Blog Post #5: Bad Ideas…

One of the bad ideas I picked for this week is a chapter called “The Passive Voice Should Be Avoided”. I do a lot of writing in the history department, and one of the things I get dinged on ALL THE TIME is passive voice. Before I came to Chico State I had never been taught it, hadn’t heard of it, and didn’t know what I was getting penalized for. The amazing grad students in the History Writing Center were able to explain it and sympathize with me as they get dinged for it too, but it was still frustrating. Seeing it on a list of bad ideas I jumped on it. I thought it was interesting that it is not just students who don’t like it, but instructors as well. I just had to shake my head when a lot of the chapter was just explaining it was a traditional stylistic choice to use active verbs rather than passive. I mean, I’m probably still going to get dinged on it, but it’s nice to know it’s a professor preference rather than a die-hard rule I just can’t figure out unless I obsessively fiddle with and look for it.

Another bad idea I read about for this week was called “Failure is Not an Option”. I had to squint and frown at it when I saw that because that’s just ridiculous. Failure is always an option, or so I had always been taught. One of my favorite people in the world told me when I was about thirteen that failure was okay, as long as you learned from it (basically the premise of the whole chapter). I just couldn’t fathom how people didn’t know that. Reading the chapter, I could see where people were coming from. “Failure” has such a bad connotation, especially when put in school settings with letter grades and standardized testing. I liked that the chapter embraced the idea of failure, and just like my friend, advise taking the bits of failure that worked and moving forward with a clean slate until something works again. Maybe you fail 1,000 more times, but as long as you regroup and start again, that 1,001st time might just be the one that succeeds. Without failure we wouldn’t have things like light bulbs or computers (along with hundreds of other things); maybe we should be teaching students about successful failures instead of teaching failure as a direct reflection of self-worth and ability to function in the world.



Blog 4 Post: The Road So Far…

So far I don’t actually have any questions about the course. I feel like both 431 and the 130 class I am observing are both really clear with their expectations and are working really hard to guide students through the syllabus that are designed to make students independent writers and tutors without the professors. I’m also really liking the discussion and group work in both courses as part of the preparation for working on improving our writing and utilizing our peers and mentors to do so.

Some of the ideas that are sticking and that I see a lot in the 130 class are the communities of practice and the situated learning. The communities of practice are easy to see, especially when it’s a whole class working together on a common goal or project (writing a paper that is better than the one(s) before). It’s also interesting to see that when Professor Libenberg asks students to split into groups, people usually work with the same people, even if they are sitting on opposite sides of the room and didn’t know each other the first time. In this case, I think it could be considered a sub-group of the whole community. I also think that situated learning is active in this situation; it’s a little obvious, but stepping into the room students’ body language changes, not in a bad way, but in a way that shows they understand this area is a specific room for learning. Most of the conversation is about the class work, and most people are working on work for the class during class time, not other work. One person I talked to said that the room just felt like a work space, so it made it easier for him to work there; not to say that he didn’t do work or learning for this class in other places or situations, but it was just easier in the classroom.

One of the concepts I’m working with is how to get students to ask the lense/focus questions we were reading about when working with students in the writing center. Talking to the people in the 130 class and helping my friends with their papers, I’m finding it difficult to get people to ask about their papers. They know they have questions, but they just don’t know what they don’t know. I’ve tried showing them the questions, or asking the questions myself and trying to get people to think about it, but its almost like they haven’t really thought about their work as important enough to ask serious questions about it, so they shy away from thinking about it that way. I don’t know how I’m going to work with that as I love the lense questions as something to ask in order to improve writing. It’s a puzzle I’ll have to work with .

Blog Post #3: Classroom Observations

At the end of week #3 of the semester, I suppose it’s time to reflect on what exactly is going on during my internship in the English 130 class I’ve been shadowing for two weeks.

A lot of what my mentor does is more “behind the scenes work”, as he puts it. I suppose this means he’s grading blog posts or papers the professor has assigned, but I’ve yet to actually see him do that. What I have seen has been very interesting. By that I mean, it was completely ordinary (and a little boring), until I figured out what it was I was actually looking at.

K, the mentor and teaching assistant, is really quiet. Honestly, you can forget that he’s there most of the time. However, his totally disarming front he puts out really lets the students come up to him and open up a little. This early in the semester the students are still trying to be comfortable with each other, and yet when K reminds a student that are supposed to be looking at their blog posts (or paper, or whatever), or makes comments about sections of the work they are doing, there isn’t the usual bristling that comes from a professor making those comments; the students are actually listening to him and, from what I can see, feel comfortable asking questions they might not want to ask the professor. It’s interesting, and a little funny, because while I’m still getting the side-long “what the hell are you doing here” glance, (even though I’ve tried to chat with some of them a few times), K, who hardly ever really speaks is the one their most comfortable with.

