Classroom Observation

Before class time began, the students were quiet. The classroom was small and had eleven students, and the teacher had them form a circle to help bolster discussion. But the students weren’t in favor of discussion. Unless you count the discussion they were having on their phones, they preferred being quiet and sleepy. Sleepy, at four in the afternoon. Perhaps they were feeling down though, about the social scandal that’d recently occurred, how a conservative student, who took a picture with Milo Yiannopoulos, had been cyber-bullied until she fled from school. The teacher asked them about it, and they spoke about the scandal vaguely, as if they didn’t know what had happened, while saying they did in fact know what had happened, maybe because of not wanting to talk about it.

Then the meat of the class began. A student played a song for class, so that they could go over the lyrics. The research class has moved on from research paper writing to writing lyrics, to go over rhetorical situation, code meshing, assumptions, and proposition in a different way; to (as their teacher puts it in the unit III assignment) “make the jump from writing for specific outlets to writing as a creative outlet.” What is the proposition of the song, what is the rhetorical situation? In the song the student chose, the rhetorical situation seemed to be a breakup, how the breakup affected her and she wanted to communicate something. It was about love, some students said, how her ex once had strength and gave her strength, but because he metaphorically “cut his hair” and “literally” left her, they’re both weaker. After this initial discussion, about the song the student picked, they moved onto forming groups for their final projects.

At this point I discovered how freshmen, who although have been in college for several months still can be, at times, timid, when it comes to collaboration, have a way of compromising with their teacher. By compromise, I mean starting at what the teacher would like and slowly communicating their needs until they achieve what they need while not taking away from what their teacher had wanted in the first place. They wanted their teacher to form the groups for them, rather than them going off to discuss the project on a canvas discussion. Their teacher then gave them time to form their groups on their own, because he wanted them to form the groups on their own. But all the students remained quiet, eventually telling him why they’d prefer him to form the groups for them. So he set them into groups, deciding (he told me after class when I asked him why) it was a battle he didn’t really need to win, and if it made it easier for them to handle the final project, so be it.

After groups were formed, they shared the lyrics they’d written for class, which were posted on a discussion forum. What impressed me most was how confident they all suddenly were. Where before they had difficulty sharing their thoughts in discussion or forming groups on their own, here, in a creative mode, they shared extremely personal aspects of their life. The first person to read his song discussed a bad breakup, the next also read their poem about heartbreak. One student discussed her insomnia and read her poem about the psychological inability to sleep and depression it caused.

One student really stood out. English was her second language. It was her turn to read her poem, and she tried to explain herself, “You see. This is maybe better if I sing. Because it’s…you know…the emotion is not in the written… you know what I mean?” She wanted to sing the song because that was how it was set up; it wouldn’t make as much sense to read it word for word. And in that room, an acoustic setting so small her voice surrounded everyone, she demonstrated an incredible, confident talent. Where she was shy speaking English, she was confident singing English, which she’d been classically trained in.

As they work toward the final project, this class, I think, with them sharing their lyrics, opened them up to each other and helped them come to terms with rhetorical situation (why they chose the heartbreak or insomnia to write about) and the different methods of communicating a certain purpose.

 

On My Teenage Essay Trauma

So I’m starting WR600: Teaching College Composition—learning about the writing practices of Emerson, primarily the the short essay genre, but other things too. Which gets me thinking about my old essay writing. Which was quite a traumatizing experience in high school for the exact reasons explained in Writers and Readers: Creating Meaningful Essays and Supportive Writing Communities. Back then, my essays were all about making a point, and that point tended to be something expected by the teacher, some preordained right answer, a matter of whether or not you actually read what you were supposed to read.

My high school history teacher, this short sixty-year-old woman who seemed to have a crush on me, taught our class an essay-writing rule that I’ve obeyed, to this day, like a marching order: A THESIS MUST BEGIN WITH THE WORD ALTHOUGH. As in, “Although the American Revolution seemed to be an uprising of the common man, the men in charge of state politics were the bourgeoisie of their time.” That way, you’d move through the paper from point to counterpoint, destroying the opposing side like a slow but steady war.

In college essays changed only in that I was writing either philosophy or English papers, many of which were a rehashing of what I’d already learned. I’d explain Plato’s position on Love and whether or not it could stand the pressure test of whatever rebuttals I could come up with; or I’d critically analyze Poe’s short story with the critical essays I’d been found in databases. Every essay, without fail, I use that although thesis. And it worked; grade-wise, at least. Despite it’s prescriptive model, it really did set up a well-rounded paper, where the counter to whatever I was arguing served a role that strengthened my overall conclusion. Like it says in Writers and Readers, even a structured essay model can be quite liberating. Although I still write thesis statements like I did in high school, there’s a lot of freedom in what kind of thesis I want to write; granted, in this class they’ll be propositions, so I wonder how those will be different.