Storytelling: Excerpts from the composition class By: Nidhi verma

MAPC 8850, 2017

Individualistic teaching style!!

We would have read and composed several articles on writing and composition in the past few months. Let us now reflect upon the understanding and learning from those articles. I must admit that while reading each of these articles, I was not only delving into the subject overall, but also thinking about how best some of the techniques can be applied in the composition class next semester. There are plenty of questions that need to be tackled as far as teaching freshman is concerned, like what is the right atmosphere for a class, how much flexibility is apt for students, grading, leniency, friendliness, dressings and mannerisms.

Since teaching is about individual it would be good to start with Lanham’s “The Q Question” which coaxes us to think, for example, whether to be a good teacher do you need to necessarily be of a good character? Or could perhaps the shades of grey in a character add some color to the teaching as well? To answer this question let us assess with an example. The scenario is of an outsourcing firm which hires a voice and accent trainer to train people in batches. The instructor is of high caliber, experienced at a young age and is paid handsomely. He is married and keeps mentioning his wife to his students every now and then. The class holds him in high regards and is all praises for him. However, he falls for one of the female students in the class and starts messaging her and professing his love to her out of nowhere. This turns out to be a one-sided love and makes the female student somewhat uncomfortable.

His teachings are still effective, helpful and clearly persuasive, this fact cannot be taken away from him. His behavior is unethical but the point is his character does not influence how good or bad his teachings are. Inadvertently, the instructor’s boldness is causing him a lot of good in terms of his job in that he can make the class perform some very interesting interpersonal activities while the class is still having fun. On the other hand, the same trait could be detrimental to his personal life.

This example steers towards the “Strong Defense” response in Lanham’s “The Q Question”. As here, the personal motive of the instructor does not make him a bad person, when his teachings are still effective.

My objective with this paper is to analyze some of the readings related to composition, teaching and writing, and highlight upon the different key points that I believe could be useful for us as teaching assistants in the near future. Arguments are best understood when explained with examples and hence it will be my endeavor to do that throughout this paper.

Next, was Berlin’s theory which evaluates more feasible approaches to teaching and a good foundation for teaching composition. He advocates Aristotle’s theory of persuading the audience with rational and emotional appeal.

First off, we must appreciate that each student has their own learning curve. It would be interesting to see what they come up with and where their thought process leads them. This will give us a fair idea of how their writing style is which can then be molded to their benefit and the ultimate success is when we can identify the talent where it exists and nurture it further for them.

Long time back I watched a movie where a syudent had dyslexia and how one of his teachers identifies that when nobody else including his parents could tell. And no one is to be blame here because it is not an easy, not everybody has the eyes or patience for it. The teacher identified even though the student was dyslexic he had a hidden talent and that was music. With the help of music, the teacher was able to reach out to him and slowly and gradually helped him out of his shortcoming.

I know when I was in middle school I use to be terrified of chemistry and each time a class test result was to be announced my heart would be pounding. I can vividly remember those times when my grades would not be as good as my peers and how humiliated I would feel because I wanted to perform well, but I just could not understand the subject as such. Has that made any difference in my life, the fact that I was so bad at that subject? No, certainly not but at that age you just feel differently and it is more the peer pressure and societal pressure that does you in.

However, the same cannot be said for writing as this is one thing everyone will feel the need to be good at, and at various points in our lives. Well it is something that we will most likely be doing on a regular basis no matter what kind of a profession we are in. And not enough can be said as to how a badly written letter, memo, draft etc can be end of the road whether is making a sales pitch, writing down engineering instructions, in administration, mostly in any and every field. If you cannot get your message across it will not get across.

As mentioned above each student has a different style of writing, some like to be verbose, others like to be more crisp and concise, some believe in writing casually and some more formally, some like using a lot of jargons, metaphors, while others prefer simpler more understandable English. All this is good, so far, the message gets across that is the key really. Your audience must be convinced with your writing and be able to buy your point.

I have come across several writings where the author seems confused and distraught, perhaps by virtue of being divided amongst different ideologies. A writing which advocates dwelling on your own observations may very well be more convincing and realistic.

