"To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."
-John Coltrane on Uplifting Others

Friday, November 15, 2013

Week 10 (?): Response to Kerry's "The Writer's Toolbox"

I find myself in agreement with Kerry's observations. The idea of the tool box is something I began to introduce to my students as the semester progressed. The way English 1301 is constructed at Texas Tech, the first and final portions of the semester create tools for the students to take into other classes. It becomes less about style, and more about these skills:

  • Reading Rhetorically (including taking notes, observing the article's rhetorical construction, highlighting, reading again, etc.)
  • Paraphrasing and Summarizing
  • Building a Working Thesis
  • Identifying Quotes
  • Creating a Writing Schedule (and sticking to it)
  • Maintaining Professionalism during Peer Revision
  • Creating a Revision Plan (more structurally engaged than looking at grammar)
  • Revising for Audience
  • Identifying some Common Grammar Errors
  • Surviving Difficult Classes
These are the major skills students should take with them. Of course they are highly subjective. I will ask my students what they are taking from English 1301, and what should be stressed in the program.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week Ten: Exercise in Finding Voice

  Two weeks ago, I presented on Expressivism, and had the class participate in a "Voice" exercise. Peter Elbow writes, "Students read a writer with a particularly strong and obvious-"loud"-voice and then try to write something that produces the same voice. The object is for the student to "get inside" the self of the imitated writer by getting the sound of his tone of voice" (120). I find this exercise fascinating, so I repurposed it for the presentation.
  I handed out an index card for everyone in the class. I had them answer the following questions:

  1. Who is an author you admire?
  2. What characteristics of that author's writing do you admire?
  3. If you can, write a quote from that author you find particularly fascinating.
  I then had them put those cards away, as I proceeded with the discussion. When the time came, I pulled up this picture:
  The students then had to re-write the bear sign, in the voice of their admired author. I then had a few students share their re-writes: I wish I had written them down. I remember Caleb had a Hemingway re-write that was particularly effective.
  To add nuance to Elbow's experiment, I asked the students to pass their notecards two students to the left. They then had three minutes to perform another re-write, this time channeling this new author. Unfortunately, we only had time for one student to share. Luckily, it was Brian's re-working of the bear sign in McCarthy's voice.

Update: Sometimes, fate smiles down on those who post late. Last week, McSweeny's posted several re-writes of Walter White's "I'm the one who knocks" speech. Each re-write is from a famous author. I hope you enjoy the Jane Austen version. If you want, present your own re-write of Walt's speech in the comments.

Work Cited
Elbow, Peter. "A Method for Teaching Writing." College English 30.2 (1968): 115-25. PDF file.

Week Ten: A Case for Millennial Students

  Frankly, I was stunned. The discussion about today's students went incredibly negative. However, let me back up, and create some context.
  In preparing for class, I found an interesting historical context for the Expressivist Movement. Donald M. Murray's article "Finding Your Own Voice: Teaching Composition in an Age of Dissent" begins, "Student power is not longer an issue, it is a fact" (118). His article discusses how the rising generation has voiced its concerns, and college composition instructors must incorporate new tactics for teaching them. Peter Elbow writes in "A Method for Teaching Writing" that being a draft counselor for conscientious objectors helped him shape his expressivist theory (120-2). Taking a critical step back to examine these two theorist should raise a few questions. Student Power? Draft Counselor? Conscientious Objectors? A closer examination of the dates of publications reveal the answer: The Expressivist Movement shaped itself during the Counter Culture movement in the United States during the 1960's.
  This historical context plays a part in how the composition theory created its tenets: students have ownership, must find their voice, must experiment with different genres, etc. Teachers must accommodate encourage these experiments, writing alongside their students.
  My thoughts then shifted to this generation... the Millennials. During my presentation, I asked the class what their impressions of today's students. Could the Expressivist moment occur today?
  The reactions stunned me. Across the board, every thought was overtly negative. Here are a few still roaming my memory:
     They're entitled.
     They have been pushed through school without learning responsibility.
     They're corporate sheeple who are more concerned with gadgets than grades.
  "Is there," I asked, "anything positive about today's students?"

