A Reflection of Semester one, MATW:
where I have been and where I am going...
By Sarah Spears
For Dr. Stacey's English 600 Class, Fall 2007
Contrary to most students in the MATW program, this is my first experience in an English department. That being said, I have found many of the ideas tossed around in class beyond my scope of knowledge. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I walk down the halls of Founders smiling glibly at the passers-by. I have a purpose and that purpose involves teaching. It wasn’t always my goal in life, being a teacher. But after four years spent in a Journalism department, writing wasn’t as important, or as fulfilling, as teaching. Five years in public junior high schools and still in love with my job, I opted to pursue my MA in preparation to teach at the junior college level. Yes, I am following in my father’s footsteps, and it is no accident. I saw first hand, sitting in a desk beside his students, what it meant to be a teacher and the sheer joy that comes out of the experience.
Those that live in Hunter's Point and Richmond are not the ones that created the environment around them, yet it is affecting their every day life. In an article called "A Shot in the Arm for African Ecocriticism, Evan Mwangi says, "In the West, eco-criticism focuses mainly on the 19th century literature which celebrated nature and wildness. In Africa, it would be more energetic because most of the literature has a rural setting or a degenerate urban background that expresses a longing for the lost rural peace." Are those living in neighborhoods damaged by the onslaught of industry and pollution desperately longing for "rural peace?" Like Mike said, in the west, we are more concerned with "nature" and "wilderness" and trekking into the wilderness to do our part to save something we value.
The notion of our ideas coming from others brings me to the next addition to my website, my essay for 611. Struggling almost to the point of rebellion, I finally began to see some significance in the theorists Lev Vygotsky and Mikhail Bakhtin. Never having been introduced to them, or any other theorists for that matter, I found the learning curve quite steep. I chose to write my paper about feminist pedagogy, Vygotsky, and Paulo Freire. I believe there is a lot of truth to Vygotsky's ideas about the social nature of language. There is also a lot of truth behind increasing a student's intellectual development in a Zone of Proximal Development. His ideas compliment those attributed to feminist pedagogy. Being my first seminar paper ever, I fought over the direction in which to take. But like our writing in this class, it has been a learning experience. And I can honestly say that as the semester progressed, I began to see direct connections between all of my coursework. I find this significant. If we are being groomed to teach composition, all of our classes should overlap in one way or another. For instance, we discussed topics in my 611 essay in my Education 583 class. And we’ve discussed these same theorists in 600. I was even able to use what little I’ve learned about feminism in my Pope entry about what suggestions we could give him on his Feminism section. I believe if we are to be successful, we must take all that we are learning and fit it together somehow in an effort to form our own overarching philosophy about teaching writing.
At the same time, I agree with Jimmy in that we, as graduate students, do not feel confident enough in the subject areas in which we are writing to be as assertive as others who have been ‘part of the conversation’ for years. We have yet to make a name for ourselves and are therefore reliant more on expert opinions than our own. As Jon said, many of the concepts he read in Norton he took as fact and I think many of us do the same with all sorts of academic writing. We base our opinions on the author’s ability to persuade us, on how strong the argument is that they are making, on their name, and on the credibility of the source (i.e. Norton).
In this first year of study in the MATW program, I plan on becoming more confident in the area of writing and in the study of composition to a point where I feel I can productively add to the conversation.
I found Kenneth Bruffee's article more accessible and practical. I also very much agree with the idea of collaboration. For one, it follows the same thought process as feminist pedagogy, a topic I spent a lot of time researching and writing about for my 611 paper. In order for collaboration to work, there has to be a spreading out of knowledge. The teacher can no longer be seen as the only authority in the classroom because a collaborative model looks to each individual for knowledge. Speaking from a student’s perspective, working in groups is a lot of the time just as effective, if not more effective, than working by oneself or with the help of the teacher. Bruffee brings up a good point, one that connects directly back to Vygotsky and his Zone of Proximal Development.
The inference writing teachers should make from this line of reasoning is that our task must involve engaging students in conversation among themselves at as many points in both the writing and the reading process as possible, and that we should contrive to ensure that students’ conversation about what they read and write is similar in as many ways as possible to the way we would like them eventually to read and write. The way they talk with each other determines the way they will think and the way they will write. (Bruffee 89)
Obviously, the way we do this is to have our students work collaboratively. Vygotsky argues that people learn best in what’s termed a Zone of Proximal Development. Students are able to learn from other more capable peers thereby increasing their own intelligence. If language is social, so is learning, and so is writing. There is no reason to separate education from our social reality. By making classrooms social and collaborative, we are giving our students the opportunity to learn in as natural an environment as possible.
“Master your instrument, Master the music, and then forget all that *!xy!@ and just play.”