Reflecting on Berthoff’s reading, in my own experience when I’ve tried to understand the concepts of a teaching, the entire picture is then clear in my head. In my opinion when you delve deeper into the concept or the crux of the paper, it helps you relate to things around you and you can even apply those principles outside the realms of your class. For example, when teaching freshman who still probably are at an impressionable age, as a lot of them are just out of their comfort zone and outside of their home towns perhaps, they might feel a bit lost initially. Interesting examples sure will set the scene for them. They are likely to feel more involved, enthused and motivated. Of course, the ethos does come into picture here, because if the person teaching the students does not appeal to them then none of the responses mentioned is happening from the student’s end. I wonder what it would take to for a person to work on their ethos or do they even need to work on their ethos?

I would think it must be a combination of both. You cannot just completely be yourself in front of your students, as they would expect a certain behavior from you. It’s a bit like how you are different in an office environment and at home. Or how you are so yourself with your friends but a bit cautious with your parents and relatives. I can remember a gentleman from my workplace who was such a tyrant at work and people around him were really scared of him but at home he was just the opposite. People would say he was henpecked and they had overheard his conversations with his wife and that it almost seemed like he was scared of her. I thought that was quite amusing. This may not be the best example but hopefully it gets the message across, that how sometimes you have to camouflage your real self and be on your guard just so students respect you and take you seriously. Students are very quick to catch any shortcoming and even if it looks like they are not noticing they are actually doing that all the time, because you are the only person standing in front of them and by virtue of that you have all their attention. They can sense if they’ve cornered you or angered you or humored you!!

So yes, the crux being students ought to be taught with more innovative ways lest they wear out.

I see we are beginning to do that in bits and pieces, as I see that though the curriculum remains the same, colleges have realized the importance of teaching by introducing new methods through the medium of digital media. Students tend to grasp through these mediums better. Reason being, with advent of new technology and more and more students taking to it from a very young age, they will learn facts faster if it is through a medium they connect with. Mediums like music and arts can also be tried, but it is only when as a Teaching Assistant (TA) you are convinced you can handle the class. It can be an unknown territory otherwise and there could be risks involved.

It is understandable what Sirc wrote in “Writing New Media”, where really one would be drawn on how much of digital media to bring in and how much of traditional simple teaching methods to retain. It is an imbroglio of thoughts and emotions. Which way to bend? He talks about painting as a medium and then the new media. Well, in today’s day and age both go hand in hand, but I do believe there is so much of over exposure to technology that if certain aspects are left untouched by technology it probably is not such a bad proposition, more so when it is composing and writing we are talking about.

But on the question whether teaching is still possible? That is a rather glum heading for an article. Teaching is not only possible, it is a requirement, it is what maintains the equilibrium and facilitates a degree of discipline which is of grave importance in shaping an individual’s personality. What they do with it cannot be controlled but what we do as teachers sure can be.

As Cornell desired, he wished for students to get their creativity out through their imagination.

I am an advocate of writing to be based on research, imagination and creativity. I tend to very often correlate my writing with my own experiences. In the process, I tend to reminisce and imagine the instances in my mind and it is this picture that I convert to text in my writing. For me the objective is to enjoy writing and make it enjoyable for the readers and not simply write long essays without any connect or interest. As a TA, I would strive for some relevance or essence in the writing of the students.

For students I would think, for someone who has not really explored writing and is in the initial stages, often writing about your own perception or subjects close to your heart serves as a good ice breaker. This is where the concept of expressive realism is applicable. To teach composition writing I would think it would really help germinate the interest if the students are asked to write on what they feel passionate about instead of on a common topic. A majority would at least feel motivated enough to pen their thoughts whether personal or rational. Although there are two schools of thought on this. If given a common topic, it would be easier for the teacher to draw a comparison and grade students based on who had a better style, language and information on the topic. On the other hand, it may not be fair as it would take away the opportunity for those who don’t have inherent writing skills but are looking to develop it through coaching and guidance. This brings me to the point that coaching is important, it helps shape your writing. To coach the teacher is required to judge and I know this from my own experience in the rhetoric class lass semester, how with constant feedback, my writing has improved exponentially. It brings about a certain discipline in the writing and thereafter it is up to the student where they take it from there. Nothing is more satisfying then the thought of students being able to improve their writing multifold through the composition writing class and taking a lot more than they bargained for in the process. That would be a truly cherished experience. To be able to allow students to unleash their minds and thoughts and write well consistently, would be a real feat.

However, as experienced in the composition class, writing about your opinion on articles and your own composition process also brings about a whole lot of creativity on the table.

But today, I feel challenged because I do not know how to really convert a piece of writing into a multimodal concept, as interesting as it may sound. This when I have had no trouble creating so many digital and graphical content in the recent past.

