Author Archive

Afterthoughts

OK, so I forgot a couple of things–at least it wasn’t my name. Here are the things:

I would have had students summarize the Parker poem before starting it to ensure they had a basic understanding of it before beginning the analysis process. I like the suggestion that a couple of people used in their presentations about identifying words in the initial reading process that students might not understand. If I were to try this lesson in a classroom, this is something I would add. I can’t find my books right now, but I think it was Scholes that was advocating for an initial reading with the sole intention of understanding the text before starting the analysis process. I think this would be particularly important in a classroom setting where students can have a wide variety of levels of vocabulary, textual knowledge, etc.

The other piece was at the end. When I was up there hemming and hawing, staring at my paper, saying that I felt like I was forgetting something, well, I was. And, yes, I had it written down, but unfortunately that signage which, when I wrote it actually came together for me as words and phrases, when standing in front of the class only appeared as letters and odd symbols that simply frustrated me as I looked at them. So…I had also built into my evaluative exercise a short paragraph for students to write and explain why they chose either the difficulty paper or the minor character response and what they felt was helpful or not about the assignment they selected. Just as we have been doing this semester, I would want my students to be cognizant of their thoughts and decisions and I think this would be a good, quick way to have them reflect on that.

So other than the beginning and the end, and the repeating myself a lot, I think, I’m OK with it. People seemed to be talking which was good. I couldn’t tell if they were really trying my assignments or just discussing whether they wanted to take Post Modernism next spring, but I would be curious to know. I don’t have the opportunity to try out my lesson anywhere else, so you all are it. I would like to know if it might work, if it would be better with modifications, if there’s no hope whatsoever—please let me know. -Jancy

6 comments April 24th, 2008

Where is all this going?

Graff advocates for students to write argumentative papers as if they are in a conversation. He suggests they use a summary-response pattern. I like the idea of writing an argumentative essay similar to the way we argue in conversation. I believe the point of writing is to communicate, and we have a lot more practice communicating in verbal conversations than on paper. It only seems logical to me to make writing more like conversation in order to more effectively convey an argument in writing.

However, Graff also suggests that students “summarize the objections that [they] anticipate will be made.” This is where my questions begin. Although, a writer might be able to anticipate some counterarguments to his point of view, is it really adding a “naysayer” to your paper if you are both the sayer and the naysayer? It seems like students would have to be careful not to fabricate a counterargument. Or, is that what Graff is advocating? Although it may lead to a better developed argument, it still seems like a superficial type of argument to me. Is this an effective way of making an argument?

Graff also recommends that students not only be very explicit in what they say, but also “tell readers how and how not to read it.” To me this seems like it would also require a lot of assumptions on the writer’s part and an exertion of control that I’m not sure I believe the writer possesses. Can we really control how others read what we write? Graff indicates that the writer must tell the readers how to read the paper in addition to being explicit. How do you control how readers interpret what you write beyond writing as explicitly as possible?

Scholes recommends writing text against text. In the journal articles we skimmed in the last class, I noticed that the articles were not articles about a piece of literature but rather articles on articles that other people had written about literature, or even articles on articles on articles about literature. If an academic writes articles based on assumptions he has made about an article someone else wrote based on the assumptions that an academic made in writing an article and so on, how valid will those arguments be? It seems like the arguments would become further and further removed from the primary text.

I agree that argumentative essays could be more conversational and should address the already established points of view that might challenge the argument, and I believe in the idea of text against text, but I think we need to be careful that we are not diluting arguments and information by making too many assumptions about counterpoints that have never been established and trying to write in anticipation of any possible interpretation that could be made by a reader.

Add comment April 8th, 2008

Can I Wait to Take a Stand Until I Have an Opinion?

In attempting to resolve an internal struggle the other day, a discussion with a friend boiled down my conflict to the following question: when do you stop asking questions and make a statement? As I considered this question, I came up with the answers (plural, not singular), never and when you have an opinion.

