Tag Archives: pedagogy

(Literature) Pedagogy

The literature students at my school don’t have too many options in their coursework to focus specifically on literature pedagogy. As a result, a couple of smart students have created a summer mini-conference on this topic. This is its third year, but the first I attended, and I was happy to discover that much of what I learned was very relevant for rhetoric/composition pedagogy as well. I’m including some of the most important notes I took here. If any readers are interested in something below, let me know and I can hook you up with whoever presented on that topic.

Teaching Difficult Topics led by Chris Desantis, Julie Jung, Oren Whitesell

  • When discussing oppressive institutions–we’ll use race as an example–start by talking about the historical context. Don’t open discussion until after students have this common ground established. (In this phase, be careful to create a common vocabulary and to consider how themes circulate in language.)
  • Next, introduce social construction. (Note: It’s OK to “shut a student down” if she or he refuses to buy into the basic premises of the class. You can think of this less as silencing a student and more as eliminating an obstacle to other students’ learning. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often.)
  • Open discussion: Possible topics in this example include the collective silence on whiteness, connections between texts and student lives, and implications of physical spaces that produce whiteness and blackness, etc.
Ogbu’s definition of education: systematic eradication of viable alternatives (I’m not sure what I think of this. It sounds a lot like bell hooks’ definition of oppression)
Helpful readings:
Summative comments:
Teach not what to think, but how logic works
Always consider power relations in and out of the classroom

Teaching Digital Texts led by Cheryl Ball 

Remember: A 10-page paper is not nearly equivalent to a 10-minute video. A proficient producer of video typically takes 200 minutes for every minute produced. Consider a 2-3 minute video equivalent to a 10-page paper.

Resources:

Sample digital project outline for a themed class – Using wiki technology to interlink all student work
  • Establish common key terms
  • Have an individual draft due by midterm
  • Have students read others’ drafts during second part of semester
  • Links/revisions/additional pages due by finals
Linguistics led by Aaron Smith
  • Consider that linguists study speech communities; historical linguists must use written texts (literature)
  • Take care not to apply sociolinguistic understandings from modern times to historical contexts
  • Consider how linguistic usage is used to construct literary characters. This may include elements like the a- prefix (I’m a-goin’) or h-dropping (‘umble beginnings).
  • Remember that ideology is shown in language
  • When teaching, narrow the focus. First, select a form to focus on, then prove to students that they know a grammar (disrupt their belief that we’re in some sort of historical grammatical decline), then choose texts with appropriate linguistic variation.
Making Sense of Evaluations led by Claire Lamonica
  • The most important different in evaluations is understanding the purpose of formative vs. summative evaluation. Summative evaluation happens at the end of the term; formative evaluation can be used to improve teaching.
  • 360-degree evaluation: Collect evaluations from self, supervisors, peers, students
  • For student evaluations, collect early so that you can learn during the class. Consider doing a 1-minute paper at the end of each class. This is where students quickly write the most important thing they learned and the muddiest point from the day’s work. Also consider incorporating weekly reports and/or a midterm chat to get mid-semester evaluations.
  • Frequent evaluation teaches students to think and write evaluatively; it’s not just for the teacher.
  • Take into account, when reading summative evaluations, the things that students are and are not really qualified to comment on
  • When working through evaluations, first categorize responses into positive, negative, suggestions, and other. Then synthesize results, count and a rank them, reflect, and prioritize. Remember to work on only one or two things at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Teaching with Film led by Sally Parry and Bob McLaughlin

Challenge: Getting students to engage films as texts instead of passive consumers
Advantage: FIlms are able to fill in more historical context
  • Remember to teach film conventions, often comparing them to parallel conventions in printed texts
  • Incorporate historical context. For example, study the Hayes Code and teach students to know what signals meant what sort of action (to get around the censors)
  • Defamiliarize students with film media by starting with (or only showing) black-and-white films
  • Teach and complicate themes. (For example, in film noir, the bad guy is often a veteran. Why? What does this mean?)
Some films to consider, taken from a WWII culture class
  • Snafu
  • Iceland
  • Miracle on Morgan’s Creek
  • Casa Blanca
  • The Best Years of Our Lives

Pedagogy and Oppression

The following is a partial response to readings in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching to Transgress done for a seminar class on pedagogy …

