Author Archives: SSchmerler

Penn State Learning and Tutoring

Feel free to delete this post, cohort, but I find myself with access to some nifty tutoring and writing resources at Penn State University. I am here for Spring Break, but PSU is in finals, and these joints are hopping. So just briefly, travel around with me! I am on my cell phone and want to share my geeky foray:

During high stress times, the Library offers tutoring services in spare rooms. This one was a “write in” event and came fully catered.

Tutors sit at informal stations, and there is room for people to work in a quiet group space on their own/while they are waiting.

Better, still, are the stand-alone centers. This is PSL (Penn State Learning), one of the three walk-in tutoring facilities on campus.

Kids sign in by computer and enter the class assiciated with the tutoring they want to receive.

They enter an area with cushy couches and small tables with signs saying things like “Japanese Tutoring” as though they were at a self-service restaurant. There are lots of electrical outlets for computer charging while kids wait for their tutor to be free. Clusters of kids form around a peer tutor, “Meetup” style, and the group shares q and a. 

A central hub area with a sleepy workstudy student keeps students directed to where to sit/wait. A screen displays how long a wait there is for a tutor listed by subject area. 

Vibe: Freeform energy within controlled, respectful, clean environment (well controlled chaos).

Like a hushed restaurant where the “service” is tutoring and the “menu” is academic subjects. 

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So far, so…good

I’m more pleased than I was in, say, February. I know that I am struggling, but I also “get” the whole Rhet Comp approach way more than I did, which is to say, not a ton, but more, and I am liking what I am learning. Now, I see everything as rhetorical. It’s freaky, actually.

Genre has been interesting and has yielded some Good Writing. Nuts sitting in the back of the room in one of my sections have started to crack. A couple of audible gasps were emitted at various points when we read something so seamless we couldn’t tell “real” from “Memorex.” I feel the semester dribbling away time wise, though. My own learning curve happens along with theirs, and if I am to budget time well I need to be ahead of them, not with them. Translation: No time to finish genre analysis properly — heck, I did the thing backwards, making them write first and analyze second. I am now using the genre as a natural stepping stone to Inquiry. So far, it’s working. I am using a Graff, TheySay/ISay kind of approach. I have budgeted almost no time for multi modal. And, um, I am not sure how to explain to them exactly what goes into Unit 5.

Now that I write this, I guess things are pretty haywire. But.

On various micro levels, during those quick-to-pass discussion moments, metacognition and writing-as-process and writing we are doing about writing are fusing and the class jumps to a Level of Awareness way higher than you would expect from Comp 1. So hey  ILive in the moment. And I feel that we are all doing something right.

I’m learning a lot from the example assignments you are all giving sharing during our PD and I thank you. I am a quick and early adopter.

I am also using some of the Reading awareness (reading as “invisible,” making it visible) I gleaned from Eileen Carillo (from the Summit last week). I am trying to make more transparent why I am assigning a reading.

Overall I still struggle with Reward — how to reward the students for making the kinds of linguistic moves I think are productive and trying to square that with what I think my Dept is expecting me to reward. But now maybe less so.



Summary of our March 27 Meeting

I enjoyed seeing all of you. I missed you, in fact. My brief reflection, as follows, in backwards order:

Next time (Apr 3), we get to talk about the Multi-Modal Project. First. And we get to brainstorm as well as set up some parameters for ourselves.

Tasks and rhetorical analysis were discussed vis the recently assigned Reiff and Bawarshi reading, squared with the reality of how our current 1121 students approach genre. We all seemed to like the reading. We all seemed to feel that it affirmed the new way that 1101 is now slated to carry a greater load of Genre Unit work. We like that Genre is being split down the middle between 1101 and 1121 — bridging the courses, if you will. We aren’t sure exactly how to word that split for future cohorts yet, but we feel confident, based on real-time, this-semester experience, that it’s the right thing to do. Bravo.

Our colleagues in the department may not be so happy-go-lucky as ourselves. They may need a FAQ sheet to calm down and address their concerns as we invite them to join the ranks of New 1121 Adopters. Greater minds than mine will be writing this sheet, and I will swoop in and comment in some pithy way on it. Heck, I may even help.

We used the nifty Keurig machine a lot. That’s because it helps us think and makes us feel special.

Carrie looked nice in her scarf. She presided, until a very tan Robert entered. Well, even after he entered.

Reverse summary done.


My first month story includes no “Narrative”

So I realize that I’m guilty. I didn’t really do a Literacy Narrative in my UNIT 1. I think/hope that I can take forward those skills that I fostered with my UNIT 1.

Intuition. Recognizing how we are all hardwired with language — and how to re-wire ourselves, create different pathways.  Self actualization: its benefits, and a little bit of How to Do It — how writing can be a tool for it. How scary and powerful writing is. It’s not safe. It’s also totally accessible.

