Posts filed under 'Week 6'

Late Reflection-an abridged version :)

Sorry this is a week later than everyone else’s reflective posts because I was out sick. When I reflected on my posts I noticed that I did respond more to how the texts and readings might affect my classroom. I suppose I cannot help but imagine my classes and how they may or may not respond to new pedagogy and activities. In fact, a lot of my posts mention how I have tried or look forward to trying new methods learned from our readings.

In our class discussion some people mentioned that the posts were narcissistic, but I think mine have to be. Isn’t the point to react to the readings and text? At times I felt I was a bit redundant, but I think it’s because when I’m writing, I’m also trying to talk ideas out on paper and sometimes that involved repetition of the same ideas and thoughts. I tended to focus on a chapter or an idea, rather than the whole work. When I read, sentences or phrases stand out to me and that was evident in my posts.

Though I discussed a lot about how I would use these ideas in my classroom, I noticed I discussed a lot about my department and school that often forces curriculum and texts down our throats. It has always been amazing to me that people who are not in the classroom and are not updated to new ways of learning are the ones dictating what happens in our schools. Again, I digress, but my posts were mostly about my classes and how I relate and teach them.

Add comment March 5th, 2008

Revision at the Eleventh Hour

The most obvious consistency of my posts, from week to week, is how reckless they are. Not in the sense that they’re the posts of a renegade bucking against the establishment; more in the sense that “this-is-barely-a-draft-and-I-haven’t-yet-come-to-a-conclusion.” It’s apparent that the posts were written in the last couple of hours before ten each Wednesday. It’s not that the writing is poor; it’s just that the phrasing is sometimes awkward, the examples can be unclear, and meaning is much less definitive than it seemed on first glance. These are the kind of things you can’t see until you put writing away—for a day at least—before looking at it again.

My weakness is also my code, however. I often exalt the act of eleventh-hour writing in my posts, either explicitly or implicitly. In “Simulated Bomb Defusal,” my post from week 3, I discussed Linkon’s idea of doing away with the final paper in research courses. I demurred because I thought it a better idea to combat the flaws of the research paper—painfully narrow focus, artificial use of sources, erroneous manipulation of theories—with unreasonable time constraints. Giving the student less than a week to write a first draft diminishes the possibility of being able to self-sabotage yourself. It was a dramatic retelling of the writer mythos, where the writer is less a scholar engaging in a methodical process than the hero of a contrived Hollywood blockbuster, finishing his or her work at the razor’s edge of world-threatening doom.

My tendency toward eleventh-hour exaltation can be found in week 4 as well, where I discussed Crosman’s “making meaning” dynamic. However, I began to care less about the possible evolution of specious interpretation and more about creating an amusing example of it (Wordsworth’s ode to zombies). The very thing I warned about in the post happened in the post: more thought was put into what the piece could mean than what it actually did mean. The same thing happens in the subsequent week when I discuss scenes from “The Simpsons” as a lens for the actions of Wilner’s resistant students. Not that the comparison isn’t arguably apt, but it’s trying to be self-consciously irreverent in a way that misses the point: meaning of the readings is understood, but not necessarily responded to.

The first post is somewhat different; it’s overly technical and formal, for a variety of reasons: I’m in my element (the teaching of athletics), and I’m assuming upon the reader’s understanding of certain aspects of swimming that are second nature to me but not necessarily to them; it’s the first post of the class and I’m unavoidably wary about what is expected; and also, it’s just not very good.

A specific conclusion I can come to is that these are perfectly viable rough drafts that require further revision. More often than not I discuss action–how one writes, how one swims, how one thinks— as opposed to theory. This is a side effect of the last-minute process; everything becomes less about constructing theoretically sound interpretations than about creating memorable ruminations upon how that theory is used. Memorable is good. Visceral examples are also useful. But, as the “Simulated Bomb Defusal” post intimated, they are useful more as starting points that undermine stiff writing. The ideas should be flexible and vivid, leading off in a number of directions; however, a variety of open paths leads to the same caveat inherent in reader-response theory: if any reading or interpretation is possible, then pretty soon none of them mean anything, since none of them carry any weight.

In short, I need to revise. This post too.


Add comment February 27th, 2008

Second Time

I am reposting my essay from last week, the one that I did on the wrong readings. I figure that I wrote it so you can read it. If you read it last week despite my warning, thanks. If not, here it is to haunt you again.



For this week’s entry I will borrow Blau’s alternative assignment of “a collection of loosely connected notes or comments on a text or topic, each identified by a heading or number, requiring no transitions between them.” I choose to do this because I had disparate reactions to the readings and because I have never tried this type of writing. It is engrained in me that my writing must meet the standard criteria of academic texts: have one central point that is fully developed through a series of well organized and interconnected paragraphs. So in the spirit of exploration and taking risks, I will try something new.

1.         Elbow’s argument that writing should precede reading because filling student’s heads with the ideas of others stifles their own creativity sounds like the no-content curriculum that was popular in the 1990’s. As Elbow’s article was published in 1993, there is little wonder that there are similarities. The concept of a no-content curriculum was that the psyches of children would be damaged by telling them things, even things such as basic math facts and sentence structure (Breed). So teachers were expected to teach students how to do things without teaching them any facts. Imagine teaching a student to read without being able to assign them a text because it might inhibit the student’s development as an individual. Luckily, this theory of teaching fell out of favor and we moved on to other ideas.

            We also need to remember that students do not come to our classes as empty vessels that need only be filled with wisdom. Instead they come to our class rooms filled with their own ideas and experiences. Sometimes this is a good thing; other times it is not. Remember the film we watched the first night of class? Those students not only had mis-information, they refused to give up on the ideas they had. It is sometimes painful to read student essays in which students are assigned to argue their side of a belief. While I will readily defend a person’s right to his belief, I will also insist that person be able to defend that belief. Students often have firm beliefs. The believe things because it is what they have been taught, it is what they have heard, it is what they want to believe, or it is what is beneficial to them to believe. A little bit of reading often changes their minds.

