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...