Archive for the ‘Ways of Reading’ Category

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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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Come Out, Come Out, Queerever You Are??!?

posted: 6.27.07 by Barclay Barrios

When I was in grad school I was all BAGGS–you know, Big Angry Gay Grad Student. Everything I read in my grad seminars was homophobic or, at the very least, heteronormative and I played the gay card in class discussion proudly and often. So, when I started teaching it was only natural for me to want to come out to my class, in part because, given the rates of suicide among LGBT youth, I wanted to serve as some sort of role model for my students gay, bi, straight, trans, and otherwise. I remember distinctly my first classroom coming out. We were discussing Gloria Anzaldua’s selections in Ways of Reading and I made some comment about how I object to her connecting gay men and femininity because, well, I was gay.

What struck me most about that moment of revelation is just how much of a non-moment and non-revelation it seemed to be. There was no reaction from the class, not then and not afterward. Perhaps they had figured me out long ago or perhaps at a major urban campus running into someone gay was such a given that it didn’t require any sort of comment at all. Dunno. We discussed my coming out (and coming out in general) in the Teaching Writing class I was taking at the time. [True story: Richard E. Miller discussed that class discussion and its unusual conclusion in “The Nervous System.”]

Perhaps I have become jaded with age, but I don’t tend to come out “officially” in class any more, though I imagine at least some of my students find me obviously queer. For me, personal revelations of any kind within the context of classroom discussion only have value if they add to the discussion. These days, with most the readings I teach, coming out would just be gratuitous.

I like that I have a pedagogical standard for personal revelation but I still sometimes wonder if coming out is not the “right” thing to do (whatever that means). As informed and enlightened Bitsters, what do y’all think?

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Readers, Teaching Advice, Ways of Reading
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When Every Word Counts

posted: 6.13.07 by Barclay Barrios

I’ve been working with a GTA on the standard set of writing assignments used by new GTAs and adjuncts every fall. Since he’s teaching our FYC course this summer, we get to test out the assignments and we get all the sample papers we need for orientation. Anyway one of the things I’ve been sharing with him is how very crucial each word can be in an assignment. One wrong word can wreck an assignment and just shifting to a new verb can prompt super successful papers.

In fact, we spend a lot of time on verbs in our spring orientation, which is designed to help the fall’s new teachers start writing their own assignments for use starting in the spring. Here are some of the verbs we look at how to write effective assignments:

  • explore: tend to avoid this one since the paper can end up meandering
  • reflect: this one can prompt a lot of interiority and some regurgitation
  • discuss: too generalized; doesn’t encourage students to find a central argument or focus
  • argue: creates a for/against, win/lose, balck/white mentality
  • defend: combative stance
  • refute: combative stance
  • extend: good word because it asks students to move beyond the readings
  • examine: not too bad
  • evaluate: good word because it asks for some sort of critical thinking
  • propose: good because it asks students to articulate a position
  • assess: good like “evaluate”
  • demonstrate: can be good, depending on the object

To give you some sense of how these play out, we use sequences writing assignments a la Ways of Reading, though with our own readings we’re putting in a custom reader. For a more specific example, here’s the rough draft of our fourth assignment for the fall:

This semester we have read works that deal with a variety of complex systems— universities, the world, Wikipedia. Our final reading, “The Animals” by Michael Pollan , takes place on Polyface farm, yet another complex system. It is safe to say that nearly all facets of life in the twenty-first century are small parts in highly dense and interconnected world. Using Michael Pollan’s “The Animals” and at least one other reading from this semester:

Write a paper in which you examine the economic potential of complexity.

It’s funny. I always forget how hard it is to write an assignment until I sit down to do it. Then I hem and haw and tweak and tweak… changing a word here… a verb there… frustrated and crazed… all to get the assignment just so.

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Categories: Readers, Teaching Advice, Ways of Reading
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