Silence is sponsored

These past two weeks have been an out-of-control roller coaster. Since we’ve been focusing as a Professional Development group on 1121, which I’m not teaching, I’ve been working to bring the various elements into the 1101 course outline, and, frankly, it’s been a bit overwhelming in terms of the amount of content and variety of focus. The good news is two-fold: 1) I’m finally able to bring current composition pedagogy into a unified curriculum in my 1101 class (I’ve been doing it piece-meal for 10 years), and 2) I seem to be working my way toward a unified set of scaffolded assignments that admittedly slow down the pace of 1101 but which I think could make the class more effective. I won’t bore everybody with that at the moment!

What I will say is that being able to front-load key terms and the reasoning behind what we’re doing has been pretty rewarding so far in terms of student buy-in. They’re already using terms like metacognition and reflection when they talk… when I can get them to talk. This is, as they say, “a quiet class.” Even my fail-safe ice breaker didn’t seem to get them engaged with each other. So this past Monday, when the pair-share activity about Cisneros and Malcolm X died a horrible, ignominious death after two minutes, I tossed out the lesson plan and asked how many of them consider themselves talkers — in or out of the classroom. There were only three out of 24. But then I asked them why they were all listeners. The ensuing discussion that broke out shouldn’t have surprised me but it did, because it ended up focusing on their literacy sponsors: the expectations of family, the demands of fitting in to a classroom, the fear of ridicule or bullying if you’re smart, especially if you’re a black male or a girl. We ended up writing group high school horror stories… which were hilarious. And then they quit talking again, but their eyes were on me and not on the computers, which I call a win. I now know I have a quiet class, but an engaged one.

And that brings me to this: I sometimes forget how young the 1101 students generally are, how much they need to be both gentled and prodded out of their high school mindsets. Right now, we’re beginning to talk more about their personal rules for writing, how they learned those rules, how they get blocked, why they don’t like writing, etc. They got a lot from the Mike Rose piece, and I think that having them continue to reflect on those things, and connect rules and sponsors, is well worth taking extra time on this Unit.

That said, I do look with envy at your posts about the Literacy Narrative unit with your 1121 students.

Can’t wait to see everybody! — jackie

2 thoughts on “Silence is sponsored

  1. Aaron Barlow

    Maybe with the literacy narrative we should include something on the legacy of silence, especially enforced silence, as another end of the spectrum and, sometimes, an even more weighty one. The role of silence has often been forgotten in the practice of writing pedagogy, in part because it is much more difficult to explain, in terms of its importance, than actual use of words.
    I was raised a Quaker. Though I have abandoned the Society of Friends, I still respect the importance of “waiting on the Lord,” that is, silence worship where one tries to empty one’s mind, making oneself a empty vessel, a container for what might come.
    I don’t know how we can make this work in the classroom, but it is an extremely effective technique and one that many professional writers utilize–even when, as is often true, they don’t know they are doing it.
    The best way to write–and to overcome writer’s block–can be to simply and quietly feed pigeons in the park.

    1. Robert Lestón

      It’s interesting that Jackie has a silent class, and it suggests a lot to me about the power of both rhetorical listening and rhetorical silence. Both Krista Ratcliffe and Cheryl Glenn have written about both separately and together, and they have an edited collection _Silence and Listening as Rhetorical Arts_. There’s something extremely valuable there, politically and ethically. I’d be interested in seeing how’d they do with exercises in listening to different ambient environments.

Leave a Reply