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Via a Boston Globe article, check out this site of 60-second videos introducing classic (and/or oft-assigned) novels. Not only do these seem like useful introductions, they also might serve as models for students to compile and film their own such recaps.Also included is a (again short) video series on steps for writing a lit crit paper, with the hopeful title "How to Write a Paper that Won't Put Your Teacher to Sleep."
On the first day of classes, I make sure that everyone knows that cell phone use during class is NOT going to be allowed. Not a text, not a tune, nothing.
On day two, I backtrack just a bit and introduce them to the county's disaster alert program that residents and students can sign up for with their cell phones.
On Friday, we were using Re:Writing Plus! and logged in for the first time. Except that not everyone was successful. As I walked around helping out the students, one of my students pulled out his cell phone and dialed the 1-800 number for help. At first I was amazed, but then I shrugged and thought that it was an efficient way to deal with the problem.
Today, two of my deaf students were arranging to have other students take notes for them. Instead of relying on the interpreter, they (deaf and hearing) decided to text each other later. During class, one of the students texts the person sitting next to him if he needs something.
I don't have any profound theory or pedagogical move to embed these situations in, except to say that the cell is becoming more and more a part of us that it seems like second nature. And sure, there are students who would text their significant others during class if I let them.
The election season is always a terrific time to teach rhetoric. We know this, right? And this season has been a harvest of topics to choose from, whether it be speechwriting, racism, sexism, and so on. In my freshman comp class, in preparation for the students' first essay, we've spent the week reading and analyzing op-ed columns about Sarah Palin, examining the focus, the arguments, and the references writers from different political persuasions and parts of the globe use to discuss the Alaska governor's candidacy.
As we've cyberwalked through the minefields and forests of political-speak this week, we've been able to watch, nearly daily, how a writer's work can be misinterpreted even while it has been argued, used as a "true fact," and even laughed at. This serendipitous experience wasn't planned, and perhaps that's part of what is making it so successful--instead of tracing backwards and forwards in time, our reference is the immediate past, and concerns our class and our country. This past week, we've come to class to check out who has referred (directly or indirectly) to "Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes," written by Washington (state) blogger, Bob Salsbury, whose post of August 30 is reproduced below, for your reading pleasure:
Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes
Gov. Palin and her Eskimo husband enjoying some lean and healthy moose bacon.
in the hell did Sarah Palin ever pass the vetting by McCain's people?
This is unreal. Below are some fake quotes of Governor Palin I made up
just for fun:
yet elegantly awkward moose proves God's creation and not evolution is
the source of all life. How could something as oddly shaped and silly
looking as a moose evolve through so-called "natural selection?" Is
evolution a committee? There is nothing natural about a dorky moose!
Only God could have made a moose and given it huge antlers to fight off
his predatory enemies. God has a well known sense of humor, I mean He
made the platypus too. On oil exploration and drilling in the ANWR:
made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures, lizards
of Satan really, so when they died and became petroleum products we,
made in his perfect image, could use them in our pickup trucks, snow
machines and fishing boats. Now, as to the ANWR, Todd and I often
enjoying caribou hunting and one year we shot up a herd big time, I
mean I personally slaughtered around 40 of them with my new, at the
time, custom Austrian hunting rifle. And guess what? That caribou herd
is still around and even bigger than ever. Caribou herds actually need
culling, be it by rifles or wolves, or Exxon-Mobil oil rigs, they do
just great! On Alaskans serving overseas in Iraq:
Well, God bless them, and I mean God and
Jesus because without Jesus we'd be Muslims too or Jewish, which would
be a little better because of the superior Israeli Air Force.
Disclaimer: She didn't actually say these things - I made them up. But thanks for all the visits.
Okay. Here's what you have to know about Bob: his writing is wild, funny, satirical, clever, and did I mention--satirical? So when you read that Governor Palin thinks:
God made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures,
lizards of Satan really, so when they died and became petroleum
products we, made in his perfect image, could use them in our pickup
trucks, snow machines and fishing boats,
You have to understand that Bob, not the Governor, wrote it (as many of my astute students have pointed out, the post is titled "Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes.").