Why do we force students to make a stand, regardless of whether or not they have an opinion on a subject? Does a few weeks of lecture and the reading of a few texts provide the student with enough information to understand an issue sufficiently to decide for themselves what they think about it? Too often I have found myself doing a paper or a class presentation in which I am expected to act like I know what I am talking about on a subject that has been debated for decades if not centuries, feeling like I’ve just skimmed the surface of the issue, and am completed unprepared to take a stand. But, taking a stand is a requirement of the assignment. Is forcing students to take a stand before they know an issue well enough to really have an opinion perpetuating the idea that academic problems are fabricated opinions whose purpose is to make someone sound like they know what they are talking about for the purposes of getting a good grade/advancing their career and/or gaining tenure? Isn’t requiring students to use the third person and to omit statements like “I think,” “I believe” and “in my opinion” creating a falsehood? Do the students mean to state something as if they believe it is a fact that should be globally accepted as a truth, or are they only at the stage in which they “think” this is how it works or what it means? Is it wrong to be in a state of inquiry?

Not to become too philosophical ,but do we really “know” anything? At one time, scientists considered the Earth to be flat and had valid reasons for thinking that. If people always considered information in flux and open to new perspectives, would someone have discovered sooner that the Earth was round? If more people took stands like, I think the Earth is flat but let’s keep talking about it and as we learn more, let’s re-evaluate, would we progress faster and further in resolving conflicts and learning new things?

Is it productive to take a stand? I think it is, but let’s talk about it. I think the academic community needs to be free to put forth their ideas as their ideas and for those thoughts to be respected. I think that stunts like Sokol pulled by embarrassing a colleague by making him look stupid for not saying that he didn’t understand the ideas of his article only perpetuates an environment in which individuals are afraid to appear stupid and therefore don’t ask questions. The fear of being questioned and proven wrong contributes to the sentiment that academics think they have to write in an incomprehensible discourse in order to be respected. Does being respected mean that your ideas are not questioned?

What if, instead of teaching students about theories by presenting them with articles by experts that are written as if they are statements of fact, publishers print a textbook in which the chapters are like chat room discussions where theorists work in collaboration to debate the issues, having a limited amount of time to respond and limited ability for editing? What if, at the end, individuals who are not part of the academic community (are undergraduate or high school students perhaps) had the opportunity to ask questions to clarify the meaning or the issue or to raise new concerns based on the debate in the chat room? What if the experts were open minded enough to admit during the discussion when someone challenged a point and made them rethink their point of view? My thought is that this would allow students to see first-hand how academic discourse works and to see many sides of an issue. Hopefully it would demonstrate how academics with conflicting ideas can work together to resolve an issue, or at least come to a deeper understanding of it. It would show students that what is often presented to them as facts, as Graff’s examples of conflicting class lectures demonstrates, are not really facts but someone’s opinion. I would like to think this would allow students the freedom to voice their own ideas because they would see that academia is about having creative, well thought out ideas that can be proven wrong but still respected and that are productive in advancing an issue.

Add comment April 2nd, 2008

Beyond dissection: the afterlife of literature

I’ve really enjoyed the readings this week. I’ve always loved writing, however, I rarely write unless under a deadline. When forced to write, though, I really enjoy it. It’s like deciding whether to go to a movie or a museum. How often do I pick movie because I it doesn’t require any effort or engagement on my part (this is true of the movies I like anyway)? It’s easier to pick mind-numbing entertainment. On the other hand, I am well aware that the memories I have of seeing a museum exhibit far outlast, and have a stronger effect on me, than a movie in which I don’t engage. Maybe this is why I only write under a deadline - it requires more effort than so many other things.

I found it interesting in Carl Lovitt’s chapter on journaling that one student reported that she didn’t want to have to think about reading, that although she liked reading, she resented having to put the effort into it to connect it to her own life. I think it is noble that Lovitt has a “goal of transforming students into lifelong readers.” I agree with Scholes that there should be more to reading literature than analyzing the metaphors, alliteration and line breaks. Lovitt’s journal assignment does not intend for students to create an academic text for the purpose of sharing it with the community, as Scholes advocates, but it does require students to create text upon text and to look at the “So what” factor. Not all students are going to have the same objective in a literature course. Some may be English majors that hope to submit articles in academic journals someday, but what about the others? The journal assignment allowed students to find value in literature because of the self-exploration it prompted. I have to think that Flannery O’Conner would prefer this to the dissecting of her work like a frog in a biology class.

