Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reflecting on 612

What have you learned about the teaching of writing?

To write a prĂ©cis of this semester listing the things I have learned in relation to the teaching of writing is a hard thing for me to do. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what was going on in the class. I would look at my Tuesdays as the hump, where if I only made if over, the rest of the week would be smooth sailing. Though, reflecting upon the experience, I will say I have gained a new appreciation for the idea of inclusiveness. It is the way tropes develop in Jazz, the way music styles, forms, and ideas can be combined, bringing musicians together in creative moments. It is also the way the theories pull things together, explaining things as a whole, encompassing all aspects of a given situation (genres, the pentad). It is the newest developments in technology that allow for increased levels of interaction, interconnectivity, and perception (webcams, the internet, computers). It is standing as individuals in a circle and then being brought together as a class by the creative wrangling of James Peck, all of us grunting like monkeys. It is also the gratitude I feel, derived from feeling welcomed into a class of my peers, people I already consider as educators of the most dynamic sort (notwithstanding the lack of GTA’s for everyone). If I must say something specific to what I have learned in relation to writing, it is that to be done properly many pieces must be brought to bear. It is recognizing your fellow teachers as team-members, as Thomas Newkirk would advise, and letting the students in on the bigger picture, as Dr. Stacey did in so many tangents.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

John Coltrane, David Borgo, Branford Marsalis...

John Coletrane: A Love Supreme

My introduction to Coltrane was back in high school through an older friend who had been exploring Jazz for a few years. Being an initiate, I was heavily influenced by the opinions of those that “knew” jazz, those that understood the reasons behind the seemingly chaotic rhythms and the notes that sounded smeared or even incorrect. Perhaps it was my friend’s opinion, or simply one that he had picked up from talking with others that knew more than he, but I was told that the Gods of Jazz included John Coltrane.

From my first listening I was sure that I was listening to something great, even if I didn’t fully understand why it was so. I had some half-formed idea of what Jazz was and A Love Supreme seemed to fit: it was expressive in a way that other types of music simply didn’t come close to. Also, the length of the album seemed to hint at a masterwork done by a legend in his prime- it was too complicated and abstract (to my ears) for it to be anything else. And then there was the weight of the name by itself... Coltrane… do gods ever do anything short of the sublime?

Listening to it now with the Article of Borgo in mind, the religious aspects of the song are fitting. Here is something that has passion spilling out of it, wailed out in alto screams, only to fall back into monistic chantings of “A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme… “ It’s understandable that I didn’t “get it” back in high school, I was an unknowing child that knew nothing of the fervor a person could feel towards an abstract idea like God (let alone Jazz as an expressive vehicle). The hypnotic, complex, repetitive rhythms interested me by giving me something to marvel at (Acknowledgement), and the soaring lead and dancing piano phrases was evidence of true virtuosity (Resolution), yet with the additional knowledge that A Love Supreme was his gift to God, Coltrane’s work takes on a greater importance.

Branford Marsalis: A Love Supreme

One of the thoughts the Borgo article brought up was the accessibility of a work the likes of A Love Supreme. Can a personal tribute to God be reproduced and how would it feel to an audience? Although the Marsalis version is technically good and interesting in its own right, the two songs are not the same. I don’t experience the same emotional reaction to this other version; it seems like a practiced sermon rather than the raw, religious bursting of Coltrane. For my tastes, the Santana and Vega versions were much more interesting due to the new perspective it gave to the piece.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Political Rhetoric...

For most of my adult life I have held the belief that there are just some things that shouldn't be discussed when meeting people for the first time, or with those that are generally argumentative. Religion is certainly one due to the fact that there tends to be a lot riding on people's beliefs, even if they are not a follower of a particular religion. The other, of course, is politics.

Personally, I don't like to talk about politics with people because it generally boils down to someone thoroughly versed, or who thinks they are, in the relevant issues lecturing to me. Also, I tend to think that the political scene is a vile stage play that attracts actors of the most dubious character. But, if I were honest, I should mention that sometimes I just don't know how to approach the political topics of today.

Having started Lazere's 15th chapter entitled Thinking Critically About Political Rhetoric, I have a few new thoughts on why I dislike politics so much.

Hello, I'm a... partial conservative of the blue-collar and middle-class variety with tendencies that lean toward notions involved with neoliberals while having other non-conformist ideas that... make me a... crap, what am I?

