Monday, February 21, 2005

Mickey Hess article

I questioned Hess's Surrealist theme as I began reading the article. Then I realized that Hess and I aren't too far apart really. Hess is different than some composition teachers. He cares about how the students learn. His mention of students' metacognitive awareness surprised me. As teachers, we are quick to judge and dismiss what the students bring to our classes. "Didn't anyone teach them before they came to my class?" I think this feeling is prevalent for most teachers. I also think that the assignment becomes the focus. But Hess's article goes beyond that. He says that it is important to value what they bring to the classroom. He isn't just asking them to fulfill a writing assignment, but he asks them to think about their own process--do some metacognition--and to allow them to work together in a collborative environment. He really decentered the authority in that classroom by allowing the students to become the experts--the sources. By creating this student-centered classroom--this inquiry classroom--he is modeling Friere.

I thought it was interesting that he modeled this student-centered classroom and really forced them to re-think their perspectives on research and then he included some assignments that didn't seem to match his previous goals. And the students noticed. It can be very easy when you get tired or you are not sure what to do in class to just through some assignment in that isn't genuine--that doesn't have a real purpose. He had challenged their thinking so much and then he gave them the equivalent of some busy work and some of the students noticed.

I like the idea of a theme. I'm wondering what my theme should be. I don't know yet.

He quotes Ervin who writes that she has to "disabuse them [students] of the notion that the principal purpose of writing is self-expression." What writing, except for technical writing, isn't some sort of personal expression. If we see "research" writing as a genre without personal expression then we confirm to students that their literal definition of research is correct: "reporting, restating, or repeating information."

Then he quotes, Barth. We discussed this before. Isn't our goal to invite students to become participants in academic work rather than just regurgitators or experts. Friere would support that we invite students to add and participants rather than sit by passively and repeating what "experts" have said on a topic.

Actually, some things that he mentioned doing in class reminded me why I like the idea of an I-Search paper. I like that the student picks a topic in which she has a genuine need to know more about. The paper includes field work--especially interviews. When the topic is important to them, then they begin looking more critically and analytically at the sources. The metawriting he includes is also hugely important. This allows them to see that all sources don't have a simple right or wrong answer. When they start looking critically at research then they begin to see the arguments and disagreements and where their opinions stand in the academic conversations about the topic.

When he quoted Berthoff, it made me think about Moffett and his sensory writing. I would like to turn his sensory writing assignment into a research type assignment. I don't think it would be hard to do. Then I could incorporate some field work into that assignment.

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