Author Archives: afaye

Words on Words

Well, I was really glad I handed out copies of my PowerPoint because I really didn’t explain my lesson the way I was planning. I had more to say about the unit and my full-circle learning objectives and I am not sure they came across as well as I wanted, but that’s the way presentations play. Overall, I learned a lot about how I would actually present and teach these activities. Ya’ll were a great class to start with and I appreciate your comments.

Why did I have graduate students dress up in costumes? Because I do not have high school students to dress up in costumes. Seriously, this was my only chance to see how the Ivanhoe Tableau would work out, how long it would take, if the costumes would lead to the discussion topics I was hoping for, or if it would fall flat. The costumes were also a way to force engagement with the activity and help with the on-the-spot thinking of the activity. So a huge thanks to everyone who participated!

As I mentioned during my presentation, after seeing the limitations of the tableau I would definitely opt for a full Ivanhoe and have students re-act the scene with the new characters. I was just so bent on ‘teaching’ the three new reading tools that I couldn’t get the concept of the tableau out of my head. I really wanted to share these three reading tools which help me in my own reading process. We can never have enough tools to hand over to our students and I hope you found them interesting if not useful. However, the in-class comments on the impact of the additional characters (the non-literary monkey and Shakespeare) make the dramatic Ivanhoe a success. I wish there had been time to try the Question Relay before the Ivanhoe to see if this layering of activities produced different reflections. I was also pushing the Hamlet connection, but as we never had previous Hamlet discussions it was hard to frame this connectivity. I was aiming for a better discussion of how performance inquiries lead back to deeper textual interpretation especially when dealing with texts of meta-theatre, like Hamlet.

Any comments are really appreciated. I am curious about your take on the screenplay assignment and whether a Question Relay Follow-Up hand out would actually allow me less direct involvement in structuring a discussion or if I am kidding myself. Thank you again for playing along and allowing me the rare opportunity to teach a class.

Nat and Hobbes?

Again, I feel like I have nothing too new to contribute to the blog discussion. Everyone has given really awesome suggestions! I think the pre-reading exercises are the key. It helped just to have someone say “slow down! look at all these triangles” to make me slow down and actually think about triangles. I think a discussion of visual literacy (admittedly a concept much broader and applicable to much more in life than just graphic mediums) needs to head off any work with graphic novels.

Again, I am confused on the purpose of my own blog. Am I trying to get students to slow down while reading Nat Turner or slow down while reading the diverse genre of graphic novels/narratives? The question seems a little nitty-gritty, but I think these differences are also key. Before Professor Sample pointed out the differences of Nat Turner and other influential graphic novels (I’m thinking of Maus) I didn’t even think of differences. I was too busy trying to situate myself to what I assumed to be the general graphic novel genre expectations. Now, comparing and contrasting Nat Turner from these expectations gives me a much deeper reading of Baker’s novel. I am really stuck on the question of why the English department choose Nat Turner as the special community book over the other more popular and, apparently, more influential graphic novels at play in the literary community. So, I would argue, for the slower, deeper reading of Nat Turner, which Professor Sample’s lecture provoked, students need to be familiar with other graphic novels.

As others have pointed out, McCloud’s comix theory does provide this genre background, but I would argue for more examples of departure. I want to talk about Calvin and Hobbes and how it always blew the other comics on the Sunday funnies out the water. Yet, when I look at a collection of just Calvin and Hobbes it doesn’t seem as groundbreaking because it is not situated in the context of the other standard form comics with Peanuts to the left and Blondie to the right. When I didn’t have a Maus comparison I didn’t know how groundbreaking Nat Turner really is.

I’m still stuck on why George Mason picked Nat Turner, but with so many of us have commenting on our discomfort with teaching and discussing the deadly issues Baker expertly brings to the front of his novel, I think I have my answer. We must slow down to really chew on these issues and I think our students will want to slow down to chew on these issues. As Susanna aptly pointed out: violence needs to be discussed and discussed now and Nat Turner allows us to talk about our culture’s comfort with violence and to also make violence uncomfortable again.

