Rocking Halloween in an information literacy class

Today, we are sitting in the AUM library taking an information literacy class about how to search through databases, Google scholar, how to find images, videos, books, articles, and more. We started our information search for Civil Rights (CR) playlists by just searching online in Google, Bing, Wikipedia, etc. We began where we needed to begin–with everything in the world online. Now we have specifics: either a specific event that occurred or the overall CR (depending on which part each of us decided to work on first). We also have some songs and/or artists chosen, such as Phil Ochs, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte, and so on. (Anything in bold below is work due on Nov. 2–so read on and take note.)

We even get our own research guide to help us continue our research projects. Amazing what we can do nowadays. Sheesh. It’s so the 21st Century.

Our Own ENGL 1017 Research Guide from AUM's Library: ROCKIN'

We’ve begun our information search, and it’s time to think about filter bubbles, so we’ll be watching this video next to understand how internet search engines may be limiting what you have access to immediately when you search through Google, Yahoo, Bing, or whatever. Check this out TED talk for homework and blog 300 words by Wed. Nov. 2: Eli Pariser on Ted.com. Whether Pariser is entirely right or not, I think his talk bears thinking about. Specifically, we need to consider a more active determination to seek information, rather than letting information come to us, especially if it’s being filtered. We need to search deeper in the libraries of the world, through databases, through scholarly sites, to gather more, to know more, to be better informed–to be a better writer for our readers.

We’ll dig around the library again for a class period on Nov. 7 and/or 9, but we’ll meet first in class both times. I’ll let you know if and how we’ll do this, but be aware that this might be a class thing we do.

NOW you’ve read James Purdy’s article and Randall McClure’s articles… And taken an information literacy class. For homework–please blog about your experiences in the information literacy class from today and talk about how it extends your learning from those two articles. Talk about what you learned in this class, what was new to you, what surprised you, what was “old hat,” how you have decided to work on research in ways that are different than you have before (I hope!). Due Nov. 2: 300 words.

Also on Nov. 2, you’ll need to have posted something on a playlist page or as a blog post and be able to talk about what’s up with your last two big projects–either one that you are beginning with (either is okay to start with). You’ll have books, articles, visuals, and more that you will have found to share… I’m so excited about the possibilities for these two projects. I think you’ll be very proud of the work you end up doing: it’s the chance to be innovative, creative, and yet remember what’s been so we don’t do the bad stuff again.

As we are working through this class, I realize all over again how powerful it is to know how to search through a library. The libraries of the world are still the most important places in our culture–the best places to find out about history, literature, art, music, and beyond in every discipline ever. Images, recordings, illustrations, home movies–these are all things you will find in archives, in libraries–places where these things do not exist anywhere else. It’s awesome and daunting and miraculous and amazing. Say thank you to the librarians of the world who have collected and preserved and annotated and cataloged and digitized all of this. “Thank you, librarians!”

NOT everything is on the web, nor is it reliable on the web, not always, anyhow. So love your library. But still love the web. I love the web, too–it’s freeing and open and getting more so all the time, but it doesn’t have everything yet. It will. I know it will.

Still. I love coming to the library. If I worked in this building, I’d never get any work done… I’d be poking around on databases and in stacks all day. I’d so get fired. Once I worked for a library at the circulation desk, shelving books. I took loaded carts to the appropriate location in the library to re-shelve. Usually, this task might take a student working about an hour or an hour and a half, at the most. I took several hours sometimes. I checked out the contents of the books before I shelved them. Then I looked at the books surrounding them once they were back on the shelf. Sometimes, I’d just sit on the floor and read for a few minutes. It was deeply wrong, I know, and I knew it then, but books were like crack. I couldn’t put them up without looking at them… I was addicted. I was fired after three weeks. Well. I wasn’t fired, I was re-assigned to work behind the desk checking books out to library patrons. I was the slowest one on staff. Why?

Because I looked at all the books people were checking out and said things like, “Hmmmmm, this looks great” or “I never knew this author wrote that book” or “Wow, what major are you? This looks like a fun topic.” Again, I got a talking to from the circulation librarian, who really liked me, but who was beginning to understand I was not cut out to work in a library. I stayed at the library at Boise State University for about a month–just enough time to know where everything was, to learn about a variety of books in multiple disciplines, learn how to search for ANYTHING, and find every nook cranny with intriguing things (music, movies, realia, and more–OH, and special collections–be still my heart), and to scope out all the truly great study locations.

