Ravioli, Ravioli, Incorporate ESL Writers into Your Pedagoli

Welcome back, everyone! My apologies for the delay – we lost power due to the high winds on Thursday and Friday, which pushed my writing schedule back much further than usual. I had no idea that a telephone pole could snap in half like uncooked pasta, but you know what they say, right? Ravioli, Ravioli, give me the formuoli (except the formuoli is the power to my house). 

Photo Taken from SoundCloud

This week, I’d like to discuss a subject that has long been one of my passions: teaching writing to English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. Ever since I worked at the Albright College Writing Center as a writing tutor (which I did for five years), I’ve loved working with international and ESL writers because I was interested in their process. Being bilingual myself – あ—、知らなかったの? – I’ve always wondered what it was like to have to translate words and phrases into English due to its notoriety for being difficult to non-native speakers. 

I can’t even begin to imagine the hardships my students go through to become fluent speakers and proficient writers of English, especially since I’m a native speaker who struggles with what I like to call “making words good” myself. However, I’ve noticed that because I’m a native speaker who is bilingual, I’m better able to examine the writing of my students who do not speak English as a first language. Instead of focusing on minute mistakes in grammar and sentence structure, I can look past it to make sure my students have the “whole picture” bigger concerns taken care of first. 

I think many teachers tend to get caught up in small-order concerns when working with ESL students because they don’t immediately consider their students’ cultural backgrounds and how those backgrounds affect speech and writing. Paul Kei Matsuda further affirmed these thoughts in Naming What We Know section 4.6, as he notes, “writing teachers cannot assume that what were once considered errors are indeed errors; they may reflect language practices perfectly acceptable in some parts of the world… teachers who use writing as a part of their instruction must develop an understanding of the nature of language, principles of language development, and language features situated in various contexts of use” (69). Matsuda also calls for teachers to be more understanding of the ways in which language works both in English and beyond it, which will help teachers be more effective when helping their ESL students sharpen their writing skills. A teacher’s ability to acknowledge the diversity of language not only among their students, but also within other forms of writing, is a crucial aspect to learning how to communicate with multi-national and multi-lingual audiences (an ethical concept with which we’ve been wrestling all semester).

So, how can teachers be more understanding and accommodating of their ESL writers? Matsuda and Matthew J. Hammill suggest in “Second Language Writing Pedagogy” that having students “use translation as a strategy for drafting… especially if they already have substantial knowledge of the subject matter in another language” is one of the best resources when used at the word level for technical terms (273). I was pleasantly surprised as I read this article since this strategy is one that I’ve been using since I started tutoring in 2014. One of my Chinese international students, Amy, was an amazing writer! But sometimes she would have trouble figuring out the English translation of what she needed to say, especially when it came to textual analysis. So, I told her that if she knew the words in Chinese, to just write them like that and leave them there instead of trying to translate it with the rest of the paper. Then, during our sessions I would have her explain the word/phrase in context to me, and together we’d come up with a few different English meanings on the spot. She’d then choose the translation she thought fit the best and put it in place of the Chinese, and we’d move on to the next spot. Amy knew that I spoke Japanese and understood what it was like to not “get” the translation right on the first try, and so she was happy that I encouraged her to use her native language so we could figure out the meaning together. Sometimes we even discussed the benefit of leaving the Chinese in and writing the translations in an aside, which she mostly used for idioms when she did creative writing.

My point is, I was able to work with Amy and teach her how and when to use her native language in a paper, as well as how to work on translation based on the overall concept being communicated, rather than focusing on the direct meaning/translation. With this strategy, she was able to improve her writing process to the point where she didn’t really need me, but liked to come in for “help” anyway because she enjoyed the conversations we had about language since I was able to accommodate her. In return, I learned how to work with other international students by using this same process and adjusting it based on how much help they needed and in what areas. 

