August 2010

Not much to reflect on today. I went over the basic skill the students will need in order to complete thier first assignment: Annotated bibliography.

I started the class off by asking if anyone had any questions or any announcements they wanted to share. Both my classes seem to still be a little shy, so no one really spoke. I told them that I wanted to talk about the writing center. I briefly told them about the center–its location, what they do, how I plan on using the writing center myself because it is always a good idea to get someone to look over your work. I told them that I would give them extra credit for going to the writing center and getting that extra help on their essays.

In terms of what we did in class: I prepared a short power-point presentation on the skill needed to complete this assignment. Th epower point hit on some key skills that the students are going to have to work on, and then I added links to web-sites that will hopefully be helpful in developing those key skills.

I outlined what (and when to use) summary, paraphrase, and direct quotations. It was a lecture heavy class, so I think having the power point helps keep them focused rather than me just standing up there talking at them.

I went over, step by step, in class with them, how to find the resources they are going to be using and how to use the library home page to find those sources easily. Once we discussed all that, and I made them repeat several times everything we had just gone over, I then broke them off into groups. Stealing an activity from my mentor, I am having each group present on one article that the class is going to have to annotate. This way, hopefully, I can see if they are focusing on the right main points within the article, it gives them that ‘oral presentation’ component of their grade, and it is an easy way for me to review all of the articles without killing myself (since, oh yeah… I have stuff I GOT TO DO, too).

I told the class that they are going to be teaching their classmates the article. I informed them that they should have a powerpoint presentation and handouts and that they need to talk for 8 to 10 minutes, but that other than that, the presentation is up to them.

I have used this vague ‘give a presentation to the class’ instruction before, and nine times out of ten, the students really rise to the occassion. I think when they are worried about a grade, worried about pulling their own weight, and when they know that they have to present material to the class, most students actually do care and do a great job. I preface this with informing them that employers want employees that are good communicators, good writers, that can work in a group dynamic well, and that can present information in a clear, concise fashion, so hopefully, they understand the importance of the assignment.

We’ll see how it goes.

David Bartholomae raises some interesting points in “Inventing the University” that I find both intriguing and problematic. Basically, a student is aware that there is an academic discourse, and students “…have to learn to write what I would write or to offer up some approximation of that discourse” (8). Problems arise when the student tries to be an expert while knowing that the teacher does know more than the student, “The student, in effect, has to assume privilege without having any” (11). Students are forced to poorly mimic the instructors imposed discourse.

Through a series of examples, Bartholomae points out how the successful student is one that can claim some form of “insider” knowledge which places the student within a discourse, but leaves the student the ability to challenge the “naive” common knowledge of that discourse, “The writer continually audits and pushes against a language that would rather render him ‘like everyone else’ and mimics the language and interpretive systems of the privilege community. Bartholomae ends by stressing how eventually these student writers will be able to, hopefully, “take on the role of the privilege[d]” discourse. While I realize this to be important and while this is what I do in my classroom (tell my students that they are entering into an academic discourse, and to not worry so much if they don’t really understand what that means or how to maneuver within this discourse because they eventually will “get it”), I wonder about the students who just want a better job and don’t want to join an academic discourse community.

Especially after reading this critical piece on Bartholomae’s essay:

I am also always concerned with being someone who promotes the current dominant structures of our culture that since I am so entrenched, I can’t see a better way out:

What I love about the truly great writers, like W.B. Yeats, is the way they can write about what they are not going to do while doing it. These great writers, for instance, will write pages about writer’s block. I see Yeats doing that here.

I focus on this poem, (one that, if I remember correctly, he was revising on his death bed) because I think it brings the idea of Modernism as a time of experimentation together with showing how Yeats is modern besides calling himself the “last Romantic.” Yeats doesn’t seem to be a modernist because of his style which employs, mostly, conventional stanzas and consistent rhymes (usually); rather, as M.L. Rosenthal points out in his introduction to Yeats’s selected poems, “Yeats’s originality and daring lie in the force of what is wrought from these conventional formal qualities, and in the paradoxical insights the poems unfold” (xxii).

In this poem, Yeats starts off the poem by saying he is not going to do all the things he is about to do. He start off by saying how he has nothing to write about. He complains that now as an old man all the old themes he wrote about have lost their luster. Yeats says he is going to move away from using symbolism and mythology (like he uses in poems such as “Easter 1916” or “September 1913” which are very politically charged poems, or something like “Leda and the Swan” or “The Second Coming” which uses a great deal of imagery, symbolism, and Yeats’s own mythology), and instead write about his heart, “I must be satisfied with my heart” (line 4).