I think Greene’s writing assignments to develop texts from the perspective of different characters also provides an opportunity for students to connect with the text on a personal level. For example, the rewrite of The Awakening from a male perspective would require the student to consider his/her views of the male perspective. Whenever a student takes a piece of literature and makes it his own, on some level, he not only learns about how to write but also to explore something about himself. Writing is always about the writer on some level. It comes from the writer’s head and heart, and the more it comes from the heart the better the writing in my opinion, and the more self exploration for both the writer and reader.

I have stated before that I don’t see the point in literature if there is no human connection, if it’s only about analyzing and dissecting. I would like to believe that if everyone made a human connection to a piece of literature at least once in their high school or college career, they would occasionally choose to pick up a thought-provoking novel, essay or poem rather than turning on the TV or sitting down with a book that merely entertains them but does not make them think. Perhaps, like I occasionally go to a museum instead of a movie, they would allow literature to make a lasting impact on their lives.

Add comment March 18th, 2008

As I Understand It

I’m with you, Sara. I was OK with some of the chapters in Textual Power (mostly the ones in the beginning) and even with pieces of some of the later chapters, but parts of the book seemed convoluted and were very difficult for me to read. As someone else mentioned I, too, was annotating and employing some of the difficulty paper tools, but eventually the text seemed to degenerate into semantics. The lengthy discussion on whether history is anything besides text (really?) and then the pages on how to define the words that were made up by other literary theorists made my eyes spin.

I was looking forward to reading Scholes because he was referenced in some of the other texts and I liked the ideas presented on his behalf. And, I do like the idea in Textual Power of breaking down literature into the three stages of reading, interpretation, and criticism. I also appreciate Scholes’s focus on not criticizing and interpreting during the reading stage but instead on trying to read the text from a more detached point of view so as not to misinterpret or to just miss information. I also appreciate his discussion “between practice and earnest.” This reminded me of Blau’s suggestion to create a literary community within the classroom but with a suggestion to take it one step further so that practice does not merely become theory without a place for application.

But after that, Scholes began to lose me and as I meditated (i.e. began losing interest in and focus) on the text during the discussion of whether a word means a word or means an object and if the object really exists (or something like that) I kept asking myself, so what? Isn’t it Scholes’s theory that encourages the reader to ask, so what? One of the questions that I keep asking myself in this course is “what is the objective of teaching literature?” If a student doesn’t care about the end result, is he going to care about the exercises he is doing to get there? Some of the possible answers I have come across so far are to learn critical thinking skills, to explore thoughts we might not have on our own, to be entertained, to connect with humanity, for self exploration, to become a better writer, and to develop consultation and collaboration skills doing group work. Are students going to care about literature more if we are able to define “differance”? How is that going to make a difference in the world?

During the discussion of objects and signifiers I couldn’t help but think that Magritte seems to have communicated the same thing much more succinctly, creatively and poignantly in his painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” where he presented a picture of a pipe and wrote on it, this is not a pipe
(http://artscenecal.com/ArtistsFiles/MagritteR/MagritteRFile/MagritteRPics/RMagritte1.html).

Is literary theory about semantics, and if it is, can’t we at least make the discussion a bit more interesting? Perhaps, sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Add comment March 4th, 2008