P.S. For those bitten by the “What is literature?” discussion and debate, I really recommend John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: the Problem of Literary Canon Formation. It’s a deep thinker.

genre gaps and expectations

I couldn’t help approach McCloud as a stretch to produce theoretical justification for graphic novels in the classroom, like, “Oh sure. Gee displayed the academic theories of video games, now McCloud will draw the theory of comics. Great.” Admittedly, my initial pooh-poohing of McCloud was unfair. I was just initially disappointed that McCloud hadn’t offered me an escape from graphic novels for this response. Please don’t get me wrong: I am not hating on graphic novels or their potential for instructional opportunities and student engagement. I just found my first graphic novel alienating (for lack of a better word) because I was positioned as a naive reader trying to fill the wrong gaps. If I see a movie before I read a book then I just can’t read the book because I hate seeing an actor as the fictional character I want the experience of creating. When I read a movie I don’t come at the experience expecting the freedom to create characters and I am still in the process of adjusting my expectations of the graphic novel. Genre theory at work; I should have read McCloud first. I was placing my reader responsibility and construction in the wrong areas. I regularly read a webcomic < > and I never feel stifled or anything as pretentious as I am guiltily trying to describe. However, I never take Beartato, or any other previous comics, seriously and I do take Nat Turner and graphic novels seriously. I am still struggling with my own understanding and expectations of comics and graphic novels; genre theory is kicking my confused butt.  I expected a different kind of reader-imagination space and, as I had yet to read McCloud, took the gutter space for granted. I just continued from panel to panel without consciously filling in the gaps of action because of my previous comic experiences. When McCloud dissects the two panel axe murder in chapter three I really focused on where my expectations did not fit or fill the appropriate gaps the genre: “I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why,” (68).  I did not create any murder, but just waited for the third panel trick exposing the axe-wielder as the producer of the scream as he fell down a sewer. I expected the comic to manipulate my expectations so I simply didn’t play along. How much did I refuse my role as reader of Nat Turner? This was definitely a meta-reading experience forcing me to again look at the role of genre and expectations on the part of the reader. How can you fill in the most satisfying (or academically expected) gaps when you don’t know where to find them? I should have done a think-aloud with this one.

interwebbing the undoable

I dig the expanded ‘text’ presentations, discussions and materials, provided by Text Book, for the most part. I also enjoy the range of questions and assignments, although certain ones bother me quite a bit. I just keep coming back to Textual Power and one Scholes’ goal in particular: “Our job is not to produce ‘readings’ for our students but to give them the tools for producing their own,” (24). I’m conflicted. Text Book requires a lot of in-class help to actually provide students with the necessary ‘tools.’ I know, all textbooks and course materials require in-class discussions and guidance, but Text Book almost teases students by allowing them a certain level of comfort with difficult concepts, through blurbs of explanations, and then throws curveball questions to purposefully knock beginners off their metaphorical feet. I am unsure what falls within Gee’s “regime of competence” and what introductory students will simply deem “undoable,” (Gee 68). For example, the questions for Plath’s “Metaphors” would have to be an in-class project: “The poem is a riddle, with each line providing a metaphoric clue to its solution. Solve the riddle, and consider how the relationships between the metaphors contribute to its solution,” (74). Since the “Metaphor in Three Poems” (72) section is still in the very beginning stages of the metaphors work, I have to wonder if this poem is still within or beyond “the outer edge” (Gee 68) of beginners’ ability and more importantly patience. If you were to assign this section as homework, then the question should actually read: “Google this poem.” Yes, the internet answer is a real danger for all homework. However, if students feel confident with their own scholarly abilities and that the level of questions posed are actually in their grasp then the danger of Wikipedia-in-defeat is less. Did Textbook provide the confidence and tools to dive into an on-your-own, sink-or-swim hypothesis for “Metaphors”? Maybe I just want to be there to make sure nobody grabs for their laptop buoy before they get their feet wet. Lots of Scholes questions and material are dancing on the outer limits of beginners comfortably, good. Great, actually. But these outer-edge materials are admittedly scary and given the opportunity a lot of beginners avoid scary. I know, it’s me. I have to trust my students. I would still feel more comfortable tackling Kafka’s “On Parables” in class. I know, it’s not just Text Book, it’s all assigned material, but I can’t help thinking of some texts as just better suited for in-class or some materials require more than a definition and a blurb before, “Good luck!” and waving them off to Sparknotes. End on a positive: I really liked “Constructing and Analyzing a Random Assemblage” (85) and the fun discussions and assignments centered on surrealism.

