Makerspaces, maker lab, mini makerspaces?

I’m currently catching up on my classes following a big conference held on my campus that I helped organize – and prepping for a forthcoming conference (on Friday). So this brief post is not fully-formed ideas that I want to record for next week’s writing goal planning meeting i’m holding for myself.

Makerspaces have become popular in higher ed in libraries and design and engineering schools. What can makerspaces and digital makerspaces bring to composition and writing studies? I’ve been exploring the ways creative making can support digital making in conference presentations – what does this mean for composition? Can I tie any of this back to ideas of teaching for transfer?

Mini makerspaces are interesting too – what happens when we move away from the formal structure of a makerspace? Makerspaces aim to not be ‘formal spaces’ – my use here is to indicate a designated space for the makerspace. Mini makerspaces seem to be mobile units that can be brought into classrooms to support specific learning. While more research is necessary, my approach to creative making in the classroom seems to closely resemble the set-up of a mini makerspace. My questions here – and these tie to my own use in the classroom – does bringing the mini makerspace into the classroom (instead of moving to a makerspace) change student perception? Change the support tied to transfer of knowledge? Since i’ve been working closely with librarians and information literacy – this idea of transfer when in the classroom versus moving the whole classroom could have implications for how we conduct library sessions.

Maker lab is a new term I ran across this week. I saw Digital Humanities Lab, Humanities Lab and Maker Lab in different articles. What I found of particular note with the use of “lab” is an emphasis on approaches to thinking NOT technologies. I love that approach. There were some labs and projects with incredibly low digital technology. The goal is to focus on asking questions, observing, questioning the world, experimenting, gathering data, and interpreting. All thinking Humanities majors excel at. The labs I read about started from independent studies and a quest for knowledge. Faculty asked students simple questions like “What are you interested in studying” then developed long-term projects from there.

So, this post with just information dump is to help me further theorize how I’m using Ozobots in my classroom to support composition learning. How do I develop a makerspace, or mini makerspace, or Composition Lab (I can create names too!) – how does that help support good writing?

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Public Teaching

Two of my classes have been reading Learning {Re}Imagined  to begin our discussions of the purpose of academic writing, from shared background readings on goals of education – especially technology and education. The Twitter discussions from one class in particular have been fantastic! The types of tweets and content engagement that remind me why I teach.

This class has also enjoyed adding and circulating (retweeting) additional content – articles on current events, additional articles on writing, additional articles on education. As we’re going through this, these additional articles are then spurred tons of discussion about the goals of education – students began applying these ideas to their majors (sciences and education) to make the information relevant to them and their goals for the class.

Then, we were trolled.

This happens when you discuss current event articles and other Twitter users follow that information, but it’s always a bit jarring to me. This particular trolling moment, in combination with current political events, made me consider what it means to publicly teach.

The traditional model of the college learning process, the college classroom, is students come to class and all learning is confined to the classroom space. Learning occurs through reading and lectures, sometimes tests/exams or papers to test knowledge. This traditional model has also become popular in online courses – MIT and other institutions have public courses (available for free or a fee). Most of these free courses consist of video recorded lectures, discussion boards, exams and papers. I’m reading Desiging Your Life as a possible #villeonebook selection and the authors mention the perceived unfairness that only students at their university could access their class and how design thinking can help college students (especially those graduating) – so they wrote a book and created a website with supplemental information. Additionally, MOOCs publish courses. Technology has made public teaching more possible, and in many ways reinforced the ‘traditional’ college model of reading, lectures, exams and papers.

These ‘traditional’ public teachings don’t operate the same as holding class through Twitter. While the content may be controversial, the course structure embeds that controversy within a ‘classroom’. On Twitter, my students may have discussion about these topics at any time. A course hashtag doesn’t put up the imaginary classroom boundary walls that exist with online courses. This open discussion, then becomes an open discussion – open to the trolls of twitter.

