Friday, September 14, 2012

Feeling pretty pooped upon

Only a few folks have had a chance to comment on the final draft of the CRTF Summer Working Group proposal for which I was the chief author (but by no means the sole contributor; "scribe" might be a better term). So far the feedback has been resoundingly negative...and highly selective.

So far my prediction is being borne out: 100% of the people on campus will be okay with 90% of the proposal...but the objectionable 10% will differ from person to person, with little perfect overlap.

A question to my friends at other institutions who have been involved in very large-scale curricular reforms: do you still have friends after it's all said and done? I'm glad that I'm generally well-trusted and well-liked on campus, because I think I'm going to be trading in some of that political capital in the coming weeks.

Incidentally, I chose the title for this post intentionally, to include the word "pooped": as one of my HON 179 students pointed out in her reflection on language change, it's a tremendously fun word to say...and fun words stick around longer than their less-fun compatriots.

So I say in closing: poop, poop, poop, poop, poop, poop, poop!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Well, they're in, folks: my HON 179 students have all submitted at least one meme apiece, in response to the assignment I gave them on Monday. Some were funny, and others were really funny. Below I've listed some of those that were cleverest, often so clever owing to their connection to what we've talked about in class (including a couple riffing on Tutu).

"One Does Not Simply" is a big one right now, as you can see from my students' submissions. The first laments English's resistance to being broken:

The next two poke gentle fun at Desmond Tutu:

I couldn't resist making another of my own, referencing a seminal point in English evolution which Crystal highlights in his book:

One student had Condescending Wonka expound on non-standard English's confusing conventions:

Fortunately, Good Guy Greg's around to play Dr. Johnson:

On more general collegey themes, the ever-popular Philosoraptor made an appearance, as in this query about our campus's odd geography:

Other vexations about campus life?

One student wondered at the relevance of her music theory course:

And meme mash-ups? You've got 'em! Bad Advice Cat meets The Most Interesting Man in the World:

And Joseph Ducreux treads with trepidation into Mordor:

I should mention that I received a few that I wasn't able to save as nice images; here are links to a couple of other clever ones, involving Dwight Schrute (speaking to an issue that came up in class on Monday) and "All the" Allie (speaking to the influence French has historically had on English).

Finally, with a mash-up of HON 179 and HON 479, I'll let Anthony Kwame Appiah have the last word:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An interesting observation

A few days back in HON 179 we finished our reading of Desmond Tutu's No future without forgiveness and moved on the David Crystal's The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left. I'm currently reading the first set of students' reflections on this new reading, and I've made an interesting qualitative observation I'd like to try to make more precise when I have a chance to reflect more deeply on it.

The theme of Crystal's book is the English language, generally speaking, with special attention paid to its uses, misuses, and abuses, to the ways in which we shape the language through our use of it, and to the evolution it's undergone as a consequence. The book is wittily written, a style one might expect of a linguist, and is full of clever wordplay.

This theme contrasts sharply with the theme of our last book, an account of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The language Tutu uses to tell that sad story is often (fittingly) dark and somber, rising to elegaic, even hagiographic, when the time comes to speak of the indomitable human spirit. The language is almost never intentionally witty or playful.

So what am I finding in my students' writing? For the first time all semester they seem to feel comfortable trotting out their own toys to engage in some wordplay of their own. These first reflections on Crystal are cram-packed with metaphors, synecdoche and metonymy, and lively ripostes. Their writing is more personal, but by and large more cohesive; it's as though they each have very coherent personal tales to tell, tales that are much more well-formed than their thoughts on the TRC.

I'm enjoying reading these reflections. I'm getting a better sense, in a single reflection, of their individual writing styles than I did from four on Tutu.

Onward, I must read more.

Incidentally, I've only received a single meme as yet, from a student using Joseph Ducreux. I've gotten requests to post some of the students' work here, and I plan to do that, once I get proper permissions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The most interesting class in the world

What's my HON 179 class up to this week?

'Nuff said. They've gotta be ready to defend the assumptions they made and the conventions they followed in crafting their memes. I'm excited (read: "terrified") to see what they come up with.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A little WTL

It's Labor Day weekend, and I'm getting a good start on it by responding to my HON 179 students' latest reflections. The prompt for these reflections (ostensibly in response to Chapters 7-9 of Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness) asked the students to "think about an incident in your past in which actual, literal verbalization of some kind (monologue, dialogue, or multilogue) helped you achieve resolution. What was it about the act of verbalization itself that proved therapeutic? Can you describe how it made you feel, and why it made you feel that way?" I made sure they knew I wasn't trying to pry; I let them know they need not describe the precipitating incident itself, but only the means by which it was resolved.

I'm only halfway through reading these reflections, and already I've made two crucial observations.

1. The students inherently understand the idea behind writing-to-learn (or at least communicating-to-learn), whether or not they're able to put it in those terms. "I actually have to stop and think to figure out exactly what is making me so mad so that I can explain it" says one student about talking things out, "I was able to organize my thoughts on the matter better" says another, and "making your complaints or confessions intelligible allows a more efficient and complete resolution" says a third. Though they've all phrased it in different ways, they've all hit on the fundamental basis of writing-to-learn. As I wrote back to these students, when writing we have to be able to put our thoughts into words and sort those words into meaningful sentences and paragraphs. This very act helps us to explore our thoughts. You don’t just use writing as a means of communication; you use it also as a means of exploration and discovery.

2. The students' writing is dramatically better when they're writing about something deeply personal and not simply academic. Without exception so far, every student's paper has been equal or superior to her or his previous reflections. This observation is nothing new: no doubt the personal stake the students feel in this piece motivates them to perform more ably. It's clearer than at any earlier point this term that I've got some great writers in this class.

On to the second half...