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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I haven’t posted in ten days, and I imagine I won’t be posting before the semester finishes in two weeks. Dealing with finals from both ends–student and teacher–is not the happiest of experiences, even though I enjoy filling both roles. This semester is compounded by the fact I had a family emergency last week and didn’t make any classes (as student or teacher) or get any work done.

However, I did find this lovely bookstore, which I plan on visiting if I’m ever anywhere near Wichita, Kansas. I might order online from them, even; I admit, though, that I’m a cheapskate and very likely to buy from Amazon. But I like supporting bookstores.

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Writer 2.0

No time for a substantial post, as I seem to have lost the notes I took over spring break for the next two weeks of class, including tomorrow’s. But I thought this link Cathy Day shared on her Facebook might be of interest:

Why this site.

Off to re-plan a class from scratch …

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My Seminar in Composition class has a regular cycle throughout the semester. We read and discuss an essay (most recently “Deep Play” Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” by Clifford Geertz), along with all the attendant discussion board posts and in-class writing exercises; the students write an essay related to that reading; we workshop certain essays and move on.

The workshop phase is meant to use student writing to learn about writing, to provide the class with something concrete they can work with and hopefully apply to their own writing.

Generally there are patterns in each batch of essays that need to be addressed. For example, in these Geertz essays, the students were very adept at describing the symbolism in various cultural “texts,” from Confirmation to boxing to prom, much as Geertz explains the symbolism of cocks in Balinese society. But unlike Geertz, most of them didn’t go much farther. Geertz treats the cockfight as a text that is saying something about something. Most of my students were able to show what their “texts” were speaking about (the second “something”), but not what was being said (the first “something”), or to whom.

So yesterday I brought an essay in where the first “something” was implicit, but not brought out, not pushed, perhaps not even seen by the student author. The themes of the “text” of confirmation–religious identity, responsibility, maturity–were aptly described, but not interpreted. So we talked about questions the author could ask to push the essay into interpretation: what does confirmation say about these things?

However, as I read the questions I had them ask of their own essays at the end of the workshop, I am realizing something didn’t quite click. I’m also realizing that it’s my fault. I assumed (as I do sometimes) that the connections I see between the things I have them do in the classroom–finding instances of certain language, pulling out themes, asking questions–are obvious. They are in my head. They are not to my students. I was not explicit enough.

The hard thing is that when you don’t make the connections then, you can’t really come back to it again. I mean, I could have them do the exact same things tomorrow and then be explicit. Or say, “hey, remember yesterday?” Both of which would annoy and bore my students.

This is a lesson I keep on learning and relearning, and I guess it’s one that only sticks with experience. My hope is that, in addition to learning better how to lead a classroom, my mistakes can help me read my students’ writing, to see the connections that are not made and help them see how to make them.

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A professor at Slippery Rock University, Dr. Neil Cosgrove, has started a blog. It’s mission is to look at the writing of various Slippery Rock graduates from the English and Communication departments, as well as to encourage conversation about writing, the teaching of writing, and the experiences of those who write.

The project of this blog intrigues me, not the least because I find the intersection of writing pedagogy/curriculum and writing in “real life” an interesting subject. Of course, it especially interests me to see what other Slippery Rock alumni are doing with their degrees.

(And also my blog was featured in the latest post. Right here.)

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“A young man am I, twenty-nine, but I am as full of dreams as an ancient.”

I really want to see this.

I have been teaching a chapter from Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle to my college freshmen for two semesters now, and it wasn’t until around October that I realized he was a novelist. My cousin, who is finishing her associate’s degree at Franciscan University, was reading one of his books for class.

Since then I’ve been learning more and more about him without seeking anything out. Flannery O’Connor talks about The Moviegoer in her letters, and even wrote to him (although I don’t believe they had a regular correspondence). Maud Newton, from whose blog I snagged this video, has posted about him a couple times. The more I hear, the more interested I become, and The Moviegoer is currently pretty high on my to-read list.

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Today I just  gave the first batch of essays back to my students. It’s always a good feeling, leaving the class with your bag significantly lighter. A sense of freedom: now I can do my homework. And write.

Until, that is, you realize they turn in the next essay in a week.

I was excited about writing my connected stories. I was having trouble getting started on them; but I was wrestling with that trouble, and the stories were stewing in the back of my brain even when I wasn’t thinking of them. Which meant I got occasional flashes of “Aha!” It was slow, but stuff was happening.

Not within the last week. Responding to essays and meeting other deadlines has consumed my time. I realize I’m walking in a world of deadlines, jumping from one to the next with few pauses to catch my breath. Is it little wonder that writing becomes yet another deadline I have to meet? February 23rd is when I have to turn something in for workshop. And I’m starting to wonder how much writing I’ll get done before the week leading up to it.

The ironic thing is that I usually need the pressure of a deadline to motivate me. But self-motivation–even if it’s only by sheer force of will–needs room to be acted on. And I feel this is a very narrow space I’m in.

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The other day I sent my students an email with a link to this. I wish there were one for the dash. Last week they had to write 100+ word sentences, which meant we were talking about punctuation.

I really do like punctuation and how it makes sentences fit together; over the summer I’d like to put more thought into teaching it and spend more time on it in the fall. But for last week, I let myself get excited about dashes. “They are the drama queens!” I told them, and related my stories about dashes.

Some of them were amused. Some of them looked at me with expressions wondering how such a dork was allowed to stand in front of a classroom full of college freshmen. It was great.

Today we talked about fragments. Not how they’re bad, but how they can be wonderful when you use them on purpose.

Yes. I was excited about this too. I even contemplated throwing the book over my shoulder; but I didn’t. Maybe next semester.

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