This moment of trolling is the moment of public teaching – even if I don’t engage the trolls, my content and my pedagogy with Twitter led to the moment where my students and I were trolled. While this can happen in a MOOC or an open course, the imaginary boundaries seem less likely to inspire this approach to ‘entering’ a conversation.

I don’t intend to change or modify my Twitter practices. I continued on the conversation with my students leaving out the troll, and I will continue to engage my students with these public conversations and this public inclusion of articles and ideas. But, I am grappling with ‘what does it mean to teach publicly’. How do students feel about the public nature of class when they are identified by the troll? How do we deal with outside influences within our artificially created ‘online’ class?

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Goal of Education

This semester I began my courses with discussions of education. Referencing interviews from Learning {Re}Imagined we’ve discussed how technology has been the ‘savior’ of education, and also changed little. Despite the small changes, technology is often still viewed as a salvation. Ideas such as: if we automate some school and save money everyone will learn better – continue to circulate despite repeated disagreement by teachers about learning.

For these classes I’ve tweeted a lot of education articles to supplement their work. Wednesday as I was working through a conference proposal and a tech funding proposal I referenced and tweeted this article about a tech CEO hiring and highly valuing humanities majors on his innovation teams because of their ability to think. Yesterday, a former student of mine commented on the article.

The changing of education is not a new discussion, and I’ve been having this discussion with various classes of students – and this particular student was in one of the first classes where these discussions began. He was a liberal arts major who also had a job in the tech industry (both while in college and guaranteed full time after graduation). He completed MOOCs and learned to Google programming help so he would excel at his job. He saw the huge benefits from on-demand learning, and often argued for these benefits during our discussions.

The questions boiled down to: If students could select what they needed, wouldn’t they be more engaged, wouldn’t they be better prepared for the jobs they wanted, wouldn’t they be better equipped to continue life-long education?

So when he commented on my link today I was reminded of these former conversations. While I don’t think these are easy questions, I don’t feel any closer to resolutions years later. I’ve adjusted my teaching and added problem-based learning, group exercises, focused on what student-centered learning looks like so the classroom better resembles the thinking required of innovative employees, and critical thinking of content.

What struck me about his comment is that I still feel like I’m arguing for the importance  and value of humanities. I wasn’t totally satisfied with my post yesterday, so I’m still thinking about better ways to argue for the value of humanities. In the case of this former student – he was able to look up the programming information he needed to keep and excel at his job with a tech start-up. Was that due to his experience as a humanities major, or his experience with school in general? If he’d completed MOOCs instead of ‘traditional’ education would that critical awareness of information seeking still be so strongly developed?

I really think his humanities education supported and developed his critical awareness of information seeking. But again, these are patterns of thought, behaviors, ability to excel and innovate in the real-world that develop after graduation. I have so many amazing former students who have jobs they like, internships they love, because of their ability to think. But, these numbers are no longer effective for this conversation (big data and neoliberalism are killing numbers speaking for themselves – long live critical thinking!). What would be arguable proof of the value of this thinking? Maybe then, we can begin more productive public humanities discussions on the value of humanities.

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Making and Writing Practices

I was reading an article in Inside Higher Ed about how Humanities need to engage with public intellectualism to help address the negativity surrounding humanities degrees AND to use humanities thinking to help address real-world issues. I both agree and disagree with this call for action. So, to show my support I’ll try to address this issue, repeatedly, in public appropriate discussions here. The obvious problem is my lack of high circulation, but that will be addressed another day.

I’ve been interested (as this blog shows) in gamification and education for years. I’m especially interested in the ways game-like learning, or game-like thinking, or gamified system design can improve composition learning – more recently composition learning and transfer. I want students to succeed in composition courses, but I want them to have a stronger understanding of the writing practices they develop and how to access and apply those in various writing situations (both disciplinary and work related). This is a real public conversation – there is a real need for effective writers and effective writing.