            In an ideal world, emphasizing writing over reading would be marvelous. However, in the real world, how can we expect students to discuss something of which they are not even aware? If we assign readings to students to give them new view points, we will encourage them to examine their own beliefs along with the ideas in the reading.

2.         Blau mentions several assignments that sound like some of the things that I already do in other formats in my classes. He mentions others that I would like to try. (I wonder if I can change the assignments in the middle of the semester. Perhaps not) I am particularly interested in using technology to teach literature and composition. Some of Blau’s assignments could easily be transferred to on-line assignments that could be used in hybrid of DL classes to enhance either F2F meetings or discussion boards.

            For instance, I already assign reading journals in my classes. Students are to record first impressions, areas of interest, questions, or any comments they would like to make. These journal entries could be done as a class blog, allowing classmates the opportunity to share difficulties or perhaps offer answers in follow-up comments. This would also make grading easier because the students would never know which entries would be read by the teacher on a specific week. It is also easy to simply count the number of entries made by each member of the blog. This would not necessarily check for content, but it could certainly satisfy the collection portion of Blau’s portfolio assignment.

            We will return to the idea teaching literature with technology in my teaching presentation. I look forward to your comments on what I finally come up with. This is something that I probably can introduce into my current classes. Perhaps I should practice on them?

3.         Okay, so I wrote two completely unrelated sections in this paper. I edited the transition between them several times because I kept putting in a transition. Old habits are hard to break. If there is no connection between the sections of my paper, do I need a conclusion? I think not. BY!


            Works Cited

Breed, Jerry and Mary Breed. “No-Content Curriculum.” The Washington Post 1995,

            May 14. Retrieved February 16, 2008, from National Newspapers (9) database.

            (Document ID: 19564506).

Add comment February 27th, 2008

Reflections on Transitions

I learned a long time ago that it was difficult to transition between creative and expository writing. If I had been concentrating on writing literary criticisms, the characters in my stories spoke in a very stilted fashion. There were no contractions in their speech and they never began a sentence with and or but. If I had been concentrating on creative writing, my expository essays were colorful but lacked cohesiveness. By reading through my blog posts I have discovered that it is also difficult to transition from teacher to student.

Though I believe that teachers are always students to some degree, we are not always aware of some of the struggles that our students undergo. We are certainly aware of the deadlines for papers and readings. We are equally aware that some texts are difficult to read. I can’t imagine assigning some of the essays that I have struggled through to my undergraduates, even though they may be highly applicable. For instance, in a recent composition class, I had assigned an article about critical thinking to my students. In class, we worked through pointing, writing about a line, sharing in groups, and reporting. During the reporting section, the conversation turned from thinking with concepts to signifiers. I have read Derrida and tried to simplify his idea for my freshman students, but I could not imagine assigning his texts for them to read. The point here is that I recognize that students have difficulties with texts because I also do.

What has become clearer to me from reading my posts is that as I have worked through the issue of being teacher to being student. This is not to imply that I came into this class with the thought of being the teacher here. I came to learn, to be a student. But my concept of student has changed. I find that I have unconsciously done what I really want my students to do. My first posts reflect a more scholarly approach to the theories we are considering in class. Though I had already overcome my reluctance to write in the first person through previous class room blogs, there was still a theoretical tome to my writing. As the blogs progressed, there was less theory and more application.

My first post was very much a teacher’s reaction to the reading. Even though I used Salvatori’s difficulty paper format, I was engaging her text from the standpoint of a teacher. I commented on the use of voice and writing style. I expressed and understanding of the content, but never really engaged deeply with it, despite the fact that I wrote a difficulty paper.

The readings for the second week elicited a similar response. I was concerned with the theory if how students learn. I did take a step away from theory, however, when I identified myself with one of the students in Linkon’s study. But this quickly reverted to the teacher mode when I commented on my own method of teaching research to my students. It is not my intention to say that concentrating on this information as a teacher is wrong. It is simply that in order to be effective, this knowledge needs to move beyond the theoretical. The act of employing these methods in my writing or in my classes isn’t even enough. They need to become more than concepts or signifiers.

In the third post I feel that I made a strong step in this direction. I was now taking the theories out of the text and applying them. My discussion of falling trees and conversations was an attempt to engage the content of the readings on a deeper level. There was also evidence that theories from previous readings in other classes was beginning to gel with the ideas I was facing in this class. They were becoming and integrated whole.

The titles of the last two entries is revealing of the direction my writing had taken: “Down Memory Lane” and “Musings.” My comments on the readings had taken on a much more personal tone. They were becoming a part of my thinking outside of the class room. My writing has also become less formal, and more conversational. Overall my writing/focus moved steadily away from theory and into internalization and application.

Basically, over the course of the weeks, my writing became less formal and more internally focused. From previous experience, I know this usually happens over the course of a semester that requires weekly blog posts. This leaves me with several questions.

  • Is it that familiarity breeds contempt? As I write more and become familiar with my classmates and instructor, am I less interested in impressing them? Is this a good thing or not?

  • Is this loss of formality good for me because the readings/writings become less theoretical? Am I using the knowledge instead of simply storing it away?

  • Would it also be good for undergraduate students? Would they become more comfortable with the reading/writing process, or would they simply become sloppy?

My answer is maybe. I think the use of blogs can be very good. As I am interested in teaching with technology, this is part of my teaching and will probably become a larger part of it. I feel that the blogs lead to more discussion and hopefully a better understanding as participants share ideas. On the other hand, my experience has shown that some students abuse the idea of ungraded responses to the point that posts become almost undecipherable. If my writing has (in my opinion) degenerated over the semester (even in our short time), what will happen to undergraduate writing? Of course, that begs the question of does that matter?

While this reflection of my own writing has been revealing, it also raises many questions. These are answers that I will have to wait to discover.