  I find myself looking at the silence. The only thing that could be perceived as positive can also be spun negatively. They are good at following directions (i.e., see sheeple comment). I, too, have difficulty with approaching my students. Almost every discussion about the education's direction seems overtly negative, and students are to blame. Whether through their lack of preparation for college, or the curriculum that
has failed them, students receive the brunt of the attack.
  I subtitled this post "A Case for Millennial Students;" I might not be the best person to make this argument. A few months back, however, editorial cartoonist Matt Bors presented a graphic called "Can We Stop Worrying About Millennials Yet?" It was published on CNN, under the Opinions section. I think Bors makes some cogent arguments about giving Millennials a little breathing space. For one, he switches the focus from students' failings to the systems. He speaks to student loans being a massive issue; I would further that argument to discuss curriculum. If students are underprepared for college, some (if not most) of the blame should fall on state mandated requirements for secondary education. If some wish to blame teachers, those individuals should first inspect the materials. However, what do you think? What are the positives about this rising generation? Could the Expressivist thoughts of ownership be translated to the Digital Age?

Works Cited
Elbow, Peter. "A Method for Teaching Writing." College English 30.2 (1968): 115-25. PDF file.
Murray, Donald M. "Finding Your Own Voice: Teaching Composition in an Age of Dissent." College Composition and Communication 20 (1969): 118-23. PDF file.

Week Five: Cornell Boxes v. Bearden Collages

  I am posting this a full seven weeks after Charles' wonderful discussion. That said, I have been mulling a particular discursive thread Charles brought up during class. We were talking about Richard Young's "Concepts of Art," and the distinctions between "new romanticism" and "new classicists" in composition pedagogy. From my notes, it seems the distinction between the two is where "art" is positioned. Young writes, "For the new romantics, art contrasts with craft; the craft of writing refers to skill in technique, or what Genung called 'mechanics,' a skill that can be taught. Art however, is associated with more mysterious powers" (197). These "mysterious powers" cannot be taught, because the art is in the organic details. New classicists, however, position art within repetition, that as craft is taught, art is produced.
  As the class came to an end, we began discussing how there might be a middle ground for these two camps. Is there a way to discuss details and craft as artistic? I told the class about a paper I wrote a few years ago, concerning Twitter's possibility in the classroom. I drew a correlation between Twitter's underlying principles and integrating quotations. "In teaching quotes," I argued, "I can teach the craft, but ultimately it is the student's voice and attention to detail that creates a strong incorporation of argument with evidence."
  It is interesting that in this argument, a transition in thinking about art and composition. I drew heavily on Geoffrey Sirc's "Box Logic," which introduces concepts of hypertextuality through comparisons to Joseph Cornell's box art. Follow the link to see an example, Cornell's In Homage to the Romantic Ballet, 1942. The issue at stake, I argued in 2011, with Sirc's assumption is that three dimensional conceptions of composition do not transition easily to the two dimensional page. Instead of using Cornell's box art, I suggested Romare Bearden's collage, Mississippi Monday, as an alternate form for discussing art and composition. Bearden's art is two dimensional, but the different materials used to compose the art creates texture. So, the effect appears flat, although closer inspection reveals nuance.
  Inspecting these two different art forms speak toward how quotes can bridge the gap between art as detail and art as craft. Integrating quotes takes a certain amount of skill. In class yesterday, my students practiced on not allowing sources to "float;" instead, quotes need an attributive tag. Choosing quotes, however, is not the business of the instructor; the details within the source comes from the student. Also, the means of integration into argument is purely the student's voice.
  These thoughts make sense to me; however, I wonder if there is a middle ground between art as detail and art as craft. What do you think? Place your thoughts in the comments.

