CATE Presentation–2/19/16

I presented at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) conference on Friday with two of my former grad students, Alberta (Albie) Miranda and Amanda Thomason. CATE is a great conference.  It is just big enough and the attendees are all enthusiastic about teaching and learning.

As the ERWC matures, we are beginning to emphasize module creation by individual teachers rather than a prescribed set of official modules.  My part of the session was designed to introduce participants to some of the concepts and tools used to create modules.  I distributed the following handouts:

The micro module is designed to demonstrate how an ERWC-style module works in a very short format in which it is easy to grasp the whole arc of the module.  Lydia Davis writes “stories” that may be only a few sentences long.  The prereading section offers quotations from reviews that give the participant some idea of what kind of stories they are about to encounter.  Before reading the stories, the participant is instructed to think about “relationships.”  After reading, the participant is giving Davis’s definition of a “story” and asked to reread to determine if indeed these short pieces really are stories.  These activities form the “Preparing,” “Understanding,” and  “Questioning” stages of the ERWC arc.  It is typical of ERWC modules to include activities that cause the student to read and reread the texts multiple times from different perspectives.

Students are then given a writing prompt, which initiates the “Responding” stage:

Write an essay in which you explore the problems of relationships as presented in these stories. Define the problems and the implied solutions, supporting your ideas with quotations from the stories and examples from your own experience.

The students then compose drafts, get feedback, and revise.  At the end they are asked, “Do you think that your essay about relationship problems might actually help someone who was having problems in a relationship? It might, if it is easy to read and understand.”

Amanda and Albie both wrote the initial versions of their modules as projects for my English 589 “Pedagogies of Reading” course.  Both are now writing instructors in our department.  Amanda says in the introduction to her module

This module, “Learning to Dream: Dreaming to Learn,” was created for use in first-year college composition classes during the end of the year (once students have already been exposed to the ERWC style module). It takes several weeks to complete. It was developed to introduce students to the topics of dreaming, lucid dreaming, dream interpretation, and whether or not dreams can be harnessed to improve learning. Students are introduced to several different types of texts of varying purposes, styles, and difficulty levels (including web pages, articles, and a research paper) that will allow them to develop and defend an opinion on whether or not dreams are useful – and if so, how. As the final writing assignment, students are asked to either write an argumentative essay or a personal narrative and interpretation of a dream. Depending on the class and teacher, the final paper can be modified to take a more academic or creative slant.

Albie describes her “Romeo and Juliet” module as follows:

This module was develop for use in a ninth grade English class. The module is designed to guide students through their first experience with the works of William Shakespeare. The module will also help students understand why drama must be read differently than poetry or prose; students will work with genre-specific strategies that they will then be able to apply to other dramatic texts. At the end of the project, students will compose a two-part essay: in the first part they will explore one of the major thematic concerns in the play; in the second, they will reflect on their development as readers of drama.

I would guess that there were about 35 people at the session.  I had 28 handouts, and I ran out.  Nearly all of the attendees had some experience with ERWC and I think the session was well-received.  Albie and Amanda gave very professional presentations, there were good questions, and I had fun.

The Arc Revised

The ERWC Steering Committee met on 10/16/15 at the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Among many issues that were discussed was the language of the ERWC Arc. There were two main points of contention:

  • Is “selecting” the right word for the stage of the process that is between reading and writing, what the ERWC template calls “Connecting Reading to Writing”?
  • Does the arc misrepresent what is a recursive and complex process as a linear, stage-driven one?

We had an extended conversation about the word “selecting.” This is a crucial turning point in the student’s relationship with the texts and many different things are going on. It is a Janus-like doorway that swings both ways, looking backward and forward. We tried many words–engaging, framing, connecting, taking a stance, aligning, joining the conversation, positioning (selecting is part of positioning), composing meaning through reading and composing meaning through writing, formulating, aligning, reconsidering, and answering. We considered for a moment adding a seventh term, but because one of our considerations is to create metcognitive terms that students can transfer to other situations, we decided that six terms is already a lot.