Add comment February 27th, 2008

Making Connections

For someone who thinks the discussion on meaning should be over, I sure do talk about it a lot. =) In the very first post, I state a conflict between the intended meaning of a sentence and what I want it to mean. (At least I’m holding true to the idea that both readers and authors have the right to make meaning.) Of course, I use the quote to support what I want it to mean, a meaning that matches my personal experiences with literature — which leads me to the biggest trend in my blog posts: an attempt to put a nugget from the reading into the framework of my experiences. Unfortunately, having no literature teaching experiences, the contexts I put my little nuggets into are my experiences as a writer, student, reader… and consumer of coffee.

Perhaps this is why my posts also tend to put me in the role of a student empathizer. I latch on to methods that address frustrations I have had as a student or that promote practices of teachers I have appreciated. I latch on to ideas that start with the individual students, that help validate student ideas, and that teach students that it’s okay not to understand everything.

As Jennifer writes, “I tend to blend the lines between the analysis of the text I read and the analysis of my life experiences.” Apparently I find interpreting the meaning in everyday life to be a difficult, yet worth while task, and I want to help students use literature as a means of accepting and confronting this difficulty. To this end, I am drawn towards methods and ideas of teaching that show students the complications in texts, that allow for different and even conflicting interpretations, and that focus on developing critical thinking skills that do in fact blur the lines between textual reality and actual reality. As a writer (back to that again), I have embraced the notion that the goal is to capture some element of the human condition. As a reader, I work to connect with the writer’s representation of that condition. And as a teacher, I would hope to help students in their search for that connection.

In looking at the structure of my posts and the construction of my ideas, it’s clear that my ideas tend to circle back on themselves in a sort of spiral. My writing circles around the same threads, pulling in ideas from past readings, classes, and others’ blog posts as it goes around. While I wish the loop were a bit wider than it is, that I had more experiences to draw on, and that I were incorporating a few more new ideas into the loop, I think this spiraling shows that, for me at least, the blog is a way of putting the reading into contexts that are meaningful to me and is, therefore, a useful way to build those mental connections that are essential to learning. And that is one reason why I don’t think any of us should feel guilty about the egocentric nature of our posts.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in my blogging is that in reviewing these, I don’t see the ideas I missed. I stick so closely to my experiences and the ideas that I’m attached to that even in reflection I don’t see where my lack of experience has caused me to misunderstand or completely miss something. I can’t see where (as the TEAPOD discusses) what I know is actually the cause of my difficulty. But I guess that’s where reading the posts of others and classroom discussion comes in. And this is another reason why I don’t think any of us should feel guilty about our egocentric posts: not only are we putting the ideas in meaningful contexts for ourselves, we are lending our contexts to each other. For those of us without teaching experience, this is tremendously valuable. Now that I have made myself aware of my biases, perhaps I can use the ideas and experiences of others not only to build my spiral, but also to knock it onto a different (faster, wider?) track from time to time.

Add comment February 27th, 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

Growing Pains

In  reviewing my previous blogs, I found three areas of repeated discussion. (As well as typos and thoughts/comments that could have been expanded on).

In three blogs I mentioned how I incorporated a method, learned from our readings, to strenghten my ability as a reader.  Even though I love reading, and consider myself an intermmediate reader, there has been many instances where I didn’t fully understand the meaning of certain passages or poems. I thought it was just me, and not something that is a common occurrence with students.  I’ve learned how I can expand my narrow, mostly literal, tunnel of thinking.  It started with accepting the difficulty and working through it instead of avoiding it.  The second step was to use annotations on the second read- through.  The third step was to make connections to either the “sketches,” other texts, or my cultural knowledge. I may have been already doing a bit of that on a superficial level, but now that I’m more aware, and therefore more focused, my reading process has been “fine tuned.”

I’ve also flipped-flopped between the roles of teacher and parent.  As a future teacher, I can envision my classroom environment as being more collaborative, and I know how I want to guide the students learning (to a degree), but as a parent I only have limited control over how my children, especially my son, is taught.  So, I put this out there, in part, because of my worry and because I thought that one teacher might have the ability/desire/courage to guide another teacher that either struggles or is uncomfortable with the labeled students. But I don’t know how realistic this possibilty is. (I did appreciate Ginny’s honesty in her one blog where she described that ADHD filled environment she taught in).

The last area covers attempts to discuss critical analysis/theory/concepts that are foreign to me.  Combined with the fact that I’m not currently teaching leaves me feeling that either my blogs are rather shallow compared to others or that I’m asking questions out loud because I don’t really have a feeling one way or the other yet. Much of our topics  has been new to me and that’s when I have to remind myself that this is the reason for my being here.      

I have received a few valuable comments that have provided professional insight or food for thought; thank you.


Add comment February 26th, 2008

Elbow is Write On

I have been reading Peter Elbow’s work and commentaries since undergrad. I have always appreciated his candid and direct opinions. When reading “The War between Reading and Writing: And How to End it,” I really appreciated when he said, “most schools and colleges emphasize reading and neglect writing” (10). Ever since I started teaching I have always forcefully suggested to my English team that we lighten up on the novels and start really spending some time focused on writing. In the three schools I’ve taught in it’s been the same song and dance. Read a novel, write something. Something can mean a brochure, a paragraph or and forced five paragraph essay. What I find most disturbing about this continuous cycle is the fact that essays or paragraphs went through one quick draft and then we moved on to the next novel. No more growth-one, two drafts if we have time and then it’s on to the next novel. In college I always had amazing writing teachers who incorporated reading and writing nearly everyday-very different from the “write the essay or something at the end of the novel unit.” I wanted to do that same approach with my students, but with PLC (professional learning community) enforced at our school, all the 9th grade teachers taught in step. That meant that even if my kid’s essays needed more than one draft, Dana and Evan’s classes were ready to go, so we moved on.

