Teaching with Twitter / Teaching Reflexion / Teaching Post-Diss

For the past couple years my posting on this here blog has been incredibly slow. However, as I’ve reentered the classroom this fall, I’ve remembered the genesis of this blog as a space to talk about pedagogy. Suddenly, now that I’m teaching, I’m thinking in blog posts again. Hope to see you more often in this space.

As you also know, for six years at the University of Michigan and Syracuse I taught composition courses focused around hiphop; during my two years off, I wrote my dissertation about this same subject. After analyzing my curricular materials and my students’ writing as well as those products from another teacher’s class, and doing a bunch of historical inquiry, reflective writing, and literature review, I produced “SCHOOLED: Hiphop Composition at the Predominantly White University.”

It was strange writing this diss while not teaching. I kept finding things I did wrong, or wanted to do better, but all I could do was write about them. I realized that I was centering cisgendered Black men in my course materials, and not raising up the voices of women and femmes. I found I wasn’t being vulnerable with my students, and was acting like the same old know-it-all white lady teacher my core beliefs wanted to disrupt. I found I wasn’t teaching my students to locate themselves reflexively vis-a-vis their research subjects, and so was promoting treating hiphop as a commodity rather than a culture. To put it succinctly, I found I could do better.

hashtag adweek

from Adweek

Now, back in the classroom, I am trying to be a different teacher: reflexive, vulnerable, intersectional. And I’m still learning. Still finding boundaries between my students and my new, open self. Still looking for ways to make my class the space where my students can get free. Still searching for the cultural hooks that will power my students to read, reflect, and write. Still listening to who they are, what they want, and what they need. Still learning what young people know, and can do.

One of the things that hasn’t changed is my practice of taking my students onto Twitter. But now this practice has a new context, as I’ve shifted my FYC course from a hiphop focus to one on “hashtag activism.” My students and I are reading hashtag manifestos like “This Tweet Called My Back” and Alicia Garza’s #BlackLivesMatter Herstory. Indeed, this shift in the content I teach emerged directly out of my realization, as I reflected on and through my dissertation, that women of color were not centered in my teaching, and needed to be.

I’ve been trying to talk openly with my students about the risks and rewards, what we rhetoricians call the “constraints and affordances,” of teaching on Twitter. As a class about the hashtag, I feel that students need to engage the medium we are reading and writing about. That’s a cultural rhetorics approach: you can’t theorize something if you don’t do it, have never done it. At the same time, my students have a right to privacy and protected data during their education. We write on a private WordPress site and students have the option of using locked or even alternative Twitter accounts; even so, though, any engagement with a public writing platform (compared with our university managed curricular space) is a compromise, one which compels students to share their identities and data with the corporation, even if their immediate audience stays small.

So far, however, I’m pleased with the changes in my teaching. I see all my students participating more, a critical shift away from the white male dominated spaces I used to lead. I see us engaging with women of color in our classroom discussions and our writing, and I’m looking forward to us directing even more of our financial resources in their direction. I see my students and me thinking deeply about what it means to create knowledge ethically, in our conversations, our citation practices, and our writing. I’m excited to share what we find with you as I continue to learn.

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I’m Here So I Won’t Get Fined (A Beast Mode Bibliography)

Boss.

[UPDATED]: here are some more cultural commentaries on Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman from women writers of color:

On Crunk Feminist Collective, “What Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman Teach Us About Respectability and Black Masculinity”

Jenn M. Jackson’s “We Done Told Y’all What’s Up: Black Folks Are Not Here for the White Gaze” on For Harriet

Jenee Desmond Jackson’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Selective Silence is a Power Move for Black Athletes” on Vox

Sarah Jaffe’s “The Subversive Brilliance of Marshawn Lynch” in The Week

Read more (listed in order of how much I value them):

Jerry Brewer’s “Marshawn Lynch: The Beast Who Says the Least” in the Seattle Times

Michael Silver’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Power Behind Seahawks’ Super Bowl Run” on NFL.com

Barry Petchesky’s “Marshawn Lynch Already Explained Why He Hates Talking To The Media” in Deadspin, which directed me to the first two sources above

Richard Sherman’s “It’s About More Than Me” with Peter King in Sports Illustrated

Jemilah King’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Riot” in Colorlines

The Onion‘s “Marshawn Lynch Delivers Eloquent 45-Minute Address on Privacy in the Modern Age.” 

Nate Scott’s “Marshawn Lynch Calls out Media in Defiant Press Conference” in For The Win

#Beastmode

Love, Hiphop, and Genre: Syracuse

In the last two years, as I’ve revised my pedagogy to center writing studies content in my composition classrooms, there have repeatedly been words–terms, concepts, really–that I joke with students they’ll be sick of by the end of a unit or semester. Last fall, in my freshman 105 class, they were: literacy, discourse, and composition.

This term it was all genre. Genre, genre, genre, genre, genre.

Yes, I took my department’s challenge to use genre as the lens through which we approached all assignments and concepts, using genre to access the same concepts of students’ literacies (what genres do they write in?), discourse (what are the discursive demands of different genres?) and even, yes of course, hiphop. (Who knew sampling was a discursive practice with its roots in African-American rhetorical practice? Oh, ok. We did. But my frosh didn’t. But now they do!)

I want to take this opportunity to reflect about how this went.

First of all, my successes. And there’s one I’m really proud of: this is the best I’ve ever done at convincing my non-humanities students–and in today’s preprofessional university, this is most of them–that writing will matter for them in their major and their career. The engine of this recognition was their third unit assignment, which asked them to research a genre they expect to write in in their major or career and interview at least one person who writes in it regularly. My students researched press releases, sports play-by-plays, children’s books, spoken word poetry, medical textbook chapters, biomedical research articles, engineering field reports, event planning proposals, movie reviews, lab reports, health and safety plans, and more. And beyond recognizing about the real audiences, exigencies, and discourses engaged by these genres, they also repeatedly noted and reflected upon the fact that writing was going to follow them into their futures, a reality many had not accepted when they first entered my class.

Without a doubt, this is my greatest success this semester and the biggest boost I got from the genre-centered approach, because I have been trying for my five years as a composition instructor to communicate to my students that there is no person in the 21st century who does not have to write on the job, and who is not more successful when they can do so with a clear sense of message and proof.  I was finally able to achieve this pedagogical goal by deputizing my students to go out on their own and seek out the genres they would need in their own lives.

Now my failings. To be fair to myself, I’ll note that most of them were curricular snafus borne from this being my first time teaching this version of the course. I note them here mostly for my future self, for when I teach this class again.

First of all, and it’s a biggie, I need to teach visual and multimodal rhetoric more explicitly, more smartly, and with better readings. I gestured at it in class but in my putting off the reading assignments to find something good to assign, I ended up forgetting to assign a reading and that let to my students giving really boring, ugly powerpoints.

Second: if I assign presentations again, no powerpoints allowed.

Third: if I require students to bring in a 3D object again, we need to have some make art time in class together. A lot of students brought in, like, a handout or a cookie. No shade to cookies, but, ya know.

Four: always build in drafting. I didn’t for the first unit blog post, and there wasn’t much time for student discussion after presentations, and that was bad. More feedback from the class always. Also, this reminds me that I really want to do full-class workshops in the future and center student writing as course texts more. The challenge for me here is that it is always so hard to cut down the assigned readings to make space for this. But I just have to do it.

FIve: I had students tweet and take images of each other in media groups so they could respect each other’s privacy wishes about sharing content on the web, but then other students could also share as well. I should have just had everyone live tweet everyone and have each student start their presentation with a statement of how they wanted their content shared or not and their privacy protected.

Six: I had a students make a Storify but I didn’t have them comment on each other’s Storifys using the little built-in comment thing. So I should do that!

Ok enough with those quibbles. I want to close by brainstorming about next semester, when I teach 205, the required critical research course for second-semester sophomores.

The version I taught last spring and summer moves through three units: an opening critical reading unit, where I give the students a bunch of articles about hiphop, discourse, literacy and education; a research unit, where they identify a research question and pursue it independently; and a paper-writing unit, where they write the paper. Also usually I make them reflect at the end, because I ❤ reflective writing.

Mostly I need an excuse to teach this article, a lawyer’s inquiry into the traffic stop scene in “99 Problems.”

I wonder what would happen if I made them research method, genres, and research questions in their fields, design a project for that field, and then execute it? I like that idea. I also like the idea of them keeping a blog all semester and I ALSO like the idea of having a class blog where one student is responsible for writing a course recap every week and then we workshop it in class the next week. What do y’all think of that? TB, out.

Put Tupac on the SAT Exam

Tupac's handwritten poem "The Rose that Grew From Concrete," via cleeclothing.com

Tupac’s handwritten poem “The Rose that Grew From Concrete,” via cleeclothing.com

Imagine what would happen if Tupac’s “Changes” appeared on the SAT Reading exam:

  • Every high school in the country would scramble to start teaching its students to close-read rap songs
  • Rappers would suddenly be acknowledged as writers of poetry, whose lyrics contain the same poetic, narrative, and rhetorical devices–metaphor, irony, anaphora, character, apostrophe, setting, motifs, anecdote, allusion–as other canonized literary texts
  • The SAT would have to acknowledge dialect diversity, preface its “Complete these sentences correctly” section with “Using Standard English…,” and critical language awareness would suddenly appear in high school English curricula
  • Curriculum planners and students would see contemporary writing as worthy of study 

Continue reading

On Ethos (or, White Woman Writing Kanye West)

I recently published an essay in The American Reader, “Yeezy Rising,” which related mainstream media’s persistent mockery of Kanye West to historical discourses around lynching, a public media spectacle which celebrated the dehumanization and murder of outspoken, upwardly mobile black men. The piece was generally well-received, especially, I noticed, by other white academics. Despite my promotion of the piece and my social media connections with scholars of color, however, I also noted that writers and thinkers of color generally didn’t seem interested in my article. I found myself wondering if I had mishandled my subject or if it was somehow offensive or distasteful to a more sensitive and discerning crowd.
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One comment at the end of the piece offered some insight. Continue reading

Grades, Schmades

Last week I started to have this funny feeling, a feeling I had never had before. My students were e-mailing each other the first drafts of their Unit 1 Blog Posts, and I was reading with such glee how much this whole literacy-based inquiry had captured their interest. Every Single One of them engaged their personal literacies in the service of some kind of argument about what literacy means or how we teach reading and writing today. Every Single One of them challenged a traditional portrait of literacy that only values alphabetic, academic reading and writing. That is to say, every single on of them did, to some extent, what I asked them to do on their assignment sheet, and what I really wanted them to do. They engaged.