Investigating “the people’s ‘thematic universe’—the complex of their ‘generative themes’” through dialogic means seems to me a really smart place to start thinking about teaching (96). Whether it’s teaching to a group of peasants, potential revolutionary leaders, or a class at a public school in the Midwestern U.S., an investigation of the group’s guiding generative themes will help the teacher learn about the context of the class and adjust accordingly. I think most teachers (at least most teachers in our department) do this unconsciously, or perhaps just without explicitly talking about it. I know I’ve done it, without realizing it, in past classes that I’ve taught. After all, it’s hard to work at disturbing entrenched ideologies in, say, a critical inquiry class unless you first have taken the time to “investigate people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality” (106). The difficult part of this process, I think, is to remember to involve the students—explicitly—in uncovering the generative themes of a group. If we forget to involve the students, and instead just study them IRB-style, as we have been conditioned to do, we are engaging not in Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy, but in an antidialogical model that perpetuates the teacher’s domination of the students. This requirement for student participation has always seemed to me to be the weak link in Freire’s ideal pedagogy. What is a revolutionary leader to do if the oppressed simply don’t want to be liberated? I suspect Freire believes he answers this question in his final chapter when he says that the oppressed must be awakened to their own position as victims of conquest, division, manipulation, and cultural invasion. He says that, “the leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the revolutionary leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed” (164). I don’t buy this, even a little. Maybe the problem here actually is transference to an institutional classroom in the U.S., but I’ve never experienced this phenomenon as a teacher or as a student.

Though I love most of this book, and I can fully get behind the general attitude it espouses, I do encounter a number of difficulties like this in putting it to use. Perhaps what I’m feeling is a dissonance between the kind of open education Freire is actually theorizing and the institutionalized education system here in the U.S. It seems that there are just too many problems with picking up the “pedagogy of the oppressed” from the countryside of Brazil and plopping it down in the middle of Illinois. Are my students here really oppressed? But maybe this dissonance is the result of my subject position as a middle-class, apparently white, heterosexual person of privilege. bell hooks doesn’t seem to encounter the same problems that I do with this transferance, “Because the colonizing forces are so powerful in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (in the U.S.)” (47).

In an effort to make some meaning from Freire’s work that is relevant to my own teaching context, I’ve been searching out works that showcase the usage of his pedagogy of the oppressed in classrooms in the States. In doing so, I found myself relying also on hooks’s interpretation of Freire, largely because her words on his work—especially her thinking about “a generous spirit, a quality of open-mindedess that I feel is often missing from intellectual and academic arenas in U.S. society” (54) and her point that “ … notwithstanding that there is so much that remains liberatory … Freire’s own model of critical pedagogy invites a critical interrogation” (49)— have been so influential in my own understanding of it.

Teaching Philosophy Statement – revised edition

I haven’t read too many teaching philosophy statements, but I have to put one together for an application I’m submitting in a few days. I’ve been working on this one for a while. Suggestions/critiques welcome!

*****

“Is this some sort of test?”

This was one reaction the first time I invited my freshmen composition students to critique my teaching and their learning and to suggest better methods for the rest of the semester. Despite some initial confusion, a half-semester of built-up trust convinced them to participate in this difficult discussion (often known as a Midterm Chat), and the class benefited from the frank self-appraisal that resulted. As a new teacher, this was a terrifying project to undertake. Now, after several years of using this method in both composition and technical communication courses, I know that periodic critiques of class progress are highly valuable. I make space for these kinds of discussions at several points—and at any point students desire—throughout every semester, and these critiques have become an important part of the proactive pedagogy I strive to enact.

By proactive, I mean that I invite students to be aware of my pedagogy and the implications of my authority in the classroom. Others have used the term transparent to this end, but I believe proactive is a more accurate term because true transparency is impossible to achieve; using the term proactive acknowledges this without sacrificing the goals of transparency. This distinction is often helpful to students who are unsure what I’m asking of them. I want students to see the underlying structures by which the class is governed, and I want them to understand why those structures exist and what they mean. This proactive approach dovetails nicely with my research and investment in feminist and decolonial theories, which I use to enrich my classroom practices.

Universities set up the teacher as the ultimate authority, which runs against the grain for some feminist and decolonial scholars who wish to promote a common movement among their students. However, this provides an excellent text for students’ perusal. In order for them to see the authority-based structure they are working within in a critical light, I try to break through their “trained incapacity,” which is to submit wordlessly to the configuration of the traditional classroom (Burke). As the oppressed parties, they “have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it,” and thus “are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires” (Freire 29). My goal is to show students that there is a struggle for freedom that can be waged—by being rhetorically informed, they can influence how they are perceived, addressed, and even assessed—and to provide as many opportunities for them to engage in this manner as I can.

