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.
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…
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
(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:
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!
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?
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?
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”?
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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:
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
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
This is one of my busiest lesson plans of the semester, so let’s roll!
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.)
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!)
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.)
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.
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!