This year is the first year I finally put my foot down. As a writer, I am never content with one draft before I produce a final product. It just seems wrong. As my 9th grade team mapped out the school year in September I took it upon myself to take out two novels. I simply told our team leader I just wasn’t going to teach them. To me, three or four novels, a handful of short stories, some nonfiction essays, and poetry were enough. Five or six novels were just too much. To be honest, I am only teaching two novels and one play this year. But the good news is that my students just spent nearly four weeks revising and editing one essay. Each kid went through at least four drafts and they learned the value of revising. When I had to teach six novels in addition to the other literature, I felt like I rushed through writing and to me, writing is an essential skill that students must have in order to be successful and functional adults. Elbow wrote, “we need to respect writing with similar flexibility-by also having low stakes, supplementary, and experimental writing instead of being so rigid and one dimensional about it” (19). My students weren’t graded on each draft, in fact, we conferenced so much that they were excited about writing more. Once we discussed a new possible angle, or idea, they felt more comfortable ditching their initial topic and moving on. I also gave them an open assignment that related to the novel we were reading. I was so impressed with what my students wrote and how much their thinking had evolved in one month. To this day I haven’t graded the final. In fact, the most valuable lesson I think they learned was when I asked them to attach all their drafts to the final. They were amazed at how much writing they had done. I also don’t feel the need to grade the final because we conferenced on each draft and by the end of the four weeks, I knew each word was well written, all the textual evidence was relevant and the ideas were original and well thought-out.

I am so glad that I let go of a novel for a month. It felt so good to let them know how much I valued writing in the classroom. It took about a week for them to stop saying, “all we’re doing is writing today,” but soon they were like busy little bees finding out ways to expand and explore topics they chose. In the past I was exhausted with reading. It seemed as soon as we finished one novel, we were rushing to start the next so we could meet the “novel quota” for the year. Bringing writing to the same level of importance as reading felt wonderful and I don’t think I can ever go back to an existence where I am cramming novels down their throats and assigning really thoughtless and short writing assignments that are abandoned as soon as the novel is through.

Right now my kids are writing slam poems and they spend and have spent at least an hour of class for the past two weeks just conferencing with me and writing their short poems. I thought it would be boring. I thought the kids would write crappy poems and waste the rest of the hour, but they didn’t. They really impressed me with their willingness to read out loud to the group and request suggestions and constructive criticism. They practice reading the poems out loud and listen to which words or phrases they need to emphasize and it amazes me! If a line doesn’t sound right, they revise and add. I credit their willingness to chuck portions of their writing because that’s what I encouraged them to do with our previous essay. For the first time in my teaching career I feel like a writing teacher-one who also teaches her love of reading.

2 comments February 26th, 2008

An Active Reader?

Each human is his or her own favorite subject. And after reading several self-evaluations this week, it seems we routinely self-deprecate and feel guilty for this introspection. What else should we contemplate in our weekly blogs than our personal opinions and theories on the craft of teaching and understanding literature? Our experiences are our only vantage point unless we practice perfect empathy and martyrdom (which might seem like a prerequisite for teaching). We weigh ourselves against the texts and evaluate where we stand in relation to what we learn–these qualities make us lifelong students and worthy teachers. And as teachers, we rule our own domain; our students view us as the purveyors of content knowledge. It seems a natural progression (or pitfall) to start thinking or ourselves as the expert.

Looking over my previous blogs, I have noticed moments when I seem to flaunt my believed expert status (particularly in relation to my post concerning Wilner’s essay last week). Because I view my rapport with my students as primary and teaching literature and language as secondary, I could not condone Wilner’s treatment of her students. I felt perturbed enough about Wilner’s teaching style that I composed a blog for all of my classmates to read. What could anyone else learn from my rants? Was it narcissistic to post my opinion that suggested Wilner‘s style was flawed?  Perhaps. But because of my reflections on Wilner, I now reflect before criticizing (whether verbally or mentally) my students.

Not only do I rely on my teaching experiences as evidence of my growing “expert” status in my classroom, but I also incorporate knowledge from my life experiences unrelated to teaching. My first blog seemed to speak more to the pleasure of difficulty in life than the difficulty I have experienced as a reader.  I have noticed that I tend to blend the lines between the analysis of the text I read and the analysis of my life experiences. While reflecting on my blogs, I have recognized that my reading comprehension depends on my ability to mesh the textual information I consume with the prior knowledge I have harvested throughout my life. This mini-epiphany, common sense as it may seem, will allow me to relate to my students and better understand the value of this blended approach to learning and teaching. How can I expect my students to fully understand or value a text that does not correlate with their life experiences? How could Wilner have expected this? Why do teachers encourage and require students to read literature that they could not possibly understand without properly priming their minds with prior knowledge experiences? Through reading and reflecting, I have learned that good teaching requires good scaffolding practices. I have also realized that information gained through reading, without an emphasis on the application of this knowledge, makes learning a stagnant enterprise. 

Now, I find myself ranting again…. perhaps a shift from self-reflection to action will allow our cyber-ranting to bring about the change we seek.

-Jennifer Carter-Wharton

1 comment February 26th, 2008

Expectations produce most coherent thoughts.

In going back and reading my posts, I had many of the same insights that have already been written. However, since I doubt any of you are psychic I’ll go ahead and write my post do that you don’t have to keep wondering about the commonalities . This brings me to the first commonality - narcissism in the same ways that Sara and Laurel have already mentioned. Most posts do indicate that I like to talk about myself and that I wrtie about what I like and that this is what the class must want to hear about.  My insights regarding this are:

1- Of course I’m going to write about myself because this is what I ‘know’ and I see the purpose of this class as giving me new information to think about and analyze with what I ‘know’ and then create deeper meanings and understandings thus altering what I ‘knew’ and creating a new personal knowledge. One of the ways the thinking and analyzing takes place is through these blog posts. As William Zinsser says (along with many others in different ways), “Writing is thinking on paper.” 

2- Going along with insight #1, without direction we all focus on what we like or find interesting or challenging. In fact, only in the very first post did I actually incorporate all of the readings and that was we were given the loose directions of commenting on the readings and looking for how they might intersect.