In addition to the feedback I got from the classes, this is what I, personally, am telling you I felt we got.

Nobody really taught me how to access my own intuition in an English Class environment. I learned that in the arts and in the performing arts.

I also have long done a “literacy narrative” lecture of my own. Only, I didn’t know that’s what it was called. And I’ve done it late in the semester, not early. I will try to cycle all this around, like some sort of charcoal in a fish tank.

Thanks for reading. I’ve found all your writing so inspiring on Literacy Narrative. Now, I (the teacher) know what it is.That’s a start for next time.

P.S. We talked a lot about Process. Still, it’s not the same.

UNIT 2, here I come.

Epistolary Rap: What Passes?

Hi Aaron: you wrote a while back asking about Hip-Hop songs that reference writing or the act of writing and I meant to respond. Apologies.

Stan” by Eminem. That’s a whole heartbreaking story told in letters. And it’s rap and I am guessing that hundreds of students at this school can recite it by heart.

Lots of rap references writing directly, to answer your question. Unfortunately, the lyrics are quite rough. I wonder if we can talk about what is “ok” to use in class? Not just the words, the messages…for instance, Kendrick Lamar is probably the best contemporary artistic voice out there. Period. To Pimp a Butterfly is quite literary. But…

Berlin, sans my own personal Wall

Well, I guess I found myself. Berlin places me squarely within the Expressionistic Rhetoricians’ camp.

“The underlying conviction of expressionists is that when individuals are spared
the distorting effects of a repressive social order, their privately determined truths
will correspond to the privately determined truths of all others: my best and deepest vision supports the same universal and external laws as everyone else’s best
and deepest vision.”

I used Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers back in 1999 when I first started teaching  at The New School. I was working in the Fine Art Dept. — the only person teaching “writing” in that department — and my student body was made up solely of visual artists. I had never taught writing before, and had to go with my gut. I chose his book because I liked the title, and because his approach was spot on for what I needed. Empower individuals who are already creative to own their own sh*t, promote themselves, and — most importantly — come to (find : -)) terms with what is making them create in the first place. Voila. Power to the Individual, and that’s what I was hired to do. I also sincerely felt that these individuals were connected to a larger river of all Experience and that their self actualization would help Humanity. Whoa.

“Murray is even more explicit in his first edition of A Writer Teaches Writing: ‘the writer is on a search for himself. If he finds himself he will find an audience, because all of us have the same common core. And when he digs deeply into himself and is able to define himself, he will find others who will read with a shock of recognition what he has written.’ Now there’s another book I wish I’d used back then…

I haven’t changed all that much. Reading Berlin makes me question my own approach and ask myself if I really like what I see. I am, and always have been, super quick to denounce “economic, political, and social pressures to conform.” This must come across to my students in myriad ways of which I am not cognizant. I am just one camp of many teaching rhetoric. I ought to know more about my own agenda and how it may not be giving power to the student body I currently teach. To be an artist is to be part of an elite group. It assumes a greater access to freedom than a lot of my students may feel. I may not speaking to them when I am speaking to “The Individual,” because they may not see themselves as such. I have some work to do.

Social-epistemic rhetoric and Ira Schor. Helping students to “identify the ways in which control over their own lives has been denied them, and denied in such a way that they have blamed themselves for their powerlessness” may be in order. I could certainly use my “creative” skills that I’ve culled from the elite fine arts to help them do that, could I not? If my own rudder was pointed the right way, or something to that effect? If I better understood my goal? My students are often (and they deserve to be) inspired. I would like to think more about how to, as Berlin says, let them not see their disenfranchisement as “inevitable.” My student, Zara, last night said that she felt there was “nothing she could do” to change politics, the world. She said she could only read about it on her phone. I stopped my lecture and looked at her and said, “There is a LOT you can do. Next to bullets and swords and guns, words are the most destructive thing out there. Words have made people do all kinds of things. You have power. Even as a freshman…” and then I went on a longer jag than I should have about how her small experience as a freshman now, in 2019, in an urban school, told with all the simple details of her life, would be super interesting to policy makers and people in power. She kind of shrugged. But I notice that she did write me a personal message in OpenLab, and intends to come see me in Office Hour tomorrow. So. Maybe it helped.

Okay, my personal crisis aside, I did like reading Berlin. I read him in bits and pieces over the course of a few days. I was skeptical at first (as you know we Expressionists are), but found his explanation of Flower and Hayes, of problem solving, of cognitive approaches to Process all very helpful to the discussions I have been having since I read them. I am more likely to pause just a bit longer and try to hear what sorts of assumptions a student is making when he or she is talking about how they think writing was taught to them in high school — and the assumptions that they are taking forward into my classroom. I had a great public talk in class with a student named Peter about how he felt personally judged by a teacher “as a student” when that teacher grades him. I asked him if a student is a person. If he is still my student when he walks out the classroom door.