Is there still time to break these blog habits?

I am already embarrassed. First, I super regret noting my interest in “reflective/reflexive writing” assignments in last week’s blog. I meant assignments to assign not to perform. This leads to one of the underlying currents in my blog: my issues interacting with this material as student and teacher. I always relate our class material to how it compares to my own education. Sometimes I am successfully able to focus on how to teach with/through/for, but too often I get stuck in a compare/contrast to how I did or did not experience these new pedagogies of critical, reflexive reading. My status as not-yet-teacher forces doubt to every “How would this work?” moment because I end up overwhelming myself with a “How would anything work?” Most of the time I am blinded or stymied by my naivety: in my imaginary classroom everything I would have liked as a student will work. (My over-enthusiasm and gullible acceptance of most presented approaches in probably more harmful to my developing pedagogical methods, in the long run.) I repeatedly return to my experience as a student, which honestly can only get me so far while wrestling with the material.

Each week I pour over everyone’s writing to primarily digest what everyone thought about the reading and, due to a terrible comparison compulsion, to secretly reconfirm my own blog’s lack of belonging in this smart collaborative website. Already I dread this self-reflexive exploration dragging down the academic excellence of sample reality. I struggled with how write at least 300 words of profound self-analysis when only one descriptive adjective comes to mind: lame. Starting in week four I decided to keep my blogs as close to 300 words as possible because I realized how quickly these readings add up and I didn’t want anyone to waste their time with mine. Unfortunately, that comment is not actually based on analysis, but mere memory of intention during composition. I have already guiltily broken this self-imposed limit, but maybe its okay if I can accomplish the deep engagement with material I desire.

I was also hoping that limiting my word count would force me to leave out lame personal anecdotes. Wrong. I tell dumb stories. Not just in this blog. I consistently catch myself in the middle of boring stories which only mildly relate to the present topic and this sentence is a perfect example. Instead I should encourage the deeper connections of material I found myself missing: when I discussed projective identities I did not even mention Salvatori and Donahue’s treatment of repertoire and identify. My focus on identities of learners and their responsibility as learners is a theme I should be proud of and develop. I have got to cut all the superficial doo-doo just because I am self-conscious of the lack of authority in my teacher-voice. This is also why I stopped commenting on others’ blogs, but now I’ll just ask a little forgiveness when I say something stupid and really take advantage of this awesome collaboration of authorship. Or at least try to. Why does this blog throw me for such a writing loop?

I will be honest, when engaging Blau and Gee’s material I didn’t know what else to add to the conversation. My need to try for either some originality or to build on previous conversations hindered my engaged handling the material in composition. Writing is thinking, so why do I refuse to treat writing as such just because I am intimidated by my audience? I already feel the need to apologize for what a bummer post this will be, even though I have gained a tremendous amount of self-understanding. I try to be positive in my posts, but realize this cheerful tone is not always helpful and sometimes blatantly forced in opposition to what I really mean to communicate. My post on Gee was probably the most ‘critical’ and it honestly sounds like I was just jumping on the anti-Gee train to not single my post out.

My attempts to direct my blogs and wrap them in a tidy “title says it all” bow also limit my interaction with the readings. I want so badly to stick to a ‘thesis’ I only allow myself one or two off-topic interjections. Lame! Blogs are low-stakes writing and, as I have written on my love of these assignments twice, I need to take advantage of all the opportunities presented by low-stakes writing and not get caught up in the idea of academic writing, like I always do. I should be as inclusive in these posts as I wish, instead of constraining myself to the most interesting subject of a full book.