Zen, Motorcycle Maintenance, and a Crashed Crop Duster in the Background

Zen, Motorcycle Maintenance, and a Crashed Crop Duster in the Background

And for the first time ever I had this crazy little feeling like, I didn’t want to give them grades. Continue reading

SCHOOLED [the first three pages of my imaginary Comp/Rhet book]

[for the first meeting of CCR 611, history of composition, we were asked to write the first three pages of our future first book in the field– pure whimsy, of course, since we’re all first and second years. Here’s what I came up with.]

Rap is a referendum on America’s failed schools. In a moment too reminiscent of our own, urban youths stood outside the walls of schools with no budget for art class and made a whole culture out of the detritus of the society which had discarded them. From spoken language the rapper spat verse; the DJ scratched the break beat into vinyl; writers painted reclaimed language on subway cars; postmodern dancers fashioned studios out of cardboard; all of these children, artists and intellectuals, dropping the sweet science of hiphop. Continue reading

I spent 900 days in TA orientation and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post Idea

Q: Why, oh, why do we blog?
A: So that the Internet will remember all the ephemera that otherwise get written in notebooks, lovingly stored and transported around the country with every move, and never opened again!

Here is what I learned in six days of TA orientation. Continue reading

Rapping About Rapping: Remembering Writing Studies

via BedfordStMartins.com

via BedfordStMartins.com

A month from today I will leave the house I share with my partner in Sunnyvale and I will fly from San Jose to Chicago to spend two days catching up with family and friends. On the 11th, I will pick up my UHaul and drive it to Michigan, collect my belongings from my boyfriend’s basement in Ann Arbor, hitch my much-missed Honda Civic to the back of the truck, and drive along the great lakes to Syracuse. TA orientation starts on August 14.  Continue reading

Thoughts on Composing / (A) Composition

You know you’re a writing teacher when you read an awesome article that combines content, form, style and structure to make its point clearly and beautifully and think: I want to put this in a syllabus. Or so it was for me, with Larissa MacFarquhar’s requiem for Aaron Swartz in last week’s New Yorker, which you should read.

But actually, I don’t want to talk about that piece. I just squeezed it in there for kicks; I actually want to begin with a moment in another article from the same magazine issue, a profile on jazz pianist Jason Moran. There is a moment where Moran is teaching a lesson at the New England Conservatory of Music to a student named Chase Morrin.

“How would you play that song another way?” Moran said when [the student] finished.

“Is that rhetorical?” Morrin asked.

“No, it’s not. I want you to do it now.”

Morrin started again, but Moran immediately rebuked him for imitating the style of a famous piano player. “I don’t want to hear that stuff,” he said. “You’re more creative than that. That’s good for him, not for you. I want you to go somewhere else.”

Morrin began playing very fast, almost antically.

“Stop,” Moran said. “Stop. it’s its own rhetoric now. Once you start doing a bunch of arpeggios, it’s like an exercise. In the beginning, you didn’t know where things were going. I want us to maintain that uncertainty. I don’t want to see autopilot. Where I want you to start is, I don’t know. I want a whole lot of I don’t know.”

Then the article moves to Moran’s next lesson.

This moment reminded me of a meeting with my creative writing thesis advisor, my senior year of college. We had been meeting every week or two to talk about my work. For the first month or so, I had been attempting a novel about a student who gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. But it was bad, and then Juno came out, so I switched to writing short stories, which were better. My advisor wanted twenty pages every week. I would send them and we would meet in his office in the arts building on Wednesdays, which was the only day he was on campus, or sometimes we would get a beer. And I remember once, we were in his office, facing each other each from our own slim couch, the afternoon light falling on us through west-facing windows, and I said something to the effect of, “Inspiration is weird. Where does it come from.”

And instead of really answering me, he told me to read Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles, which had recently been released, that Dylan had a better answer for me than he did. So I went and read Dylan’s book, and listened to the not seminal album, Oh Mercy, around whose recording the book revolves, and smoked cigarettes out of my dorm room window and watched the people walking on the street beneath, knowing they’d never look up. And at some point I went back to my little couch and kept reading and that day or another day found the part where Dylan describes a song as a thing that kind of hovers in front of him, and you can’t get to close to it, and if you try to grab it, it will vanish, so you have to just sort of respect its distance from you, and slowly approach it through writing.

(I looked for the passage just now on Google Books but without much luck. A keyword search for “inspiration” turned up nothing; “in front of” fared slightly better. I found this: “This song is like that. One line brings up another, like when your left food steps forward and your right drags up to it.” But even that’s not quite what I remember. I think it was in pp. 150-200. Maybe you will find it.)

Bob_Dylan_Chronicles,_Volume_1

And I remember the first semester I taught composition full-time, I had one class where everything was just right–the kids where great, the classroom was big, with an A/V hookup. The professor before us taught a class about jazz, and I thought maybe that left us some good vibes in the room. We had a bunch of musicians in that class, music students studying jazz guitar and cello and music composition, and when I assigned the writing-on-writing paper at the end of the term, I said they could write about writing music if they wanted, and some of them did. One girl turned in a bunch of MP3s with songs she’d written, and her essay was all about them–where they came from, what they meant.

It’s funny, a few weeks ago I wrote this post on Jewish-African-American relations, and ever since then I’ve felt this pressure to write the follow-up posts I promised, on all sorts of important topics I detailed in that piece. And in the process of not following up I realized that part of the hang up is that I write about Jewish-Afroamerican relations every day, I just don’t share it with you: because in the novel I am writing, have been writing forever, my Jewish main character moves from a relationship with a black man to one with an Arab woman. But y’all don’t see that book, because that’s the difference (for now, at least) between writing fiction and writing a blog.

On Friday I was working on this scene where my protagonist finds another character dead in her apartment. I’ve written this scene maybe three or four times; I was looking through some old drafts. The funny thing is, all of my drafts from grad school are beginnings. Together they add up to almost the whole novel, but every time I turned pages in, they started at page 1. I remember a professor at grad school telling me to be patient, that you can’t write a whole novel at once, that I had to let the thing unwind. Now, finally, I’ve managed to hide this death til the middle. But it’s taken me five years to learn how.

About Jason Moran, the jazz pianist, the established saxophonist Greg Osby said this: “I could hear the history of the piano in all that he did. He wasn’t like a twenty-one-year-old who wants to play everything he knows all the time. It was not a bombardment. he did all the right things, and more.” Later, Moran gives a student to another lesson, Jiri Nedoma, who is working on an original composition. “‘You have to add an introduction,’ [Moran] said when Nedoma finished. He balled his hands together and opened them as if to reveal something. ‘Unfold the song slowly,’ he said. ‘You can’t show me the whole thing at once.'”

And now my mind flies back to college, to my last March and April there, spent writing a thesis, when I would take my laptop to the reading room in the music library, and face wide windows that looked out into green spring trees. I remember rewriting the same story from the perspective of three different characters, how little details emerged each time, how the friend could see around corners that the aunt couldn’t. Those were the days when I felt like I could be a writer, like there was nothing better I would rather do than sit in a room, looking at the trees, taking real life and making it something greater, something with language and form.

How does one learn to teach writing? (the teacher reflects)

091228_agra_india_taj_mahal_reflection_pool_water_travel_photography_MG_8228

You may have noticed that some of my recent blog post titles are alike. That’s because the last paper assignment of the semester in my freshman English course is to write an essay that answers some personalized version of the question, “How does one learn to write?” I received great papers on how one learns to write thesis statements, how one learns to write through their mistakes, how Kanye learns to rap and graffiti writers in Style Wars learn how to bomb, etc. And in working on this project with my students (lesson plans for which I have yet to put up), I began thinking about how I learned to teach writing. Because this was my last semester teaching at U of M, at least for a while and likely for a long while or forever, the question seemed pressing and I began taking notes. Given that I’ve blogged lesson plans all semester for the expressed purpose of reflecting, taking a moment to formally reflect seems apt.

The list I ended up with is a combination of stuff I’ve learned to do, assumptions I’ve learned I hold, and activities or practices I want to incorporate in the future. I’ll split them up that way.

1. Assumptions I’ve learned I hold

  • Put the argument up front, in the introduction. Have a thesis statement. Have topic sentences and conclusion sentences that relate that paragraph’s work to the thesis. Hell, have paragraphs. Don’t relate your argument to the world. Just get in, prove what you’re proving, and get the heck outta there.
  • Group similar topics of conversation together in the paper; i.e., the same quote or source shouldn’t be discussed on different terms in different places, if it can be avoided (and it usually can).
  • Words can always be cut out.
  • Papers that went through multiple drafts are always better than those that didn’t
  • On a related note, you don’t fully know your argument until the end of writing–writing involves more discovery. Ergo, take that argument you found and draft it back into the beginning of the essay
  • Close reading is contextual: what you find should depend on what you’re looking for, and what you’re trying to prove
  • The difference between a (sophisticated) essay and a(n unsophisticated) report is the former’s acknowledgement of and critical approach toward its source material
  • The difference between “specific,” “explicit,” and “precise”: say a student writes, “Kanye’s verse holds a lot of emotion.” Asking them to be specific entails the questions, Which verses? Which words, which emotions? Then say they revise to, “Kanye’s words “X Y Z” are really important because they contain a lot of strong emotions about how he feels about problems in his community.” That is pretty specific, but it is not explicit. Which emotions? Which problems? Precision is when the author says, “Kanye’s words ‘X Y X’ and ‘A B C’ both connote strong anger” and I ask, can you be more precise, i.e., shade the differences in emotion between the two? Two moments are never identical, only more similar than different.
  • Complexity is crucial. Don’t ignore difference, incorporate it.
  • Don’t speculate, close read. Don’t moralize, illuminate.
  • Never use these words you used in high school: credibility, flow, counterargument. Replace them with truth, logic, complexity.
  • Writing has to be about something. You can’t prove a claim about the world or hiphop or writing or the University of Michigan in five pages, but you can prove something about that text, that song, that video (or their conjunction). And this small expansion of the documented universe is what we call scholarship.