The more teachers are willing to accommodate their students and understand them at a cultural level, the easier it will be to create lessons and activities that help them improve their writing without taking away their culture’s influence to force them to use “proper” English. If the English language is okay with stealing words and phrases from Greek, Latin, French, and German and making them commonplace, then it needs to accommodate the cultural linguistic differences in other languages, too. 

With the number of ESL students on the rise, it is important that teachers incorporate strategies that ESL students can understand in order to make sure they’re being well-educated like they deserve.

Until next time.


Let’s Get Intertextual ;D

Good evening, everyone! 

I trust that you’ve all had a relaxing weekend. I personally spent mine in Philadelphia doing the Grim Philly Serial Killers & Cemeteries walking tour, which was both super interesting and a ton of fun. While the tour isn’t recommended for children due to the grisly subject matter, I did learn related “normal” historical facts about the city that I can now cite and use later for my students, which is always a plus! 

I want to kick off this week’s post with a reference to the first serial killer we learned about on the tour: H. H. Holmes (1861-1896). Don’t worry – I promise there’s a direction here! For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Holmes is an American serial killer who confessed to more than 27 murders, many of which he claimed to commit in his infamous “murder hotel” during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. While Holmes himself was not born in Philadelphia, he was eventually imprisoned and hanged there, leading many serial killer fanatics in the city to claim him as a Philadelphian. 

However, the real reason why the information on Holmes was added to this tour in particular is because Adam Seltzer’s 2017 biography on Holmes, H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, generated a wave of interest since it added new information to Erik Larson’s 2003 historical non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. Seltzer spent years researching Larson’s sources and information, taking careful time to separate facts, circumstantial claims, and plain fiction in order to give his readers a more comprehensive view of Holmes and his crimes. Much of this new evidence includes primary sources (like newspaper articles and court ledgers) that had never been seen before, not even by Larson.

But what do Seltzer, Larson, and H. H. Holmes have to do with teaching? It’s simple; Seltzer building off of and investigating Larson’s original claims is a perfect example of what Kevin Roozen calls intertextuality. He argues, “rather than existing as autonomous documents, texts always refer to other texts and rely heavily on those texts to make meaning. Although we commonly refer to a text or the text, texts are profoundly intertextual in that they draw meaning from a network of other texts” (44). No matter what text we’re reading, there will always be references to other texts within that text. Thus, while Seltzer uncovered his own new information, he also built off of the fountain of information on Holmes that came before him to do so; the next person to write about Holmes will undoubtedly build off of Seltzer’s work as well. So, the meaning of a text will always incorporate the past, present, and future because the writer references other texts and will be referenced by other writers in turn; and even if we’re only talking about one work in particular, that particular work still possesses intertextuality because of its connections to other texts either directly (through citation) or indirectly (similar ideas).

We can see this type of intertextuality in our own works if we go back and analyze them. For example, for my ENG 599 Independent Study in Japanese Literature this semester, I am watching the 2012 anime series Psycho-Pass. The show references other texts directly, like when it quotes lines from Titus Andronicus or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. These intertextual influences from the past make it easier for the viewer to make meaning of the anime series, as each reference has very particular connotations associated with it that can be used to glean the antagonist’s motives. In addition, I plan to write a paper for publication about the series in the future as part of my final project, in which I will use research and more intertextuality to make my own argument (and hopefully, students in the future will use my paper in their arguments too). 

A Photo of the season 1 Psycho-Pass cast of characters.
Photo of Psycho-Pass cast of characters taken from Ranker.com

Another way in which a work can be intertextual is through what Roozen calls the utilization of “a range of nonwritten texts” (45). The first type of nonwritten text is visual imagery; for example, Psycho-Pass references films like Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) through its incorporation of cyberpunk and post-modern elements in a visibly dystopian Tokyo. The setting itself, especially its neon lights, holo-technology, and cyborgs, speaks volumes about the society and era in which the characters live simply because viewers are familiar with it through other dystopian films. Thus, the visual associations with landmark films of the past helps viewers make meaning of the setting so they can begin solving crimes alongside the Inspectors and Enforcers.

