The Results Are In!

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After tallying your mid-quarter responses, here’s a quick breakdown of what’s going on in our classroom:

An overwhelming number of people have asked me to post grades to Canvas. I appreciate that you’re a technologically-driven bunch, so that will be done. I’ll also start answering e-mails with more frequency (sorry.)

There is a more complicated issue going on in that while most of you prefer group work to class discussions, many of you have expressed that you think we’re not using that time effectively. 

Which means that I’ll be structuring your group activities a little differently in the future, with an eye towards GETTING ALL OF YOU TALKING AS A CLASS. I’m planning on trying to incorporate more time for writing in the classroom as well–there are mixed opinions about this, but it ties in with the time constraints that several of you are chafing against.

Unfortunately, we operate on a quarter system that forces us to work in chunks of 10-12 weeks, depending on the quarter. THis means that all the work of a 101 class gets shoved into 10 weeks, instead of 14, and due to our 3x/week schedule, the material that generally gets taught in 50 minute chunks 5 times a week gets compressed into what we do.

The other, overwhelming response that I’ve received about our work is that my instructions are unclear, largely due to a lack of structure. Allow me to enlighten you as to why this is: 

In giving your assignments, I state exactly what it is that I am looking for. I give you a LOT of space in terms of how I expect you to write, as well as what I expect you to write about, because placing restrictions on a student’s writing is actually detrimental to the ability to craft good essays.

I’m aware that this places a lot of responsibility on you as students who are generally 1-2 quarters into your college educations, and are used to a structure in which you are told to do something and produce results which are either right or wrong, according to the formulae you are given for success.

That is not how my classroom works. Success in this classroom is determined by how much effort you place into creating something that is authentically yours. This discourse gives you a framework to build on, rather than attempting to compartmentalize your work. That is the difference between the Humanities and STEM work.

Consider for a moment: In STEM classes, you’re learning to calculate and analyze in ways that can determine whether people live or die.Formulaic processes are necessary to minimize the risks to others Nobody’s going to die because of what you write in English 101. Our work is accepted as one perspective of a larger whole that is subject to interpretation (THAT BIG OLD ELEPHANT IS EVERYWHERE IN THIS CLASS!) As such, the space of English 101 is one in which it is acceptable to take risks with your work–and I hope you do. Writing is an incredibly messy, chaotic process that puts us in the uncomfortable position of being uncertain, but that isn’t a bad thing in this field. 

What I can do for you in the process of your writings for this class is give you the tools to face the uncertainty of your own ideas, but no amount of structure or instruction can take away the abject terror of “If” that arises when we are made to complicate our understanding of things–which is the underlying goal of the study of rhetoric. 

That having been said, I’ll work to give you better and more frequent feedback about your work in here.

Big Deal

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Everybody and their brother is talking about the superbowl.

I realize I’m subjecting myself to extreme disgust/disappointment/outrage or possibly just indifference, but I hate football. I think it’s a silly game that makes less sense than cricket for people who are too scared to try rugby. The NFL is a modern coliseum, yes, and let’s not forget how that started: People fighting to the death to distract the masses from the corruption of the Roman government. Except the coliseum was free, and superbowl tickets are anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 dollars. 

But enough about that! I have homework to do anyway, so while everyone around me is pretending to enjoy football (and really watching the million dollar Doritos commercials–because those are actually entertaining–) I’ll be writing a first draft of some carefully-though-out analysis of a really terrible movie.

I’m thinking David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

 

Aside

When I’m not scrambling to print off 25 copies of handouts that I spend 45 min. to 2 hours preparing, or trying to coerce the class into talking about stuff at 10 in the morning, or poring over materials for the week’s lessons, or studying for my own classes, or freaking out about something that I’ve missed for any of the above activities, I live at a much slower pace. I concern myself with things like turning my postage-stamp yard full of pea gravel into a legitimate garden, which takes months, and weeding all the crap out of my writing, which takes years.

I generally never touch the academic genres unless I have to–I far prefer to delve into the world-building of science fiction or what they call “magical realism–” when elements of the fantastic are written as commonplace parts of the world. I think this is a biased distinction; everybody’s reality is different, and if I choose to take a more fantastical world view than the Academy, who are they to say that it’s not realism? I think I’d rather defer to Neil Gaiman for a definition of reality.

I don’t get much time to work on my own writing. The bulk of my time is spent in academic endeavors–which I still enjoy, for the record, and very much. Never doubt how grateful I am to be here. But if I’m lucky enough to have a sunny Saturday, I generally spend any free time I have away from writing in general–today, for example, when I pry myself off the computer so I can say that I’m a Functioning workaholic, I’m going to turn over the soil in my front flowerbed–it’s sandy and horrible and I’ve been mulching dead leaves into it all fall and winter so that I can turn it into a pumpkin patch for Halloween. 

