I haven’t been posting for a while—interrupted by a trip to California (best state in the Union)—and some life redirection as a consequence of professional conflicts—how’s that for a teaser?
A friend included me in a post on her blog about a course she is trying to reimagine (it could use some re-imagining), so I took some time out from my personal life reconstruction to write the following reply:
Hi,  ****. Thanks so much for the nod to my blog. I appreciate what you’re doing in your course: Style in the Personal Essay. I’m going to make a couple of comments that may or may not be very helpful–I’m thinking as I’m writing.
One: over on the right hand side of my blog is a book my students wrote: Writing Ourselves into Each Others’ Lives. I have had subsequent classes read from that book–the response is always good. Look at the chapter on Voice; or Kaitlyn’s essay at the end of the book; Hope’s; there are several others that students love to read and link back to their own writing. In sum, I almost always have students read other students rather than anything published. By reading what other students have written, they get ideas about their own writing.

I don’t want to make this too long. I would think more about the reasons for having them write a certain kind of essay, i.e., in a specific genre–even something as amorphous as the personal essay. My take: students don’t need to learn how to do this or that; what they need are good experiences in writing (I get criticized this claim), but what the hell–you want them to be writing what they will enjoy writing and reading–I mean reading and responding to what others have written. There are no end of topics that students will automatically start writing about (when they know they are writing primarily for their classmates (and the teacher–who is NOT grading but is reading as the other students are reading).

Leading to another topic: we can perhaps move away from thinking that students need to produce completed pieces– X number of essays. I have lately moved away from revision–kind of letting students revise on their own. When they know that the primary readers are the other students, they automatically revise. Automatic revision was one of the first things we learned about in the Bay Writing Project—nods of gratitude to Jim Grey & Miles Myers.

When students are writing like this, there is all sorts of room to have some in between sessions on ways in which they can improve their styles, and little structural problems that most students seem to make. 

I also like to have students read “Correctness” by Joe Williams (in early editions of Style). Then we can have interesting discussions about what’s right: He don’t know how to tie his shoes backwards– or– He doesn’t know how to tie his shoes backwards (and of course what “right” means–leading to Bill Clinton’s famous remark: that depends on what “is” is– for a little humor). Then we can have discussions about whether the comma goes inside or outside the quote marks and whether it matters and why some people think it might and why others don’t give a shit.

(personal admission: I had to think about whether I could write “shit”). Talk about cultural imbrication–including a reference to something we all do!

We need to think about all the writing they do as writing. That includes the responses they make to each other (and the responses to the responses). What I’m getting at here: the flow, the continuous flow of writing–as is happening right now, me with you. That’s writing.

I wrote my response to **** without looking at the course description for Style in the Personal Essay.  After looking at it, I wrote the following:

I just looked at the course description: looks as if people threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Notable that nothing is in there that aligns with attitude toward writing, the experience of writing. It’s almost as if we’re teaching students how to write nothing to no one–but pretend that it’s something to someone. Really awful course description. 

I’m going to add my final impression: it seems as if much of what rhet/comp people do (and have historically done) is directed outward–proving to outside stakeholders that we’re responsible educators and in the process eliding what we know as writers and writing teachers (or maybe forgetting what we once knew).  In sum, I think we need to direct our pedagogy back to the students, helping them with their writing and experience of writing and imagine outside stakeholders as tertiary at best.

Postscript: I hadn’t looked too carefully (typical me) at that picture. One needs to add the act of writing, which doubles the transition from the old me to the new me–this at least is true in expressive/reflective genres.

3 Replies to “”

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on my blog and here! Please feel free to use my name. I'm not going out of my way to attract attention from strangers, but I am also not blogging anonymously. Comments from family and friends and colleagues are always welcome.

    In case anyone else reading this wants to see or chime in on my original post, feel free to read it here.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I just hadn't asked for your permission, so you can see what I did. I don't know whether you'll consider anything I said, but I would shave those course objectives ( better said as goals) down to five.I won't give you the five, but one at least should be to encourage a positive attitude toward writing. I don't think that of our students should become proficient in writing a personal/reflective essay. Our an argumentative one.

  3. The first day of class is in 19 days and I am still struggling with what to do. (The fact that I picked up a nasty cold, and cultivated it during a walking holiday last week, probably isn't helping.)

    Part of the struggle comes from the fact that the course outcomes/goals are not mine to alter. That said, I think just about any decent course plan can be made to show at least nods toward the thousand and one official goals, so perhaps I should simply stop looking at them.

    The personal/reflective essay and the argumentative essay — The Essay, in other words — is definitely off the table. I plan to have students write blogs, as I did last time I taught this class, since I think that (a) they fill the same genre function as essays used to, and (b) they are a lot more lively and interesting for students.

    "Interesting for students" is key. Like you, I want students to find writing for this class engaging.

    Last time, blogging worked well for students as individuals, but there was a lack of coherence in the class as a whole due to the incredibly wide range of topics students chose to explore.

    What I'm considering to bring a bit more common ground — and forgive me if I am repeating myself — is to ask students to write a series of posts about their professional/academic lives (i.e. other classes, lab experiences, jobs) AND a series of commentaries a la Shipka in which they explain their choices *vis a vis the specific academic/professional persona they want to create.*

    I think this will accomplish a few things:

    1) Invite them to grapple with interesting problems via writing. Last time, some of them wrote almost purely informative blogs (e.g. Everything a Real Fan Knows About the Sacramento Kings), and I want to open up room for more exploratory writing.

    2) Connect their writing to other classes, and other domains.

    3) Make the relationship between rhetorical style and written persona MATTER.

    I still have almost three weeks to get this all sorted out. Your thoughts are always helpful, and always welcome.

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