A. Michelini

(more to say)

Better Left Unsaid

In the beginning of Nancy Sommers “Revision of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers,” she describes the interesting difference between revision in writing and revision (or lack thereof) in speech. She quotes Roland Barthes saying “’A word cannot be retracted, except precisely by saying that one retracts it. To cross out here is to add: if I want to erase what I have just said, I cannot do it without showing the eraser itself (I must say: ‘Or rather…’ ‘I expressed myself badly…’); paradoxically, it is ephemeral speech which is indelible, not monumental writing. All that one can do in the case of a spoken utterance is to tack on another utterance.’ What is impossible in speech in revision.”

As I reflected on this concept, I hesitantly agreed, thinking also that people’s memories are not so perfect as the remember every speech act they hear.  But then I got to thinking, I recently had an experience with a friend where I wished I could go back and delete some of my own words via text. Text messages, even though written, are more like speech as they cannot be taken back or “unsent.” In this I agree with Sommers, but I think it fits these kind of in-between speech and writing acts better than conversational speech, due to fallible memory.

Additionally, it is possible to bring the same kind of irreversibility to writing as Sommers suggests exists in speech. In “Writing Against Normal: Navigating a Corporeal Turn” Dolmage offers students an opportunity for this as they revise drafts of their essays on a wiki. Each student is able to give the other students feedback and any and all drafts can be pulled up and compared at any point. In this way, they are actively interacting with all sentences and comments ever typed. Deletion is impossible for “A wiki’s existence is revision – once redesigned ends, it becomes a website, and no longer a wiki” (Dolmage 115).

What do you think? What are some ways that speech acts and written words allow for revision (or don’t)?

Responding to Hate

When reading Wallace and Alexander’s “Queer Rhetorical Agency: Questioning Narratives of Heteronormativity” several things were making their way through my mind. One was of my cousin, who came out of the closet in his twenties. Our family was very resistant to this as a whole, and I wonder to what extent he still struggles with and must combat heteronormativity in everyday relationships. The second was of a student I had in the fall of 2016. One morning in English I, I presented them with a writing warm up which asked them what they would prioritize if they were president of the United States. With the upcoming election, it seemed relevant and discussion worthy. Much to my surprise, one student, who I’ll call Dave (not his name), wrote that the first thing he would do if he were president is abolish gay marriage. He went on to describe what an abhorrence gay people were to him and how he would outlaw their practices if he could. Wallace’s student in “Queer Rhetorical Agency” expressed a similar viewpoint. Amazingly, Wallace takes a step back and makes an effort to analyze why the student would feel comfortable expressing such a view. His conclusion is that the student had been so saturated with heteronormative rhetoric that they assumed that their statements would be accepted without challenge; moreover, that there would be no one in his audience that could possibly take offense to their remarks. Wallace does something beautiful when he decides to “out” himself to the student, who deletes that section of their paper without comment. I applaud him. It also left me wondering, what is the BEST response I can have as a heterosexual composition teacher to such insidious remarks?

Raw Error or Raw Roar?

I admit that when I first saw the chapter called “Basic Writing Pedagogy” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, I was unsure. A lot of the time, when professors talk about their basic writing classes, it is with anything but joy. In meetings at work, the head of my department talks about how we have no entry point for students; they are allowed to attend our community college no matter what level they are at, and I certainly feel like I’ve taught a wide variety of levels in my short years teaching English there. Faculty roar back objections, feeling like they only get farther and farther behind each year in covering the material they feel they need to. The students come in raw with errors and the faculty are underprepared in dealing with it.

For me, however, teaching developmental writing classes (aka basic writing) is a treat. Not only do students come ready to work hard, but when they succeed they are elated. Their raw errors are often due to misconceptions, various learning styles, or different ways of thinking about things. Sometimes, they just need someone to care and believe in them. As Mutnick and Lamos quoted from Errors (5), “[Basic Writing] students write the way they do, not because they are slow or non-verbal, indifferent to or incapable of academic excellence, but because they are beginners and must, like all beginners, learn by making mistakes.” I appreciate the approach this chapter took to basic writing and would recommend it to many of my frustrated colleagues.