The second type of nonwritten text is speech, which is crucial to the recognition of Indigenous and non-Western oral traditions. These traditions and storytellers are too often written off as not credible simply because they do not fit the traditional mold of the Western author. However, they are still methods of making meaning, and many of these traditions possess their own form of intertextuality because the stories grow and change as they get passed down from generation to generation. Does anyone else think that it’s ironic and totally colonialist that academia formed out of art of oration and rhetoric, but now mocks it in non-Western cultures? Yes? Okay, great. Let’s add it to the list of things to change as we teach our students to be better than ourselves. 

So, why is it important that we teach students about intertextuality? Well, dear readers, teaching them about intertextuality and its many different forms will help them learn how to think critically about the materials they’re working with, as well as encourage them to research the other texts in those materials. We have to teach students how to think for themselves, and one of the best ways we can do that is to give them the tools to form their own unique questions, research the answers to those questions, and then help them process that research so they can formulate their own arguments instead of just regurgitating information.

How do we help them do this, you ask? Walker, Sheehan, and Biondi suggest both digital and face-to-face peer reviews, various think-aloud sessions for paper organization, and the introduction of counterclaims to the classroom in The Art of Digital Literacy as a solution (166). Each method encourages that the teacher serves as a model to help their students better understand the assignment, as the teacher creating his/her own argument gives the students a concrete example that they can work alongside as they process and organize their own thoughts and materials.

I personally love their suggestion, as my Latin class in my senior year of high school incorporated this method as part of our final project. Our professor gave us a bunch of primary materials, grouped us into two sides, and then had us hold debates on the topics she gave; it not only helped us learn about the intertextuality of oral rhetoric (which we had previously only seen in writing), but also about how to form counterarguments, how to hold your own against those counterarguments, and how to effectively work with your peers to fact check, organize information, and revise your argument to be stronger and more effective. This one Latin project completely changed the way I thought about doing research, and from then on, I was much more open to collaboration with others and having my friends peer review my papers.

I’m sure we all know by now that collaboration and peer review are important tools for helping students become better writers by walking them through the process, and they’ll become even better writers by becoming better researchers and readers. So, when we’re able to reframe the “research process as a thinking process… [we] step toward fostering a culture of reflection and voice in the classroom and beyond” (Walker et. al. 169). So, dear teacher, if even the notorious serial killers from my walking tour could collaborate with each other to think about how to build murder hotels and where to hide bodies, it goes without saying that we should be able to collaborate with our students and with each other to dismantle the stuffy idea of the classic research paper and reframe it into a process that is more reflective and helpful to our students.

Until next time.


Digital Literacy (or Lack Thereof) in Title 1 High Schools

Happy Friday (and Valentine’s Day), everyone! I hope you all had a great week. I know my post is two days early, but my thesis is on crunch time and I’m ready to git-r-dun a la Larry the Cable Guy

Red, white, and blue picture of Larry the Cable Guy saying git-r-done!
Photo taken from Pinterest

This week, I’d like to revisit digital literacy in connection to socio-economic accessibility, particularly in Title 1 school systems. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the “Title 1” terminology, it’s generally defined as low-income area schools whose students need supplemental government funding in order to meet district- and state-wide educational standards.

Being a Reading, PA native, I grew up in the Reading School District and graduated from Reading High School (RHS) in 2013. RHS is a Title 1 school, and it has been since 2008 at the very least. When I went there, we had just gotten the funding to put smartboards in the AP classrooms – and only the AP classrooms – towards the end of my junior year. With the exception of a couple computer carts that the entire school of 4,000+ students had to share, in addition to the four computer labs used for the mandatory Computer & Career Awareness class that everyone had to take freshman year and junior/senior credit recovery classes, we didn’t really have access to technology. There’s a good chance that we still don’t, based on the NCES’s data. There’s still a high number of students with a low number of teachers, and the implications of the drop in number of students between 10th and 11th grade don’t look good. 