Peace and love

Is it egotistical to say that I don’t think my posts are as stupid and clumsy as I thought I they were when I wrote them? I was procrastinating about this assignment because I dreaded going back to look at what I wrote. Before every post I try to figure out what it is that I’m supposed to be doing with my post. I try something different every week. Am I supposed to be writing about my experience? I’m not a teacher, so I’m not sure how to do that in relation to the majority of the readings, but I try to interject a little of my own experience because it allows me to internalize the readings, and, let’s face it, because it’s what it seems like I am supposed to be doing. In some cases I think it worked; in some it seems a stretch. Or, am I supposed to be using the blog as a way to review what I’ve read, write about it, and remember it better? The “use it in a sentence” form of learning. I try that too here and there, but at the time I’m always wondering if I’m using the information incorrectly. As I read back over it, it seemed to make sense to me. Of course, what do I know? Or am I supposed to be expounding on the theories? I’m not sure exactly what that would look like but I think I tried it a couple of times in my posts and quickly cut myself off leaving some brief, interjected sentences that didn’t really go anywhere. I liked the idea in Blau’s book about writing a series of comments and notes instead of one essay on one topic. Sometimes I feel like I have a few ideas but none that are worthy of too many words. Maybe I’ll try the notes idea next week…

Before my last post, I became concerned with whether my posts were thoughtful enough. I thought I should be focusing on one idea and fleshing it out more. In my last post, I tried to imitate more of what I thought I should be saying, and I hated it more than any of the others. It seemed the least thoughtful of them all. It didn’t sound like me. I was trying to apply theories about learning with my limited knowledge of them and doing it badly.

I know some people have expressed concern that they are talking about themselves in their posts, but that is the parts of my posts (and others’ posts) that I liked best. It is where honest self exploration and personal application are discussed. I like to read about humanity, both because I learn from examples more than theories and because, although I am here to learn something academic, without the human element I don’t really see the point in learning anything anymore.

I too recently had a birthday and the result is that I have reflected on what’s important to me in life, and although I felt I would be considered too hippy dippy to express this human based perspective on in my blog posts for a graduate English class, it’s the hippy dippy, self searching parts of my posts that I enjoyed reading the most. I am inexperienced and naïve when it comes to teaching, and so many other things in life. I do want to believe the best in learners and teachers. I want to believe that teaching and writing and learning and reading are about making connections between human beings. When I learn, I want to learn about myself more than anything else because I believe that’s what makes a good learner and a good teacher. So I guess, hippy dippy it is.

1 comment February 26th, 2008

Learning to read

I have to admit that reader response plays into my reading habits quite a bit. I find that when I can apply information I am digesting to something practical in my life, it seems to give it a place to hang its hat so to speak in the living room inside my head. Having said that, The Literature Workshop by Blau reminded me of watching my son learn to read.

I’ve put to good use the techniques we have discussed in class and in the TEAPOD and have begun annotating texts, circling places where my flow of a text is interrupted and focusing on my difficulties. I find that when I break it down, I really understand a lot more of a text than I had thought on my first reading. As I analyzed the process which I used to interpret the Thoreau sentence in Blau’s short reading experiment, I found the method I used mirrors the way my son is learning to read. Just as he breaks down the sounds in the words and puts them together to see if they fit to make a word and then determines if the word he arrives at fits into the context of what he is reading, I broke down the sentence into the pieces I knew and the pieces I didn’t know and began to fit them into the context of the full sentence. I identified the words that stopped the flow of reading, just as he stumbles on certain sounds, and focused on them until I had a clearer understanding of their meaning. I was surprised that, although, my initial reaction when I read the sentence was, “huh?,” when I broke it down, I found that the only pieces I stumbled on were “once-and-a-half-witted” and “a third part of their wit” which were both pieces I could easily interpret when I focused on them.

I love literature and in lectures I soak up information, internalize it and learn from the examples provided by my teachers. I know that not everyone learns this way though and not everyone enjoys literature enough to make an effort, but perhaps the student who reads something and goes “huh?” would be more likely to see a text as manageable and not “too difficult for them and above their reading level,” as Blau’s students did on her initial presentation of the Thoreau sentence, if they too were taught to identify the pieces they did not understand. I had some wonderful teachers, who found a balance between lecturing and class discussion. They provided me with some information and let me dig out other information for myself. They broke down the process into small enough pieces for it to seem manageable. Once they modeled interpretation for me, they encouraged me to interpret literature for myself and they accepted my interpretations as long as I could provide valid arguments for them.