Keeping Students in Mind

“(1) that threshold concepts for writing (and perhaps other kinds of learning) across courses and disciplines may exist; and (2) that when these threshold concepts are made more explicit, students may be more likely to at least recognize, and perhaps even access, aspects of those concepts or the threshold capabilities that lead to them.”

Adler-Kassner, Linda. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (Kindle Locations 2417-2420). Utah State University Press. Kindle Edition.

While reading about threshold concepts number six in Adler-Kassner’s book, I felt that threshold concepts were addressed in an appropriate and helpful way regarding student outcomes. In the quote above, Adler-Kassner states a concept that makes the ideas of WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) and WID (Writing Within Disciplines) work. Writing is applicable and necessary for every subject, and many other subjects’ valued skills are applicable to writing and beyond. It reminded me of a seminar I once attended for work which had people from outside the Math department applying math skills in their classroom. I was intrigued and amazed. If students are strong in numbers, they can use that skill or strength and apply it to writing, and vice versa, via different means of course.

In the second half of the above quote, Adler-Kassner makes clear that if we tell students in detail what the threshold concepts are that they should be learning, they may be able to better absorb them. While this seems like a great idea, it was not quite satisfactorily teased out in the chapter and I would have liked to see more. What do you see as ways that “students are more likely to…recognize, and perhaps even access” threshold concepts when they are made more explicit or accessible?

Making a Rubric Together

Today, I spent some time with Bean’s chapter “Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria” from Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. While I completely agree with his suggestions on including a rubric and loved all the helpful examples, I was left with some questions.

In my English 2 class, I started having the students write the rubric alongside me. We list all the important elements of a rubric up on the board (and I help supply some of them, especially if they miss major ones). Then, we might rope some together into common categories. And then, as a class, we decide how many points/percentages to ascribe to each category. When I did this for the spring semester, I even had students grade their own essays before turning them in to me for the first time, listing how many points they deserved for each section. They were amazingly accurate! Most of the time, the student ended up with the same letter grade they’d assigned themselves. This got me thinking: should I just have them grade their own papers? What is the use of commenting?

I’ve really enjoyed doing this, and would like to continue to do it, but am unsure of the research on it since rubrics are not my specialty. I know some of my colleagues are more well versed in that area, and I’m curious what they would have to say about my experimental rubric method. Which elements of this should I keep and where do you think I should go with it from here?

Are we giving up on creativity?

“Writers—and teachers of writing—might sometimes wish all writing abilities could be learned once and for always, just as one can learn how to spell a particular word correctly or how to punctuate a quotation correctly once and for always.”

Adler-Kassner, Linda. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (Kindle Locations 1765-1766). Utah State University Press. Kindle Edition.

While I appreciate where Adler-Kassner is coming from in acknowledging how some writers may feel, I can’t help but feel slightly alarmed by his suggestion that teachers may wish for their purpose to be over in a sense. Since the book is directed at specialty writers and teachers in the field of composition, it is concerning that some may feel so tired that they wish their job could be done very quickly. While everyone knows the feeling of work dragging, I think the acknowledgement of this attitude could suggest a larger problem. By giving an official nod to this in the their book, Adler-Kassner is admitting that creativity may be squelched in a great many classrooms. After all, what is going to suffer if the writing teacher feels that he or she just wants to teach formulaically as fast as possible? I submit to you that the outcome might be a lack of creativity in the classroom. In this way, the quote becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, as the students will not be as engaged as they could be when completing dry activities as opposed to creative ones and then the teacher and the students will all collectively wish that the assignment would end as soon as possible.

Too much of a good thing?