We finally decided on “responding.” It is general enough to contain the other processes, and it captures the backward and forward gaze of the moment. “Selecting” was too narrow. You can download a revised version of the “ERWC Arc” Handout.

Here is an image of what it looks like.  The .pdf version in the link above looks better.

RedARC

The second issue was about the linear nature of the model. Here we need to think about the purpose of the representation. Back in the early days of composing process research, a four-stage model–pre-writing, composing, revising, and proofreading–was proposed. Protocol analysis quickly determined that the actual writing process was recursive, that writers did not simply complete one stage and move on to the next. A difficulty in composing might send the writer back to some kind of pre-writing activity, and revising might lead to further composing. The four-stage model was abandoned as simplistic and naive. However, if I am talking to engineers about teaching writing, the four-stage model makes a lot of sense to them. If I then point out that in reality the process is more complex, they just nod. Of course it is. Everything is recursive.

The concept of the arc came out of teacher comments and observations that we did as part of our i3 study. Teachers were not finishing the modules. They were spending too much time on the reading and running out of time for the writing. We are not proposing the arc as an accurate cognitive model for designing research. It is more about the design of modules. As with any simplification, it has its limitations, but as a tool for delivering a quick understanding of ERWC practices, I think it works well.

The arc is also for students. It shows them that there is more to a writing assignment than reading a text and summarizing it. “Responding” encompasses the complex process of having a dialogue with a text and joining the conversation. I think it is a good choice.

ERWC Arc Handout

I think that the concept of the ERWC “Arc” is important to help teachers understand the fundamental pedagogical concepts of ERWC and to help students internalize the concepts so that they can transfer them to other rhetorical situations.  To promote this concept, I created a handout, which has been formatted and enhanced by my wife HeeJung.  Here is an image of it:

ERWC-Arc-Handout ImageThe handout illustrates the concepts of “Text to Text” and the progression of tasks built in to every ERWC module.   Download a .pdf version here: ERWC Arc Handout.

Kenneth Burke’s Pentad and Gatsby

As I was describing different approaches to Gatsby in the introductory part of the module I wrote a section called “People and Places” using the Burkean Pentad.  My goal was to introduce just enough Burke to be of use without confusing.  Apparently, I failed.  Several people told me that this was too confusing for 11th graders.  I thought I would post it here to see what others thought.

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In A Grammar of Motives critic Kenneth Burke describes a five-term system for analyzing the motivation of characters that he calls the “pentad.”

  • Act—What was done? “What took place in thought or deed?”
  • Scene—Where and when was it done? (Place, Context, Background, Situation)
  • Agent—Who did it? (What person or kind of person, what co-agents or counter-agents)
  • Agency—By what means or with what instruments was it done?
  • Purpose—Why was it done?

Burke combines these terms into what he calls “ratios.” We often think that when people do something, they do it either because of their inherent nature (agent-act) or because of their purpose (purpose-act). However, in this novel, where someone comes from, especially if they come from the east or the west, or if they come from a poor neighborhood or a rich one, makes a big difference in how other people see them. Burke would call this a scene-agent ratio. In this ratio, the “scene,” which can be a place, a culture, or a historical moment, forms the nature and character of the “agent,” the person who acts. It is also possible for the scene in which the act takes place to motivate the act. In this novel, the action moves from East Egg to West Egg, and from East Egg to New York, passing through “the Valley of Ashes.” In each place, different kinds of action occur. Burke would call this a scene-act ratio. The place motivates the kind of act.

As you read, note where characters come from and how people feel about them. For example, at one point, Tom Buchanan calls Gatsby “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” (130). That is the scene-agent ratio. For Tom, that is the ultimate insult. Also note what kinds of things people do in different locations and circumstances. For example, people behave differently in Gatsby’s party house than they do elsewhere. That is the scene-act ratio.

