Grading Midterms, NOT

I come to the office on a Sunday evening to get a jump on grading midterms – or that’s what I tell myself. Instead, I think about technology and teaching, next year’s students. This year’s students have acquitted themselves honorably. I no longer worry about turning my back on the world if it were to be turned over to them tomorrow. I don’t know exactly what it is but there is always such a moment in each semester, earlier and earlier these days, in which I am confident my work is done.

In Basic Writing / Preparatory Composition classes, that moment comes one student at a time. In recent years, it was always the moment in which, reading their weekly Freewriting Analysis, I would arrive at their answer to Question #4: What do I need to make the changes I intend to make? In one way or another, each fledged student would avow, I have everything I need [to address the challenges writing places in front of me]. This year, thanks in no small measure to edmodo, that moment came just after Week 1, after the third time I sang their praises for having 100% submission rate on their first assignment. We are entering Week 5 of an eight-week semester and I am in the office to read their midterm essays. They look MAhvelous!

All but one student provided evidence of a writing process. All students wrote at or above 300 words after reading a thousand-word article including opposing views of The War on Drugs in less than one hour. We will see what tomorrow brings. Tonight, I allowed myself to continue the quest for electronic delivery and universal platform access to course resources and reading materials. I have read reviews comparing the Google Nexus 7 tablet, Kindle Fire, iPad and Nook. I’ve checked out the iPad, Samsung Galaxy 10-inch for ease of use with edmodo and Angel – though we’ll be using Canvas’ learning management system in the near future. I downloaded the free Nook reading &  Nook-Study apps to phone and desktop, a sample of their mobile study guide for Composition and Rhetoric and purchased American Copia for consideration for Fall’s section of the Migrant Lit course so I can test drive the software, portability and annotating capabilities. I’m trying to organize my life and my work around reading more and writing for publication. I am hopeful that technology will improve my chances of acting on such intentions. I want to make my desires inescapable. I believe it is, after all, up to us to walk the words Liz Brown of HarrisBrown Gallery in Boston once shared with me during an interview.

Art makes the struggle possible.

In this case, technology may just be the art that makes my struggle possible.

Today, in Preparatory Composition…

The person serving as Perpetrator, whose task it is to select the opening freewriting topic and lead discussion afterward asked: What’s the best way to get help in edmodo? The person serving as Bystander set her phone for 10 minutes and we began. I wrote the following with a mind toward interrupting lemming-like behavior in evidence on the Introductions Discussion Board where not a single post made the distinction between listing responses to each question in the Is eLearning Right For Me survey and reporting their score on the survey as requested.

The best way to get help on edmodo is to ask a question. To ask a question, one must know what they don’t know. To know what you don’t know requires humility, engagement, care, and being awake in the world. To be any of these things means that we have, against all odds, managed to maintain and inhabit a corner of freedom in our minds despite all the hostile attacks of the media and capitalist society run amok.

To be awake in the world means to have broken free of the Matrix, to have liberated one’s self by thoughtful, disciplined, consistent, pro-social action. When one is awake in the world, one takes responsibility for the challenges reality places before us and does whatever makes sense. To know what makes sense, however, requires collaboration and a flexibility and resourceful resilience that many possess yet few call upon.

We have all suffered great, unspeakable losses, but having that in common should not require us to keep silence. We need to learn to grieve the losses and move on the better to celebrate what life remains. The life of our families, communities, generations depends on our relationships to ourselves, our Source and Origin, and one another. How does one maintain and cultivate such connections when media is pulling our attention toward things that matter less, away from things that matter most?

Edmodo is a microcosm of society. To flourish in either context requires self-directed learning and a persistence we have all mastered but that yet remains to be transferred. It is one thing to come to class and be marked present. It is another to be accounted for with actions that contribute to the whole and bring your goal a little closer than it was the day / class / moment before. We have all been conditioned to see differences. What if instead, we decided to see similarities and built on those?

I did get to ask students to consider thinking for themselves about instructions given before submitting any and each assignment, and several teachable moments opened up to discuss the format of the Freewriting Analysis that was submitted, the affective and unspoken curriculum that includes 21st century skills, but the Syllabus Quiz that they were eager to take at the beginning of class was given short shrift and so I will have to provide another opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery and discover where opportunities for growth yet remain.

Writing as Liberatory Practice

Recently, the best teacher/mentor/friend of my life inspired me to think about inner and outer forms of writing. When I attempted to respond with my thoughts related to teaching on the subject, I was asked to rewrite and resend. Below is that effort.

I agree that wonder and transcendence of self are part of the surrender process that is writing as discovery and ultimate [comm]unity. Further, that they are not readily accessible to most learners or teachers due to the conditioning we are exposed to daily and therefore require the disciplines of attention, intention and constancy.

I have come to understand that I must start with the common or familiar and that turns out to be pain in more than a majority of cases. Beginning with shared experience allows me to forecast the pain that accompanies our use of Freewriting-as-a-discipline.  When practiced as the concurrent, intentional movement through disbelief, fascination, boredom and resistance born of the learned helplessness of the conditioned existence misappropriated as the self, such writing practice is liberatory.

Presenting the terrain (inner landscapes) we will encounter in such a way, helps to diffuse the experience of it as pain. This process was very aptly framed in the Matrix as ‘seeing for the first time’ when the main character ‘awakened’ outside of the reality pulled over his eyes as a newly recruited member of the revolutionaries.

At the same time, I believe our appreciation of form is inherent. And, with enough writing practice (hard work/anguish) to destabilize the habits of mind and being we have grown accustomed to, we can escape, and replace the models of teaching and learning that require parroting and herd mentality with envisioning what wants to emerge from a primordially shared and ever-present stillness. This process, known as Presencing by Peter Senge et al. is always as encouraging as it is instructive.

Wrong And Possibly Dangerous

As I read the words of today’s blog title, taken from Julia Cameron’s discourse on the Basic Tools (to recover one’s artist), I knew they should be on a tee shirt, if not appear in the form of an embroidered motto on every piece of my wardrobe – like L & S for LaVerne and Shirley, only longer.

It sums up nearly perfectly the predominating feeling of most of my pre-Las Vegas existence. If not the feeling, at least it captures my sense of how most other people viewed me. Curious, eh? Access to these recesses has been made possible by the teaching of migrant literature, marriage to an even more unassimilated alien, and the freedom that comes of being born again. But I digress.

The intention was to write about the first meeting of Preparatory Composition, how well it went with so few in attendance and with me attempting less, accomplishing more. Our best guess is that students read the sign on the door posted about a colleague’s absence and decide it was me. It was wonderful having so few students. It almost felt as if I could actually think about and reach for each one personally. Imagine if that were the reality. What would Parker Palmer say? What would the findings of the Remedial English committee be then! If I were not so tired after my return to aquacize after a two-week absence, I’d continue this on the laptop. As it is, I’ll add this blog to my gratitude list and call it a night. Dinner’s about ready.