Another aspect that has received many mentions and comments is the ‘blogging voice’. For myself personally, I really haven’t had much problem just logging on and rambling on (I like the sound keystrokes make). I feel that this is due to my previous experience (talking about myself again). As a student I have often been required to take part in a weekly blog or discussion post type exercise therefore I do not find it new, nor do I fear not sounding too academic. This is because in none of the previous experiences has that been an expectation. I also require that my students reply to a weekly blog discussion; however, I do have an expectation that they use Standard Written English. Which I explain to them as meaning they should write in complete sentences and not use texting abbreviations when posting; however, I do tell them that I do not necessarily expect to see their ideas fully developed on the blog post as this is a place for them to get their thoughts out and hopefully get feedback from their classmates.

Continuing along with this ’blogging as thinking’ idea, I also see some disjointedness about my posts when reading them as the non-author. I also experience this with my writing when I re-read 1st drafts. I realize that there are things that I’ve said that I understand the flow and how one idea follows another, but in re-reading I see how someone else may not be able to follow my train of thought. This is also something I see in my students’ writing. However, for many of them it continues through to the final draft because they cannot comprehend why someone couldn’t follow what they meant.

In addressing the final question of the reflecting on reflecting blog, I would have to say the thing that I value most about the weekly blogging is that it gives me that chance to reflect on what we’ve read/talked about in class and think about how it influences/affects my classroom practice. Sometimes I get inspired to try something new and other times I just get affirmation about what I’m already doing, but regardless, I get an excuse to take the time to just reflect. I also really enjoy reading what the rest of you have posted because I get ideas from your words and affirmation in your thoughts as well.

Add comment February 26th, 2008

Inspiration, Difficulty, Doubt, and Triumph.

As far back as elementary school and even up through college I used to keep a mental list of teaching strategies that I liked and didn’t like. I observed my teachers carefully, knowing that I wanted to be one of them someday. I had this huge list in my head and always said how I should write it down before I actually got in front of a classroom. I never did, telling myself for years that I had plenty of time. Then one day, sans a hard copy, I was suddenly a teacher.

What that little anecdote tells me about myself is that I like to observe and try to get ideas by seeing what works and doesn’t work for others. I think that this holds true for my blogging experience thus far in this course as well.

 As I read through my posts, the first thing I noticed was that I was always trying to figure out how I could use these ideas in my own classroom. Lots of ideas have been given in all our readings, from TEAPOD up through the Blau book, though plenty of them have been exemplified in college classrooms. This gives me the challenge of figuring them out how to “translate” the ideas from the college classroom to my classroom.

 In that same vein, I also noticed that my posts are laced with doubt. Because so many of the ideas seem to be adapted for college classrooms, I worry about how my 9th graders would do with similar activities. I often doubt that their maturity (or lack thereof) will allow me to get very far with any of these lessons, though I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did with the exercise that was Blau-inspired last week (and they continue to do so!). In trying to figure out how to adapt these lessons, though, I am given the chance to practice working through difficulty, which has become another major theme in my blogs.

 Working through difficulty is one of those things that had occurred to me before, but that I had never actually tried, and therefore never really encouraged my students to do. Since reading TEAPOD, it has been something that I have kept coming back to in my posts because I have found that much of our reading has expounded upon that first exposure to it.

 The questioning that I do ties in with my aforementioned themes. I often question the reading and say “that would never work for me” and then think of the reasons why. This eventually led me to begin questioning my own questions, and I ended up with wonderful lessons :-) 

1 comment February 26th, 2008

Reflecting on Reflecting

I went back and read my entries and realized that I really do believe that the class must be interested only in what I like about a specific reading.  I tend to go through and sort of touch on the readings and glow about what is so neato in each. 

In my defense, I have no real experience to draw on or application of the techniques described to share.  So what would I discuss?  In reading through I realize that I do focus, and criminally so, only on what I like.  Others go on about what is annoying, how they feel it may or may not work in class.  I just drone on about the happy joy, joy.  The piece about Sonny’s Blues really annoyed me, so I did not write about it.  I should have.  All of my anger at that teacher — I sat across from my husband bellowing about her – should have been included in my blogging.  I have never blogged before, though, so the whole concept, while getting easier, is a little bit wide open for me. 

I have been obviously sort of sponge-like.  I go on about how the readings have been resolving some of the stress I have at the prospect of teaching and my hope of being effective in the classroom.  In reading the other entries, I have found more solace than in writing my own.  Seeing the application of the information we learned teaches.  I trust the other students’ experience and their application of these concepts more than Blau.

My writing in the blogs has relaxed a little.  Still, it is hopelessly in agreement.  I tend to go through and pick out what jives with class discussion, what concurs.  I see in other entries the open discussion of annoyances and grievances that I have never felt “allowed” to mention in class before.  I guess I have perfected “schoolish” behavior and will discipline myself against it in the future.  How good of me to do so. 

I see how my writing changed in style a little.  It has eased.  It is less formal and sort of paper-ish.  Blogging, as I said earlier, is a new and strange idea.  I like it, and I can see myself easing into the practice over the few entries I have made. 

Not much else to say here.  There is nothing else I can express that is likey-likey today.


Add comment February 26th, 2008

Reflecting on My Reflections

Reading through my blog posts, I came to a not-so-startling conclusion: I like to talk about myself. A lot. I’ll summarize it for you as succinctly as possible:

  • In my first post, I wrote about the anxiety I felt as I confronted new terminology and theory. In a classroom full of experienced teachers, I found myself struggling with both the material and my relative lack of experience.
  • In my second post, I recounted my childhood experience with summary cards in a post that could be subtitled “How one summer trained me to be a “good” student and taught me to dread reading.” In this post I also suggested that Linkon’s VKP research could help teachers break schoolish behavior and restore the fun and exploratory aspects of reading.
  • By my third post, I was feeling comfortable enough with the material to make a critical argument re: Crosman’s interpretive theory (and haranguing of poor old E.D. Hirsch). The argument, however, was grounded in my personal outrage at Crosman’s tone and questionable logic.
  • With my fourth post, I again returned to comfortable “me” territory in a discussion of Blau’s overarching point that literary study, at its best, can impart practical critical reasoning skills that will serve them well across academic subjects and in their future everyday and professional lives. I grounded the discussion in my own inability to answer the question that plagues many studiers of English: “Why don’t you study something useful?”

