I just read Rob Jenkins piece, “Retention in the Trenches,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education,

I remember the first time I left (was forced out of?) school; the first time school failed to retain me.

I was disinterested in school. Like many newly-graduated-from-high-school teenagers, I was burnt out from barely passing my classes at my private, Jesuit, prep school. I purposely did poorly in my entrance exams so that I would get put in “easy” classes. I know… I was young.

I was left bored in my composition classes, and I was told, in so many words, that my writing was poor by my disinterested instructors. (Of course, now I realize what they must have been going through). My instructor, however, gave me no direction in how to improve my writing. I ended up barely passing my enc 1101. In 1102, I hated all the assignments, hated the group work, and hated every thing we were assigned to read. Again, I was bored and doing enough to get by. I did, however, attempt to put more effort in to my writing to pass the class with a higher grade. For my efforts, I was accused of cheating (nothing came of the accusation, except my resentment), and I received a point penalty for missing too many classes.

I did much more poorly in my other classes.

After failing a couple of classes and taking a semester off, I was ready to come back to school, but school did not care for my return. I remember talking to counselors, who led me to deans, who told me my poor record indicated to them that I was not ready for school. I pleaded my case: I was bored in class, didn’t see the point, hated the “pointless” classes, I had learned from my mistakes, and I wanted to return.

I ended up at the local community college. Again, counselors were quick to dismiss my interest and were unhelpful. Finally, when I declared myself as an English major and was sent to the head of the English department, did I finally connect to someone who listened to me and helped me pick classes. And more than just pick classes, he would register me for the class right in his office. That extra step helped immensely. I can’t say how many times–and how much time wasted–I would attempt to register for a class that was full and then have to find an alternative. With Dr. Blanco, if I couldn’t get into a class, he would recommend another one. He would tell me what the classes would cover so that I could decide if it interested me. I owe that man so much.

The teachers at that school–once I finally started taking classes in my major–were amazing, and they and my experience, bring me to Jenkins piece. He states:

Obviously, we haven’t yet discovered the magic formula, or else we wouldn’t still be talking about this problem, much less potentially losing money because of it. 

He does give excellent advice.

Be a teacher, not a gatekeeper.”

As professors, sometimes, and I have this problem, we think our job is to let students lacking in ability know that they might not make it in college. I was told repeatedly by a girlfriend’s mother, by managers, and by my own high school counselor, that maybe college was not for me. As I’ve mentioned, I was told I could not get past the gate by writing instructors, and here I am, ABD, about to get my Ph.D.. I think Jenkins is correct in saying that students, especially at risk or academically under-prepared students, are “much more likely to stick it out if they see their professors as partners in the learning process.” I see my job as helping students realize that with hard work and effort they can learn the material and pass their classes. 

Next, Jenkins states that we should “be flexible” and reminds us “But don’t be a pushover”

Life happens, so we should help students through those moments, but we can’t let students walk all over us.

The next step is the hardest one for me, (and I don’t know why): Be accessible — and approachable.”

Students need to know that they can come talk to us. If they have a problem, they need to tell us so that we can be flexible without being a pushover. As Jenkins reminds us “For many students, professors represent imposing and sometimes intimidating figures.” I have had vastly wonderful literature classes, where my students come talk to me during office hours, chat with me before and after class about the movie, t.v. show, or other book they read that reminds them about something we covered in class. One class started a book club and asked me to be the faculty advisor. 

In my composition classes, however, I am arrogant and mean. I try to be open. I send out constant announcements reminding my students of office hours, of e-mailing me, of my openness to read pre-drafts before they turn anything in for a grade. I try to be tough so that students don’t think I’m a push over, but I am flexible when things come up. Sometimes I wonder if my accessibility isn’t influenced by my appearance as a 6’2 tall man. I know my sarcasm gets me in trouble.

I am working on this accessibility part, and have seen improvements from when I first started–improvements that have come at realizing precisely that I am an ally not a gatekeeper.

“Make Material Relevant”

I have armed myself with the following articles that show that liberal arts majors (specifically in humanities and social sciences) earn more than professional and pre-professional majors by mid-career:

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Of course, the importance of clear communication, proper writing (in e-mails, cover letters, job inquiries, resumes, etc.) cannot be stressed enough. In a competitive market, the resume without typos wins.