Photo of data and the demographics of Reading Senior High School from the National Center of Education Statistics website. It indicates that the high school is a Title 1 school and shows the school houses over 3,000 students (not including the 9th grade, for which data was unavailable).
Photo taken from the National Center of Education Statistics website

Most people in my school couldn’t afford smartphones (even I only got my first iPhone in my senior year, and I was considered a bit more well-off than some of my friends), so the only internet access we had was if our teacher put in for the computer carts or if we went to the public library after school. This lack of funding and technology meant that the majority of RHS students missed out on the digital literacy necessary to becoming college- and career-ready. 

“But I thought everyone had to take that Computer & Career Awareness class, Sam?”

One would think that a class called “Computer & Career Awareness” would help with digital literacy, right? Unfortunately, the only things we learned how to do in that class were make Super Mario characters in Excel by filling in the boxes, insert charts into Word documents, and increase our WPM typing speed to 60 by making the strangest sentences without looking at the keyboard (this is how I discovered that a leek was indeed a real thing). 

A nice photo of leeks, the vegetable.
Photo taken from Simply Recipes

To this day, I still don’t understand what the student learning outcomes (SLOs) of that class were, nor do I think I learned anything from it. I’ve been finding in my research lately that too often, Title 1 schools create classes or introduce digital technologies without explaining to the students taking/using them why they are important, which contributes to the decrease in graduation & retention rates and increase in need for credit recovery programs. 

In her study of digital literacy in Title 1 high schools, Lisa Scherff’s interviews with students revealed that the lack of teacher-student transparency in digital tool implementation (like credit recovery programs or the introduction of Chromebooks to the classrooms) made students feel like the little technology they could access was for nothing more than facilitation and compliance: “the one ineffective way that our schools are teaching my generation is that they depend on computers to teach students. Take, for instance, credit retrieval classes that use online classrooms. I cannot seem to learn a thing when I take online classes” (149).

Once again, it seems as though literacy falls by the wayside in order to teach skills or, to be more cynical, to meet mandated state numbers and tests. The entire focus of my junior year of high school was passing the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment standardized tests, or PSSAs. All students, AP/Honors or not, were forced to take PSSA Prep classes that focused on preparing them for the month-long testing period; however, the majority of us felt similar to the students in Scherff’s interviews. We learned nothing, and now we had a bunch of added homework that we had to turn in every week to pass the class. The teacher in my PSSA Prep math class wasn’t even a math teacher! She was actually a social studies teacher and was very nice, so I feel bad that I can’t remember her name simply because the class was so pointless that I tried to erase it from my memory.

So, teachers, why am I telling you my life’s story at my Title 1 high school? Because I want us to do better and be better. Clearly, the teaching of digital literacy (and the explanation of why technology is important) due to lack of technological access in Title 1 high schools is at an all-time low, and it’s our responsibility to change that. How can we do this? By re-designing our assignments, being upfront with our students, then engaging with and listening to their feedback. Scherff makes several great suggestions on how to do so, my favorite being devoting class time to “interrogating mini-documentaries, commercial advertisements, and photographs from around the world… [and] looking for rhetorical appeals in TED talks and political advertisements” (147). This approach allows students to work with multiple types of digital media, learn how each approach is different and why it is effective in that format, and address current social events that interest them. 

Our first and most important priority is to teach our students to prepare them for life after high school; it would be unethical of us to do so by ignoring their interests and concerns in favor of improving how our high schools look on paper and in standardized tests. Those numbers will begin to go up on their own the more we start advocating for our students and really listening to what they say is and isn’t effective. We won’t need to teach online credit recovery classes later if the students are interested in and engaging with the classes and the digital literacy that we have to begin to teach them now. So, let’s get to work!

Until next time.


Digital Literacy? But I Can’t Even Read Good on Paper!

Happy Sunday, everyone! 

