Like me, both of my guests on today’s episode are lecturers in the Rhetoric and Composition program at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. At App State, we have what is called The Vertical Writing Curriculum, which is a series of four required writing courses for students. The first-year course is called RC 1000 Expository Writing and the second year course is called RC 2001 Writing Across the Curriculum. Each of my guests coordinates one of those required courses.
Ben Good coordinates the RC 1000 Expository Writing courses
Kelly Terzaken coordinates the RC 2001 Writing Across the Curriculum courses
When I was a first grader in 1977, my dad was an assistant boys basketball coach at Logansport High School in Indiana. They were the Berries, played their games in what was called the Berry Bowl, and the mascot was Felix the Cat. I remember the team came over to our house for a meal. It’s the kind of thing coaches who are long remembered by their players do: they spend time with their team off the court. At our house on Hillcrest Drive, we had a nicer than usual basketball goal. What made the goal so nice was its sturdiness, it’s feeling of permanence. I remember the pole being nearly as big around as a telephone pole and bolted to the concrete of our driveway. I remember Dad’s players standing in the driveway and shooting around while they waited for my mom to call them in to eat. Props to all of those coach’s spouses out there (yay Sue!) who do so much to support the players and the coaches. I especially remember looking up to the big kids to see how basketball players were supposed to act. That’s an easy thing for big kids to forget, the way the elementary and middle school kids look up to them. I can remember them laughing about stuff I didn’t understand. I don’t remember any of them acknowledging that I was even there, but what I remember the most was that one of the guys hit a shot from off of the driveway and out in the grass of our yard. It’s possible that the distance wasn’t much beyond seventeen feet, but to my third grade self, it seemed like an impossibly long shot. The big kids were doing the impossible. Maybe someday, I must have thought, I could do it too.
On the subject of this kind of reaching back for a memory, the writer and teacher Donald Murray says this:
“The writer’s memory is a powerful telescope to the past. I do not have a good memory in the quiz show sense and as I age I have increasing trouble with names. When I write, however, the flow of language takes me back and I remember what I did not know I knew.”
In the weeks to come, I wonder what else writing will help me remember what I did not know I knew. I can already see myself a few years later when dad was the head coach and athletic director at Caston, a school so named for the way the district bridged Cass and Fulton counties in Indiana. I remember my mom Sue, my sister Anne and I taking Dad meals at school so that we could see him at least for a little while with him working such long hours. I remember hearing how Dad’s friend Bob March experimented with not sleeping so he could get more work done in his athletic director job.
As a little kid, I used to inhabit the front row directly across from dad, rolling the game program like John Wooden used to do it. I also remember an elementary recess basketball game when I heard the bell ring and I swished a shot from out of bounds for what I claimed was the game winner. My friends–Kurt Kline, Brian Tomson, and Kevin Keller–argued about whether or not the shot counted. I haven’t seen any of those guys for decades, but their smiling boyhood faces leap into view now as I sit at my desk in a house just outside of Valle Crucis, North Carolina. No, that shot shouldn’t have counted because there are no legal shots from out of bounds in the game of basketball, but yes that telescope Murray describes sure seems to work for me. I shall make plans to use the tool some more.
Ethan Joyce is the Appalachian State University beat reporter for the Winston Salem Journal. Ethan is my guest for this week’s Torg Stories podcast Monday, September 2 Labor Day edition.
An Appalachian State graduate, Ethan continued his education and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University in New York. Some of my favorite writing by Ethan was a three part series he did on the fate of assistant football coaches when the head coach gets a new job. I started my conversation with Ethan by asking him about a typical work week during football season.
To hear my conversation with Ethan, click the media player under the picture below or check out “Torg Stories” on iTunes via the podcast app on your iPhone or by clicking here .
Ethan and I on the campus of App State University in Boone, North Carolina
Through the experience of some of the education courses I took in graduate school and then during my time teaching at St. John’s University, I accepted the idea that giving a reading quiz was the wrong pedagogical move. For the first time in thirteen years of teaching composition, I have a textbook for the course. I face a question a lot of we teachers face: How will I entice the students to read?
One way I try and get students to read is that I read out loud a part of the text that will be assigned for the next class with hopes this will spark some interest. If I can find the writer online saying something interesting, I show a bit of that to the class. One of the concepts in our textbook is that “texts are people talking.” In prep for reading Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” we watched her TED Talk. I also offer some focusing questions to give the students an idea about why I have assigned the reading. For example, we read Richard Straub’s piece about working in peer groups, and I pointed out Straub asks nine questions related to responding to others’ writing. I ask the students to try and remember two of those questions and apply what he says to what they might do when in a peer review group. Those focusing questions become the material for the reading quiz.
The quizzes are two or three questions. I am not trying to trick anyone with the questions. I have pretty much given the questions before the quiz. I hope the students will try and wrestle with the ideas in the piece. Because I believe writing is thinking and to be more literate is to be more powerful in the world, I don’t think I am wasting the students’ time with the assignments.
In grading the reading quizzes, I see some students still aren’t reading. Sometimes they apologize on the quiz for not reading, and I try to write something positive back to them. I wonder if those students not reading will start. I also learn that many of my students are reading and trying to apply the ideas in the text to their thoughts on writing.
There has been a really fun surprise in my giving of these quizzes. Because my questions require a couple sentences worth of a response, I am starting to feel like I am passing notes with my students about the subject of writing. What I’m doing reminds me a little of high school life in the 80s when classmates used to pass notes. When I respond to the students’ answers and write notes back to them, I see I am in about 90 different mini conversations with writing as the main topic. I thought responding to the quizzes was going to be something boring I did for the purpose of trying to get the students to read so that our time together in class was more interesting. It’s been a nice surprise that the pieces of paper the students and I are passing back and forth are feeling more like conversations about writing.
I had the choice of a couple of different textbooks to use for one of the college writing courses I am teaching. Today, I’m reading in it about narratives and how stories should have a thesis statement. While I do think sometimes I can point to a sentence in some of the stories I love that captures what the writer might have hoped to convey to readers, I can’t support the idea that a story needs a thesis and that’s something that can always be found in a story and marked.
I remember teaching freshman high school students in Charlotte when I thought I was ignorant because I couldn’t find all of the points in the story for a plot diagram. I had to start writing for myself before I realized that all the points on the diagram weren’t in all of the stories that were in our textbook. I hadn’t yet realized that the people who put together the textbooks and wrote the state tests didn’t really understand stories because they weren’t people who tried to write stories anymore.
I also doubt that all writers have a point or purpose to the stories they start. I have talked with a lot of writers who don’t start a story without knowing the theme of it and their reason for writing, but I have also talked to a lot of writers–and usually I’m in this camp–who discover why they are writing during the process of composition. The theme or purpose for the writing is fleshed out while writing.