I would like to put that in conversation with current calls for change to education that focus on on-demand, or on-time learning. This pushes away from traditional college models with their liberal arts educations – some of the thinking is there is no need for breadth of education when MOOCs and other public/private credentialing services can provide on-demand or on-time learning that significantly benefits the learner and may have immediate affect on their job (then the US economy, etc.).

This is exactly where public humanities discussions are 100% necessary. Sure, an employee could complete a C++ MOOC, then obtain the necessary credentials to advance in their position, or to obtain a new better job. On-demand learning could be more ‘valuable’ as it’s not just a hoop toward a bachelor’s degree, but a course that has immediate application in a learner’s life. I truly understand the theory – I also see how games thinking (and mindset and design, etc.) have demonstrated the importance of this approach to learning for ‘good’ learning (see any number of publications by Gee or Gee and Hayes for discussions of ‘good’ learning).

BUT, and this is where the humanities need to have public conversation about the purposes, functions and goals of liberal arts education, where do students learn critical thinking? Where do students learn to value critical thinking and critical engagement? Where do students learn to write?

I worked as a functional technologist while earning my doctorate. Most of my job was testing systems that had been designed by programers to meet the needs of administrators, faculty and students. My job boiled down to working really hard to THINK of ways to break systems because not all learners progress through systems in the ‘right’ way nor in expected ways. These systems needed to be intuitive as most students would access them once, so a low learning curve was necessary. This approach to thinking was a result of my humanities experience. I cared about the Human experience with these technology systems so they could use them to achieve their goals. I wrote documents to train faculty, staff, administrators and students. I presented workshops to aid staff users, to aid faculty users, to aid administrators, paying special attention to how we designed each unique workflow. These workflows may have been programmed by the programmers (who could have learned from C++ MOOCs) – but they wouldn’t have had a job unless my job existed. In fact, several of my coworkers now fill the role I once filled because the job has become more necessary. This on-demand learning may prepare students will skills and theories related to a topic – but it’s the Humanities classes that teach the critical thinking and critical engagement and writing necessary to support the job in the real workforce.

What i’m struggling with is how to engage a public with these types of questions. I’ve worked in the workforce, I have any number of real work experiences to support this discussion, but what actually appeals to ‘the public’. The current change over of power and the slow dying of neoliberalism both demonstrate that numbers and facts don’t effectively support intellectual public discussions (even the sciences are failing here….global warming). So while I attempt to have public conversations about the value of humanities education I’m in an uncomfortable position of not understanding my rhetorical situation. How do I effectively support my argument that humanities and composition critical thinking and critical engagement can lead to thinking that will allow a student to advance to CEO of a company? To solve unique problems that haven’t been imagined yet? The skill they learn is thinking – what employer would hire a student who listed critical thinking as a skill on their resume.

Can I just add an aside here that there is amazing value to adding critical thinking as a skill to a resume. Fellow humanists – let’s make this happen. Then when asked about it (and some of this is design and gaming thinking) we can discuss how our approach to critical thinking puts the human at the center of the discussion, then attempts to address problems from there. Our humanities is showing, and our value to the company should be obvious – long time workers, stability.

So, to answer the call for public conversation about humanities, here I am, writing about the value of thinking. I feel like my freshmen as i’m writing within a rhetorical situation I don’t understand (but at least I recognize my misunderstanding) so my argument flow lacks cohesion. My audience is unsure if they should be reading. My support is real world experience, the often cringed at example. With a public in flux, traditional data no longer effective, how do we expect humanists to engage in public intellectualism. If we flood the discussion chains with our conversations, each more exploratory than the other in an attempt to find an effective style will anyone continue reading?