Finally, Take some personal responsibility”

I think I should, as Jenkins suggest, step outside the comfort zone. As he puts it:

You can’t force students to do something they absolutely don’t want to do. And yet, over the last few years, I’ve begun to step outside my comfort zone and reach out to students who have multiple absences, who haven’t turned in an assignment, or who clearly seem distracted in class (and not just by their cell phones)” 

This article makes me realize the student focused approach I would like to take at a community college or liberal arts college. A place where students come first.

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Brooks, Kevin. “Reading, Writing, and Teaching Creative Hypertext: A Genre-Baed Pedagogy.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 2.3 (2002): 337-356

Kevin Brooks explores the use of hypertext. He says students read on-line and engage in digital text, including as Micheal Joyce states, television. Students are engaged in these mediums and know them, so we should teach web-writing and hypertext, a pedagogy of “electronic rhetoric.” We need to teach students to go beyond consuming “screen culture” and become producers of it.

Brooks’ essay wants to put forth strategies for teachers to teach genre-based web-writing. This writing requires students to make rhetorical choices about form, composition, and traditional story elements.

Brooks looks at the history of genre-based and hypertext theories. Earlier work opened up pedagogy but provided no models for enactment. Brooks states that “The structure of a hypertext has been deemed more central to its function or success than its generic affiliations, but it seems to me that separating structure from generic affiliation is a formalist, arhetorical pedagogical move” (341).

Many theorist have argued that genre-theory applied to reading text, including internet text, is useful but none have provided clear models. Genres are familiar starting points to use with students. Brooks claims that his students equate “creative hypertext” with the choose-your-own-adventure and build from there. Some students might not be familiar with the computer technology or programs but will be familiar with genre conventions. Brooks goes on to outline his model:

  • Students should understand all texts are rooted in genre, and they need to read hypertext and print examples to familiarize themselves with the genre. Students should understand the print sources that hypertext emerge from.
  • Students should “choose genres that will meet their communicative needs” (344). Brooks picks a flexible genre (autobiography) and broad categories (popular culture).
  • Students should be encouraged to challenge and play and reinvent these genres.

Brooks notes how writing pedagogy has already used these strategies—now, we need to apply them to hypertext and genres.

He looks at Activity Theory that states we learn new things by using old knowledge. In writing, writers must respond to other text and choose their medium (pen and paper, computer, etc.). Brooks has rethought the hypertext to include non-electronic forms. [[These strategies speak to Roland Barthes’ autobiography, as well as fiction text by Jonathan Safran Foer, and The Principles of Uncertainty.

Brooks uses the autobiography and popular culture genre; the latter includes working in collaboration. Assignments ask students to keep in mind their print predecessors in order to understand the genre but should challenge and play with those genres. (Good examples: Shelly Jackson’s My Body

Brooks proscribes four aspects to keep in mind to tighten up hypertext pedagogy:

1-This technique is good for teaching literature

2-Over the research, we should allow students to make their own rhetorical choices and not limit them because of what the research says

3-Assign familiar genres

4-The door is open for more research.

 

These are some great ideas; I am lucky that USF has taught me to implement many of these ideas in composition already. The idea of remediating a text helps students contemplate their rhetorical choices, and once they begin to think about their own rhetorical choices, they begin to think critically about the rhetorical choices made in the work they are reading. For every major project our students complete, they have to remediate their argument into an alternative (hypertext), whether a web-page, a yoututbe video, or a blog. I would like to take this idea a step further and have the final project be a multiple genre assignment.

I would love to use these techniques and ideas to teach a theory course. Brooks idea to have students create an autobiography, I think, will translate well into teaching Roland Barthes in the same manner as in composition class. Once students begin to think about the techniques and are forced to articulate their choices, they begin to learn the material better. I would also like to teach the postmodern novel again– this time, I would have less text and have the final revolve around the students creating their own “postmodern novel.”

Have always appeared to be a bit rigid in their rules for my taste. I think an amount of experimentation is always good. Of course, my writings as an undergrad were sloppy. I misused commas, had run-ons, fragments with glaringly missing subjects, and over all meandering of thoughts.

