Author Susan J. Behrens on how she came to write her book

This month we have published Susan J. Behrens’ latest book Understanding Language Use in the Classroom. Here, Susan talks a bit more about the writing and publishing process.

Understanding Language Use in the ClassroomI am very excited that Multilingual Matters has published Understanding Language Use in the Classroom. Since I submitted the final draft in October of 2013, they have been taking good care of the manuscript, the cover art and all the pre-publication steps.

The message of the book is that teachers in higher education can benefit from more overt awareness of language, both its grammatical structure and its cultural applications. When I originally thought about writing this book, I used a working title of Linguistics 101 for Professors. Colleagues in the field, usually not in the composition or English literature world, countered with “….BUT! I personally don’t need this, right?” In fact, I argue that better awareness of language can help make all of us better teachers. This is especially true of those who teach First Year Composition (FYC), for they work directly with new college students who are trying to adapt to more rigorous language demands. But language is a medium of learning in all classrooms.

We are all familiar now with the Writing Across the Curriculum movement. The underlying philosophy is that writing is at the heart of all learning, no matter the discipline being studied. Further, one or two semesters of First Year Composition do not suffice, and such courses rarely engage with discipline-specific ways language is used to construct arguments. Research shows that FYC often fails to instill transferable skills that students can draw upon in other classrooms. Yet it is the most commonly-required course awaiting first year college students. Those FYC instructors need to understand the language demands awaiting students post-FYC, and other college educators should be more conversant (and transparent) in the ways language is used in their own disciplines.

While waiting for the book to appear, I kept busy spreading the book’s message. I presented on material I gathered from focus groups with college students and teachers about what they consider “college-level English.” This took me to the American Association for Applied Linguistics conference in Portland, Oregon, where I was thrilled to finally meet some of the Multilingual Matters folks: Tommi, Laura and Kim. I organized a small symposium at Marymount Manhattan, my home institution, called Bridging the Gap, which brought together high school and college writing teachers to have conversations about easing the transition from high school to college for students. And I am preparing for a book party at Marymount, where I will also debut a documentary I produced and directed called The Three Rs: An Exploration on the Nature of Academic Language.

Every step in the book process has been exciting and made so smooth by the Multilingual Matters team. I thank them for their care, support, and great work. I can’t wait to pitch a new project so I can continue to work with Tommi, Anna, Kim, Sarah, Laura, Elinor, and Angharad.

For more information about Susan’s book please see our website.

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