I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful weekend and are ready to jump back into the pond of academia. As I geared up to write this week’s post to the faint sound of the base from my neighbor’s polka music playing three floors below me, I kept stopping to wonder whether all of you also struggle with the concepts we’ll be tackling in just a moment. 

So, if you get to the end of this post and find yourself ready to say, “wow, mood,” and share your struggles or feel the need to offer advice, please do so in the comments section! I’m always looking for feedback and other perspectives to incorporate into my own pedagogy as I begin to shape my identity as a teacher, and this blog is the perfect platform to open up spaces in which that kind of dialog can happen.Now, without further ado – and in the same tone as Rick Sanchez – awayyyyyy we go!

Picture of Rick, Morty, and Summer from Rick & Morty. Rick is saying, "And awayyy we go!" as he is about to un-pause time.
Photo taken from TV Quotes

This week, as I discovered that digital skills and digital literacy are not the same thing, I found myself at a sort of stand-still. Actually, called out is a much better and more accurate choice of words: “Unfortunately, many focus on skills rather than literacies. Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on whywhenwho, and for whom” (Bali 24). Up until this point, I was building my identity as a teacher around the idea of exposing my students to multi-modal platforms; however, I had no “so what” to come after that exposure. 

Essentially, I wanted my students to have digital skills, but had no way to teach them digital literacy. My plan was to tell them, “yes, learning how to use multiple digital platforms is important because you have to know how to write in many different styles.” However, I hadn’t thought about how I could teach them to question when to use certain types of writing or why one platform might be more effective than another depending on the context of the writing. The reason I italicize question is to emphasize the idea that a good teacher/scholar should never take anything at face value; we should constantly be thinking about and analyzing who we are, how (and how much) we present ourselves to others, and the perspective of the audience that we’re trying to reach. 

If I didn’t teach my students to question whether twitter or a blog site would be a better place to make direct connections – and also why knowing the differences and risks associated with both platforms is important – I would be an irresponsible teacher who focused only on skills without teaching my students how to use them effectively for communication. I myself know these risks going in, and it’s not fair of me to assume my students do too because they’re growing up in the “digital age.” Luckily, we’re life-long learners, so it’s not too late to begin incorporating this type of questioning into our pedagogy. As the world becomes more and more digital and multi-modal, we just have to try our hardest to keep up so that we can teach our students to function in it better than we can. 

Speaking of multi-modal, yet another aspect I hadn’t thought deeply about until now was how I was using the definition of multi-modal rather than the actual the implications of the word. This is why I was surprised when I finally looked up the definition of multi-modal, which “distribut[es] equal emphasis on how meanings are created, delivered, and circulated through choices in design, material composition, tools and technologies, delivery systems, and interpretive senses… mode isn’t just words but sound, texture, movement, and all other communicative acts that contribute to the making of meaning” (Ball & Charlton 42). Up until this point, I was defining multi-modal solely as different digital types/platforms of writing. As the realization that I was wrong hit me, I felt like the confused anime guy (just replace “pigeon” with “multi-modal” and the butterfly with social media logos).

Picture of the Confused Anime Guy meme.
Guy = Me.
Butterfly = Social Media logos.
"Is this a pigeon?" = "Is this multi-modal?"
Photo taken from The Guardian

Of course, multi-modal doesn’t just mean different social media platforms – it also incorporates hyperlinks, pictures, music, design, and even linguistic signifiers! Multi-modal also applies to non-digital texts! Mind. Blown. My writing has been multi-modal all along, yet here I was thinking it meant I knew the difference between press releases and tweets. However, I’m actually glad that I came across this definition, as it gave me a great idea for a lesson plan! I could show my future students this blog after introducing them to the concept of multi-modality and begin asking them where the multi-modal content in the blog is. We could talk about the importance of hyperlinks and accessibility, the incorporation of memes and why it’s okay in the blog genre, and even the design of my blog and why it’s plain except for the blue moon (shameless info plug: comment down below for design backstory!). We could then compare the blog to other digital modes, and then to non-digital modes like art and literature. Being able to come up with that tentative plan on the spot make me feel like I’m finally getting the hang of being a teacher; the most important thing now is to not get comfortable in that groove so much so that I stop questioning and exploring in order to improve my content.

