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.
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.
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.