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Inviting the Personal

posted: 11.19.10 by archived

Most of my traditional students had been writing five-paragraph essays for years: no first person, thesis in the first paragraph—the removed and the impenetrable. So while they may have thought that the move from writing to proclaim to writing to explore sounded exciting at first, they soon discovered that learning to explore their own opinions and experiences isn’t just a matter of having the freedom to say what they think; it’s a matter of taking responsibility for the complexity and thoroughness of that thought.

After a semester of discussing what it means to write a complex essay, we arrived at our last reading, Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Her work was broken into sections, but the components of personal experience and the larger questions of language, culture, and sexuality were almost impossible to tease apart.  Those elements were constantly influencing one another, sentence by sentence, segment by segment. We looked at examples of paragraphs my students had written that did something similar. What is the impact of allowing the personal to inform your position?

For their essays, I asked students to use their own experience (or that of someone they knew) to illuminate a larger social issue that was important to them.  The challenge I posed was to move elegantly between the personal issues and the social issues, to ultimately make them inseparable. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Ways of Reading, Working with Sources
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Image and Inquiry in Ways of Reading

posted: 11.11.10 by archived

As I read the anonymous student evaluations made from l800px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_021ast spring’s section of Seminar in Composition, one particular comment almost made me laugh out loud. Prompted by the question, “what suggestions do you have to improve this course?” one student wrote that over the course of the semester, we had, it seemed, looked at “too many pictures of naked people.”

How many naked people add up to too many? Just about half of the staff syllabus I used in my second semester as a graduate teaching assistant at Pitt relied on two of Ways of Reading’s most revealing selections. Linda Nochlin’s intellectual romp through eighteenth-century representations of (nude women) bathing and Susan Bordo’s sexier exploration of culturally constructed commercial masculinity at the end of the twentieth each furnish liberal images to complement their scholarship. These texts served as cornerstones for a course aimed at exploring issues of identity through the ways we see, and engaging with images seems key to thinking about sight, both literally and metaphorically.

Two pedagogical threads, then, emerged for me as I reflected on our classroom work in the context of the anonymous student’s final comment. I was interested in the comment’s focus on the images themselves—it wasn’t that we’d read or written too much about naked people, it was that we’d seen too many representations of them. This, to me, is rather one of the strengths Ways of Reading offers as a textbook—eight of the twenty-one excerpts and essays that compose it include paintings, photographs, advertisements, or figures. Authors read culture through the image: photographs from Palestine drive Edward Said’s “States”; prison diagrams punctuate Michel Foucault’s “Panopticism.”  It’s as if the collection emphasizes the intertextuality the editors encourage composition students to explore—when we write, as published authors write, we must take into account what we see around us, the images and objects constituted by our world. And it is through careful attention to representation that critical questions can emerge. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Ways of Reading, Working with Sources
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Revision and Remix

posted: 10.22.10 by archived

When I began teaching with Ways of Reading, I had a hard time coming up with assignments that fit with my pedagogical interest in multimodal composition.  However, I discovered that composing audio and/or visual remixes is a useful way for students to put authors Bartholomae and Petrosky’s concept of revision into practice.  For those of you who are interested in finding ways to integrate technology into your composition courses, the remix is a compositional genre worth exploring.

“The Remix Project” was the final assignment in my seminar on composition, a course designed around the concept of revision as a “re-vision, or re-seeing” as Bartholomae and Petrosky write. Throughout the semester, we practiced revision as an act of transformation that alters the meaning of the original text.  By the end of the term, students had already radically revised (or remixed) several of their textual essays.

The remix project, then, gave them an opportunity to experiment with revision techniques through multiple modes of composition. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Revising
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Beautiful Imagination: Reading and Writing Alongside Cornelius Eady

posted: 9.27.10 by archived

For the students in my first-year writing course, contemporary poetry was a revelation. After all, Cornelius Eady’s “Brutal Imagination” tells the story of an event that most students are too young to remember, yet it happened in their lifetimes. They recognize Eady, the way he draws on pop culture, on Buckwheat from “The Little Rascals” and Uncle Ben. The way he uses slang, cusses. If poetry has, for my students at least, come to mean “timeless,” that is, uprooted from history (and from their lives), inhabiting the rarefied air of universal human values, what then to make of poems like Eady’s?

Students weren’t certain—these are poems not about “diversity” or some other school-worn phrase, but about blackness, whiteness, motherhood, murder, lying. But students were certainly curious. This isn’t to say they found reading Eady’s poems easy, or that they immediately “got them.” They didn’t. But the difficulty of poetry receded as students strove to understand the imaginary black man, Susan Smith, in Eady’s version of the story. Students sensed he had something to say. [read more]

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Difficult Texts

posted: 9.13.10 by archived

Welcome to our new blog on teaching with Ways of Reading by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Bartholomae and Petrosky teach at the University of Pittsburgh, where I direct the Composition Program, and for many years, a number of us who teach first-year composition at Pitt have used Ways of Reading as our anthology for the course. This blog will include posts by Pitt faculty and graduate students who’ve had experience with Ways of Reading—a book that contains difficult readings and provocative writing assignments that take students beyond familiar, thesis-driven essays.

Our premise is that teaching this book doesn’t come naturally; you have to take certain risks that sometimes pay off, and sometimes lead you and your class into tricky territory. For instance, we often begin a new semester by assigning students an essay they’re likely to find particularly challenging, perhaps even alienating, on a first reading. This is the opposite of pedagogical advice that says you should start a course with user-friendly material that will help students relax and grow comfortable with the subject matter as soon as possible. Rather than seeking to reassure students at the beginning of the term, we prefer to disrupt their habitual expectations and lead them onto unfamiliar ground.

This year, for example, the sequence of assignments taught by new teaching assistants (and their faculty and graduate student mentors) began with “Renoir’s Great Bathers” by Linda Nochlin. While those of us teaching the course could see how Nochlin models so much of what we find important for writers to learn—especially her ability to position her perspective among others—many of our students weren’t so readily impressed. Nochlin’s essay addresses a subject (how to interpret a particular painting by Renoir) that students found less than compelling, and her extensive discussion of nineteenth-century French culture left a number of them bored. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Teaching Advice
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