Tag Archives: collaboration

Voice Now and Then

When I first started this blog I was thinking of voice in a highly individualistic way. I saw voice as a very specific term, so narrow that I thought it might be difficult to explore, but one that I was interested in nonetheless. Although I strongly believe in a holistic approach in the classroom, I have leanings toward expressivist teaching. I feel that my expressivist tint might have been the lens for my “authentic voices of the individual” perspective. Now I see voice as a more abstract, far-reaching idea: voice is what our students want to communicate, and the style, mode and community in which they do it. That is more condensed than I intended. These feel like big categories. This feels like a big leap to me.  Especially because I also see
that voice collaborates within itself as well as with others, and that I think was one of my most important realizations.

At first, when I thought about voice, I thought about it mainly from the perspective of a creative writer. It seemed that creative writing doesn’t involve collaboration or a tremendous amount of technology. Or so I thought. As the class and the readings progressed and I traced my key term in relation to this progression, I realized how much collaboration and technology influence voice, provide a vehicle for voice, and enhance voice. I saw that what I do as a teacher affects the voice of my students. Their peer review groups and sessions at the writing center are times of collaborative learning, which shapes their voices. Technology allows students a different way to communicate, through publication, multi-media, remediation, and community. I began seeing that the voice of the student is, in part, the voice of the student’s environment. I see this as a creative writer too– workshops are collaborative spaces where voice is influenced, modified, and expanded. Television writing is a collaborative effort, as are improvised productions and many other forms of published, performed, influential writing.

The whole way through the blog project, I felt that the readings were more of a jumping-off point. I didn’t see a lot of point in rehashing articles that we had already discussed in class from the very specific lens of my key term. I didn’t think that was what was expected of us. So the articles served as inspiration, and I applied my understanding of my key term’s relationship with the articles to contexts that were closer to my world, closer to my future classroom, and closer to my life. Writing that way gave me a lot to consider, and forced me to think very carefully about voice and the theories we covered in a way that shapes me as a teacher.

So how does this shape me as a teacher? It has made me considerably more interested in writing exercises that encourage students to use their voices and say what they want to say, sure. It has also made me think about ways to introduce logic and rhetoric through discussion and study. I plan to talk about audience through in class writing exercises and analysis. I will give them opportunities to use different types of technologies through a remediation project, and spaces and assignments that are computer-friendly. I hope to foster an environment of peer review and collaboration through workshop, in-class activities, and journals. Voice does not make sense when it’s separated from logic or the community. Voices are heard easier when they communicate their message through technology, whether that’s a printing press or a computer. And voices are multi-faceted. Voices are met with an audience of other voices. I feel hyper-aware of voice now and its place in the classroom. I have also learned that the best way for me to teach is to become a good listener. Each class is made up of individuals. If I don’t listen to them, or don’t know anything about them, I won’t know what they need, nor how to reach them with my voice.



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A babble of voices

Muriel Harris discusses collaboration in “Collaboration Is Not Collaboration Is Not Collaboration: Writing Center Tutorials vs. Peer-Response Groups” and points out that the type of collaboration in writing centers is very different to the collaboration of peer groups. At the writing center, students experience collaborative learning, discovery, and are challenged to consider their own work and writing process analytically. In peer groups, students hear what their peers think– what the author should change, what the work is about, and what is the work’s best qualities. These are two different environments with different purposes, an I imagine that the babble of voices can become overwhelming. Even more overwhelming when added to that mix is the teacher’s voice.

In high school, the assignments our students were set were normally quite rigid. In the 1101 class they are much more open to interpretation, and that in itself can feel a bit scary because we still expect polish work from them. But we also expect their own thoughts and in-put.It’s like rewriting the lyrics within a song’s structure, which at first, sounds like a stiff and controlled task, but really it can be quite fun and liberating.