Literary Devices in Gatsby

As I write the module on The Great Gatsby, one of my concerns is how to deal with the issue of literary devices.  I don’t want the students to be intimidated by “hidden meanings.”  I don’t want them to go figure hunting as if they are bird watchers logging sightings of rare specimens.  However, I do want them to be able to interpret the novel, to appreciate the language, and not to be put off by Fitzgerald’s indirect ways.  My first move in this direction was the introduction for students which I posted earlier.

In the section below I am trying to explain how symbols, metaphors, similes, and irony work.  Many of the definitions I found on the web were too complex or confusing, even contradictory.  Others went too deep into semiotics or linguistics, attempting to describe cognitive processes or to create a host of types and sub-types.  I just want students to have a basic working understanding of figurative language so that they can read the novel with pleasure and understanding.  I want to empower them rather than intimidate them.

Please give feedback in the comments.

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Although reading literature is not like an Easter egg hunt in which the reader is looking for hidden meanings buried behind symbols and metaphors, such devices are part of the novel and do have meaning. For example, automobiles are common in this novel. At this time, the automobile is a fairly recent introduction into American culture. Traffic lights to control intersections were introduced around the time the novel was written. In the novel, automobiles are meticulously described. Characters drive them, buy them, sell them, repair them, crash them, and sometimes the wheels fall off. People are killed by them. Is the automobile a symbol of some aspect of American culture? Is steering a car a metaphor for a new kind of American life? It is up to you, the reader, to decide. Maybe a car is just a car. Maybe it is more. Symbols take on their meaning from context and from the evolving value that they have for the characters and the reader. It is never a simple matter of “Symbol X equals Meaning Y.”

Let’s say that the automobile is a symbol of American technological progress. What is implied if the wheels fall off? What is implied if the automobile kills someone?

Some definitions:

A symbol is something concrete (like the automobile) that represents or stands for an abstract idea (such as progress). Symbols are usually related to major themes in the work and may reoccur several times. The symbol does not necessarily resemble the symbolized idea or share any of its qualities. For example, the American flag is a symbol of the United States, but it does not look like the country. The stars on the flag may symbolize the individual states that are the current components of the union and the stripes may symbolize the original states that joined at the beginning, but the states are not like stars or stripes in any way.

A metaphor causes us to see one thing in terms of something else. On page 2, Nick Carraway talks about “the foul dust” that “floated in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams.” There are two metaphors here. First, the dust is not literally dust, but at this point we don’t know exactly what it is. We will find out what dreams Gatsby has and what the foul consequences are as we continue reading. Second, the dust floats in the “wake” of Gatsby’s dreams. As a boat travels through the water it creates a turbulent track behind it which is called the “wake.” So Gatsby’s dreams are being compared to a boat that leaves foul dust floating behind it. But wait a minute! “Wake” is also another word for funeral. Could that be what it means here? It seems unlikely because the word “floating” is associated with water, which triggers the association with a boat. Note that these are not “hidden meanings.” The metaphors are just part of the way that the sentence creates meaning.

A simile is a type of metaphor that uses “like” or “as” or other comparison words to connect the ideas. The most famous simile ever is probably by the poet, Robert Burns, who wrote, “My love is like a red, red rose,” comparing a woman to a flower. In The Great Gatsby, when Nick is criticizing Jordan’s driving he says, to the reader, not to Jordan, “I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires” (58). This statement compares his “interior rules” to the “brakes” on an automobile. Similes such as this are very common in fiction.

Irony is also common in this novel. The word “irony” comes from a Greek word that means to pretend. There are many types of irony, but in all types the surface meaning is different, often the opposite, of what is intended, creating a humorous effect. For example, if a person walking in pouring rain meets another person and says, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” that would be an ironic statement. Another common form of irony is understatement. Say a woman who is very afraid of spiders finds a spider in her sink, rolls up a magazine and in a panic hits the spider 20 times. Her roommate says, “Do you think that’s enough?” In Gatsby, irony often takes the form of exaggeration, such as when Nick arrives at Daisy’s house and she says, “I’m paralyzed with happiness” (8).