Then in stanza two, Yeats goes right back to using all those old themes, after he just said he couldn’t use them anymore. He goes on to “enumerate old themes” that he has used throughout his life, from Orisin (which is also a reference to Yeats’s interest in Plotinus’s philosophy) to Yeats’s plays and poem about Cathleen Ni Hulihan and Cuchulian. All these themes he has written about, “Players and painted stage took all [his] love,” but they are no longer fit themes for an old man because, “…when all is said/ It was the dream itself enchanted [him].”

The poem builds to the emotional, climatic ending. Now that Yeats claims he can no longer write about these mythological, archetypal themes, he is going to go back to the raw materials of his heart–Now that he is old, he is going to write about his heart and all those raw, ugly emotions that are buried deep inside the self: “Now that my ladder’s gone/ I must lie down where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

Now that he is old and those old themes are gone, he is going to write about his heart and the raw emotions within it. Yeats, after all, believed that great poetry can only come from great pain. I believe it is these themes and images (foul rag and bone shop of the heart) that makes Yeats a modernist. It is in what he is saying that one can see his modernist experimentation. Also, looking at some of the other canonical modernist writers, like Pound and Eliot, in Yeats there is the same opacity to his verse. These writers all have very lyrical, musical, nice sounding words put together, but one needs a glossary of terms and a reading list to be able to fully understand what the words are saying. As Rosenthal states, “Yeats sometimes made the assumption, flattering both to himself and to his reader, that because he had something intensely felt to say it must somehow be understood” (xx).

Nonetheless, as Rosenthal’s statement illustrates, it is in this intense need to share something with his audience that Yeats is able to write such beautiful words, and I think that is why he is more popular than Pound and Eliot.

Today seemed to be a little better day. The weather was nice, and it seemed to affect my students. Today, though, I realized just how different my two classes are. I did the same thing in both:

I started the class with some discussion of blackboard and the homework I had the class do. Some people typed out or wrote the assignment and brought it to class, so I made sure to go over (again) blackboard and how to reply to the discussion. I also (don’t know if I should have or not) admitted that this was the first time I was rely so heavily on blackboard and wasn’t entirely sure how the program worked either, but I made it a point to explain to the class how this is the future, that we are all going to have to get used to it and learn how to use these basic technologies.

Afterwards, I did “housekeeping.” We went over the plagiarism quiz. I explained each answer in detail and took questions. Here is where I began to notice the difference in my classes. the first class is talkative and engaged in the course while the second class was much more quiet, not asking any questions.

I collected all that work, asked if there were any questions, and then I passed out the short story “Jesus Shaves” by David Sedaris. We read the story as a class. It is a funny story about a class trying to explain Easter without have the proper vocabulary. When the story was over (which loosened the class up since it makes them laugh), I asked the class if they knew what the point was?

This led into a discussion about discourse communities. I explained to the class how the Sedaris story is an example of a person joining a new discourse community and having to learn the new vocabulary in order to successfully join that community. My first class had a great discussion where most of the class participated. I throw a lot of examples at the class in hopes to get them to understand that they are already part of a discourse community. My first class was engaged, but my second class was quiet. I joked with the second class and asked them if they had no opinion or thoughts on the subject at all. Telling them they needed to use their brains and think about these things.

I also, briefly, discussed rhetoric with the class and explained how rhetoric has a lot to do with how you say things, not what you say. My first class provided lots of examples, and then I gave them mine. I told them to think back to elementary school and passing notes to a girl or boy they like: “Do you like me?” and then I drew a huge square with yes under it and a tiny square with no under it. They seemed to get the point.

We talked a little bit about language and about how all these things are connected. The discourse community will dictate the language that is used and the rhetorical context that will work best. In the 6th grade with a girl I like as my audience, I am going to keep the language simple and use the space on the page that I am using to convey the answer I want to hear.

I ended class by explaining to the class how I was going to make all of them little philosophers. I explained that philosophy is the love of wisdom, and that as new students, joining this new academic discourse, I hope that they will love wisdom for its own sake. To show them this, I showed them this clip from the movie Examined Life . I used the clip and the talk about loving knowledge as the prompt for my diagnostic.

I’ll look those over tomorrow and see how that went.

