We began our discussion with a focus on casuistry, a major focus in Lynch’s text. A casuistic pedagogy includes tailoring the decision making process to take into account past experiences that, while of course not the same, include aspects that can influence how a teacher sees a current situation. A part of this can also be related to Davis’ ideas of the “black market economy,” where certain situations call for a new sort of decision making process that does not stick to or evaluate from the traditional set of rules. Based on this, Dylan asked about the class’s own casuistic pedagogical experiences, and the ways in which certain experiences have influenced how they handle new situations. This led us to the question of how important it is to make our reflective processes overt, as we discussed that we are always in the process of evaluating certain situations based on previous experiences and reflections. For example, we discussed how in Kasey’s blog post, she brought up how her male-majority classroom interactions were different from her female majority classroom interactions, and this was influenced in part by her previous experiences with negotiating authority. This raises the question of the role of conscious reflection and seemingly unconscious reflection and how they influence a casuistic pedagogy.
Following our discussion of casuistry, Josh asked whether anyone had thoughts or reactions to the questions Lynch poses at the bottom of page 45. Rachel and others agreed that it didn’t seem as though Lynch fully addressed these significant questions–his literature review seemed to point out a number of ideas that were left somewhat neglected afterward. To my question, Rachel also pointed us to page 49, where Lynch observes “The teacher is positioned as a receptor of Acts rather than as their producer.” After taking a moment to (re?)read the text surrounding the questions on page 45 (to recall his aim in that section), we also acknowledged that Lynch claims: “When I’m asking about the sustainability of postpedagogy, I do not mean to ask how it can be turned into a program. I mean to ask how I can inhabit the attitudes that postpedagogy encourages, given that I am, as Burke would say, rotten with perfection and goaded by the spirit of hierarchy” (51).
Kasey’s question focused on reflection which may take place between Lynch’s “Monday morning” and “Tuesday morning.” Dr. Campbell had coined this the “Monday evening question” and discussed Dewey’s cultivated naiveté. We also discussed Dewey’s meditative approach to teaching and its connections to cultivated naiveté, mostly how one can be an experienced beginner teacher and, by gaining more experience, one can disrobe that experience in order to be open to new experiences. The handout we were given encouraged us to think about cultivating practices to reflect on experience and response between teaching classes. Some argued that this happens inherently, while others expressed keeping a written record or journal of teaching experiences may be useful. We also discussed how talking about our teaching experiences can help us reflect and lead to new insights. We completed and improve activity called “yes, and” to challenge how we respond and we could not ask questions or deny anything a peer previously shared. We had to affirm and enter the space of our peers. We reflected how “yes, and” affected our responses to one another and may connect to response in the classroom. To end class, we all shared our reflections of the course overall. Then, we headed over to Hopper’s for refreshments and good conversation.
It seems that, after reading through everyone’s blog posts and reflecting on the class discussion and my notes, many people were very interested in Dobrin’s introduction and his points about the “practicum” class. Of course, this won’t come as much of a surprise, because many people in the class are TA’s who are going through such an endeavor and its related course right now. As Nick points out in his blog, “composition courses cannot just be about how to teach writing. The history of such practices must be covered.” A practicum course that fails to cover instruction or content as equally as the other does seem like it is doing its students/professionals a disservice; because there is no guarantee that any students in such a class would have previous classroom experience, ignoring pedagogy and an approach to effectively teaching writing would be to ignore nearly half of the discipline and the endeavor.
Because my section covered the first chapter in Ellsworth’s book, I did my best to pay particular attention to the class discussion that was spurred from a couple of important quotes from the chapter. Her points about the embodied process of learning aim to help both teachers visualize the “process” of learning from a different vantage point. While it is true that students aim to earn a good grade, there is something that undeniably happens–physically, as well as emotionally and mentally–to a student when he or she actually learns something (or even just simply engages in the “process” of learning). Ellsworth takes up major issue with pedagogical approaches that do not address such a reality.
It was interesting to hear from many people in class who made note of Ellsworth points about the relatedness of student experience and how it can begin to create a dialogue that could not exist elsewhere. Again, many made note of the fact that it is crucial to allow students to bring their experiences with them to the classroom, and to even let students relate their experiences to the material; all student understanding of different material will surely be influenced–in one way or another–by their experiences and any previous encounters with a subject. Finally–for someone who doesn’t teach–it was intriguing to hear many people note how students are often able to relate their understanding of material to another student’s points or views because of shared experiences.
Conversation is Promising
The most promising revelation I had after reading Dobrin’s Introduction to Don’t Call It That is that there has been an ongoing conversation about the composition practicum. Therefore, the course (and the program as whole) is worthwhile. If all stakeholders involved just simply agreed on how writing should be taught in the classroom, there would not be as great a need for the field of composition. We could simply record such facts in a book, publish it, and say “Go forth and teach” to those willing to enter the teaching trenches. But by not having everyone agree on all aspects of the practicum, many views, teaching philosophies, ideologies, etc. are able to be published in journals and books by authors who are committed to the composition conversation.
Think about it. Literature departments are run (from what I hear, anyway) in a similar fashion. There is often debate on which authors and works should be included in the curriculum. And if you think about it, literature courses like American Colonial Lit. or Restoration Lit. are no longer evolving or expanding. Each will only cover a certain time period. They are more or less fixed subjects. So if literature courses like the two I mention are prone to discussion and debate when there is no new material being added, it is only fitting that an ever-growing field like composition should be subject to even more discussion and disagreement. Which is, frankly, a wonderful thing. And it is why courses that delve into the history of pedagogy and theory are necessary. We need to understand where we have been before we see where we are going in terms of composition.
