Tag Archives: voice

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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Voices in Englishes

Like I usually do, I will explain this via music video.

In “Sunshowers,” M.I.A. uses a lot of Sri Lankan-English constructions and in makes perfect sense to do so. She has filmed the video in Sri Lanka, and she is singing about her experiences of surviving the Sri Lankan revolution. That voice she uses has rhetorical power, it’s her home voice, and it is a voice of the community. In “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued,” A. Suresh Canagarajah writes about the power of allowing the voice of writers to express this dynamic multi-cultural nature, and that doing otherwise suppresses students and writers alike.

In “Bucky Done Gun,” M.I.A. uses a lot of London street slang, another one of her home languages. This also has great rhetorical power because she is singing about the ridiculous nature of gang violence. She incorporates other slang and references other cities that she has lived in (such as New York) to weight her song with meaning, but also, to use the may authentic voices she has. I am again shamelessly referencing bell hooks when I speak of these “authentic voices.” I know that these examples are songs, and that creative use of language is tolerated in lyrics. However, the reason I use these examples is because M.I.A’s lyrics are communicating with both the content and the grammar. Canagarajah points to the effective use of home Englishes in articles and books by bell hooks and Geneva Smitherson. Their mastery of different Englishes is such that they use each one wisely, rhetorically, and creatively. They sure as hell know what they’re doing. Isn’t that what we want to teach our students? I got really excited about the idea that I might be able to discuss the power of different Englishes with my class. I love the way this works! We of course need to teach the English of the Academy, because our students will need that to survive effectively in academia. But home Englishes have their places too, and do not need to be checked at the gates.

How did I not realize the fluid, dynamic nature of voice before? Upon reflection, this was not only a powerful realization as a teacher, but also as an artist and as a person. I had a lot of voices that I was trying to overwrite because they weren’t “right.” If I had done that to my students… oh my… I don’t want to think about it. I saw my own life broken into Englishes, and I was a little in awe. Please, indulge me.

I grew up with a lot of languages floating around: German, Italian, bits of Romani, and of course, English. I never learned German, Italian, or Romani fluently, though I probably got closest with German. My Romani Grandmother speaks German, and I spent so much time with her when I was little that I even picked up some of her accent which, oddly,  slips out when I’m very tired. And then I grappled with two Englishes: specifically, my parents’ working class mill town Massachusetts English, and the deep forest of New Hampshire English (where I grew up). You can imagine what this little girl sounded like. Or can you? What would be the best example? Perhaps it’s when I was three and, standing before the broken-down car in my Easter dress, I kicked the tire and sighed “Fuckin piece-a-shit!” Or perhaps it’s when I went to school and told everyone, “Nein, we don’t read the Bible zu Hause. I have ze Greek myths at bedtime. Ist the same, ja? I like zem a wicked lot!” It wasn’t long before no one could understand a damn thing I said. And in the middle of the forest in Epsom NH, where it’s not unheard of for a 6 year old child to ride a cow to school on her own, you really don’t want to look out of place. I was already suspicious enough with my Gyspy face. So when I was nine, I decided to iron-out my English and make it the English I heard on the news, that flat non-regional grammar-tight speech. I wished to be unremarkable; I wished to be correct. I made an orphanage out of the textbook and raised my English there, apart from it’s weird, loving family.

Then of course, I had to go and complicate everything by falling in love with an Irishman and living in Ireland for three years, where I thought I would stay for good. I made every effort to fit in neatly in Ireland, assuming new spelling, new pronunciation, new rising and falling tones, and new idioms. I loved it, too. And then the  Irish recession hit and  now, here I am back in America, saying “brilliant” and “bollocks” with an Irishman at my side, keeping the traditions alive. In between NH and Ireland, I was in Virginia for school, where bits of that accent crept in, and then, magically, when I lived with my parents for a few months before moving here, my NH/MA accent came bounding back like a family dog glad to see me. And so did my weird half-German-ish accent. Oh boy. I don’t sound like a mess any more though. Maybe I never did. I’m just glad that all these Englishes are under one roof. They are a part of me, and they really do come in handy. I can address a few audiences, order and toast a pint like a lad, and probably sweet-talk a black bear. I can also write professional, polished prose when I need to do so. This is powerful stuff. This is the kind of stuff I want to teach. The trick is using the rhetorical power of speech, and being fluent in all the Englishes that we have. Our students have a new home in the academy, and it’s our job to get them speaking our language. It’s not our job to obliterate their other home Englishes.

My Romani mother in a dirndl, in Germany, when she was 12. Today, this woman sleep-talks in German.

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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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Reluctant (Voice)

While reading Elizabeth H. Boquet, “‘Our Little Secret’: A History of Writing Centers, Pre- to Post-Open Admissions” I kept thinking about the reluctance I’ve seen in students. An enormous reluctance to engage in texts, their texts, peers’ texts, course material texts… no one wants to say what they think, and if they do it’s mediated with a question. “I think the author is saying that these characters don’t like each other?” Each tentative rising tone sends a chill down my spine. Who frightened these students?!

