Saturday, September 24, 2005

Let my fish loose.

I think I may have stepped over the line in one of my last sessions with an ESL student. She was in modern dance and had to write a proposal on a dance project to direct and choreograph. For the most part, it was a good paper. Her thesis was strong and it had interesting background information as to why her idea for this dance was important to her and how it applied to other people with the same kinds of problems. But one of the main problems she was having with the paper was with describing in detail how the dance would take place. I talked with her a long time about it so I could make sure I understood what it was she was trying to do. Eventually I was able to understand what she was trying to accomplish with her dance. So I began helping her with phrases she could try and asked if that worked for her. But shortly after I merely began dictating to her what to write so it would make sense. I was telling her where to put it and how to put it. Immediately after realizing what I was doing (taking over her paper), I attempted to digress a bit and said something akin to, "Or you could write something like that." I felt pretty bad knowing that this isn't really how people learn. She knew what she was trying to say. But she didn't need someone to tell her what to say. At this point I tried assuming the role of a coach by encouraging her and insisting that she try and write it on her own and that I would proofread it when she was done.

And so that was how we proceeded from then on until her paper was finally finished. The end product was something I knew she was more satisfied because she had worked on it while I merely coached her.

I think a good way to tell if you've crossed the line during a session is just to pay attention to the way the student is reacting to you. I got lucky during my session because if I hadn't noticed what I was doing, I think she would've just gone on writing what I was telling her to write.

I've also wondered if maybe I'm crossing a line by always reading the student's paper out loud for them. Is this something I should have them doing more? When I do read it I try to ask questions as I go along to keep the student engaged. But it reminds me of the essay by Emig about how we need to read things at our own pace to comprehend them as oppposed to hearing it read out loud by another person. I feel this way I'm able to give the best advice to the student but I'm not sure if they need to be reading it out loud more or not.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Feeling free to write on another subject

I've decided to write on something that has been on my mind over these past few days. This kind of relates to what we have been discussing in class, and I've seen it pop up in a lot my classes lately. Mostly, it's the common man's search for truth.
In my class about the Beat generation, we are now currently reading Jack Keruoack's On the Road and discussing the ideas that Jack and his "beat" buddies were trying so hard to achieve. This took place in the time of the post-war turmoil about this search for truth, and people were trying to forget the values that were in place the generation before and establishing their own. Kerouac (sorry, this is his last name) and others were going on a journey in search of their own truth, cursing their society who believes in nuclear warfare. They didn't want to study the "classic" writing before them, so they decided to break all barriers to find their own writing. Sound familiar?
So what does this all mean? They wanted their own self-discovery so much that they defied everything they felt wasn't right or true. Kerouac believed in "spontaneous writing", the right to write that is your own and "write as deeply, fish as far as you want." I wonder if both Kerouac and Donald Murray had acid trips together, hmmm...
So my final thought to you is this: Are there two places for writing as we know and teach and "spontaneous prose"? Does all creative writing suck? How does our search for knowledge affect our writing? These are the questions that keep puzzling me.

they're like little junkies, man

When it comes to overstepping my boundaries as a tutor/teacher I am a pro. Until recently I was a shameless line crosser because I, like my students (from India), hadn’t learned to look beyond the end product of the tutoring session or class. Then I learned that my approach was hurting both myself and the students. By handing out the answers I was creating classrooms full of students who had only learned dependence on the teacher to get the “right answer.” Instead of challenging the students to think independently and produce their own work, I was teaching them to write and say what they thought was my opinion of “good English.” This was hurting them, and later it started to hurt me when I realized that they weren’t learning. When I eventually shifted away from this style of teaching, they were reluctant to give up their old ways.