2. Things I’ve recently learned to do (and want to do more of and refine my practice of):

  • Model argumentation by blogging my lesson plans for use in class
  • Use short creative writing assignments to teach students empathy not just with other ways of living but also with other ways of writing
  • Keep records of class and online participation  so that course participation grades are meaningful
  • Use rubrics, which I used to hate, so that students can see their feedback in the context of what better and worse work looks like
  • When students come to office hours, ask them to articulate their papers’ strengths and weaknesses before I read it, so that they develop reflective skills and I don’t give an impression of my omnicience and their dependency
  • Use the scientific method to describe the writing process, where planning and drafting involves making hypothesis, testing them against the evidence, tabulating results and drawing conclusions
  • To state the obvious, I’ve learned to teach writing through hiphop and plan to continue doing so. I’ve learned to do this through organization around a single album, and in a more cross-chronological survey fashion. I hope to refine both. I really want to teach a Ready to Die class. And a hiphop studies survey course. One day!
  • Use reflective writing to help students engage with their own writing practice

3. Things I want to do or want to do better

  • Use research questions as the first step in every writing project
  • Have students engage with real web texts more, through assignments like editing Wikipedia or Rap Genius, or writing blog comments
  • Teach close reading better and more thoroughly at the beginning of the semester
  • Have a discussion about quality and criticism at the beginning of the semester so that students don’t think my rules are arbitrary but instead see recognizing quality as a project for them to actively participate in
  • State these assumptions clearly at the beginning of class!
  • Start an online journal for students to publish and edit their awesome papers
  • Use wikis or google docs for students to collaboratively write documents that will outlast our one semester

So, it’s not enough to ask the question–I made my students answer it, and I ought to do the same. I think one learns how to teach writing by teaching writing. That’s where all these notes came from–teaching writing is the only crucible that works for this difficult and necessary task of learning how to be a better teacher. If I were one of my students, the above would have only been my first outline: now would begin the process of going back through old lesson plans, finding quotations to document how my teaching practice has changed, and crafting all those quotes and claims into a gorgeous argumentative paper that proves I learned to teach writing through teaching writing. Luckily, I’m the teacher – so I’ll just stop here.

How do I learn to write lesson plans so that they’re useful to my students? (50 Cent and Hiphop Masculinity)

50-cent vitamin water

After I wrote my post on 9th Wonder’s lecture at Michigan, in which I argued that 9th modeled producing skills for the audience, I started thinking about what skills I could model for my students. I was already aware that I try to model respectful, specific language when talking about touchy subjects like race or sexuality. But what I really want to model is skills – and my skill, the reason I teach a writing class, is that I’m a writer. But it’s frustratingly hard to model writing practice in the classroom. Usually I’m either lecturing or reactive, giving tips or offering feedback. It’s rare that I actually write something my students see. I have one short close reading that I hand out, but that’s it.

Yet lesson planning is a kind of writing I do before class every day. By arranging a set of texts and a set of questions in 120-minute chunks, I’m using my writing skills of argument, research, evidence, and structure to arrange materials for students so that the texts tell a story and build an argument. When students make connections between texts in class, the secret is that I did a lot of the work for them already – I arranged the texts for that class.

This semester, my advanced class English 225 had an A/V hookup, so toward the end of the semester I began experimenting with putting my lesson plans up on our class blog, instead of keeping them private on my precious looseleaf. And I like to think that by making my lesson plan public, I’m modeling the early work of argument: following the hunches that put texts in dialogue with one another, explaining their links, formulating questions. Making space for argument to begin. Anyway, I did this twice this semester. The first time was about falling masks in Afrodiasporic literature + music, and the second is about 50 Cent and hiphop masculinity, below.

The text that follows is what I posted on our class blog and showed on the overhead projector during class. I had students get into small groups. After each video or audio clip, I asked students to discuss some of the questions I raised in their groups, and then we talked over the same issues as a class.

Marc Lamont Hill writes that (perhaps falsely) outed rapper “Big Daddy Kane was hip-hop’s playboy extraordinaire. With his good looks, braggadocious lyrics, a flashy persona, and even a pimp-like name, Kane’s very identity signified a carefully crafted and extravagantly performed masculinity” (Hill X).

A decade and a half later, another rapper who “extravagantly perform[s] masculinity” is 50 Cent. In his lyrics and videos, 50 Cent’s performance of masculinity makes specific claims about what it means to be a man. This masculinity is in relationship to oneself, to material goods, to women, and to other men.

Examining a selection of 50 Cent’s music and videos, we can ask what values his image projects. What does it mean in this universe to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What is the nature of heterosexual courtship and relationships? Which characteristics are valued and which are scorned?

Listen: “Many Men”

Many men, many, many, many, many men
Wish death ‘pon me
Lord I don’t cry no more
Don’t look to the sky no more

Have mercy on me
Have mercy on my soul

Somewhere my heart turned cold
Have mercy on many men
Many, many, many, many men
Wish death upon me

Watch: “Candy Shop” ; “Window Shopper”

Byron Hurt’s mini documentary “Barack and Curtis” explores the impact of 50 Cent’s masculinity on the American conception of black masculinity, and then compares that image with the image of then-new President Barack Obama. According to Hurt, how does the appearance of Obama challenge the vision of masculinity presented by 50 Cent?

“She is Obi wan Kenobi teaching Luke the force” – my student’s awesome rap about our class

It only took one semester for my students to point out you oughtn’t teach a writing class on rap without at least some time teaching the writing of raps! So, near the end of every semester, we crank a beat, brainstorm rhyming words, and see if we can fill our 16 bars. And then perform! One of my freshman students dropped such hot and complimentary fire that I couldn’t resist reproducing it here…

photo

Oh when I fall, I all fall down

It’s usually because I tripped on my frown

Don’t clown around with Tessa Brown

She knows the difference between nouns and pronouns

She can teach you how to cite a source

She can teach you how to write a course

She is Obi won Kenobi teaching Luke the force

Actually fuck Star Wars, we want Style Wars!

Kanye, I’mma let you finish but let me say

That Matt M. is one of the best of today

What I Would Write My Final Paper on if I Were a Student in my English 225 class

…but instead am just presenting to them today as a set of texts, below.

 

1. We Wear the Mask, by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

 

2. Fugees’ “The Mask”

 

3. Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart 

 

 

3. Kanye v. Kanye

4. Lauryn Hill, “Mystery of Iniquity”

 

 

 

5. Minstrel Man, Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

 

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know 

I die? 

 

6. Lauryn Hill, “Do Wop (That Thing)”

 

Five Weeks of Lesson Plans – on @ProfTriciaRose ‘s Black Noise…and Writing and Stuff

(Ed’s note…this has been in drafts too long, but i’ll update it later (maybe) with images, some missing assignments I haven’t included yet, links and sound. Enjoy. It’s been a busy Oct-Nov)

Hey y’all. So my students are through one paper cycle and on to the second. The first cycle focused on close reading – we looked at a lot of songs in class, their paper assignment was to close read “We Don’t Care” or “All Falls Down,” and for homework we were reading 2 books that did close reading of their own: Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Street and James Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues.

Now we are into our second paper cycle, where we’re working on making more complex arguments by putting two texts in dialogue with each other. Their second paper assignment (which you will see below) asks them to put a claim from one of the books (Cone or Anderson) in dialogue with a claim from The College Dropout. For homework we are reading Tricia Rose’s book Black Noise, and taking lessons from her about how to make arguments using multiple sources. So, if you have Black Noise you can follow along!

LESSON PLAN 6.1: Black Noise, “Two Words,” and Finding Claims

1. Exploring the introduction and ch.1 of Black Noise.

  • Close read the title of the book. What is “black noise”? What meanings does that phrase have to Rose?
  • Rose is very present in the introduction. Why might she identify herself so clearly? What is gained/lost by her presence in the text?
  • Close read to understand the title of ch. 1″ “Voices from the Margins: Rap Music and Black Cultural Production.” What does “cultural production” mean? (2 interpretations of word “culture”)

2. Remember the 2 parts to an argument? Claim/statement of opinion + defense with reasons and evidence. On pp. 1-3 Rose makes a lot of claims.

  • In pairs isolate 3 claims Rose makes in her first few pages. Work to understand them and then think, what evidence will she need to show us to defend that claim?
  • Go over some examples in class–understand Rose’s argument – note that reading her text critically will involve looking for/at her evidence. Suggest students keep their eyes peeled on how Rose manages different types of sources

3. Listen, looking for claims, to “Two Words”

  • In pairs, focus on one verse – via this poetic language, what claims are Mos Def, Kanye making?

4. Hand out Paper 2 Assignment:

Pre-write assignment due Mon 10/22 (bring to class):

To prepare for your second paper, please write 2 preparatory paragraphs. In the first,  isolate a claim and synthesize the argument for that claim as elaborated by EITHER Elijah Anderson in Code of the Street OR James Cone in The Spirituals and the Blues. In another paragraph, bring in a claim made anywhere on The College Dropout by Kanye West or one of his guest artists and begin to suggest how this claim challenges, confirms or adjusts the claim described in the first paragraph.

Paper 2 Assignment:

For your second paper, in 6 pages, please compare a claim made by Anderson or Cone with a claim made by West or one of his guest artists. Your paper should propose an argument about the relationship between these two claims, by using one to challenge, extend, or adjust the other.

This assignment asks a few things of you: identify and discuss a claim made by either Anderson OR Cone in the course of his work. Discuss and assess the ways in which the author presents and defends his claim, noting the strategies he uses to make his argument. Examine evidence from The College Dropout to critique or qualify the author’s claims. How do comments made by Kanye West or one of his guest artists challenge, confirm, or complicate the claims presented by the writer you considered? Or, conversely, how do claims made by Anderson or Cone challenge, confirm, or complicate claims made by West or one of his guests?

Successful thesis statements will make an argument about the relationship between two texts, not about the nature of an issue in the world. Successful papers will shed new light on both the book you choose and the song in question, by drawing innovative connections between the two. Please do not use outside evidence besides those detailed above—focus on the texts and what they can tell us about each other!

LESSON PLAN 6.2: Using structure in arguments about multiple texts

UPDATE: Ok, I just saved this as a draft for 5 weeks. But I am going to valiantly pick up right here and soldier on. Where were we…Week 6? Using structure, you say? DO IT.