We parted friends, me and the librarian, at least I thought so, though I often detected a slight twitch in her right upper eyelid every time we met after that. She smiled, but it looked like it hurt just a little bit.

I loved that job. But the job I really wanted was “reader.” I wanted to be paid to read books and learn and gather information and share and all that. I wanted that job.

And I got it. I’m a college professor.

And I’m teaching a class where all of you get to do all of that. Ah. Heaven.

If I could have said this…

If I could have said anything to myself before I finished college, based on the commencement speeches we just watched, it would be:

  • Never fear, you will always be surprised.
  • Plan, but plan on changing.
  • Be open, embrace difference.
  • Be one with serendipity.
  • Work at what you love, not what you think you should do.
  • Never lie to yourself, you are not good at lying.
  • Avoid failure, it can almost kill you.
  • But if it happens, act like you’ve been there before and keep your dignity.
  • Redefine who you are whenever this seems right.
  • Do not let your jobs define you; define your jobs.
  • Perhaps your dreams are bad dreams: “Thankfully, dreams can change.”
  • “You cannot win improv”: collaboration is what matters.
  • Serve what you love, and you will have love.
  • Be great, no pressure.
  • Be sure you get rid of all your incompletes.

University education… it’s all it’s cracked up to be. I’m so glad I did it.

And I’m so glad I learned to write. And I’m so glad I started writing again. And I’m so glad I’m this teacher, teaching this class, this semester, doing this very writing now.

Reading like a writer

For next Wednesday’s class, Oct. 5, we’re going to read Mike Bunn’s essay, “How to Read like a Writer” in Volume 2 of Writing Spaces. We’re going to read and then blog about it–about 300 words or so.

But I want to write about it for this class before re-reading it (I have read it before). I remember the beginning of the essay and the detailed discussion of how Bunn worked through one paragraph. I loved that.

I have been considering how to read like a writer for a long time, though–since way before I read this particular essay. I read Frank Smith’s Reading like a Writer a LONG time ago (first encountered in 1987). You can get the .pdf here. I was much influenced by this work as a teacher and K-12 curriculum developer.

Beyond Frank Smith, I was influenced by a French professor who came to guest lecture in a 19th century European novels class I was taking in grad school (wish I could remember her name–but I can’t). We were reading Madame Bovary (a novel I have read several times and recall loving). The professor read the infamous carriage passage where Mme. Bovary bares her hand and begins/engages in an illicit affair. She read it in French… a very fast-paced, exciting, climactic reading that seemed to mirror the action of the characters. Then she read a passage in a boring English translation in which the carriage seemed to plod along–so, too, the characters in the carriage–not very exciting. Then she read another passage in English, with shorter sentences, more vigorous language, staccato, leaving her and us breathless. She talked about pacing as something writers do on purpose.

WHAT? I never had a lesson on pacing before. I got it immediately from this wonderful professor’s reading and thinking and understood something about writing that I never did before. We can learn to be better writers by “reading” like writers. Asking questions: what did the author do here exactly? Why does the text feel this way or that? What rhetorical choices were made? What about syntax and diction? How can I learn from what this one author did and then apply that to my own writing?

We dissected that one passage (in the better English translation), looking at sentence length, punctuation, word choice, word arrangement, and everything in between (including the sounds of words). A writer did that. A writer made decisions to do that (well, in our case a translator collaborating with Flaubert’s text). We learned from that. Writers make decisions about everything–the words just don’t come flowing out of their heads like Athena from the forehead of Zeus–sprung full-grown and perfect. Writers work hard to think about their work and craft what and how it will go. Writers work at writing. Sure, some genius moments occur, but generally speaking, they must work at it and make rhetorical decisions every step of the way.

From that point on… about 1990, I became a reader of writers, not just a reader of stories. I always noticed the use of semi-colons, long complex sentences, short fragments used as textual punctuation, images (not just what they were, but how they were constructed/composed). I watched what I read, as in “paying attention” to how a text was created, the way it existed, and what that meant to me. I read about some author’s writing processes in the Paris Review, I read writer’s memoirs, I became a student of rhetoric and composition–on my terms. I certainly learned a lot about rhetoric and composition in grad school, but I learned a lot more from my Madame Bovary moment.

One result is that I teach literature as a part of rhetorical history rather than as something only to analyze with literary criticism. Literature is writing that a writer created by making rhetorical decisions, not in a vacuum. So my literature classes are about publishing history, rhetoric, authorship, and such like that there.

