Students & Teachers & Developing Voices

The articles that we read for this section of class were very useful for me, in different ways.  Scott Stevens showed how students’ interactions have an important impact on individual growth as a writer, while Karen Kopelson discussed the way a teacher can impact a student’s approach to a topic. While reading both of these articles, I found myself thinking about voices – whether it’s helping students to develop their own or examining the way that I approach my classes, developing a voice is something that is very important and ought to be approach with intention and purpose.

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NOT how I want to approach teaching

Scott Stevens’ “Serious Work: Students Learning From Students,” although perhaps misleading in it’s title, was at least useful for me in that Stevens was able to articulate what I could not when reading Bartholomae. Stevens points out the paradoxical requirement that Bartholomae seems to uphold in “Inventing the University.” Bartholomae states that “writers take their place in a community through discourse before they are ever extended membership” (Stevens 319), but Stevens appropriately shows that this is a problematic statement, as it “offers an unreassuring logic of inevitability: successful writers become successful by making the moves successful writers make” (319). Combine this with the fact that the assertive behavior that is required to make these sorts of bold moves is typically viewed as only acceptable when coming from a man, Bartholomae’s argument begins to lose force.

I was unable to state this while reading Bartholomae, but something in his article did not sit well for me. I’m all for the “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality that is often required, but when it is stated in a way that might put students off from even attempting to write at all (as I stated in my previous post), this becomes a problem. We must all be free to write, knowing that with writing also comes failure. We must also be free to discover the sort of writer that we want to become, whether this takes a similar path to other writers or not. I think that is what is at the heart of Stevens’ article, as it discusses the ways that Iris and Sharon differed from the rest of the class (and all other problems I might have with this article aside), and the way that they were able to turn to each other and find a willing reader and collaborator. Even though their path to writing was different from that of their (mostly male) peers, they found their voice and their readership eventually.

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Sharon & Iris, upon finding in each other a kindred spirit

On the other side of the classroom is the other article we read: “Rhetoric on the Edge of Cunning: Or, the Performance of Neutrality (Re)Considered as a Composition Pedagogy for Student Resistance” by Karen Kopelson. Kopelson focuses here on the idea that the way a teacher looks or a movement she might represent will affect the way that students view her as well as the way they approach the class itself. Kopelson points out that a lot of student resistance in Comp classes comes from the fact that a teacher represents a certain political idea that the students do not believe have anything to do with Composition, and she recommends one way to break through to these students: perform neutrality.

By this she does NOT mean that the teacher is an entirely neutral force at the front of the classroom, but that the teacher takes the students’ expectations of her (whatever those may be), and behaves contrary to those expectations. This isn’t to say that the teacher allows chaos to reign in the classroom, and this isn’t to say that the teacher must go against any personal beliefs, but that it is a sound pedagogical practice for reaching the students who are resistant in this manner.

I really liked this idea, but I had difficulty imagining how I might approach this for myself, but maybe that’s because I’m having trouble imagining how much resistance I might receive from a class. I know that I don’t want to have to wear dresses/skirts everyday in order to look “professional” while my male counterparts can get away with button-up shirts and jeans; but I don’t know if students would react if I started to dress more “casually,” as I haven’t taught a class before, but I know I will soon find out.

Both of these articles gave me something to think about as I go forward, about my physical presence at the front of the classroom, my pedagogical strategies and their affect on student learning, and the way that the students interactions with each other can affect their growth as writers. I want to find a way to allow the differing voices Stevens experienced, while helping to show those who may feel silenced that they can speak up, and I think that Kopelson’s article has at least given me an awareness of how different pedagogies can affect various students, even if it might not be a particular strategy I will employ.

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3 thoughts on “Students & Teachers & Developing Voices

  1. This strong reading response does an excellent job of synthesizing ideas from our most recent readings as well as reconsidering an earlier text. Good work. Thinking through student expectations is indeed a never-ending task. How do you think “allowing differing voice” might be challenging in a composition classroom? What strategies from Bean or from your apprenticeship experience seem to you useful for reaching this goal?

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  2. I think that later in the semester, once I have an idea of how individual students might respond to things, arranging them into specific groups for certain discussions can definitely promote respectful but lively discussion. I think that the key to this is setting up the ground rules and expectations for discussions at the beginning of the semester, so that all students understand that this is a place of respect, and that differing opinions will not be bashed. Also very important for this is my reaction when/if a class does turn to the “dark side.” I will have to quickly step in and stop any disrespectful behavior quickly in order to reinforce the stated rules for classroom behavior.

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