how reading, writing, language, and literacy work in different contexts, which is why WaW attracted me.

A WaW approach foregrounds research in writing and related studies by asking students to read and discuss key texts in the discipline and contribute to the scholarly conversation themselves in order to build a meta-awareness of the writing process. As two of the strongest advocates for WaW, Downs and Wardle (2007) argue that teaching students to write by introducing them to a template of basic skills creates the false impression that all academic writing looks identical. Because similar features in writing “are realized differently across academic disciplines, courses, and even assignments” (p. 556), the authors propose that writing instructors help students develop a meta-awareness of the contextual elements that shape writing so that they can become familiar with how they write on a regular basis and the types of writing valued by specific discourse communities.

The controversy: are first-year students prepared to read esoteric scholarship, the research on writing? The debate fluctuates. On one hand, Bird (2009- 2010) avows that her Basic Writing students at Taylor University embrace the challenge of reading articles from College English, CCC, and Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy because “Students can better judge their efforts in complex thinking-writing if they know what it is they are aiming for, if they know what intellectual processes they are trying to achieve through their writing” (p. 4). On the other hand, while preparing to teach Introductory Composition at Purdue from the WaW approach, Sánchez, Lane, and Carter (2014) anticipated that “students might feel daunted by the material and by the lack of a user-friendly textbook to access this information pertaining to the knowledge and practice of writing” (p. 120). Nevertheless, for these authors, exposure to this occasionally abstruse school of thought with language and conventions to match provided an opportunity to discuss audience and genre.

I find this approach going well because my retention rates have increased. According to my student evaluations, students expect WaW in their required first-year writing courses as a means to transfer what they learn to other classes. Now we write literacy narratives, complicate the definition of literacy, persuade lexicographers to add and remove words from dictionaries, discuss how advice from creative writers can help us become better expository writers, and interview instructors across disciplines about their expectations for college-level writing. Furthermore, no one feels isolated by the political debates that once took place. Indeed, we read pieces such as Krauthammer’s  “In Plain English: Let’s Make It Official” and Fairman’s  “The Case against Banning the Word ‘Retard,’” which certainly inspire controversy. However, because anyone who writes has direct, personal experience with reading, writing, language, and literacy, everyone has something to contribute.

References

Bird, B. (2009-2010). Meaning-making concepts: Basic writer’s access to verbal culture. Basic Writing, (8/9), 1-18. Retrieved from https://bwe.ccny.cuny.edu/

Downs, D., & Wardle, E. (2007). Teaching about writing, Righting misconceptions: (Re)envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC, 58(4), 552–584.

Sánchez, F., Lane, L., & Carter, T. (2014). Engaging writing about writing theory and multimodal praxis: Remediating WaW for English 106: First Year Composition. Composition Studies, 42(2), 118-146. Retrieved from http://www.uc.edu/journals/composition-studies.html/

John Pruitt is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County, past president of the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English, and the editor of Wisconsin English Journal.

Copyright © 2016 by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.