Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sherman Alexie and Me

“'Books,' I say to them. 'Books,' I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky."

This isn't the quote I put on the board last Thursday. I put up Scott McCloud's definition of art:
Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn't grow out of either of our species' two basic instincts: survival and reproduction!
But I had Alexie in mind as I explained the differences between writing a Personal Narrative essay for a grade and writing to tell a story. We discussed this through McCloud's "Six Steps"--a path, he argues, all art takes:

To reinforce this, I also showed them the first few minutes of Chimamanda Adichie's "The Danger of a Single Story"--a TED Talk about why multiple narratives are important:

We discussed how reading multiple narratives, as we have been doing this semester, helps us by allowing others to grow beyond the single story we might have been told about them. Writing our own stories enables us to grow by countering the single story others may have of us.

"Story" here, I explained, is that act of creation that McCloud refers to in his definition of art. And having multiple literacies gives us multiple ways to tell our stories and read others.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Imaginary" Opening Paragraph of My Dissertation Research

For my Research Paper course (the class meant to get doc. students to really narrow their dissertation interests), my professor asked us to read some sample papers' intro. paragraphs and then write our own. Since I've been asked several times lately to explain my research, I thought I'd share :-)

My sketch of Pip learning the identity of his benefactor in Great Expectations
In school, I liked fairy tales because they reminded me of playing The Legend of Zelda on my Nintendo; I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn because their adventures seemed similar to mine in Boy Scouts; Terminator 2 didn't seem all that different from Beowulf. But while these connections to my interests were always fun for me to seek out, they were less important to teachers who stressed what the text was “really saying.” Then, before completing my BA in English, the chair of my department did what others had not, brought my pop culture into the classroom—comic books—and required us to analyze them the same way we would any piece of literature, exactly what I’d always done to help me make sense of new texts. But it wouldn't be until three years later, a college teacher myself, when I discovered that this was not as easy for some as I found it, and even I struggle to express these connections (such as this silly sketchnote from my Dickens course). The question of why more students didn't use their pop culture experiences to make sense of academic ones was followed by why more teachers didn't encourage such connections in the first place. Both led to my current pursuit of a doctorate and the focus of my research: using pop culture as a means for college students to access academic discourses.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Year I Discovered Sci-Fi and Fantasy TV

I always like to write a New Years post, but characteristically, I'm late. I try not to do the same thing every year. And as pretty much anyone who has met me can attest, I'm a nerd. I was one as a kid, in high school, through college, and when I decided to pursue a doctorate. But video games, comic books, and film were always my choice mediums. As such, I made little time for television. Generally, the only shows I watched growing up were cartoons with my younger brothers while eating an after-school snack before hitting the books for the evening. Surprisingly, though, I watched little to no science fiction or fantasy shows, even the ones my friends enjoyed. I tried to keep up with The X-Files for awhile, but it got weird when Mulder died or whatever.

In the last couple of years, though, my wife Veronica, who grew up with shows like Xena and Farscape, was slowly shared her affections with me, encouraging me to try shows I never would have before. This hit a peak in 2013.

Doctor Who

Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that Veronica and I are now in love with this show, but we've been fans for barely more than a year, finally sitting down to try it out near the end of 2012. Finally, on our much needed Winter break, after our first joint-semester of grad school, we spent the first couple of weeks of 2013 binge-watching the Doctor gallivanting across time and space from the warmth of our couch.

We had put off watching the show for a long time; it spent years in our Netflix Instant queue, but the timing for a brand new show never seemed right. We were working our way through other, shows like Criminal Minds, The Office, and such. But I'm glad we waited; something about the timing (grad school, a new city, and the need to recharge our batteries together) made it important. Once school started again, the only time we had to watch the show together was Sunday mornings, thus beginning a semester long tradition of starting our only morning together with breakfast, coffee, and an episode of Doctor Who before going off again. As such, the show became the thing I most looked forward to every week. We finished what was available online before summer, anxiously awaiting for the most recently-ended season to come out on DVD before the 50th Anniversary special, for which we awaited anxiously along with our first Christmas special.