You will find many examples of these and other literary devices in the novel. Take note of these, discuss them with your classmates, and think about how they influence your reading of the novel.

Using Gatsby to Teach Inference

In Common Core under “Reading Literature” the first 11th/12th grade standard states:

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

The following activity asks students to determine whether specific statements about the novel are implied by the text, are true according to the text, are exaggerated, or are false. Then they share their charts with a partner and discuss their choices and their reasons for making them. This activity engages the students on several levels. It is a comprehension check, but most of the answers are debatable in or way or another. It requires students to interpret the text based on evidence and discuss or defend those interpretations with others.

In the example below, I provide only the statements for the first chapter. The completed module will have statements for each chapter.

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Reading: Annotating and Questioning the Text

Skim the following statements before you read the chapter (the numbers in parentheses refer to pages in the Scribner paperback edition of 2004). After reading, go back and put an X or a check mark in the box that you think best describes the truthfulness of the statement. Use the following criteria:

  • “Implied” means that the text does not specifically say that the statement is a fact, but it is a reasonable conclusion to make.
  • “True” means that in the world of the story, this statement is factual.
  • “Exaggerated” means that the statement has some truth in it, but it overstates the facts (hyperbole).
  • “False” means that in the world of the story, the statement is false.

After filling out the chart, share your answers with a partner. If you don’t agree on every statement, discuss your reasoning and your evidence for your answers.

The first six are done for you to demonstrate how it works. Number 1 is clear. Your answer to number 2 might depend on how you define “friends.” Nick and Tom know each other, but they are not close. They are more like acquaintances. Number 3 is “exaggerated” because although Daisy knows people in Chicago who miss her, it is not the whole city and those people are not “desolate.” Number 4 is clear. Daisy has a daughter, though we do not see her at this point. Number 5 is “exaggerated” because although Jordan may have been lying on the couch for several hours, she probably remembers her life before the couch. Number 6 is a difficult one. Tom has been reading a racist book and he tries to summarize the arguments in it, but doesn’t present much detail. The others don’t seem to value his analysis very much, so “implied” is a good answer. One could argue, however, that Tom is smarter than George Wilson.

GatsbyStatementMatrixChapt1

You may find that something that is implied at one point in the novel is confirmed as a fact, or proven false, later in the novel. This is part of the fun of reading a novel.

Reader Response Theories and How They Might Be Integrated in the ERWC Template

ERWC has always had the word “expository” in its name. Back in 2003, English Language Arts was still mostly about teaching literary texts, although the California English Language Arts standards required the teaching of multiple genres including expository texts. The role of the course was to provide teachers with a structured way to teach expository and persuasive texts, which we always defined broadly. ERWC allowed teachers to meet standards that were often left behind as they focused on literature, which was what they knew and loved.

However, ERWC has always contained literary texts. Now, as ERWC is offered on some campuses as a replacement for traditional senior English, and as ERWC expands into other grade levels, it is important to define the ERWC approach to literature. I think it is based on Reader Response theory.

Reader Response theory is naturally rhetorical because it allows authorial intention and reader affect back into the game after being sent to the penalty box for many decades by the New Criticism, under the guise of the “Intentional Fallacy” and the “Affective Fallacy.” I think that “Guided Reader Response” (my term for it) is the ERWC way. But I don’t think that this is actually something new for ERWC. It is just a different way of thinking about what we have always done. ERWC has always been interested in how authors achieve their aims and how students think and feel about what they read.

The descriptions that follow are based on a summary of various versions of Reader Response theory in Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide by Lois Tyson (173-82). I have indicated where these activities inspired by Reader Response theory might fit in the ERWC Assignment Template.

