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Reading Becoming Writing Rather than Writing about Reading - An Example from the Classroom

By Kyle Bjorem

paper or argumentative essay is simply not broad enough. The second sense in which I understand process is on the micro-level. Here the focus goes to the experience of the subjective individual the singular student and how they learn. It is an abject waste of time to present our students with a reading/writing duality, in which the two are basically turned into abstract entities. Reading and texts will then become for students a garbage heap of facts and other peoples thoughts a standing reserve thats purpose is to be dug through for bits and pieces to be shoved into a writing assignment. The writing assignment itself thus becomes simply an exercise in organizing these facts not actually writing at all, but some sort of Tetris inspired punishment that students rightfully complain about as being pointless.

One of the greatest difficulties that teachers of English often face is how to seamlessly transition from the reading of a text to the writing about that text. Too often I have witnessed (and participated in as a student) a unit in which the class spends a large chunk of time working our way through The Grapes of Wrath or The Hunger Games only to have a rather arbitrary writing assignment tacked on at the end . Usually, this is that threadbare vestige of a past pedagogical age the five paragraph argumentative essay.

What is the alternative? you may ask. One must read a text and then write about that text, youre over-thinking the whole ordeal, surely. Use some common sense! The first thing I would say is that my goal is to have my students be able to transcend the bounds of common sense and see things a little bit We are now in an era in which the interdependence more critically than that, but more to the point is that of the vast network of global processes is becoming reading is a part of the writing process. One does not more and more apparent. The skills that were once read a text and then write about that text. When one necessary for the autonomous person to navigate the reads a text it is not a matter of picking up complexities of civilization have changed drastically. information from an outside source and then placing No longer should the it within the mind it is an active locus of education, and process of co-creating meaning. The specifically reading and We are now in an era in which the text and the subject are ultimately a writing instruction, be synthesis, not a duality. The text is interdependence of the vast about picking out nothing but ink and paper until this network of global processes is isolated facts and synthesis occurs with a subjective stringing them together consciousness. It is then refined via becoming more and more towards some end contemplation, brainstorming apparent. The skills that were once product that now solidly activities, drafting, and finally piece of exists as an writing that can be read by another necessary for the autonomous unchangeable, objective (thus continuing the perpetual process). person to navigate the complexities entity. I have utilized this understanding of of civilization have changed Rather, what is reading and writing with several drastically. becoming more and projects and activities in my own more important is classroom and one recent example was process and process as understood in two ways. working with the short story Good Old Neon by The first sense that I mean is what could be called the David Foster Wallace. If you are familiar with the macro-level. The way we understand society has story or at least the author you may know that it is evolved the zeitgeist ebbs and the zeitgeist flows, it not an easy text. Most adolescents, if thrown into this does not operate via a formal progression of logical sea flippantly, are going to be swimming over their st steps. The successful individual in the 21 century is heads which is why I devote an entire week to the going to be one who is able to comprehend and be reading of the story out loud in class, scaffolding aware of and open to slight shifts coming from every them the entire way through. direction. The ability to receive and be critical of multitudes of media, styles, rhetorical forms, and so on, is absolutely necessary. The standard research

Diagramming the story visually is incredibly helpful, delving deeply into point of view and voice as well as keeping awareness up are necessities, giving the students adequate background knowledge on metafictional devices and connecting the experiences of the protagonist to experiences that the students live daily is a must.

What kinds of problems can pop up when there is a dissonance between these two yous? This theme is looked at in class before even beginning to read the story by looking at the phenomenon of online personal profiles such as Facebook and the dichotomy that exists between that objective presentation of yourself and your subjective self as experienced every waking moment of your life.

The writing process has already begun theoretically and concretely. During this time I have students write The students, in addition to crafting their own first responses to prompts, brainstorm scenarios they have person narrative, work within groups of five. The experienced or they have witnessed or seen in the other four students characters must all either show media that mirror the story, and begin to craft their up or be mentioned in the narrative. So, in the end character with input and each student in a group will collaboration with the other have a narrative in which When one reads a text it is not a each other person in the students. matter of picking up information groups character also plays Wait, what do you mean character? some part, the subject in one from an outside source and then Let me explain. As I have stated, story becomes an object in placing it within the mind it is an the seamless flow from reading another. Its less complex into writing is a large part of what that it may seem, and the active process of co-creating makes activities like this successful. students generally have a lot meaning. The text and the subject Therefore, whenever I can, I try to of fun with this. have the students mirror the are ultimately a synthesis, not a techniques, style, devices, and Finally, when all the groups duality. themes they have just immersed have completed their themselves in with their writing narratives, they are collected assignment. That may even make more common and published either on-line or using self-publishing sense than having students write the same type of site to print actual copies (about five to thing no matter what kind of text they read eight dollars) to be put in the school library, especially if you cover a broad array of different classroom, or to keep personally. Each gro ups interconnected cluster of narratives are marked as types of writing in your class (which I do). different chapters. So, what the project basically entails is that the student will write a first person narrative using the This seems like a lot of work. Indeed. In order to story not only as a groundswell for investigating prepare our students for a global community that is themes and arguments (the traditional use), but also more competitive and complex to the nth degree than for the act of writing itself. The students narrative it was just a generation ago, and in order to reach (mostly interior monologue) can be autobiographical students that addresses the way that cognition if the student so pleases. The student can also actually works rather than forcing them through imagine a fictional person and attempt to inhabit their worksheets, rote memorization, and essays consciousness. One rule is that all of the characters completely disconnected from reality, these types of live in the same city we, as class, decide on certain multifaceted, processional projects are a necessity. landmarks and traits of the city (which we also name) All the while trying as much as we can to smooth out the seams between areas of study and necessary skills, that everyone can use in their story. attempting to form an organic unity that allows for a The main theme that we work with concerning more malleable and adaptable student who is able to Good Old Neon is the difference between ones inhabit as many perspectives as possible. interior life and ones objective image that they project to the world (or that the world invents about Kyle Bjorem has (perhaps haphazardly) abandoned them). Adolescents, since they are generally quite a career in publishing in order to foist exercises self-conscious and are just entering into having a such as the one explicated above upon an entire public persona are particularly adept at analyzing generation of unwitting learner. Philosophy, literary this sort of theme. Are you who you think you are or fiction, judo, wilderness adventures, and coaching are you who other people see you as? How can they are among his multitude of interests. be drastically different? Which one is the real you?