what is the elephant who is the elephant elephants are amazing: when the teacher is the distraction

Yesterday in class we were discussing Jo Kyung Ran’s amazing short story “Looking for the Elephant” and students were puzzled in a kind of urgent way about the elephant: who is the elephant what is the elephant is the elephant real. And I kind of blurted out (in a way we often don’t appreciate when our students do it), “Elephants are amazing. Do you know this? Do you know how amazing they are?”

There was a brief moment of silence. Then they all looked at their laptops and quietly started tapping away. “Are you googling elephants?” I couldn’t help but laugh. They laughed and nodded yes.

So we took about 20 minutes for some research time. Then we got back to the story: what is the elephant who is the elephant elephants ARE amazing.

Looking for the Elephant is in an anthology put together by the wonderful Words Without Borders.

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prezi on reading to write about fiction


I can’t believe how long its been since I blogged! Once the essays begin coming in, time disappears. Now it’s midterm already. But I spent a couple of hours today making a Prezi to use with my class tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure how it will be different from just having a discussion or handing this information out on a piece of paper. But I am trying to use more media that students who are absent can easily access (I uploaded this on bSpace–UC Berkeley’s course management system) and I think it might be more inviting to review than staring at a piece of paper. We’ll see.

Reading to Write about fiction

I’m using a book of short stories, essays and poetry published by the wonderful Words Without Borders for the first time. We all read one story in common–the story in the Prezi–and then students chose one on their own to discuss in class tomorrow. My plan is to use the Prezi for the discussion of “Children of the Sky,” give them some time to make connections between their story and Space and Place by Yi-Fu Tuan, the book I’m using to support the Landscapes of the Imagination theme of the course.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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digital pedagogy for the digital age

Ok so I was always the student who did the assignment in some kind of wonky way. I guess I still am. I haven’t written an essay yet. But I did spend several hours making this Prezi called, yep, digital pedagogy for the digital age. In thinking about reading and writing digital texts, I wonder why I would write that essay (other than the fact that I said I would). But for my audience of teachers, the Prezi is more effective. I don’t need to demonstrate to them that I can do a close reading, and I have no use for them in any aspect of my life: reader (I seldom read those kinds of academic journals, though I do read a lot of critical book reviews, a kissing cousin, perhaps, to the close read); writer (don’t write’em), teacher of writing (I tend to read pragmatic articles on teaching). As Katherine Hayles notes in her book how we think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technologies, the close reading is largely an artifact of English Departments. I teach it because I used to believe that it was a useful thing for students to be able to do. Now I’m not so sure. I require students to write them because my department has a final portfolio requirement that one essay demonstrate close attention to text, a term that is vague in some ways but is meant to give a nod to the English Dept. type of “close reading,” while also freeing people (students and teachers) from the strict form of that essay. If close reading is still important for all college students to learn (and I’m not sure that it is), it has to be equally important that they learn to critically read electronic texts–from electronic literature (see two volumes collected by Electronic Literature) to various kinds of web pages and works produced on apps.

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draft conferences

Yesterday I talked to 13 students about their drafts (one lucky student is in Japan with the women’s golf team, so we haven’t talked yet) for 20 minutes each. I hope I was making sense by the time Alberto sat down. Amazing variety in the approach to the topic which made them all interesting to read. The “final” (is any piece of writing ever final?) drafts are due tomorrow. Mine will be late. No excuses. Just a fact. I look forward to reading these essays, which students can revise when they are returned if they want.

Tomorrow we begin our second writing project in participation with the UCBerkeley’s On the Same Page project. This year we are using the book Fiat Lux, which is a facsimile edition of the book of photographs Ansel Adams took as the UC’s request in the mid 1960s (text by Nancy Newhall). I’m really interested in seeing students’ photographs and reading about their vision for UC Berkeley, especially in these difficult budgetary times. I’ve started a Flickr group for our photographs. Students have been taking and tweeting them #FiatLux but so far haven’t put any on Flickr yet (only mine are there), but I hope they’ll add some soon. I’ll add the essay topic . . . as soon as I’ve written it . . .

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rough drafts, diigo, it’s friday!!