In my last post, I stated that I had to start teaching myself to question what’s being said vs. what’s left unsaid when working with Po-Co and Indigenous texts, and I’m beginning to think that I’m going to have to do the same thing here in order to effectively teach digital literacy and multi-modal texts. I think Bali puts it best when she says, “Digital literacy is not about the skills of using technologies, but how we use our judgment to maintain awareness of what we are reading and writing, why we are doing it, and whom we are addressing” (25). We as teachers and scholars have to continue asking ourselves moral/ethical questions as we write to make sure that we’re treating both the subject matter (including the mode and genre) and our audiences with respect, and we have to teach our students to do the same as they begin to transition from our students to our peers.

While students today may learn how to write differently than us (modern computers and tablet look very different from typewriters and MS-DOS, am I right?), they should still be learning the same fundamental skills: to write for their audience, to write for their genre, and to write for themselves.

Until next time.


Understanding the “I” in Identity

I am a writer.

I’m also a female, white, middle class, bisexual, cisgender, final-semester graduate student with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. All of these aspects make up my identity on a daily basis, but only one of them – writer – is what other academics and my peers see based on my academic writing and emails at first glance. What these people don’t see is my personal writing – texting, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and even old fanfiction written in notebooks – so most of them generally don’t understand my process, the multiple facets of my identity, or even why I write the way I do and the things I write about.

Thus, I started my first blog in the hopes that I could better intermingle these identities and reach a broader audience beyond my peers and the academics in my field. I have similar intentions with this blog, as my main goal is to explore different teaching methods, styles, and theories so that I can best learn how to accommodate the various identities that my students will have (and also to blow up and then act like I don’t know nobody, hahahahaha).

A Photo of rapper Riff Raff
Photo taken from Know Your Meme

This week, I want to tackle the social aspects and implications of writing, as well as what it means to identify as a writer and how our other identities bleed into that “writer” identity. It took me a very long time to come to terms with my identity as a writer, as I had imposter syndrome (still do!) and thus never thought of my work as good enough to be considered “real” writing. That all changed in my Spring 2019 Introduction to the English Discipline course, as it helped me realize that writing goes beyond academic writing. Everyone writes every single day as they text, compose emails, post on social media, etc. Once I began thinking of writing as more than just essays and articles, I was finally able to take that “writer” identity in stride and begin doing greater things with it, like advocating for those who have no voice and reaching out to people who shared similar thoughts and experiences.

The transition I made helped me begin to connect with a broader audience, and in turn, I had to begin thinking and writing more carefully in terms of that audience. I ultimately came to realize that “writing is an activity that involves ethical choices that arise from the relationship of writer and reader… [that relationship] inevitably address[s], either explicitly and deliberately, or implicitly and unintentionally, the questions that moral philosophers regard as ethical: What kind of person do I want to be? How should I treat others? How should I live my life?” (Duffy 31). These moral/ethical questions are almost identical to the ones I asked myself as I wrote my first blog post that same spring and continued to write for not only that blog, but also for all the academic articles and papers I wrote thereafter. I worked hard to figure out how I wanted my writing, my identity, to present itself to my audience, and I’ve since opted for a casual, yet educational tone and writing process. I use key words in my discipline, explain them in plain terms, and then use popular examples to contextualize and drive home the information. I also write how I talk, and then go back and clean up my slang later; in doing so, my conversational tone remains, but the language I use isn’t unprofessional. I’m happy with what I put out, and my readers understand what I’m saying regardless of their educational background or academic discipline.

