Monday, December 12, 2011

In Which Chronotopes Slip Off the Tongue Like Peanut Butter: Theory of Research Series (Part 1)

I am going to be posting a series of pieces in the coming days to think through my stances as a researcher in rhetoric and composition. I am using this space to think publicly through my ideas regarding four theoretical concepts that Kamberelis and Dimitriadis (2005) use as keystones for distinguishing between the qualitative research chronotopes they identify in their book, On Qualitative Research. Kamberelis and Dimitriadis use the word chronotope, picked up from Bakhtin to name four qualitative research conversations that are identifiable by distinct, if overlapping, ways of seeing and acting in the world. For me the concept of chronotope helps to categorize and name research in just a slippery enough way that I can recognize the conversation and see how the participants (both researchers and research writing itself) are permeable, sliding in and out of focus as we think about how they are figured from the lens of different chronotopes. If that seems very blurry, it is to me, too, but I imagine that is a good thing. Helpfully, Kamberelis and Dimitriadis supply touchstone projects for each chronotope, which provide both grounding and tension. For instance, Shirley Brice Heath’s work in Ways with Words is the primary example for Chronotope II, Reading and Interpretation. If I start to get lost in thinking about what Chronotope II means, I can start articulating examples from Ways with Words. Also, if the chronotopes start feeling too container-y I can start articulating (and Kamberelis and Dimitriadis help do this work) ways that Heath’s work crosses boundaries toward the Skepticism, Concientization and Praxis, Chronotope III. For a deep discussion of the four chronotopes check out chapter 3 in the book, in which Kamberelis and Dimitriadis both iron out and rewrinkle the categories.

So, in this four post series I will name how I see my research stances aligning with the four chronotopes and the four theory systems associated (theories of knowledge, truth, language and subjects). I think all of these ideas will cross and recross between the four posts, so don’t expect to walk away from any one post knowing Lacy’s stance on truth, for instance. If that happens, I have clearly messed up, because given my leanings toward Chronotope IV, Power/Knowledge and Defamiliarization, truth is a moving target that gets figured up in material ways as an effect of power. More on that later. Anyway, as you read these posts do expect to get to say cool things like, “So is that how you have understood Chronotope II?” or “That is so Chronotope IV!!”

Kamberelis and Dimitriadis would no doubt admit, that talking about chronotopes and writing theory of research blogs, and maybe especially a theory of research blog rather than a theory of research paper, are power laden moves. It’s the kind of thing that Steven Fraiberg (2010) talks about in his article on ecologies of writing, the tool of blog (or the tool of daybook or Moodle post or reflective letter) isn’t an isolated object, but is hooked up to an interrelated system of power structures that name hierarchies of difference. Who gets to blog? Who doesn’t? Who gets to decide to turn her school paper into a blog? Who doesn’t? In what ways do blogs contribute to the emergence of “new literacies” (New London Group) that puts primacy to 21st century skills erasing not only service sector labor issues, but also surfacing over the issues of labor and mega-company privatization (Welch, 2011). So while it will be totally fun to talk chronotopes for a while, I am also recognizing that to do so is rather like talking to you all with a mouth full of peanut butter. It’s going to be sticky.

Fraiberg, S. (2010). Composition 2.0: Toward a multilingual and multimodal framework. College Composition and Communication, 62, 100 – 126.

Kamberelis, G. & Dimitriadis, G. (2004). On qualitative inquiry: Approaches to language and literacy research. NY: Teachers College Press.

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66.

Welch, N. (2011). “We’re here and we're not going anywhere’: Why working-class rhetorical traditions still matter. College English, 73, 221–242.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear Writing Project

Dear Writing Project (Yes, I mean you, UNCC WP SIers),

If Where I'm From poems hadn't gotten outdated, I would tell you that Writing Project is where I'm from. I am from people who care intensely about learning and teaching. I am from digging deep, hard discussions that crinkle my forehead, let down my tears and pull my thoughts out there toward yours. I would be from a Writing Retreat in 2006 in Bernsville in a curtained, doilied living room where other writers listen to my story, nod along and get me thinking beyond or behind Monday morning. I am from years now of heads huddled from across town on Skype, and the first time I read Hotel Nights with National Writing Project teachers in Portland. All those moments I couldn't tell you in five words or five paragraphs why they are Writing Project. Or why these two weeks of Summer Institute have swept in, through me, over me, dripping from my eyes in a wave of familiarity.