So what do these posts say about me (other than the possibility that I am some kind of narcissistic freak)? Three main things, I think.

First, I’ve gained confidence in my own ability to interpret and analyze the assigned readings. Most telling was the shift in tone that occurs gradually over the course of my posts. Post 1 is teeming with qualifiers (e.g. “I have limited knowledge of pedagogical theory.”) The second post contains fewer qualifying comments, as does the third. By the fourth post, I (by my own estimation) comment confidently on the perceived frou-frou nature of literary study. As asserted by Salvatori and Donahue, the very process of writing about the readings increased both my comprehension and analytical capacity.

Second (building on the first point), as my comfort level with the material has increased, I’ve been better able to grapple with the “meat” of the assigned readings. The first two posts were largely reflective of my own struggles, and only brush the surface of the readings. The last two posts more directly address the theoretical underpinnings of the two readings in question (Crosman and Blau).

Third, despite my apparent comfort in talking about myself, writing in the first-person is something that is new to me. In fact, the lion’s share of my academic first-person writing was composed this summer in a writing class organized around a mini-autobiography and personal essay. I am still learning how to interpret and analyze in the first person.

The “story” of my posts, therefore (by my interpretation), is a story of evolution and increased comfort with new material. It is also a story about navigating the process of first-person writing for non-autobiographical purposes. I am curious to see how both of these narratives unfold over the course of the semester.

Add comment February 25th, 2008

What Kind of Reader am I?

 The common thread I found among the blogs I have posted in the last month is questions.  I want to know if these ideas, such as the ones in Blau’s workshops, will work in my classroom.  They are very neatly packaged (scripted, actually) in the text, and I was taught to believe that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  The skeptic in me asks things such as how relying on my peers instead of my teacher will make me feel more empowered to discover the meaning of difficult texts.  I questioned Crosman’s motives and assumptions behind his challenge of Hirsch’s belief about Truth and where meaning lies.  I questioned the value, implicit in the posters by Bass and Linkon, of readers making speculations about a text for speculation’s sake.  Where does authority, to use one of Blau’s terms, of the interpretation and connections fit in?  And my first blog is even titled with a question as I wonder how I can help my students move toward becoming expert readers.

Apparently I have a need to know how to apply all of this very new stuff.  Every week we read about authors, texts, and concepts I have never heard of before, and my way of trying them on to see how they fit is to ask lots of questions.  Doesn’t sound like a bad approach to me.  Naomi

Add comment February 24th, 2008

On Blogging

This assignment helped me see my growth as a writer in such a short period of time.  Although I have only posted four blogs, each blog has helped me identify difficulties and advances in my writing.   In my blogs I specifically discuss issues that I have struggled with in reading and writing about Literature.  I then highlight and note areas in our reading assignments and class discussions that help me realize why I struggled in a specific area of literature, reading, or writing.  This combined practice helps me note the problem areas my future students may face, and as a result helps me devise plans to help make it easier for those students struggling in reading or writing.  Coming from a bicultural and bilingual background where English was hardly spoken at home, and the literature discussed at home was Persian Literature, I can understand the difficulties students with different backgrounds can face when reading and writing about American Literature. So the weekly blogs have helped me identify reasons for these difficulties I faced in reading and writing, and use this knowledge in my future teaching experience.
Recurring themes that I noticed in my blogs were issues pertaining to understanding poetry, and a teacher’s ability and art to teach writing and reading. I have brought examples from my high school and undergraduate teachers who impacted my writing and literary skills.  But, I have also realized that the nature of my posts has changed after the four weeks.  Now, I tend to write less about my previous writing experiences, and focus more on writing about the text and how I will be using what I learn from here on in my future teaching.  For example in my last week’s post I show more comparison of Blau’s work and our class discussion, as opposed to my own experiences.  Although I still continue to write about my experiences as it helps me put the subject matter into perspective, but I have been able to focus more on the text and class discussions in my writings.
Certain subjects encouraged me to write more than others, especially when I was able to compare and contrast my own experiences to those in the text.  For example during the week we read the visible knowledge project, I was able to write more than the other posts because I was able to see more practical methods of teachings rather than theoretical methods.  Whereas in my third post “Author vs. Reader” I did not write much on Crossman’s article because I felt it was dealing more with theory, and I was not able to respond as effective.  Instead I paid more attention to the Think Aloud project in my post.  Although I do agree that theory and practice must work together to provide productive results in teachings, but I realized that for me writing on practice is much easier than writing about theories.
For my future blogs I will try to focus on the texts we are assigned to read and find practical methods to connect the text with our class discussions.  I will also continue learning from the teaching methods my classmates mention in their blogs. I have tried to read the blogs of my classmates before writing my own, so that I can compare my experience with others.  Relating the experiences of others gives me new perspectives in my writing.  In general I find the blogging experience to be very helpful, and I will definitely return to my discussions in the future.  I will especially return to the posts pertaining to practical teaching methods and techniques.

2 comments February 24th, 2008

The Curmudgeon of ENG 610 Asks Two Questions

At dinner last night, my husband and I engaged in one of our usual spirited conversations. This one began with theories of leadership that I’m studying in another course, but honestly, we could have been talking about goat herding. The topic didn’t matter. After several volleys, Cornell told me that I enjoy arguing. Moi? Enjoy arguing?  I jabbed back that he couldn’t be more wrong. I lock horns with Cornell during these discussions, I said, because I have strong opinions. That’s all.However, reading my four blog posts up in my office early this Sunday morning (while Cornell is downstairs eating breakfast), I have something to admit to all of you, my colleagues. Surprise, surprise, I see that my dear husband is right. The truth is that I’m downright cantankerous.