However, just because I’m happy with my content and writing style, doesn’t mean I can slack off or stop utilizing academic research to back my arguments. I now have an ethical obligation to my audience to continue mixing my academic “writer” identity with my other identities so that I can put out quality content that is as accurate and well-informed as possible. It is important to be as accurate as possible because “an informational or persuasive text that is unclear, inaccurate, or deliberately deceptive suggests a different attitude toward readers: one that is at best careless, at worst contemptuous” (Duffy 32). Despite how long I’ve been writing in the academic context, I’m still scared of being wrong or misleading because I didn’t research enough (both when I write on my other blog and as I write my thesis), even though I’m much more conscious of my writing and research process. This is because sometimes my word choice isn’t as sharp as it should be, and I use phrases that have negative connotations or implications that I don’t immediately recognize. But, I’m human, that’s normal, and it’s all part of the learning process to becoming a better writer and advocate. I just have to keep reminding myself that writing is a social process and I can’t learn from my mistakes if I don’t put my writing out there for my audiences to see.

Overall, the process of finding and defining my writer’s voice reminded me of an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in which SpongeBob says, “At least I’m safe inside my mind,” and then Patrick thinks the same thing, but SpongeBob can hear it because Patrick’s thoughts are really inside his mind.

Spongebob and Patrick staring at each other while covering their mouths in disbelief.
Photo taken from GT Planet

This is because when you’re a writer, your thoughts are kind of never really your thoughts. Sure, they may have originated in your mind and out of your research, but how you present those thoughts will always be affected by/come back to your audience and how they’ll perceive them in writing. This is why we have to be conscious of what we write and how we write it; always say what you mean and mean what you say, but make sure you keep in mind that each one of your readers has had a different experience than you.

I’d now like to switch gears to talk about how different people have different experiences in terms of writer’s identity, and the best example that comes to mind my best friend Jahanny’s struggles with academic writing. Its important for both writers and teachers to acknowledge that “vocabularies, genres, and language conventions are a part of what creates and distinguishes social groups, and thus learning to write is always ongoing, situational, and involving cultural and ideological immersion” (Scott 48). I think a lot of professors with more traditional teaching styles neglect the cultural aspects of writing, and I was able to see this first-hand in Jahanny’s fights with her professors. In high school, she was one of the strongest writers I knew; but once she started college, her professors had problems with her use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) in her papers. Eventually, she had to have me constantly read and decode her papers so that she didn’t fail her assignments since it was hard for her to recognize it in her own writing. It’s not that her professors couldn’t understand what she was saying when she used AAVE, it’s that they didn’t care for it and thought it to be improper (“not grammatically correct”) even though it’s a large part of her identity as both a writer and a woman of color. Jahanny’s experience just goes to show how students must enact situational identities based on the social coding of their environment, so how they write and who they write for will always affect what identity comes first (and also that academia needs a major overhaul, but that’s a TEDx Talk for another day). 

Situational identities also come into play when reading, as “external speech becomes internalized and then comes to frame how we think, self-identity, and act in the world” (Scott 49). This internalization of the different types of writing and speech we encounter explains why when I’m in class, I’m able to apply Jacques Lacan’s theories to everything – like the first week’s readings arguing that speech is natural, to which Lacan would argue that it’s most definitely not. It’s also why I’m able to decode the AAVE in my friends’ conversations (or in Jahanny’s case, papers) automatically, as I grew up hearing it constantly. Hence, I turn on a different part of my identity that I’ve accumulated from social and academic experience as I read and write based on the situational context (and I guarantee that my future students will, too). 

On the bright side, it seems as though many college professors and classrooms today are trying to acknowledge that identities have many different parts in order to combat identity politics, which “entail a conscious decision by the individual to enter into… a ‘strategic essentialism,’ a reduction of complex political and economic relations in order to present a political statement” (Villanueva 57). Identity politics generally imply that identities are not multi-faceted, even though we all know by now that it’s simply untrue. However, identity politics are very much relevant and tend to affect people who have little-to-no voice. In her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak notes that these people are known as the “subaltern,” with all being of low socioeconomic status and those at the very bottom of the subaltern list being women of color, especially “Third World” women. 

