Visual Readers

For class last week, we read Kafka's short story "In the Penal Colony." I like the piece because it's about a writing machine used for executions. Umm: yeah.

At the start of our discussion, I asked if someone could come up to the board and draw the machine. Expecting hesitation, I got none: K, a highly visual reader, raised her hand and quickly gave us this detailed and highly accurate schematic:

Constraint and Creativity in Written Composition

I posted a few weeks back about working on the theme of constraint-and-creativity in my Composition Theory and Practice course. It's only one of the things we're exploring in the course, so all I've done so far is worked it into each short response paper so that students compose with what I'm calling an "order of constraint."

Last week I passed around variously-sized scraps of adding machine tape, requiring students to present their response on the piece of paper provided. Any writing technology was welcome, and as you can see, some wrote by hand and others typed. If and when I get permission, I'll post a few projects in higher res.

(click to make the image
larger than it appears in the mirror)

In reading the response papers, I found that some writers did more than I would have expected and some did less. I'm attributing the challenges some students had to unfamiliarity with the order of constraint, as each writer was only beginning to work with the so-called limitation as a creative force. Still, amazingly, some students ran with it, doing mind-blowing things. I was most impressed with how cohesion went away in several projects, allowing forms of productive free associations and juxtapositions that I seldom see.

UPDATE: CP clues me into the fact that A.R. Ammons once wrote a long poem (1963) on a single roll of adding machine tape. Very cool project!


Found Friday Strikes Again

Two delicious code switching lists found on the floor at the gym this past Tuesday. And to the kind member of the Found Friday Research collective who slipped the found list under my office door: thank you!


The Courtship Ritual of Asking Faculty to be on Your Committee

Grad Student: "Um, so, I was wondering ..."

Faculty Member: "Yes, what were you wondering?"

Grad Student: "Well, uh, I'm putting together my committee, and given the fact that I've taken a couple of classes with you, and also given the ways my interests line up with much of your work ..."

In this way or ways similar, grad students across the land pop The Question to faculty in their departments. Will you be on my committee? Of course, on the faculty side of things, we wait for this magic moment, look for hints, gossip amongst ourselves, and make sure to respond accordingly. In lieu of a ring exchange, files are made up and forms sent to the proper office.

It makes me wonder, though, if things oughtn't work the other way around with faculty asking students if we can work with them? Or at least offering? I remember hearing a story about Dale Bauer, who I was blogging about last week, asking a grad student if she could work with him. It was really quite simple: Dale was new to UIUC, she'd heard about this guy's work, so sent him an email.

We could at least consider developing a parallel practice, based on Dale's offer, to let grad students know we think their work is groovy and cool and we wanna work with them. This wouldn't need to eclipse the current proposal system, merely complement it. I say this because there is something nice about having committee configuration entirely in the hands of the students.

One last thought: felicity conditions seem to mandate that popping the question happen in person; is this true? Have people "asked" or "been asked" over email? the phone? IM?


Jen's Exhibit!

Jen, one of my cool big sisters, recently put together a killer exhibit of women printers and book makers in the LA area. Since I've been trying out some rudimentary paper weaving lately, I was immediately drawn to this piece by Katherine Ng.

Katherine Ng. "Spirit Vessel"
Los Angeles, California:
Pressious Jade, 1997. (UCLA Special Collections)

Ng has made a lot of amazing stuff (most of it, it seems, through the Pressious Jade label), including this edible book and, if I'm not mistaken, a few books made out of Legos. Yeah!


Pedagogical Disposition of the Civil Servant

Over the lunch hour, I was lucky enough to catch a short talk by Dale Bauer who worked through her ideas about failure in the classroom. Not failure as liability, but failure as productive pedagogical constituent. Dale does this all the time: develops new ideas that relate directly to practice.

The talk had many dimensions; one I'm still thinking about had to do with a perceived lack of gratefulness on behalf of students in response to the work and attitudes we bring to the classroom. In turn, this got me thinking about this somewhat odd set of terminological relationships:

whore is to sex trade worker as teacher is to _________?

