Thursday, February 24, 2011

Community College, Career Goals, and Composition Pedagogy

Last weekend, I spent a good deal of time procrastinating on grading papers because, let's face it, I was in mortal terror of that tiny little stack of essays. I've never graded anything in my life, and firsts are sometimes excruciating. I didn't want it to be excruciating, I wanted to enjoy it, but I also wanted someone with whom to commiserate. I Googled "first time grading papers" because that's where I was (still am?). While I came across some interesting articles and forum responses about grading, I really wasn't imparted with any great knowledge or the key to successful, succinct grading. I did however find Equality 101, an education blog, and with it some really fascinating essays about teaching composition.

I've come to find, through this graduate assistant process, that composition pedagogy is something I'm very interested in. While I have no interest in teaching children, I'm finding that my interest in pursuing a career as an English instructor on the community college level is growing. Honestly, I think community colleges get a bad rap. I've found that many people, quite mistakenly believe, that no quality education is to be found in community colleges, something I vehemently disagree with. I attended jr. college for a year before going onto the university. As a non-traditional student, I needed the baby steps between high school, which I graduated in 1996, and the university. Had it not been for community college, I wouldn't have my BA, and I certainly wouldn't be perusing my MA. I even took comp 111 at a community college and carried from it the lessons I would need to succeed in both composition 112 and higher level English at the university. I am an English major, after all, and community college is my foundation.

All that having been said, I feel like community colleges need quality instructors just like universities and I've never made a secret of my desire to teach in a community college. When they asked me, in my interview for the graduate assistant position, what my career goals were, I told them exactly that, that I intended to go back to my roots, to community college. Okay, slight tangent aside, I wanted to share something I found with you because I am so impressed and inspired by this.

An essay "Teaching the Citational Syntax of Critical Discourse to Students with No Great Interest in Either" by Diego Báez suggests that:
Because successful citation requires students take themselves seriously as editors, as much as they must be writers as well, and because very few teenagers and twentysomethings see themselves as crotchety old scholars with bifocals and obscure bodies of work, I like to compare instead the researcher to a late-night dance club DJ: someone well-versed in material she intends to spin for the benefit of her audience.

Taken on it's own, this is fascinating to me. Added to his next move and I was so impressed I shared his advice with my colleagues and friends. I really feel like Diego's made an effort to reach his students with this, and as I've recently learned with an assignment we're giving our students requiring them to describe and evaluate ads, an engaged classroom is an amazing place. So what is his next move? Here it is:
One such person in particular serves as a conveniently (literally) illustrative example. Nick Bertke, a.k.a. Pogo, arranges sound fx from feature films over uncomplicated instrumentals to create (again, literally) fantastic remixes of soundtracks.... Bertke’s method works so well, not only because the reordered samples work together aurally, but because the source movies are of course musicals in the first place.... So too with academic writing: scholars must acknowledge and arrange previous work in meaningful ways to contextualize whatever they want to say within a larger framework.

Okay, so I saw this, thought it through and went straight to Pogo's website to hear exactly what Diego was talking about. I was nothing less than impressed, not only because Pogo's work is amazing, but because the example is so on point.  This is something a more sophisticated, say English 112 (composition & research), students can understand with some explanation and it's such a beautiful illustration of how applying this method to writing, a student can create harmony in text.

Not quite sold, or need those Pogo examples?  Check these out:

Pretty amazing, right? Well, clearly I'm biased because I'm sharing it here. I found it really fascinating the way the music works with with sound bites from the films. There're more, if you're interested in hearing them, but there ones were my favorite. Go and check out Equality 101 while you're at it, they have some really interesting essays about education for teachers and students at all levels.