Of course, you don't have to understand anything, and therein lies the fun. Bob's original post was on August 30, and by the next day, he wrote that discussion boards at MSNBC and Yahoo had picked up on it.
And then, by September fifth, there was a domain created with the moniker "Lizards of Satan," and mention of the dinosaurs on a comicforum. The next day brought links from Hullabaloo and Rapture Ready. Fortunately, Snopes swooped in to affirm that the post was a JOKE.
It was at this point that I began showing the blog to my class. I thought it would be an interesting tidbit on watching how language can miscommunicate when misread--no matter how hard the writer may strive not to be misunderstood. And that would be that.
But,no. The next day Anderson Cooper and CNN intervened, interviewing Bob and showing screenshots of his blog. However modest the real Bob is in person, he bravely posted a clip of his interview--which I shared with my students. A bonus was watching another clip of Matt Damon referencing the idea that S.P. believed that dinosaurs existed 4,000 years ago. "He went to Harvard," I pointed out to my students.
On Friday we read Bob's post about the article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times as well as the clip of the Breitbart TV piece on "A Blogger Named Bob." Much of the Breitbart piece was a summary of what had already happened, which provided my students the opportunity to watch the trail that the rumor had taken throughout the week, and to see how each day, different media, different writers, in oh-so-many contexts were using the information.
Although the school week was over, the rumor's shelf life wasn't, and on the opening sequence of Saturday Night Live, a program that doesn't shy away from satire, actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did an opening bit on Governer Palin and Senator Clinton sharing a podium. "Please, ask this one about dinosaurs," Poehler-as-Clinton smirks towards the end.
So we'll be watching and problematizing the references to Bob's post for as long as the semester lasts, I suppose. I'd like for us return to the rumor train at the end of the semester and really critique, via writing and research, all of the places that this rumor has gone, all of the places it hasn't as well as reasons why this is so--what does it suggest about the transmission of ideas/rumors and about reading and reacting and so on and how does this fit into our larger purpose as writers in terms of using other writers' words responsibly?
Picking up from Jason's recent wiki post, I meant to offer a few particulars about how and why I've been using wikis in comp class. The ideas of social construction and knowledge-building by consensus that stem from how wikipedia functions need not apply to the wiki as used in the classroom. (I'll offer that as hypothesis, anyway.) The analogy I'd suggest is the electronic bulletin board.
I first used wikis a couple semesters ago as the space for research groups (four or five students per group) to collect up entries for an annotated bib assignment. Students selected first and second choices from a list we'd brainstormed together; I made assignments, trying to even out numbers and skill levels in each group. Students then had to decide how to divide up the workload of locating both Internet and database articles, providing a very brief (couple sentence) summary, and evaluating with specific evidence of amount of usable material, authority and objectivity of author (the usual criteria I write on the board sixteen times a semester). Using the wiki allowed students to post hyperlinks to articles, so that others in the group could check out summary and evaluation. I posted comments and questions on esp. strong or weak entries (using some distinctive color--I had asked students as well to type their name in a unique color so that they, and I, could tell who had written what). Of course, I could have done a similar thing in google docs, but the public nature of the wiki allowed students to look as well at the work of other groups, and a later writing assignment allowed students to draw sources from either their own research wiki or another group's.
A second way I've used the wikis just this semester involves my standard beginning-of-the-semester assignment the classmate snapshot. (Briefly, students interview each other in order to write a sharply detailed--in theory--paragraph that provides a snapshot of their subject's life.) In the past, using course management software, I have asked students to post these on the discussion board provided, but the wiki is a much cleaner interface, with snapshots all appearing on the same page (none of that cumbersome clicking in and out of posts). And because I'm using course blogs, it was an easy matter give students hyperlinks to the wikis I had set up (one for each of my classes).