I would really like to improve my teaching, and I would like to keep a record of stuff that seemed to work and a record of stuff that didn’t work. I want to use this space to be able to do that, and to be able to think out a rough draft before I post on my class’s blog post where I NEED to do it.

The first day was lots of administration stuff. I introduced the class, myself, and some expectations. I went to the web-site (blackboard) and showed the class where they can find the syllabus, the assignment sheet, and the schedule. I feel this is important to do with the class so that students don’t later have an excuse for not doing something. And I make sure to tell them this– I let them know that now they have no excuse for not doing homework, for not knowing what is expected of them, and for being responsible for any changes in the schedule. I also take this time to remind them that they HAVE to use the university web-mail.

Going over the syllabus, I reminded students to go hug their grandparents. get their cars checked, and to update their computers because these are all things that “die” when essays are due. I took the time to go over all the major points, and let students know that now, they know what the class will be about.

Afterwards, I briefly went over the assignment sheet and what the first essay will be. The students seemed to be very relieved that in doing an annotated bibliography, that they have all the sources they need.

At this point I asked the class if anyone was freaking out, and I let them know that this would be a good time to run out of the class and drop it.

Since no one left, I told the class how this is not going to be a lecture heavy course, that rather, one learns how to write by…well, writing– through practice. And that part of that writing process and practice would be taking place in groups, so that now was a good a time as any to get to know each other since we are all going to be working together. I told the class to break into groups of 2 or 3 people and to interview each other. I reminded them to ask for the basic information; name, major and whatever else they wanted to ask, and then I told the class to tell the interviewer two truths and a lie. I tried to let them know that what was true and what was a lie wasn’t important and that I would let them know why it wasn’t at the end of all this.

I had the students introduce the person they were interviewing and tell the class the three “facts” that were shared. This didn’t work out so well. Many of the lies were obvious, and other students informed us of what was the truths were and what the lies were. When it was over, I tried to explain to the class how, through a class discussion, “facts” were only what someone decides to be facts. I tried to show the students how the introductions connected to this idea, that a “fact” is something they each chose to tell, and that history and culture is no different than this.

I think next time I will try another ice breaker activity that will engage the class in more discussion than just giving their names and majors and some silly facts about themselves.

The classes were quiet, and I sometimes find it difficult to get a class engaged. What usually happens is what happens in all classes, at all levels, from undergrad to graduate: two or three people talk and the rest of the class lets them talk. I hope as I learn names that I am able to engage more of the class into the class discussion. Since it was the first day, and it was such a horrible, rainy, cold, and annoying day, I let the one’s who wanted to talk to talk, and the one’s who didn’t want to talk to not talk.

by Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

Today has been an awful day. It is one of those days that I wonder what it is I am doing here, why I am here, and will I make it much longer. The day started off in bleak, non-stop rain. The rain was coming down so bad on the highway that I had a hard time seeing more than about ten feet in front of me, which made for a slow drive.

The traffic wasn’t awful, but there was no way to go more than 40mph because of the heavy rain. Once I got to campus, it was easy enough to find parking (now that I found a spot that it seems most people don’t want to walk from), but the rain rain rain… I reached my office with the bottom of pants wet and my feet soaking. I was able to print up most everything that I wanted to print up, and I made it to my classes with plenty of time.

After class, my feet were so cold and wet that I decided to go to the mall down the street and buy some new socks and shoes, so that my feet could be warm and dry. Afterwards, I went to a little deli right by campus and had a nice, hearty baked potato and a salad. It was nice to relax for a minute. But I digress…

The students are like all freshmen students: quiet, shy, elusive of talking, young, and mostly disinterested in a class forced upon them. And I always feel like I am doing a really bad impersonation of a teacher, I feel like I haven’t found my rhythm yet, and I feel it is going to be hard to find that rhythm when I have so much to do myself as a student. I think I have some good ideas for the next two classes, but I even feel (a little) like I am not really sure what the point of the projects are. The way I see it, these projects are supposed to prepare them for college, to be thinkers, to be better citizens, so that is what I plan on teaching the class. I just got to stay focused and keep in mind the project objectives, which is sometimes hard when juggling so many things.

I have been slacking on the blog, on reading, on classes, all around, really. I have to get my shit in gear. I blame the adjusting, the money situation, and my recent cold. Now that school is starting, I’ll be able to settle into a routine and get things together. Hopefully, later, I can write a little about the poems I read for Thursday’s class.

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