It would be easier for me to tell my son the words as he stumbles on them when learning to read, but just like learning to interpret literature, learning to read isn’t about learning words or text. There is an infinite amount of words, and an infinite amount of literature, and it would be impossible for me to teach him all of the words he might ever need to know. Learning to read is about being able find the answers on his own and being able to break down the process and apply different techniques until his interpretation makes sense. Just like my English teachers did for me when I was reading literature, there are times when I step in with information to help him. When he’s trying to sound out a silent “e” or pronounce the “g” sound in “light” I help, but I always allow him the first opportunity because I know how important it is for him to learn to do it on his own and more importantly, because I see how much more pride he takes in the words he works out without my help and how much motivation it provides him in working out the next puzzling piece. It is not his joy at learning a new word that motivates him — it is his joy at being able to figure it out on his own. Why is it that we value of critical thinking skills in kindergarten, but, as Ginny’s optometrist demonstrated, only see facts and information  as important as an adult?

Add comment February 19th, 2008

The Point of Poetry

As I read the Crosman article, my mind kept returning to the poem by William Wordsworth, Nuns Fret Not, that is part of the section in Norton on External Form. Wordsworth conveys the comfort that can be found in confinement. To me, reading poetry is the same. The poet confines me to a certain amount of space, a space large enough to allow me to explore, but small enough to provide focus and definition to my self-searching.

Poetry itself is a medium that lends itself to multiple meanings, emotions more than facts and that is open to interpretation, perhaps more than any other form of writing. If the intended meaning of the author was all the author wanted his reader to gain from reading his work, why not choose a medium that lends itself to detailed explanations and a purpose of informing readers rather than instigating thought? An essay seems a more appropriate choice, or a technical manual. I don’t want to believe that, as a reader, even as a critical reader, that my purpose in reading a poem is only to identify the intended meaning of the author.

At a particularly difficult time in my life, I read a poem that held significant meaning for me. It helped me deal with some tough things and after coming through the other side of my dark tunnel, I read the poem again and began to research some of the literary criticism associated with it. Because of the context and historical setting of the poem, I truly doubt that what I gained from the poem is the meaning the author intended, but that is still the meaning it held for me, and I am still grateful to that author for providing the solace I needed.

As a writer, if my poetry touches someone else and allows them to come to grips with something difficult or provides an epiphany, do I care if it is what I meant when I wrote the poem? No. For me, the intention of writing poetry is to process, to focus, to explore. If a reader gains that from my writing, then they have experienced the intended meaning of the author. I would like to think that accomplished poets feel the same way–that the intention of poetry is not to decree something or other, but to focus both the author and reader so they are able to risk exploration within the boundaries of the poem.

When I write poetry, it is almost always to explore conflicting feelings or thoughts that I would like to better understand. If the poem brings an understanding of my emotions, it rarely means that my feelings no longer conflict with one another. On the contrary, the poem often helps me come to grips with accepting the duality of my feelings, so having a single meaning of the poem denies the true sentiment. Crosman presents Hirsch’s example of the Wordsworth poem, Lucy, in which Hirsch shows “two diametrically opposed interpretations of the poem.” How many human beings experience death and do not experience diametrically opposed emotions relating to it - anger that someone is gone, guilt that they still have life and the person they loved does not, a hope that the loved one is happy in an afterlife and sadness that the loved one is no longer sharing life with them. Why does Wordsworth have to be rejoicing or sorrowful? Isn’t it more likely that he was experiencing both, and that the plurality of feeling is what held meaning for Wordsworth in writing the poem?

It is a sad thought to me to diminish poetry so that it should have only one meaning. Additionally, Hirsch’s belief that it is only the author’s meaning that is valid denies the human connection between reader and writer, which for me is one of the most significant reasons for both writing and reading–and living. Human emotion and beliefs typically do not have one simple meaning; why reduce this medium so rich in its ability to convey the plurality of humanity, to a single, narrow view?