As the semester progresses, students begin to understand why I call such an approach critical and proactive. This method serves as an ideal vehicle for introducing feminist, decolonial, and other critical methodologies to students who might otherwise be intimidated by or resistant to such terms. Specifically, I model feminist approaches by using the classroom structure as a meta-text for students’ investigation. Not only does this help demystify feminism for students in ways that often are highly productive, but it also makes for an organic transition when I invite students to perform similar critical research on their chosen subjects. Having learned what a critical approach looks like first-hand through my critique of traditional classroom structures, students then find it much easier to apply critical theory to the subjects of their own research. The importance of a transition to this sort of practical application is paramount for undergraduate students.

I have learned to use this sort of practical approach based on enthusiastic response from students when they see that they can choose their own texts and can interact with the world outside academe; I often encourage students to do this sort of critique through social media as a means to also engage technology. We then develop together a deeper understanding of societal and technological influences on composing and communication processes. In the same vein, I encourage community involvement as a means to promote citizenship and social awareness. In my experience, successful community-oriented classrooms provide new experiences for students as well as promoting goodwill, increased learning, and enthusiasm for future studies.
In one recent course, I asked students to study the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and to enter some sort of public discourse about that text. Many of them posted questions on their Facebook profiles, several of which sparked heated debates. My students were excited to share these debates in class, and they spontaneously began to critically analyze the political perspectives of the debaters.

This successful lesson for my students also was a learning experience for me.  My pedagogy now consistently incorporates spaces for this sort of application, and these spaces come with their own set of goals. By utilizing such methods, I encourage students to use their critical awareness to become savvier citizens, to develop enthusiasm for social learning, and to apply their learning to their lives through public discourse.

This lesson also lead my students (and me) to a deeper understanding of societal influences on the composing process. This same group of students later undertook a class project in which they studied social media outlets and how users’ communications were shaped by those outlets. Besides being intensely interesting in terms of content, this project reinforced the value of community work for my students. Although students often groan at the introduction of group work, class members in this case told me that the social media project was an unusual, educational, and enjoyable experience.

These are a just a few of the lessons my students have taught me over the years. I now begin each semester with an explanation of my proactive, practical, critical, community-oriented pedagogy. Whether or not students care about this presentation on the first day of class is hard to judge, but they seem to be invested in it once they start working within it. I believe my students benefit greatly from this model, and I continue to learn from their successes.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. Third ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.

Remix: Part 2

OK, I’m hooked. I left off my last Remix post by asking what Lessig was advocating and what it looks like, and hoping that I’d find out in Parts 2 and 3. Lessig delivered in Part 2.

This is the part of the book that the title comes from: “Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.” Lessig is suggesting a hybrid between sharing and commercial (or thee and me) economies, and he provides numerous online models for what this looks like. My only real complaint at this point is that I, the reader, still have to do the hard work of mapping those examples onto non-online interaction. If the U.S. were to model copyright/trademark law after YouTube practices, what does that really mean? (Is it even really possible?)

On the bright side, we (the U.S.) already have one of the components that Lessig describes as integral to a sharing (and thus also a hybrid) economy: diversity. “Diversity in experience and worldviews, so s to help a project fill in the blind spots inherent in any particular view” (165). True, some will argue that most U.S. citizens have a very Westernized worldview. I would argue, though, that the necessary diversity does exist here … if only the powers that be are clever enough to seek the expertise of those with perspectives different from their own. (The anecdote that immediately springs to mind is Abraham Lincoln’s filling his Cabinet with his political “enemies” so as to have a broader diversity in his think tank.) What I’m not sure of, though, is if any government endeavor will ever be able to command the sort of volunteer power necessary to do something like this. Lessig hints in this part that he may feel the same way, but he seems more perturbed by the particular practices of our government rather than the inherent trappings of any government. I’m hoping there is more wisdom on this subject to come in Part 3.

I also really enjoyed Lessig’s inclusion of Sherry Turkle (starting on page 217). Theoretically, he could have done a lot more with her work on online identities, but I think the point about shifting identities demonstrating the value of generosity is well made. In the end, the thing that destroys the goodwill of hypertextual communities is greed. And, interestingly, the greed/generosity balance is both political and religious hotspot for many people even outside online culture. (I’m thinking income tax debates for politics, and for Christianity, at least, the passage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to Heaven. I can’t speak for any other religions, but I do get a sense of the same ideal from those that I have any experience at all with.)

