Thursday, August 30, 2012

Freewriting My Way to Critical Teaching

So last week I brought Theme for English B by Langston Hughes to our Writing 1101 course as the starting point for Writing Into the Day. We generally begin class this way with a point of inspiration and time to just write anything that comes to mind.    

The day I brought the Langston Hughes poem was the second day of class.  As I sat writing with students also writing around me, I had one of those moments when I was struck by an immediate idea about what I wanted to say about this poem.  (I don’t always just have a spark of an idea right away when I write... sometimes I can’t think of anything to say.)  But in this moment I was immediately reminded of a recent conversation with a friend and my ideas just flowed out onto the page in a messy and sprawling kind of way.  I put pen to paper and just freewrote my thought-flow onto the page,   

 I learned this strategy of freewriting from Peter Elbow... and it is one of the most useful tools to me as a writer.  Just get your thoughts down on the page.   Keep your pen moving.  Even if you are writing “I don’t know what to write...”  It frees my thoughts up (even at 8:00 am) to go in directions I didn’t even realize I wanted to go.  

When I did this writing in response to Langston Hughes, I knew that issues of race, class, gender and sexuality... issues of identity... are concepts that I want to be visible part of our conversations in class.  And I did choose Langston Hughes’s piece about school writing for that reason, but I guess as I sat down to actually write alongside students and Langston (via the coffee stained poem glued in my daybook) I started thinking newly about my own position as white, middle class teacher and feelings of insecurities in broaching issues of race, even as I know intellectually that I want to and need to.  Writing into the day with the Langston Hughes poem let me start to articulate ideas that had been simmering that I didn’t even realize I needed to think through.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Open Access to the Academic-Personal

In reading around rather than actually within Paul Baker’s book, Sexed Texts, I have possibly figured out more about the book than I would have having had it in front of me.  Here’s what I know.  

1.       Paul Baker and his readers are either "not into" or "not up in the know-how on" open-access sharing.  A pdf of the first chapter of this book (required reading for the fall course course I am taking, Language, Gender and Power) is not to be found on the internet.  And the book, of course, is out of stock everywhere from Amazon to our local Grey’s University Bookstore.  So, what does one do?  Read around the internet to see what I can find out about this book. 

2.       Elaine Fraser (2009, Sociolinguist Studies) reviewed the book, naming the work of bringing current context to a history of research in language and gender.  Fraser names part of Baker’s larger work as critique of the project of Queer Theory.  She also problematizes the range of contexts Baker uses, particularly naming his foregrounding of male over female gay communities.

3.       Lancaster University identifies this as an undergraduate textbook.  Dang. (If one day someone names something I write a textbook, I will be totally irate.)  More handily, Lancaster University also provides the only snippet of this text to be seen on the web.    This pleasantly turns out to be a narrative of the author’s problematic encounter with gender-labeled muffins.  This excerpt really gave me enough to go on until my nice, used copy arrives next week.  Baker, like many of us, wants to disrupt category boundaries.

As I will be doing with most of my “school” readings, I am putting alongside Baker, my summer reading of Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin.  This book is actually also a required course reading.  For some reason it is the first one I picked up to get started on while on a family RV trip to Indiana in July.  Somewhere in the North Carolina mountains I opened the book and read the preface.  And read it again, stopping to tell my mom that this book seems weird.  Finally, I flip the book over and to the back cover and realize this is a novel!  And science fiction!  Woot!!  Well, then it actually felt like summer reading!!  Through several states and a campground stay in Kentucky, I read the first couple of chapters, intermittently also attending to children, work emails and somehow risking the danger of fixing myself cups after cup of tea en route.  The book opened with narrative and dialogue of men in a meeting and a rather pitiful if hardened introduction of the novel’s protagonist, Nazareth.  Putting these alongside my knowledge that this was a “feminist” book, I started getting worried what kind of feminist Suzette Haden Elgin might turn out to be.  I probably flipped to check the copyright date, 1984… hmmmm…. Somewhat before movements I knew of to complicate ideas of gender difference.  I kept reading, still rather hungry for whatever kind of fantasy that this novel might let me have the rare dip into.  

Fascinated as I was with Elgin’s fiction I have similar feelings when reading her writing about her work with language, particularly in her Introduction to The First Dictionary and Grammar of Laadan.  I feel compelled to read much more about her, from her.  I want to ask her about the ways that difference is constructed in Native Tongue and in the language primer for Laadan.  I want to ask what she thinks about critiques of essentialism in this kind of work.  I would tell her that I am so drawn to the way she makes visible the material issues of women and that still I find problematic the firm categories between gender that, for instance, a “women’s language” might sustain.  I am wondering, in what ways could a women’s language disrupt the appearance and social activity around firm categories of gender.  And by using categorical and possessive words to name a language as “women’s” doesn’t that continue the binary way of patriarchy?  Sigh.  

To bring all of this together for now, I want to think about how identity categories construct my literacy practices in these readings.  I am maddened and offended at required readings that are categorized as “textbook” reading.  It puts both the book and me as a reader into a box that presses in on me, defining me as someone in-need of learning, not someone who brings ideas to a text.  It makes my reading, my ideas, my identity as a student less part of “real” work.  And yet, I am reading and writing about Baker and Elgin here because of my identity as a student, while I somehow don’t make time to post to my blog about readings that have to do with my life at home and in community outside of “work”.   And so, I also name here on my blog my academic and professional lives as the “real” part, the part worth sharing and talking to others about.  And I don’t tell you that as I type a four year old with an earache is pressed against my arm or that in another window on my computer screen is an email to a the women who run our preschool co-op. It seems that at just about at every turn as student, as mother, as teacher (more on that elsewhere) my work is shaped as other.

Categories of identity, as I write them, write into them, rewrite them, shape me.  Somehow I would like to lean on both Elgin’s disruptions of dominant power stories and Baker’s critique of the naturalization of gendering language to figure out how to tell my academic story in a way that values and complicates my too personal and too private work of mothering and teaching.  So that's where I'm headed in more discussions of  readings coming this fall :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

String Games Inquiry

Back in the spring Paul Allison invited me to hang out in an episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers on String Games.  On the show Fred Mindlin taught us string games and shared his string game stories.

I shared that evening about the finger knitting the kindergartners and I used to work on, and I just haven't gotten string off my mind ever since!  Finally this week at the UNC Charlote Writing Project Partnership Institute,  I had the opportunity to explore with other teachers some of the thinking I've been doing in the last few months.    On Monday as a way to find some common ground around the idea of inquiry, I brought some string, a little James Paul Gee and my daybook. Here's how we spent the session:

Getting Some String... Finding some string, tying

Writing into Session:  What do you know about string games what do they remind you of?

Learning a simple string game- The Saki Cup (scroll to page 14)

               Exploring, trying, failing, collaborating, sharing expertise, using resources, etc

               Explore links and videos


               Extending to other games/ideas based on expertise in room

Reading of and Responding to Gee, Good Video Games and Good Learning
GeeGood Learning                             

 Discuss in small groups: What elements of learning did we engage in figuring out a string game?  What about inquiry?

Closing: Learning Narratives
Peter Kittle’s unicyle video as mentor text (How does Peter narrate his inquiry?)

Writing out of session: 
            Personal narrative of inquiry experience.  What was it like to engage in string games    today?  Narrate your experience.