Add comment February 10th, 2008

Exploring

The majority of educational research I have studied thus far has been about the learner–Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Brain-based Learning, Vygotsky’s Social Cognition. And, as in the Shulman article, I do believe that it is important to respect the learner and what s/he brings to the learning experience, but what I found so fascinating about the Visible Knowledge Project is that it is research focused on teaching, not learning–which is different –and it is research in practice.

Although I appreciate the PDF of the site documents for printing purposes, I am glad that they were not available when I reviewed the site. It would have been too tempting to just read the PDF to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And, I was skeptical of the site so motivation for perusing the site would have been low. I couldn’t see how a “poster” could provide any significant research findings. But as I scanned through the pages, I began to see how the electronic format of the posters allowed the researchers to expand anywhere and to include infinite amounts of information–information that was manageable because it was initially presented in a simple form, but when I wanted to explore a topic more in depth, detailed explanations, examples and related resources were instantly accessible.  I would have missed a lot if I had just read the PDF.

This approach of allowing the learner to explore things more in depth and presenting information in manageable pieces is also what I liked best about the assignments that Bass and Linken gave to their students. They both pieced out the reading and analysis process for their learners so it would not be overwhelming. They encouraged their students to pursue their own interests and curiosity. Linken broke down the process for researching a paper into manageable chunks. This break down of information and process seems much more manageable than just having a final paper due. It also allowed students to see their own progress rather than simply focusing on the end result. Bass’s three role system created a process where students could work together to find a solution so that each student was covering more information with less work by learning and building on the reasoning of his peers. This reminds me of the game where one person starts a story by providing a phrase or sentence and then the next person adds a small piece, and so on, until, what is generally a very creative and interesting story has been told. This process seems like it would provide a collective knowledge of what all the students bring to the table and could provide infinite avenues for discussion depending on the specific interests of the participants.

Not being a teacher in a classroom, so far, educational research has been very theoretical to me. The information was presented in articles, lectures and presentations, and I dutifully applied the “schoolish behavior” I had learned and memorized it. The VKP site provides a dynamic environment that allows me to the opportunity not only to learn about a theory but to know what it looks like in practice and to see real life results. It also presents the information to me in a way that is not overwhelming and that encourages me to explore my areas of interest in the projects.

Add comment February 6th, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

I struggled with a topic for this posting because I feel very much like a novice and am well aware that I am only scratching the surface information and have not yet moved to the point where I can apply a higher order thinking to the readings. My saving grace is that my ability to acknowledge my ignorance seems, according to Bransford’s chapter in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, to have the potential to work in my favor, so I’ll try to take heart in that.

Although I imagine that many individuals in the class found the readings in Norton on narration, plot, character development, etc. to be redundant information, I was very grateful that it was required reading. I have not considered these terms much recently and, like the novices discussed in Bransford’s chapter, my “pause time” would have been extended as I searched my memory for those terms and the information associated with them, leaving less time for me to focus on categorizing, or “chunking” information and even less time to begin understanding concepts and making connections between information.

It seems natural to teach information by chunking it, and chunking information seems to be a natural tendency of learners. Watching any child learn his colors demonstrates this. First, he recognizes all of the color words. One week everything will be red. The next week everything will be blue. But, he never points to something to describe the color of it and calls it “three”. “Three” is not chunked with color words.

It seems less instinctive for teachers to teach information by teaching concepts, however, and less instinctive for learners to derive concepts from information. Although in my own education I have had some wonderful teachers who encouraged me to draw conclusions and analyze information, I always thought the goal of my education was for me to learn the content - the capitals of the states, the names of all the presidents, the formula for finding the angle in a triangle-but this is not the knowledge that I apply in my life. In my life it is the concepts of how to learn, how to organize information, how to recognize my ignorance that proves most useful.

All experts start as novices. They all begin by learning the facts. The best teachers I had were not the ones that imparted the most information. They were the ones that taught me that I was capable of grasping more than the surface information, to not give up when I was frustrated and felt like I was never going to “get it” and who didn’t provide me with all the answers, but instead encouraged me to figure things out on my own. Covering content is great, but I don’t think it’s what I want to consider the goal of teaching.

Add comment January 29th, 2008


ENGL 610:002 // Spring 2008

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