Sunday, January 23, 2011

Audience, or lack thereof

I'll admit, audience isn't something oft-discussed in my classroom.  The little thinking about it we do (actually, it's probably more implied than explicitly contemplated or discussed) is usually in reference to state mandated tests or future teacher-audiences my students will have.  I'm more concerned about what kind of writing they will produce for the 11th grade teachers than I am about what they produce (sorry, process) for me.

How much do you talk about audience with your students, and in what capacity?

Elbow's article, "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience" (which you can find on NCTE, if you're a member) talks about how the concept of writing for an audience influences students, usually to their detriment: when students are too focused on audience, their ideas tend to balk and/or qualify, altogether too concerned about meeting the audience's expectations.  Audience needs to be taken into account in the revision state, but perhaps not before.  A writer should allow the draft to fully consummate without any hindrances; after allowing himself the opportunity to play with and explore his ideas, then the writer may revise his medium for the intended audience.  Several pedagogical implications weave through this article, most especially the value of student choice.  I liked his take on audience.  By and large I agree that students benefit from private, independent writing.  In my own classroom, I feel like I worked pretty well to incorporate the social aspect of composition but perhaps didn't allow for enough private audience-less writing; I believe in moderation in all things, and if I'm developing social outlets for writing, I need to make sure those private reflections are nourished, too.

Of course, as secondary teachers, our immediate reaction is, "OK, but how do I grade it?  How do I make this work?" How do we encourage (read: make) students keep private journals, a valuable writing practice, without holding a grade over their head (which would imply some level of reading, and thus, an audience)? And unfortunately, the article didn't fully answer the question of practical application for me.  He sold me the house, but didn't give me the key.

As I read, I considered my writing workshop, and I actually felt pretty good about what I managed to do in my first few years of teaching.  Though goodness knows I can see all the places I could have improved I also feel like I did well to attempt to balance the social aspect with some personal, safe writing (occasional writing workshop prompts as "bellwork" that I graded by participation - were students active during the appointed time or not?  I never read these, so there was a "safe" place for audience-less writing [which could be a possibility of student safety, maybe worth another day's discussion?]).  Interestingly enough, as I began thinking about writing workshop, I thought of additional social practices:
  • establish writing groups like literary circles, where students can approach peers and talk through an idea or ask for advice
  • leave 5 minutes at the end of class to share (no comments, just reading)
  • do more verbal pre-writing, model as a class with my own writing
The social aspect seems easy enough to come up with.  How do we provide students with opportunities for the audience-free, "safe" writing, and get them to treat it as the beneficial tool it is?

source: photo by ~Cin~

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And this is why I am not getting an M Ed

Today my dear husband ran across some interesting dissertation titles while he was doing some other research pertinent to his own job.  He knew I'd appreciate them, so he sent them along (just the titles/summation.  Not the complete articles).  And you, dear friend also reap the benefits:

Title:  Relationships between classroom management, teacher stress, teacher burnout, and teachers' levels of hope
   -Let me sum up:  As all other levels increase, hope significantly diminishes Survey concludes that the fewer years of experience teachers have, the more likely they are to be found cowering in a corner, drenched in their own tears at the culmination of a grading period. There.  I just wrote your 50+ page paper.

Title:  A study of the relationship between teacher burnout and their tolerance of disturbing classroom behaviors
   - I'd say this is pretty straightforward.  The closer it gets to the end of the year, the less I care about classroom arson & vivisection.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why AREN'T we teaching this in high school?

OKP, you are so right!  I initially thought of the Restoration/18thc. drama as a class only used if I were fortunate enough for an AP class, if at all.  But I was reading "The Country Wife" by Wycherley as my first homework assignment and realized these plays would be an excellent example for students to see that classic literature doesn't have to be stuffy or inaccessible.  The premise of this play is that the main character (HORNer) has passed around a rumor that is a eunuch so men about Town will trust him with their wives.  This arrangement makes it easier for him to seduce them with no suspicion!

So the real question is: why AREN'T we teaching these plays in high school?!  Teens would love these raunchy, risque dramas!

The language isn't so very different from now.  A definitive style, yes, and some words with different contemporary definitions, but that is easily glossed.  These would be great fun to do in a classroom to study word play, satire, stock characters, the evolution of drama...and that's just what comes to mind based on being in class one day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Day of School

Have you ever confessed to your kids that you get as nervous on the first day of school as they do?  (well, they probably don't admit to it.  They're too cool for school).

I had a flashback to first-day-of-school jitters yesterday and today...and this time, I really WAS the student!

Yes, folks, I've started my Master's degree in English Literature!  I'm pretty jazzed about this, let me tell you.  Well, in-between the jitters.  Glad that first day is done.  In undergrad, I took secondary education concentration, which meant I swapped quite a few English electives for pedagogy classes.  I have actually NEVER taken a creative writing class.  I find this ironic and perhaps hypocritical as I teach creative writing workshops with my kiddos.  For that reason (and others, but that's the best summing-up), I wanted to get my Master's and find out what else I had been missing.  What could I bring back to the classroom?

Admittedly, it's also indulgent.  I have no fantasies of bringing Restoration & 18th Century Drama back to the high school classroom.  But am I excited about that class?  You betcha.

I am not taking the Education route (for a variety of reasons, suffice to say that mostly because I find that pedagogy classes make me want to inflict homicide on any and all in the near vicinity, a'la Medea-style), but I did sign up for one class this semester specifically because the course description specified a focus on pedagogy:  Theory & Research in Composition.  I had my first homework for it tonight, and I found it...oddly...surprisingly...horrifyingly...interesting.  It gave a brief history of social context in the research of writing, and I was surprised at how very new many of these ideas or understandings about writing are.  Ideas and ways of thinking that emerged during the 1990s, for merciful heavens.  Weird.