Essay of Self-Evaluation

Culminating Experience in Eng. 600: Overcoming a Lack of Intention.

    The best way I can think to evaluate my work is to define my academic weakness as lack of intention. I write this, not to discount any strengths I may have (and I do believe they are many) but to attend, first and foremost, to the item that has caused the most trouble since the beginning of this term. In focusing on this notion throughout my coursework for Eng 600, I hope to thresh out a more concise notion of my strengths and weakness, than is available to me now. In short I intend to satisfy the requirements of this reflective letter by writing the letter. Considering I am using my own critical language, I cannot shy away from an attempt at catharsis. I believe, even at the end of the term, I have yet to make a definite conclusion concerning my unbound project. As I have mentioned in class, it will be difficult for me as a Master’s International student to be able to form a substantive notion of my project at this point in my education. As my Peace Corps service is to account for the bulk of my career at the university, most of my unbound project is contingent on this, as of yet, unimaginable experience. Still, I intend to apply my experience in this class to what will be at least a feasible notion of application to my pending experience as an English as a foreign language teacher in the Peace Corps. In reviewing my coursework over the last semester, it becomes clear to me that my sense of purpose has become more defined. What was initially a vague notion of adventure and pedagogy has sublimated into concrete idea of theory and application. In tracing my uncertainty in intention across the semester, I propose to define how the coursework of English 600 quelled this uncertainty, and provided me with a secure notion of a goal within my particular program. I have selected three essays for review. These essays have been chosen for their clear demarcations in purpose. In each essay I will evaluate my weakness in intention as it shrinks and gives rise to a clear sense of purpose.
        My second journal entry has provided me with a great place to start. The assignment was to use Pope’s text to discover the main orientations and emphases of my current English program, while commenting on my main interests with or beyond that program. As the assignment came directly from Pope’s text there were a few more suggestions on how to elaborate on the assignment, that I have left out. I have chosen the two points previously mentioned because it is clear they were the two questions I was trying to answer in writing this journal entry. Since it was early in the semester, I was still unsure how to approach our assignments. I wanted to expend as much effort on them as possible, so that I should feel proud of them later. But the nature of the work perplexed me. Even early in the course I was aware of a certain nonchalance that concerned our assignments. Having never been exposed to such a teaching style before, it initially caused me some worry. I wasn’t sure how to treat these assignments that were given to the class with the flippancy of brainstorming exercises. I only mention this personal concern because it sheds valuable light on my progression over the course. Where initially I balked at having to make a decision on the merit of my own assignment, toward the end of the semester, I overcame this uncertainty. I was able to find a voice in writing the assignments. Where I initially hesitated, afraid I would write something ridiculous, I later became confident after I became acquainted with the nature of the material we were studying. The first thing I would like to note in my progression throughout the course is my understanding of the concepts introduced. When I began to understand the diffuse nature of English as a discipline, I became more confident in my coursework. I believe my initial faltering is well evidenced by this second journal entry.
        It is clear from the beginning of the journal entry that I am uncertain of the exact nature of the assignment. My tone tends to waiver back and forth between academic jargon and nostalgic story-telling. I mention ESL in an off-hand manner but , it is clear, I’m not really too sure how to apply it to the assignment. I find some succor in being able to relate the concept to Pope’s “classification of English education and English language.” After mentioning this I progress to the notion of cultural transmission, which I am clearly uncertain how to handle and, implacable, I retreat back into what I know, namely “literature studies.” However, there is a gleam of hope here even at such a point of high despondency. In the next sentence I remark “since my program… encourages creative methods I intend to find a way to unite literature studies with my language instruction.” The remainder of the essay is essentially my attempt to come to grips with the baffling notion of English language and literature studies as a cultural device or possible lingua franca. At the end of the essay my despondency returns when I write “I have attempted to change with [the study of English] and become completely involved in that change in order to wrestle some kind of professionalism out of what has really always been the only, truly engaging area of study for me.” At this conclusion there is almost a palpable since of a lack of intention. Not sure what to write or what position to take I am simply guessing at what the future of my studies may hold.
        This uncertainty was cleared up later in the semester when we began to discuss positioning. Until this point, I had never heard of taking a position in a subject. To me English was just an anomalous area of study. I was aware that there were many divisions in the subject, but I was never sure how that related to me, as a budding student in the discipline. Joseph Harris’ essay on person, position and style helped me to gain an understanding of the importance of current subjects in the discipline. Even as an undergraduate I was aware of the PMLA and a few other journals where high-minded academics traded opinions and ideas, and I must admit I always felt like I was missing something by not knowing how these advancements in the field applied to me. In Harris’ essay he writes, “there are ways in which academic work should be personal” (48). After reading this I began to realize how it’s important to keep abreast of current topics in scholarship, not just to know them, but to have a personal opinion toward them. Although most of Harris’ essay dealt with the correct way to use position in academic writing, the thing that really struck me was that such a thing was even permitted. I had imagined that the annals of English academia were stuffed full of essays postulating and theorizing, but I had never considered that these journals might require some sort of personal stake. After I came to understand this, I began to think more and more about my own position in the field. In my later essays for Eng 600 this becomes much more apparent. And the uncertainty and lack of intention I had initially felt began to fade as I became preoccupied with how my own research and experience could contribute to the field of English studies. This question was only bolstered by our classroom discussions on theory and its generative nature.
        To advance this notion of my nascent understanding of position in English studies, I provide, for my second selected essay, my response to the Harris and Enos articles. When I first began to write a reflection on this essay I wrote something that I consider pretty telling.

