Thursday, September 28, 2006

Catching up!

It's been a while since I have blogged, and I have missed the process. Perhaps because no blogging = too busy.

I have been storing up some teaching observations, however.

1. My son is taking skating lessons--Beginner Level 1. Not unlike English 110, right? So what's the pedagogy? In a 45 minute session the instructors must have asked the kids to try 10-15 different things: arms out, knees bent, in and out, push and glide, etc., etc.. No "drill and skill." No "keep doing it till you get it right." More of a "try this skill, then this skills, then this one--have some fun. Week 2 they actually did slow down a little bit, and tried to be more interventionist--the instructors in Week 1 were doing some informal evaluation, looking for strong skaters and weak skater, and now they were trying to address specific issues with individual students. Proud Canadian Dad moment: when an instructor worked with my son 1-on-1 a few times, she asked him to demonstrate a couple of different skills, then asked him to move up to the next level for week 3. Just like being invited to skip 110?

2. I just came back from teaching in SE 314--NDSU's first really flexible, wireless, classroom. What a blast. I had notes on the north and south chalk boards, I was displaying CTW with the document reader up front, then I showed a little PPT, and we finished up with 25 minutes of group work, where the students did a decent job of moving tables around and really working together. This classroom isn't huge, but I was able to be much more mobile, and the students had more room and flexibility than Minard 204. The medium is the massage; the room massages the pedagogy and learning.

3. TA blogs sounded the theme "I have failed my students!" Most were able to recognize that they hadn't failed their students, but what an interesting response for so many of them to have. Being a TA is really "stepping behind the curtain." As students, they were all good writers, but probably didn't realize how others were doing in class. Now that they see the whole picture, they are finding the 1, 2, or 3 students who were like them, but also finding that 18-20 have skills that range from "okay" to "yikes"!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Teaching ideas

I just thought to myself: why don't I use a highlighter when I grade? Highlight passage that I want to talk about with students when we confernece, make a few notes, cut down on the writing, get them to make the note when they are sitting with me at the confernece. Makes sense--let's hope I can break my old habits of writing too much.

Also gotta remember not to write too much in the rubric, and then just repeat myself in the end comments. Big time suck. I could put numerical scores in the rubric, or actually add more lines to the rubric.

I've also been thinking about the difference between "teaching the course content" and "teaching with the course content." I feel like I have been giving my students a lot of information, but not necessarily teaching with the content as effectively as I could. I am trying to limit my use of "tell me what I am thinking" comments and "tell me what I have told you" comments, but I don't always break those old habits.

Where did all these old bad habits come from? Why are they still lingering? : (

Those highlighters should brighten my teaching day! And conferences were a really positive point in my semester last year--hope the same is true this semester.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

RE-presenting McLuhan

Got my acceptance to CCCC--March in NyC. The title is "Re-Presenting Marshall McLuhan," and the session title is the ultimate wanker session title: "Imporant Men in 20th Century Rhetorical Theory" or something like that. As Betsy pointed out, however, it is good to call it what it is--not important rhetoricians in the 20th century, but important men who do rhetorical theory. Nice touch by the conference organizers--Cheryl Glenn's influence, no doubt.

So I was taking some notes on Eloquent Images and got distracted to thinking about how I want to do this presenting. I was thinking earlier this morning that the real things I have to say/ do include:

1. complicating the whole modern-postmodern binary by working in the anti-moderns and / as McLuhan. I have a tetrad like representation of this that could be a one page handout to talk through. IE. Exhibit 1: if we take McLuhan seriously, we should also take seriously the need to understand a wider range of responses to the last 150 years--since the photograph, since movies, since massive technological shifts (the age of invention).

2. I have also been working with hot-cool and the McCloud big triangle: that could be another slide Exhibit 2.

3. Two might be enought, but my third most interesting image might be the McLuhan map.

Just getting some response to these images would be really valuable for my book project. These would also be good, challenging design projects for me to be working on, and they might look good on my website! I suppose a bibliography with McLuhan in Composition Studies might also be a good handout as a way to re-present my literataure survey. I could organize it in revers chronological order, and change font size to indicate how much of McLuhan gets used.

Oh, and finally, I could present these images at our faculty lunch scholarship sessions to get some initial feedback. Good goal!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I wonder if DDV is reading this?

Two reasons for posting; as I read NSC's post at English Teacher , I couldn't help but wonder if your mutual friend, DDV, has taken to reading NSC's blog. DDV hates blogs, she hates reading about people's days, but I bet she would be pretty interested in reading NSC's blog--unless she has heard it all before it hits the blog.

Second reason--I am trying out the "blog this!" feature for the first time. Right click on any item and presto, a publishing box pops up. I've known of this feature for a while, just slow to use it. I am also trying out a new browser, Flock. I read blogs where people are always trying out great new internet software, and I think--I wish I had time to just mess around with applications.

