Tag Archives: #engl7701

You can go your own way, but…

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There is always one.

One student who pushes back against anything new. Another one who just wants to “do school” and get it over with.  Still another one who has no interest in my beloved ELA content.

Short of calling in my friend’s herding dog, how can I engage those students who want to go their own ways?

I believe the best way to engage students in through story. Not necessarily writing fiction, but living and sharing their own personal stories through the literature we read, the current events we address, and the multiple modes we employ.

Every student has a unique story, and the ELA classroom is the ideal laboratory for exploring identity as it is revealed by story and how that connects to the greater world, both present and past. It’s why I love teaching Frankenstein. The opportunity to connect science, ethics, and philosophy captures almost every student. Their opinions come from their own backgrounds, and the deeper we get into the book, the more they begin to see that literature has teeth and allows multiple interpretations. (I’m thinking I may put Waiting for Barbarians with Frankenstein for my AP class. Ask the question: who are the real barbarians and who is the true monster? That could be fun.)

Over the next few months I intend to ponder the power of story and how to tell each one. Language and story are inter-related, but how does one influence the other? What is the best way to herd wayward students into the fold of critical thinking and effective communication?

The story shall unfold.

(Thanks for Simon Ensor and Steve Wheeler for the #blimage challenge.)

Named

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“Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos, we see despite all the chaos.”
― Madeleine L’EngleWalking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

I’ve been participating in a grand experiment on Twitter called #WalkMyWorld. It is part of my English class for graduate school. but my class is a small part of a much larger project. For several weeks, people from all over have posted pictures on Twitter with the hashtag Walk My World. We did this not knowing exactly what we would do with these pictures, but played along because grand experiments can be fun. (And because it is a class requirement, but I think I would have played along anyway.)

The experiment took a poetic turn in the fourth week. Using the poetry of Robert Hass, participants were instructed to consider one poem and describe how Hass uses everyday objects as poetic inspiration. My first thought was of William Carlos Williams and his poems about sweet plums and white chickens. As it turns out, Hass won  the William Carlos Williams award in 1979, so I was accurate in my reaction. Hass considers naming things a way to establish identity through one’s surroundings. Forrest Gander, in his critique of Hass’ Praise (1979) wrote, “Can the act of naming the world separate us from the world?”

Because I am currently reading and re-reading Madeleine L’Engle these days, that question captured me. How does giving something a name separate it from other things? And how does that separation identify us? L’Engle was a strong believer in the idea of Naming. The idea shows up in her work, both fiction and non-fiction. Naming something gives it a self, a life. It is part of what makes us, as humans, both unique and whole.

When we do the naming, then yes, we do separate ourselves from the world. Hass encounters a mockingbird, one distinct from all the others because it has interacted with him in his world by being seen. But it is still one of many mockingbirds.  He describes a family, their activity, their look, and their language. They are distinct from other families by being in his world, but unnamed, they blend in to the general observations of Hass. And then, Hass NAMES someone. John. A friend in crisis whom Hass is helpless to comfort. In naming his friend, Hass separates himself from the world in his immediate vision and transports himself wholly, if not physically, to join his friend in grief.  Relationship is revealed in the Naming.  Naming organizes the chaos of all we see so that we can focus on those things that matter most: the people in our lives with whom we share friendship, affection, sorrow, grief, and joy.

To be Named is a gift.

Resources:

McVerry, Greg. http://jgregorymcverry.com/walkmyworld-update/

Williams, William Carlos http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/119

Hass, Robert. “Letter to a Poet”. http://poetry.rapgenius.com/Robert-hass-letter-to-a-poet-annotated