Teaching, Preaching, and Co-Creating Digital Text?

bear with me … this self-indulgent narrative has a point

When I began teaching ENGL110 last spring (has it really only been one year?), I had in mind a teaching persona and classroom ethos that I was going to cultivate:

Me: Strict, but kind; witty but magical director of discourse; organized; gives cool assignments

Classroom: Erupting in huge debates (directed by me); happy and inspired; students in my office hours every week, desiring my knowledge and wisdom

Then I actually became an ENGL110 teacher.

In my fifth section, this is currently my persona and classroom ethos:

Me: sets out rules but constantly breaks them; compassionate to the point where I know I get taken advantage of; often forgetful; constantly changing my teaching style to reflect the needs of each class; constantly betraying my excitement about writing concepts

Classroom: extremely engaged, though often not willing to talk in the large group setting (very willing to talk in groups and one-on-one with me); open to ideas; embracing difficult concepts and lessons; regrettably suspicious of their peers and their peers’ comments; desiring (and fearing) creative assignments; avoiding my office for “fear of taking up your time” (!!)

One of my initial slight disappointments with Adam Banks’s Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age is the lack of teaching anecdotes or advice on teaching as a DJ griot. He does give us an idea of what his own community courses looked like, but this didn’t seem helpful for the UD teacher of a (mostly white) ENGL110 classroom. “Give me methods and systems so I can craft the right identity,” I cried in my head. “How can I teach this in the correct way?”

Then Banks asked us to consider teaching in the community as preachers rather than wisdom-imparting-intellectuals in Chapter 2 “Mix.” At this passage, I paused to reflect:

“These processes of collaboration and identification, of call and response and building shared knowledge, of code switching, finding, and using shared language, for Moss lead to the creation of a shared text. In other words, the preacher is no longer a sole author, and the congregation can no longer be said to play the role of mere listening or receiver. They create text together” (51).

My inclinations as a teacher were originally to control and create a strong queendom (with me at the head, of course). I discovered very quickly my first semester of ENGL110 that this would not work for two reasons: (1) in making myself a figure of absolute authority (without vulnerability), I was creating a person that my students didn’t care about and thus resisted; (2) in my personal ideology (as this class has seen in my former responses), I am extremely open-sourcy, championing free knowledge and anti-establishmentisms.

In my own teaching life, these two realizations led me to be more vulnerable with my class (sharing opinions about long-established writing rules, sharing my own failures as a writer, being honest about what I knew and didn’t know). They also led me to adopt a policy of consistent dialogue in drafts, in groups, in the large class, and one-on-one with my students. This kind of dialogue creates a sense in my classroom that each student has valuable ideas and messages, which is shown in how seriously I take them.

That said, I still don’t think that my class has the aurora of “creating together” that Banks mentions. There is a sense that each individual is creating a text with me, but there is not the same sense of community creation in my class. I really want to get to this point of community collaboration, though, and I also really believe that digital media is the place where this can be done the best. So I’m going to propose some things to try for the next class that I will teach, and I would also welcome feedback and ideas from others.

pleaz?

Proposals for Co-Creating Digital (and/or Public) Text

  1. Class blog/discussion forum (outright stealing this from our 685 class, where I feel it has been extremely successful).
  2. Creating some assignment together; perhaps a collection of narratives (with visuals) with a discussion about how to organize and group them
  3. Public feedback; perhaps beginning with a text created by me and then easing them into presenting their own work for the public eye.
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4 thoughts on “Teaching, Preaching, and Co-Creating Digital Text?”

  1. Katie,

    I really appreciated this honest, amusing reflection on how you teach and what it might mean to teach as a preacher/griot/DJ/etc. I absolutely agree that this blog is an excellent model for how a class can create something together. Commenting seems to be key. I have a website for my course and had them do some blogging this semester, and while I do think it opened some doors for them in thinking about themselves as public writers, I didn’t ask them to comment on one another’s work, and so we lost that sense of “building something together.” So I will be working commenting into my schedule next semester.

    I also really like our idea for creating a larger document out of student narratives, working out as a class how to arrange and design them. There’s something about that kind of assignment that gets people invested, that gives them a product at the end that they’re proud of and interested in sharing. This could be a great beginning of the semester project, as a way to create investment and establish a classroom ethos of “building together” early. In fact, I may just rip this idea off for my own class!

    Thanks for this-
    Kiley

  2. Katie,

    I love this thoughtful response to Banks and reflection on your teaching! For me, the key phrase in your piece is “each individual is creating a text with me” (my emphasis). I’m thinking that the challenge of teaching academic, responsive writing is to replace the “with me” with “alongside one another.” That is, the goal is not to move towards coauthorship, but towards work that is situated in a community of fellow writers and readers (rather than just one writer/reader, the teacher).

    We have perhaps moved here from the issues of race that Banks raises, but I think that we are still thinking about writing as an engagement with others, with difference, with not only the teacher but the other voices that form the writing classroom.

    Je

  3. Kylie,

    I’m glad this could spark ideas for your own class! I highly endorse all incorporation of my ideas; not because I think they’re great but because you can take them and make them great.

    Joe,

    That community is exactly what I am lacking. I’ve become successful at teaching coauthoring but not collaboration. When I think about what will help them be successful thinkers throughout their lives, open to continuously growing their minds, collaboration is the skill behind this success. I know that some of the comp instructors at UD do collaborative revising with their whole classes, but I’m not sure that this is even as important as collaborative creation.

    You are right, too, to catch me at the lack of race in my piece. I did this on purpose, though not in order to hide it or obscure it but to move discussion to a focus on individuals collaborating together. This is beginning to sound vague, so sorry for any vagueness, but I wonder if having a classroom in which creativity and individuality are emphasized, where students are made to feel safe in their strangeness, can then allow for the kind of collaboration where race and difference are just seen as valuable pieces of the whole. Thus if I can first foster an atmosphere in my classroom where creativity and difference are valuable, then when we do find the right kind of method for collaboration, all of these differences make sense as part of the whole, though they are also not lost in the whole.

  4. Katie: Your class sounds like my class. I suspect the phenomenon of coauthoring-with-you but not collaborating with each other is a common frustration here–and is perhaps a result of wanting to build such good relationships with our students that there isn’t the energy for building a class collective relationship. Part of this has to do with power relations–we have the gradebook (and the Tweed), and so they imagine the class as pivoting on their relationship with the power figure, not unlike the relationship people form with celebrities or leaders, where they imagine a one-on-one connection without thinking of the relationship to the group. Try as we might, we just can’t seem to decenter our classrooms. We’re the scary spider at the center of their composition spiderweb.

    Part of it is because, as I joke with my students, I always want to be the center of attention. But I don’t really, all the time. For them to collaborate, they need to view the other students in the class as *valuable* to be in relation to, somehow, so they devote some of their limited energies to building that relationship. I have no idea how to do this (let’s face it: group projects for grades are generators of drama and frustration, not collectivity, because they *still* see us at the center, invisible, watching, judging). Collaboration is always a bit utopian, perhaps, but it’s nice to imagine not be Big Brother (near-literally, in my case) someday.

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