From Standard English to Synergistic English Work: Uncovering Writing Instructors' Negotiations of the Standard English Dilemma and Paradox in Their Writing Assessment Practices



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In response to the extensive work surrounding Standard English (SE), translingualism, and antiracist writing assessment in the field of writing studies, this study shifts the focus from theoretical calls about combatting SE to an empirical understanding of how SE is already being negotiated and navigated by writing instructors in the context of their writing assessment practices. Taking language scholar Alastair Pennycook’s view of language as a local practice and an activity intimately connected to speakers, places, and ideologies, this study was conducted via two sets of semi-structured interviews with six writing instructors in a large composition program at a large public research university in the US in order to uncover their definitions, understandings, and negotiations of the SE paradox and dilemma in their writing assessment practices. Writing instructors’ unique and complex negotiations of this SE dilemma, including expectations surrounding SE, revealed the ways they resisted, re-made, and challenged SE as well as the ways SE nonetheless persisted in primarily invisible ways in their rubrics. These findings also revealed the antiracist and translingual approaches to SE and language instruction that instructors extended and engaged in both tacitly and explicitly, revealing the already existing synergy between those approaches. Instructors’ engagement with translingual/antiracist scholarship also marked a need for that scholarship to more explicitly deal with the material concerns and constraints many of these instructors raised surrounding their work with international students as well as the connections between rubrics, SE, and grading.Based on these findings, I advocate for, reveal, and perform a shift from Standard English (SE) to Synergistic English Work (SEW), which means making a paradigmatic shift informed by the synergy between not only theory and praxis but also between theoretical and empirical work. In advocating for and performing a shift from SE to SEW, I am not advocating for a new pedagogy, praxis, or theory but rather building on the theoretical work that has been done surrounding SE in writing studies and weaving that work together with the empirical work this study has done. The acronym SEW works as an extended metaphor for this work since I am, in fact, SEW-ing these translingual and antiracist threads together with the translingual and antiracist work these six writing instructors are already doing to navigate and negotiate this SE dilemma. The nature and practice of this SEW-ing is a means of remaking, a call to action, and a synergistic push to bring all of this SE-related work together so that writing instructors, scholars, and administrators might move from SE-ing to SEW-ing.