Also, I agree with Dobrin (and others) that composition courses cannot just be about how to teach writing. The history of such practices must be covered. Think about all the studies cited by the plethora of authors we read each week. So much work, time, and energy has been put into the field of composition that it would irresponsible to ignore the work compiled by these dedicated compositionists.
Although I do believe certain skills can be taught in the classroom, no class is going to guarantee anyone that they will be able to effectively teach writing – or anything for that matter. It is not until one enters their own classroom with their own students that one truly learns how to teach. The experience and knowledge of how to teach others comes not from a book, notes, or a class, but the time spent in the classroom with students. Certainly texts are helpful in preparing one to teach, and classes offer a more than adequate place to discuss theory and experiences, but teaching (like most skills) is learned through experience.
My questions to the question of making teaching practicum more rigorous are: Do we have time/energy for that as new TAs? What are the benefits of increasing “rigor” of a practicum? Should rigor be increased only if the practicum is graded? As a new TA in the fall of 2015, I was beginning to negotiate my roles of both teacher and student. I taught, took my own classes, and attended practicum once a week. Oh, and spent hours a week grading. Our practicum serves as more of a reflective space where we share, ask questions, and go over the curriculum and activities for the coming classes and weeks. As TAs, we were also required to take three courses to help us in teaching first-year writing (this class is one). This is where the rigor comes into play. The Composition theory course served as a foundational base for my introduction to Composition and Rhetoric. As Dobrin states, a lot of undergraduates are not exposed to it. As far as the purpose of practicum, Dobrin encourages “asking students to think not about how to teach, but how they think of themselves as teachers and writers” (20). As we think of ourselves as teachers and writers and learn and question theory and pedagogies, however, we do ultimately think about how to teach.
Moving to Ellsworth, she argues pedagogy “can be magical in its artful manipulation of inner ways of knowing into a mutually transforming relation with outer events, selves, objects, and ideas” (7). I found this quotation inspiring in the goal to create a balance between mind, body, and outside influences in the classroom. Ellsworth reminds us that “students are not simply brains on tripods” (23). We need to allow the body into the classroom. Ellsworth synthesizes the theorists discussed in the introduction and first chapter by writing, “the very possibility of thought is predicated upon our opportunities and capacities to encounter the limits of thinking and knowing and to engage with what we cannot, solely through cognition, be known” (25). What can be known by the body? Do we first experience through the body in order to produce any cognition at all? We certainly have memory through the body. Does the body operate first, then knowledge of the mind? Corporeal experiences certainly shape much knowledge stored in the mind.
The introduction to Dorbin’s work was pretty interesting for me because–like many other essays and books we’ve read this semester–it made me assess my approach to both teaching and learning writing. The part of the introduction that was most intriguing concerns the content of graduate courses that are designed for future teachers. Dorbin includes quotes and explanations from authors and theorists on both sides of this divide. While I can obviously see the inherent benefit to focusing on teaching such a course and not including pedagogical approaches that may help future teachers, I think such an approach falls short. To me–again, outside looking in, because I’m not as well versed as most other people in the course–it seems that a course designed to teach teachers how to teach will need to do just that: include practical theory and directly applicable concepts for the classroom .
Dorbin’s practicum seems to serve as an encompassing approach to the purpose of graduate school and how graduate school aims to serve teachers in a variety of ways. He writes, “the practicum serves multiple ends…more broadly conceived in terms of overall professionalization of graduate students and introduction to composition studies” (Dorbin 19). So the practicum aims to educate graduate students not only within the discipline, but also aims to provide future teachers with enough theory–and practice–that it will effectively carry over into their own classrooms. It is interesting that Dorbin’s own classes within this framework cover so many different topics that all could, in many ways, constitute a semester’s worth (or more) of study (20). But it does seem appropriate for students to be well versed in a variety of different topics if they do hope to teach, regardless of the level.
As he moves through the chapter, his claim about the practicum class being the “most effective purveyor of cultural capital in composition studies” is quite interesting, as well (21). It does seem important to note that some graduate students in English may only participate in one course that approaches pedagogy, theory, and practice like this one, so it is likely that this course will shape their views on the subject(s) entirely (21). However, as he and other theorists note earlier in the introduction, students will come into such a course with assumptions about the discipline already ingrained, so maybe such a course won’t reach every student in the same way (18).
As an English 103 TA, I gravitated towards Dobrin’s Don’t Call It That: The Composition Practicum this week. I did not know there was a battle in composition programs to define what function and purpose the introductory, graduate-level composition course serves. I also did not know the larger political questions associated with such programs, especially thinking about the role of WPAs from some of our past readings. Dobrin poses important questions about some of the problems associated with a required composition course for all English graduate students saying, “composition, in general is equated with FYC…as understood to be the goal of the practicum…is the idea that training to teach composition is training to teach FYC” (23). This connection certainly raises many questions as to if the course actually only serves this purpose, or if the course has other pedagogical purposes? I think Dobrin’s connections between the undergraduate required FYC and the graduate required “practicum” composition course problematize the function of both courses in terms of students and how the university views the course. I think Dobrin’s final statement leaves the reader with even more questions, “For me, this collection stands as a call to research, as a call to ask and answer more questions about the politics and power of the practicum” (31). Prior to reading this piece, I had not known the ways colleges have debated and discussed the purpose of the “practicum” graduate course. The fact that the legitimacy of the course has been questioned and both students and teachers face even the possibility of not receiving credit for the course, creates a new understanding of the politics involved in the course. If most college campus require an introductory graduate composition course for English majors, what is the main purpose of the course? How does the course transfer for English majors who are not teaching the FYC and are planning to get their degree in literature? Are these some of the questions facing professors in the field when discussing the function of the course?