 

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Video Lectures in Courses

When I was teaching at NAU in an online graduate degree program, I found that short video lectures for my courses helped students engage with the material. As an instructor of introductory theory courses (aka too much reading, too much new information, too valuable to the entire degree, too many brand new students) I found these videos became longer, and also provided ways for students to determine how to read for graduate school (specifically how to read for a rhetoric program). Creating videos can be time consuming, so I was slow to develop these videos, then ended up developing videos for specific semesters.

Today I read a blog on 6 ways to develop videos for longevity (found here at Faculty Focus). I appreciate that the author mentioned having made these mistakes previously as I’ve made them numerous times!!!  I list due dates in videos, I refer to other videos, I refer to pop culture. Oh my…..If you’re interested in my mistakes you can find them here.

As I work through finalizing my Spring 2017 curriculum I’m teaching a hybrid composition course and I’m continuing to focus class time on a flipped classroom approach – no lectures more hands on group assignments. But, I want to fulfill the expectations of students and departments for an advanced composition course – what non-compositionists call ‘grammar’. After spending a week at Camp IDEA (the Center for Academic Excellence week long technology and pedagogy ‘camp’), I’m finding that the video approaches matter – but integration into the course shell is so much more important.

In my new curriculum I’m trying out mini-lessons. These approaches to learning are common in most courses – let’s quickly review X before we move on to Y is a great example in a f2f course. Here are the questions I’m working through:

  • Why should a student watch the video?
  • What should a student do with the information?
  • How should a student integrate these ideas into your course?
  • How do these ideas relate to your course goals, activities, assignments?

As I work through these questions I’m looking for ways to integrate these ideas and make the material meaningful to the course (without lecturing!). My goal is to highlight composition concepts with importance to disciplinary writing, AND relevance within the course (not just points and quizzes). I’ve scheduled the mini-lessons based on their relevance to larger course projects to scaffold relevance.

So, after reading the what not to do in videos (again, really important) I’m also tying those ideas into how to integrate these videos so the students find them meaningful and learn more! It can’t be just about using good video, good video practices, I also want to focus on where the video lives in the course map so I can try to understand how and when students learn. When disciplinary faculty ask “what exactly do you teach because my students can’t write” I want to have better answers!

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#villeonebook and data

Ansari, Aziz. Modern Romance. Penguin, 2015.

One of the One Campus Read selections for 2017-2018 Academic Year is Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. While this book was not one of my assigned reads for the committee I read it anyway (i’ve been wanting to read it, so now I had a reason!).

As I read this selection – my second for this committee – I really considered what I should be looking for as I read these books. Since this particular book is data heavy, and data supported

  1. A book that is easily accessible by freshmen
  2. A book that is applicable to various classrooms across disciplines
  3. A book that has longevity (and may be used across AYs)
  4. A book that lends itself to engaging activities at orientation and beyond

This seems like a good list of criteria – with lots of open space for types of books to score high in each category. So my first read, Every Day meets so much of this criteria, but scores relatively low in #2. As a novel, cross disciplinary application is more limited since “literature” belongs in English and is ‘not applicable’ anywhere else (*eyeroll*).

#2 – Similarly, Modern Romance scores high in these categories for me too. The book approaches the idea of modern romance, dating apps, social media, and dating habits from sociology, psychology, and anthropology perspectives – using scientific methods (sciences!) and critical questioning (humanities). Additionally, the book includes discussion on dating in Tokyo, Paris, Buenos Aires and Doha providing a global perspective on dating that increases the cross disciplinary application of the material.

#3 – Modern Romance investigates a point in time – modern time. However, this ‘modern’ approach to dating doesn’t seem to be changing quickly. This book offers a perspective that can be revisited across Academic Years. Additionally, Ansari and his collaborator focus on heterosexual relationships meaning the questions, methodologies, approaches, and investigations could be used to investigate LGBTQ relationships. The potential for students to raise important questions beyond those posed in the book is vast.

