Glassworks Magazine - Issue 8
I'm very pleased to announce the publication of Issue 8 of Glassworks Magazine. Working with the student editors on this through Rowan University's Master of Arts in Writing program was a joy, and what a beautiful issue we've put together.
Visit our website here: http://rowanglassworks.org
View the full issue online here: http://issuu.com/glassworksmagazine
Yes! I'm thrilled to see this article in The Atlantic about Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important. On a whim a few weeks ago, I threw some complex poems at my Writer's Mind class, a course for upperclassmen majoring in writing. The focus of the course isn't necessarily literature, but on how the mind of a writer functions, the rhetorical choices a writers makes and the elements and tools available to him or her. The class focuses on the process of writing, on being aware of and overcoming writer's block, and learning to articulate why certain decisions have been made in writing and revising. The kind of writing we practice is really up to the instructor, which makes this an exciting class to teach.
I wanted my students to practice writing about themselves, in particular, writing about the darker parts of themselves they generally don't share. The theory behind this is that if they can write about those dark, secret things, they can write about anything without fear or hesitation. At the last minute, I realized there could be no better way to approach this than through poetry. So in the 30 minutes before class, I threw out my initial plan and printed out copies of Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, and Sharon Olds, and hoped my students would be open to poetry. The results have exceeded my expectations.
After two class periods thoughtfully discussing not only the meaning and emotion behind these poems, but also the imagery, sounds, structure, and symbolism, my students wrote their own "shadow poems". They are blowing me away. We are workshopping them anonymously as a whole class, and while it is taking far longer than I planned, the conversations are insightful and exciting. Several students have asked if we can just keep doing this for the rest of the semester. The poems are intense, the feedback is constructive, and the revisions are promising. I am getting to know my students more deeply through this community building activity, and the techniques we are practicing will spill over into their other writing as well. While only a handful of the students in the class consider themselves creative writers, and even less poets (there are several education majors in the group) they are opening up and growing as writers and as people in new ways because of poetry.
As Andrew Simmons describes in his article:
"Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected... Teachers should produce literature lovers as well as keen critics, striking a balance between teaching writing, grammar, and analytical strategies and then also helping students to see that literature should be mystifying. It should resist easy interpretation and beg for return visits. Poetry serves this purpose perfectly."
The proof is right in front of me in this group of students. I couldn't agree more.
Check out the full article here: Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important
Rules of Writing
The ever-so-brilliant Margaret Atwood presented her 10 rules of writing in The Guardian almost two years ago. I just stumbled upon them reposted on Brain Pickings and couldn't resist the urge to repost them as well.
My favorite rules of Atwood's are:
What are your rules for writing?
Read Margaret Atwood's full list of rules on Brain Pickings here:
And read the original article from The Guardian featuring rules from other writers, such as Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, and Joyce Carol Oates, here:
Learning That Does Not Expire
This article, and this quote in particular, perfectly sums up why I believe what I teach, writing and literature, provides students some of the most important skills they will gain in college.
"If you really think about learning, there are some master disciplines which unlock all the others. They are philosophy, history, mathematics, language (reading/writing), and science (mainly mastery of the scientific method). These disciplines form the core of learning and comprise the engine of its expression. The student who gains proficiency in these areas will maintain, for virtually the rest of his/her life, the capacity to learn new things and to organize those new things within the context of the older things. The learning that takes place in these areas does not really expire. It does not become dated. It is a fund that maintains its value. The same is not necessarily true of knowledge gained in professional programs."
read the full article here: "This College Professor has a Message for Liberal Arts Majors," The Federlist
What Will Your Verse Be?
Best commercial ever? Definitely one of the best speeches ever. Thank you Dead Poets Society.
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race and the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless--of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?"
The Value of Writing
To wrap up the semester, I usually ask my students to write in response to a handful of self-reflective questions and then share aloud. Today, I asked my Composition I students to respond instead in essay form to this question:
What is the value of writing and how do you feel better prepared as a writer because of this course?
Their responses are invigorating, insightful, and literally bring tears to my eyes and give me hope for the future:
Near the end of every semester, I deal with feelings of apprehension. I collect papers from students that do not demonstrate they are ready to move on to the next level. Whether I am teaching developmental writing, composition, or upper level writing, I have a responsibility as a professor not just to grade fairly, but to ensure my passing students are truly prepared for what they are going to encounter in the next course. It does no good to continue pushing students through and rounding up their grades because when they get to their last composition course, or even once they finish composition, they will find themselves struggling and will no longer have a professor teaching them how to write a good paper. They will simply be expected to know.
