Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Reading is like a red, red rose...

    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.
    And on…  

    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.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen


    Blogger Miranda said...

    I think that rather than helping students get better reading metaphors, students with poor experiences with reading need effective, concrete strategies in order to read more effectively. Most of the students I've worked with resent what you labeled "fill-in-the-blank-psuedo-psychiatry" and respnd far more positively to concrete suggestions on how to improve their reading experiences.

    This summer, the instructor I worked with had the students summarize each chapter of the text and then share those summaries in small groups. Most of them said that learning how to find the main point in a passage was the most difficult part of the assignment, which I think is a skill most instructors take for granted.

    As an aside, I found Pandora and wondered if you had been tinkering around there.

    Sunday, August 13, 2006  
    Blogger Piss Poor Prof said...

    Hi Miranda,

    I have not played with Pandora yet, although I have read about it. I haven't had that much needed free time.

    I agree with your take that students need specific, tangible skills. Anything else comes of as sophistry, which only adds to the idea/feeling that English professor are out of touch. I mean, come on, teaching reading and writing by coming to terms with one's proffered metaphor about it. Teach them to write a coherent paragraph or to find the main idea first.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006  
    Blogger Miranda said...

    My favorite English professor started the composition class with the following declaration, "Different instructors approach composition differently. My goal is for you to be able to master the kinds of writing you will need to do in real life." He focused on knowing how to paraphrase another person's position and respond to it, a problem-solution papers, and an explanatory essay. Included in the assigment was a short description of where a student might be able to use this style of writing.

    Anyway, I brought up Pandora because I know you are working on the diss and could use a little distraction here and there. Oh, and you don't have enough blogger hacks on the main page just yet. ;)

    Thursday, August 17, 2006  
    Blogger Ingrid said...

    How about connecting texts to the students' particular interests? I.e. teachiing works that reflect, challenge, or involve their passions. Wouldn't that be more effective than utilizing sappy and juvenile concepts to supposedly engage students? Students see right through academic bullshit. But then again, I got a 36 on the verbal portion without ever attaching abstract metaphors to reading.

    Saturday, August 19, 2006  
    Blogger Piss Poor Prof said...

    I would agree with you Ingrid. In my comp assignments, I have a general structure, to help guard against unoriginal work more than anything else, that I then allow them to construct around with their own topics and approach.

    I find these papers, from a purely technical point of view, much easier and nicer to grade. AND, they probably serve both the student and instructor better.

    Teacherly exercises hurt us all.

    Monday, August 21, 2006  

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