The easy "culturally conditioned" answer is a Democrat or Republican. The ambiguity of calling oneself a member of one party or another has ties to rhetoric and my ambitions to stay away from current politics. If a Greek philosopher (Plato?) wanted nothing to do with rhetoric due to its playful nature (rather than cool rational thought's ability to get to truth) I think that modern politicians have taken rhetoric and ran with it, using it for personal gain rather than to champion the causes of their constituents. This corruptness is pervasive throughout as well, "many voters, disillusioned with one party, turn toward the other for awhile, then when they get disillusioned with that one, turn back toward the first again, without understanding that both are too diffuse and corrupt to provide any significant alternative to one another." Seems to have modern relevancy... but what is scary is that constant of corruptness. The choices we are given are different faces to the same monster who wields a dazzling rhetorical tongue. I have to wonder whether even the politicians believe in what they are saying sometimes, rather than simply getting caught up in the rhetorical opportunities available to them at any given moment.

Although it might be easier to say I follow a conservative/liberal ideology, or that I am a member of a particular party, it might be better for everyone involved if politicians cut out some of the playfulness so that the rhetoric can be used later, in a more productive way. But then again, who knows, I rarely know the answer to "what's for dinner?", let alone the reasons behind why someone might find politics so confusing. Maybe it would be better if I just dropped the subject altogether. Besides, I have to plan for tomorrow, I hear it might rain... what do you think?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Creative Teaching

A reaction to: Creative Teaching: Collaborative Discussion as Desciplined Improvisation by R. Keith Sawyer

Having an idea of what education should be and what it is now, most of the ideas presented within the article that had a direct personal resonance with me can be linked to the following quote:

Should we improve schools by investing in scripted curricula - a capital intensive approach - or by investing in teacher training and professional development, a labor-intensive approach?

The answer to this question seems fairly obvious when the benefits of creative teaching is spelled out by Sawyer. What is more, I can't really think of any recent occurrences where money being thrown at a cause (usually a fear-filled reaction to an impending "crisis") by governmental types
has resulted in any recognizable advancements. Scripted curricula might improve test scores, but should we really be focusing so heavily on standardized tests to begin with? But that leads into a different issue altogether that I will admit to being only marginally informed about...

What I do agree with is the idea that structure is important within the classroom, but that too much is a bad thing. As with almost everything, moderation is the key: too much fat in the diet- heart disease, too much testosterone- male pattern baldness. Although somethings just can't be avoided, others can. Keeping away from the rigidity of scripted education and blending structure and improvisation makes sense to me. It adds to the idea of teachers as professionals (imagine that!) who can fall back on their knowledge of course material when presented with spontaneous questions from a classroom of increasingly diverse students. Also, developing a teachers ability to respond to and develop related ideas within a directed framework allows an educator to address individual learning plans that can potentially divide a classroom.

Sure, the development of teachers is a lengthy process when done correctly, but isn't that the right way of going about it? It all seems like a lot of common sense being ignored for administrative accountability purposes, creating a system or pieces of a system (like scripting) so that there are fewer unknowns in educating the next generations. But if teachers are created in a manner that fosters the development of improvisational skills as well as their subject matter knowledge, I have a hard time believing that there would be more problems with education than there is at the present moment. There are certainly many more issues at play then whether or not teachers should adopt creative principles, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Ideas...

Based upon the ideas within Anis Bawarshi's book Genre & the Invention of the Writer, I now have one more nuance of life to appreciate. Any time you can take what once seemed defined, even shallow in meaning, and provide a new angle of perceiving it adds to life in general. These moments of realization are a sly, friendly wink that there is so much more out there to be discovered if you look a bit closer. I will freely admit to falling into the routine of employing a comfortable pair of critical blinders, glazing over the subtleties, but when I do find my world expanding it is quite the experience. I do not make any claims that Bawarshi has hit upon any absolute truths, but rather that I have a new appreciation of what once seemed so simple and static. I'm a bit self-conscious now, having written the last few thoughts when all that gushing was over a more encompassing comprehension of the word "genre".

Surely we know genre in its relation to literary categorizing, but this bookish adolescent with seemingly no social grace is really a blooming social scientist coming into its own. I started with genre as a way of bunching various artistic endeavors into "types" and, after Bawarshi, am now with the new idea that it encompasses much more: "...genres are dynamic discursive formations in which ideology is naturalized and realized in specific social actions, relations, and subjectivities" (8). Genre theory can be summed up, somewhat crudely, as a way of explaining and perpetuating the way we as social animals interact with one another, assuming roles and rules that have become recognized and standard.

Building upon this new comprehension of what genre's can represent, the implications in regard to invention trigger my educational funny bone. Taking the thought that humans in general behave in such a way so as to create the situations where their actions are understandable and necessitated (when they identify with and act out of a genre), anyone can understand and therefor create novel situations (pun intended). I am thinking in terms of composition, where a student can take a genre, with all its inherent qualities, and create a situation loyal (or divergent) to its principles. It would be a lesson in understanding the world, both real and literary, and practice for writers to learn more of the written arts.