Best insight: I am a vocabulary hound. I especially love the new terms presented in Gee and Salvatori and Donahue, but I really hang on new phrases and the smart ways to express these bigger teaching ideas. My expanded vocabulary helps me internalize these difficult ideas and intangible approaches. I’m going to start my own little vocab-notebook to keep this terms and ideas close at hand and improve my interconnectivity of material. It’s a small step, but maybe I’ll get the hang of education one of these days.

I love portfolios and low-stakes writing

As a student and future-teacher Blau’s ‘low-stakes’ writing assignments really make me smile. I consider all of the assignments presented in chapter eight as low-stakes, too. Really, the whole concept of portfolio takes the pressure off and produces really great learning through writing. The idea of the final perfectly-correct draft is just as harmful and counter-productive as the final perfect-correct interpretation. Yes, one draft will be better than the last and one interpretation will be more valid to you than another, but there should always be potential with that comfortable room to grow. Students will be more involved in your carefully crafted dialogic comments in the writing process isn’t finished when they turn in the final draft, but simply a continuing portfolio piece with a potential lifespan beyond that of a semester or class. The portfolio concept has amazing expansion potential! If all writing assignments, no matter what discipline produced in or for, are chunked in the students’ mind as belonging to one writing portfolio, we may finally have a tool for fighting compartmentalized learning. This could also be an alternative to standardized writing tests, requiring more than a formulaic argument, but actual proof of revision, etc. Okay, I went on another hippie tangent, but the portfolio grading system is one I find extremely useful and beneficial to students and teachers. Besides, I find the worst writers’ block is a product of silly perfectionism. With more and more students being pushed for better and better grades I really think we need to take a combative stance against this writers’ nightmare. These assignments are the most practical way I have seen to fight perfectionism, while still produce assessable learning.

And just because it’s on my mind: I love how reflective/reflexive writing is crafted into the personal analysis of the writing logs and portfolio. I am just realizing how beneficial writing about the self through an interpretive, analytical lens can really be, so I guess I’m hungry for more self-reflective assignments.

Maybe I am a hippie…

Blau’s dedication to a learning community and real-world examples of the educational benefits for participants came at the perfect time to settle an argument. I guess I am a hippie, I have always enthusiastically believed in a “community of learners” (16) as the goal for any classroom. I am that kid… Recently, a classmate (different class) was struggling with some technology issues and basically just needed some resource accumulation help. We traded contact info so I could help. A friend (a former teacher) heard the phone call when I walked him through databases and set up a time to meet for some library exploration asked why I did not charge this classmate my standard tutoring fee. I was not a happy camper. 1.) Accumulation of resources is an offensive, backwards way to describe tutoring in any subject. 2.) I would hope a classmate would do the same for me. Everyone needs help sometime and everyone has the right to ask for and receive help. Classroom communities are participatory in many ways and not just during the appointed class time. Every learner has different strengths and weaknesses and Blau recognizes this as key in his workshop methodology. 3.) It helped me gain more experience and knowledge with the resources I was introducing to him. Silly argument aside, my number three is just today’s example of why I believe in the workshop method. I appreciate Blau for finally articulating and theoretically backing the workshop model in such practical, followable steps. I have always been a fan of study groups and can finally feel confident about incorporating a structured workshop into actual classroom practice. Hallelujah, seriously.

