Re: grades

janet cross (hceng028@EMAIL.CSUN.EDU)
Fri, 23 Aug 1996 11:52:32 -0700

On Fri, 23 Aug 1996, Jeffrey R Galin wrote:
> Engaging issues come in all kinds of
> forms, many of which do not necessarily involve students making choices.

Hey Jeff,
I think you put your finger on it. Forms and choices. I will just disagree
slightly with your assertion re: the choice issue. Somnewhere, even in the
most rigid model we might be able to conceive, there is some choice. That
quibble aside...I think what we *are* looking at are the forms and
structures we provide. So if some of us wish to provide a bare skeletal
"form" as writing assignment, and some of us might provide, say the 5
snoozer essay form, we have the "form" in common. It's just how the
student can move around and how much room the student (or any of us) has
to generate a particular piece of writing. For instance, if I choose to
use an investigation of rhetorical principles or practices as a way to
ground the work over a semester, a framework, inviting then the
discussion, work and writing to arise from the investigation, then I
think the students not only feel freer to try on different forms, but have
a greater sense of ownership over their writing and critical schtuff. Is
this making any sense?

Let me try on an example. Forms themselves can be generative, heuristic.
Quite often when I can't get a particular idea down, I revert to playing
with forms. As a poet, most of what I write is blank verse. But there are
times when I am stymied, so I try on a sestina, a sonnet, or some
other form, allowing the form to act as a generative rorshard (sp) type
thang. In this sense the 5 snoozer essay is not evil in and of itself, but
perhaps the way it is used (and WAY overused). The 5 snoozer does allow
for a certain structure that MAY be right for an occasion. But these are
the types of issues that are valuable for the students to play with and
discover through their own writing.

> topics that the teacher suggests. Now I am not necessarily advocating
> that teachers dictate writing topics. I am saying that the "liking" that
> Bradley and I mentioned previously can occur in a wide range of
> pedagogical structures.

Zactly. And I think the sense of purpose we bring to the classroom has a
lot to do with how our students respond. Our own rhetorical occasion is to
persuade our students that there is something intrisically valuable for
them in the writing situations we either provide for them or they choose.
If one believes that a grade provides that persuasion, that sense of
purpose, and can make it stick...well, I dunno. Gotta think some more on
that one.

There is no need to seek an unreachable utopia,
> or even pine for one when alternative course structures may accomplish
> similar results. While you are working on issues that interest you as a
> teacher and your students, you can also be working to change the confining
> stuctures that you know prevent your students from reaching their
> potentials as learners.

Yeppers. The thing is some people would see my pedagogical stance/s as
utopian...kinda like that "knee jerk liberal" epithet. Seems this might be
on a continuum of sorts and way open to interpretation. Funny how
Utopia/disutopia have kinda the same taxonomic grounds Not sure how we
can get around this kind of thing, or if we even want to..

> To respond to Steve: what current issues interest you that you
> think might also interest your students? Why should students do all the
> choosing? If a teacher is not interested in the topics or approaches
> students take to issues, how effective can she be in pushing students to
> reach their potentials? Certainly she can help them achieve some level of
> success, but that infectious enthusiasm we talked about in "liking"
> usually only exists when teachers and students are mutally invested in
> classwork.

I think you have a point here as well...and yet, the mutual investment
might have to take into consideration that if our students write to
audiences *other* than the teacher, the teacher just might be bored to
tears by the *subject* even perhaps the form the writing takes (and here I
do certainly think of the 5 snoozer essay). But I have to say, when I have
read for our Uni exit exams (hey not my idea...twas the voters of
California), the 5 snoozers PASS, just barely but they pass. and I have
even read a handful of good ones over the years. Engagement with the
audience is a funny thing.

So if we are going to talk about what makes for good teaching
> and learning, why not start where students and teachers are both excited
> by what is being discussed.

Jeff, you silly! How utopian! But I agree.

How do we get there? How many diffent ways
> can we get there? How realistic are we being when we work with our
> students to figure out these . . . uhhhh . . . learning places? And what
> do some of these learning places look like?
> Hey Eric, is this the kind of topic you wanted to discuss for a
> Tuesday Cafe? I'd be up for it.

Absolutely. Let's MOO it.


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