A little unexpectedly I am from Fretwell this summer. And Fretwell this summer could be, and well is, all those other stories that mean Writing Project for me. People who riff and rant and flock and tweet together. I am from people who write (and sing) of revolution and don't stop short. From people who tell our stories even when it is hard. From people who want the rest of us to ask questions about our ideas. Even when it is hard. From people who trust the rest of us to notice what works in our ideas. Even when it is hard. I am from a history of the Writing Project that has somehow gracefully, fully collided with the Writing Project that is right now.


Entering a Conversation: A Poem in Two Voices

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flood Waters

This is my piece from Tarra's demo on writing circles. My group, Jennifer, Carrie and I all wrote in different ways about the floods in the Mississippi.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not Always Negotiating

Jessie said in Summer Institute last week that once you are thinking on something you notice it everywhere.  I am so in agreement with that.  When we started our Murray Cards activity on Tuesday, I started with the momentary terror that those cards typically initiate for me.  It’s such a short amount of time to come up with something, then claim it by reading aloud to a partner.  As if I am coming up with something out of the blue; as if I am always starting on empty without anything to hold onto. 

 Well, this week after my initial floundering of over having something to say, I got going on writing about who gets to claim “composition.”  I got pretty tied up both emotionally and conceptually in writing and sharing those cards with Carrie.  I was starting to unwind my own disenfranchisement as an Early Childhood teacher and even as a writing teacher within the world of university composition.  

So Tuesday night I read two things that smacked me in the face with the connection to my own thinking.  Melissa’s blog talked about how it felt to her to claim expertise during the Murray Cards writing: the first card asks you to list things you are an expert on.  Well, that sure made me think about how connected my own, seemingly individual and personal concern, is connected up to other people and to the roles and narratives mediated by the Murray Cards.  

Later that night I was reading Joe Harris’ book, A Teaching Subject, on composition theory.  The thing that struck me in there was how he connected up the idea authority to name “error” to claims on expertise.  Wow!  So being able to name errors in the world is a material action related to the claimed identities and power.  

I said the connections are never-ending, right?  So on Wednesday night as I was sitting at Amelies (yes, I’m always there) with Lil and Lucy and Tony and Cindy and Meaghan.  We were thinking about how the claims of composition are contested even more deeply than I had been imagining.  

Lucy pointed to the ways that Joe hedges his way through the “composition” conversation, never really claiming his place and stake—always smudging his claim with language that defers  particular claims on particular conceptualizations.  

This is the really interesting thing about expertise and activity… Language can play around with how we name ourselves and others in the conversation.  Joe Harris defers a claim on an idea or identity.  He is not an expressivist.  He is not a post modernist.  He’s not in agree with or disagreement with Mina Shaughnessey.  At the same time his words and ideas do in their action claim things.  His ideas do place him in particular conversations.  He just tries to use more language to not claim it.  Like instead of using language the way Derrida  does to show the fissures, the fallings in of language, he is using it to cover up the spaces and to cover his own ass.  And in that he is claiming something, too.  He is claiming that negotiation is ultimate.  That standing your ground, making a claim, is not the way to be active in the world.  

And let me compound this.  The one thing that Joe Harris does seem to claim expertise to in this book is being a teacher.  He claims that identity and in claiming it via the primacy of negotiation, claims that teachers have no claim to any theoretical expertise of their own.  

So his claim becomes: Standing your ground, making a claim, only works for those with institutional power.  Laborers, like teachers and students, must always be willing to negotiate, not only their work terms but also their theoretical stances.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Some Ars Poetica

On a Mission

Writing is not
Keeping just under the boiling point.
 Always at simmer either.