While continuing to read Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom as well as Tate’s A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, it became obvious to me how valuable critical thinking skills are to the average teacher/student classroom dynamic. This is no surprise. Further critical thinking is always conceived of as a good thing and I hope I have done my job of pushing my students to critically think in my class. But is it ever possible to go too far or have too much critical thinking?

Perhaps. Some of my research has led me in the direction of looking at eating disorders and the rhetoric associated with them. There exists such things as pro-ana websites, meaning “pro-anorexic.” These websites turn critical thinking on its head, fighting it with a radical rhetoric that contradicts what common practices do. In this contradiction is power, much like subversion critical thinking in the classroom. It is challenging and rewarding. However, it is quite dangerous in this situation.

I am by no means asserting that it has been proven that pro-ana websites have been linked to critical thinking, but merely connecting the dots. Having a background that covers both eating disorders and critical thinking, I have sometimes wondered if the two contradict. However, I’m not sure where this leaves me. If there is a limit to critical thinking in this particular way, is the opposite – not thinking at all – or thinking in very simple terms – best? I do not know. I can’t imagine what other topics critical thinking might be dangerous in if this is the case. Any thoughts on the matter would be much appreciated.

“I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know”

In continuing my reading of Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom I’ve realized how extraordinarily practical the book is throughout. Not only does Bean cover topics that are beneficial to a composition classroom, but he also covers specific examples of how to design writing assignments in a variety of disciplines. In his chapter “Informal, Exploratory Writing Assignments” I felt encouraged as a new teacher that some of my assignments fit into his suggestions. For example, I open each class of English I with a question on the board that I call a “writing warm up.” It is typically something that requires some thought and the students are required to write for five minutes on it. If they don’t feel like they have anything to say, I tell them to just write “I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know” until something comes to them.

Since I naturally value creative writing, open space to think, and time to write freely, I love assigning exploratory writing. As a student I enjoyed it and as a teacher I love reading them. However, it is also helpful to know that not all of my students feel the same way. Reading the “common objections” section enabled me to think ahead to avoid these pitfalls and address student needs in the best way possible. Maybe I can acknowledge their discomfort or fear, as someone saying something often distills it.

At the end of my reading, I was left wondering: with a finite amount of assignments, how much is too much exploratory writing at the college level?

Getting a Taste for Genre

The words “genre” in application to writing has always given me a bad taste in my mouth. As an English professor, I’ve found this to be unusual, but my own experience with genre as a student was not a pleasant one. I always felt like I didn’t know what my professors were talking about exactly, because I felt like I never had a clear example, even though I continued to excel in those courses. Consequently, I haven’t directly inserted the word “genre” into my two years of teaching so far. However, after reading Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, I realized I’ve been using genre all along, without calling it that. Chapter three “Helping Writers Think Rhetorically” lays out a chart defining examples of genres. It then follows this with a discussion of open and closed form prose and details how it relates to and is linked with genre.

Having clear definitions for the topics I cover is invaluable. In every chapter of Bean’s book so far, I have found something I wish I had known two years ago when I began teaching. This should definitely be a required reading at the master’s level. I cannot wait to share some of the open-form writing and closed-form writing strategies coupled with genre in my classes.

Unfortunately, with so many good ideas, I’m left wondering: how do I prioritize what needs to be taught? My students already write four major essays throughout the semester, along with many smaller writing assignments. My instinct is to try them all and see what works best! But different methods work for different groups. Needless to say, I am excited to try this genre thing out.

Teaching Literacy Philosophy

What are 3 of your fundamental beliefs about learning literacy?

  • Literacy can be achieved by anyone at any age.

 

  • Literacy is more effectively learned through hands on experience.

 

  • Literacy is a continual learning process as new tools for literacy emerge.

 

 What are 3 of your fundamental beliefs about teaching literacy?

  • In order to be relevant across all forms of literacy, the teacher must be continuing their literacy fluency as new ways and forms emerge.

 

  • The teacher must recognize that they may not be as fluent in certain types of literacy as some of their students are.

 

  • The teacher should be open minded about all varieties of literacy.
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