1. Rose Ch. 2 “All Aboard the Night Train”: Flow, Layering and Rupture in Postindustrial New York – what is Rose’s argument about in this chapter

  • pp. 23-25 on black music at crossroads in American history- examine each paragraph to see how Rose handles introducing another scholarly source. What was Willis’s claim? Rose’s critique? How does she incorporate what she wants to use from his argument into hers? (scavenger research)
  • pp. 38-39 on flow, layering and rupture – what’s Rose’s argument about hiphop style? how is it related to the postindustrial urban context?

2. For today, students had to write a 2-paragraph Paper 2 prewrite (above)

  •  make sure your partner’s two claims are clearly articulated, with evidence, whether implicit or explicit
  • Make sure the book claim is analytical, not factual
  • How well did your partner give context/trace argument behind that claim?
  • Raise 3 questions about the relationship between 2 sources – which text is the argument about? – discuss a few
  • Reminder: be aware of complexity – no 100% correspondence

WEEK 7.1. NO CLASS – whew!

WEEK 7.2 – sample workshop

For this class, we got into our workshop groups so the groups could interpersonally gel for a class-long workshop-style activity on structure. I handed out a sample pre-write that used Rose instead of Anderson or Cone:

XXX

I explained that this is a way for us to think more about ch. 2 of Rose and practice complex structure. Then I asked students to read the prewrite closely and critique it like they did their partner in the previous class: looking for how well the claims are articulated, raising 3 questions, looking back at Rose to see if her concepts are fully engaged. Then we listened to “Family Business,” the lyrics to which are not included in their coursepack: the idea is to force them (on a rare occasion) to actually listen to how sounds are used and manipulated in the song. I asked them to take notes as to where they noticed flow, layering or rupture in the song, and then we filled up the board (I made them write) with what they noticed. #Crowdsourcing !! Then I returned them to their groups and asked them to write a thesis for Hypothetical Tessa,  to push her argument, to decide which text is the subject of the hypothetical essay and which is a tool being used to make that argument, and finally to write out a structure for this paper. At the end of class, we came together and compared what arguments we made (trying, always trying, to make them more specific) and compared structures. Womp, womp!

WEEK 8.1. – WORKSHOP! SCORE!

Things to look out for as you workshop:

  • Introduction: is it clear what the 2 texts are, and how they’re related?
  • Is evidence closely analyzed?
  • Structure: is information given as needed? Are concepts clear? Are discussions of a single text split up in awkward ways?
  • MAKE SUGGESTIONS. Push the argument to be more specific, to be its best
  • Play with at least 1 big change – what would make this essay more readable, organized, specific? It is okay to ask WHAT IF.

WEEK 8.2 I CANCELLED THIS CLASS TO GO TO A CONFERENCE. SWEET!

WEEK 9.1

1. Rose ch. 3 – “Soul Sonic Forces: Technology, Orality and Black Cultural Practice in Rap Music”

  • Close read the title of this chapter to remind us of its argument- how do (and what are) “technology, orality and black cultural practice” in the context of Rose’s argument?
  • #Crowdsourcing : Split into small groups and find at least 3 places where Rose answers the question, “Why might a rap artist choose to use sampling in their music?” EG WHY SAMPLE –> write that shiz on the board

2. Listen “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin – what is it about? how does the music sound? what is the mood or attitude of the song? what values does Franklin preach? what does she mean by “spirit”?

3. Listen “School Spirit” by Kanye West – what is it about? how does the music sound? attitude/mood? values? “spirit”?

  • Why might Kanye sample Aretha– how do the songs intersect?

4. Could we make an argument using Rose’s concepts (on the board- WHY SAMPLE?) that makes a claim about the effects/uses of this Aretha Franklin sample in “School Spirit”? Small groups:

  • brainstorm possible arguments
  • everyone write 1-2 sentences on how you will use rose to make an argument about Kanye’s sample of Franklin
  • how would you structure this essay? outline it as a group
  • Come back together as a class, think bout structure a lil’ more. Ask: how long would this paper be? (Cuz one day your teacher is gonna say, “Write ten pages about anything we’ve covered this semester.” Word.)

WEEK 9.2 – Sorry, this was a kind of disjointed session

1. MLA – In which I quickly read through my own MLA style guide

2. Signifying – in which we look at an assigned excerpt of Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey (and in which conversation I mentioned that “That’s what she said” is a kind of signifying, because it takes your inane statement – “Just put them [the groceries] in the back [of the car]”  and sexualizes it through an implicit repetition and reversal to highlight physicality)

3. Listen – “School Spirit Skit” #1 and #2 – How is this signifying? on What?

3. Rose ch. 4, “Prophets of Rage: Rap Music and the Politics of Black Cultural Expression”

  • small groups: who are the parties involved in the political encounters in this chapter? –> board
  • read public/hidden transcripts together (100)
  • What are the hidden transcripts in the “School Spirit” skits? What public transcripts are they criticizing? Using what methods as Rose describes?

WEEK 10.1

1. Rose ch 5 – “Bad Sistas: Black Women Rappers and Sexual Politics in Rap Music”

  • How does Rose use the concept of dialogue (147-148) in her chapter’s argument? Who are black women rappers in dialogue with?
  • Thinking about hidden/public transcripts in the context of this chapter–> partners look at excerpts of either Salt N’Pepa’s “Traamp” or MC Lyte’s “Paper Thin” and ask what hidden transcripts are these women rappers articulating? What public transcripts are they criticizing?

2. Paper 3 assignment: Cultural Study

3. Listen: Kanye’s “New Workout Plan”

  • What does Rose’s chapter tell us about male sexual narratives that we could look for in West
  • Note he’s signifying on a workout video
  • Listen: is West sexist or critiquing sexism? Or both?
  • Can we interrogate his attitudes about gender, power, relationships?

4.2, 5.1, and 5.2: All of My Lesson Plans on Cone’s “The Spirituals and the Blues”

Y’all, I am so tired.

LESSON PLAN 4.2: Intro to Cone

1. Spend some time with the Table of Contents. What does it teach us about the subject matter of this book? About the questions Cone will ask?

  • What is Cone like as a speaker? What are his aims in this text? Anyone look at the year (1972)? Context?
  • Explain that even though this book is hard, it gives us a theological vocabulary with which to discuss “I’ll Fly Away,” “Spaceship,” “Jesus Walks” and “Never Let Me Down”

2. Groups of 3-4: After we all read pp. 5-6 together, split into 5 groups and each group is responsible for fully understanding and explaining to the class one of the 5 claims Cone makes about black music:

Black music is unity music. … Black music is functional … Black music is a living reality. … Black music is also social and political. … Black music is theological. (Cone 5-6)

Speaking of which, what’s the difference between theology and religion? What does it mean to claim the spirituals are “theological” as opposed to merely religious?

3. Listen: “I’ll Fly Away” + Spaceship”

  • What does “I’ll Fly Away” add to “Spaceship”? In other words, what might we miss in the latter if the former was excluded?
  • Do we see any concepts from Cone resonating in “Spaceship”?

 

LESSON 5.1

1. Collect their first final papers! Then congratulate them, then… reflective writing!!

  • List the different steps you took to write this paper, as though it was a lab report, from receiving the assignment through turning it in today.
  • Which step was the hardest and which was the easiest? Why?
  • Assess your process – not the product but the process. Did you set goals? Did your steps work? Would you change them?

2. Discuss Cone ch. 4 “God and Black Suffering” and ch. 5 “The Meaning of Heaven in the Black Spirituals”

  • What is the relationship between faith and suffering in the spirituals? What attitude to the spirituals take?
  • What are the multiple meanings of Heaven Cone sees in the spirituals?
  • What kinds of questions does Cone ask of the lyrics he analyzes?

3. “Jesus Walks”

“God show me the way cuz the devil tryna break me down.

I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid cuz we ain’t spoke in so long.

Jesus walks with me…

  • Can we apply Cone’s questions to Kanye? What is the image of God he gives us in his lyrics, or of Jesus? What about the devil?
  • A music video makes choices about how to represent a song: is it literal; does it draw our attention to certain storylines, sounds, or themes; how is the artist positioned in the video, if at all; etc.
  • Compare 2 versions of “Jesus Walks” video, asking above questions of each.

 

LESSON PLAN 5.2 (meet in computer lab)

1. Cone- “The Blues”

  • What’s the relationship between the spirituals and the blues?
  • p. 100 Cone says the two genres share the same “ethos” – what does that mean?
  • What does Cone mean by absurdity? “But absurdity int he blues is factual, not conceptual. The blues, while not denying that the world was strange, described its strangeness in more concrete and vivid terms” (101). What, in the view of the blues, is so absurd? “The blues…recognize that there is something wrong with this world, something absurd about the way that white people treat black people….The blues caught the absurdity of black existence in America and vividly and artistically expressed it in word and suitable music.” (112)

2. Introduce a PARADIGM SHIFT: From doing primary source work to secondary source work

  • Remind me what primary vs. secondary sources are?
  • In the first part of class, we wrote about primary sources and read texts that wrote about primary sources. (Anderson had his transcripts, Cone has his lyrics.) But now we are going to write about primary sources and secondary sources together, just like Tricia Rose will in the next book we read.
  • Strategies for using secondary sources: VERBS!! Verbal weapons with which we wage our wars!! acknowledge – add- admit – agree – argue – assert – believe – claim – comment – compare – confirm – conclude – contend – declare – deny – dispute – emphasize – endorse – grant – illustrate – imply – maintain – note – opine – point out – reason – refute – reject – report – respond – suggest – think – write

3. (For today, everyone had to analyze a music video of their choice and post it on the class blog.) Teams of 2: pick a post neither of you wrote, read it, watch the video. Then summarize the author’s take on the video and challenge or expand their analysis using 3-5 of these verbs.

The College Rankings Racket – NYTimes.com

More reflections on college culture from the NYTime’s wonderful Joe Nocera:

The rankings exacerbate the status anxiety that afflicts so many high school students. The single-minded goal of too many high school students — pushed by parents, guidance counselors and society itself — is to get into a “good” school.

via The College Rankings Racket – NYTimes.com.

Rap, School, and Weed in varying degrees of awesomeness

This video and song are so bad I wasn’t sure whether to post them but I felt compelled given the whole “looking for school in rap” function of this blog.

Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa – “Let’s Go Study” | Watch Hip Hop Music Videos & New Rap Videos | HipHop DX.

However, as retribution for that I’ll also give you the cover art for Rihanna’s new song “Diamonds” (also not the best song ever, but better than that weak joint above), about which all I have to say is that it’s fucking awesome.

As for the song itself, it has a little bit of Phil Collins going on in the instrumentation, a little Nicki Minaj in the hook, and a little American Idol in RiRi’s stretchy vowels. Still love her though, duh. But if you’re gonna listen to a Rihanna song it should probably be “Rude Boy.” Speaking of which, did you ever read that article about Ester Dean?

And if you’re actually going to care about a Rihanna video, it should obviously be “Man Down.”

Week 3.1, 3.2 and 4.1: Reflecting, Workshopping, and final coverage of _Code of the Street_

I had all these grand plans about how I was going to write up my 3.1 lesson plan to make it really really gorgeous so that I could use it in my writing sample, but instead I got distracted and am now 3 lesson plans behind. Why did I make all this extra work for myself?? Oh well, as the White Rabbit might say, “No time to say hello, goodbye!’ I’m late, I’m late I’m late.” Ergo…

LESSON PLAN 3.1

1. Logistics

2. Code of the Street ch. 2 – “Campaigning for Respect”

  • what is the “campaign for respect” in question? what is involved in that process?
  • what evidence does Anderson use to illustrate this campaign?
  • a look at the way he introduces terminology on p. 79:

3. There is a lot of learning in this chapter. What do Anderson’s subjects learn?

4. REFLECTION–> what is reflection? Did you do any reflective writing  in high school?

  • Reminder: reflection helps us become self-aware, by drawing our attention to ourselves, our own strengths and struggles, to facilitate transfer (i.e., remembering what we learned) when we write future papers all by our lonesome
  • Creative writing: look at the kid on p. 74 who says: /// imagine Anderson asked him, “How did you learn that?” Answer from the kid’s perspective
  • Give purpose of that exercise: to create empathy for this kid who learns other material than us; but also to create empathy for the act of imagination. Lots of questions about does Kanye really know this or that. This exercise reminds us of the possibilities of artistic empathy, which we also share.

5. MORE Reflection: Reflect on how you learned to write. Think back to this first paper you’re working on right now

  • How did you begin this paper? What were the first steps you took, perhaps before you even began typing a draft?
  • Where did those skills come from? When did you learn how to begin a paper?
  • What have been the easiest and hardest elements of working on this essay so far?
  • Reminder: save and date these, I won’t collect them but you’ll refer back to them later

6. WORKSHOP: overview of how workshops run

6. Thesis mini-workshop: exchange your thesis-in progress with a partner, formulate three questions for your partner’s thesis that push it to become more explicit. Could begin with HOW WHY WHERE or WHAT.

LESSON PLAN 3.2

1. Logistics: PSA – sneeze & cough into your shoulder, not your hand, and wash those puppies. Yes I really told them this.

2. Code of the Street – ch. 2 “Drugs, Violence and Street Crime”

  • Read the chapter’s opening (pp. 107-108) – why does Anderson open this chapter with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro?
  • Spend a moment understanding “deindustrialization”: AP US History flashback, what was industrialization? Correlation with the Great Migration–> African Americans to urban centers–relate back to drug trade as it “picks up the slack” (108)
  • evidence: Why does Anderson spend 8 pages describing a stickup? How does it illustrate elements of the street code?

3. Code-switching – groups of 3: identify a verbal or written code-switch that you perform in your own life- make a list of rules for performing in each code + knowing when to switch.

4. Does Kanye code-switch?

LESSON PLAN 4.1: Workshop 1

Workshop instructions: they read each other’s papers in advance and wrote a 1-page letter for each of the 3 papers they read. So the workshop instructions just remind them that while the author is quiet, the readers have a conversation that begins after their letters end and is collaborative. Focus on identifying what specifically the paper is about besides just “the lyrics” and making sure the argument is about that specific thing. Discuss thesis, evidence, paragraphs, intro and conclusion. Okay to describe and not only critique.

If they finished early, I made them re-write a new introduction that began from the first sentence talking about the song their paper is about. So it’s a funnel but a tiny funnel.

This weekend I am going to do some summative reflection on all this reflecting-in-action I’ve done so far. Peace y’all.

 

9th Wonder Knows How to Talk to College Kids

9th Wonder at U of M

Two Thursdays ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by producer 9th Wonder here at the University of Michigan. While I knew him as the producer behind rap group Little Brother and a co-teacher of the “Sampling Soul” course with Mark Anthony Neal at Duke, the filled auditorium I arrived to attested to his fame as a producer who’d also worked with many of the biggest names in hiphop and R&B.

Two elements of 9th’s talk struck me immediately. Tunes were already playing when we arrived, with what turned out to be 9th Wonder’s Serato projected from his laptop to the screen behind the podium. So the first thing I noticed was how this talk not only incorporated music into its very fabric but also modeled producing as a function of technology and passion both. The other striking element here, evident from the moment 9th began his talk with a discourse on his own sports fan-dom–complete with the confessions that he had to take a spin around the Big House and that he bought a “Buck the Fuckeyes” t-shirt–was his calculated and charismatic approach toward college students. The man knew his audience.

These two pedagogical techniques–modeling and pathos, we might call them–continued through a wonderful talk in which 9th Wonder used the story of his own exposure to music as the narrative backbone for the history of hiphop itself. He compared Motown to Young Money with the qualification that Motown wasn’t “so top heavy,” with Wayne, Nicki and Drake “up here” and everyone else, let’s be honest, down below. He solicitated responses and laughs from the audience, and his remarks were tailored to our contemporary experience of pop culture, with the occasional admonition. In speaking about “Yo! MTV Raps,” the first hiphop-based show on TV, he explained, “If you missed it, that was it.” With the internet, you just go Google the thing. But he seemed nostalgic for those analog days: that scarcity of product “made hiphop live forever, it made music have a longer shelf life. It made us talk to each other. It made us make friends.”

His talk was peppered with music: “This was the first rap song I ever heard.”

Discovering sampling was like “a wormhole.”

The Native Tongues era was “the most progressive moment in hiphop ever,” and Q-tip’s great innovation was to say, “I’m not gonna sample James Brown, I’m gonna sample jazz.”

“This is what I ran into,” 9th explained. “This is what hiphop is.” On the screen behind him, we could see him search through his music collection, pulling out songs with labels like “Workshop Samples” and “Michigan lecture.” He told the story of a kid in the Bronx called Clive Davis throwing a party in 1973 and inventing hiphop by honing in on “the best part of the record, which is also known as the break.” On the screen above us, 9th clicked “Loop,” updating Kool Herc’s technique for the digital age. “And he would chase the break. That’s a loop. Cats would come out and dance–he called it break dancing.”

There was a note of tragedy, sometimes, in the lecture. Sometimes facetious, like when 9th played “Fallin in Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds and confessed, “That’s probably the one that just hursts the most,” or Debarge’s “Stay with Me”- “They just took the whole shit, man.”

But other times he seemed upset by the implicit purpose of his task, to rehabilitate hiphop’s image from our side of the screen. “Hiphop is bigger than just your radio and TV screen,” 9th said. “There was a time when we had our poets,” like Rakim, but those days have lapsed. “As Black folk,” he lamented, “we tend to give things away.”

In the Q&A session I asked what he teaches when he has a whole semester and as he ran through a syllabus that included “two weeks on just Wu-Tang Clan,” a new framing appeared: “1968-1997, from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the assassination of B.I.G.” That struck me as the greatest tragedy of all–not the corporatization or the musical generations forgotten to time but the easy framing of a movement by the deaths of two great poets, orators, lyricists.

When 9th played a song his head bobbed and the heads of the audience members moved along with him. A student sitting beside me got a flashback glimpse of eager young me with my hand raised, dying to be called on. At the end of his talk, 9th Wonder bolted to attend the rapper buddy back in NC. “He doesn’t know I’m coming,” he called, as he ran up the stairs. “Don’t tweet that.”

Week 2.2: Decent and Street Norms in Anderson’s Code of the Street

Hi friends – today’s lesson plan is pretty focused on Elijah Anderson’s ethnography Code of the Street, so take out your copy if you’re following along. Also I just illustrated proper use of your/you’re. Also I should mention these lesson plans are for 80-minute sessions, though today’s was a little short.

LESSON PLAN

1. Logistics- reminder of participation paper deadlines, come in to office hours

2. Ch. 1 “Decent and Street Families”: “Decent” and “Street” – what are these two categories? where are these terms from? understanding “norms”/”normative” (32, 45) and “oppositional culture” (32)

3. Diane’s story (pp. 43-45)- evidence and claims. What work does Diane’s narrative do for Anderson’s argument (i.e., what claims of his does she provide evidence for?) – How does Anderson analyze her words? (What conclusions does he draw?) Does his framing of Diane have any holes? (Any blind spots, points he didn’t make but could have, biases we see?)

4. Answer the above questions re: Yvette’s story (53-65) in small groups of 3; then recap as a class

5. In-class writing: write a mini-workshop letter to Elijah Anderson about chapter 1. 3 components: what is his argument? 1-2 things he did well; 1-2 questions, concerns, suggestions. Use quotes!

NOTES

2. As always, with lesson planning on reading-focused days it’s a balance between covering concepts and comprehension on the one hand, and making sure we’re drawing lessons for our own writing from the text we’re studying. So in today’s lesson I wanted to make sure the students recognize “decent” and “street” as normative categories “that the residents themselves use” (35), and understand that these two categories of people live mixed together, that they all follow the “code of the street” but while decent folks follow it to be safe, street folks believe it to be normative. In past semesters we’ve done writing exercises where I ask students to reflect on what the norms were regarding education in their homes or communities growing up. However, today we focused more on critical thinking skills and building the confidence it takes for a college writer to actually feel comfortable “criticizing”–that is, examining critically–a published writer.

3. To that end we looked at how Anderson includes long tracts of first-person narratives from his interview subjects and scrutinized them as evidence. This approach also has the added boon of keeping students focused on the content of Anderson’s arguments instead of their reactions to them, which have a tendency to spiral off into tangents about how these parents differed or didn’t from their own parents. Instead, I waited until the end of class to ask students how they reacted to, for example, the extremely strict parenting styles we see in this chapter.

