Remixing College English

Damian Marley & Nas collaborating & sampling African music

I’ve been putting this off for a while. But when you start composing blog posts in your head you know it’s time to start blogging. I’ve been doing that for some time now, but every time I would think to myself, “I make my students blog, I should be blogging, too,” the other voice in my head (the sane one) would respond, “But when do you have the time?” I’m already remixing my classroom, which takes up a lot of my free time (what little I have of it). Do I really want to take precious time away from doing something that I’m so passionate about and that requires so much research, self-training (in technical stuff), planning, and revising? But I just can’t stop writing blog posts in my head and I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, the stuff I’m doing in my classes is really making a difference and maybe, just maybe, others can learn from my successes and my mistakes. So here goes. My first blog post (other than the dozen or so I’ve written in my head).

So, where to begin? Maybe with what I mean by remixing. I think of remixing as meaning various things. There’s the association with rap and hip-hop artists’ sampling and remixing of other music. I certainly do that. But all teachers do. We steal and plagiarize each other’s lessons and syllabi all the time and put our own little spin on them. The first lesson that you learn as a teacher is to never spend time re-inventing the wheel. There’s also the idea of mixing things up, remaking them anew. This kind of remixing is similar to quilting–taking the usable pieces of discarded clothing and fabric and piecing them together in a way that makes them both newly serviceable and newly beautiful, in fact, often more beautiful than they were before. That’s what I’d like to think I’m doing as a college instructor–not only am I finding new utilities for old methods, but I’m putting them together in a totally new and innovative way. That’s the word one of my students from my Spring Hybrid First-Year Composition course used when he was having his mid-term conference with me: innovative. He actually called my class innovative. I’ve been riding on that high for months now.

But it’s not good enough to be innovative. I also have to be effective. That’s the most important thing. And the hardest. But this blog will be a record of my attempts to be both innovative and effective.

This is a video that came across my radar last semester. It struck a nerve with me and I haven’t been able to shake the implications that it has for me, my students, and my teaching.

I think that everything Dr. Tae says is true about learning. And it’s kind of scary because it means that there’s even less that I can do about my students’ learning than I thought. They all learn at their own pace, learning is not always fun for them (and if we think that we can make it fun all the time, then we’re deluding ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure), and failure is guaranteed (at least at first).I have, during a traditional term, 14 weeks to try to teach them how to write well. Or how to analyze a piece of literature and articulate that analysis, with effective supporting details, in writing. Many of them are very poorly prepared for the type of writing I’m asking them to do. Many of them don’t even know how to write a clear and complete sentence. Those who do know how to put together a mechanical five paragraph essay (with 5-7 sentences in each paragraph), pride themselves on making it through twelve years of school without reading a book. And my job is to teach them how to read critically and to analyze what they read. But if they can’t understand the words that are being used in the texts they have to read, it’s hard for them to do that. And when you factor in these realities with the realities of learning that Dr. Tae so brilliantly articulates, the task before us becomes overwhelming. But not impossible.

I’ve been remixing my classes for about a year now, staring last Fall with my first hybrid classes. And in that year, I have witnessed the possibilities that open up when you open yourself and your teaching up to the students’ points of view and the potential that they have. They are living in what many are calling the greatest age of information revolution since the invention of the printing press. They are a generation with the world at their fingertips. And many of them want to do something with their potential and their possibilities. As Dylan said, “The order is rapidly fading.” The old ways of reading, thinking, writing, and learning are being transformed, remixed, and, in some cases, abandoned. And we’re going to have to “get out of the new [road]” if we can’t adapt to and adopt it as our own. Our students are already on it and they are not able or willing to turn around and change their direction. That’s a challenge that we’re going to have to meet. And I’m trying. It’s hard and time-consuming but I have never felt more like a teacher.

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