Perhaps my favorite bit of this part of the book is on page 130, where Lessig says, “For reasons at the core of this book, inspiring more creativity is more important than whether you or I like the creativity we’ve inspired.” This passage really resonated for me. Part of that is probably because of my pedagogical stance regarding creativity. For every project I assign in my English 101 and 249 classes, I explain the learning goals and tell students that I am open to creative reinterpretations of the project as long as they still meet those goals or similar goals that I approve. Although I haven’t always liked my students’ creative reinterpretations (a wiki on alcohol-related expertise, even by non-minor students, could seem suspect), they have always responded excitedly to this possibility. There is no doubt in my mind that the students who take this option spend more time thinking in more ways about the rhetorical situation they are placing their work into.  I also have reason to believe that there investment in the project makes them more likely to continue writing for the public in the future. (My evidence for this includes both email updates from and Facebook groups formed by former students.)

But, really, I think my attraction to that observation on page 130 goes even deeper than pedagogical ideals. There is something very instinctual that tells me that creativity is important to humanity, even when it’s creativity I don’t like. I suppose I’m interpreting creativity to mean most of the things mentioned in the First Amendment, which has been so basic to my upbringing that acting on it does feel instinctual (though I recognize it’s learned). But I also think there’s the possibility that it goes even deeper. Things like art therapy make me believe that there’s something a little more basic in human nature that really needs to embrace Lessig’s RW culture.

For now, I’m excited to read Chapter 10 in Part 3, which Lessig said in Part 2 will deal with the Creative Commons license.  Since Lessig is a cofounder of that project, it will be really intriguing to learn about his vision for it. I particularly like his summary of it on page 226: “Take and share my work freely. Let it become part of the sharing economy. But if you want to carry this work over to the commercial economy, you must ask me first. Depending upon the offer, I may or may not say yes.”

Coming full circle

A few pages into Barbara Monroe’s Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing and Technology in the Classroom, I felt like my readings for English 467 had come full circle. We’re back to defining race, but Monroe uses the term in a new way: “Race, as I use the word in this book, refers to people of color, specifically African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, all of whom as groups have been historically excluded from the matrix of power and wealth in this country” (21). While this isn’t a definition I personally would ever use, it does point to two important understandings in defining race. First, race is not static. It is always changing and is always different depending on one’s perspective. Second, we can gain power over this often divisive word by using our agency to define it in the ways that benefit us. Monroe uses it to point out those who “have been excluded.” We could also use it as a term that denotes commonality rather than difference, as in celebrations of ethnic (racial?) heritage. I think that this may mean my original definition of race still works for me, although I’ve now had the chance to explore and complicate it in various ways. Race is a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm. And regardless of the origin of the word, it doesn’t have to be used with treacherous intentions.

I am reminded–as was Monroe on page 30–of Paulo Freire’s goal of critical consciousness and liberatory pedagogy. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire advocates helping the oppressed (whoever they may be) by teaching them to help themselves. They must be able to see the structures they have to work within and then cultivate a desire to do so. Anything less is pantomime. I particularly like thinking of race, rhetoric, and technology as addressed by Freire through bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, hooks points out the openness of Freire’s work and life (and examines and ultimately comes to terms with his sexist language). It seems to me that this treatment of the oppressed speaks directly to the issues of access we’ve been discussing all semester. hooks admonishes us (teachers, in a broad sense) to work as cultural healers, utilizing and modeling tactics for disrupting hegemonic power in ways that are sustainable and productive.

One example of such a tactic comes in Monroe’s second chapter, “Putting One’s Business on Front Street.” In this chapter, Monroe discusses a globally networked learning environment (GNLE) in which 27 Detroit High School sophomores and 27 University of Michigan upperclassmen interacted within a mostly electronic mentor/mentee relationship. Her attention to local and cultural contexts was exciting, and it was fascinating to read actual excerpts of the students’ correspondence.

The cultural differences were interesting and a bit frightening. For example, Monroe concluded that the DHS students who “performed” their mentors’ introductory emails by using “falsetto voices and with much body English” and “making fun of a person by overdramatizng his speech and gestures” were working within an environment that was “celebratory,” “good-natured fun” (44-45). While I realize that I might be rankled by these students’ treatment of their mentors because my culture is closer to that of the mentors than the mentees, Monroe could have done a much better job of explaining the culture clash at this juncture. As someone interested in navigating the complexities of culture and race in particular audiences, she should have been attuned to the audience of her book.