It wasn’t until college that I began to realize how important a well phrased sentence is. Even then, I understood that writing is a muscle that needs to be worked out constantly in order for it to get stronger and better, and a way to make writing stronger is through good teaching. It wasn’t until a creative writing teacher sat down with me and went over a short story, word for word, did I realize just how sloppy my prose was.

Later, Dr. Darawula sat down with me and went over all my commas for a paper I turned in for a graduate school application. Once in grad school, I was in constant fear of Dr. Schwartz’s telling me to reevaluate my topic sentences and Dr. Milbauer telling me to proof read and be more careful with my writing. It was during this time that I started to realize how much more powerful a sentence could be the more concise it is. This revelation did, however, curtail my creativity.

These are the issues that a new article in slate.com address about Stanely Fish’s new book on writing. This article gives a nice history of the sentence and its evolution; hopefully when I have some time, I will be bale to read through Strunk and White and compare it to Fish’s book.

Sometimes I do feel I am killing student’s creativity by telling them that their language is too flowery or too wordy. I, too, try to teach students to avoid redundant phrases and to be concise. But it seems right to do so. You have to know the rules, how to do it “properly” before you get to bend and break the rules. But I should really be grading my students’ writings now, not blogging about writing…

This seems like some dated material: “So it is no surprise that colleges and universities, instead of asking faculty members to correlate what we teach and how we teach it, assume instead that each of us will figure such things out on our own.” The school I went to before has what is called a “FIG” program, and while the acronym escapes me now, the point was to get students with a common major and group them together. The idea was that if these students took the same classes together, they would be more apt to learn collectively; it also meant that professors would engage one another and try to come up with topics that would intersect showing students how all these skills, from writing to science to history and math, all related in “the real world.”

This way if the fig class was learning about the 1950’s then in my composition class I would have all the students pick ads from the 50’s to analyze, for example.

While I agree with much of what Graff is saying and while I tentatively agree with assessment, there are some problems I am having with this article; For instance, Graff says:

“In college the contradictory messages intensify with a vengeance, as students go from one teacher who insists that good reading means inferring the author’s intention to another who dismisses authorial intentions as unknowable and irrelevant; or from one teacher who believes that textual interpretations can be objectively correct or incorrect to another who smiles or rolls his or her eyes at the naïveté of such objectivism; or from one teacher who expects undergraduates to employ a rigorous analytical methodology and terminology more or less like the teacher’s own to another who thinks it sufficient if students learn to appreciate a good read in whatever relaxed way is comfortable to them.”

At what point is the student responsible for figuring this out? If this is how universities have taught, and it is this method that has led to the thinkers we have now, then is it wrong to say something IS working here?

” Students thus learn to be relativists at ten o’clock and universalists after lunch. A University of Chicago student summed it up succinctly, if crudely, when asked how he coped with the challenges of the humanities and sciences: “In humanities I B.S. In science I regurgitate.” Professors often complain about the cynicism of this student shape shifting, but such cynicism is an understandable reaction to our curricular mixed messages.” Isn’t this the point? Is a college education not the time to be immersed in a multitude of differing opinions and thoughts? Isn’t critical thinking the ability to figure this out? Studying philosophy as an undergrad, I always understood that what was thought before changes, but if I am taking a class on Eastern philosophy, then I have to understand that Buddhist believe in reincarnation, no matter if the Existentials I learned about the semester before believe in an after life or not. College is the time to realize that there are many answers to questions and many different ways to approach a problem, and college is the time to figure out which way suites you best.

Rather than “desperate rationalization” as Gaff puts it, look at what that fragmented curriculum got him: He was the president of the MLA. I feel that the following paragraphs about the high achievers seeing through the disparate courses and opinions and succeeding undermine Graff’s arguments about connecting courses. For all the reasons that Graff, himself, mentions. This is what “critical thinking” is– this is what I try to teach students about genres; this is what I teach students about reading literature (that there are all these different ways to do it and that there are all these meanings an that none are more right than the other) because this is the kind of bureaucrat b.s they are going to have to decipher when they get out into the real world. The students who don’t get this will be the mediocre employees of tomorrow, but why do we think that all our students have to leave the university as rocket scientist, doctors, lawyers, or English professors? They just need to be able to function in society and hopefully recognize bad political rhetoric and not vote for candidates with empty messages.

