Archive for January, 2013

Dissertation Case Study #1: The Generative Poetry Workshop

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

For my dissertation research, I’m looking at issues of authorship in creative writing, namely how creative writing students view revision (some creative writers are notorious in choosing to not revise) and invention (where the heck does my creative work come from?). I started out thinking about voice in writing, but decided that was complicated and also figured that I couldn’t begin to talk about that unless I understood invention and revision adequately. And those two things have really become my focus in authorship theory and studies. With all this in mind, last night I attended the first class of the semester which was obviously a lot of introductory material for the course.

What I found most relevant from this first day was the views of invention we were given during class. The first video was from Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert who spoke about “the elusive creative genius”. During her talk, I kept thinking back to my undergraduate creative writing days and how inspired I would have felt after hearing her discussion about creativity and genius. I probably would have wanted to leave class immediately and start writing, which I recall feeling quite a bit during creative writing classes. And, of all the TED talks we viewed, I felt this was the most interesting in terms of her conceptions of invention and authorship.

The way the workshop will be run is also going to be extremely useful in what I am studying. If you know anything about the traditional writing workshop, which honestly has not changed dramatically since the late 19th century, the workshop is primarily peer review. It is critique. It is about teaching yourself how to correctly write a poem or any piece of creative writing. It is about fitting in, you could say. This workshop is different in a number of ways. This workshop is far more generative, for one, since it commits students to writing as much work as they can during a given semester. The workshop is also focused more on the writer. For instance, in a traditional workshop, the writer has to be quiet, not say anything, and listen to what each person has to say about his or her writing. When I was telling Dr. Strand about this process yesterday during our meeting about my research, he looked at me as if that was the worst possible and craziest idea for creativity he had ever heard, and I think he is probably correct in that assessment. But this workshop gets away from that. Instead, the writer has time to talk about what he or she wanted to do in the poem, about problems he or she is having in writing the poem, about how inspired the poem, and other questions regarding the writing process. Other students listen to this and instead giving a “cold reading” of the poem in class, they get five minutes to ask further questions of the writer, of which the writer can choose to answer or not answer. Then, within five days, the other writers respond to the work via a blog and let the writer know how they can further work on the poem.

Will this work, you might ask, especially if students are so used to and comfortable with the traditional workshop? I don’t know, but I don’t see anything wrong with making students uncomfortable since people tend to learn a lot when they become less comfortable in a situation. You learn a lot from doing old things in new ways. I think the time in class will definitely be useful where I, and other students, get to hear about the actual process of invention, revision, and creativity. That part is the most exciting element of this, at least for me as a creative writer and a researcher in this class. I confess that as a creative writing student I wanted nothing more than to explain what I wanted to do with my work, why I wanted to do that, and how it even got to this point. I wanted to say something during the workshop process. And with that in mind, I think this whole idea is liberating.

I also confess that it is liberating to sit in a class and be able to participate and not have to be evaluated on my participation. As a researcher, my participation will most likely be minimal, but I think this is an exciting idea, and so I do want to participate on some level. Plus, as the researcher, I think it will only benefit my work if I do take part in these activities. That way, I have a first hand experience with it and can better articulate how to better the process and/or discuss why it works or doesn’t.

Either way, I am excited for this opportunity and I am glad I took it, even though I am going to be busy and exhausted, but I am sure I will learn quite a lot through this process. And I hope to learn a number of things: 1. I’d like to learn how we can combine, or at least build a bridge, between CW and Composition pedagogies and 2. I’d like to learn how we can improve CW pedagogy through the workshop process. Really, I think this is a promising start.

The girl teacher in the room

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Last semester I spent a lot of time observing a male colleague teach English 320 Business and Professional Communication and English 321 Writing in the Tech Professions as part of field experience in preparation to teach those classes at a future date. During the observations, I could not help but notice that he seemed to have an easier time gaining respect, especially from the alpha male English 321 students, than I would.

Now, it should be noted that the male colleague and I have almost no physical similarities. He is tall and could possibly be considered imposing. I am short and definitely not unapproachable. In fact, I think I am at times far too approachable.

But after completing this field experience, I begin to reflect more on the differences males and females encounter in the classroom. And something happened recently that has made me think way too much about this whole dynamic.

Yesterday in class I had a student texting during group work. As I was letting students know it was time to finish up, I mentioned in an almost off hand way that I had noticed this particular group was done since Sam (not student’s real name) had been texting. At first, the student looked at me like what, and gave me all these nonverbal cues to suggest I was possibly crazy (shrugging, looking around innocent, looking around at people like wow, it isn’t me, the teacher is just crazy). I then said, no, pretty sure you were texting and after that he seemed to more or less admit to it. After this incident, I realized that this happens to me a lot regarding male students, in particular.

Another example occurred last semester during a section of English 358. I was giving a mini-lecture about something and two boys at the side of the room were having their own conversation. I got after them and told them to cut it out. One of the boys then shrugged and acted like he didn’t do anything by clearly saying, “what, we were not doing anything” when in fact the whole room could have heard their conversation.

Meanwhile, I had noticed that the male colleague I was observing would often get apologies from his male students if he called them out, particularly in his English 321 class. He also would not get the same reaction I did, i.e. you are crazy thinking I was misbehaving. The whole dynamic was different.

In some ways, I imagine it goes without saying that there are differences, but it still bothers me that there are. If it is harder for women in the classroom to gain respect, wouldn’t that interfere with our pedagogy in some way? Wouldn’t that interfere with class time? I would think so and it probably does in subtle ways we do not always stop to notice or maybe we are just so used to the differences we deal and not think about it.

So my question is, is this just because I am the female teacher in the room this happens? Think of how women have been portrayed historically: emotional, slightly crazy, and not rational thinkers. Each time things like this happen to me, I can’t help but think these behaviors I noticed are gender-specific.

So with that in mind, do any of you other teachers encounter similar behavior from male or female students? I’ve only mentioned incidences related to males in my classes in this post, but it is possible girls have reacted the same to me. Though in my memory, girls are usually more upfront about their behaviors and often apologize for it. I seldom receive apologies from male students for disruptive or inappropriate behavior. So i am pretty curious as to other experiences other instructors have had.

Agendas and more agendas

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

I’m teaching a new class this semester and so on the first day I was more nervous than I normally am, but I think it went all right. While I know some students are not excited to be in a writing class, they were all receptive and left me good information about how they view participation in class and what they value about class discussions and group work, along with negative experiences they have had in working in groups. It was a fun, informative session, at least for me. And a few asked good questions along the way. So, I am excited about teaching them already.

One thing I am trying to get away from is my reliance on agendas. Not so much my reliance, maybe, but having these always available to students before, during, and after class. Yesterday, I taught with no agenda displayed during the class, and it all went fine. Granted, I had one in front of me so I knew what was coming up next, but by not having the agenda placed so supremely, if you will, in front of the room seemed to make people pay a little more attention to me and less attention to the words on the document in the front of the room.

And maybe, because I’m a quiet kid at heart, I simply use agendas as distractions. Oh, don’t at me, look at this document I created for all of you! Follow along! I don’t have to explain as much because it is here!

Granted, tomorrow I am going to have to go over their first assignment, so that document will be at the front of the room. They will also need it to complete an activity on audience we will be working on. But my goal is to learn to rely less on agendas and more on my abilities as the teacher in front of the room, leading the class discussions and encouraging the critical thinking of my students.