What are you working on? Discussion in the Writing Classroom

In the writing classrooms where I teach, we often sit in a circle and do a “quick share” to begin class where everyone offers a brief comment. Examples of what students might say include a golden line from a reading, a question for our fellow writers, or an observation about a project in progress they are working on. Beginning in this way helps me to avoid talking too much to start off the class, and I hope to encourage students who might otherwise just sit back and relax to try and engage actively with the activity of the course.

William Torgerson teaching writing research composition discussion college

the challenge of conversation

 

Even trying for rapid-fire sharing around the room, with up to twenty-five students, writers can get bored, feel left out, or be uncomfortable enough talking in front of a group that they don’t speak in a way that the students in the class can hear them.  Even if a student speaks two minutes out of fifty, that’s not much engagement or opportunity to be heard. In considering this problem, I’m taken back to my days as a basketball coach. I was always looking for ways to maximize our practice time and the opportunities each player had to improve. For example, if I were to put fifteen players in a line and have them shoot, get their own rebound, and then pass to the next player, then each player might get three shots in ten minutes.  This isn’t helping anyone very much and to my way of thinking, not so different than a student in a writing class who only gets to be heard once or twice. So what to do?

As a teacher, I often go back to my time as an athlete and then a coach. For me, developing as a writer has a lot in common with my development as a shooter of the basketball or training for a long run.  When I coached and wanted to get my players more practice, I arranged shooters into five lines of three, and all of the sudden each player got five times the amount of practice than if they were in one big-long line. The classroom version of this basketball solution would be to make use of small groups. Theoretically, a student in a small group has more opportunity to join a conversation about their reading and writing. However, I’ve been in small groups as a student and now as a faculty member, and I’m often not impressed with the sort of work that gets done. There’s often a lot of noise, but it doesn’t often seem to be the noise of conversation about reading and writing. If you want students (or faculty) to work in small groups, then there has to be a plan for how this conversation can flourish.  As someone who was beginning to get more and more interested in Twitter, I wondered about the possibility of using it to enhance classroom conversation.  More on that experiment in coming posts, and if you’ve got your own ideas about classroom discussion or the use of small groups, I’d love to hear them!

Meet Torg

Seven years ago I made the switch from high school English teacher and basketball coach to writer and professor.  Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have been hired to teach First Year Writing courses at St. John’s University in New York. I write novels, scripts, publish a podcast, and have just sent out my first documentary film for consideration at several film festivals.

Cherokee McGhee Press has published two of my novels. The first, Love on the Big Screen, tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. In writing that book, I drew upon my early dating experiences, my time riding the bench of a small-college basketball team, and my devotion to 80s films such as Say Anything and Sixteen Candles.   My adaptation of that novel won the Grand Prize of the Rhode Island International Screenplay Competition.

 

80s Movies music John Cusack John Hughes Say Anything Olivet Nazarene lovea scene from the novel by artist Keegan Laycock

 

Horseshoe is my most recent novel and is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown, Winamac, Indiana. It’s a place where everyone knows everybody else’s business.  Writer Bryan Fuhurness endorsed the novel by writing, “What Sherwood Anderson would have written if he had a sense of humor.”

William Torgerson 80s romantic comedy Winamac Indiana Say Anything Cusack High Fidelity faith God healing service

 

I ask my students to write a hybrid research paper we call a Scholarly Personal Narrative. I think of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking as examples of this sort of text that combines a personal story with scholarly research.  The students also create short documentary films, follow Tweets in their area of interest, and compose ePortfolios as their final writing project.

In order to consider my professional life, I use a metaphor gifted to me by a former professor: Writing Floats on a Sea of Conversation. Given that, I invite you to respond to anything you find here as the first lines of what could be a rewarding conversation.  You can get in touch with me via Twitter @BillTorg or write me an email at William.Torgerson@gmail.com

Take a Poll and Tell Me About You and Television?