#1 – I know I’ve presented these out of order, but this question is more of a struggle for Modern Romance. The book is well written, with Ansari’s brand of humor scattered throughout (although I was expecting more). The struggle I see for freshmen is the amount of data collected and presented in this book. Is a data heavy book as the One Campus Read good or bad? I’m not sure I know the answer to this question. Was some of the data difficult to wade through as a reader – yes. Was the data useful and important as a preview for what to expect in college – again, yes. Were the questions raised and the approaches used important for college readers to see the applicability of critical questioning and scientific method – again, yes (and huge kudos for Ansari on this one). This is where I can see cross disciplinary applications of this book AND where I can see students struggling.

So the solution, as I see it, strong reader guides to help students see the questions, the answers, and the applicability to college.

#4 – which brings me to application – how can we use this book. My mind goes to games, because I love games. Are there discussions of first dates that can be ways to encourage students to collectively write and analyze data – yes. Are there ways of designing reader guides that gamify the experience and allow space for reflective participation – yes. Are there semester long applications – yes.

As I’m reading my third book for the committe, SuperBetter, I’m trying to consider incoming freshmen. If we gamify a dating book, or gamify a gaming book, what will interest students more?

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Fall 2017 Grad Course

As we’re planning Fall 2017 courses (already!!!), here is the initial course description for a Grad class I’ll be teaching. We’re currently working on ways to ensure enrollment.

 

ENGL 671 Special Topics in Rhetoric: Participatory Culture and Social Media Studies

 

Participatory Culture and Social Media Studies introduces students to the theories, critical concepts and methods relating to Participatory Culture and Social Media. It offers a critical examination of the functions, use and embeddedness of social media. Through assignments and readings, this course offers a critical reflection on participatory culture within social media to enable students to develop effective social media communication strategies. By exploring participatory culture through social media, students will better understand how individual internet users develop strong relationships using text and images, and how participants within spaces develop complex literacies practices

 

This course uses social media throughout the term to explore the theories of participatory culture and social media. Students will conduct a semester long study of a group on social media to better understand the literacies practices within a group and how those literacies influence reading and writing practices.

 

 

Possible Readings:

danah boyd It’s Complicated

James Paul Gee What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy

De Kosnik Rogue Archives

Brown-Martin Learning {Re}Imagined

Eyman Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice

Arroyo and Kimoto Participatory Composition

Jenkins and Purushotma Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture

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Transfer and Social Media

Millersville is bringing Kara Taczak to campus for a discussion during our first Writing Summit event – a half day conference to discuss student writing with disciplinary faculty. While I’m still working on the details of the event (because I have problems with taking over conference events at institutions, obviously), I’ve also been reading up on the work published by our speaker and with transfer.

My primary goal with my transfer reading is social media related. I began using Twitter in grad classes at NAU to foster better discussion and engagement because many view social media tools as tools for communication – but I also cared very deeply about how graduate students experienced education and learning in these courses, how they intend to draw from these experiences and that learning in their future careers (while many are current or future educators, the program drew students with various career aspirations as well!).

I’ve designed and redesigned the twitter assignment in my course to correspond with and supplement reading notes.

Small tangent: I read a blog today that referenced King’s On Writing – specifically mentioning how King views writing as a daily task, and how important reading, a lot, is to writing. The goal is to read everything, every genre you possibly can. This is something I think students misunderstand about college – your professors don’t want you to just read the course materials (although they really really really need you to do that much) they want you to read everything else too! It will help strengthen your reading and writing.

The more I assign and use and engage with twitter, the more helpful I see it can be for reading notes, learning through reading and learning through writing. But, learning through reading and learning through writing need to be discussed and taught first. Up to this point, i’ve focused on digital rhetoric resources for theory support to my pedagogy. But as we began discussing possible guest speakers at the Millersville Writing Summit we focused on Writing Across the Curriculum speakers as most appropriate for a campus-wide audience, so I began reading more WAC theory.