4. Small group work always just forces more students into the conversation. Many aren’t comfortable with the whole class setting or only speak when there’s pressure for them to do so, which definitely increases in a group of 3. I try to do some small group work every day–this is a tip I got back in college when I taught ESL for a summer. They say language learners should speak 70% of class time, and small group work is a way to get a high percentage of the class speaking at once, where only 1 person can really talk at a time when the class is together.

5. This last activity had the joint function of introducing workshop letters (more on that next time) and also reinforcing the point I made throughout class that we’re working towards beginning to think critically about the published texts we’re studying. So actually writing down at least one question or concern about this chapter forces students to concede that even this great book is subject to our scrutiny as college writers.

And now I’m gonna go home and eat some dinner. Peace and happy new year to the fellow tribesmen out there. -T

#Occupy Invisible Man…and Then Return it to the Library: Notes on an Overdue Book

Does this ever happen to you? You take a book out from the library, start reading, and almost immediately realize (prompted, perhaps, by the urge to underline something) that this is a book you’ll return to again and again, it ought to be annotated, ever on your shelf, and perhaps you should stop reading immediately, go buy the darn thing, and process it pen in hand. Well, that was me and Invisible Man. Library property notwithstanding, I couldn’t help folding up bottom corners of important pages, and I’ve been renewing its check-out online all summer, since I read it in June. The time has come for me to record what needs recording, unfold those folded pages, and let Invisible Man appear to the next thirsty reader.

(Irony of ironies, when I first went to check this book out, four or five copies were actually missing–invisible–from the library. Maybe because it’s so good? But definitely time to get mine back into circulation.)

I picked it up on a tip from visiting scholar Adam Bradley–the author of The Book of Rhymes and The Yale Anthology of Rap. He was at Michigan to give a lecture and we got talking about his early work in the Ralph Ellison archives at Harvard. Ellison, he insisted, had much to say about hiphop. After a first unsatisfying stint with Ellison’s Collected Essays, I finally found my way to Invisible Man. Now, three months later, bear with me as I work through my enigmatically dog-eared but un-annotated copy, as I rewrite, riff and remember…

He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I  have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed form the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick like the old man’s breathing. “Learn it to the younguns,”” he whispered fiercely; then he died. (16)

That, there, was the first shock: learning, so early, so explicit, so extra-curricular. And learn what? The art of signifying, of subterfuge, of saying yes and knowing no, of nodding along but knowing so. This page, appropriately, I left un-marked. But my first dog ear returns to a similar concept, after I hard realized with much joy that our titular character would spend the first part of his story at school.

“Ordered you?” he said. “He ordered you. Dammit, white folk are always giving orders, it’s a habit with them. Why didn’t you make an excuse? Couldn’t you say they had sickness–smallpox–or picked another cabin? Why that Trueblood shack? My god, boy! You’re black and living in the South–did you forget how to lie?”

“Lie, sir? Lie to him, lie to a trustee, sir? Me?”

He shook his head with a kind of anguish. “And me thinking I’d picked a boy with a brain,” he said. “Didn’t you know you were endangering the school?”

“But I was only trying to please him…”

“Please him! And here you are a junior in college! Why, the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie! What kind of education are you getting around here?” (139)

 

(Check out Melissa Harris Perry on Clint Eastwood treating President Obama as an “invisible man” in her blog post and on her show.)

And then a moment that really struck me, the vignette that not only launches our hero into politics but reminded me so strongly (now, one year later) of the stated goals and principles of Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, this section of Invisible Man warrants its own post, essay, critical study, as the invisible man and a crowd of citizens functionally occupy an eviction.

“We’re dispossessed,” I sang at the top of my voice, “disposessed and we want to pray. Let’s go in and pray. Let’s have a big prayer meeting. But we’ll need some chairs to sit in…rest upon as we kneel. We’ll need some chairs!”

“Here’s some chairs down here,” a woman called from the walk. “How ’bout taking in some chairs?”

“Sure,” I called, “take everything. Take it all, hide that junk! Put it back where it came from, It’s blocking the street and the sidewalk, and that’s against the law. Put it out of sight! Hid it, hide their shame! Hide our shame!”…

“We ought to done this long ago,” a man said.

“We damn sho should,”

“I feel so good,” a woman said. “I feel so good!”…

“Let’s march…”

“It’s a good idea.”

“Let’s have a demonstration…”

“Let’s parade!” …

“What’s going on here?” a gold-shield officer called up the steps….”You,” he called, pointing straight at me.

“We’ve…we’ve been clearing the sidewalk of a lot of junk,” I called, tense inside….

“You mean you’re interfering with an eviction,” he called, starting through the crowd.

“He ain’t doing nothing,” a woman called from behind me.

I looked around, the steps behind were filled with those who had been inside

“We’re all together,” someone called, as the crowd closed in.

“Clear the streets,” the officer ordered.

“That’s what we were doing,” someone called from back in the crowd.

“Mahoney!” he bellowed to another policeman, “send in a riot call!”

“What riot?” one of the white men called to him. “There’s no riot.”

“If I say there’s a riot, there’s a riot,” the officer said. “And what re you white people doing up here in Harlem?” (281-283)

My next folded corner was prompted by a theme that has interested me since I researched feminist theology in college: the theme of self-actualization or coming out–what W.E.B. DuBois called that “second self” and what feminist theologian Judith Plaskow termed “the yeah, yeah experience” of realizing that other women have had the same experience of difference that you have. This is a theme you may hear more about from me: I’m not only interested here in the overlap between of-color, queer, and feminist literatures and ways of thinking, but also of the more general notion that every fully human adult person has to undergo some sort of coming-into-coming-out experience. Here’s Ellison’s take:

And the obsession with my identity which I had developed in the factory hospital returned with a vengeance. Who was I, how had I come to be? Certainly I couldn’t help being different from when I left the campus; but now a new, painful, contradictory voice had grown up within me, and between its demands for revengeful action and Mary’s silent pressure I throbbed with guilt and puzzlement. I wanted peace and quiet, tranquillity, but was too much aboil inside. Somewhere beneath the load of the emotion-freezing ice which my life had conditioned my brain to produce, a spot of black anger glowed and threw off a hot red light of such intensity that had Lord Kelvin known of its existence, he would have had to revise his measurements. A remote explosion had occurred somewhere…and it had caused the ice cap to melt and shift the slightest bit….Only a drop, perhaps, but that drop was the first wave of the deluge. (259)

And this one, which reminded me of my abiding sense that more people are different than not, that minorities are a majority, that the queer, disabled, of color, female, poor of the world added together make many more than the various normals do:

Let’s get together, uncommon people. With both our eyes we may see what makes us so uncommon, we’ll see who makes us so uncommon! (344)

At the end of this speech, our protagonist adds:

I feel, I feel suddenly that I have become more human. Do you understand? More human. Not that I have become a man, for I was born a man. But that I am more human. I feel strong, I feel able to get things done! I feel that I can see sharp and clear and far down the dim corridor of history and in it I can hear the footsteps of militant fraternity!…With your eyes upon me I feel that I’ve found my true family! My true people! My true country! I am a new citizen of the country of your vision, a native of your fraternal land. (346)

Beautiful lines which harken to Ellison’s commitment, stated in his essays and especially in his comments that “”Richard Wright is no spiritual brother of mine” (I paraphrase, I think), to a humanity that is beyond race, that uses race only to transcend it. But our narrator’s later reflections belie the newness, the novelty, of this novel, and I marked them for my craft-lesson frustrations with them, for their belaboring an already-made point:

Words, phrases, skipped through my mind; I saw the blue haze again. What had I meant by saying that I had become “more human”? Was it a phrase that I had picked up from some preceding speaker, or a slip of the tongue? For a moment I thought of my grandfather and quickly dismissed him. What had an old slave to do with humanity? (354)

And here, a joy of novel-writing that no essay can ever accomplish: fiction’s distinct dialogism, its capacity for dialogue, for two modes of thought within one piece of prose:

“And you, mahn,” the Exhorter said, “a regl’lar little black devil! A godahm sly mongoose! Where you think you from, going with the white folks? I know, godahm; don’t I know it! You from down South! You from Trinidad! You from Barbados! Jamaica, South Africa, and the white mahn’s foot in your ass all the way to the hip. What you trying to deny by betrayin gthe black people? Why you fight against us? You young fellows. You young black men with plenty education; I been hearing your rabble rousing. Why you go over to the enslaver? What kind of education is that? What kind of black mahn is that who betray his own mama?” (371)

More on learning:

“You’ll learn,” he said. “You’ll learn and you’ll surrender yourself to it even under such conditions. Especially under such conditions; that’s its value. That makes it patience.”

“Yes, I guess I’m learning now,” I said. “Right now.”

“Brother, he said drily, “you have no idea how much you’re learning– Please sit down.”

“All right,” I said, sitting down again. “But while ignoring my personal education for a second I’d like you to remember that the people have little patience with us tehse days. We could use this time more profitably.” (465)

And later, the question of leader vs. leaderlessness returns when our hero faces his superiors:

“Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!”

“You’ve said that,” I said, “and that’s the one thing you can tell them yourself. Who are you, anyway, the great white father?”

“Not their father, their leader. And your leader. And don’t forget it.” (473)

A Genesis shout-out:

And back and high on the wall above him there arched the words in letters of gold: LET THERE BE LIGHT! The whole scene quivered vague and mysterious in the green light, then the door closed and the sound muted down. (498)

And a reminder of the book’s weighty, tangible use of symbols::

I took a cab. Hambro lived in the West Eighties, and once in the vestibuleI tucked the hat under my arm and put the glasses in my pocket along with Brother Tarp’s leg chain and Clifton’s doll [a mammy figurine]. My pocket was getting overloaded. (500)

And the boomerang comes back again:

It was a joke, an absurd joke. And now I looked around a corner of my mind and saw Jack and Norton and Emrson merge into one single white figure….I was simply a material, a natural resource to be used….I didn’t know what my grandfather had meant, but I was ready to test his advice. I’d overcome them with yeses, undermine them with grins, I’d agree them to death and destruction. Yes, and I’d let them swoller me until they vomited or burst wide open. Let them gag on what they refused to see. Let them chocke on it….would this be treachery? Did the word apply to an invisible man? (508-509)

And in anticipation of Lil Wayne…

“I would take up residence underground. The end was in the beginning.” (571)

So I’ll end with an epigraph I’ve used before, on Signifying, from Weezy:

I see the end in the beginning

So I’m not racing, I’m just sprinting

Cause I don’t wanna finish

They diminish, I replenish. (“Let the Beat Build, Tha Carter III)

These have been Notes on a Future Seminar Paper. Peace, y’all.