I didn’t have a single answer for him, but Berlin’s discussion of ideology and Power empowered me to talk, and I think that the fact that I talked at all may have made the students listening to my open-ended questions feel more empowered for themselves.

Madonna, "Express Yourself"

Transitioning between Units 1 and 2 and 3…my “shelf” idea

A quick thought here about flow. A number of us commented about the fact that the UNITS lend themselves nicely to transition assignments. Or vice-versa? Anyway, as you know, I think rather physically / kinaesthetically / or just-plain weirdly. For the last week and a half, I have been having the students build a virtual “shelf” of their influences. This shelf/list/whathaveyou is a resource to which they can add, over time. It is visual, or physical, or just written down for now. I hope to use it as a kind of font from which we might draw  topics or arguments to which each student personally relates, and then use them in papers and projects in UNITS 2 and 3.

For instance, here is one of my (personal, I like to model) recent shelves, which I posted to our site:

My shelf of favorite influences, soon to be in bibliographic form.

Here’s an old one, to give you an idea of how I re-jigger them:

What will I do with that first one — with the numbers scrawled on it? Well, I’ve asked Monica and Nora in the Library to use our Library Instruction Session to give us information on how to create citations in MLA format using Zotero or Easybib…how easy it is…how helpful it is to have a clear and clean document. Anyway, soon my photograph/physical shelf  will transform into MLA format. Viola! Magic! It’s a start for de-fanging the dreaded Research Paper, anyway.

If you want to look, on our OpenLab site some of the students have their shelf/lists, but they’re really nascent, in progress.

During UNIT 1, I made a low-stakes small-group discussion activity to watch/read/listen to something from another person’s influences list.

A Fortnight of New Curriculum…

My three (yes, that’s right, three) sections of 1121 couldn’t be more different in student body, vibe, tone. Two are at night, and I am finding those the easiest (thus far, anyway). My day section is more challenging, but very rewarding. Sorry to say it, but I feel that the reasons are largely physical, practical, and not at all as theoretical as this PD site might like.

Time: At night I have 2 and a half hours (as opposed to one hour and fifteen during the day) of contact time. Giving the students the sheer time they need to complete in-class writing exercises — and discuss them adequately — as well as to hear me comment/lecture/offer modeling or advice has been key. New concepts are always great, but the students need more sink-in time. This first UNIT asks for metacognition, and sometimes a nice juicy space in which to feel and hear helps.I work hard to get a flow going. Then — oops, gotta stop. Q: Could a new 1121 be a longer period?

OpenLab/Tech: Another, voiceless but very present, force is leading my current class structure and its name is OpenLab. Now that I am using it to harvest all my assignments, I need to more fully exploit its functionality or I fear it will be ruling me. Example: Student Portfolios. I know little about how to make these (yes, I have signed up for the Session later this month), and yet I think they can become a very necessary outgrowth of this new 1121 pedagogy. We want transfer? How great, then, to give them such a marvelous tool. Another Example of how OpenLab is affecting me semester is the simple fact that I still am funneling questions and tech problems inadequately. Many of the students are stuck in a tech rut. Can’t log on, etc., etc. I also feel much the same. I still don’t know how to use the grading plug-in properly. i am not as high functioning as i ought to be. As above, so below. How can I fault them?

Okay, those are some negatives. On the positive: yes, this has been a GREAT two weeks. I am reading materials I would not normally have read, I am engaging my friends and family and colleagues in conversations about teaching in ways I had not previously. I love my job. I always have. Now, I feel a sense of excitement and relevance. I also sense that the rocky path I feel below my feet at times is something that I am also helping to smooth by walking it. So: I won’t hold back my honest impressions. It is all for the good.

Needs: + Ways to incorporate the Baldwin essay that make me feel like “me” and not like someone else it teaching. I am struggling with it. + A TA or some helper to get my tech and grading structure in better order. +Time to talk to some of you, individually, so that I can remedy my small issues as they arise.

Gratitude: I am so glad I am on a platform for change. I pinch myself every now and then and tell myself I deserve it.

Low-Stakes, High Gain — Student Work in Unit 1

Before Orientation, I posted my first low-stakes assignment for UNIT 1. This week I made a few revisions to it, based on the needs of my sections, and will update it soon once this hectic week is over! Meantime, here is an early result — a first paper that is quite amazing by one student. He was asked to write without using the letters “p” “q” “y” “g” and “j” — in short, to use no letter that would allow him to “escape” below the line of text. I adapted this from the “Prisoner’s Constraint” used by the OULIPO group. For more background on using lipograms/OULIPO as prompt reading, see my previous post.

The topic/prompt I gave the class was: Write about something you fear.

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