I didn’t realize until right now that each of my first four blog posts for ENG 610 argues something, and that that something is without exception based upon a negative. Here’s what I mean:

  • Blog Post 1: I argue that my instructors failed me by not teaching me how to read poetry and for not sharing with me that poetry is difficult.
  • Blog Post 2: I argue that Bass’s oral assessment method is cause for concern - three concerns, in fact.
  • Blog Post 3: I argue that the way we teach literature studies today is just a fashion trend - as was New Criticism - and that things will change again.
  • Blog Post 4: I argue that the lecture still has merit as a teaching and learning tool despite the fact that practically everyone says it doesn’t.

So Question #1 is: Why does Laura Hills keep coming at these blog entries with both fists up and so much vinegar and sass running through her veins?  Do I really just like to argue for argument’s sake?

Yes. When tasked with writing and posting my response to the readings in this course, my first thought each and every time is: What’s wrong? What’s troubling? Where did the author leave himself/herself open for a knockout punch? And, dear readers, what will make for interesting reading for you, my darlings?  I don’t want to tell you week after week what is right or good in what we’re reading. That’s a snooze. I focus instead on what is wrong, where the weaknesses are, where I can stick my scalpel, open the patient wide for you, and expose the hidden infection so you’ll see it and recoil in horror.

What’s most interesting to me about this observation is that in most human interactions, I’m not like this at all. I’m actually a nice person. Really. I am always the one looking for points of agreement between disputants, seeking ways we can achieve consensus, thinking about what makes us more alike than different. Ask the people I work with. Ask my students. They’ll tell you that I dwell on the good and that I’m the heart of the little university where I work. That leads me to:

Question #2: Why am I such a curmudgeon when it comes particularly to intellectual tasks like theoretical dinner table conversations with my husband and reading texts?

I suppose I’m no different from the rats in B. F. Skinner’s famous experiments. I run through my maze and press my little bar time and time again to get my little pellet of food. I argue in these situations because it’s hugely rewarding for me to do so. I’ve made the bulk of my money in my career not as a teacher but as a writer. Sass gets me the big bucks. (Figurative bucks, folks. They’re not all that big.) My ability to argue has also gotten me a bucket of A’s throughout school. Here I am in my last course for my doctoral program - nine years into my graduate school odyssey — and I see that I’ve built my academic career and success hugely upon argumentation. There are big rewards for taking the low road.

Argumentation has also become personally gratifying for me. If I told you in blog posts that Randy Bass and Sheridan Blau have great ideas, I’d not only probably bore you all into a stupor but I’d feel useless. It’s far more interesting, fresher, fun and satisfying for me to spit tacks at them. Frankly, it feels good to land a good one right on the kisser every now and then. In some circles, they call that scholarship. (Sorry, fellow 610-ers, there’s that sass again.)

In the spirit of learning something new this term, I’d like to try an experiment and I need your help. Next week, when we write blog posts based upon our readings, I promise to focus mine entirely on positives. I won’t point out faults or weaknesses or concerns or predict gloom and doom. This will be difficult for me. But I’m willing to play nice just this once to see how it feels. Then I can figure out what to do next.

What I need from you guys is to read what I write next week and to tell me what you think of it - really think of it. I’m going to let the curmudgeon take a holiday. But first, I’m going to join my husband for breakfast. I need to ask him to read this and to tell him that he was right. Oy! - Laura Hills

Add comment February 24th, 2008

Thoughts on turning 30, blogging, and the day-old dirty diaper

I recently celebrated my thirtieth birthday.  And oddly, looking at that statement in print just brought more anxiety about the turn of another decade than did the actual day itself.  As to the reason for this incipient unease regarding my fleeting youth I can only say that there is something intensely meaningful about putting thoughts down on paper (or, as in this case, on a computer screen).  Musings are made permanent, private discourse becomes public and life feels, well, cemented, for lack of a better word.  Perhaps this is why people blog:  it aids in constructing meaning out of our own days and questions of existence (for me, it has lately been a matter of identity.  Who am I?  Mommy? Teacher? Student? Gourmet chef?  Freelance writer?  Jack of all trades and supreme master of absolutely none?). 

 Reading through my blog posts has been enlightening, to say the least.  Aside from an annoying proclivity for longwinded discourse (sorry about that – I’ll keep this one brief), I tend to use the weekly post as a way to contextualize the readings within my own framework.  In other words that would make Peter Elbow proud, I write to figure out what meaning the text holds for my current situation as a teacher on hiatus, temporarily pursuing a different career (though one that is in many ways similar to what I used to do).  My posts seem to carry different variations on a theme, all centering on the teacher’s role in creating a community of learning wherein the student is guided toward constructing her own knowledge in concert with peers and current educator.  I value student-centered practices and assessments which connect the critical thinking skills necessary in expert reading to those outside the classroom walls.  I seek to inspire students to virtuoso status, guiding them to develop and apply critical creativity in the questions they ask and the thoughtful research in which they engage.  I hope to help them see learning not as a “read, memorize, repeat” endeavor but as a life-long, open-ended product worthy of revision and deeper inquiry. I look for ways to evaluate my teaching through my students’ eyes and model the meta-behaviors I want to cultivate in them.  In the end, it seems as though I take from the readings and synthesize that information which, when added to my teaching toolbox, will help me become the kind of teacher who embraces difficulty along with her students and leads them down the path to becoming better readers, thinkers and writers. 

As for the voice of this sleep-deprived mommy of an insomniac toddler, I noticed a distinct shift in the third week’s post.  I started to fear that I wasn’t sounding “academic” enough, that my posts were inferior to that of my peers because I was focusing more on personal experience than academic discourse.  So I changed how I wrote, and to be openly, viciously honest – it stinks more than a day-old dirty diaper.  I don’t think the last two posts sound like me, nor do they convey what I wanted to say as clearly as I would have liked.  I’ve since gone back to the real “me,” and it feels much better.

Reviewing my writing has thus helped me realize that while these posts are (1) an assignment and (2) read by my colleagues in the course, they are really for me.   They are a record of my efforts to make meaning of the course material and apply it in a suitably challenging way to my professional vocation.  They allow me to go back and review my development as a thinker and writer, an act which is integral to intellectual growth.  And they make my search for knowledge a concrete and communal undertaking rather than a cerebral, solitary act. 