Professor Libenberg so far has been preparing his students to start their environmental narrative. They have read several articles that seemed designed to talk them down from the panic that usually accompanies the task of writing. A lot of the articles have been really interesting, and while not necessarily super helpful to me, are ones that I’ve bookmarked for future use. One of the articles that spoke about the “myths” of writing I’ve actually forwarded to a friend who was panicked about a paper recently (and who didn’t believe me when I said her paper didn’t have to be five paragraphs to be good). There’s been a little bit of group work and peer review, but so far, the class feels like it’s leading up to something bigger while tricking the students into not freaking out and doing the work without realizing it until it’s done and they understand it’s not so scary (which is probably entirely the point).

All in all, I’ve picked up a few things that I know I will want to remember for future reference, but I haven’t really seen some of the stuff we’ve been talking about. I would, however, consider the class a community of practice; there are a group of people who meet at designated times and work with more experienced leaders towards a common goal (i.e. learning and practicing how to write for college), but I’m not sure I’m seeing some of the other topics.

With all that said, I’m finding it absolutely fascinating to be able to observe a class without having the responsibility of being a participating student in that class. That’s not to say that I don’t read the articles and keep up with what the class is working on, because I do, but I am not responsible for participating in discussion or homework, and so have the leisure time to sit back and observe the professor and mentor to look for things that I may or may not want to do when the time comes that I have my own class. I’ve already decided that if I can be as disarming and approachable as K and Professor Libenberg have been to their students, I will have managed half the battle when connecting and working with my own future students.

Blog Post #2: Lave and Wenger Article

In this week’s article, I found it fascinating that in some cases people weren’t actually seen as “learning” anything, the task they were doing was just something they had always known how to do. It was putting into words something I think we take for granted. When asked how we were taught to do this or that task, a lot of us just shrug our shoulders and probably mumble something along the lines of, “It’s just something I know how to do?”

For me, the light bulb actually came on last night. I don’t have children, but I spend a lot of time with my nieces and nephews. Last night while I was babysitting, I had the baby on my hip, was chatting with my sister (their mother) on speaker phone and was helping the four-year-old put her clothes in the closet. When I turned around after I hung up with their mom, I looked down at my niece who had one of her baby dolls on her hip and was talking on her play phone as she did. I sort of smiled and then started thinking about who taught me to do that, or for that instance anything I do for my niece and nephew. The only thing I could think of was that I probably watched my mom with my little brother; no one has had to “teach” me how to change a diaper or make a bottle because I’ve seen it so many times I just know how to do it. I can’t wait until my niece is seventeen or eighteen to ask her who taught her how to take care of the younger kids. I’m pretty sure the answer is going to be the same as mine: “I just do it.”

With that in mind, I’ve also had several jobs over the years where I’ve had to be specifically taught tasks. My dad used to manage and direct pizza restaurants, and since he would have me during school vacations and couldn’t take off that from work, he would bring me into the restaurant. At first, I would just sit there in his office or dining room and read the whole time. Later I started helping out, and it eventually became my first job.

In the Lave and Wenger article there is a passage that states:

A supermarket meat department manager tries to achieve an advantageous difference between the total volume of sales for the department and the wholesale price of his meat order, plus his costs for personnel and facilities. To do this, the manager sees to it that his skilled journeymen can prepare a large volume of meat efficiently by specializing in short, repetitive tasks. He puts apprentices where they can work for him most efficiently. Diverting journeymen from work to training tasks increases the short-run cost of selling meat. Because journeymen and apprentices are so occupied with profit-making tasks, apprentices rarely learn many tasks… (Lave and Wenger 78).

I found this particular section to be that one where you sort of tilt your head and squint at it. In my experience, this is exactly how it works when you are starting out at a new job, or in my case helping my dad out at his restaurants, but with a different end result. I started out cleaning tables, then washing dishes, then making food, then register, then phones, etc. I started teaching new employees how to do my job, and then another person would teach me how to do another task. Each individual task you learned moved you up to the next task that you “specialize” in until you learned a new task. My dad liked using me because I was an extra body on the floor that could make things more efficient, but because I was twelve and thirteen couldn’t be on the payroll and so didn’t count as part of the labor costs; he made money by having me work. It was irritating until I realized that when I was old enough to be hired on officially at sixteen, the owners hired me as a supervisor and trainer, rather than “the new girl” because I could already do everything short of deliveries (I couldn’t drive) and rolling dough (because I couldn’t lift the mixer and 45 pounds of dough above my head; I knew how to work the machine and roll out the pizza).