I am NOT saying that I disagree with what Gaff is saying and with how he wants to change universities. I completely agree with professors sharing what they are doing and coming up with ways to integrate different subjects and show the connections between disciplines; I just disagree with his reasoning as to why it should be done. I am also continually bothered with the humanities having to justify itself in this way. Why is it that the humanities has to tell society that it is useful because ‘look-at-all-these-ways-the-humanaties-connects-to-other-subject’? I have never used what I learned in pre-calculus or high school chemistry or middle school dodge ball in “the real world”- but I understand these subjects were important for getting me to think in different ways. Yet (outside of dodgeball) no one questions the validity of a business major learning the periodic table. I also worry that assesment might pressure the teacher too much and not put enough of the power in students’ hands. How can we teach students to take responsibility for their education and then turn around and blame ourselves for not connecting subjects for them?

Uhhh… Let’s see; premise: “to set forth beforehand, as by way of introduction or explanation.” Also “in logic, “a previous proposition from which another follows,” Again, I wonder as I read Frank Farmer’s essay on imitation… Why do many of these writing pedagogy people write so… shall we say: uniquely?

A premise is a starting point. If these were my student, I would write in the margins, “Just make the assertion” or something like that. I hate this kind of redundant writing (probably because I see it in my poor writing, but I’m not a “lit” guy, right? I read the stuff; I don’t necessarily write it). Now that I am completely off topic, let me get to the article.

I do like Farmer’s idea of imitation. I am amazed that the hippie expressivist were against imitation. Wouldn’t “finding your voice” and your “true self” be helped with reading people who have found themselves, and with reading text that “speak” to you? Maybe I am too Bloom-anxiety-of-influence-y on this, but doesn’t every great writer find his/herself through imitation? Through grappling with a literary fathers?

Grappling with literary fathers is not to say that the fight is done once King Laius is defeated. Rather, like Farmer says, we should teach students to seek out new fathers to kill because, “…if they have no opportunity to develop new perspectives by entering into, trying on, the perspective of another, then, indeed, we have taught them little more than to be content with the immediate position they assume…” (421); my question to this is: how do we get them to NOT be content with their immediate position–their starting point, their premise, if you like?

I understand that with imitation, students need to realize that the point is for them to “come to terms” with the language of another so that the student can make the language his/her own, but in all of Farmer’s praise of Bahktin, where does Farmer talk about actual pedagogy that can be used in a classroom? And while I agree with Farmer that parody is “…useful because it offers an excellent way to braoch some of the complexities of three enduring staples of rhetorical education: context, audience, and purpose”(425), I have to disagree on purely theoretical terms.

Yes, I believe that imitation is useful, which is why I always have my students read an expert or ‘A’ paper; the idea is that this example is one to be imitated and used to begin to craft a voice of their own– where I disagree is on Bahktin’s essentializing. All this talk of double-voiced discourse as if we could ever be objective. The idea Farmer brings up at the beginning of the essay of appropriating “someone’s else’s words” (416), as if there was ‘somone’ out their who owns the words that students will appropriate. All that said, I repeat that I fully agree with Farmer and the usefulness of imitation. To illustrate how echoing someone else can transform the person echoing, here is Derrida discussing how echo, by repeating the last words she hears, turns the words repeated into her own, which I believe is what students can do in imitation:

“she speaks in her own name by just repeating his words” -Derrida

Reading Lu this week, I can’t help to wonder how someone writing about style could write in such an annoying style. What is it with all the “quotation marks?” And for a writing instructor, shouldn’t Lu know better than to start sentences with “and”, “so”, and to be specific when referring to the “Chinese” language? It is not that I am so old school that I say you can’t start sentences with “And”, “but”, or “so” (although, I would probably argue against the “so”), the problem comes in starting so many sentences in this way, especially when talking about style– is this Lu’s way of challenging the hegemonic discourse?