I am enthralled with Blau’s introduction of literature logs and, honestly, in love with the concept of low-stakes writing.  The in-class workshops could be extended in structured re-reading log assignments, as students learn to respect their own opinions and rate their understanding. Man, how Blau can inspire and develop metacognition with a deceptively simple 0-10 scale is very impressive and honestly practical. I was almost in awe of his ability to explain, through the actual application of his scale, how confusion and questions are part of the necessarily recursive reading process. That vocabulary, yes sir, he really gets to the meat of an unnatural process in such an approachable manner. Anyway, the log is such a functional companion (obviously not a replacement) to the necessary analytical essay: it’s a huge, sneaky pre-writing assignment encouraging a persona, yet authoritative voice! As a not-yet teacher, I am blissfully unaware of the curriculum restraints and attitude discrepancies which will eventually break me of most of my hippie leanings and naïve trust of students’ willingness to learn… I wish I could sit in on one of Blau’s literature courses. Or maybe just give him a hug.

To conclude, I would like to share the design for my next tattoo: “the processes of reading, interpreting, and criticizing literary texts teach and call for the exercise of evidentiary reasoning and the practice of critical thinking skills that are required for successful intellectual work in every field of study and academic discipline.” (59) It will be a full-back spread with Sheridan Blau riding an eagle.

Projective Identity for the English Student?

Like others, I agree that Gee is definitely stretching his defense of video games a little far and I, too, think he has simply avoided dealing with many of the negative effects of video games. For example, as our posts have exposed, we all know someone who has unfortunately replaced their effort and value in their real-world identity with obsessive dedication to some sort of a virtual one. My reading of Gee was colored by my prior knowledge, having only experienced a significant identity shift in a negative manner watching someone choose their World of Warcraft identity over their real-world identity. Investment in one’s identity obviously has the power Gee claims and so I must agree that building bridges and repairing damaged identities are a central goal for all teachers (57). How can we achieve the positive exchange of identities Gee claims, “real-world identities (some of which may have started as virtual identities in other play or school domains)…” (121), rather than the negative shifts I find more common with preferring a virtual to a real identity? Gee would find the answer within a properly established projective identity and use his students as scientists’ metaphor to prove this point. I just don’t know what a beneficial projective identity amounts to in the English classroom. Obviously, students must assume the identity of student and learner and this repair work is no easy task as being good at school carries more different meanings and values than any one teacher can possibly understand or repair. But what projective identity is available in the English class? Critic? That has too much prior baggage, even to those who are professing English, to be of actual use in the high school classroom. How does Gee actually play into the classroom? I find myself falling back on this question for most of his presented principles, identity is just bothering me the most at the moment.

To close, I will admit that I appreciate Gee’s vocabulary. Whether or not I agree with all of Gee’s positive analysis of the first-person shooter affinity group, I like the term.  Gee’s conception of triple identities really does interest me, but mainly frustrates me. I agree to his expanded view of literacy and most of his assessments about what is potentially lacking in current classrooms.  But can Gee’s learning principles practically fit into the practicing classroom? My projective identity as an English 610 student who fully appreciates the value of Gee’s book sure hopes so…

Questions without Answers

Why wasn’t I taught how to ask questions? This was the first research question I asked during my second 701 meeting (a popular subject for this week’s blog). How can I help my students ask questions? What are those magical questions that will produce more questions? Linkon’s article and inquiry-project really exposes how questions are the center of any literature classroom and, in connection with Scholes, the importance of producing questions in our students, rather than only providing them.

For too much of my education I fell into the novice traps Linkon discusses: I provided (and married ‘til death) conclusions. If a teacher asked a question then they expected a concrete, correct answer, right? Why else would they ask? So, my role as a student was to provide answers and their role as teacher was to provide questions. Why didn’t I further question their actual motives for questioning? My knee-jerk cultural assumption, as we discussed in class, lead me no further than a shallow response based only on my narrow comprehension of the text I read once. Right on to Linkon for appreciating the understanding found through re-reading texts and structuring assignments to foster recursive readings.