Boquest discusses the beauty and terrors of writing centers in a way that she says reflects her honest experiences. We read about writing centers at their best, coaxing the answers from students and showing them they know how to write. And then the worst, passing them a topic, a new structure, and the feeling that they cannot write and need these handouts to make it through school. I can see how the worst happens though. In my conferences, I asked open-ended questions, I dug, I cajoled, I encouraged, I sat in silence and waited for answers. I got shrugs, embarrassed titters, sighs, and miserable looks. Oh my god, I thought to myself. Just tell the poor girl what to do! And I did. I told her exactly what I thought her story needed. I gave in to the pressure of silence and shrugs. And when she left, guilt bit at my insides. Ohhh, my brain moaned at me in that melodramatic way, you just crushed that poor student’s voice! You confirmed her worst fear! WHY WEREN’T YOUR QUESTIONS MORE OPEN-ENDED? When I read her final draft a few nights later I saw that she followed my advice… but then she also added her own spin. She didn’t do exactly what I prescribed, and I think her way was better for her story and that it reflected the tone of her story. Her story. Was it so bad to give her that push?

I am always toting balance. I do a lot of yoga and I try to eat well (which comes and goes). I guess there is a time for prescription and a time for asking asking asking. Socrates is one of my favorite dead guys. I’m all for the Socratic method of teaching. But sometimes I think you’ve got to throw a student a bone. After all that vital self-discovery and only when absolutely necessary, of course. There is a difference between a reluctant voice and a student who really needs some help.

bone trumpet?

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Poor Unfortunate Souls!

Papermills and authorship… it’s a black magic trade-off. The ethical issues are obvious– it’s wrong to sell a paper to a papermill, just as it’s wrong to buy one and turn it in as one’s own. I’m more intrigued  with the concept of points of view for sale.

When I write a paper, I normally feel that my voice is in it. Maybe that’s just my giant ego, or that only child syndrome (which is actually not taken seriously by professionals any more, mind you), but I feel like if I wrote it, it’s freaking me. According to Kelly Ritter in her article “The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition,” I’m in the minority. A lot of students do not feel that their writing reflects their voice. They think that their papers are only worth something if they can be bought and sold, and that “professionals” ought to be doing their writing.

I wonder, would students be less likely to plagiarise if they believe that their writing (and voice) is intrinsically valuable? Would highly personalized assignments help this? Along with Peter Elbow’s method of “liking” all student writing? I think it would. I feel that if some students are lazy and don’t care about the class, they will cheat. But as we discussed in class this week, it is more likely for a student who normally does well to cheat. What is the psychology of cheating? There are a lot of questions with variable answers depending on the student and situation, I imagine. But at the same time, I think small steps can be taken to remind students that selling their papers is like handing your voice over to that evil octopus woman. The prince really isn’t that hot. And he’d prefer to hear your voice coming out of your own sweet face rather than that watery bint’s.

In-class writing exercises could help, creative projects, engaged research… all these things and more spring to mind. Making writing professional, political, personal could help. Drafting and drafting and drafting is a pretty tough one to get around plagiarism-wise. And all these things, along with positive encouragement and student-led discussions about each other’s work might help them see their writing and voices as something that is theirs, that is valuable, and that has its rightful place with the original author.

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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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Cheesy title, yes. But that’s the digital persona I’m creating.

Visual courtesy of http://blogs.houstonpress.com  image courtesy of http://blogs.houstonpress.com

J.E. Clarke’s article “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st Century Pedagogy” addresses the idea of students creating an evolving body of work online in order to engage themselves in the texts they work with and to heighten their sense of audience. This is done through ePortfolios, online games, discussion forums, etc. I am particularly interested in the ePortfolio because they not only allow for class engagement, opportunities for authorship and publication, and fostering community of writers (the class), but they also provide a space for students to develop a “digital persona.”  Students have the opportunity to see how their writing improves and are able to see themselves as academics, but they are also able to determine how they want to sound to their audience. Clarke writes, “Public artifacts shared with parents, professors, and employers are markedly different than informal peer-to-peer communications among students. Students tailor their digital identities for multiple audiences, learning how to introduce themselves to a virtual world. This sense of network-situated self allows students to see how they function within different communities.” Students have the opportunity to present themselves, receive feedback from their academic community, revise, and develop a voice of authority, and also a writerly voice. I agree with Clarke– this kind of scholarship would create a wonderful awareness in our students.

After reading Kelly Ritter’s “The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writing, and First-Year Composition” it seems clear that a surprising number of students don’t see themselves as authors, don’t think student-writing is valuable, and don’t feel important to the academic community. I think that ePortfolios would be a way for students to see their contributions to their field, to see themselves as the authors they are, and to have their writing taken seriously not only by their teacher, but by their classmates, and by anyone else who might find it online. There is a power in publishing, as we discussed in class. I think that power would encourage students to use their voices, and this space would give them the opportunity to see how that voice progresses.

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