I just finished an interesting piece by Laurence Musgrove, writing here
. He argues that students bring metaphors of reading with them to learning which, if intrusive, can engage in "self-defeating notions of reading" which, once identified, can be remediated. That is, like a triage nurse, the Freshman comp instructor (or reading instructor if you like) can diagnose faulty writing/reading philosophies by identifying the metaphors the students carry with them.
Examples of reading metaphors (answers to the question: "Reading is like…?") include:·
1. Reading is grafting, and the reader connects new text to another text read.·
2. Reading is dancing, and the reader follows the lead and steps of the text, including its rhythm, music, lyric, genre, and flow.·
3. Reading is sorting, and the reader puts knowledge and experience and dramatic elements of text into categories.
The comments section of the online article includes mainly positive remarks. But I have some questions about this whole approach.
While I have no problem with diagnosing "erroneous" metaphors for writing/reading (the lower the ACT scores, he argues, the more "realistic" their metaphors (concrete?) and the more oppositional (my word). That is, if a student isn't successful in academics (as measured by ACT score), then they will have less abstruse approaches and appreciation for reading. Duh.
Not to be too self-evident, but if a student has difficulties in succeeding in writing/reading, then she is not going to view that activity in a positive, abstract light. It is a pain in the ass, and the metaphors they use to describe that activity (itself ensconced in the very type of classroom activity—abstruse, tangential to the main topic, etc.—that they usually don't succeed in anyway) will reflect this antagonism.
I resist the notion of presenting students with better metaphors in the hopes that by better visualization they will be able to overcome their inherent resistance to the act. This smacks of egotism and "teacherly" approaches that are insulting and not effective.
Why, you may ask? To assume that a reading/writing student must engage the text (either another's or their own) in the same generalized manner (abstract metaphors are indicators of success, says Musgrove) does little more than say to the student: be just like me. It also degenerates into the "teacherly" activities that I deplored as a student (and don't think work as an instructor); namely, Fill-in-the-blank-pseudo-psychiatry.
- If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
- Your approach to reading is like…?
- Learning is like…?
Again, this may be good to gauge the starting point of a particular student, extrapolations to a larger pedagogical approach seems dubious at best. I am going to put serious stock into a student's response that reading is like a sponge? Like a dancing? Like sorting? Seems like I am finding what I, as an educated instructor, want to hear. It is self-validating and complimenting.
Finally, the students will be drawing from a shared pool for their metaphors. At best, they will overlap from what the students have shared from popular culture (reading is like a 50 Cent mash-up); at worst, they will give me, the instructor, what the think I will want to hear (reading is like grafting…one idea onto another…with nice, puffy, white clouds). It is, after all, the "successful" students who scored well on the ACT that produced the satisfying (to the instructor at least) metaphors.