Work Cited
Bearden, Romare. Mississippi Monday. n.d., New York. BeardenFoundation.org. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Cornell, Joseph. In Homage to the Romantic Ballet, 1942. 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Joseph Cornell Box. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Young, Richard E. "Concepts of Art and the Teaching of Writing." The Rhetorical Tradition and Modern Writing. Ed. James J. Murphy. New York: MLA, 1982. Rpt. in Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Invention. Ed. Richard E. Young and Yameng Liu. Davis: Hermagoras, 1994. 193-202. PDF file.
Work Consulted
Sirc, Geoffrey. "Box Logic." Writing New Media: Theory and Application for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Ed. Anne Frances Wysocki et al. Logan: Utah State UP, 2004. 111-46. Print.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 5: Code Switching and the Freshman English Classroom

  During class, we had a lengthy discussion on grammar errors in the freshman writing course. Specifically, we talked about the degree of punishment necessary for comma splices and vague pronoun referents. I really like what Kerry wrote on this topic, and will be using her thoughts as a spring board.
  Particularly, I think her comparison of freshman writers with ESL students. The mistakes students make in "academic writing" is similar to students learning a new language. Kerry insists that as instructors, we should help the students learn from these mistakes, as we would someone learning a foreign language.
  I proposed in class the incorporation of code switching exercises in the classroom. Code switching is a sociolinguist term that means that people switch linguistic codes depending upon their audience. Most examples involve students who speak several different languages or interact with groups across socioeconomic backgrounds. However, I submit that code switching occurs in a much wider demographic. For example, here is a brief comparison in my life: I spoke differently when I worked the line at Outback Steakhouse than I speak now in front of my classroom. I speak differently in this blog than I do when conversing with my son.
  Code switching, to me, is not necessarily as dependent upon ESL or economic status, as the intended audience. That is why grammar is irksome to students; it involves learning new codes. When I was in public school, I had grammar principles drilled during English. I had to diagram sentences (FULL NERD DISCLOSURE: I still get excited about sentence diagrams. I love deconstructing sentences, and seeing how the individual parts work.). Now a days, I am not sure how much grammar instructions students receive before entering college freshman writing. Perhaps someone viewing this post can shed some light on this.
  One of the biggest struggles I have had thus far as a composition instructor has been helping students identify an article's audience, and because I've tied audience to codes, I created an exercise that I hope helped students. Before class, I wrote several intended audiences onto index cards. I had the students split into small groups, and passed out the audience. The students then had to summarize an article's contents, keeping in mind their audiences. The original learning outcome was to identify rhetorical choice, and how audience affects the contents' presentation.
  However, a subsequent outcome goes back to code switching. One group whose audience was "frat boys" found themselves trying to incorporate a certain type of phrasing. They wanted to refer to their audience using "bro" or "dude." I told them to shy away from stereotypes. Perhaps in teaching for academic writing, I should encourage students to resist the urge to write "academically," to use complex sentence structures or convoluted words. Maybe I should stress clarity of thought over pre-conceived notions of "higher" writing. Maybe in teaching freshman writing, I should help students ease into academic codes, and in this way, help them avoid grammatical errors.
  What do you think? Share some horror stories of bad grammar, or is code switching a viable solution in the freshman writing curriculum?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 3: The Lore Box

  In "The Geography of Knowledge," Louise Wetherbee Phelps expands on North's concept of the "lore box." Where North sees lore as "the accumulated body of traditions, practices, and beliefs in terms of which Practicioners understand how writing is done, learned, and taught" (qtd. on 868), Phelps defines it as "procedural knowlege," meaning there is a reflexive moment (869). The accumulated knowledge of North's model must go through periods of revision, addition, and editing. In other words, it goes through experience. Phelps writes, "Lore is experience that has been expressed, circulated, imitated, sustained, and confirmed by repetition, achieving canonical status as 'common sense' through its range of cultural distribution and its staying power" (869).
  As I am new to teaching, I am gathering procedural knowledge for my lore box. Here are some items I have placed in my box, either through my limited personal experience or through observing good teachers. I invite you to comment on my post, and share your knowledge, that I may build, reflect, and refine my lore box.
Lore Box:

