Sample Gee Focused Informal Prewriting

Your task is to:

  1. introduce readers to Gee and the passage(s) in the prompt,
  2. “translate” the passage for readers, using paraphrase and well-chosen, well explained examples to illustrate Gee’s ideas, and
  3. make a text-to-self connection that uses Gee’s ideas to reflect on your own experiences trying to acquire Discourses.

Here’s what it looks like:

[1] In “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics: An Introduction,” linguist James Paul Gee explains that language itself does not by itself convey all of the meaning in a given communication exchange. Instead, the ” words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions and clothes” that  accompany every speech act contribute in significant ways to the meaning being expressed and received” (6-7).  [2] For example, a red-faced, out-of-breath teaching assistant who enters a lecture hall five minutes late and instructs students to “turn to page 273 and discuss the passage in the 3rd paragraph with your group” while wearing ragged sweatpants is likely to find his or her students less cooperative than if he or she says the same thing having arrived early and composed in reasonably professional garb. As Gee puts it: “At any moment we are using language we must say or write the right thing in the right way while playing the right social role and (appearing) to hold the right values, beliefs and attitudes” (6). Because college students expect a well-prepared instructor who takes class seriously and appears to be in control of the learning environment, the late-arriving shabbily-dressed TA is unable to appear to hold the right values or display the right attitudes to inspire his or her students’ full cooperation, even though he or she has said the right thing.

[1] For Gee, the actions, identities, beliefs, and values that inevitably accompany speech and writing “combine” in recognizable patterns he calls “Discourses” (6). [2] These Discourses work as “a sort of ‘identity kit’,” which enables people to take on and recognize in others the “particular role” they’re playing in a particular place and in a particular moment (7).  For example, experienced college students can tell the difference between a professor and a teaching assistant in the classroom, even if the TA is well dressed and prepared because TAs are not yet fluent in subtle aspects of the Professor Discourse. [3] As I remember from my own experience, a TA trying to appear “professorial” might try to fake his or her way through a question to which they don’t know the answer in an effort to appear learned and authoritative, but an instructor fluent in the Professor Discourse will admit what he or she doesn’t yet know, praise the student for a good question, and encourage the student to pursue the answer through research, inquiry, or further discussion at a later date. To behave otherwise, would call into question the instructor’s fluency in the Professor Discourse. So, besides enabling us to take on or recognize social role, Discourses also shape and limit our actions during the time we are embodying them.