From that perspective, I believe teaching writing composition must be more about using paper and pen and probably a simple tool like MS Word, where you turn on the track changes and provide them with constructive thorough feedback. Other than that, maybe an internet connection to show them certain articles or videos relevant to the theme or to showcase some examples for better understanding.

I know of so many people who when given a digital medium do a wonderful job of the assignment and I have experienced that at work. But ask them to write a few lines and you see what that does to their digital content. Yes, you guessed it. It just takes the entire charm away or most of it at least. Reason being you are so distracted by something shoddily written that you cannot bring yourself to look beyond or go past it. Your eye lids keep dwindling on that written content. Digital content acts more as a cover up for a not so good writing and that seems unfair to a student who is good in writing but unable to present it digitally. For such students I recommend the old age pen and paper style. After all what we are trying to improve is the writing essentially. As for the technology, students have multiple means to pick on that in every other class, at home or outside.

Digital means is good to break the monotony and get the class animated by visual stuff and so for that purpose it is a good option. It is likely that in future the students will be using intense digital mediums to write stuff and so they might as well get familiar. This is exactly what I will be writing about later in the paper as to how digital rhetoric can be extremely useful and helpful.

And now for something completely different. Peggy McIntosh’s The Invisible Knapsack identifies the impact of white privilege. She intends to show that, at least in the US, the fight against racism cannot be carried out without the fight against white supremacy. This understandably puts this article as a very commonly cited read for school and college students. Commendable as that may seem, it is also a double-edged sword.

Pointing out the differences amongst themselves to growing minds is dangerous. Reading this article will ultimately cement the feeling of being privileged in whites while simultaneously intimidating the rest. Allowing such a sundering to go unbridled in academic circles is nothing but sheer neglect of empathy. Controlling the existence of white supremacy first requires that this incorrect notion not be made more evident and widespread. Making an entire generation read an article that details the contrast in life of one color to another will not go down well with a sizeable portion of the readers.

This article, thus, helped me understand what not to discuss in a class, especially to undergraduates, as empathy is more of a need than dearth of reservation and freedom of speech. I would not risk unwittingly putting down even a single student in the effort to make my class immune to sensitive content, at least not until they attain a certain level of maturity.

It is a common chord that the article From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces touches upon. In an attempt to inculcate bravado in addressing social injustice, a group of resident assistants were made to play a game they christened One Step Forward, One Step Backward, where a line of students side by side were made to step ahead or back at the behest of hearing scenarios where they identified themselves either as dominants or targets. This activity ultimately ostracizes a portion of the attendees, in whom the feeling that life gave them the short end of the stick only deepens. Some at the other end of the class feel bad about being privileged, making them feel remorseful yet none the wiser in addressing social injustice. The article also mentions how most of the target group peers stated that they predicted the final distribution before the activity commenced. The organizers deigned to conduct a farcical activity, a fiasco that serves only to permeate a negative aura in the class.

Demonstrative discussions on racial privileges should be avoided completely. It is pointless to embark on a quest to find pedagogies that can handle such topics openly when they are much rather avoided. Discussing them will inevitably instill further resentment. By generating the feeling that race is not even worthy to be talked about may perhaps be a ray of hope to restrict the rend brought about by skin color. The same applies to religion, sex, caste and other differentiators. It is prudent to engender the feeling that these issues are so irrelevant that it is beneath one’s dignity to discuss them. I intend to make my students digress from any focus they have on social diversity once they step into my class; equality will be the foundation on which lectures will build. By fostering a sense of absolute equality, those who feel dominant will be persuaded to empathize and those that feel victimized will be adequately reassured. There will be no place in my class for any activity that stands to have even an inkling of chance to be misapprehended as schadenfreude.

Douglas Eyman, the author of Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method and Practice, has written the article Looking Back and Looking Forward: Digital Rhetoric as Evolving Field which was published on the journal Enculturation. This article chronicles the evolving multimodal representation of digital rhetoric. It extensively covers the evolution of rhetoric in the advent, protraction and progress of digital technology. This article begs me to contemplate the omnipresence of rhetoric. If we are to believe that rhetoric takes up the engendering of meaning and concerns both the probable and the contingent, then everything is rhetoric. Whether that statement can be justified is entirely a debate by itself. Considering rhetoric to be the be all and end all of expression demoted the purpose of language to a mere chauffeur of rhetoric.