On Tuesday rough drafts were due, and late Monday night (uh-oh!!) I wrote mine. But I had been thinking about the topic a lot (oh dear, I am now imagining how I would respond to the student who said this to me: I have no draft, but I have some ideas; . . .). Anyway. I wrote the draft and I really have been thinking about both the electronic poem by J. R. Carpenter and how we read such texts. So we used my rough draft (at the end of this post if you’re interested) to work with the peer review questions I had prepared for the session. Students did a great job commenting, asking questions, and Rebecca pointed out what she thought to be my working thesis. I was grateful for this confirmation. It seemed clear to everyone that I was addressing the prompt but for a different audience than the one they had in mind and also that I was far more interested in the issue of reading electronic texts than they were. They are focused mainly on interpreting the poem, Entre Ville. They also commented on the fact that I have a lot of questions in the introductory paragraph. As I told them, this is pretty typical of my early stage writing when I have real questions about the topic I’m writing about. Most of them will probably be gone in later drafts (or maybe not; this is something I want to think about more).

On Thursday we looked at second stage drafts and then walked the main part of campus from Unit 2, the residence hall where our classroom is (don’t get me started)

classroom or cave?

for a great workshop on using Diigo. Cal’s Educational Technology Services has a terrific media-loaded classroom where we can learn to use free Web 2.0 software that supports learning and teaching.

Diigo workshop

In that workshop students read Entre Ville: This City Between Us, an essay by Carpenter on how and why she created Entre Ville. Students highlighted passages that helped them understand her poem and put “sticky notes” on sections they thought they might use in their essays. Next week: individual draft conferences. Then on to the next assignment!

my First Rough Draft

J. R. Carpenter invites us into her neighborhood in her poem, “Entre Ville,” which is a work that she tells us in “Entre Ville: This City Between Us” has appeared in both print and as an electronic text. The work being read for the purposes of this essay is the electronic text. In it there are several pieces of writing, the main one being “Saint Urbain Street Heat.” While the reader might enjoy other aspects of the entire work more, Carpenter signals this is the main text by making it the most accessible and the most familiar. It is placed in the center of the site, and it is written in an easily recognizable spiral notebook. Any reader familiar with a scroll bar can easily read the entire text. But if this is the only part of the text we read, are we getting the full meaning of her poem? Does she make enough of a connectin in ths part of the larger work for us to get her full meaning? Or are readers more famiiar with reading electronic texts going to get more from the poem than those who aren’t? What does this say about the accessibility of electronic literature? For experienced readers of electronic literature, “Entre Ville” might, in Yi-Fu Tuan’s words, become a place, whereas it might remain a space for those who are not able to access its full meaning. But we might argue that this is true for any text. Readers practiced at reading lengthy complex print texts like the classic Don Quixote, for example, are likely to get more out of the novel than readers who generally read less challenging texts like contemporary magazines, newspapers and best selling novels (rethink–also consider WC’s comment about the value judgments involved in assessing level of literacy )

In his book Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Tuan tells us that “space . . .” while place ” . . .” (find quotes that clearly distinguish). There is no question that we begin to experience “Saint Urbani” more completely when we explore the sections of the poem, some of which appear in the windows of the sketched builidng we assume is Carpenter’s apartment building. From one we can hear the “French man” who waits “until dinner time, / to aim his trumpet” at Carpenter’s apartment. While it isn’t always safe to assume a piece of writing is autobiographical, Carpenter tells us in her essay that this one is. She spent “15 years learning the vocabulary of the nieghbourhood.” If we go to the fourth window, top row on the right hand side of the notebook, we can listen to the French man’s song which accompanies the a video of a sheet blowing in a breeze. The title of this part of the poem is “Rust Sheet Improv.” The more we have retained from reading the central poem, the easier it is to make connections to other sections of the larger work, “Entre Ville.” But how do we know to move the cursor over the building, clicking on the windows and other images on the page? Presumable the more familiar we become with electronic literature, we will know how to explore the page in the same way we learned to click on hyperlinks in web pages to move from one window to the next.

But as with the reading of any kind of text, this does not come instinctively. We need to be taught to read this way (ref Nadel interview & Hayles).

Develop paragraph on Tuan

Before she moved to Montreal, the city was a space (ref Carpenter’s essay), but in her years of living there she has gained intimate knowledge of the people and places; thus it has become a place.

Conclusion: (my audience teachers, so I want to reiterate my argument that we should be teaching students to read electronic texts and to navigate these texts as we do any other kind of literature–that digital literacy, or in Nadel’s words, transliteracy, is essential).

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Reading “Entre Ville” together

On Thursday class met, students talked in groups of 4-5 (14 students total in the class–yes, I know this is a heavenly number) about the freewriting they did after reading “Entre Ville” while I got the projector set up so that we could read it together.

While they were talking with each other, I did my usual teacher-eavesdropping and heard some great comments: I’m a visual learner, so this was perfect for me; I think she uses place like Tuan‘s definition because she really makes us experience her neighborhood; space is the internet, right, where she’s doing the writing?