The other problem I have in Lu’s “style” is that I find it condescending to tell student’s that their mistakes (and I am sorry, but those are errors (oh no! call the P.C. police) are due to the student’s culture. Lu even points out, “The need to write for professors who grade with red pens circling all “errors” [again with the quotation marks] is also real for a majority of our students…” and later Lu says about her pedagogy, “It acknowledges the writer’s right and ability to experiment with innovative ways of deploying the codes taught in the classroom” (316), but doesn’t the latter sentence contradict the former? Students will not have the ability to experiment in their psychology classes or science classes or history classes– they will need to write coherent, grammatically “correct” sentences. So rather point out a mistake and say it is a multicultural “style” choice that can be improved, why not be honest and just say it is a mistake?

This is the problem with the P.C. postmodern world. Slavoj Zizek points this out with a lucid example that I will personally relate. When I lived in California, I would visit Miami every summer, and every summer, I had to go visit my 90 year old great aunt. This visit was awful. My parents told me, though, that I HAD to go. There was no negotiation about it; my parents told me “I don’t care if you like it or not, you are going to go see Tia Maria.” That was the end of it.

In today’s postmodernism, the progressive parents tell their children: “You know your Tia Maria loves you very much, and she does not get many visitors anymore. You also know that it would mean a lot to her if you went to go see her. It will only take a little piece of your day, and it would mean the world to her, but I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to give her this nice, little satisfaction.” The second choice is dishonest, and it seems to me this is the order that Lu is promoting.

Zizek’s video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjEtmZZvGZA

This takes me back to something else Lu mentions: “Why is it that in spite of our developing ability to acknowledge the political need and right of “real” writers to experiment with “style,” we must continue to cling to the belief that such a need and right does not belong to “student writers”? [First, don’t all the quotation marks undermine Lu’s point? Are we not really talking about real writers but rather “real” writers? Are they not experimenting with “style” or just apparent style? Are we not teaching “student writers” or… I dunno…]. I would answer Lu with what she says next: first the rules must be learned and mastered, and then you are allowed to bend, break, and experiment with them (or for style’s sake, maybe I should just say “experiment”, no?). I say this because when the student goes out to the world, he or she will NOT be allowed to experiment with their writing, and when the student writes a resume, fills out a job application, and writes a cover letter, experimentation will not be appreciated, so they better actually learn all the rules of grammar and academic style, and show me they know these rules, before they start to experiment with them.

In all this writing about writing, why does no one put any emphasis on reading?

I am an ESL student ( or at least I was throughout grammar school), and I learned English through Sesame Street and Curious George and Dr Suess books. I learned English, how to speak it, write it, use it, through reading it. Just like when I was an undergrad, I learned the “academic” discourse when I started reading academic essays and books. Does anyone talk about that in rhetoric and composition?

I haven’t posted anything in a while because I have been so busy. It makes me feel bad because my students suffer when I am too busy; although, I got to say, I have been pretty good, I think, about “teaching.” I went over paragraphing with them using a really interesting technique I learned in my practicum class.

I had students come up to the board and list their favorite sandwiches, and then explained to them how they wouldn’t mix ingredients in the sandwich, so they shouldn’t mix their paragraphs. I think the students had a good time, and I think they might have just learned something.

After this, we went over thesis in more details and desperation writing: We looked at a particularly bad piece of writing and mined it for good content; then we went over and compared that good content and discussed some possible thesis that could be written.

This all ended with looking back at the bad piece of writing (and now with a strong thesis), we created a reverse outline and began to re-write the essay with better focus. Tuesday they have their peer reviews, so we’ll see if any of this stuff about writing sunk in or not.

In other news, I went to the RMMLA and presented my paper on “Sonny’s Blues”–I posted a rough draft of this paper here— It went well, and New Mexico seems like a cool town. I did love the food; it had been so long since I got to eat some real, authentic, fresh Mexican food.

Back to reality again, I am broke, and I need to get some stuff done. My teacher cancelled class on Tuesday to let us work on our project, so I hope to be done with this thing by Wednesday morning. This is all I have the energy to share today. With things kicking back up tomorrow, this week should be blog and reflection filled.