My writing assignments always required answering the questions of specific prompts, but again those questions were provided by my teachers: “Did Christopher Newman’s character change throughout James’ The American?”  I remember experiencing Linkon’s “excitement of scholarly work,” (253), while composing this final paper and finally came to my unsatisfying “defendable conclusion,” (270). Unsatisfying because I didn’t ask the question? Maybe. Unsatisfying because I honestly believed that I was finished and had discovered the only correct answer? Definitely. Later I reread The American as an out-of-class activity and although I was pleasantly surprised that I still found joy in asking the question of Christopher Newman’s character arch and re-examining the textual evidence. The question no longer produced a clear-cut yes or no, but developed into more questions. How did I learn to ask these questions when inquiry was a skill I was never explicitly taught? Good question.

I never remember any teacher holding a class discussion on how to ask questions or what kind of questions to ask. Somewhere in the character arch of Faye I came to a different understanding of why we ask questions and the dynamic aspects of answers.

All of literature instruction requires questions. Even this blog feeds on questions: “formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions.” What questions produce open and active inquiry? How do you ask those perfect questions to facilitate multiple interpretations? I’ll start with Linkon’s in-class activities for framing different kinds of questions and a collaborative class list (262), but I think this is one of the research questions I’ll continue asking and testing hypothesizes for my entire teaching career.

Expanded Repertoires

I am interested by Lee Shulman’s treatment and respect for “the learning that’s already inside the learner” (11), and am happy to further explore Shulaman’s “dual process” learning with Salvatori and Donahue’s concept of repertoire. I like the immediate exposure of potential harm caused by a repertoire of negative assumptions: “If you believe you dislike poetry, for example, you may be unwilling to engage in the process of careful, attentive, and slow reading,” (18). Would high school students buy and try that their success as learners is helped or hurt by their own thoughts on learning? I was a terrible student in high school and would now blush at my fifteen-year-old response to a geometry teacher who tried to explain my learning difficulties were partially the result of a destructive self-repertoire. However, undergraduates seem more likely to work with a concept like repertoire and appreciate, or at least experiment with, their understanding of themselves as affecting their work with or understanding of difficult materials.

Although I did not have the awesome vocabulary of difficulty to guide me, chapter 7 and the difficulty of Shakespeare could have been written about my undergraduate education. Sophomore year of high school I didn’t even try to read Julius Caesar and dismissed Shakespeare as impossible for me to understand. Then I made the mistake of pursuing a degree in English and one in theatre. To anyone involved in a college theatre department Shakespeare is not just a great author, but actually a great religion: deity and holy book to guide one’s life. For a year and a half year I side-stepped every course description mentioning the almighty convinced of my inability to understand. If the professor for my play analysis course hadn’t changed last minute I would have missed out on my favorite play, King Lear. My professor demystified Shakespeare, placed him within our reach and utilized every bit of our personal repertoires to have us relate to and make our own understandings of the family issues, betrayals, clothing motif, existential issues of humanity, and all the other beautiful difficulties most would place beyond the sphere of undergraduate attention. And we ate it up. My professor shared his own difficulties with the play and encouraged us never to be satisfied with any one answer. The process of discovery was different than presented in chapter 7, for example, we were encouraged to look up historical resources and critical responses, but it was the continual focus on the moments of confusion and difficulty that lead us to dig deeper and understand deeper. I’ll stop the nostalgia train, but that class really was as wonderfully cheesy as it sounds and the most important class on close reading and understanding that I experienced.

Therefore, I was a little bummed with Salvatori and Donahue’s initial confinement of repertoire. Their introduction to the concept in chapter two kicks off with “your poetic repertoire, your prior assumptions and experiences with poetry,” (17) and a list of probing questions confining the students repertoire to the students’ genre specific inside learning. I’m for a more out-of-the-box repertoire. When we discuss poetic language why not draw on the deep understanding of similes and metaphors provided by our students’ interaction with rap lyrics? The student writer Julian Betkowski utilized a David Bowie song to work with the difficulties of Krik? Krak! demonstrating the depth of her repertoire. We should be aware of the vastness of learning already within our students and connect our teaching to their repertoires on as many levels as possible. Of course we should focus on our discipline and foster the growth of genre-specific repertoires, but I want to be aware of every teaching resource available, whether provided from or for my students.