Crazy busy this week with lots of classroom visits and meetings and my own classes, but if I stay calm and focused, it will go smoothly. As a brash 20 something, I figured experience wasn't all it is cracked up to be. As 40 looms, I'm kinda digging the experience. I wish I could teach experience to the TAs as I see them / read about the class conflicts they are dealing with. My class may look bored at times, but I don't get no guff and resistance--at least on the surface.

Or maybe I just wish I had designed more interesting classes for them to work with. Sorry team!!

: (

PS-- Blog this! didn't work so well.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

We are what we do

I got some feedback on the Trivium project I wrote about a few posts back, and a reader understandably resisted my connection between Dialectic and Deconstruction. McLuhan's history is in part an affective history, a Burkean "attitudes toward history," perhaps, and for him the categories of grammarian, rhetorician, and dialectician are defined largely by what people do and how they do it.

A dialectician, like Aristotle or Aquinas, is not only defined by their use of probable reasoning to solve a problem, but their larger project of close analysis, division, some might say, hair splitting. These attitudes are evident when dialecticians, grammarians, rhetoricians are discussed informally, but seldom included in scholarly accounts--as far as I can tell, at least. When they are applied, the (mis)characterized party is heartily offended.

But I digress.

I am what I do: I increasingly teach the production of new media (rhetoric), typically in the context of a broad understanding of new media / models (grammarian), and find myself increasingly drifting away from the critique of new media (dialectician). I feel the critique can be absorbed into the grammarian / rhetorical aspects, and that critique on its own is something I used to do, but found increasingly unsatisfying and untennable. Untenable? Where's the spell check!?

Contemporary dialecticians, undoubtedly, don't see it my way, and will continue to privilege critique, although also exploring production through innovative presentation of ideas (Derrida, Glas; Taylor and Essanin, Imagologies, and Ulmer, if he hasn't already switched over into the grammar / rhetoric camp).

As a publication directed at a journal on rhetoric, I suppose the way to approach this project is to acknowledge the ways in which most of are approaching New Media as rhetoricians, and then make an argument for the importance of not looking exclusively at the work being done by rhetoricians. Not an earth-shattering pronouncement in a field that is frequently interdisciplinary; I guess my angle here is actually that us rhetoricians have frequently been dialecticians even as we call ourselves rhetoricians--we offer more critique than production. Old argument too--is there anything new under the sun? Is anybody in the field a grammarian? That might be interesting? My sense here is that when we teach topics like "digital rhetoric" we rely on anthologies of scholarship, rather than anthologies of production. We teach from theory rather than practice. That might be a point to push and press.

Sooooo, what does the trivium offer us: a tradition of balance, a recognition of attitude, a way to acknowledge that we are what we do. Can anybody spell "circular"?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A blogging community forming?

Last night, after I read 2 or 3 blog posts by the new TAs I am working with, I felt a palpable sense of relief. I could see them thinking through the challenges of teaching, and I could see them coming to insights (read yesterday's entry for more details).

Tonight, I went to Bloglines and there were 7 new entries--I was pumped, and enjoyed reading all of them. Chester followed up the dream talk with his epic dream of leading troops / students across the Alps, just like Hannibal. Meghan and Jenny both had great insights about not trying to do too much. DS found that Klosterman woke his students up--a good thing--but wondered: has he woken them up for the right reasons? KD is worried about how her students are perceiving her; she is wondering if they believe what she is saying. I remember those doubts, and I remember actually not knowing what I was saying, my first few years of teaching. I might be missing one or two entries here, but overall, reading their entries really helps me feel in touch with how their teaching is going, and while none would say "perfectly," all are doing quite well for the first semester.

I was saying to Betsy the other day that having 10 new TAs does make me nervous; I don't know if I can give all of them the individual feedback that would probably help them more than general discussions of teaching. The first time I taught the course, there were 12 new TAs, and a few were struggling in ways that I didn't realize until too late. Last year there were only 4 new TAs, and the semester went quite smoothly. How d'ya like that: teacher-student ratio probably makes a difference. Well I don't want to sound like some pie-in-the-sky technophile, I do think encouraging everybody to blog might be one way I can give more individualized feedback. And, if this isn't being similarly overly adjectively optimistic, I bet that a lot of them will figure out ways to improve their teaching via blogging--I think I see it happening already.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teaching dreams

Paula wrote about a teaching dream she had, and it made me laugh a bit, although the laugh of sympathy. I frequently start the semester with any number of teaching dreams: forgetting where my class is, trying to teach two classes at once, completely forgetting what subject I am teaching, etc. Teaching can be stressful business.

But I also really like Paula's analogy with parenting: you worry that you are doing everything wrong, but your children turn out to be alright in the end. I would add, that if they don't turn out alright, it isn't necessarily the parent's fault ; )

As teachers, we need to believe in what we are doing, and trust that students will meet us half way. It is good to question, reflect, and improve upon our teaching, but we need to be careful not to try too hard. Sometimes we twist ourselves in knots trying to teach the perfect class or cover all the bases, and what is need is less, not more. Sure the postmodern architects like to say "less is a bore," and we need to keep that in mind too, but sometimes less really is more.