Mindfulness in the Classroom

Today marks the first day of my graduate seminar The Teacher as Writer. This week long course is designed to help graduate students, especially K-12 teachers, write. Because the course meets Monday through Friday of just one week, including guest speakers has been the order of the day for the course.

I began teaching composition at a community college. My early experiences were lunch time classes with first-time freshmen, who did not want to be in a writing course. They affected the bored student approach to a writing course – it’s a requirement so they must automatically hate it. My second year, due to a full-time job, I was able to change my teaching schedule and was given early morning classes. I taught the 7am, 8am, and 9am courses on campus. My student population was so radically different it has changed my entire approach to writing. These students were a mix of late registrants who were stuck with the time slot (a small population) and returning adult students who completed class before work. The adult students struggled more with their perceptions and [what I would now call (thanks WAW and TFT)] theories of writing.

These students influenced my approach to the first few course meetings – I began emphasizing [mis]perceptions of writing as an entry into learning about and how to write academic essays – learning to think and write critically about subjects. Before I had the language for it, I was working to help students develop agency in their approaches to writing.

During my first faculty position I moved toward teaching upper division/graduate courses focused on digital rhetoric, videogames and literacies, rhetoric and composition theory. While writing was a huge part of these courses, and discussed, the theme was the major content. These were English majors and English graduates who still struggled with writing, but didn’t need to be convinced in their theories and perceptions – instead they wanted language to explain their choices to their business major friends and various family who felt English major only led to barista jobs (shout out to my many many amazing former students who have rockin’ jobs in the tech industry, teaching, and various other fields). I still worked through theories of writing, but the focal point stopped being those theories because of the courses taught.

At my new institution I teach freshmen and junior level composition – courses that again require me to shift my focus to helping students work through their own perceptions and theories of writing (again this second idea is more fully flushed thanks to recent scholarship in WAW and TFT). To explore these concepts at the graduate level, i’ve designed the Teacher as Writer course through the theory of mindfulness. Today we spent time using post-it notes to develop our awareness of what we need to write – we posted Twitter gifs of what writing looks like to us – we meditated with a wonderful guest speaker.

As with most lessons, some of these experiences worked and some of them did not work for students. Our guest speaker emphasized on several occasions that there is no one right way to meditate. This applies to the teaching of mindfulness as well – since mindful awareness and the drawing of awareness to the present moment is a deeply personal experience, the curriculum designed experienced are bound to fail for some students. Today, each of them failed for a few students.

As the teacher I feel a personal connection to my content – I want students to learn, I want students to enjoy their learning experiences – I want students to consider future applications of their learning (in this case successfully writing when they want to and helping their students successfully write) – I want students to see the usefulness of mindfulness. So how do I both feel the personal connection to my curriculum (especially when it fails) and mindfully approach the curriculum knowing that students need to develop agency and ownership over the practices I’m exposing them to and develop their own understanding? How do I nonjudge reactions to my curricular design?

At this point the students are writing amazingly (yeah it’s day one, but some started early!!!). That’s the goal so I feel I need to not worry about the effectiveness of the techniques I provide to support writing if the end goal is met. But is this just mindfulness?

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