[xmca] When Ancillarity is Constitutive in Writing Activity

From: Ann Feldman <feldman who-is-at uic.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 04 2007 - 12:18:02 PDT

Hello all: I've been enjoying the conversation thus far. I want to
contribute my current thinking about the difficulty of the ancillary and
constitutive distinction. I direct a first-year writing program and a
writing-based civic engagement program as well here at UIC. We face the
challenge daily of asking students to pay attention to the context of their
discoursing ( in much the same way as Gordon works) as participants in
situated practices. We see genre as a nexus between the
social/historical/economic/ideologically driven context and the emerging
text. Discoursing (although we may not use the term) is a key activity for
transforming a situation or advocating for a particular reality.

Austin's distinction between performative discoursing (saying "I do" during
a marriage ceremony) and illocutionary discoursing (instrumental uses of
language to accomplish tasks) at first seem to offer a way to categorize
"ways to do things with words," but upon further study seem to illustrate
the instability of the distinction.

This question of how we do things with words is fascinating to me. I am
particularly interested in a certain kind of classroom discoursing that is
commonly called reflection. Teachers ask students to examine an experience
by writing about it. In composition classes this sort of discoursing may be
aimed at producing a literacy narrative and in service learning classes it
may be aimed at producing an account of learning that emerged from a
community-based experience.

Most teachers assign reflections because they see them as a way to do things
with words, but are they? When we examine the classroom as an activity
system (as do David Russell, Anis Bawarshi, and Charles Bazerman, my writing
colleagues) we see how reflection gains power because it occurs in a
"naturalized" classroom in which the layers of context we expect from any
activity system are ignored. The student is constructed as a speaker who can
do two things simultaneously -- reflect on an experience and deliver
evidence of learning to the teacher. Reflection assignments often blur this
crucial distinction, giving students a diminished view of the way writing
can work in particular contexts outside of classrooms. Discoursing (or doing
things with words) then engages * both* ancillary and constitutive goals for
language, which does not help students learn how writing works as a tool for
mediation. (In rhetorical terms we would say a way to advocate for
particular realities.) When all writing is seen by students to demonstrate
learning to the teacher, this goal takes over and subverts other goals that
can demonstrate the power of writing to intervene in non-classroom

I'm really pleased that Gordon has gotten us involved in this important
conversation because language is too often viewed as a conveyor belt for an
activity's goals and we need to own up to how complex such situations really
are. All the best, Ann

Ann M. Feldman
Associate Professor of English
Great Cities Scholar
Director, First-Year Writing Program
Director, Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program
2001 University Hall
Department of English (MC 162)
University of Illinois at Chicago
601 S. Morgan St.
Chicago, IL 60607

(312) 413-2249

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Thursday, October 04, 2007 3:27 AM
To: xcma
Subject: [xmca] When Ancillarity is Constitutive

  Wilkins, the grand old man of communicative language teaching, noted that
the "distinction" between form and meaning in language is highly interesting
to linguists but unsustainable by teachers or learners.
  In Ellis' 2003 "Task Based Learning and Teaching", the author starts out
by saying that tasks are "pieces of work" where the principle focus is on
MEANING (I don't like the word "work" applied to children, but we'll leave
it there for the moment). "Exercises", in contrast, are pieces of work where
the principle focus is on FORM.
  Then he gives us this:
   ¡°Indicate whether the following sentences are grammatical or
  They saved Mark a seat.
  His father read Kim a story.
  She donated the hospital some money.
  They suggested Mary a trip on the river. (Ellis, 2003: 164)¡±

  Mark is neither here nor there, Kim's story is unread, because his father
never had a son, the hospital is not only destitute but nonexistant, and
neither suggestion nor trip will ever take place. Yet this is, according to
Ellis, a task (he calls it a "consciousness raising task") because the kids
are going to use language to talk about it.
  Here's the paradox. If they focus on the MEANING of the task, they will
talk about grammatical form. It is, therefore, no task, but merely an
exercise, because the focus is on form. But if they are focussing on form,
that is indeed the intended content of the exercise, and it is, therefore,
no mere exercise, but a bona fide task.
  Russell says: in a certain village, there is a barber who shaves every man
who does not shave himself. If said barber doth shave himself, then he must
not shave himself. But if he does not shave himself, than he must shave
himself betimes.
  When Ellis was here in Seoul, I asked him if ANY teaching English through
Englsh could be considered "task based". Not so surprisingly, he said "yes".
Think a minute what this means for non-native teachers!
  Children and teachers HAVE to shuttle between form and meaning. Sometimes
form is "ancillary" and sometimes its "constitutive", and sometimes meaning
is "ancillary" and sometimes its "constitutive".
  But perhaps a better way of expressing this is that people shuttle between
"ancillary" and "constitutive", and the distinction, while highly
interesting to linguists, is not sustainable in practice.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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