English 100 focuses on diversity, not grammar

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When students enroll in Expository Writing I, or English 100, most do not expect a class on diversity.

But at Kansas State, that is exactly what the course is about.

English 100 “connects the examination of diverse communities and identities in the United States (defined broadly as differences in class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other factors like religion and geographical region) with the rhetorical concerns of writing for different audiences and purposes,” according to the English 100 course policy statement.

“I was definitely expecting a basic writing class,” Chase Bouse, junior in management information systems, said. “It required me to think more in depth. We had to think a lot deeper than I would expect in a writing class.”

It wasn’t always this way, Phillip Marzluf, associate professor in English and former director of the expository writing program, said.

“The idea of the course was first mentioned in the spring of 2004 and came to me through various different angles, one being administration,” Marzluf said. “That was basically the one sort of spark for it was an administrative sort of nod. And they supported with some funding for early research into this course, funding for some of our advisers (and) instructors to get some research time to start to develop the materials.”

Marzluf came to K-State in fall 2003, right after K-State had just completed an accreditation process, Marzluf said, and two ideas were mentioned by the accreditation bodies that they would have liked for K-State to improve: assessment and diversity.

“I can’t remember the exact language, but it was something like, because this is a regional institution with a predominantly white student base, that doesn’t sort of excuse K-State from thinking about these issues,” Marzluf said. “So it is even more incumbent upon us to find ways in our curriculum to challenge students to think about diversity.”

Marzluf said diversity concerns such as ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and disability were just a natural fit into the expository writing program to care about.

“It has an administrative side as a spark, but it was a good fit for what we do in these classes,” Marzluf said. “It made sense to me. They didn’t have to twist my arm or anything.”

Other inspiration for integrating diversity into English 100, Marzluf said, included a subdiscipline of English studies, composition and rhetoric and its interest in these diversity issues, especially with accessibility into higher education and the amount of students who take this course at K-State.

“There’s a lot of students who take it, so that was another reason it was thought to be a good platform for issues of diversity because roughly every year 2,500 students or so take it,” Marzluf said. “It’s one of the few classes where you get close to 50 percent of all students at K-State will go through it.”

Grading grammar versus diversity

“My teacher told us up front that he doesn’t grade based on grammar or punctuation, however the grading wasn’t based on diversity either,” Danielle Comstock, sophomore in agricultural communications and journalism, said. “It was mostly based on providing relevant evidence that supported your point and that you wrote a logical paper. There were a lot of lessons over the proper paper structure.”

Marzluf said the classes do not focus on teaching grammar, sentence structure or other basic writing elements.

“In expos., we don’t tend to focus grading on grammar, but we obviously want your grammar to improve,” Cameron Leader-Picone, assistant professor in English, said. “Mostly the grading is oriented around the students’ ability to fulfill the assignment and the strength of their writing.”

Leader-Picone said there are higher and lower level concerns they look for when grading. Higher-level concerns include larger questions about ideas, structure and the way in which those ideas are expressed and put together. Lower-level concerns include areas such as grammar.

“When students arrive at age 18 or higher to these classes, they basically have the grammatical competency already, so these are not meant to be sort of grammar classes,” Marzluf said. “There’s that important disconnect. We can teach grammar, let’s say, and it will not have any impact on your writing. What will have an impact on your writing is writing more and writing about a consistent body of questions, concepts and ideas.”

There are many movements, Marzluf said, which are working to move writing classes away from where students can write whatever they want on a paper and instead have some discipline so the class becomes more substantial.

“It’s all about trying to move away from the word level, the sentence level and trying to move to this level of large ideas,” Marzluf said. “But it is controversial because often times you need to do a little bit of everything.”

To get a good grade in the class, Marzluf said you do not need to believe in the views of your instructor, but rather prove that you can analyze, interpret and then respond to works that relate to diversity.

“You don’t have to be, ‘I am now a feminist in order to get an A in this class,’ no, but what you have to do is look at visuals of advertisements and be able to figure out the general codes of gender that are being brought forth,” Marzluf said. “You don’t have to be a card-carrying component of x, y or z, but be able to analyze, interpret and respond with the intricacies and text that makes up what we call diversity.”

Marzluf said it had to be that way because of all the politically diverse attitudes that 2,500 students bring in each semester.

“We didn’t want to get into where we’re just grading people based upon the types of attitudes and types of values they came into the classroom with,” Marzluf said. “Of course we want to try and change those and modify those and what not, but that’s why I wanted this sort of analytical opponent to it.”

Student reflections

Comstock said she did not learn about writing through expository writing, but she did learn about diversity.

“I didn’t learn more about writing, but writing is something I’ve always excelled at,” Comstock said. “As far as diversity, it definitely introduced things to me. I had never considered there being more than male and female genders and writing about social classes made me more aware of the different backgrounds (of) my peers.”

Bouse said the class helped him understand more about diversity, especially since he came from a small town that was not considered diverse.

“It really opened my eyes,” Bouse said. “It was a way to become more understanding of diversity very early in my college education.”

However, Bouse said he wishes the class would have prepared him more for higher-level writing courses.

“It would have helped me to become more aware of the importance of grammar and writing structure earlier on,” Bouse said. “Even though I had a general idea of that, (English 100) did not make me think that way.”

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Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!