“Upon writing this essay I came to understand that my present course in the greater English curriculum did not have to obviate my previous studies, namely those in literature. Pondering the possibilities of this newly discovered accord, I set myself to viewing each discipline (ESL and literature) in terms of components.”

When the task of commenting on our own work was first introduced to us I decided to write my conclusive impressions on each essay I selected. Unfortunately, I only got as far as this one before time constraints forced me to begin my essay. Still, I like what I have written here because it seems to sum my initial impressions of the Harris essay quite well. When I began to consider the notion of positioning in scholarship, genre studies were beginning to be discussed in class. As a result, I began to combine the two in my thinking. I considered my own position in the field as it might relate to genre, if genre could be stretched to include everything that falls under the heading of English studies, which I believe it can. As a result of this thinking I began to console myself by thinking about a liminal area where ESL scholarship may overlap with literature scholarship. As indexed in the journal entry above, I struggled with the idea of having to leave literature studies behind to widen my understanding of the general English discipline. Having studied literature as an undergraduate, I had a difficult time conceding to what I considered a less interesting form of scholarship in studying ESL methodology. Since I had begun my studies at HSU I had been looking for a more interesting avenue by which to pursue ESL studies. Until this point, my search had yielded few results and I was becoming disillusioned, studying techniques for application with elementary school students. After reading Harris’ essay the notion began to formulate in my mind that I may be able to forge a position from the union of both disciplines, but after browsing around Jstor for a while I was disappointed to find there was very little written on the subject.
        On October second, we had a short discussion at the beginning of class on the position of culture in English studies. After class, the idea slowly began to form in my mind that culture may have been what I was looking for in my attempt to unite literature and ESL studies. This revelation can be found in my essay on Harris and Enos. I began to take an interest in the generative nature of literary scholarship, and in doing this I had begun to get an idea of my own intent, or rather of what shape my intent in the subject could take.

“ The burgeoning study of ESL provides something of an accelerated look at how scholarship in English studies has developed over the years. The same notion of changing models can be found in English as literature studies where notions of theory constantly vacillate between certain perceptions, the growth of functionalism out of formalism for example.”

