My class seems to be going very well– we’ll see, because they have their “learning narratives” (part one) due on Thursday. Our discussion started with Amy Tan, and the students have talked a lot about their various Englishes. I have a class of largely Carribean students, so there has been a lot of discussion of the similarities and differences of being a “good child” across the various islands. These conversations have been HILARIOUS.
The second thing that we read was an excerpt from Keith Gilyard’s “Voices of the Self.” It’s a very hardcore excerpt where he talks about going from shooting up heroin to getting into college. It’s beautifully written, and I wanted to find something that “puts its money where its mouth is,” so to speak, and uses a variety of Englishes. We also have put a great deal of effort into learning how to draw the reader in with concrete, significant detail, and then back that detail up with reasoned reflection, and Gilyard does this quite well. To some extent, this worked well, but many students then felt like they needed to have some VERY DRAMATIC STORY to tell, which we’ve had to discuss on several occasions– there’s a lot more going on in Gilyard than just arrests and drugs.
One of the things I’ve really noticed about this class is, the details of the assignment aside, it’s important to set up a sense of community– and the students have already talked about that. Because they know their writing is going to be shared with the class, they need to feel comfortable. I do a lot of small group work, I call on people, I have (stealing from Aaron) asked students to help me write the class cell phone policy, which now includes the rule that if your phone goes off, you have to tell a joke to the whole class (I did not write that rule.) Because they are part of the class-building process, they’ve mentioned that it seems like a “pretty chill group” and their nervousness at the beginning has somewhat alleviated– I THINK.
I was also pretty nervous, honestly, about “publishing” all the students’ work, especially personal narratives. I’m very protective of my students– too much so sometimes, and I always want students to find a way to keep their writing private. But I’ve titled my class “Writing for the Public” and writing itself is not private– I mean, some drafting is, but we are writing to be read. I think I have to get over the privacy issue a little bit here– maybe not for lowstakes assignments, but for high stakes ones. If I want to treat my students like writers, then I need to treat them like writers who are going to be read by people other than me.