My students had become accustomed to the easy way and no longer wanted to think for themselves. They just wanted me to give them an easy out. When this happens its kind of like when your cousin Julio swears he’s going into rehab again, but he just wants you to fix him up one last rig—just for old times sake—and you know its wrong—he’s lying to you, man!—but that look in his eyes is so full of pain, and only you can stop it…I digress; but you get the point, right? When you take over a student’s work then they don’t learn anything except how to find someone who can give them help to get a better grade. I have already had similar experiences as a tutor. Some students, if you let them, will just sit there until you hand them the answers they are looking for.

Now the tutor is faced with the challenge of dealing with lazy students. Who can we blame for this problem? MTV? LSD? NBA? Or are we to blame? Admit it, sometimes it is easier to cross the line and overtake a session than it is to sit there and explain something endlessly to someone who doesn’t seem to want to understand what you are trying to say. This quick solution to the problem session is shortsighted. You may be able to send the student quickly away from the writing session but now they will just come back expecting the same thing. Because you crossed the line you have just created another student-junkie who has learned to be dependant on a tutor’s help for everything they write.

You know when you’ve crossed the line when you realize that you are the one doing all the talking, writing and thinking. Somewhere in the mid-sentence you catch the student saying nothing more than, “uh huh, uh huh, uh…yea, yes, uh, yea,” to everything you say. You notice that your writing is all over the paper and that the student has put down his/her pen and has a look of slight regret for coming in. They wonder, “Why did I come in here? How long is this writing nerd going to talk about commas n’ stuff?” In this instance, or one similar to it, is the moment where the tutor should realize that they have crossed the line, and that doing all the work is only going to create a short term solution to the writer’s problems.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Students unwittingly tell all

Now that I have a few sessions under my belt, I have started to notice some patterns. Writers who are personally invested in what they have written never push their paper too far away from them. They never want the tutor to read their paper out loud. Heaven forbid -- we might say the wrong word or use the wrong inflection. When these writers read out loud, they savor certain words. They laugh at things they have written. They marvel at good sentences.

The rest of the writers hesitate if I ask them to read their paper out loud. They squirm. They push their papers as far away from themselves as they can. And they have much shorter attention spans than their happily absorbed counterparts. These students retreat to their happy places when a tutor takes over a session. They nod absently when a tutor asks them a direct question. They slouch. And they cannot sit still. These students make fidgeting an art.

I look for the pen first. Are they holding it? Have they set it down on the table? Has it become a newfound source of amusement for the student? Did they put it back into the cup on the table? If they do not have a pen in hand, I know I have been talking too much -- especially if I have a pen in my hand and the student has not said anything in the last five minutes.

Today when I tutored, I tried not to use a pen at all. I wrote down the information I needed for my log and then handed the pen over to the student. I'm going to tutor without a pen more often, because those students never leaned back in their chair. They never rolled their eyes. They didn't fidget. And they marked their papers more than I would have. These students self-corrected more often than any other students I have tutored so far. Amazing things happen when you listen, suggest, and allow the students to make the changes.

Sometimes I want to make the changes for the students. I am learning to curb these impulses. The first student I tutored today had boundless enthusiasm about the topic of his paper. His enthusiasm was reflected in an interesting way in his paper. He would get so excited, he couldn't stand to end his sentences yet. The result? Run-on after run-on after run-on. I mentioned these sentences and he willingly helped find a sentence as long as a boa constrictor and then he fixed it. I offered guidance when he asked for it, but he knew what to do.

I think many of them know what to do. All we need to do is place a pen in their hand and hide the one in ours. (I don't know if I could always tutor without a pen. It's hard!)

P.S. Is anyone else a compulsive leaf cruncher? Autumn has come and the trees around my house are starting to lose their leaves. I enjoy walking through big piles of leaves and hearing them crunch, but this is not the kind of compulsiveness I'm talking about. I'm talking about seeing a solitary leaf in the middle of the street and running out (sometimes checking for cars, sometimes not) just to jump on it. I will not walk in straight lines on my way home so I can crunch all of the individual leaves spread across the sidewalks and lawns. At this time every year, I have an inkling I look like a drunk playing hopscotch when I walk home.

