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Questions pertaining to McCarthy's A Stranger in Strange Lands

Although McCarthy studied only one student’s experiences w/writing in three courses over 21 months, there were a LOT of factors contributing the different ways that Dave construed writing assignments in these three courses. Which struck you as most influential?

To what extent did McCarthy’s findings about these three different courses/assignments seem applicable to patterns typical to these discourses?

What relevance might Perry’s four positions have to Dave’s 21-semester progress?

Looking at Grice’s cooperative principle and the four conditions on which successful “conversation? relies (209-210) which of the four do you think that you emphasize in your writing assignments and comments on students’ work?

How might you, in your course, help students to apply writing proficiencies they've gained in other courses to the writing (and critical reading) you're asking them to do in your course? What might you do, specifically, for students who may come to you with diverse backgrounds in academic discourse?


The factor that struck me as most significant, to be honest, was that his Intro to Poetry professor was a jerk. This prof held information close to his chest, ridiculed Dave, made Dave feel like an outsider, and made students guess at what was expected in the papers. The other professors seemed to treat Dave like a grown-up, whereas the poetry professor did not invite him into dialogue.

I also think the fact that the poetry prof didn't encourage discussion among the students--as if he already had the answers, and he just needed to spill information in them--had a large effect.

Marcia---I agree. The role the poetry prof. assumed -- or the way his role was perceived by both Dave and McCarthy -- had a HUGE impact on Dave's ability to apply what he knew about writing to the poetry course. He had the impression that there were "correct" readings of the poems, and that was intimidating.

As the title suggested, writing in college is, according to McCarthy , a process of visiting (and with good luck, living) in “strange lands.? That is, assessing and adapting to the requirements in different academic settings.
The “naturalistic? ethnographic procedures used by McCarthy are highly illustrative and her conclusions lead me to some discussion points on this matter. Also I am really enlightened by the next McCarthy findings:
a) Writing development is, in part, context dependent.
b) There is not automatic transfer of new writing skills across different classes.
c) Trial and error cannot improve the writing ability by itself without looking clues in social context.
d) The ability to forget unsuccessful experiences in writing is also important in order to advance.
e) Writing must have meaningful, personal, and social functions for Dave, and probably for most of our students
The only aspect of the article that somewhat disappointed me was the relation that McCarthy established with Grice’s theory because, if I understand, she assumes the cooperative principle in terms of success/ breakdown, related to how close the speaker follows the maxims: quality, quantity, relation (also called relevance) and manner.
In the way that I understand the cooperative principle, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t follow the principles, the communication “breaks down,? rather that if you don’t follow the maxims, the hearer can derivate meaning. In Levinson words, “[…] when talk does not proceed according to [the maxims] specifications, hearers assume that, contrary to appearances, the principles are nevertheless being adhered to at some deeper level.? (Levinson, X. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press). This is the pragmatic basis of jokes, irony, metaphors, lies, hearing and reading “between lines,? and other non-conventional (or not literal) communication. My point here is that the maxim of relevance rules not only the speaker’s creation but the hearer’s interpretation. In Grice’s view, wherever a set of convention of language arises, there will also the possibility of the non-conventional interpretation.
Despite conventions and presuppositions in each field of academic writing are not always explicitly articulated, as McCarthy demonstrated, writing communication is also a cooperative construction in class context. Therefore, I was expecting she would make an explanation about how much each professor follows the maxims (and not only how Dave did it), especially the professor of the Poetry class because he was who found less relevant contributions in Dave’s writing.
Finally, the aim statement of the Freshman Composition Instructor made me think in Bean’s definition of writing imagined as “packaging,? “a view of writing as a set of isolated skills unconnected to an authentic desire to converse with interested readers about real ideas? (p.16). Is there any choice if you teach a Freshman Composition Class? I was thinking sadly in “Language and Communication?, one equivalent class that I have taught for freshman in my own university.
Overall, it was an interesting exploration of the maxims that warrants further discussion in order to understand how maxim violation might also be relevant.