1. Transactional Reader Response (Reading/Annotating and Questioning the Text)

This approach emphasizes determinate meaning versus indeterminate meaning, which could be rewritten as “facts” (in the universe of the story or in the mind of the narrator) versus “implications” or “inferences.” So we can ask students, “What are the facts? What are the implications? Have any previously noted “facts” become questionable as the story progresses? Have any implications resolved into facts? Following Wolfgang Iser, we can also ask about “gaps” in the text that the reader must imagine. Sometimes this is a matter of “scene” and “summary,” i.e. some action is described in full, some is simply summarized. Other action happens offstage and must be imagined. A good creative writing exercise is to take something that is summarized or offstage and ask students to write it as a scene.

2. Affective Stylistics (Reading/Analyzing Stylistic Choices)

This approach involves a slow motion, phrase by phrase analysis of how the text structures the reader’s experience. We can ask, “As the sentence unfolds in time, how does it affect you, the reader? What effects do the words, the sentence structure, and the punctuation have on you?” (This approach is somewhat phenomenological.)

3. Subjective Reader Response (This is based on David Bleich.)

Experience-Oriented Response (Postreading/ Summarizing and Responding)

Discuss your reactions to the text, describing how specific passages made you feel, think, or associate. What do you think of the characters, their behaviors, characteristics and actions? How do specific word choices make you feel?

Response-Analysis Statement (Postreading/Reflecting on Your Reading Process)

Look at your “Experience-Oriented Response.” What was your response to the text as a whole? Did the text engage you? Why or why not? Did you enjoy the text, or did it make you uncomfortable or disappointed? What emotions did you experience while reading it, and why?

Teaching Literary Texts

I have been working on writing a module based on The Great Gatsby.  I started out thinking that I would take a fresh approach that would avoid standard literary criticism altogether.  I wanted to ignore standard themes such as the “American Dream” and avoid looking at well-worn symbols such as the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and the enormous eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg.  However, when I re-read the novel I found that my original plan was impossible.  The elements that teachers have been pointing to for several generations are just too prominent, and too much a part of Fitzgerald’s design, to ignore.

I decided to take a multi-pronged approach that ran on several tracks at once, including the standard themes but also including some new perspectives.  My critical approach might be called “Guided Reader Response.”  As is typical in ERWC, the emphasis is on what authors are trying to do and how their decisions affect the reader.

First, I felt I had to neutralize some of the assumptions that students often have about reading literature.  I also wanted to argue against the use of “notes” publications such as SparkNotes and Cliff’s Notes.  What follows is a draft of an introduction to the module for students.

Note: I have updated this introduction based on feedback from teachers at the latest meeting of the Module Writing Institute.  I moved the last paragraph of the original draft to the beginning and reordered the other paragraphs.  I added a new conclusion.  Thanks to those who gave me feedback! 

Further note: I have revised this again to soften the polemical attacks I was making on figure hunting as an approach to literature and on the use of “notes” publications.  I have also introduced the “arc” language–prepare, understand, question, use, write, and revise–for students to think about.

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Introduction

Novels are tools for thinking about life in new ways. Characters face problems, make decisions, commit errors, deal with relationships, succeed or fail. Fictional worlds tend to be more focused and selective than the real one, so it is easier to see what the issues are and how to think about them. However, novels, even fantasy and science fiction novels, are ultimately about our own lives and what we make of them. Reading a novel allows the reader to experience someone else’s life, think someone else’s thoughts, and compare those fictional lives and thoughts with his or her own. Thus, reading literature is not just about extracting some meaning left behind by the author. It is ultimately about making meaning in your own life.

People often think that authors who write literature take big ideas and encrypt them in symbols, metaphors and other literary devices to hide them from casual readers. From this perspective, the reader’s job is to find and interpret the literary devices, decode them, and extract the correct meaning. It is true that literary language often includes symbols and metaphors. It is also true that when authors write they have meanings in mind and intentions for the reader. However, literary texts often have meanings beyond what the author intended, and every reader has a different emotional and intellectual experience. Literary devices are only a part of that experience.