Crossing the Line

Wingate writes that her measure of having "crossed the line" is this: "If you think you have stepped over the line, you probably have" (12). What's your indication that the line has been crossed? How do you know? Do you have a sense of it now? How do you develop this sense?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I've been thinking a lot about zombies today and how much I wish I could live in a zombie-filled world.

I don't know if I'd want either the zombies that were alive and became infected with a virus and run around or the kind that were originally dead and came out of the ground and move kind of slow.

I kind of like the way the undead ones in the ground look. Like in the Resident Evil games it was great how their eyes were all cataract with red soreness around them and they moved really slow and looked very decayed and decomposed. Like this:

That's one reason Resident Evil the movie sucked because all the zombies just looked like dirty wet people. And they hissed!? Instead of that low moaning sound they made in the games that always creeped me out, they hissed. That's really lame.

So yeah, I think I would want the slow moving undead kind. But if you get bit by a zombie then you will still end up looking like that in a few days or so. Then I'd like about 75 percent of the population to eventually be zombies with the rest of us just trying to survive and looting stores and driving cars that are around.

I'm not sure how intelligent I'd want them to be. Sure they may try to break through windows, but I don't know if I'd want them be able to master doorhandles and such. I'm thinking for the most part they just have the basic motors skills and, say, if they survive long enough by eating other people, only then do they start to develop skills. And so I guess I'm assuming that some people truly die and get eaten all the way when attacked by a zombie instead always becoming one.

Now let's talk about how easy they would die. In most zombie movies if you take out their head or most of their brains it's enough to stop them. This will probably be the case in my zombie fantasy world. But I wouldn't mind seeing some zombies walking around without any heads. I could say that if they lose their heads then they are able to still walk around for a day or so until their bodies just quit working. But at the most they can just walk slowly in circles or something.

There'd be animals too that are bitten by zombies. Cats, dogs, bears, no fish though. Fantastic to think the zombies got into the zoo and made zombie zebras.

So with all that, there would then be the typical scenarios where we brave going to the next Wal Mart for some guns and ammunition and also making Molotov cocktails. We would only eat canned foods and live in high places where we have a sentry on the lookout for straying zombies. Perhaps in 5 years or so all the zombies will have starved to death and then we build a new society or something. One that will be good at first and then end up like all the others eventually.

Still Laughing about the Unspeakable...

I could listen to this song, A Whiter Shade of Pale, on Sarah Brightman's CD, La Luna, for the rest of my life. It's one of those songs that gives me a happy feeling that tells me I am doing just fine and everything in my life is going to be just fine. My worries leave my mind and I float into the music where I remember the known known, the unknown known, and the unknown unknown are all there waiting for me to invision them. I see them in big, lower case block letters floating around in front of me where we can stare at each other. I can look at them and see "known known" just being known. The "known unknown" is there somehow floating but I don't know how or why, the "unknown unknown" is what they are all about combined. The way I see it one cannot be without the other of these three unless I knew everything about everything.

I think the thought of consciousness in writing is knowing you want to say something in a way that isn't too "powerful" for words. And sometimes what we know and don't know goes well with music. You know, like lyrics to a song sometimes help us move an unknown unknown into a known unknown and/or a known unknown into a known known. Follow me? I think it is neccessary to use all the different ways to communicate for the right reasons at the right time. It's like being in the right place at the right time for something important to fall into place. That important thing in writing begining with a known known and leaving the unknown, unknown.

Laugh stupid

OMG, it's the middle of the week and I haven't started my blog! OMFG! But anyway, I blame it on English (not this class) that I'm overwhelmed with schoolwork. Either that or Honors 2110. Yeah, sure I could push a little harder, but then I wouldn't have time to write this blog. Aww, shame.

