First couple of weeks.

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.

2 thoughts on “First couple of weeks.

  1. Aaron Barlow

    I know you know all of this, Carrie, but it is worth repeating:
    Many years ago–27, to be exact–I taught a developmental-writing class as an adjunct for LIU. About the middle of the semester, I took essays from each student, lightly edited them, and created a professional-looking newsletter that i handed out to the class (I had an advantage: there were only a dozen students and we met 6 hours a week). No writer was named. I said nothing, simply let the students start reading.
    There was silence, at first. Then slight murmurings, Then outbursts: “I wrote that.” “I’ve seen that… YOU wrote it!” They soon realized that each one of them had contributed.
    Times have changed. A newsletter like that would impress no one, today. But the experience of seeing one’s work read and appreciated by others still remains one of the most positive we can offer students.
    Part of the importance is providing a counter to the paper returned covered with red marks. Part is developing an understanding of the rewriting, copyediting and proofreading process. Part is the growth of awareness that other, even relative strangers, can be interested in what one has to say.

  2. Robert Lestón

    Very thoughtful reflection, Carrie. I enjoyed reading this. I get the bit about Gilyard, a tricky thing to manage, when students feel compelled through a model to do something they may not would have done otherwise. Writing for the Public is a positive step. If someone’s going to put it out there, then maybe they should own it. But that takes courage and maturity. It does get to speak to the level that certain kinds of writings are emotional investments.

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