I think the study itself could also be critiqued because it is somewhat dated. The correspondences were conducted in the 1996-1997 academic year, and the book was not published until 2004. Dynamics at DHS with access and technological understanding have certainly changed in that time, and it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgment of that. (But, this is a common critique of technology-based books and a problem that is not easy to overcome.)

The parts of this study I was most interested in were the female-female partnerships that were so successful, and code-switching done be mentees, and the “Implications for teaching.” I find that analogies pertaining to sex-based oppression often help me understand “the race problem” better than I would otherwise be able to. As such, it came as no surprise to me that the female-female partnerships were generally successful. The discomfort surrounding the sharing of romantic details was an interesting cultural difference to ponder, though. Monroe’s discussion of the students’ code-switching likewise provides food for thought on the complex discourse communities these students navigate, despite the fact that standardized tests often label such students as “failing.” So far as implications for teaching go, I was particularly interested in Monroe’s note that English teacheers should be aware of “race-based cultural differences when designing their curricula” (64). Monroe gives the example of using rap music as a pedagogical tool. While some might think this would be appropriate for a school system with a high African-American demographic, DHS found that it posed problems for the religious African American communities that many of their students came from (65). Care must be taken in making such moves.

“Storytime on the Reservation” was also intriguing, and this is the chapter where Monroe returns to her original–problematic, in my opinion–premise that “electronic media–mainly, movies and e-mail–can bridge the gaping maw between home and school literacies” of students. I’m old-fashioned, I know, but I resist the idea of basing a child’s education on anything other than good reading. Electronic media can be supplements, and a medium like the Kindle is synonymous to books. But substituting movies and e-mail for books seems to be a very bad idea to me, and one that Monroe doesn’t support well enough for me to change my mind. She does mention that this is cultural, and this is part of my resistance. In a primarily oral culture, movies might be a better medium for instilling critical literacy. I concede that this could work … but the movies would have to be carefully chosen given the nature of Hollywood today, and while e-mails and texting are fine means for getting students to write, I still think they must be able to code switch to SAE to reach their fullest potential. In short, I don’t think it’s responsible to encourage teachers to switch to using movies and email as their main pedagogical tools without providing a good deal more explanation and support on how to make these tools work for instilling critical consciousness in students.

In this end, though, I think my critique stems from my having goals that are different from teachers at the schools that are discussed. The local needs and goals are far more important–though many politicians don’t realize it–than ensuring all students speak and write SAE flawlessly. In answering Cindy Selfe’s call to come up with more methods for critical engagement, I think Monroe does a fine job. It’s my own cultural situatedness that prevents me from accepting her suggestions. (Although I’m not saying my caution is an incorrect response, just qualifying it.) I wonder at her audience for this book, and I hope she’ll write the new book that is suggested by her closing statement that we need to “teach all children, not just children of color, to become interethnically literate” (125).

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Monroe, Barbara. Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing, and Technology in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004. Print.

Selfe, Cindy. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

A rant on the visible rhetoric of the comma

This post is just what the title says: a rant. It was really bound to happen at this point in the semester as everything is coming due at once and students begin to realize how much they have left to accomplish with just 2.5 weeks left. I’m in that position myself, so I feel a little bad about my rant … but not bad enough to call if off.

Imagine sitting down to grade a paper. In your first sweeping glance from top to bottom of the page, you realize you can trace rivers of white space vertically down the paper because of the excessive punctuation usage. On further inspection, you see these rivers are created almost exclusively by commas. And you further realize that most of them are unnecessary.

Gag.

Why can’t students use commas?

Actually, I don’t really blame them for not understanding commas. Commas are confusing. And everyone uses them incorrectly sometimes. My beef is that my students don’t think commas can be understood. I give them a cheat sheet for comma use. I provide them with resources to figure out commas. I offer to talk to them individually about papers with comma problems. But they persist in just sprinkling commas about the page wherever they think they’ll look pretty. Ugh!

My point is this: Even punctuation has visible consequences. When I look at that first page described above, the message I get from that writer through the visibility of that page is: I don’t know how to use a comma and I don’t care enough about this paper to get help.

That’s why the visibility of even something as trivial as punctuation is important.

End rant.