I usually get to work before my colleague David Farley, and it’s become our habit that he stops at my office door and we talk about something related to writing, teaching, or family. This job we have teaching First Year Composition has carried me into digital writing, and David and I are often talking about digital texts in relation to the teaching of writing. I’m interested in the future of books, and I’m interested in how our internet habits will impact our reading, writing, and thinking. One day, David went over into his office and came back with Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Wikipedia (I’m getting more obsessed with it) tells me that Lessig “is a director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor of law at Harvard Law School.”

Lawrence Lessig’s Remix

Here’s something I wouldn’t mind hearing about from you in the comments section: Have your television watching habits changed? In this book, Lessig writes about Read Only (R.O.) and Read Write (R.W.) culture. Taking television as an example, I think it’s been R.O. By that, I mean you just sit there and watch it. You consume it. You don’t interact with it. Reading a Facebook post isn’t like that. Reading a Twitter feed isn’t like that. You get to Tweet back. You get to interact.

Television watching, from what I can see, is becoming more interactive. You can vote for your favorite American Idol. You can Tweet along with everyone else as they watch the NCAA basketball tournament. You can read what people say about President Obama and Presidential hopeful Romney on Facebook.  As I understand from Lessig, back when people went down to the town square to see entertainment, they were in a culture that tended toward R.W. They were entertained and had a chance to interact, to sing along, to talk with others, and to go home and try out the songs on their front porch.

With the rise of television and newspapers, R.W. went on the decline. People just consumed content with little or no chance to interact. Now with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social platforms such as blogs, R.W. is on the rise. People read Harry Potter and go see the movies and then they write on fan fiction sites. All of these features of consuming and interacting seem significant to the craft of teaching and what it will mean to get an education.

Let’s consider for a second the teacher’s lecture.  Possibly BORING!!!! and most times heavy on the R.O. side of consumption.   I’d like to be as R.W. as I can when it comes to my teaching pedagogy. Perhaps I’m using the term wrong but for now, I know what I mean.  🙂

More on Lessig’s book and some Golden Lines in the coming posts. There’s a poll below for you and if you’d like to elaborate on your TV watching habits, I hope you’ll add them to the comments section.

Writing, Feedback, and Film Editing

Thanks to Mrs. T and Izzy for giving me lots of space and quiet to work today.  I met the daily 800 word quota I set for myself when I’m working on a novel.  Lately, it’s been more like 800 words four days a week.

Kathy Patrick Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen

Pulpwood Queens Favor Safari Print
photo by Natalie Brasington

I followed up my writing by meeting another daily quota: I read seven student papers. At that rate, I’ll have them done in seven days, which would put me a day ahead of schedule. This semester I’ve spaced out my face to face classes’ assignments so they come in at a different time than the writing of the online students.

Kathy Patrick Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen

This Banner Blew Down After I filmed it
(I didn't steal it)

I spent the whole rest of my day doing color correction to the Girlfriend Weekend “For the Love of Books” documentary. To be truthful, rather than call it color correction, I should probably call it “color improvement.” When I’d do an adjustment, it would take a while for Final Cut Pro to render the change, and while it was “working,” I watched videos from NYU’s “Media Talks.” The more I learn about their master’s degree in publishing the more I’m impressed by it.

We used my kids' puzzle map to
illustrate my trip to Jefferson, Texas

I should note that my wife Megan made the little airplane in the picture.

There are some good videos related to the book business on the NYU site here.

Golden Lines from College Writers Who Write With Me

One thing that I have found out in my life is that sometimes you won’t always understand everything.

-Taylor L.

When you think about it, everything in life has to do with how you say things.

-Fabiola N.

If I never bare my soul to the internet, it will never be taken by it.

-Jessi L.

I can’t even put a number on how many papers I have turned in, papers that have taken many hours of preparation, research, and hard work, only to never see them again.

-Thomas S.

Students want stories that relate to real life and to what’s going on today.

-Francesca C.