Considering rhetoric to be everything would leave us with no sense of scale to contrast it with. We would lose sight of the quality of “delivered language” because we have no means to gauge good language. Progress, refinement and triumph of one emerges only in the distinction from another, just as how the love of and desire for dichotomy has shaped society far more than anything else over the millennia.

Enter Digital Programming languages, which are considered pure portrayals of logic, but only in a near-sighted sense. Logos stems from rhetoric – the quality of using language as interpreted by one to project dialectic and context onto the channels of interpretation of language of others. Eyman mentions both the Sophists’ viewpoint of how “rhetoric is necessary because there is no established, external, objective meaning that is accessible to both speaker and audience in any given conversation”, and Gorgias’ suggestion that “language is not a shared understanding of an ideal form, but is instead an imperfect approximation of our individual experiences”. The beauty of communication lies in the uncertain anticipation of lucid portrayal because language is an independently owned resource molded conveniently by individuality. Language generates entropy, the proliferation of which perpetuates our existence, and rhetoric aims to embellish this axiom. In the crisp world of binary logic, rhetoric fails to deliver this anarchy.

Is that necessarily a disadvantage? Not always. The digital world does bring in the element of certainty – an array of definitive features that may finally give us the contrast to perceive the quality of rhetoric – the competitor much sought after!

Being equipped to handle written language in the present times demands the wherewithal to account for digital rhetoric instead of shunning it. Ultimately, I would expect my students to be able to do like the Romans do when they are in Rome. I would not want them to be left behind, owing to my ideologies of restrictive use of digital medium. The importance of rhetoric in technical and digital communication require emphasis, and scholars must be made comfortable in working on and switching between all linguistics platforms. In this backdrop, I would consider Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games and Elizabeth Losh’s Virtualpolitik as good vantage points to overview digital rhetoric.

Bogost, in Persuasive Games, analyzes how video games are rich sources of rhetoric deployed to question, argue and influence. He calls the extended reach of rhetoric through various channels as “Procedural Rhetoric”, which lend a compelling nature to video games although they are yet to be widely accepted as a matured form of culture.

I had a long conversation with a friend, who shed some insight into how video games catalyze neurolinguistics, semantic and rhetorical development in players. Specifically, he focuses on the period of gaming before it surrendered to commercialization and crowd-pulling, as all matured forms of entertainment do, where there existed computer games focused on compelling storytelling and player immersion. These were predominantly confined to the genre called Roleplaying Games (RPGs) and also a rare sub-genre known as Immersive Sims. Game publishers like Bioware, Bethesda Softworks and Interplay Entertainment are known for creating a golden age of RPGs, where plot played a more central role to the gaming experience. In addition to developing one’s playing character in settings like “High Fantasy” and “Steam Punk”, there were multitudes of non-playable characters (NPCs) and party characters to interact with that breathed unique personalities. Immersive Sims, on the other hand, is genre of only a handful of games, mastered by developers such as Looking Glass Studios, Ion Storm and Irrational Games. Immersive sims give players an elevated sense of control within the game, encouraging creativity and heightened thought to be applied to gameplay, in an attempt to dissolve the linguistic and experiential borders between the real player and the virtual game.

Black Isle Studios created a masterpiece in Planescape: Torment.

While we see the same qualities in movies, video games provide additional engagement granted through the freedom of choice, reasoning, action and consequence. I would like to explore how certain games suggested to me, such as Planescape: Torment and Deus Ex may be utilized to trigger the broadening of neuro-linguistics pathways in my students. This may serve as a tool for me to expound the relevance of digital rhetoric, and how it can be perceived as a progressive form of expression using the familiar form of language.

Credits:

Created with images by ckmck - "Story-telling" • Martin Beek - "Emma Cousin, Degree Show Oxford" • PublicDomainPictures - "sad woman mood" • Cali4beach - "Evil Toast" • psd - "Good morning Mr Brockway!" • peromaneste - "1 decembrie" • familymwr - "Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Eye of the Holder" • TeroVesalainen - "question mark why problem" • hang_in_there - "personality" • limaoscarjuliet - "music trio" • Sultry/sulky/silly - "House series- redo - WIP" • angelaathomas - "Buzzing, happy students" • Devanath - "pencil office design" • MadeByMark - "Electronic Payment" • Daquella manera - "Fight Racism!" • laudu - "The Art of RE-Membering How to Be Human" • US Department of Education - "LEEHS 17" • Martinelle - "network cable ethernet" • Stefan Rimm - "Tübinger Hausbuch - Freie Künste" • marstheinfomage - "sensory stone"

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