Re: Spinach, credentialing, and learning

Becky Rickly (becky.rickly@UMICH.EDU)
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 15:52:43 -0400

Ok, I confess: I like spinach, too. Even as a kid. Seems to be a lot of
us "closet spinach eaters" out there!

I really like Marcy's question: What does learning *look* like?

I'd like to share a few anecdotes, both from my observations and my own
experience. I think learning might take on some VERY different faces in
some different contexts. When I think about classes/situations where *I*
learned a lot, two immediate and very different contexts come to mind. The
first is when I was an undergraduate student at Ohio State in a special
program for secondary ed juniors and seniors called "looking to the future"
run by Don Bateman. This was the first class I'd ever had where students
were expected to take responsibility for their own education--every
semester, we met once a week w/ the same group of people and discussed
readings, our classes, and our "special projects" (basically independent
studies) which ranged from tutoring adults to read, to assisting HS
teachers, to exploring alternatives to teaching in, for example, corporate
settings. We contracted for a grade, told the professor exactly what we'd
do, and then evaluated ourselves at the end. We honestly received the
grade we said we deserved, too. It was an amazing exercise in
responsibility, freedom, and collaboration. I did things because I was
interested, because I felt responsibility to my classmates/teacher, and
because I CHOSE what I wanted to do.

On the other hand, another intense learning experience I had was as a PhD
student composition at BSU....I had to take a statistics course as part of
my program. Now, one of the reasons I *became* an English major was that
numbers and I didn't get along too well. The instructor, rather than
teaching us mere formulas and how to plug them in, told *stories*, and from
those stories we were expected to deduce the formulas--and we DID it!
Amazing! Because we came up with these forumulas/precepts, we were better
able to see when to apply those forumulas that we would've been, I think,
otherwise. Despite my feeling like I was learning a foreign language, I
was able to learn better in this verbal medium than in a more "traditional"
setting where I merely had to memorize and apply formulas.

Now, when I think about students I've seen learning, I think immediately of
our practica classes here at U of M. Practicum is the precursor to
Freshman English here, and students are placed into in because their
entrance portfolios are assessed as being "weak" in a variety of ways.
Students meet twice a week for two hours, and each student meets w/ the
instructor for 1/2 hour outside of class as well. Granted, not many
institutions allow that kind of time indulgence, but every semester I teach
this way, I SEE learning going on. Amazing. I just finished teaching such
a course, and I have never been more proud of what a group of people were
able to do in seven short weeks (summer courses are murder!). In a
reflective essay, every single one of these students credited the in-class
"work in progress" presentations we had every class meeting, along with the
weekly meetings w/ the instructor, as the reason they were able to come so
far so fast. In both scenarios, we would take turns reading papers aloud.
We'd talk about patterns we noted. We'd brainstorm. We'd talk about
reader's expectations and reactions. And so forth. Basically, we worked
as a team on each piece of writing in the same way a good peer tutor works
WITH the student to help him/her discover his/her voice, etc.

I've seen the same "look" of engagement, of responsibility, on class
listservs and in InterChange sessions when one-on-one meetings aren't
feasible. In the Writing the Information Superhighway class, our students
learned to speak their minds, be specific, and take responsibility for
their words when they responded to each other on email and InterChange.
Wayne and I were constantly amazed at what THEY were teaching each other!!
Wayne often "modeled" very positive, helpful, specific comments on the
listserv, and I DID see students imitating his style and his tone; I think
freshmen, especially, really appreciate that kind of "starter"--but I was
really impressed with how they adopted it and made it their own. They
listened to us, each other, themselves, and they became "critical
consumers" of information/feedback. Amazing.

Sorry to go on. But I think this topic is an important one.