My neighbors all have things like box hedges or petunias in their front yards, because it’s the suburbs on the North side, so everybody gets their vegetables at Costco. They have the same kind of plants because that’s what the builders planted when they were selling the house, and the older houses all have overgrown, poorly-chosen shrubs blocking the view from the front windows. Ours did too, when we moved in, actually–which is why the soil is so bad. Plants have to be chosen to suit their environment. Otherwise, they get overgrown, sap the soil, and you have to hack them out with a pickaxe.

My choice to put a pumpkin patch in the front will probably get sidelong stares all through the summer–I’m not sure if half the people on my street know that pumpkins don’t grow in cardboard supermarket boxes. In the fall, though, if I keep the aphids and slugs away, we’ll have an army of jack-o’-lanterns and I’ll be feeding everyone I know pumpkin-inspired dishes until they’re sick of it.

I could end this with some moral about how doing your own thing and working persistently at it pays off big in the end, and it would be true, to my experience–particularly with things like gardening and writing. But really, it’s just because I’m obsessed with Halloween and I’m already trying to plan my mad scientist costume.

I’m thinking glow-in-the-dark Madame Curie or genderbent Einstein.

 

Gardening and Science Fiction

Communications

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I’m a new teacher.

This is the first quarter in which I’ve officially designed my own curriculum, and I’m finding that it changes on a daily, in not an hourly basis. Essentially, what I put together to try and talk about this material comes from a toolkit of various methods that I’ve been taught can work in English 101, and from observing what my own teachers do in class.

English 101 presents a conundrum for me, because it depends on discussion, by students in their first or second year of college, who all have different knowledge bases. 101 is theoretically designed to introduce students of all disciplines to the basics of rhetoric.

My challenge as discussion facilitator is that 24 people reading the same text at the same level of education with incredibly different backgrounds makes for a damned intimidating discussion environment. Nobody wants to feel like their education hasn’t prepared them for a class, and we want even less to sound that way. Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t go away, ever. Not even in grad school, where everybody’s a specialist in something—I guarantee you that the first question of the day in every graduate classroom on this campus is met with staggering silence.

Your challenge as participants in 101 is to overcome this fear in order to learn from our conversations. There’s no rule, however, that says I can’t help you, which has got me thinking of ways that we might be able to do this discussion thing better.

I had a lit professor in my Junior year who had taught small, seminar-style classes for the last thirty years. He was used to 15 people per class at the most. Budget cuts in the department led to the brilliant idea of combining four different 300-level sections of lit into one, so a handful of teachers wound up with seminar-style classes of 60 students each.

Our instructor was aware that we were all nervous about talking in front of that many people, and anticipated that we would be mostly silent. His solution was to split us into groups, with each group discussing a specific aspect of the texts that we had read for the day. In this way, no single person had to take on the entire weight of the material when they answered. We found too that when each group came back together in conversation with the rest of the class, our coverage of group topics was more thorough than if we had each simply groped around for our portion of the Elephant.

Thinking about this, and the complexity of the rest of our texts for the quarter, I’ve started planning our next discussion in small-groups format. I’m considering groups of 5, each with a separate topic to discuss. We’ll spend some time getting our thoughts together in our groups, and have one or two people from each group present the class with their findings. I’m contemplating leaving the class discussion open to comment from everyone, no matter what group you find yourselves in—you may find that you have ideas on other groups’ topics that they haven’t thought of, and I want to hear them all!

ALL THE IDEAS!!!

 

“What Is Writing?”

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Normally, I won’t be emulating the prompts I give you, on account of my work for this course is a great deal different than yours (for one thing, your job as a student is harder! I got to learn all of this last quarter…) This time around, however, the prompt absolutely applies to me, because of the amount of writing of yours that I’ll be reading.

I’m aware that your answers and those of your classmates will vary greatly, and I’m going to make all of you roll your eyes when I tell you that I’m an absolute NERD for writing. I like working in multiple genres, INCLUDING academic writing (although it doesn’t come as natural to me as what I write for fun.)

Tied directly to this is my love for reading. I read for escapism, I read to study the styles of writers I admire, and while I don’t start reading to critique it, my training as an English student has lead me to start doing that for fun as well.

Yes. Roll your eyes. Just remember; my geekery works to your advantage.

Writing to me has a load of different purposes, and no one of them is generally more important to me that others—different moments call for different forms of writing, with different intentions to inspire the writer. I do, however, have favorite purposes—catharsis, world-building, and character development in creative genres, re-interpretations and suggesting possibilities in academic and rhetorical writing.

If I were to try and discuss one that covered all of the different styles of writing that I do, or that I read, I would say that writing is one of the best ways that we humans have come up with to circulate an idea. Writing stays as long as there’s  a copy of the material, it lasts as long as someone is reading it, and—this is the coolest part to me—everybody who reads it finds their own interpretation of it, and if they discuss it, whether verbally or in their own writing, they’re evolving the original idea, expanding it into something bigger than just one person’s work.

By the way, my writing in this genre doesn’t usually resemble my classwork so closely, and yours is under no obligation to do so—feel free to experiment with your writing style in your own blog.