It's maybe the
Rice water bubbling out
of the pot
the starch left
on the stovetop

It's also not a flaking stain
waiting to be cleaned away

It's maybe the
Four (five, six hundred) of us standing around
the counter
Reading this Rorschach in my kitchen


Thank you, Jessie, for providing space and thinking in your demo about Ars Poetica and Mission Statements.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'm a procrastiwriter.
At 2:08 pm on Sunday afternoon
At Dilworth Coffee
Words stuck
Down deep in my brain
Or chest
Or toes
Fingers still over the keys
Hands covering my face
Opening and closing
Email, Facebook, Twitter Skype
I'm a writer then.

I'm a procrastiwriter.
At 2:08 am on next Thursday night
With deadline
Words drowning my other words
Pouring out of my pores
Onto the screen
Jittering excited messages and attachments
Over to my sleeping writer's league on
Email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype
I'm a procrastinator then too.

I wrote this during Rebecca McKnight's demo.  She had us use Jack Prelutsky's Sranimals, as a mentor text.  We studied the craft of the poem and then tried these out in our stuff.  Totally fun!  And I LOVE this sophisticated use of a children's book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Flipping Theory for Moving Practice

How do you blog?  Why blog?

In our Orientation to the UNC Charlotte Writing Project Summer Institute this Saturday we are going to spend the afternoon thinking about blogging.  I had the idea that blogging would be a really interesting way for participants to have moving conversations about their inquiry work this summer.  

To start with in planning the session I was thinking, “Okay, how can we best facilitate getting this blogging going with people’s inquiry questions.”  Talking with Lil and Sally, my co-facilitators, about this brought out the inquiry implicit in this (and all) content and pedagogy.  In asking others to think about schooling and pedagogy in terms of inquiry, I am creating a space, in which I need to engage in that same reflection myself. 

In our Summer Institute inquiry projects, we push to the forefront why questions that are behind all the how-to’s.  For example, we would try making the flip from how to blog to why blog. The how-to part makes the assumption that blogging is useful and applicable and doable.  How-to symbolizes the ways that teachers are often issued professional development in drive-by, packaged, mandated ways.  It’s one of the things that the National Writing Project works hard to interrupt.  Instead of focusing only on the technical, what I hope we do is to think together about why blog anyway?  This summer as people engage in their own inquiries and demonstration lessons, I hope that we can keep reminding each other to make this flip from how to why in more of our work.

Now, the problem is that this kind of inquiry can keep unraveling itself on and on, which at some point loses the purpose of having effect on the material world, on ourselves as writers and teachers.  So, while we think together in Summer Institute about blogging, and the background issues (which I hope we will foreground) of public and private writing, we are also going to ask ourselves and participants to attempt to DO something in this very space that we are contesting.  This doing might be blogging or some other move toward public writing.  

We are going to start this at orientation in whatever ways we each can.  We are all going to plog- or blog on paper- and we are all going to set up a blog space, too, though some of us might not hit the publish button this weekend or even this whole summer.  As part of our inquiries, though, I am going to ask myself and participants to consider more public spaces for writing and to consider who benefits from privatized writing.  I hope that we will find places to disrupt the privatized how-to writing at teachers with some public, inquiring writing from teachers.  This gets to the big thing about being a learner and a teacher that I want to keep inquiring into myself, figuring out how to deconstruct the why’s behind actions while still constructing the how part as we engage in action ourselves in our everyday lives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Kind of People Here

History of a Writing Project teacher.

Fall 2001 I sit in a very small chair rubbing hard at a splotch of blue paint on my palm to stop myself from crying. It is my first year teaching. The principal has just given me and the other six kindergarten teachers a paper with names and rows of numbers. The names of the teachers whose classes had the lowest scores on the first quarter assessment are highlighted. Since I can’t seem to raise my chin, I keep staring at “Manship,” all yellowed.