Aside from the significance of it being "our show" now, it wouldn't be so if it wasn't just excellent. We love everything about it from the writing to the characters to the music. I love the lessons of tolerance, non-violence, and the value placed on intelligence. And we'll continue to follow it, now catching up on the classic episodes available online.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I remember seeing the Buffy movie in theatres in elementary school and loving it but thinking the TV show was dumb in high school. Part of it, again, was that I wasn't much into TV, let alone fantasy stuff. But I dutifully gave it a shot, since my friends like it and Sarah Michelle Gellar was "like, so hot!" Looking back though, I think that's why I couldn't take it seriously. As a very pompous teenager, I prided myself on not being an average teenage guy, and from the few episodes I watched (I specifically remember the one in which Xander almost gets eaten by a sexy teacher/giant praying mantis), I felt like the creators of the show (forgive me, Joss Whedon) were pandering to what I, a teenage boy, was supposed to find entertaining.

Now a pop culture scholar, it seems I can't go to any conference without hearing or reading about how excellent the show is and empowering Buffy was for when the show aired--the beginnings of Whedon's reputation for writing complex female roles into nearly all of his scripts. So I decided it was time to give the show another try; it became my Sunday night background show while I did laundry and prepared for Monday classes.

So far, I've only made it through the 1st season, and I have to be honest, it's not my favorite. But I can already see why it was and still is so popular. The writing's clever, and the pop culture references are great (especially now that they're so dated). So I'm convinced I need to keep watching and see where it goes, though I may never get on the level of actually writing about the show myself.

Once Upon a Time

In all honesty, this became our Doctor Who hiatus show. We'd been hearing a lot of good things about it, and finally gave it a shot when Netflix added it to streaming. Veronica, who still loves all of her Disney princesses, had to nudge me, and I relented not expecting to like it. But even I have to admit, it's cute, clever, and does a good job of pulling you in with complex, if a little cliche, characters (though what would expect from fairy tale archetypes?).

We watched pretty steadily through the first season and then breaked once the semester became too busy for us to sit down for hour-long episodes of anything. Still, this is another one I would have never enjoyed before now, without Veronica's subtle encouragement. Now, as one who studied heroic archetypes in my Master's thesis, I enjoy seeing what's being done known characters, even/especially if it's all kind of silly.

You could make a drinking game around Emma's awkward face :-)


This is another one people had been urging us to watch for years, and for years, it's been in our Netflix queue. Then it happened, on New Years Eve. Veronica declared that to celebrate bringing in the New Year, we should start a new show. And while we technically only watched a couple of episodes in 2013, our time on Tumblr pretty much made us feel like we'd been watching longer.

And we immediately loved it, spending the first couple of weeks of 2014 binge-watching Sam and Dean hunting, fornicating, and sharing brotherly feels around the USA--noticing a pattern here. And sure, the whole "cursed brothers" thing is a little over dramatic, but the writers keep it fresh by occasionally tossing the boys into ridiculous situations--my favorite being the episode that's actually a pilot for a ghost-hunting show called Ghostfacers!

"Ghost! Ghostfacers!
We face the ghosts when others will not, we're-
Ghost! Ghostfacers!
Stay in the kitchen when the kitchen gets hot!"

Shows to Come in 2014:

I'm almost ashamed to admit that we're more than half-way through the episodes of Supernatural on Netflix, so we'll likely be returning to Once Upon a Time as well as giving Torchwood and some other British series a more serious look. We enjoyed the first couple of episodes of Being Human but never got around to continuing it. The apparent obsession that is Battlestar Galatica also looms over our heads. And Veronica's been begging me to watch Hercules with her but baby steps. Sunday mornings have, once again, been dedicated to Doctor Who, though for now, we're limiting ourselves to what's on Netflix, which is far from complete--kind of like a primer on Doctor's 1 through 7. And of course, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones will be returning shortly, but I think we watch those mostly to stay current and have an opinion.

This never gets old :-)
Regardless, I'm psyched to discover this new world of storytelling that I've yet to adequately explore in any medium. But I'm getting there.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Literacy and Technology: Some Thoughts on a Chapter

I jumped into McVee and Miller's Multimodal Composing in Classrooms with the second essay, "The (Artful) Deception of Technology Integration and the Move Toward a New Literacies Mindset"--which I think is as good a place as any since it's about teaching a course on literacy and technology. They dive into the student-educators' anxieties, objections, and burgeoning ideas about using technology in the classroom. As such, it's the perfect entry for readers at the same place in their professional development.

