Let's Help Each Other Out!

This is a place for creative writing teachers to share idea to be come better teachers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Anybody Listening?

    With my students, if you write something on the board, underline it three times, and tell them to remember it, they won't remember it.
     That's because they don't take notes. It's creative writing after all. We're here to have fun and be creative, which seems to mean to them at the beginning of the semester--anything goes, free writing, doodle time.
     It could be, since I'm talking about the first class offered here, taken by freshman and sophomores mostly, they weren't required to take notes in high school. Maybe notes don't help when a teacher teaches to the test.
     Notational writing, and being able to listen closely, especially to the ques given my the instructor as to what is essential knowledge, is an important skill they will need to have for many forms of work.
    A friend of mine turns the lights down in the classroom, in part, to prevent students from texting in class. I have never noticed anyone texting, but they could be doing it.
     So I'm going to require students to take notes, and to turn their notes in at the semester, as part of their grade.
    I've tried putting much essential knowledge on handouts, but you can't put everything on a handout. Often they leave them behind. Often they never look at them again, unless you put points on the handout and tie it to how an assignment is graded.  Students need to learn how to listen and concentrate. They need to take notes.  ADD generation they may be, but they can learn to listen and to take notes.
     Listening is such an important skill in this world not only for a career but for interpersonal relations and for being a writer. I can't even turn off listening even when I'm hearing a bad sermon in church. I look around me, and a lot of people have their eyes closed, or eyes glazed, staring off in space.
      Few people seem to be able to listen.  You have to have a few years on you to notice that the gradual decline, but Americans, I personally don't think, haven't been good listeners for a long time. Listening cramps their individuality, their own free expression.  I'm guilty of the crime of not listening at times myself. Who isn't? It's a bit of a challenge to drive, listen to the radio, talk on the cellphone, and pay attention to what my daughter is saying in the back seat.
     Reading--a one media art--just words on the page, no music, no visuals--is another way to teach people to listen. When you read a novel, you are listening to one person talk for a long time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Double Consciousness and the Writer

Watched a documentary about graffiti artists, angry teenagers who now have gallery shows and houses in suburbian these days, and they were discussing their once hostility toward suburbia, calling it "artificial".  What may grate on the young artist about suburbia is its lack of diversity and its isolation from action, from what others are doing.  An artist--including a writer--needs a double conciousness.  Otherwise, they are like the fish who doesn't know it swims in water, in terms of their own culture. Without a rub between you and the culture, there's little to spark creation.

You can start developing a double consciousness by moving into a big city if you grew up in suburbia, by moving to the South if you grew up in the North, by moving to a foreign country, by being aware how your ethnic background makes you different from what is considered "normal".

You also acquire it through age.  With age, you can contrast how it was with how it is now.  You shouldn't  be inconoclastic and turn sentimental, rating the past as always better, but you clearly have a double consciousness.  It may be personally unsettling at times, but it is good for a critical eye on the the world you live in, and for writing creatively.

Double consciousness is, of course, what young writers in creative writing are unlikely to have. So we should be kind and understanding about their first efforts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

At last they are Stars!

Last Class and Everybody's a Star

At the final exam they turn in a chapbook of their work. Making public is publishing, and now my students are both published and have a book.  A class of 25 has read their work in workshop. That makes it public and makes them published.

At the last class before the final, we have a literary reading. Everybody gets up and reads for 2-3 minutes.  That's short, I know, but this is a class of 25 students and we have only 50 minutes. 

Everyone, for a moment, finds themselves in a nonjudgmental, totally supportive atmosphere, to perform a short work--finally here, at the end of the semester. They've had all semester listening to me, and to their fellow classmates, tell them how to write.

Now they're happily on their own.