Tag Archives: literacy narrative

SuperComposition Person and Ed.

A few colleagues and I have begun creating cartoon characters to support and brand our composition program (they were adjuncts, now full-time employees–and two more coming on board soon).  We started with SuperComposition Person (SCP) and ninja sidekick editor, Ed.–no name, just Ed. which is short for editor.  Not sure Ed. ever speaks, but I really like him–takes down comma errors with grace, precision, and lighting speed.  SCP speaks–in fact, SCP is a writing professor by day, hero of composition all other times.

It all began when we decided we needed some unusual thing to do in a training–so we asked teachers to name a super power they’d like to have in the writing classroom. That was a fun discussion. The next day, a colleague and I cooked up the guts of SCP and Ed.; the week after, another colleague who happened to be an artist, created this first iteration (second image below). During a portfolio reading, we kicked it up a notch and got enthusiastic approval from colleagues in biology and history.

Eventually we added in a few more characters as time and talent allowed, pulling from resources as diverse as small children and parents related to this blogster, students, more teachers, friends, faculty, staff, local artists, high school students.

For our big celebration, AUM Writes!, on Oct. 20 this year, The National Day on Writing, we created buttons with some of the characters and got the help of our senior graphic artist on campus to create a t-shirt that we ran out of in record time.  Next year, we hope to have much more art work completed and put a Pantheon of Composition Heroes on a t-shirt to celebrate who we are and what we write (first image below).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m working on a short film to introduce more characters to our community–I might be able to get that handled in the next week or so. We want more artists involved because we can’t do all the drawing; we want more writers working on the back stories of heroes and villains already created; we want visionaries who will help us turn this into a graphic novel. So we need to talk about it and ask for involvement.

But until all that happens, I plunge forward in the very best super hero-like fashion I can to work on projects I believe are important. I have been inspired by this work with colleagues and students and family and friends to not let go of it, to not let it rest too long… Writing here makes me accountable for commitment, I think. If I say it here, can it get out of doing it? Nope.

AND I have also begun giving writing advice to anyone I think needs it, swooping in during meetings and trainings when colleagues from across the disciplines display frustration over why students can’t write: “TA-DA…’tis I, your writing colleague come to save the day.”  Normally, I don’t like to talk in public much in this way, but lately, no problem.  I’m all about broadcasting open educational resources and how one can employ such to teach and help students learn. At the very least, I explain with much patience and sincere love, you should visit Writing Spaces to see what’s there that might help you and your students talk about writing together as you sort through their experience, your expectations, desired outcomes, and as you both craft a writing experience that could end up doing several things: 1) help you assess student learning; 2) help students learn more about writing; 3) give students more experience writing with expert guidance. There it is. Use it.

I felt very heroic yesterday when I was able to tell sociology, political science, and theater professors: “Here, check this out. It’s for you and your students. It already belongs to you.”

Ninja, right? Sure felt like it.

AUM Writes! 2nd Annual National Day of Writing Celebration

AUM knows how to celebrate writing.

Isn’t this spectacular?  “Fighting writing crime… one sentence at a time” was a collaborative effort between myself and a colleague–the kind of seamless joy that happens when one of you says ___ and the next one says ____, and it becomes something that delights everyone and makes work not work at all.

Composition Cartoon Heroes

SuperComposition Person & Ed.

When we first saw this art, of course it was a pencil sketch, but it was very exciting for all of us–then our artist did THIS.  We’d done something tangible, visual, creative, and fun. To protect the guilty/innocent, I refrain from mentioning names here in this blog, besides my own, but there were many, many people who worked on this project because no one could do this (or writing program administration) alone (and have a day job–we all teach full-time and do everything else on top of that).  When I manage to write this into article form for some academic journal, so I can keep doing what I do, then I’ll list the minors, adults, and seniors who made this possible.

For now, and I’m okay with this, I’m brainstorming what’s possible in this live space, hoping the writing here that feels both private and public will help me articulate how WPAs should be envisioning writing programs as the best entrepreneurial enterprises, publicizing their work across K-12, sponsoring workshops on writing in the community, branding their programs; we need successful, and I mean wildly successful, models to look at and draw from, because we are creating products that matter more than any other: students who can think and can be productive citizens of the world.  And if we need cartoon characters to inspire and/or capture them and keep them enthralled, or even in thrall, then that’s my 5-year mission.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cartoons and Composing

Hold your fire, Cowboy, your finger’s on the trigger of the pistol of my heart…

Yes.  That’s what it says.  A friend and I used to play with words like this inventing the titles of country songs never written.  As I recall, this title was one I came up with when I lived in Idaho and was seriously into country music (I bought a one-ton pick-up, and it only had an AM/FM radio and only two push buttons that worked–both were fixed to country stations).  Prior to that life, I’d been living in Southern California with long brown, white, and pink hair, watching punk bands at Whiskey-a-Go-Go go up or down in flames, hanging out in and around Sunset with a dog named Arthur in my purse.