So, yeah – maybe this is why people blog.  Here’s looking forward to my next thirty years of self discovery.   

4 comments February 23rd, 2008

Blogging: A Personal Response

    Analyzing my weekly blog posts has allowed me to notice several trends in my responses. Rather than comparing several of the assigned texts to each other, my posts consist of an examination one text and its relevancy to my own classroom teaching. Each week, I identify either new methods I hope to implement or those I currently utilize with my students. Embedded throughout these reflections are comments on my emotional responses both to the texts we read and the strategies I practice in my classroom.

Throughout the blogs, the primary focus is on practical application: How can the knowledge presented in this reading

    • Make me a better teacher?
    • Help me more fully engage my students?
    • Enable my students to attain higher levels of critical thinking?

Repeatedly, I choose to examine ready-to-use strategies such as establishing a repertoire; writing difficulty papers; translating a “highlight” into a verbal response; and “thinking aloud.” The commonality between these methods is their function; each offers a clear process for students to surpass mere literal readings of texts on their way to more interpretive understandings. As I mentioned in my first blog, a professional development workshop in August prompted me to make deeper reading of difficult texts a targeted area of instruction this year. Conveniently, many of our readings have supported my pursuit of this agenda by offering specific strategies applicable to the reading of difficult texts. In my posts, I explain the appeals of each strategy and what qualities make it a successful match for my classroom. I also offer evidences of success in my own classroom: my students’ overwhelming excitement for the Think Aloud activity; their deeper understanding after completing Difficulty Papers; and the effectiveness of connecting art to poetry. Hearing stories of successful classroom experiments gives me the courage to try my own; it is for this reason that I feel it’s so important to share what works with our students.

Speaking of “feeling,” I was unaware of the frequent inclusion of my own personal emotions toward trying new strategies until I reread my blogs. In the course of four posts, the span of my declared emotions is incredible: nervous, afraid, excited, enthusiastic, insecure, relieved, impressed, eager, interested, and convinced. This range of emotions speaks to the deep investment I have in my students and my profession; I am passionate about discovering and sharing with my students the best information, the most useful tools for their success both in my classroom and beyond.

Another observation I’ve had relates not to the content of the posts themselves, but to their publication dates-I tend to publish early in the week, usually Friday or Saturday. My reasoning is twofold: time constraints force me to complete most of my work early, and I enjoy reading others’ comments on my posts. The encouragement and additional suggestions for improving my students’ learning are much appreciated. Because my only response which did not elicit comments was published very late in the week, it seems natural to assume that the earlier I post, the more likely I am to receive much-desired feedback from classmates.

3 comments February 22nd, 2008

Thematic shifts and Blogging

            Over the past five weeks, the entire class has responded to various readings using a blog.  Each of us has shared personal experiences and chosen specific passages to critique and analyze.  Reviewing my posts over the first several weeks of the semester, a few key themes and patterns clearly emerge.  My blog entries have focused exclusively on the question of “valid” textual interpretations and the need to help students tackle traditionally difficult works of literature.  The pattern of analysis used in these posts follows a two-tiered structure.  The first part of each post is a short summary and a theoretical response.  After defining the issue in more general terms, the remainder of each blog entry blends personal experience with the theoretical approaches explored in the reading.

Creating meaning and judging interpretations is a dominant theme throughout my blog posts.  My exploration of the concept begins with a response to Robert Crosman’s Do Readers Make Meaning and his refutation of New Criticism.  Predictably, the response to this article begins as a summary and ends with personal and practical applications.  Using a personal example about literary interpretation allows me to move into teaching experience.  The blog entry from that week emphasizes the confusion over the issue and concludes with an analytical conclusion that “evidence is the key to determining validity”(Week 4).

Although the structure of the response is similar during Week 5, the actual progression of thought regarding textual interpretation slightly changes.  The idea of using the text as the basis for interpretation remains, but there is a new focus on discussion.  Textual support is important, but classroom debate and discussion also enter the equation.  According to my Week 5 posting, “Even more frustrating was the teacher’s decision to move on to another text without any discussion.”  Once again, a personal example is used to expand upon the discussion over “valid” or “invalid” meaning.  This shift in argument is partly a response to Blau’s text and also a result of discussion about interpretation during the class.  Consequently, my view of interpretation moves from strictly textual to one that includes discussion and debate.  This shift is likely a result of direct writing.  When tackling a single subject through repeated writing assignments and analyses, new insights and details are often discovered and integrated into the approach.

The other major theme that is apparent in my blog posts is the concept of difficulty and the strategies students use to negotiate a complex work of literature.  My first response to this topic involved a broad assessment of the problem and the need for students to defer meaning.  As my Week 1 post indicates, my approach to the issue was one-dimensional.  Students should simply skip over difficult material. Framing this argument through my experience as a teacher I state, “I always tell my classes to avoid getting stuck at any one point in a reading” (Week 1).  At this point, there is little depth provided.  This point was clarified and further explained in subsequent postings.

Fortunately, the posts generated a number of comments from other students.  One of the class members, Edith, asked, “If we tell students to just skip over the tough parts and aim for the overall meaning, are we skipping a step in the reasoning process?” (Week 2).  My peers were concerned that my one-dimensional “skip until later” approach was a quick shortcut for difficult texts. Using these comments, I was able to more fully expound upon my argument and define it as only a preliminary strategy for novice readers.  This refinement took place within the “comments” section.  Student interaction was vital in shaping my argument and redefining the technique of deferral.

Clearly, the process of blogging has created some noticeable shifts in my thoughts and responses to teaching literature.  The comments and discussions from other students have proven invaluable to my own growth as a learner and teacher.  The constant need to construct written responses while interacting with both texts and peers forces me to critically evaluate my opinions and interpretations.  It is not sufficient to simply share an experience.  As the changes in my blog posts indicate, integrating textual support and comments is vital to uncovering meaning and shaping my approach to the teaching of literature.

–Francois Guidry

Add comment February 22nd, 2008

ENGL 610:002 // Spring 2008

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