What a thing to remember as we are going to read this article by Mike Bunn. Now I really can’t wait to re-read his work.

Because I’m exploring the world

Today on my way into the office, I noticed two things I wouldn’t normally see: a button (photo below right) and a rubber tube of some kind (photo at the end). I think the round metal thing is a button. I can just make out “GAP” on one side, so I’m pretty sure it was affixed to clothing at some point.

Lib Arts Parking Lot Button? Maybe.

But the rubber thing? Holy cow. I have no idea at all. It’s hilarious yet has a very high yuck factor for me. I’ll ask some folks to see if anyone knows what this could be for.

How did the button come to be in the Lib Arts parking lot? How did the long rubber thing get there? Was anyone sad when they lost these things–could these have been vital components of an outfit or a device that prolonged life?! Or were these items not missed at all?

I love to wonder how things came to be in a place. I have been wondering lately how each of the items I have found made it to each location, and what on earth some of my curiosities are used for.

I love exploring the world. I love that the world is my museum. I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. Why is that? I think it’s because I’m getting to learn alongside all of you in ways that I wouldn’t normally get to–I’m exploring, too, and seeing everything differently because of you.

Longish, Creepy, Rubber Tube Thing... Ick x 100.

So. Do you think I need to wash the rubber thing? I think it needs a GOOD scrubbing. I just put it in my case of curiosities anyhow. If I’m not living on the edge, how I can see the view?

This is me teaching this class

I just sent this photo to a friend of mine who created a home theater and said the sound reverberated through both floors when he watched movies, but I think I’m taking it for this blog post because this is how I feel when I drop into your blogs and see the thinking, writing, learning you’re doing. I can’t wait until our next class. Who can say that about their jobs? That they can’t wait to get back to it? I can say that.

"Blown Away Man" (photo for ad from way back...)

I can’t wait to talk about Lawrence Lessig and start talking about how you can license your own writing on your blogs. Wheeee. Who knew composition class would be such fun?

Best regards to you, Blown Away Writing Professor

Does rhetoric need defending?

Rhetoric might need defending given that it has a pretty bad rep (and has for a long time). The answer then to the question above is: yes. Rhetoric does need defending. Or at least we need to talk about it and reveal its hidden ideas, secrets, and mysteries.

Today, we watched In Defense of Rhetoric–which I noted in previous post from earlier today, but I wanted to link here to a post I wrote in another blog (about teaching emerging writers) in which I mention this film and how it connected to me as a teacher of teachers of writing.

It’s an intriguing film that reminds me that perception is everything… maybe.

You test, I write

While you are taking the test today, I thought I’d write you a quick note about my thoughts on teaching. A top ten list of reasons why I teach–that’s it.

I teach because…

10. I meet new people every single semester who are amazing and remarkable and unique. What a great job.

9. I love to read with a group. I love to read with others. I love listening to what students think and feel about a text–how it works for them or doesn’t.

8. I get to write. I love to write. I love to write almost anything on any paper, in any genre, anywhere, anytime. It’s the act of communication through text (and visuals) that makes me who I am–I write; therefore, I am.

7. I learn something new every semester. I never teach the same exact class twice. Never. Never have; never will.

6. I discover things about myself. I often wondered what kind of person I was… and often I couldn’t articulate that very well. Now I can. I am a teacher. That’s a grand thing to be able to say. I teach. When people ask me what I teach, I say: “I teach everything I can.”

5. I witness writers being born. I see my students change who they are as writers from emerging to proficient to magnificent. They never cease to astound me.

4. I am surrounding by questing. I love the hero’s journey, and I am in the midst of this many heroes’ journeys every term: ___________. (fill in the number of students I teach each semester)

3. I’m never bored. I am always intrigued by someone or something so that there is never a moment of my life when I think: “I’m so bored.” Boredom never haunts me since I decided to teach.

2. I’m valued. I know that what I do makes a real difference in the lives of my students–sometimes I can see that difference happening, I hear about it; sometimes, not so much. But I know, and I am honored by such knowledge. Such a position in this life is a privilege.

1. I am a Transformer. Metaphorically. I get to change who I am and what I think about every semester. I never lose my core, but with what I teach, each new way of teaching I attempt, each new text I suggest needs reading or writing, I move from being a snazzy yellow Camaro with black racing stripes to BumbleBee, a great warrior among the Autobots, and then transform again whenever I need to–what power, what joy. I am a Transformer. Metaphorically.