Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
"Not I"
I want to find out about the extent to which school pupils and university students are discouraged by English teachers/lecturers from using the first person pronoun in essays.

Does anyone know whether recent-ish research has been carried out on that topic - or where might be a good place to look for it?

Commenting mainly so that I am reminded to come back to this post, as I'd like to know the answer too! I would dearly like to live in a world where I don't have to train that back out of them at University level.

Some possible journals on a quick whizz through Scopus for "students writing first person" : Research in the Teaching of English; International Education Studies; Language and Education; English Teaching; Educational Philosophy and Theory; Reflective Practice; maybe some of the "in higher education" titles like Higher education quarterly/Journal of higher education/Teaching in higher education. (I'm sure there are others, particularly on the school side; it'd need a bit more thinking about the keywords to do better, I think.)

This is very much a side view of your question, but below is a quote from "Writing at University", Creme and Lea, 2008, Open University Press (pp 131-2) (which happened to be the first e-book in a search for "writing university" in our catalogue)- so this isn't specific to English lecturers, it goes more to students being confused in general.
"9.4 Using ‘I’ in your assignments.
Students are often puzzled as to whether they can use the first person in their university assignments. [...] In fact, in some subjects the use of ‘I’ is encouraged and in others it is actually ‘forbidden’. This can also vary between tutors, even within a single subject area. In some cases, the subject or the tutor is flexible about it and you may well find that it is quite acceptable to make use of the first person as long as you know why you are doing it. The use of the first person is also related to the question of bringing your own opinion into your work. In some subjects tutors will say that they want to know what you think, while in other subjects your own thinking is viewed as irrelevant. This kind of difference can be very frustrating for students. What are you meant to do? You may have begun a course because it seemed to be about your own interests, but then you find that you are not expected to bring in your own experiences or opinions or yourself after all. You may find that you are expected to write as if you were not present in a situation when you were. For example, if you have carried out a science experiment, you will probably be expected to use the passive tense: to say ‘this was done’ and not ‘I did this’."
[quote too long for comment box, continued in next comment]

Creme and Lea quote cont:
"In social studies you may carry out an interview and yet not reveal this when you write about it. You may have been moved by a film but are rarely expected to discuss your feelings about it in a film studies assignment. Underlying these questions is your position in relation to your material. Most importantly, if you do use ‘I’ and bring your own opinions into your university writing, you are still meant to stand outside your material and to be able to be objective about it, to think about it without being emotional or one-sided in your opinions. This distance from the subject matter is a mark of academic writing, even when it is clear that the writer has a strong view about their subject. Yet it is still possible for you to have a sense of ownership of your material and authority in your writing if you are confident about using the subject matter. However, it can be difficult to get enough confidence to think that what you write will be adequate when you are dealing with a new subject. It is therefore equally difficult to claim the ‘right’ to write as ‘I’ when you don’t yet have a clear sense of your identity as a writer of that subject. What is it like to write as ‘I’? It is important to remember that whenever we use ‘I’ in writing, the ‘I’ character is in a sense a fictional construction created for the purpose of claiming the right to say something in this particular piece. Just as we talk differently to different people in different situations, in writing our sense of ‘I’ depends on whom we are addressing and why, and how we are writing. Your university ‘I’ is different in each assignment you write. In general, if you are not told otherwise, our advice is to use ‘I’ if it seems sensible for your purposes. Don’t pretend that you don’t exist in your assignment if you do, even if you have to find ways of putting yourself there such as, ‘It seems to me . . .’ or, more impersonally, ‘The evidence seems to suggest . . .’. This is a good example of the writer who is ‘there’ in her writing, since it is she who is drawing the conclusion, while claiming that the conclusion just comes from ‘the evidence’. However, she is only present in the writing invisibly, which is often the case in academic writing. She does not use ‘I’ because she seems to be suggesting that the ‘evidence’ is more important than her own views. We will explore this apparent ‘disappearance’ of the writer further in the readings below.
"9.5 From the personal to the academic
One way of thinking about the specificity of academic writing is to compare it with what we can broadly term ‘personal’ writing, where the writer is obviously at its centre and there seems to be a clear relationship between what is written and the writer. Then you can think of writing for university as a shift from a personal to an academic way of thinking and writing, involving shifts in the writer’s sense of ‘I’ in their writing in specific ways."

Thanks - that's a really useful quotation! I've asked the same question on Facebook, and it's apparent there that there's a very wide range of practices, and justifications for those practices...

Thanks too for the journal suggestions: I'll take a look and see what comes up!

if I may add a personal experience: several years ago I was at the annual convention of the New England Association of Teachers of English. Our name badges also contained our institutional affiliation. As I walked through the hallway, a total stranger read my badge, saw that I was teaching at a college, and stopped me.
"You! You're one of those college professors who let students use the first person in their essays!"
And off she went, leaving me no chance for assent or argument. From her expression, this was the worst insult she could have delivered.

Wow, that's great! Sharpies at dawn!

Heh! Oh dear.

I hate this. I understand it as a heuristic: too many students here will go whole hog with "I kind of get the feeling that they're" ("they"'re Shakespeare, who is a novelist) "are trying to say that life is hard."

But then my best students won't say what they think, because: I.

And J's grades come with a list of how well he's fulfilled various and stupid "rubrics," one of which is "does not use the first person."

It's actually printed on a standardized list, with a box for ticking? Wow.

All I know is that with those supposedly trained scientists who work where I work, they write some extremely tortured sentences to avoid mentioning themselves: eg. "some blood samples were attempted to be taken" ... not the owrst example either.