Week 2.1: Theses and Claims, or, Foregrounding our Conclusions

Now you want a photo, you already know though, You Only Live Once, that’s our motto, baby, YOLO, and we bout it e’ry day, e’ry day, e’ry day, I can’t see with all this looseleaf in the way:

LESSON PLAN

1. Logistics: books, blog issues, sign up for Google+, blog this week re: Code of the Street

2. Participation: what makes good participation? Reflective writing on past participation, goals

3. Framing: today is about making claims based on evidence. Drafting: sometimes we don’t know conclusions til the end of writing first “experimental” draft, in editing we put them back at the beginning.

4. Code of the Street: reactions? What claims does Anderson make? How does he get his evidence? As critical readers, our job will be to look out for how he analyzes his evidence and draws conclusions from it.

5. Mini essays: exchange with a partner, underline best moments of close reading; try to write 1 sentence that synthesizes those moments: a thesis!

6. Paper 1 assignment

NOTES

1. So Michigan has Gone Google, which makes some things confusing (like I have to sign out of my own Gmail account to get into any Umich sites) but other things possible (like switching from CTools forums to class blogs on Blogger). So I’m asking my students to register for Google + so that I can send them updates about notes on the blog, clarifying comments about homework, etc. So far I’ve found Google+ to be confusing looking and un-ideal, but at the same time I’m grateful for a social networking possibility that uses my University identity and not a non-professional one like Facebook.

2. This bit is on a tip I got from someone in our Writing Program, a potential first day of class activity that hopefully is a bit empowering and inclusive as well. I ask the students what constitutes good classroom participation, and tell them we’re going to make our own rules to govern what that means for us. So up on the board goes a nice list of tips about keeping the conversation moving, not making personal attacks, being focused. (Yesterday I also had to add: actually, actively participate!) Then I give everyone a moment to write these down, and ask them to consider these part of our course policies.

This is followed by our first reflective writing assignment of the course, which I remind them is supposed to make them better students and writers by keying us into our own strengths and struggles in learning and writing. So I ask the students to take 5 minutes to answer the questions, How have I participated in class in the past? Which aspects have been hard, and which have been easy? After a few minutes, I add: Please take a moment to write down just one goal to focus on in class participation this week only, today and at our next meeting.

3. Then I say today’s class is about making claims based on evidence. I offer this (confusing) analogy to the scientific method: you have a hypothesis (a hunch), you do some tests (write a draft), and by the end you know your conclusions (your claims). Except in writing, we edit so that our conclusions come at the beginning. Case in point: Anderson’s introduction.

4. Time to meet those new participation goals! For today folks read the preface and introduction to Code of the Street. Reactions? This was the first semester I asked students to read these early pages and I’m so glad they did, because a lot of students responded strongly to Anderson’s impressionistic walk “Down Germantown Avenue.” His careful tracing of changing race and class dynamics along a single street resonated with lots of folks who have a similar route at home–we heard lots yesterday about Detroit and some Brooklyn, too. Then I turn our attention to pp. 10-11 in the preface and discuss Anderson’s methodology, i.e., where does he get his evidence? and discuss what it might mean to be a participant-observer. And then we turn to pp. 32-34 in the introduction and consider some of his introductory claims about what the “code of the street” actually is–a code that uses violence and respect to govern inner-city residents’ behavior, whether they themselves are law-abiding or not. And I make a little note that our job as critical readers is to make sure Anderson has evidence to support these claims.

5. Then I ask students to find a partner and take out the mini essays they wrote for today, 2 pages that mega-close-read the titular phrase of either “We Don’t Care” or “All Falls Down.” First I asked how this experience was. Yesterday I was really glad to hear comments like, “At first I didn’t know what to say and I kept repeating myself, but then I found new things and I could have written even more.” Awesome. And I like to admit to them that this assignment was designed for a reason, to force them to stay with so few words and really dig in. (In previous semesters I just asked them to write a close reading of “All Falls Down” as a pre-write assignment, but this new version achieves the aim much better of forcing close, sustained reading.)

So, I ask students to exchange papers with a partner and to read this new essay looking for and underlining places where the author did their best close reading: places that make an interpretive claim about what work certain literary devices do. (So not just saying, “This is a simile,” but offering a hypothesis about what that simile achieves for the song.) After they do that for a while, I ask them to look for patterns in what their partner found in those underlined passages. Did the close reading keep returning to a theme?

I have the students show their partners where they did their best close reading–this is our first mini workshop and we’re keeping it positive. Then I ask them to hold on to their partner’s papers and, looking at all that great underlined close reading, try to write one sentence that synthesizes all the best analysis the author did. Look: you just wrote a great thesis statement. Then I solicit some volunteers and we think about those sentences together: getting more specific here, inserting the name of the song there, etc. etc. I tell them that one skill I hope they leave this class with at the end of the term is to be able to look at their own paper (or another’s, if they’re working as an editor), and say, What am I really arguing here? And slip that out and put it front and center as the opening thesis claim.

6. Paper 1 assignment. Sheesh, things are moving fast! Here it is:

Your first assignment asks you to use your close reading skills to analyze and make an argument about a single song. Please answer ONE of the following prompts in a 4-page essay.

1)    Use the rhetorical elements of argument, speaker, and audience to analyze the song “We Don’t Care.” Using lyrical and musical evidence from the song, make a specific, supported argument about Kanye West’s rhetorical style, message, or argumentative techniques in “We Don’t Care.”

2)    Consider the live version of “All Falls Down” on John Legend’s Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory album (posted on our blog). Make a specific, supported argument about how musical, lyrical, or spoken evidence from this song affects the argument West makes. (OPTIONAL: Compare the live version with the studio version of the song, and incorporate their difference into your argument.)

3)    “All Falls Down” is a highly narrative work, with characters, plot, and setting. Make a specific, supported argument that examines how West uses elements of narrative or story to make an argument in this song.

Essays should be as close to 4 pages as possible, double-spaced, and titled, with 1-inch margins and in Times New Roman. Treat the “first draft” like a final paper. Successful essays will zoom into specific elements of the song in question, not try to explain the whole thing, and will make specific claims that are supported by direct evidence from the song’s lyrics, music, or other vocals.

In the past, I only gave students option (2), but now with this big refocus on argument, I didn’t want to exclude the wonderful argumentation of “We Don’t Care.”

That’s all, folks. I gotta go teach this piece. Peace. -TB

Week 1.2: Beware of Framing

This is one of my busiest lesson plans of the semester, so let’s roll!

LESSON PLAN:

1. Logistics: blogs? books? use names

2. Argument reading: what is argument? types of arguments? this class has an organic approach to argument with our texts as our textbooks; introduce the rhetorical triangle

3. Thoughts on The College Dropout? themes? value of the interludes? did you look at lyrics–why or why not? themes resonate with you? what arguments did Kanye make?

4. High school flashback: what did you look for in a close reading/literary analysis? Put literary techniques on the board. Introduce idea of author’s intention as the basis for close reading. Doing work – making an argument

5. Listen to “We Don’t Care.” Groups of 3 each close read a verse apiece; afterwards, share what they found. Speculate on the how: the little choices that create a big effect. (If there’s time, as a class, consider the rhetorical stance of the chorus.)

NOTES

1. Since this is just the second class, there’s always new students, people having trouble with buying books or access to the blog, etc. It always bums me out that some students tend to miss this class session, which is really important. But what can you do?

This is also a time for me to remind folks to say their names when they contribute something to class discussion, and to use their classmates’ names if they refer to them during conversation. So that later, when Kenny is like, “Yeah, I agree with what he just said,” I go, “Who?” and Kenny squints across the room and says, “Uh, what’s your name again?” and Stan is like, “Stan,” and Kenny says, “What Stan said before, about…”

2. I gave the class a short reading for today which introduces argument as essentially the statement of an opinion followed by reasons for holding said opinion. So I just want to make sure they read that and understood it, and draw their attention to the fact that this term “argument” is just a new word for a structure they already knew: a thesis with supporting evidence or justification or whatever their high school English teacher called it.

Then I tell them that in this class we’re not going to use a rhetoric textbook because I find them pretty boring, but instead we’ll use our authors as our master rhetoricians–Kanye West, Elijah Anderson, James Cone, Tricia Rose, Chinua Achebe, George Orwell–and try to ape some of their techniques for our own writing. I also draw the rhetorical triangle on the board and tell them these three elements of argument are actually really prominent in Kanye’s songs: logos or argument; ethos or the qualifications of the speaker; and pathos or appeals to the audience. We don’t need to master the Latin terms but should keep our eyes peeled for how Kanye manages these three elements of his “rhetorical stance.”

3. Here’s where I say, “When I was in high school we called it a close reading when we’d look at a poem or a piece of prose and analyze it for literary elements. What did you call it?” And I hear, “Close reading, analysis, commentary,” etc. Then I ask what terms we’d look for, and I put them up on the board. You know the list: meter, rhyme, allusion, metaphor & simile, motifs, diction, structure, characters, setting, plot, alliteration, etc. There are usually way more than this up on the board when we’re done, and they function to plug students back into that high school English brainspace and also remind them that they know a lot of stuff.

A few of these terms I sort into another column to the right of those above: tone, message, emphasis, argument, themes, irony. I step aside so that everyone can see the list and I say, “When I was in high school, doing a great close reading was like a checklist: the more of these terms you identified, the better your essay was.” This got a lot of nods on Thursday. “But in college,” I continue, “it’s not enough to notice these things: we have to make an argument about them. See how I divided these terms into two categories? On the left we have all the small choices an author makes: word choice, alliteration, a metaphor, repeated symbols that create a motif. And on the left are the larger effects that these choices create: irony, themes, an argument. The small choices do work to create larger effects. So part of our job as college writers is to start to make arguments about the work an author’s choices do.”

