"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Friday, August 21, 2015

Final Friday Prep

It's the Friday before classes start and I'm starting to get an idea of what I'm doing next week. Tis the life of an adjunct to have one's schedule up in the air even to the last minute. I'm learning flexibility here. I'm thrilled to teach the composition here, because it's one of the few places in the country that's using this model of separating out its developmental students from its classes. I think it's brilliant--we all learn more when we are challenged by our peers, see models of work and behavior we want to emulate, and I much prefer talking about writing students in terms of what they bring to a classroom, rather than their "deficiencies." 

So, I'm teaching a 990/1200/1201 course, which is six credits for me. All 25 students take 1200/1201 together (the code difference has to do with the 990 component) and then the 990 students take two extra hours a week with me. Everybody's doing the same thing, with a little extra attention to the 990 students. I plan to approach this like there's no difference between the "developmental" and the "regular" students, not even calling attention to the way that the class is set up. We are who we are. 

Today, as I'm trying to figure out how to use D2L, finalize my syllabus (or at least the first two weeks of each class), I'm also thinking about new ways to start off the semester. Since I'm thinking so strongly about highlighting student strengths, I think I'm going to have Colaiste Lurgan playing as they walk in. We're talking about cultural literacy in the first couple of weeks in my comp class and though we're talking about refugees (Mary Pipher's The Middle of Everywhere) and Hmong refugees in St. Paul (Kao Kalia Yang's The Latehomecomer), what Colaiste Lurgan does with its students is terrific. Irish is compulsory in Ireland and many kids go to these summer schools for immersion experiences so that they can pass the requirements. Naturally, many kids hate this. But a few years ago, the administrations decided to translate popular songs into Irish and make music videos of them--and whatever the students' strengths are, they're incorporated. Voice, dance, fiddle, and more. The way this one activity--whose goal is to strengthen language--also strengthens students' beliefs in what they bring to a group, that's terrific. And it's what I want to do this semester in this class. It's going to be a fun one. 

We had two days of workshops this week, as many others did, and hearing all the great things NHCC is doing with and for its students--I'm so glad to be here. (I'm also getting a better sense of what it means to be a state school...) A beneficial thing they did for us, that I haven't seen in any other pre-semester workshop setting, is that they had actual workshops for us to attend--actual professional development--which was brilliant.  I went to one that showed us how to migrate our grades from D2L (the management software NHCC uses) to the registrar's office. That was less than helpful, because I didn't even know where to find my gradebook in my class in D2L, so I made notes for later. 

But the second two were great: the first was "Sexual and Dating Violence Bystander Training For Faculty" led by Chad Henderson, director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution--part of their Behavioral Concerns and Response Team, and Sheila Lindstrom, sociology faculty, who had just come back from Green Dot training in Washington, DC. I've never been a part of a non-residential campus and it definitely has its challenges, when keeping its students safe. The information was very important, very timely, and I'm so glad I went. Partly because I'm teaching my Intro to Lit as crime literature, but also because when the fall Assay comes out, we've got an article on there, an annotated bibliography by Christian Exoo and Sydney Fallone titled "Using CNF to Teach the Realities of Sexual Assault to First Responders: An Annotated Bibliography"--and I'll update this post once Assay goes live and you can see it--and as I'm listening to this information, I'm thinking of the various aspects of my professional life colliding. So I'm going to send both presenters Christian and Sydney's article. 

The last session I went to was on "Responding to Students in Distress," by the counseling center--and as a new employee, I wanted to know more about the counseling center as much as I was hoping for new information. As anybody who teaches first year students knows (and English teachers who often require personal writing in their classes), we see a lot of distress that goes beyond what we're capable of handling. 

So, the takeaways here: actual workshops during workshop days (rather than updates on construction, etc. that could be taken care of in an email) are something that every institution should work towards. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Adventures at North Hennepin Community College!

It's been a long time since I posted here, but I'm inspired to start it up again as I embark on a new adventure in teaching at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Since I last posted, many things have happened, including the publication of my first book and the birth of my brand new nonfiction studies journal, Assay, which will publish its third issue in about two weeks.

I'm in the midst of planning my new classes at NHCC and as I'm reworking my Place and Community class for this particular group of students and their needs, so much is changing. Just on a personal level, it's a new place for me and that always shakes new creativity loose, both for my own writing and pedagogically.

So, here's where I'm starting: I finally finished Imagination in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Creative Writing in Ireland, edited by Anne Fogarty, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, and Eibhear Walshe, as I'm writing a review for New Hibernia Review. It's fascinating on a lot of levels, only partially because I just got back from Ireland a few weeks ago, where I basked in the glory that is the Galway Arts Festival. (Which is why I'm listening to the incongruous combination of Little Green Cars and Damien Rice this morning, because I got to hear both of them in concert.) The trip gave me new perspective on my own writing--one of which is that I realized that I lost the joy of reading somewhere along the way, so there's a post coming about Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill's Selected Essays that I found in Charlie Byrne's bookshop in Galway--and that kind of energy always finds itself in my teaching.

As I'm working on formulating this review, I'm trying to document its process for my students--we all know that our work doesn't spring fully formed, but very rarely do we see the iceberg under the water. Art, of any persuasion, requires work. I've also been working on my own writerly habits this summer, through Julia Cameron's book The Sound of Paper, doing the work of being a writer, focusing on my process, rather than product. It was in Galway a few weeks ago that I realized some truths about myself as a writer, things I'd lost over the past few years in the transition from my teaching at Bowling Green to my PhD at Nebraska--and I'm slowly starting to get those pieces back and it feels really good. I'm hoping that reporting on my pedagogy as I used to will also help me regain some of what I've felt has been missing lately.

This semester, I'm teaching and intro to lit (will post on that later) and two sections of NHCC's gateway composition course, which combines developmental writers with those who tested into Comp I--the format I'm not exactly sure of yet (I just got the job a few days ago), but I'm really excited for this new stretching of my teaching, both pedagogically and personally. I've wanted the chance to work with first generation and low income students since teaching in the Thompson Scholars learning community at Nebraska--and so I'm very, very excited about this. Since I don't know the parameters of the course yet, what the departmental requirements are, I'm formulating the basic class anyway and I think it's going to concentrate on this kind of scaffolding:

  • Literacy narratives: where they come from (George Ella Lyons' poem), what they bring to the classroom (rather than the deficiencies they think they have), and what constitutes cultural literacy;
  • Using Bonnie Stone Sunstein and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater's textbook Fieldworking, we're going to research a community of their choosing. This will involve interviews and oral history work, as well as objective library types of research. I've always found that separating field research from library research is problematic.
  • This research project will then expand into an advocacy project, working on the difference between arguing and advocacy, to formulate a plan that identifies stakeholders and proposes something that would benefit this community.
Obviously there are kinks and how this works out is going to depend on the specifics I get from the department, but I like the way this is shaping up. I've never taught literacy narratives before, so that's going to be a fun new thing for me. When I've taught this before, I used Mary Pipher's The Middle of Everywhere, which is about refugees in Lincoln, Nebraska--and that's great when I was teaching in Lincoln, but I also want to incorporate something local. I picked up The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang, about Hmong refugees in St. Paul, and that might fit the bill.

So, here's to new adventures in place-conscious pedagogy!