Entering an Occupational Discourse Assignment

The ability to integrate your ideas with the ideas of others is a hallmark characteristic of academic thinking and writing. Why? Because we think better when we think along with – or in opposition to – other thinkers. In one sense of the word, to “integrate” ideas in writing means to mix them together on the page. This mixing occurs when you summarize, paraphrase, quote, analyze, explain, interpret and comment on the words and ideas of other writers’ in a piece of your own. Experienced writers do this mixing with the aims of being more persuasive, considering another viewpoint, or drawing on the explanatory power of someone else’s ideas to make their own observations.

To “integrate” ideas also means to assimilate them – to make them part of your conceptual equipment for making sense of the world or other ideas. To assimilate – and be assimilated by – ideas is to change and be changed by them through the process of working with them to make them fit your needs.

The Assignment

Write an essay in which you explain to a readership of first-year college students how to acquire a secondary Discourse of an occupational nature. Use linguist James Paul Gee’s theory of “Big D” Discourse literacy to help students understand the being-doing-saying-valuing-believing combinations they’ll need to acquire, the Discourse-related challenges they may need to overcome, and the Discourse strategies they might need to use to become a fluent member of an occupational Discourse community.

This assignment asks you to use select parts of Gee’s theory to analyze, interpret, and explain the experience of real people who have attempted to enter (or mentor someone entering) one of the following occupational Discourses: Coach, Lawyer, Doctor, Nurse, Scientist, U.S. Marine.

Recommended length: 1500 words or more.

Use MLA manuscript formatting and 8th ed. citation guidelines. Font: serif 12 pt. (such as Times New Roman). See the Sample MLA Paper here.

Complete draft due: November 7

Fully revised version due: November 21

James Paul Gee, photo credit: PBS

James Paul Gee, photo credit: PBS

Assignment Goals: Practice: integrating your ideas with the ideas of others; summary, paraphrase, and direct quotation; using signal phrases, parenthetical citation and works cited; annotating texts and using writing-to-learn strategies to improve comprehension.

Focused Prewriting Prompts
  • Gee explains that “Discourses are ways of being in the world; they are forms of life which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities as well as gestures, glances, body positions, and clothes” (6-7). They “come complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize” (7). In what ways do you see your apprentices working to acquire new “ways of being” or “forms of life”? How well are they managing the requirement to “integrate” words, acts, values of the new Discourse? What kinds of people are they interacting with? Do you see signs of “enculturation…into social practices through scaffolded and supported interactions” (7)?
  • All of the personal narratives in our collection involve people in the midst of acquiring a new secondary Discourse.  Many Discourse apprentices in these stories worry that they are not yet competent at the Discourses they’re trying to acquire. In his first theorem, Gee writes that “Discourses are connected with displays of identity; failing to fully display an identity is tantamount to announcing you don’t have that identity, that at best you’re a pretender or beginner” (9-10).  Which parts of the occupational Discourse seem to be giving your apprentices the most difficulty to acquire? What would Gee say about the occupational risks or costs associated with apprentices’ lack of fluency in the secondary Discourse?  How does your Discourse apprentice cope with those risks as he or she develops fluency in the discourse? To what degree does Gee’s concept of “mushfake” provide counter-balancing benefits or “social goods” to people not-yet-fluent in the Discourse?
  • Gee explains that “The various Discourses which constitute each of us as persons are changing and often are not fully consistent with each other; there is often conflict and tension between the values, beliefs, attitudes, interactional styles, uses of language, and ways of being in the world which two or more Discourses represent” (7). Do you see any signs of Discourse tension or conflict in your apprentices? How does it show up in their effort to acquire their desired occupational Discourse? He later asserts that “some people experience more overt and direct conflicts between two or more of their Discourses than do others…. [He] argues that when such conflict or tension exists, it can deter acquisition of one or the other or both of the conflicting Discourses, or, at least affect the fluency of a mastered Discourse on certain occasions of use” (8). What problems face apprentices seeking to acquire social goods through the acquisition of a dominant secondary Discourse when that Discourse might be in conflict or tension with another of their secondary Discourses, or their primary Discourse?  What Discourse-related strategies might apprentices use to overcome these problems and gain fluency in their desired occupational Discourse?
Be sure to:
  • Be clear about your perspective or point of view.
  • Go beyond the gist: Work with specific passages drawn from both Gee’s article and the personal narratives.
  • Briefly and appropriately introduce your sources in a way that sets up your project for this paper.  This does not require an extended summary.  Rather, it requires a brief ‘introduction’ or background and focused engagement with key concepts or ideas you work within the paper.
  • Use Barclay’s formula to make concrete text-to-text connections among Gee and your other sources.
  • Use TRIAC or Barclay’s formula to frame at least five quotations, making sure to explain how they help support ideas or claims that you are developing.