How Does One Learn to Write? (Start at the Blackboard)

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Unpacking the question

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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?

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!