In short, I've been using wikis not for their wikipedia-like possibilities for collaborative work (several students producing one joint project, like many sculptors moving over a large piece of sculpture), but rather for their convenience (in terms of being able to hyperlink), their simplicity of navigation, and their public nature (for helping to build community).
Your question(s), then: With what types of assignments have you used wikis? Why wikis, rather than some other format? If you haven't used wikis, why not?
In a meeting the other day, one of my colleagues just back from New Orleans muttered that all he kept hearing about at the 4C's was multimodal composition. In yet another one of the universe's synchronicities, I today came across Barbara Ganley's collage-presentation of a talk she'll be giving this week (Balancing Acts: Transformations & Tensions in the 21st Century Writing Classroom)--for more information, read her discussion here, and for more on the vuvox collage tool, check out their home page. In Barbara's collage move the mouse horizontally to scroll through the collage; hot spots marked by dialogue bubbles provide a treasure-trove of interesting links and videos, including a sample of very exciting student work.
For a shorter demo of what a multimodal FYC class might look like, check out Jason Palmeri's video introduction.
Is there a place for this sort of innovative pedagogy in the community college?
Earlier this week, in a reflective moment in my Writing about Literature class, I was talking to students about the importance of reading in their educations, about how they may have relied on lecture as the primary mode of getting info in high school but that, as they advanced further in college, reading would become crucial, as they became more independent learners who were not tied to the sound of their teachers' voices. For my reluctant readers, I tried to sell poetry-reading as training in paying attention to the details of texts and novel-reading as developing a sustained attention necessary for longer texts. Then a presentation by our head of disabilities services one evening this week made me re-examine my assumptions.
At the presentation we watched Richard Lavoie's film How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop: Understanding Learning Disabilities, a workshop session that replicates for parents and teachers the processing and perceptual difficulties faced by LD students and demonstrates how the reactions of teachers and other students can exacerbate the situation, a powerful and thought-provoking film. My reaction after seeing the film was to wonder how many of my students who seem to have difficulty reading might have some of these processing/perceptual problems and, more importantly, what I could do as a writing teacher to help them, to bring them towards competency in their reading, which is obviously what we want, I asserted confidently. No, said the ODS specialist firmly, not necessarily.
She talked about the technological possibilities now: student textbooks can be scanned in and converted from print-to-speech, web pages can be read aloud, and students can compose by talking into a microphone (a comprehensive, at least to my eyes, list of such technologies is given here). Within five years, she said, textbooks will be available as old-fashioned bound books, CD-ROMs, or downloadable mp3 files, format to be chosen by student.
So will my reluctant readers and writers now be eager listeners and talkers?
I've been thinking about whether there are important differences between text-based and oral/aural communication. (Listening and talking are not my preferred modes, I hereby disclose.) I wonder about differences in vocabulary, syntactical complexity, organizational control, revision strategies. (An interesting article that I think is related here: Peter Elbow's "The Music of Form: Rethinking Organization in Writing," from CCC June 2006; I discussed it briefly here, but need to reread.)
Over the past six months or so, as the rhet/comp blogging community stakes its claim to a corner of Facebook, grown men and women, with several degrees to their name, have been gleefully heaving farm animals and seasonal paraphernlia at each other. (More intellectual pursuits are available as well: sharing names and reviews of the scholarly books you're reading, friendly games of Scramble and the asynchronous Scrabble-like game Scrabulous, mired in copyright squabbles.) A quick check today reveals Facebook groups, among others, for the 4C's (271 members: need a roommate anyone?), NCTE (293 members), and Kairos (a whopping 404 members), although most of these groups see very light activity. A few questions come to mind:
the old-fogey factor: Does the over-25 crowd belong there? Is it an invasion of privacy for our students, or children (my own daughters were horrified when they found out I had set up a Facebook page)? Is it unseemly, like a 70-year-old in too-baggy jeans with a baseball cap perched sideways on his balding head? Is Facebook like some adolescent nightspot we're better off avoiding, for everyone's peace of mind?
social networking 101: As English teachers should we understand how our students communicate? What can sites like Facebook teach us about the possibilities for social connection with our own peers? (These are really two separate questions, I guess.)
