Pointing and Jump-ins

As I read the second half of Blau’s book this week, I was thinking about approaches to teaching “Sonny’s Blues.”  The trouble with applying Blau’s clever activities from chapter 6 is that the ones he models are on very short texts which can be dealt with in one class period (75 minute blocks, he explains).  But, “Sonny’s Blues” is 23 pages long.  Not only can this not be read in class (not even via “jump-ins”, an idea which I WILL be using in my classes!), but Blau’s other strategies of “pointing” would become difficult due to the length of text.  Asking students to “point” out lines which were memorable, powerful, or puzzling from a 23-page text will likely cause anxiety and lack a focus on passages which may be most important. It may be necessary to scaffold “Sonny’s Blues” even more by assigning it for homework, narrowing down in class a smaller section of text which seems significant, and then going through Blau’s strategies of pointing (128), writing about a line (131), sharing in writing groups (133), and reporting out and publishing (133). For example, the last two to three pages of “Sonny’s Blues” carries a lot of literary weight and significance in comparison to earlier passages.

What I like most of all about Blau’s approach to students creating their own writing topics is the last section which he calls “reporting out and publishing.” This is where he takes what the students have written about (about their “pointed” out lines) and sort of finesses out a theory in each students’ approach to the text.  Not only does this listing of approaches demonstrate to the students how one text can elicit several valuable ways to approach and criticize a text, but it validates each students’ ideas, giving them some authority.

I agree with Blau that teachers often feel the need to feed paper topics to students, but there must be a balance between students writing to demonstrate writing and students writing to demonstrate THINKING.  These are two different approaches to writing—two necessary and separate approaches.  I know that I’m guilty of having fed topics to my students. Through the strategies he discussed in chapter 6, I feel more confident that I can lead students to make their own conclusions about what they’re reading and help them to develop paper topics.

Finally, I wanted to comment quickly on Blau’s discussion of assigning a grade at the end of the semester via writing portfolios in chapter 8. He advocates for a holistic grade based on reflection writing and students choosing which works should carry more weight. I know my school would never accept this model because students need to know how they’re performing throughout the weeks, not only at midterm or semester’s end, but I really value his holistic approach. I especially like the amount of student control he allows in determining which pieces will be prominent in the portfolio.