Amidst all these spaces where students are advised, corrected, poked, and prodded into writing well, the goal is always for the student to write authentically well. Developing voice within a babble of voices can be confusing and intimidating, but when the different for learning collaboration, writing collaboration, and instruction are used mindfully and carefully, the babble would die down to something else. Not directives so much as a number of routes. Those bad guys with the pipe wrench suddenly become just people chatting about what a poem means. While I trust the writing center to be what it needs to be, it’s our job as instructors to make sure that peer-response groups are what they need to be. We need to write that song and let them change the words in the best way for them.

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Exquisite Corpse

I wrote about Exquisite Corpse before. It explains everything.

"Object in Fur" by Meret Oppenheim. Image courtesy of http://design-crisis.com

Object in Fur by Meret Oppenheim– image courtesy of http://design-crisis.com/?p=107

The beautiful thing about the game is the seamed and seamless collaboration of voices to create a certain effect. It can create alienation, like Oppenheim’s teacup, or a weird logic to bridge separate minds and thoughts. Above all, it is a cooperation to blend many voices into one freaky text.

Wikis are different, of course, because everyone knows the topic, everyone can see the text, and facts and reality are encouraged… so it’s not exactly a round of Exquisite Corpse. However, the two methods of writing share the same lovely collaboration. Many voices become one, with the hope that it will be better that way.

I admit, I was pretty suspicious of the whole wiki thing. I’m not a fan of non-surrealist collaboration. And though places like wikipedia are good when my desire for a sated curiosity is counter-balanced by a bout of pronounced laziness, I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in it. So I was dreading the World of Warcraft Wiki article, but it surprised me. I was fascinated by the play of voices within a text. Hunter illustrated that the WoWWiki page was a much happier and healthier place when anonymity and politeness (the two of which have enormous overlap) were maintained through the many many revisions of the pages. If someone made a mistake on the page, a member would point it out without naming names and the error was easily fixed. When egos died down to kitten meows, the site came along quite smoothly. Conflict and disarray only erupted when ownership/authorship roared across the boards. I thought about this.

I taught a lesson on The Fantastic on the 18th, and I enjoyed myself a lot, mostly because my students enjoyed it. Of course, we played a game. Can you guess which one? I hate to keep y’all in suspense. I made them play Exquisite Corpse. We played with conditionals, and then discussed logic within the fantastic world and how to create it and keep it in check. Then we did a collaborative story. It went so much better than I imagined. The students were laughing, and seemed to get a kick out of the combination of anonymity and creativity– their weird words swirled all together and no one really knew or cared what anyone else wrote. The fun part was to hear what it sounded like as one text in one voice. Representatives would read sections of the class text aloud, and we tried to find the narrative that burbled up from our collective brains. If each person had read the line that he or she wrote, it would have been awkward, stilted, separate, and a little embarrassing. It would not have worked; it would not have been a story.

I thought this applied to the wikis too, and to all collaborative work. When many writers participate in a text, the concept of ownership changes. It’s fluid, and that fluidity allows people to write without reservation. The nature of the wiki is brutal revision for the good of the cause, and when no one owns it or knows who wrote what, that ideal is closer to being realized. What if family arguments were like wikis? Everyone would mix their teary, affronted stories and chops the irreverent-embellished drama bits until something closer to reality would emerge: essentially a record of long-enduring, passive-aggressive lore that the family could peruse whenever they wished!

This isn’t a text Utopia. Things go wrong, things get weird, and egos puff up like threatened squirrels. But it’s an interesting place for voices to coexist within one space, one text, and for the one cause of writing something pretty accurate and very accessible. And the fact that we read these community texts, and believe them mostly, must say a lot about our readiness to accept a hydra-beast author, even if we may not necessarily want to be one.

Considering how to apply it to the classroom, I think I like the idea of a class notes wiki. I like what we’re doing now in this class. I have to think more about it in all of my luxurious spare time, but I see that people are more ready with their information if they think it might be slashed, and people are more ready with their slashing when they think no one knows their hand. The desire for the self to be perceived as excellent in solo publishing is translated to the desire for the text to be excellent in collaborative publishing.  There is no “i” in collaboration. Well, there is but it’s awkward and much happier when unacknowledged. That could work in my classroom.

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