Here I pause for questions. Some blank stares are ok, because these concepts are gonna come back to haunt us. I go on: “I also want to introduce the notion of an author’s intention: the idea that an artist makes choices that matter. This is really foundational to close reading, because the moment we deny an author or a hiphop artist her intention, close reading stops. We say, ‘It doesn’t matter that he says “we” instead of “they,” and so we stop digging into that language. So I want us to grant not only our authors but our rappers the faith that they chose their words and each word matters. Okay?” Mostly self-explanatory, but I’ll add that I think this disclaimer is especially imp0rtant in a hiphop classroom when so many extracurricular forces tell us everyday that rap is garbage and it’s not art. So even if students know each word matters in a poem, I like to remind them that this is still true for a rap song.

5. Split into groups of 3. I assign each group a verse of “We Don’t Care”–each verse will have 2 groups working on it, ideally across the room from each other. I tell them we’re going to listen and then each group will close read their verse, looking for these terms up on the board and starting to surmise about work. What word choice creates emphasis? How do certain characters elucidate a theme? Then we listen and they break into groups. I like to wander around, keeping folks on task. A lot of students do a great job getting the argument of the song, but have more trouble digging into actual words. So I ask them, what about that alliteration? What does that do? What about that repeated word? Is that significant? And encourage them to actually make marks on their papers. Underline. Circle. (Yesterday I used the phrase “break the seal” to some surprised laughter.)

When we’re done, we go through the verses as a class. I like that each verse had more than one group working on it. Students tend to think they exhausted a verse, but another group will invariably have found things they didn’t. So this reinforces the value and the potential depth of close reading, as does the fact that in ten or fifteen minutes they’ve only dealt with one verse, and there are two more plus a chorus. This is also an opportunity to push this “work” idea more. You found alliteration or a character? What does that do? Or you found a message? In which words or phrases do we see that effect created?

And if there’s time, which there wasn’t on Thursday, we can look at the rhetorical stance of the chorus as a class:

Drug dealin’ just to get by, stackin money till it get sky high (kids sing, kids sing)

We wasn’t ‘sposed to make it past 25, joke’s on you we still alive

Throw your hands up in the sky and say, “We don’t care what people say.”

Who’s “we”? Who’s “you”? Do they really not “care what people say”?

Finally, homework, which is a pre-write assignment for the first paper: write 2 typed, double-spaced pages on the title of either “We Don’t Care” or “All Falls Down”: say everything you can possibly say about those three words, what they mean, why they’re used. (In the past, I had students write a “close reading” of a whole song, but I hope that focusing them on the title will push attention to language and word choice. We’ll see on Tuesday!)

That’s all, folks! See you soon.

Week 1.1: Hi, I Just Met You, Welcome to College

Well, yesterday was the first day of school, and of course I kept thinking about this Onion article.

The first day of school also demands my first what-did-I-do-today lesson plan. Faced with it, I’m a little nervous and embarrassed. Blog my lesson plans? For god sake’s, why? Right now my lesson plans are on endless piles of looseleaf–each semester, I find myself recopying almost identical lesson plans from the semester before. But I think writing it out helps me study it. (Did you ever have a teacher who let you bring one cheat sheet into an exam? And after making said cheat sheet, you discovered you didn’t need it anymore?) Anyway, I had better settle on a format. I think I’m going to write out the lesson plan–i.e., what I have written on this piece of paper–first, then make comments on it afterwards. That way, if you or I want to use these lesson plans, you or I can just look at them here instead of wading through a pile of prose.

On a related note, yesterday I found myself humming a little ditty: If I had an iPad, I would use it in the mo-or-ning. I would use it in the evening, all over this la-and! I’d tweet about justice (justice!) I’d lesson plan freedom (freedom!) … you get the point.

OK, here goes.

1. Welcome! Michigan time, quick attendance+nicknames

2. Introductions – name, hometown, where you write the most (journal, class, facebook, texting, etc.)

3. Syllabus– why Kanye, why books, why blogs, why write, why reflect

4. Homework- for Thursday listen to the whole College Dropout; read short arguments article; accept blog author e-mail

5. Discuss in small groups: What was good writing in HS? What do you expect it to be in college? –> come back together, put ideas on board

6. Final notes: our job is to transition HS writing skills to college; my job is to take the skills you already have and make them more flexible, dynamic, and independent.

NOTES:

1. always awkward, but what can you do

2. The “where you write the most” bit is a little idea I picked up from new media pedagogy. The hope here is to remind students–many of whom say they write the most on Facebook or Twitter or via text–that in their real lives they actually write all the time. Ideally this will also make them think this class could help them with skills they’ll use no matter what they do, because written communication is a huge part of modern life.

3. You can read my whole syllabus by clicking on the link above. You are welcome, with credit, to use parts or all of it in your own teaching. My goal in writing a syllabus is to create a totally self-explanatory document. That begs the question of what I’m even needed for, but we’ll save those existential questions for another day. I like to give students those “why’s” (even though I see now I forgot a bunch of them yesterday–but I’ll remember for my second section today!) Kanye because he’s thematically rich, his focus on college is relevant, he’s not too violent; writing because you’ll do it all the dingdang time in college and forever after; books (and I show them our course books and describe them each a little bit) because I think it aids research skills to get comfortable handling a book in all its indexed and Table-of-Contents’ed glory; and blogs and reflecting to keep you aware of what you’re learning, to help you process what you’re reading and writing, to keep your reflections somewhere they can’t get lost; and because the U of M English Department thinks reflecting helps students become aware of strengths and struggles, and helps their writing skills transfer to other writing situations outside this class.

4. I love giving this homework assignment. It brings Kanye into our academic space plus it’s a place I know I can make a dumb joke: that “study setting” doesn’t mean put the album on while you’re chatting with your roommate, or partying with your neighbors from down the hall. (Ok, doesn’t sound so funny here, but it’s in the delivery.) The arguments article is just the introduction from a reader by Crusius and Channel, The Aims of Argument. This is actually the first semester I’ve used any rhetoric texts in my class at all. In fact it was thinking about my PhD applications and the other course I teach, Hiphop Arguments, that made me realize how many rap songs are sophisticated rhetorical texts. Last year I would just give a confusing shpiel about the rhetorical triangle, but that does a disservice to the rhetorical tools Kanye uses like tripartite structure, appeals to emotion, his sophisticated (if you want to call it that) awareness of himself as speaker and of his audiences and his arguments. Ergo, new reading assignment. Also re: the “blog email” part–U of M has recently “gone Google.” So things I used to do on CTools forums, like weekly reading responses, I am now doing on Blogger. For privacy reasons I’ve chosen to begin the term with this blog as private, but if my students decide to make it public later in the term I’ll let you know.

5. Love small groups. I am very invested in my students knowing each other’s names, which starts now. This conversation tries to plug them in to all they learned in the past and to alert them that their classmates share their apprehensions about this whole “college writing” thing. Yesterday my students came up with a pretty representative list: HS writing was about structure and flow, prompts, big vocabularies, thesis statements, while college writing is going to be more specific, original, voice-driven, independent.

6. With that list on the board, I like to point back to thesis statements and structure and let my students know those are still important to college writing, we’re just going to help them become more flexible, for different and longer arguments. And I also point to vocabulary and let my students know that while big buzzwords may have been good for the SAT, here we’re more concerned with clarity of ideas. And finally that word FLOW. In our class, flow is how a rapper raps. In high school we learn to use this vague term flow to describe a sense of “it’s working,” but the term is vague–so we’re going to try to be precise with our language: rappers have flow but as writers we’ll have transitions, development, etc. And maybe we can reappropriate this term for ourselves later in the semester.

And that’s all, folks! Come see me if you’re on the waitlist!

As We Proceed….to Give You What You Need… (Here, Have My Course Materials)

Wassup, fools! It’s Labor Day Weekend, the annual last weekend of summer when a lot of people are on vacation but I am at my desk, editing syllabi for a new calendar year.

When I started teaching “College Writing on The College Dropout” two years ago, I was an MFA student with a simple purpose in mind: to make sure the required freshman writing class I taught would be more enjoyable than the one I took when I was a freshman, which I hated. And from the moment I started teaching, it was clear to me that this was something I’d have to write about.

That first semester teaching was Fall 2010; the following summer, I did some research for the English Department on the subject of reflective writing. Among our research team, my subfocus was new media, and blogs were a large part of my research. In fact, blogs have tons of reflective writing applications. They archive student writings for future study. They foster a writer’s awareness of their audience. And that pithy-casual blog tone we all know so well  actually helps young academic writers break out of an academic register and let their own voices and experiences come into play. But one of the most important things I remember reading (in Will Richardson’s wonderful Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful Web tools for the Classroom) was that to teach effectively using blogs, you needed to know what it was like to have a blog. If we in the English Department were so sure reflecting on writing made students better writers, wouldn’t it behoove me as a teacher to reflect on teaching?

(Full disclosure: Around this time, I told a friend I wanted to write a book of essays on hiphop. She said, “Why wait for a book deal? Go start a blog.”)

Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”

That December, about eight months ago, I started writing this thing, and it has been wonderful–a place to reflect on rap, on teaching, on pop culture. Indeed, I like this stuff so much I’m about ready to go back to school for it. So, in the interest of my future research and remembrance of times past, I’m going to try something new this semester: starting on Tuesday, I’m going to post all my lesson plans and course materials up here. If you’re a writing teacher, feel free to ape (with credit to me, please). This new initiative is inspired as much by the principles of transparency, crowdsourcing, and remix as by my own personal interest in recording and reflecting on my lesson plans. Heck, my course already makes use of free, online materials like song lyrics, music videos, and other blogs and periodicals. I’ve spent a lot of time honing this freshman writing course, but that only makes me want to share it with you. If you want to teach “College Writing on The College Dropout,” please be my welcome guest. (Heck, if you want to take this class along with us, please do! Though I won’t grade your papers–I have enough of those already.) If you have thoughts or comments on my lesson plans, I can’t wait to hear them. If you’re my former student, the time is ripe for your revenge: tell me (and the world!) if this stuff actually worked. In the process, I hope to learn more about my teaching style, to remember those little lessons we learn every day but too often forget, and to give a lil’ sumt’n back to this hiphop universe that has given me so much.

More soon, friends. Til then, happy Labor Day. -T.