  • Online discussion (through discussion boards or blogs) leading to classroom clarification
  • De-center the classroom through online learning and student-led discussion
  • View my role as facilitator/mediator instead of taskmaster/master of the "knowledge"
  • Weekly writing assignments that prepare students for lesson's objectives
  • Annotation sessions
  • Writing prompts based off current issues (allows for civic engagement on local, state, federal, and/or global levels)
  • Validation before Criticism in comments
  • Set daily writing goals and stick to them
  • Comprehensive, detailed, and timed lesson plans 
  • Integration of visual media to engage students and break up lecture/discusssing
  • Project-based learning (Social activism/Civic engagement)
  • Social contract theory (have students help construct classroom policies)
  • Think of revision/editing process as a "do over," instead of busy work
  • Group work built on Vygotsky's ladder
  • Develop voice through identifying audience
  • Overwriting for summaries and creative writing
  • Expansion/Contraction exercises

Work Cited
Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. "The Geography of Knowledge." College English 53:8 (Dec. 1991): 863-85.            .pdf file.

Week 3: What's the purpose of freshman writing?

  The reading for this week discussed for the most part the theory-practice split in composition studies. Kerry, acting as classroom instructor, divided the class up into a Socratic Seminar, and posed three questions for the group. They were:

  • What's the ideal relationship between practice and theory?
  • Is there anything that mediates that relationship?
  • Can there be a discipline without practice and/or theory?
  If I may, I would like to share my brief thoughts on these three questions before diving into the purpose of freshman writing. In regards to the ideal relationship between practice and theory, some in the class posited the division is largely constructed by connotations surrounding these two words. The relationship could be viewed as mutually beneficial (symbiotic) instead of parasitic or in constant opposition. I drew a venn diagram with theory and practice overlapping each other. I believe that theory and practice anchor one another, and inform each other. Yes, there is theory for the sake of theory, as there exists practice not informed by theory.
Borrowed from maass.nyu.edu, from this lesson plan
  I believe the mediating force between theory and practice is layered and contextualized based on community. On one level, composition teachers share ideas through an academic community. These ideas disseminate in conferences, department meetings, and idle chat. Professionals glean ideas and theories from one another. The more basic level is the classroom. Professors have an obligation to their students. As they implement or experiment with different theories or practices, they should chart how these new thoughts work within the classroom environment.
  Finally, a discipline should be reflexive. It should challenge and be contentious. It should develop new theories that can reshape the discipline. In composition studies, the nearly complete transition from physical to digital communications is a point of discussion. How do composition theorists accommodate for new modes of communication? How do the old citation models work within an "open source" community? The composition classroom is in a state of flux, and professors have a responsibility (some would say ethical imperative) to adapt to their students' changing world.
  This final idea (on which some theorists and practitioners will vehemently disagree with me) leads to the subject of this post: What is the purpose of freshman writing courses? Are they to simply prepare students for the rigors of academic writing? Are they developed to teach them critical thinking skills? Are they shaped in such a manner to prepare students for civic engagement? Ultimately, the question is up to the individual professor or writing program. For my own opinion, I think freshman writing courses teach students critical reading skills that transition to writing, as well as "real world" engagement with difficult topics. A rhetorical reader can create critical distance from a topic, gather information, and form their own decision. Perhaps I am pulling from ancient rhetoric from Greece, but freshman composition classes help students become better citizens in their communities.
  I am intrigued with social activism models in freshman writing class, and how a professor can help students become engaged at the local level. I have not implemented those principles, but it is something I am considering for another semester.