the privacy issue: How do we as faculty handle the balance between personal and public that sites like Facebook tend (maybe) to blur? Do you want to be able to see your students' pages? Do you want them to see yours? Are there important "teachable issues" here (and can the teaching take place in both directions)?
creating community: I read about one blogger (unfortunately I can't remember which one) who chose for practical reasons to use a Facebook group (closed to members of his/her class) as a sort of course management system to post notices and assignments. As I remember, the teacher found that students bonded more closely, forming both study groups and friendships. Could this help in creating community of writers in a composition class?
the alternatives: Of blogs, list-servs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter (anything else?), which seem most useful to you professionally and why? Do any seem rich in untapped potential?
Facebook etiquette: Is it rude to refuse to catch the sheep that's sailing your way?
Too often (maybe) books and computers are seen as attractions competing for our students' and our own time, with predictable results. But the Internet also offers much to supplement the literature classroom, particularly via the streaming video broadband connections have made possible. For example, check out Daniel Menaker's Titlepage, which debuts today (see here for more info). The first hour-long show features Menaker in a roundtable discussion with contemporary novelists Richard Price, Colin Harrison, Susan Choi, and Charles Bock. Such resources are tremendously valuable, I think, allowing our students to hear and see writers discussing their work. (This semester, for example, I've used the UNH Author Series interview with poet laureate Charles Simic.) Of course, there are many audio resources available as well. Have you found any AV materials in your Internet perambulations that you've used or that you think might be useful in yr literature classes?
On the CHE-sponsored blog Brainstorm, Gina Barreca wrote recently about bad (with the comments here containing many positive recommendations), good, and the best books about writing, which set me to thinking about the writers' handbook often required for FYC classes. A little cost/benefit analysis is in order here, I think: in particular,
how much are these manuals costing our students?
what material are we as instructors expecting students to find in these manuals?
how much are these manuals actually used by students?
Textbook publishers often don't make it easy to find list prices of these books (maybe because the cost doesn't matter to instructors requesting their free desk copies?), but a quick bit of research on the website of one leading publisher shows prices as high as $70! The concise editions that have started to proliferate do provide a more reasonable option, but it's still worth thinking about why and how we expect students to use these supplements.
Now, I haven't studied these books exhaustively, but at first/second/third glances most appear nearly indistinguishable (spriral-bound, tabbed, an "innovative" chapter on visual rhetoric, research chapters tucked non-threateningly at the back). The three main content areas seem to be grammar/usage tuneups, style matters, and the research process. Can our students get this info elsewhere, more completely, more engagingly delivered, more reasonably priced?
Mass-market options (most at $15 or less) include Michael Harvey's The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing ($6.95 from Amazon!!; also available here in an online version): Constance Hale's lively Sin and Syntax; and, of course, the classic Elements of Style, most recently released in a gorgeous, cleverly illustrated version (see the illustrator Maira Kalman's site for a taste via video; for the more conservative, the original Strunk text is available here).
For the research process, check out Steven Krause's The Process of Research Writing, offered via Creative Commons licensing. As for MLA citation, do you really expect our students to see the value of remembering all those details when they have available such options as Citation Machine, EasyBib, NoodleBib, and (if yr institution ponies up the fee) RefWorks? (And is it really all about where we put those colons and what we set italic??)
The main issue for me comes down to how (if at all) students will use (any of) these resources. After relying on electronic sources for a while, I thought that students might be more likely to consult a book than a website, so I did require one of those generic handbooks a few semesters ago. Maybe it comes down more to how the instructor uses the reference rather than the mode of delivery? But in my more cynical moments I wonder if it's just a romantic delusion to think that a FYC student will take the time to look (in either book or website) to find out whether an indefinite pronoun takes a singular or plural verb (to reveal one of my own grammatical insecurities).
Questions: What's the value in writers' manuals? Which one(s) do you prefer, and/or what are yr criteria for selection? How do you encourage yr students to actually use these books?