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

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!

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