The point is not that I lived through all that (though I’m grateful I did).  The point is that long before I considered myself a writer, I’d been playing with words.  Lots of people do–but do we think of that as literacy that matters?  Does it matter when a group of people share an experience and create (spontaneously or otherwise) with a catch phrase that identifies them as part of a group?  Does it matter when we pick up words created by others and riff on that?  I could name a dozen funny things I’ve heard in movies (“I didn’t get a harrumph from that guy,” Blazing Saddles) and television (“You look mah-velous,” Saturday Night Live) that were also things my friends said to one another in appropriate circumstances, adapting as needed.  I may still tell people they look mah-velous.

Can this sort of literacy–a shared verbal tic that brings much amusement and confers identity–be the sort of thing that could be the subject of a literacy narrative?  I think so.  I’ve taught literacy narratives for a long time, and perhaps it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done as a teacher, pushing students to think about their relationship with writing.  I used to require students write about their writing lives… pretty narrowly focused on writing… in or out of school, but still about a writing experience (not reading, not online, not technological).  I have begun to ask students to think about different literacies, group literacies, new literacies made possible by the world as it exists now.

And since I remembered this song title–and feel connected to that friend and to that time (and a circle of friends from that period in my life)–I’m wondering if this sort of literacy narrative might be fun to write about in a comp class.  Surely, we all have some “playing with words” experience we can remember that helped us identify with a group, marked a rite of passage, determined a moment as special. Perhaps the words so define an event or occurrence that only those involved would understand the meaning.  I was a member of the Van Buren Drive-In Gang in high school.  What on earth did that mean?  It must have some meaning because it’s the one thing I remember including in my silly profile in my high school yearbook (I now wish I’d had more dignity as I’m sure I had very little then).

Who else has defined who they were with words created for a moment in time?  Everyone I know?  I wonder if students now do this in many incredible and different ways because of the social media they connect with and through.  I wonder.  If I tweeted or twittered, I’d ask.  I could ask on Facebook, but I think I’ll wait and ask my students first.

Perhaps as I’m considering what literacy means, or rather literacies, and what new literacies could be and are, I should expand the way I talk about word play in classes I teach, in assignments I give.

How do we value words that define us?  It may be that I have never valued words we create in this way… as a teacher.  It may be that I need to because I have valued these kinds of words in my life for as long as I can remember.

One of the reasons I am an advocate of open educational resources and open source is that being open is a new kind of literacy for me.  Open IS a new kind of literacy for anyone that is made possible by infinite connectivity.  Writing Spaces is a new kind of literacy for teachers and students in writing classes–not just for college but for pre-post-secondary education, too (K-12–why not?  I used to teach Tennyson to 2nd graders and John Trimbur to 6th graders).  If we continue to create writing that is shared with teachers and students via such a space, we are indeed creating new literacies… and we are playing with words… and we are writing the titles of songs yet to be written… and we are defining ourselves as part of a group (those who create and those who use WS)… and we become part of a group that is special because our reason for being isn’t about a forty-million dollar investment to corner the market on writing teachers writing for students but about making new literacies happen through content of the Writing Spaces volumes and through delivery.

Long live open.  Long live new literacies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing and Identity

Goosebumps and textbooks…

I do love my job. Almost all the time, but sometimes, I can say I LOVE my job. This last weekend, I LOVED my job. I spent a good amount of time around a lot of writing instructors who teach basic writing (one of the loves of my life that never seems to get old). Most were unhappy with textbooks in general. They did their own instructional thing with students, creating work that moved and transformed their students from struggling with sentences to composing essays. (This will come up again…)

We talked a lot about the future of textbook publishing and found that while we all loved books, we all believed to some extent, that the future would be full of e-books, many of them free and easily obtained by students on various e-devices from phones to readers to pads to _______. We also discussed the fact that we knew what worked with our students and it often wasn’t or couldn’t be put into one book.  If  we used a book, we never used all of it, and if we only used 30-60% of a $75 book, why were we using it again? Some of us are forced to use books by a program that dictates book use (I’m in one of those, and I’m the dictator–long story–won’t always be that, but it is now); some of us have to use books by certain publishers because that’s the campus system; some of us get to teach with our own materials. And there was not one among our group that wasn’t willing to give away every bit of their stuff.  Not one.