So I always wonder whether I have done something wrong, or failed to explain something clearly. I hate to give students who have been attending class regularly and turning in work a grade that means they will need to retake the course. Especially at community colleges, the attrition rate is high. Students get discouraged, or lose eligibility for financial aid, or become overwhelmed trying to balance school with work, family, and personal life. They drop out. They give up. And they are capable of so much more. I don't want to be part of what discourages them, but I have to keep reminding myself that it does them no real favor to take pity on them either. When their essay grades continue to be D's and C's beyond the halfway point of the semester, they need to realize that they aren't getting it. They need to take initiative. They need to seek extra help.
What keeps me going through this struggle are not the star students. Sure, every semester I have a few who consistently write A essays, think critically, and expand my view of the world. I am grateful for this breath of fresh air, but they are not nearly as rewarding as the students who improve. This semester, I worked with two students in particular who remind me why I love teaching. They began the semester writing D level essays that lacked clarity and depth. After spring break, something clicked, and the essay grades slowly began climbing. Even though both students finished the course with a C overall, the last essay the students submitted earned a B+ and an A- and when I handed the papers back during the final conference, the students were thrilled.
This is what we should be encouraging. What we should be rewarding. The final GPA should matter a whole lot less, and this kind of dramatic improvement as a result of hard work and focus should be abundantly praised. I am so glad these students were not disappointed with their final course grade, because I could not be prouder of what they accomplished.
No More Research?
Why don't students know how to cite research anymore? I would estimate that 75% of my students each semester do not know how to put together a bibliography or provide proper in-text citations. I don't just mean that they make small errors, but that they don't even produce anything close!
I get lists of sources at the end in no order whatsoever. I get students who include the entire entry right after the quote and don't put any bibliography at the end at all. Students use Google and Yahoo for research and have no concept of what a scholarly source is.
I expect a certain amount of mistakes, but don't they teach you to alphabetize your list of sources? Don't students at least know to include the author, title, publisher, and date? I know other professors (in history, psych, etc) don't teach research. That's my job as the composition instructor. But freshman comp is about strengthening skills of grammar, essay structure, and thesis statements. Most composition courses include research, but don't focus on it wholly. And why not? I feel like freshman comp should spend about half the semester on research, citations, bibliographies, etc. How else will the students be prepared when other professors expect they know how to do this?
What really blows my mind is that my students who seems to be struggling are not in freshman comp - they're all in the second level of English composition! So I wonder not only what high schools are teaching these kids, but what did their freshman comp professors teach them? And maybe part of the problem is the curriculum, not the teachers or professors themselves.
This is a very scatterbrained dumping of frustration. I just had to pause in my afternoon of essay grading to express a little confusion and frustration over the mistakes I seem to correcting on paper after paper after paper...
I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile now... but life (and laziness) gets the best of me.
This semester I’ve been teaching 2 sections of English 100 and one section of English 101. It makes me realize how much I enjoy 101. Not that my 100 kids are bad, it's just a different level of writing. It’s a real challenge to get them connect with the material and keep their attention through class. (And now that the semester is over and I’m reading their final exam essays, I’m seeing lots of small sentence structure issues we should have spent more time on. why didn't I notice this before?) But my 101 class this semester was overall more advanced than sections I’ve taught in the past. There were a few kids that lagged behind, but no one was a really awful writer. And they all grew. The students who struggled on the first essay stepped up leaps and bounds for the rest of the class.
One of the reasons I like teaching 101 is because I feel it's the most important class any college student will ever take. Learning to present yourself on paper in a clear, concise manner will lead to better grades in other classes, and more importantly, can help you get a job or succeed at your job later in life. If you can't write an essay, how can you possibly survive college? Get into graduate school? Get your resume noticed?
There was one student in particular whose first essay was... scatterbrained. I could tell she had a lot of passionate ideas about the world, but that was just it - all passion. No structure. No clarity. Her paragraphs were long and unfocused. Her syntax was trying too hard to sound smart. Her topics were much too broad for the length of the assignment. Heck, her essay was a few pages longer than I asked for!
So I told her to focus. To scale back. To try to explain one point as in depth as possible instead of skimming the surface on twenty points. Her second essay was worlds better. And when we started working on the third (research) I looked over her ideas and warned her against that old problem of too much information to present a clear, focused essay. When we met for a one-on-one meeting to discuss her draft, she listened thoughtfully and wanted to make sure she was staying on focus. And as she got up to leave, she thanked me and told me I was a good teacher. (Keep in mind, this is a student who sits in the back corner, is easily annoyed by chatty students in class, and who I might have thought was bored). She had just gotten back an essay from another class and received an A. she told me she applied what I’d been teaching her about focus to her other subjects.
This last week of class, she told me she'd received another A on an essay in yet a different subject.
This is what teaching English is all about.
BA in English