Other than that, classes are going great and every time I tutor someone, I think of one more thing I want to do in school or do with my life. And speaking of the unknowns.... there such a thing. Guess not because now it's a 'thing.' Maybe when we're dead we will know the unknowns, or maybe we'll be the unknowns. LOL instead of zombies, we're unknowns. It's funny, laugh 'toopid. *giggle*

Oh, and my friend Karina spilt apple juice on herself today at lunch. She deserved it though becuase she was embrassassing us by acting like Melissa (the one in Florida, not here). ohh, ohh! can y'all find the fragments? There's a couple. yellow!

Oh, and to be a little school girl for once in my life-s'yeah right--Mike's like a total babe and none of you know who I'm talking about. So this just proves my insanity. This and the fact that I want to sleep in the elevator.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I don't use Post-it notes to write papers

I don’t remember exactly how I learned to write, but I know it had a lot to do with reading. If I never had a desire to read, I would have never had a desire to write, or when I had to write, I wouldn’t have cared about it. I remember always enjoying reading. I used to read instead of watching television, which is not always the case today. In elementary school, reading and writing always seemed to me to be the same subject. We would read a story, and then write a story. And since I cared about reading well, I cared about writing well. I remember telling a boy in my class that knife started with a k and not an n. We argued for a couple of minutes until he asked the teacher who told him that knife did start with a k. I liked paying attention to those types of things – spelling, grammar, punctuation – I loved it.
It wasn’t until high school that I really cared about developing my writing style and technique. In my sophomore history class, I learned to write a five-paragraph essay. This didn’t help me write beautifully, but it taught me the basic things to include in a paper for school. Once I knew what to include in a school paper – thesis, topic sentences, conclusion – I could experiment a little and work on developing my ideas and language. I don’t really remember learning anything useful in my English classes, however. One of my teachers wanted me to write blurbs of ideas on little post-it notes and stick them on an huge sheet of paper to figure out how to organize my paper. I think she called it a post-it outline. I thought this was ridiculous, so I didn’t do it. Instead, I wrote my outline on a sheet of notebook paper, and if I didn’t like what I had, I’d erase it and rearrange it. It worked out just fine, and I got an A on the final paper. Most of my other teachers thought it would also be a good idea to learn from other students through peer editing. I thought this was also ridiculous. I would always end up editing someone’s paper who didn’t really know what they were doing, and I’d spend the whole time making their sentences complete.
Looking back, I’m not really sure how I learrned to write. I think it was a combination of reading a lot, paying attention to the elements needed in writing, and then figuring out what I liked and what worked for me. A lot of what I learned was self-taught. I just took some of what I learned in school, then thought about what would sound good and tried my best because I was afraid of bad grades.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Still the Black Leopards

It all began with Sumatra. The short story was "The Jungle." The author was an obviously original storyteller who searched the globe for simply someplace faraway with a unique name and assumed that leopards lived there. Black leopards.
But maybe it began earlier...
I can remember two specific events that seemed to have occurred at nearly the same time. I discovered a book in my room (something remarkable only a child can really experience) and read poetry for apparently enough time that I calculate it as hours in my mind. And it was as others have described before: something lit a match in my head and illuminated what I previously perceived as darkness -- and my eyes are still adjusting. I caught my first glimpse of what C.S. Lewis calls "Joy." But "heaven gives its glimpses to those not in position to look too close."
And soon thereafter I was sitting with the other children, listening to the library lady read with incredible animation. She mentioned something about a writing contest and there again a matched scratched -- someone once compared it to the change from black-and-white to technicolor -- and I've never stopped writing since.
"The Jungle"was soon followed by "The Darkness," with certainly enough revisions to make me appear wonderfully prolific (always such an innocent deceiver, I was). But I kept writing; I kept reading. And I don't know whether everyone eventually feels that sudden breeze from an unseen valley, whether we all come to the same conclusion about writing. But the idea that I could create is what pushed me (and pushes me) to perfect a style of my own, and share it with those who will listen.