Somewhere along the line, the journeymen and apprentices are not being given that opportunity to progress. I know the article mentions that the reason this happens is because there isn’t a lot of turn around, but in my experience, this is one of the best ways to learn something (like the tailors in Liberia). Moving from simple tasks to harder tasks increases confidence and competence in a skill. I know this particular method worked really well for me and my fellow co-workers; when there was less turn around, experienced employees would trade off for easier tasks to give people a chance to learn more difficult ones. This way, experienced employees could refresh the basics, and “leaners” could progress.

Whether you are learning to take care of children by watching the adults around you, or you are learning a task formally step by step, you still have to progress in that skill. Using apprentices as tools is not the problem; forgetting or choosing not to upgrade your tools is. Just like an apprentice midwife will eventually deliver a baby, my niece will babysit for her own nieces and nephews, and I trained other people on restaurant policies, apprentices and mentors need to be given the opportunity to learn new tasks. If not, they get stuck in the same menial task forever, and that’s where we start to see problems with apprenticeship.

Blog Post #1: Wenger Article

Hi! My name is Merri Dowell. I’m 26, an undergrad at Chico State University, a proud pet parent, and unapologetic fangirl. My majors are English Studies, History, and Humanities, and I plan to use those degrees to teach high school and eventually college. My specific area of interest is in early modern England (1485-ish to 1715-ish), but I’m always looking into new and different topics. I’m an avid reader and love movies and television. I love a good adventure, and it doesn’t matter that story comes from a book or a visual source, I am there.

I’m in this class because of the recommendation from Kim Jaxon who seemed really excited about the course. With this class, I’m hoping to get some practical teaching/tutoring experience that I can use in future endeavors. I like working as a “learner” in the beginning because it leaves me in the position where I can ask questions and make mistakes; I’ve found that’s a little bit more difficult when you are the “professional”.

In the Wenger article, the passage that most stood out to me was:

“Similarly, if we believe that productive people in organizations are the diligent implementers of organization processes and that the key to organizational performance is therefore the definition of increasingly more efficient and detailed processes by which people’s actions are prescribed, then it makes sense to engineer and re-engineer these processes in abstract ways and then roll them out for implementation.

But if we believe that people in organizations contribute to organizational goals by participating inventively in practices that can never be fully captured by institutionalized processes, then we will minimize prescription, suspecting that too much of it discourages the very inventiveness that makes practices effective.” Wenger 10.

I found this to be interesting because it started me thinking about a couple of things. The first thing I started thinking about was traditional classrooms where learning takes place. We sit children (and adults) in classrooms where people aren’t allowed to talk to each other and then must do individual work for an individual grade in a certain way that does not allow for creativity or deviation from the lesson plan. In recent years, mainly due to classes taught by professors who require group participation and work, the light bulb has come on and I’ve understood that if we don’t do activities outside of the classroom as an individual, then why are we forcing people to learn individually?

This led me to my next thought. Well, more of a memory, really. I taught gymnastics for ten years, and at the gym that I worked at, when we got a new instructor we would put them with one of the senior coaches so they could work with them. We did just like what we’re going to do in our internships: first they observed, then we showed them and let them have some supervised hands-on experience, and then we let them lead classes on their own with a supervised coach, and then you let people work on their own and eventually teach other coaches the same thing.

Not a single second of the “learning process” is individual. The whole time you are with other coaches who have been teaching longer or have been in gymnastics longer, and those who teach more advanced classes. Every single job I’ve had has been this way. Thinking about it, everything I do is with a group. Myself, brother and stepdad work as a group to help my mom with her health issues and I still occasionally train coaches at the gym I used to work at with the coordination of other coaches. There are dozens of things I can think of that has required learning in some way that has always involved several other people and learning as I do. In fact, I learn best when I’m learning on the fly, or forced into situations where I “learn as I go”. It’s a big reason I’m a firm believer in “fake it ‘till you make it;” it always seems to work best for me.

That thought led me another thought, which was a little startling and a little funny at the same time. I’m used to working with other people for a common goal and I’m used to working with other people to learn a new task. Do you know what I struggle with more than anything else?

Group projects for school.

Reading Wenger, and his idea that learning should be a hands-on experience and that learning doesn’t happen in institutionalized situations that are removed from the activities you are going to use that learning for, made me laugh a little. I can work with others in a bunch of situations, even ones that I know I am actively learning in, but in the last couple of years, I’ve had to really work on working in groups for class projects. I think it’s a little ironic that the place you go specifically to learn and work with other people has so ingrained individuality to people that those of us who grew up in the age of standardization and individual work without the help of others instinctively pull away when told we have to work with others towards a common goal because of the idea that learning not only has a beginning and end, but must necessarily be done only in specific places, and by oneself.

None of this necessarily holds the answers to the universe, but it was something I’ve been working on, so I found it fascinating that the research has been done that actively disproves the idea that “learning individually” works, rather than learning together and participating in activities that utilize the concepts that are being taught.

Maybe that will help me out a little bit as I try to improve my ability to work with others.