Point one: I would like to be textbook free. I’d love to have a handbook to teach from and with and some readings online that students could get and read anytime on anything. Oh wait. I already have that: Writing Spaces. But for such a move, I need to not be accountable for 40 other teachers and what they do. I need to know that everyone, no matter what they are doing, are moving toward common outcomes. I don’t know that yet. So I’m trying to staunch the flow of blood, congeal what we do, (and I say that deliberately though it sounds really raw) at the site of a wound left by the past. One day I want no textbooks and no handbooks. I want to be among student writers who can, like ninjas, move from their own text to many books and back, with me or without me, f2f or otherwise. And I’m not alone.

Point two: no teacher I’ve ever met, who really loves to teach, is selfish. A lot of scholars are, however, reluctant to share. There is a lot riding on tenure and promotion: all one’s life, it may seem (or may be). So making a model of how one can share and get T&P credit for it is important. Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, editors of Writing Spaces, are making this model all the way live. A peer-reviewed collection of essays on writing, on the practice of writing, on the theories of writing… wait for it… for students. Why did all these teachers create materials for their own students? Because it matters. Why does a book like Writing Spaces exist? Because it does the same thing–it matters. It has the potential to re-create everything about a writing class–just like an individual teacher can.

Point 3: Lucky me. I get to be a small part of this. It feeds the part of me that was desperate to skip college and join the Peace Corps. It feeds the part of me who was a basic writer in college with no hope of graduating because I never learned anything about writing in school (though I read a lot–that ultimately was my salvation–and the writing center at Boise State Univ.). It feeds the part of me who is now a writing program administrator who is also the only tenure-track comp/rhet professor and the department Victorianist and often spread thin like too little butter over a huge piece of toast (no need to raise your eyebrows, I know it’s a crazy job)–because I want writing to be the subject of the writing classes at my university, in the writing program I’m supposed to be directing. Writing is a worthy subject, not just writing to learn or learning to write, but learning about writing. THIS project fixes what was wrong for me: lack of access to materials about writing written by writing instructors for writing students… and free. (The Subject is Writing (4th ed.) by Wendy Bishop and James Strickland is nice, but it’s not free.)

Point 4: I take back the handbook thing. I want no heavy, thin-paged, over-tabbed, overpriced books of any kind in my classroom. I want writing happening all the time with access to texts as needed, however needed, when needed and in various forms: audio, video, plain ol’ unburnished text. I won’t ever be anti-physical-book because I’m in love with books, but teaching with them–not necessary.

Point 5: I’m well aware that my colleagues may only value my publishing as it appears in book form, in traditional academic journals, etc. But what I know is that I can work successfully in a range of fields and have. I have no fear. In fact, it was that which moved me back to the academy. I was told once that I was a change agent. I was being insulted, but I took it as a compliment (and a complement)–and hold that accusation dear to my heart. I may be of the 20th century, I may value work in archives and the recovery of history (and do that work with great joy), I may be a Victorianist, I may be a director of composition, I may teach a billion things and nothing at all, but I am also of the 21st century and embracing all the time all that can be. Perhaps it was Gene Roddenberry who turned me to the future or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein… maybe even the art of Chesley Bonestell. I’m not sure and don’t care because what I know is that being deep in the history of ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t invent a future different from our past. And if I need to, I’ll go back to publishing if I need food, clothing, and shelter because I’m an editor. Words will always matter in my lifetime. And I can play with them and make them shiny. The world needs me (and I know this will sound awful), the academy needs me, but I don’t have to need the academy (I mean, I need it desperately, in an emotional way–not financially). (More clarification, as if this will help: I want to teach, so that’s why I’m where I am–my friend, Maria, says I’m a ninja editor, and being such can suck unless you educate the next generation–in fact, I think you can lose your ninja card if you don’t teach.)

Point 6: The future must be free to everyone–all books all the time all to everyone (go Google Books and copyleftists everywhere now that I know you exist.) Remember public libraries–all books all the time all to everyone? This is the same thing, but easier. And writing teachers who share and give and give and create and give some more–they all know this. And that is exactly why I got goosebumps this weekend talking about the future of textbooks. The word “textbook” itself is terribly powerful to me and scary: not just book, but text, too, and that includes the connotation of megalomaniac control-freak massive textbook publishers taking over the world. A compound word that meant one thing in the last two centuries and yet can mean another thing now and as we move along to the 22nd century.

Point 7: Writing Spaces is a new kind of textbook–it’s an text-unbook. An un-textbook. It’s not the only open educational resource around, but it’s peer-reviewed and still free, and that may make the difference for those who work on it and publish in it. It’s also supported by a good press (Parlor Press)–a good press run by good people. Writing teachers can keep on creating and giving–but now they might get institutional credit for it. I’m emailing everyone I met this weekend with the link to WS. They’ll love it and be as surprised and pleased as I was when I was introduced to this project. I scoured the web site for the strings, the catch… no strings, no catch. This book already belongs to everyone.  Welcome to this century… maybe the next one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Open Everything, Open All the Time