Robertson, Liane, Taczak, Kara, and Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Notes toward A Theory of Prior Knowledge and Its Role in College Composers’ Transfer of Knowledge and Practice.” Composition Forum, vol 26, 2012. http://compositionforum.com/issue/26/prior-knowledge-transfer.php.

Robertson et al view transfer as a dynamic activity where students actively use prior knowledge as they complete writing tasks. Important to note is prior knowledge used and applied does not guarantee effective use of transfer practices by students. To address this idea, Robertson et al discuss models of transfer and prior knowledge, building a working model of how people learn and how writing and reading operate within that framework.

Importantly for me, Robertson et al discuss Applebee and Langer’s work on absence of prior knowledge, especially pointing out that high school experiences focused on high-stakes tests often prevent students from understanding writing as a way to construct knowledge. Writing to learn and writing as a mindset would be absent from high-stake test approaches to teaching writing.

Additionally, high school curriculums and these high-stakes tests focus heavily on literature. While literature analysis, and literature in general help students understand how writers reflect the human condition and struggle with culture, they don’t prepare students for non-fiction reading and writing prevalent in college classrooms.

Both of these absences of prior knowledge points struck me as especially relevant to discussions of social media in the classroom.

  1. how do the situations teens experience social media in outside the classroom shape their writing practices? What should that tell digital composition researchers about composing practices?
    1. I’m beginning to read It’s Complicated to understand boyd’s experiences with teens and social media as a beginning to unpacking my own assumptions
  2. While students currently engage with social media, and write through social media, most don’t consciously rhetorically situate their communication with every post made. What assumptions do digital composition researchers make about student familiarity with social media writing as a genre? In digital composition research we’re often looking to social media writing as rhetorically situated, which it is, but if there’s a lack of genre awareness knowledge – as in what genres are and how we write differently to various genres transfer may not be happening the way we expect.
    1. I think this is really interesting for understanding how my own assignment shape student understanding of writing and my expectations for how social media writing as a genre aids rhetorically situated writing transfer. I plan to go through existing literature to investigate this further.
    2. I also plan to ask my students – i’m still developing these tools for Spring courses

I’m excited to explore these new ways of exploring how social media engagement in composition courses can help students develop strong writing knowledge.

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Gilmore Girls and Freshmen Comp

***while this is a pedagogy blog, I warn you there are Gilmore Girls spoilers***

It is the point in the Fall semester where I’m both preparing students to complete the term, and hopefully take away good writing practices, while also developing syllabi for a new semester and therefore reflecting on my pedagogy from the current term. This is a unique struggle to the Fall semester as I have the summer to plan for a Fall semester, and Summer terms operate differently so they present their own unique challenges.

While reflecting on my approaches to teaching freshmen comp I also watched the revival of Gilmore Girls on Netflix – all 4 episodes over too short a period of time. By the start of Fall – the final episode – the foreshadowing of the infamous Four Final Words was strong. As the episode came to a close I really struggled with the disorganized chaos of this revival.

I should note that i’ve been rewatching the original series for a while now. it began with my students watching it Spring 2016, lengthy discussions on healthy relationships and all the ways Dean was an unhealthy relationship (sorry Dean but thanks for helping me broach difficult subjects with college students!). I continued, albeit rather slowly, through six of the seven seasons – so I was well prepared for Gilmore Girls, snappy dialogue, pop culture references galore, and fast-paced story telling. My reaction to the show as disorganized chaos had nothing to do with forgetting the show format.

Instead, I was confused. So, so confused. As I discussed the show on Facebook, and over text (hi Natalie!), I began to see patterns in the development of the Gilmore Girls revival and common problems I encounter with freshmen comp research essays. This post begins my discussion of the ways the writers (Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino and others) wrote the show like a freshmen comp essay.

One of the practices I try to help my students develop is working from a research question, to a working thesis, then searching for secondary sources. This helps focus research, which helps them develop connections between body paragraphs. Does this always work, of course not! But, the allure of less time researching often encourages students to at least try this approach, so tangential research is easy to spot before the rough draft!