This learning module is designed to help you read The Great Gatsby from a number of different perspectives. As you do the activities, you will go through a series of steps: preparing, understanding, questioning, using, writing, and revising. We call this the “arc” of the module. “Preparing” refers to thinking you do before you start reading—thinking about the title, reading the cover, skimming some pages, making connections to your own experiences. Then you read for understanding, making sense of the text. After you understand the text, you begin questioning it, looking for contradictions, unsupported claims, and faulty arguments. At that point, you begin to think about selecting words and ideas from the text to support your own claims and arguments. All of these processes are the basis for writing about the text. You will create a thesis, then explain and defend it using material from the novel. Once you have a draft of your essay, you will get feedback from peers and from your teacher so that you can begin revising your work, taking the feedback and your audience into account.

This sequence of preparing, understanding, questioning, selecting, writing, and revising can be used with any reading and writing project, in any discipline, at any level. It will serve you well in college.

We recommend that you avoid using any of the popular “notes” publications when working through this module. A good novelist or short story writer causes the reader to ask questions, then delays answering those questions (or answers the questions in ways that generate more questions) in order to keep the reader engaged and reading. The “notes” products answer all the questions you might have, short-circuiting engagement with the story and preventing you from having a real experience of the novel in the way the author intended. You will know many things about the novel, but you will not have read it, experienced it, or enjoyed it. If you think novels are boring, it might be because you are reading these published “notes,” which tend to drain the life out of the experience.

The Great Gatsby is one of the most widely-read and interpreted novels in American literature. Critics are still coming up with new interpretations of it. Lois Tyson, in a popular introduction to literary theory called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, offers 14 different interpretations of Gatsby from 14 different critical perspectives. We will explore some of these perspectives in this module. There is no single correct interpretation. However, this does not mean that all interpretations are equally good. Good readings are rooted in evidence from the actual text. Good readings are also persuasive to readers other than the critic who wrote the interpretation.

This module is designed to help you engage with the novel, experience the lives of its characters, think about the issues it raises, and make connections to your own life. You will create your own interpretations, based on the text, and share them with your fellow students and your teacher. Reading the novel is only part of the experience. Writing and discussing the ideas, trying to persuade others to interpret it the way you do, and experiencing the way your ideas change as you discuss them with others, are all important parts of the experience of reading literature.

From ERWC Template to the ERWC Arc

The ERWC team is working on a new i3 grant proposal and Nancy Brynelson is the main writer.  In drafting that proposal she took an outline of the Assignment Template and the descriptors from the Bloom’s Taxonomy chart in the previous post and created the following chart:

NewTemplateArcChart

I tightened it up a bit and added some color.  This chart makes it easy to see the relationships between the main headings and subheadings in the Assignment Template and the six action verbs we are using to describe the ERWC “arc.”  The order has also been reversed to read top down rather than bottom up as Bloom’s Taxonomy is usually presented.

This chart could be very useful in introducing the core ideas of ERWC to administrators and other newcomers.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and The ERWC Arc

In the previous post, I discussed creating a list of easily-remembered words that could help facilitate the transfer of the stages of the ERWC arc to other texts and rhetorical situations that the student might encounter in the future.  As part of another discussion, I found a link to an excellent blog post on the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  It occurred to me to try mapping the ERWC terms onto the taxonomy.  The chart below is the result.

BloomTax-ERWC-scrn-1
Bloom’s Taxonomy Compared to the ERWC Arc

The congruences and gaps are interesting.  Although the “Apply” cell in the chart is blank for ERWC, I would say that ERWC modules generally provide a lot of activities that allow students to apply concepts and language from the texts before they begin to question them.  Application permeates an ERWC module and happens in every stage.  ERWC also includes revision, which is not part of Bloom’s Taxonomy, at least in this expression of it.  Bloom’s Taxonomy was often applied in designing individual activities in modules, but it is interesting that it also applies at this sort of macro level.