In discovering this mercurial connection between literature and ESL studies, I was beginning to formulate a notion of how I could position myself in the ongoing scholarship in both fields. As I understood it, English studies offered nothing absolute or static, every area of study was subject to change. I recalled Pope’s writings on the ephemeral nature of English programs and using the notion of culture as a bridge I was able to unite my nostalgia for literature studies with my interest in cross-cultural pedagogy in the field of ESL. Having discovered my intent in the field, I became aware of my limitations, and it soon became apparent to me just how much I was oblivious to in terms of English studies. This would become my focus for the remainder of the semester, as I followed the coursework into notions of Rhetoric and Composition heretofore unknown to me. My final selected essay illustrates the application of my newfound intention to the course material.
        In my reflection on Bazerman’s essay on academic writing, I applied his notion of ideal scholarship to my own writings as an undergraduate and as a current graduate student. Most importantly for me this comparison signaled a change where I began to compare my experience in studying literature with my current focus of ESL. Where before I had always contrasted these notions, now I was beginning to see them simply as points on a continuum. I commented on how Bazerman’s ideas were relevant to my experience as a student and as a future teacher. My language in this essay connotes something of a genuine interest that was previously lacking in my coursework. It becomes clear to the reader of my essay that I had found the material relevant and that my interest had been piqued by it. Bazerman’s essay revealed my own reading biases. In considering his essay, I began to understand how my previous allegiance to literature study had permitted me to be less attentive to the general rules of an academic paper. I began to realize how I had not been reading subjectively enough because I was not aware of positioning. After devoting so much attention to aesthetics as an undergraduate, I began to realize that I had become a passive reader, reading an academic essay as though it were a revered novel, or as Pope put it in his section on New Criticism, “as a series of finished art objects or ‘verbal icons’” (82).Bazerman’s essay demonstrated the utility of having a multifaceted view of a study. In the passage of Hartman’s treatment of Wordsworth’s poem, I was particularly interested to find two relevant perspectives at my disposal.

“From my personal example as a UG it becomes clear how Hartman is able to write an essay that does nothing more than ‘prepare the reader’s sensibility to relive imaginatively the Wordsworthian sensibility’ (41). In a sense Hartman succeeds in pigeonholing the acceptable aesthetic definition of the poem. His use of legerdemain would be nearly imperceptible for novice students and even worse; I imagine there are probably a large number of high school teachers out there who would be unable to see how it is not an informed study, especially if they have any kind of interest in the material and are lured by the siren call of the critic’s appealing language.”

I believe the fervor in this passage is apparent. Having discovered my intent and, as a result, becoming acutely aware of my ignorance in most areas of English studies, I approached the coursework in a different way. No longer was I uncertain of its application or merit. After I was able to bridge the gap between literature and ESL studies, I became aware of the interconnecting thread of the English subject. when I made this connection, I began to see how everything else in English studies was inter-relevant. Bazerman’s essay, which applied rhetorical study to three different genres of writing, clarified this idea for me. After years of studying an anomalous subject, my intent had finally taken shape.
        With this intent I began to consider the implications of my tentative proposal; how I would combine teaching experience with my coursework at HSU. After reviewing the parameters of unbound project, I realized I could use the project as a means to further explore my interest in culture as a common theme, linking the studies of literature and ESL. At the time I was working on a term paper for Dr. Scott on the acculturative aspects of teaching in an English as a foreign language (EFL) environment. Having already completed a significant amount of research on this topic I decided to further explore the topic in my unbound project.

“I would attempt to demonstrate this notion of a dynamic EFL with direct examples from a classroom, where praxis is shown to be effective. My studies of EFL methods would be conducted through the scope of acculturation. Lesson plans would be constructed around a notion of acculturation and cross-cultural communication, and my thesis would state that acculturation is an under-developed skill in EFL methodology and is of prime importance as something both the instructor and the student undertake together.”

I admit it may be somewhat vague for a tentative proposal. This is due in part to my uncertainty of the work I will do in the Peace Corps. I have intentionally left to proposal open to allow its general application to any teaching context. Still, I believe it bespeaks my intention to find an area of scholarship that makes use of the entire English studies spectrum, which is the result of my discovery of position and an interconnected English discipline.