The major problem with this approach is students don’t often consider the working thesis to be a work-in-progress.  They assume the thesis is written, they’ll account for changes in the conclusion paragraph. They also then try to write sticking to the original thesis and the goals it sets forth. While this helps with the overall focus of an essay, it doesn’t allow the thesis to develop to encounter the ideas discovered while writing (writing helps us learn!).

So, what does this have to do with Gilmore Girls? Those who have previously discussed this with me, or who have seen the episodes probably see where this is headed – the Gilmore Girl writers (again Sherman-Palladino and Palladino et al) ran into contract negotiation issues during the original airing and were not a part of season 7. At the time, Sherman-Palladino was very open about her vision for the ending of the series – while also being mysteriously vague, and the final four words quickly took on a life of their own as The Four Words. With the revival, Sherman-Palladino planned to reveal the four words, and end the series with them. This would fulfill her original intention for the show and answer so many fan questions – everyone should be happy.

Except, the working thesis as Thesis (I love how simple capitalizations help cement the importance of these concepts) allowed Sherman-Palladino et al to forget to consider it a work in progress.

***Reminder, spoilers coming***

In this way, Sherman-Palladino fell victim to the freshmen comp working thesis. Instead of adapting the words as the series writing developed, she worked backward, planning the series to end with The Four Words. In the revival almost 10 years have passed, meaning Rory’s character is in her 30’s instead of 20’s.

At 22, as the series ended, Rory turned down a marriage proposal to then-boyfriend Logan to follow her career dreams. Did this marriage ultimatum undermine the character development of Logan, YES. However, it allowed the series to end on a high note with Rory making grown-up decisions and owning her new life as a Grown Ass Woman (this requires capitalization, I promise, and Cindy and Dawn can back me up on this). If the series had instead ended with a turned down marriage proposal AND a pregnant Rory returning to Stars Hollow – the entire series would’ve been completely different (although the likelihood of a proposal from Logan may have been more slim given the parallels between Logan and Christopher).

With all these variables, how did Sherman-Palladino fall victim to freshmen comp? She approached the revival with the goal of ending the revival with The Four Words, she wrote her Thesis never her working thesis. In writing her Thesis Sherman-Palladino was able to ignore the character development of Season 7 which ended with Rory as a Grown Ass Woman, and instead focus on The Four Words and work backward.

I will update future posts using details from the show to explain the ways the show development did not begin with Rory as a Grown Ass Woman (Lorelai or Mrs. Gilmore either, but their development during the series was much more productive) – instead began with the need to end with a pregnancy announcement and found ways to hinder Rory’s adult growth so the ending would make sense. Forcing details to form a forgone conclusion will not help a writer craft a strong academic paper. Again, this treated the working thesis instead as a Thesis, leading to disorganized chaos in plot development. The supporting details of the show did not work together to develop the overall argument of The Four Words, and instead read like a poorly written freshmen comp essay. An essay authored by a student who used Google Scholar to find resources, selected the first 10 in the list (because 10 was required) and added them all to an essay because they related to the key words so they MUST work with the Thesis.

NOTE: I’m using Sherman-Palladino as the stand-in for the many writers, creators, producers, etc. that develop this show. Everyone forgot freshmen comp 🙂

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Discussions of Privilege

With the election results in, students seem more stressed this term than I’ve seen in previous terms (and I’ve taught through previous elections). As I’m grappling with helping Freshmen comp students see the relevance in a research essay for their academic careers and their future professional careers, I’m hearing junior writing students complain about long papers (because they’ll never write, ever after graduation *insert eye roll here*). I understand the mindset, as an undergrad who took as many writing courses as possible because I was told in elementary school i’d never excel at writing, I remember the funny looks when I mentioned how much writing I was completing. But I saw the value (and was promoted at work, finished a PhD because of that preparation). But…..this isn’t what students are living right now – so it’s no longer an effective approach.