Summer Institute, July 2004 I sit in a circle in the English Faculty Lounge with Tony Iannone, Dryw Freed and others. Cindy Urbanski is reading for the second time, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. As she reads my heart beats a little faster as she gets toward the line, “ you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?“ This is an image explosion, so when Cindy gets to the word that I chose to write about, I will interrupt with my freewriting. Before she gets there, though, someone else interrupts at “men who don’t know you very well,” and I get caught up in this other idea, and I furiously draw a line through one of my sentences and redirect the words with an arrow. And then at “kind of woman,” I speak into the text with my own thoughts.

July 2006 I draw a spiraling, curving line in my daybook as Tony Scott talks about Discourse with a big D and heteroglossia, marked in my drawing with little arrows. I have joined a group of UNC Charlotte Writing Project teachers in an Urban Sites institute. There have been names and unfamiliar terms everywhere: Bakhtin, Gee, Foucault, postmodernism, third space. The important but illusive language swirls around me and my drawing jumbles away. I nudge Sally Griffin beside me, and show her my graphite whirlwind. She laughs and tells me I need to borrow her copy of The Dialogic Imagination. Bakhtin is worth figuring out.

Fall Writing Retreat 2006 Pen waiting, I sit in the mountains on a writing retreat with other UNC Charlotte Writing Project teachers. I decide to write about something that happened at school:

Jonita called me “Manship” for the first two days of school. I liked that

small difference in her. Now she calls me Mrs. Manship, like the other

kids. I sort of liked being titleless for Jonita. I wonder if I changed

in her eyes when the classroom culture told her to add Mrs.

Jonita came to our first open house with her mother, grandmother, aunt and

sister. So many women in her family. She was assertive right away. When

I shook her hand, she said, “Manship, what are we going to do in here?”

Somewhere between reading into the listening silence of the Nu Wray Inn sitting room and hearing Lil Brannon talk about the Manship story to think with all of us about this idea of third space we had been playing with, I was transformed into an active contributor and a collaborator in the conversation.

Fall 2008 Cindy and I gather our daybooks, extra handouts, empty fruit platter and head into the hallway just as classes are changing at an urban middle school, with which our site partners for professional development work. I am jostled and bumped by boys taller than me, but eighth grade teacher Sarah, smaller by a bit shoves her way through with impressive command. She turns and looks at me with similar force, “What happens when an administrator walks through the door and kids are spread out freewriting? How do I justify that with the NCSCOS, the EOC, the PEPs, and the LEAs?” I nod as she talks. I search for a question that will push Sarah, but not distance her. Since I have begun working more closely with our site’s professional development group, we seem to face this kind of moment often. The questions about authority, choice, and room for play seem to be just as messy in middle school as in kindergarten.

January 2011 Sitting in San Antonio with fellow resource creators for National Writing Project’s Digital Is project, I have spent the weekend writing and talking with others about my first grade students and what happened when they became video ethnographers. Being here I see and am part of at a national level the same kind of relationships that have sustained my teaching locally in Charlotte. I am able to see how the model of the National Writing Project and the network of people and ideas across states has been a part of all the work that happens locally at our site.

March 2011 I am sitting here tonight revising a bit the piece of writing that I will use tomorrow at our UNC Charlotte Writing Project Spring Conference to introduce our keynote speakers, Youth Roots. I have been filling up inboxes of teachers around Charlotte for months, talking about how I found out about Youth Roots last spring in Portland at the National Writing Project Urban Sites Conference. Getting to be part of a session with Youth Roots there, really changed my thinking about what professional development might be like as youth and teachers really collaborate and inquire together. Fellow UNCC WPer, Cindy was as inspired as I was, so at the break we beelined it over to G. Reyes, Youth Roots program director, and while we just missed the last CD for sale that day, we were able to start a plan for bringing Youth Roots to Charlotte that is being realized here tomorrow.

I have so many more Writing Project moments that have shaped that young teacher who sat very alone with her name highlighted in her first year teaching. These are stories about people, the people who have moved my thinking and my practice so many times over the years. I am the writer, the teacher and the thinker I am today because of the National Writing Project. At the conference with Youth Roots earlier this week, G. Reyes talked about being in this thing for the long haul. Writing Project is all about the long haul, too. The long haul of figuring out the kind of people we are and are becoming.