Who knows if the genre theory will last in academic circles as an adequate way of conceptualizing links between people, situations, and meanings, but what it did give me was a new outlook on certain things. It gave me pause to look into my (learned) behavior within specific circumstances, or exigence, and the ways in which I can take these thoughts and apply it to composition instruction.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maturing and Interpretive Tales of Maturing

Extending upon the last blog entry, I once again look into Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing, this time looking into the contents of Chapter 3 and 4.

The focus of chapter 3 is maturation in a general sense. When looking at a student and assessing the growth of their abilities there are two ideas that apply: pure maturing and pure learning. Maturing is rooted in biological developments where growth is "effected by inner, sequential, emergent forces." (66) Learning has its base in the manipulable standards that are set by human culture. Haswell blends both of these ideas into one to expose the relationship between the student/teacher relationship.

Having collected a sample of writing from undergraduates of various years as well as from "competent" professionals, Haswell dissects median examples and discovers that "better" writing of the professionals is the product of lessons gained outside of some traditional points of composition education. Furthermore, the advancement in writing skills seemed to have been based in ideas closer to pure maturing, which puts in question the role of the teacher. This thought more or less concludes the chapter and expose the authors argument that "(He) will look for a better theory of maturing, one that will bring the teacher back in." (90)

Chapter 4 looks into some common notions of English education and relates them to student maturation. Taking the idea of imitation, students looking at works of exceptional worth (eg. King, Welty), and questioning the value of this classic component of English classes creates some interesting problems when dealing with maturation issues. Do students gain from these experts as we have thought? Haswell breaks down the process of being "influenced" by these literary models and lists 8 steps that have to take place. After further investigation into the matter the chapter concludes with a paradox, "...students do not seem much to appreciate the teacher's writing models and the mature standards of the discipline reflected by them, yet in the end, the students' writing ends up moving toward both models and standards." (112) Once again the role of the teacher is in question and the "divorce" between the student and teacher is left once again for future chapters.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gaining Ground...

" easy it is for teachers to do three things: to imagine that the same standards can be applied to different contexts, to think of students as ciphers before and after they enter the classroom, and to forget that human growth and learning are synonymous." (19)

I found this morsel particularly interesting in Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing. With growth playing a central role in the chapter, I found it interesting to apply the ideas within the quote to both my experiences as teacher and as student. With a cursory introduction to the rigors of being on the educating side of the classroom, I remember wishing for the day when I could comfortably settle and be at ease with the demands of both the students and curriculum. I looked forward to when I could rest upon the expectations I have built up, ready for any situation now that I have experienced most of them already. Yet, when these desires to create a
stable educational frame of mind are viewed in light of the issues within the chapter it becomes clear to me that my priorities are a bit skewed. A learning environment cannot be static and as the chapter later points out, an "A" paper at the beginning of a composition course should not be an "A" paper at the conclusion of the class. One class is not the same as another and to fall back on standards is to exclude the human element. People are going to change and keeping this in mind as a teacher will help facilitate a beneficial atmosphere for learning.
As a student, it is easy to get caught up in the grade game. Learning should be the emphasis of the class, not the letter at the end. If the teacher finds students "ciphers" then both are missing the point of education. Mysteries should not be part of the pedagogical relationship. I as a student should focus on the gradual accumulation of knowledge while as a teacher, the emphasis should lay with guidance from point A to B, adept to more adept, then starting over again with a different classroom that needs to be evaluated on its own basis. Communication within the classroom (teacher/student, student/student) is crucial and will make clear the relationship between human growth and learning.
It's all a lot of work and now that I am starting to think about the process of becoming a good, mindful teacher, I wonder why more emphasis, and resources, are not given to the programs that create them.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Drifting on a Read

As the first entry of this blog, representing my virgin foray into the virtual world of blogging, I have Michael Jarrett's "cadenza" section of Drifting on a Read to focus on. Admittedly, I spent a fair amount of time looking up words that were not in my vocabulary (glossolalia, hermeneutic, exegetical, heuristic...) but I believe I was able to grasp onto the overall idea of the text and found the implications of troping interesting in its relation to both jazz music and creative writing. There is a playful quality behind tropes and it is reflected in Jarrett's writing as well, particularly when he explores the different pathways one can take in analyzing the reply Louis Armstrong gave to a woman socialite, "Lady, if you gotta ask what it is, you'll never know." The different Armstrongs (the Zen Master, the Phenomenologist, the Saussurean...) all teased out the idea of ambiguity contained within tropes and which helped me connect Jazz improvisation, which is based in an individuals point of view to express divergent musical thoughts, with that of writing and the wealth of possibilities that lay in the symbols of text. It will be interesting to delve into the next chapters to see how Jarrett develops his ideas on writing creatively based upon his observations and study of Jazz- "I want to show readers how to turn (or trope) an art form into a paradigm for creative invention." Sounds interesting to me...