As I was considering ways to help students through these last weeks of major projects, Frank Turner’s “We Shall Not Overcome” played on my Spotify list. Now usually I appreciate Frank Turner and his lyrical poetry, but I can’t deal with this song. And so, my tirade about privilege as I sift through ways of helping students understand writing to learn, while listening to a song by a writer who didn’t check his own privilege……..

I switched to Polar Bear Club’s “Our Ballads” where they wrote a song responding to a criticism that punk rock, and their band “alienates girls from boys.” While the alienation criticism has merit, I really appreciate PBC’s response. I feel it resonates with a lot of listeners:

“When I scream, it certainly isn’t for machismo.
Not intimidation or gender segregation
I just needed more from the words I sang but you can’t understand.”

Returning to Turner – my issue is the song is clearly written for men/male listeners, pushes heteronormativity, AND slut shames girls. All in less than 4 lines!

“The bands I like, they don’t sell too many records
And the girls I like, they don’t kiss too many boys
Books I read will never be best sellers, yeah
But come on, fellas, at least we made our choice, hey!”

I can appreciate the first line, the bands I like don’t sell many records either – I miss you Weakerthans! It’s the second and fourth line that reinforces accidental privilege in a way that is damaging. I’ll start with the fourth, it’s the easier line – pointing out your audience as nothing but fellas does “alienate girls from boys” (thanks PBC!). While this may not affect your record sales, when you discuss broken hearts, broken friendships, strong friendships, and memories how is the female portion of your audience supposed to understand the lyrics when you announce they are not your intended audience? In what ways are you damaging their emotional connection to your songs, or invalidating their emotions by singing to all the ‘fellas’ in the audience? You wonder why you wrote 16 songs and ended up alone (“Substitute”) – I think we’re starting to see the problem.

So the most problematic line telling all the fellas you only kiss girls who don’t kiss many boys creates a culture of slut shaming. Is it really your business how many boys the girl has kissed? Apparently it’s a dealbreaker for you. In what ways does this announce to the fellas listening to your song to similarly slut shame women for kissing (oh, but not women, never women, always girls. heaven forbid you treat women as equal by calling them women – P.S. here’s an article you NEED to read!) What you’ve done with these three lines is slut shame women, demoted them to just girls, and announced your audience as men only.

Yes, I understand this is one unfortunate song in a rather large catalog with many less problematic songs, and besides boycotting this song I won’t stop listening. So, why am I posting this rant……

A friend-of-a-friend on Facebook posted a response to the recent US election as a positive for good punk rock music. I agree but want punk to carefully consider their approach.

  1. There are many very good discussions of the whiteness of punk – let’s take this moment to address that! Create space and write songs that approach universalism in a different way (on a side note – this is an issue feminism has struggled with often and continues to struggle with so it won’t be easy!)
  2. There are issues with gender alienation. Stop the slut shaming!
  3. There are issues with heteronormativity. Celebrate all love!

I typically write about composition, teaching writing, technology and writing so I’ll bring my discussion back to these ideas and ideals. In justifying composition courses, Rhet/Comp instructors often discuss the ideas of writing to learn and learning through writing (a point i’m emphasizing in a forthcoming conference that was highlighted as a positive by a disciplinary faculty member, YAY!). A large part of this emphasis is critical thinking, and helping students engage with critical thinking. As citizens of democratic societies we need to continue to think critically and that may mean engaging in difficult discussions, critiquing aspects of our favorite singer/songwriters.  In this time of stress as holidays and finals make the semester difficult for my students I will continue to push their critical thinking in positive ways so they engage with this level of thought in all aspects of life. I will continue to stress the importance of rhetoric, composition and communication as foundational aspects of education for a healthy democracy. And I will listen to their random tangents (as I’ve clearly written mine), so they feel valued.

 

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