Zak Lancaster

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I am a doctoral candidate in University of Michigan's Joint Program in English and Education. My research interests are in Composition Studies, Writing Across the Curriculum, and Applied Linguistics, and my work focuses on the ways instructional approaches grounded in corpus and systemic functional linguistics (SFL) enable students and instructors to undertake systematic study of language use in academic and other writing contexts.

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Before joining Michigan's JPEE, I taught English in Seoul, Korea for 8 years. Before that I did my B.A. in English at Emory University and an M.A. in TESOL at Columbia University Teachers College. In Korea I taught mostly writing courses at the university level and developed a strong interest in text linguistics and written discourse analysis, fields of study that helped me begin thinking about writing, including the teaching of writing, in really different ways.

The pedagogical stance I began to adopt in Korea, and have worked to develop in my doctoral studies, can perhaps be characterized as "critical pragmatic." Students, I believe, should be given the opportunity and information to choose whether to adopt particular dominant discourse practices in their own writing or resist them for socially/rhetorically motivated reasons. This stance means that I must have a firm understanding of academic discourse practices myself and be sensitive to genre and disciplinary variations. It also means I must learn to help students see their choices in writing as existing along a continuum of alignment with the practices that are most dominant within particular contexts. This line of thinking has brought me to look for ways that corpus-based methods of discourse analysis can inform writing instruction, both through sharing with students findings from others' studies and training students to become discourse analysts themselves.

Along these lines, I have been working to design a course that trains students to research rhetorical genres of interest to them by using various tools of discourse analysis, including concordancing software. My students have conducted interviews with selected discourse insiders, gathered samples of genres that interest them, and used analytic tools and concepts from systemic and corpus linguistics to analyze the samples. This approach has produced a range of responses from my students, both very positive and very negative, and so I'm looking for ways to hone this approach.

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