They begin with, I think, some frightening statistics about the use (or rather, non-use) of technology by most teachers today. The authors begin, rightly, by pointing out that teachers learning something new need to first admit themselves as not knowing, an admittedly frightening prospect for many teachers--particularly those used to being the arbiters of knowledge. This ends up being the essay's main purpose, to allow anxious teachers to relate with those testifying in quotes.

The second half of the essay focuses on a particular project asking the student-educators to represent a poem as a website. What's interesting is that many of participants were more adverse to making meaning of the poem than using their newfound tech skills to do so. Evening more interesting is their success. One explained,
"The projects we did challenged me to think about word meaning, sound, color, layout, genre, and rhythm. Knowing how to combine all of these aspects is what makes this type of literacy much more complex than traditional literacy" (p. 28).
The reminds me of research around comics' use in English classrooms--asking students to visually represent works also asks them to make all these same considerations, forcing them to interrogate the text deeply. That in turn, combined with running into the prof from my Comics as Education class this afternoon, reminded me of Zen Pencils' comic version of Taylor Mali's slam poem "What Teachers Make."

A similar exercise was done with his poem "Totally like whatever, you know?" using kinetic type:

These are, of course, different from the exercises described by the authors, but both required the adapters to consider ways of representing Mali's words and what they might mean. As the authors conclude:
"As powerful tools that create and integrate image, sound, and movement to create multimodal text, new technologies, and new literacies, can provide opportunity for teachers, teacher educations, and students to create powerful new interpretations and representations of lived experience and knowledge" (p. 30).
And this should certainly be a goal of teachers of writing.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

End of Fall Musings

One day...
I love being a scholar. But it takes on special significance for me during these final weeks of the Fall semester. I'm not sure where I got the notion, but somehow, reading and writing about my research interests by a fireplace, gas stove, or even a radiator, sipping a warm drink, somehow makes me feel more scholarly. It goes back as far as high school for me, taking the train to my inner-city Montreal high school for a half-day of exams then trotting home in the snow--I think this, coupled with my time in New Mexico, is why I dream of a cabin-retreat for studying. Generally, I'd have the house to myself. I'd make myself some soup, put on a movie in the living room, and spread my books across the floor to study for my next exam or write my next paper. Eventually, as my family came home, I'd retreat to my room, working late into the night.

Nowadays, I think what really gives me this feeling of belonging to the academic community is that the days are getting colder, course work is winding down, allowing me to concentrate on research projects, and if I've scaffolded well, lesson planning is slowing to a stop. All of this means I have more time to indulge in my romantic notions of the "lone scholar"; I get to hole-up somewhere warm, focusing on my work--as opposed to what I've been asked to read and write all semester.

Don't get me wrong; it's not that I find my assigned reading uninteresting. I wouldn't be here if that were so. But now I get to cherry pick the most fascinating stuff--Rosenblatt's The Reader, the Text, the Poem, Scholes' The Rise and Fall of English, and pages and pages of multimodal literacies research--and apply it to my continuing research interests. And for a glorious two to three (if I'm lucky) weeks, I get to concentrate on that. And I relish it! I look a little more closely at those readings that really excited me, write a little more carefully, and hopefully, sit back and enjoy my student's final works, and it's all very relaxing. Deadlines are still a ways off, and if I can stay productive, I don't stress to get everything done at the last minute. I can eat a breakfast that isn't just a banana or cereal, enjoy my coffee or tea, and take breaks for walks with Memphis, play video games, or just sneak onto campus for whatever free food is being offered to stressful students.

For some reason, the same final weeks of the Spring semester don't hold quite as much enjoyment for me. Perhaps it's my years of summer lifeguarding that make me just want to get outside--swim, camp, grill. Maybe it's just the exhaustion of the academic year reaching its peak. And maybe this too will change as my course work wraps up and the majority of my time is spent reading and writing my dissertation. But it might not be as special then. So for now, I'll gladly take my couch, a blanket draped over me, books spread across the coffee table, pen in one hand, hot chocolate in the other, and snoring pooch at my side.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?


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