There are a lot of things to like about those comments: students are using Tuan’s terminology, making interesting observations about how they read and asking good questions. What more could a teacher ask for? The assignment is a fairly complex one, I think, inasmuch as it requires students to both analyze J. R. Carpenter’s poem and to think about their process of reading the text as well. We’ll talk about various ways this piece of writing might be organized when we meet on Tuesday and they will have their first very rough drafts with them. I like to see what they’ve come up with (in terms of organization and the commentary on the poem) before we discuss things like development and organization.

In our larger discussion, students asked what we were considering to be the poem, which is a good question if you look at the electronic text. Most students had focused on Saint Urbain Street Heat, mainly because it was easily identifiable as a poem, it is centered on the page, and it is contained in a notebook. We discussed the ways in which the design invited us in with things we were familiar with. But then someone pointed out that the entire work is called Entre Ville. A couple of students had read only Saint Urbain, unsure why they hadn’t explored the page further. One student was bothered by the fact that he was supposed to analyze the poem, but he couldn’t use his usual annotation strategies: highlighting, underlining, writing in the margins, etc. In fact, these were all strategies they had just read about in an essay by Donald M. Murray called Reading as a Reader. In addition, however, we’d also read an interview with Ryan Nadel on transliteracy and talked about what it means to be a transliterate person. One student said that he had copied and pasted the text of Saint Urbain onto a doc so that he could work with it in that way. Another revealed that he had discovered that there were other places to go in Entre Ville when he by chance moved his mouse and the cursor landed on an image that opened up a video with sound, which drew a comment about Tuan’s use of the word Experience when he discusses how we use our five senses to know a place. Her comment elicited more comments about how students had played around with the poem to find more poems, a story about a dog, and many interesting sounds of the neighborhood.

The words play, experience, discover and explore are what interest me as a teacher (and also as a reader and writer). This is why we read, yes? And I like having this discussion in the first couple of meetings with a class whose goal it is to improve their reading and writing in an academic context. As the one student was concerned that he couldn’t analyze the poem the way he’d been taught, I expect there will be other concerns. But I assume (and hope) that each concern opens a door (like those in Entre Ville) into a new way of thinking about how we are reading and what kind(s) of analysis might result from these discoveries. Right, the essays they write might not look like essays they’ve written about Sylvia Plath poems or Tupac’s lyrics. Good, I say. All the better.

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Freewrite: Reading “Entre Ville” by J. R. Carpenter

I’ve read several pieces by J. R. Carpenter whose work I really admire. I share with her an interest in uses of space and place and how we become attached to them. Entre Ville is one of my favorite pieces of hers.I think the design is interesting and it invites me to poke around on windows and doors and see what I can see. And much to my surprise also hear what I can hear. As we talked about in class today, texts like this put play back into reading. And too some extent it is also a collaborative experience. “Did you click the clothesline?” “Listen to the old man play his trumpet.” We want to share the parts of it that delight us.

While my students are going to be writing an analysis of the poem, I’m mostly trying to think abut the process of reading such texts (they’ll be doing that, too, and I’ll also be analyzing the poem, but I’ll probably put the emphasis in my essay on reading). How do we talk about reading such a text? Presumably we all start with the main poem, “Saint Urbain Street Heat,” in part because we easily recognize it: oh there’s the poem! The fact that it moves up and down guided by the red arrows is familiar as well to people who are accustomed to using a scroll bar. But then where do we go? I started with some of the windows and doors because they invite me to peek into them, like old-fashioned children’s books or an advent calendar–when you pull the tabs there is an image or a piece of chocolate behind them. And also it’s logical to open windows and doors.

It took me a while to get to the clothesline, and I clicked on the dog more than once before I found the story there. One of my favorite sections appears with the gloves. I like the way the poem there echoes via the repeated, shaded text and also the images that accompany the words.

Some questions I want to think about more have to do with reading in a nonlinear way. Does it matter that I didn’t see the dog story until the fourth or fifth reading? What would I be missing if I never located it? To some extent these are questions we ask with print texts as well. We may “miss” sections when we read because we don’t understand them or because we are distracted when we’re reading. But they are easier to recover, I suppose, because they are made up of words on a page. We don’t have to hunt for them, at least not by clicking to see what is behind a curtain, or what the bright flowers might deliver.

I am also really taken with the way the line changes directly underneath the title depending on what I click on.

I look forward to hearing what my students have to say.

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