Now, I know this is a weird-and-very-GRE-equation, but I started playing with it because Dale got me thinking about a theme that's come up on this blog (and in the comments) before: how teachers/instructors/professors seem viewed as service workers in the US as opposed to social servants. (In fact, TT clarified this distinction for me at one point.) This frustrates many of our own self conceptions and leads to repeated friction.

In teaching future teachers of various kinds this semester, both at the grad and undergrad levels, I want to try to start developing a Pedagogical Disposition of the Civil Servant that can function as a strategic positioning that might militate against being viewed as service workers without demeaning those in the service industry. That last part is the catch.


Yellow List

Knorr Powder Pasta Sauce? I am not familiar with this foodstuff. [Update: Okay no wait: I found it.] And what's with the proximity of "Lean Cuisine" and "Canadian Bacon"?

Recipe: Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Thaw Lean Cuisine and add to dry ingredients. Put mixture in a tortilla, douse with contact solution, and eat.


Pull Cord to Start

I know I'm not alone in saying this, but today was my first day back to teaching after a long and much-needed break. Blogs are nice this way; you can write what everyone else is writing and it's okay. Since one of my classes only meets on Thursdays, today was just the "Composition Theory and Practice" class that I've taught a few times now.

It can be so easy to teach such a course, designed for future K-12 language arts teachers, as a review of composition/rhetoric scholarship. I mean, that's what we're prepared to do, right? The problem, as I've come to see it, is that such a focus generally attends to the context and issues of fyc and college comp—which are not always the same concerns that come up in the K-12 setting.

So I've been remixing the class since I started teaching it, which has been fun, and it gradually has become more and more about practices of the K-12 classroom and less and less about issues localized around post-secondary composition.

Today was also fun because I got to tell my students about the new Disaster Preparedness Plan. The gist of the plan, as it has been passed down to me at the department level, is that students are to "Follow your teacher in the event of an emergency! No matter what, follow your leader!" Students in my courses, however, need to know that if there is an emergency or crisis of any kind, that is precisely not the thing to do. I pretty much guaranteed them that a shrieking assistant professor is not only not a pretty sight, but not at all useful should they need to head for the tornado shelter.


Essay Factory Ad on YouTube

Came across this ad for an essay factory on the YouTubes; it's the first one like it that I've seen on the site.

And these two fresh pieces on essay writing:


Found Friday: You've Seen This Note Before

You've seen this note before; well, not this note, but a note just like it. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that federal signage regulations should dictate that all toilets be sold with a laminated version of this simple set of instructions, just because failure is so common.

(click image to make it larger
than it appears in the mirror)

Similarly, I think, office doors should be equipped with "Be Right Back!" notes, parking meters with "Broken! Does not work!" notes, and dishwashers with "Clean/Dirty" reversible signs. Who is the current National Signage Czar, anyway?

Taking another angle entirely, does anyone out there use the word rejigger? (I ask because of the jiggle in the note.) JM is a rejigger speaker; I've twice heard her say things like "I just need to rejigger the introduction," making revision seem as easy as jiggling the handle. Which is awesome!


On Rankings

I've somehow run into a skosh of chatter in the past few days about rankings, and it gets me thinking about both the mechanics and rhetoric of rankings.

The mechanics of rankings are seldom transparent, which is why I enjoyed this discussion over at Mike's blog about rankings of comp/rhet programs. In the comments, people not only offered rankings but rationales for those rankings. These rankings were also obviously anecdotal; something I appreciated.

Then the amazing D. Hawhee recently linked to this post at money.cnn.com which ranks the job of "college professor" as number two. Yeah baby! Oh no wait: do they mean to distinguish full professor from associate or assistant? Whatever; seeing that made me feel good. In this ranking, the mechanics of the process are a bit opaque, but that mystery lends itself, I think, to a rhetoric of scientific certainty in the rankings.

And then there were these rankings in the Chronicle, which I'll repost:

Top 10 English departments by 2005 Faculty Scholarly Productivity

1. Princeton U.
2. U. of Georgia
3. Pennsylvania State U.
4. Washington U. in St. Louis
5 and 6. Johns Hopkins U. and Stanford U.
7. U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
8. U. of California at Berkeley and U. of Florida
9 and 10. City U. of New York Graduate Center and U. of Chicago

And no, people: we are not number seven because we blog a lot at UIUC. :)

Jokes aside, we simply know that there is no way to accurately measure "scholarly productivity"—by the page? concept? hours-spent-researching? And it simply must be figured per capita, because there are many more of us in English at UIUC than at the City University of New York's Grad Center. (Though they dress much better.) Still, the rhetoric of such rankings seem to lend themselves to some kind of certainty.