Thus, in order to be heard by the oppressive majority (read: white men), these subaltern peoples essentialize their diverse identities into one and produce critical works in the language of the oppressors. This tactic is also known as rhetorics of assimilation, and it is an unfortunate but sometimes necessary method of survivance. The reason that I’m bringing this up to you today, dear readers, is because this is what my life’s work and my own identity have come to embody. In order to formulate a more inclusive literary canon, discipline, world, we must get rid of identity politics and begin acknowledging the feats of people of all ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and nationalities. If we can acknowledge that our own identities are multi-faceted, we must acknowledge the same of others. It’s a basic human right that the West has continually denied those it colonized, and so we must begin to de-colonize our minds in order to maximize our full potential as humanitarians.

For the above reason, I love Villanueva’s suggestion of having our students ask “what’s being said? And what’s left unsaid?” (58) in a text to uncover power dynamics. This is something that I’ve taught myself to do after having taken Po-Co with Dr. Colleen Clemens and Indigenous Rhet. with Dr. Amanda Morris. I fully intend to teach my students to do the same to ensure that they develop global fluency, consideration for non-Western writers, and an overall inclusive consciousness concerning writers and how their different identities shape their work. As my students develop this fluency, they’ll then be able to recognize it in their own writing patterns and begin dismantling oppressive language to make sure they’re engaging with any and all audiences they can imagine. I’ve only just begun learning how to do so myself, so I endeavor to be much better at it before I fully develop my identity as a teacher.

Until next time.



Hello, everyone! Welcome to the blog. My name is Sam, and you’re watching my last semester in the master’s program. This is a safe space for open dialog (and for top-notch memes). Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

If you’re interested in checking out my work in the Japanese Studies field, please feel free to visit my main blog here.

As a little introductory/get to know me tidbit, I’ll quickly explain the reason why I chose the blue moon over water as my background. This reasoning is two-fold, and the first reason is more impersonal:

Because it’s something that connects all of us. Every single person on this entire earth has seen the moon (or heard of it, for those who are visually impaired) at some point in their lives; however, the moon is never the same when we see/hear of it. It has different colors, phases, cycles, etc (just like people). It affects the waves of the oceans, which also connect all of the continents together. But, while the moon does connect us, it simultaenously serves as a reminder that each and every one of us is different. We all have different paths, we encounter people of different colors, and no two of us will ever live the exact same life. So when I look at the moon, I know that there are other people out there doing the exact same thing, but in vastly different times and places – this knowing feels sort of like a bond, like me and these other people are the only people in the world and we owe it to each other to keep this bond. The only other time I feel this deep of a connection is when I write and share my work with others, which is exactly what I’m doing in this blog space.

The second reason is very personal:

One of my favorite idols of over ten years, Kim Jong-Hyun of SHINee, committed suicide on December 18, 2017. His music and lyrics kept me going through my own periods of suicide ideation, and so I’ve always felt a very deep connection to him. One of the very last activities he did while he was alive was participate in Blue Night, a radio show during which he always encouraged his listeners and told us not to give up, offering whatever advice he could and quoting words of encouragement from whatever literature or music he was exploring. The SHINee fandom (Shawols) collectively came to associate him with a blue moon, and this imagery became stronger after his death. Now whenever I see or think of the moon, especially a blue moon, I’m reminded not to give up on myself and on my dreams because I’ve worked so hard and I know that he would want better for me. So, I carry on and continue to spread suicide awareness both inside and outside of the fandom with the image of the blue moon. I’ve since tattooed something similar to this picture on my body to carry the moon with me wherever I go, reminding myself that I’m not alone because the moon connects me to him, to my fandom, and (as mentioned above) to everyone else.

Now that you know a little bit about me, I hope you feel comfortable enough to relax and enjoy the ride.

Until next time.


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