Tag Archives: teaching

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.

x8: Banks, race, teaching, and innovation

I wanted us to read Digital Griots by Adam Banks for three reasons:

  1. I’m worried by how discourse about digital writing seems to be dominated by straight white males. (Perhaps this state of affairs will not shock those of you who are not straight white males.) I appreciate how Banks forces questions of race into our conversation.
  2. We are all teachers as well as scholars and writers, and I like how Banks asks us to think about how we represent the digital world to students.
  3. I admire the virtuosity of Banks’ writing. His book strives to enact as well as state an argument.

For next week, then, I’d like you to respond to at least one of these three aspects of Banks’ work: race, teaching, innovation. Or, ideally, I’d like you to talk about race and/or teaching in a digital age  in an innovative way.

I’m eager to see what you come up with! I feel sure, at this point, that i will be surprised and delighted.

Deadline: Tues, 4/15, 11:59 pm. Comments due on Thurs, 4/17.  Use x8 as your category.

What we Know About Swallows

The first paper in my ENGL110 class is Socratic Dialogue (where students pick an issue and then explore both sides of the issue through arguments in a dialogue form). A worried ENGL110 student sat in my office, knowing that she was not understanding the assignment but not knowing how to express why or how she did not understand.

“What do you think about the assignment?” I asked.

“I mean, it’s okay. I just have a hard time with it,” she said nervously, speaking faster and shifting nervously in her seat. “It’s really hard for me to think about what someone else might say. I really only like to think about facts. You know; things that are actually true.”

This emphasis on facts and truths—of knowing something absolute—is something that I feel like I’ve devoted my teaching life to challenging. One of my favorite things about teaching is getting students to the point with papers when they are nervous and uncertain and have to suddenly think in different ways that they have had to do before. That said, the US education system that Cathy Davidson mentions—one of tests and categories and memorization—hinders this kind of exploration that brings students (and myself) to an uncomfortable place without facts and test questions.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is one scene when King Arthur and his knights must cross a bridge guarded by a man who will only allow them to cross if they can answer three questions correctly (if you want to see the whole thing, look here). Lancelot goes first and gets some pretty easy questions (“What is your name?” “What is your quest?” “What is your favorite color?”). He is allowed to cross without a problem. The second knight boldly steps up to answer his set of questions and is thrown a loop with a third question: “What is the capital of Assyria?” He cannot answer this question and is thrown off the bridge. The third knight is given the same set of questions as Lancelot, but he cannot answer the last question and it also thrown of the bridge. Then King Arthur steps up:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/2183982

“How do you know so much about swallows?”
“Well you have to know these things when you’re a king, you know.”

King Arthur obscures in his answer the fact that he learned about different swallows from some French men guarding a castle he wanted to storm. His way of answering the question of how he obtained this knowledge implies that he is naturally intelligent or was trained in the arts of being kingly. Further, his knowledge destroys the question-asker himself and makes the bridge safe for all who would come after him.

I think that school feels to many students like this sort of arbitrary question and answer game. There are right answers and wrong answers and some people just know how to get these answers better than others. Teachers, I think, often come across as the great holders of truths/facts. They have this power of question-answering which they acquired somehow and just memorized better than others.

I’ve been in the same shoes as my question-fearing student. I’ve been afraid to consider the fact that things are not as they seem (and the teacher does not know all of the answers). But the “answers” to questions about the world are complex and multifaceted and are always changing. As Davidson says, “The process of unlearning in order to relearn demands a new concept of knowledge not as a thing but as a process, not as a noun but as a verb, not as a grade-point average or a test score but as a continuum” (19).

And I wonder: How can we teach unlearning and flexibility in our writing classrooms? How can we really show students how to call “facts” and commonly held assumptions about the world into question? How can we do all of this within a very resistant school structure which demands an old-school style of learning measurement? Am I–are you–willing to give up our notions of teacher authority in order to allow for the teaching of unlearning?