So yeah, rankings. Having been educated at schools that were not so highly ranked (correction: CU Boulder always ranked up there as a "party school"), I often held to the idea that rankings were bogus given my conviction that access to ideas, books, and discussions with brilliant people were democratically distributed up and down the tiered systems we inhabit. But at the same time, rankings circulate as cultural capital, to some extent and with some people, so rankings are real in that way.


Interactive Form

I found this note on my office door a while back and thought: Oh my gosh, I need to take a picture of that one! You can click to make it bigger, but basically the gist of it is "Hey, do you want your floor cleaned? If so, please PICK UP YOUR JUNK!" The form, in a sense, works to harvest information while giving directions.

Work on document design that gets into workplace interventions often takes forms like this one and gussies them up: user-centered design, information hierarchies, and a new layout. But when I see forms like this one, I tend to think nothing could be better. Sure the poster of the interactive form has to employ a highlighter to get people to respond accordingly, but this little baby really gets your attention!

I mean, would revamping this form into, say, an interactive web form accomplish anything more than this note? In addition, there is what the note implies. I read it as speaking so poignantly to the way textual circulation is integral to the geographies of labor in my building.


Having gridded out the course calendars for my spring classes, yesterday I turned to writing up the assignments. I've learned that teaching graduate classes takes less assignment planning (for me) than undergrad classes, but the graduate classes more than make up for that with the demands on reading and prep during the week.

I think I mentioned the other day that students in my Composition Theory and Practice class will write regular reading response papers (working with various kinds of "constraint"). They will also take on two new projects: a cheating-midterm, in which they develop detailed cheat-sheets, take the test, and write a reflective essay (take home) about cheat-sheet development as a way writing can be integral to learning; they'll also have to elaborately plagiarize a midterm paper, one of Mike's cool ideas I'm riffing on.

I've often wondered if I'll someday feel I have the classes I teach figured out to the extent that I stop revising them, but at this point I'm comfortable with the conclusion that teaching new texts and projects is what it's all about.


Found Friday Gets Graphic!

In case there was any question that what we study across disciplines is all that different, I present exhibit A (found on a walk south of campus):

(Yeah, I know Found Friday is one day early, but I've fallen a bit behind!)


Is it Spam or is it Memorex?

After being away from email for a few days (or was it longer?), I find reams of spam in my inbox. Since my filters usually strain out such magical mystery meat, I decided to read a few.

The following phishing email claims to be from Verizon, my wireless provider, which prompted me to take a look. (ASIDE: Birdwatchers out there, isn't there a remarkable correspondence between the rhetorics of phishing and pishing? I mean, they're both manipulative strategies aimed at coaxing a target out into the open via misrepresentation. Annnnnnd, maybe that's where it ends.) The email:

Thank you for choosing VerizonTM. Unfortunately there was a problem processing your billing information for the month of December, 2006. Soon we have changing some servers in our data base for a new service for our customers. Our number of clients has been growed up very much last month and for that, was necesary a new aditional data base server, where some clients are moved in new server.

I guess what I wonder is: Is it cool to read the grammatical deviations in the message as clues that something phishy is going on? "Soon we have changing" and "Our number of clients has been growed up very much" stand out—but what kind of conclusions can we make about them? On the one hand, knowing how copy flow works at a joint like Verizon, one is pretty safe in assuming that, if it really was Verizon, the in-house copy editor would have corrected this stuff. On the other hand, "necesary" and "aditional" features don't necessarily mean an email is bogus.

I'm wondering about this at all because I'm working on a syllabus again today. And I know such a syllabus is treated with a similar level of scrutiny, so maybe it would be a worthwhile exercise to seed my Composition Theory and Practice syllabus with "aditional" features (a la Joseph Williams) to provide an occasion for discussing exactly this kind of illegitimacy. Such a move would equate the syllabus with spam, though, which may be a little further than I'm ready to take it. ;)