Final Thoughts While Finalizing my Thesis

“When the voices of a people fall silent… the substance of that people is temporarily suppressed, if not forever lost. The soul of a people lives in that people’s voice and is a stream in the continuous sounds that run deep like rivers through their lineage.”

David E. Kirkland

I’m sitting here in the sun using a few moments from one of my last thesis-writing Saturdays to reflect on the importance of testimony, witnessing, and peoples’ ability to tell their own stories. To read and to write in whatever modes are most meaningful to you is an endeavor of great magnitude and gravity. To teach others to do so is equally necessary. If I gain an appreciation for nothing else after completing this thesis, that will have been enough.

Louder Than a Bomb: What They Deserve

Don’t worry, series on digital tools and activities in the classroom. I’m coming back for you soon. It’s just that I’m so in love with Louder Than a Bomb, MA!

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LTAB MA Logo by MassLEAP Collective

After years of enthusiasm and respect for Boston’s Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB) scene, which is something I’ve expressed in an earlier post, I finally got the opportunity to be an infinitesimally small part of it. This past Friday night, I showed up at UMass Boston to judge a preliminary slam between 3 different Boston high schools. And I have to tell you; I was completely unprepared for what those kids did up there.

What I experienced was an incredible group of humans from all walks of life coming together to celebrate vulnerability, difference, and community. The raw honesty and talent that these students courageously shared in front of everyone floored and humbled me. With their words and their performances, they truly moved the room. Tears and heartfelt connection ran rampant. It was a glimpse of what life could be if we would just listen to one another.

Among many other things, this experience has served to reinforce my passionate belief in the critical importance of creative expression and composition in the high school curriculum. While often thought of as a lesser or more frivolous form of academics, creative writing like the kind promoted by LTAB gets kids to dig deep into themselves. It teaches them to share their issues and to really hear the issues shared by those around them. The topics addressed by the kids at LTAB are real; every high school student out there is wrestling with at least one of them in some way. Violence, abuse, depression, anxiety, troubled home life, substance use. The list is endless and viscerally real for our students. Programs that promote expression and vulnerability are often some of the only chances these students will have to confront their struggles with these issues, connect with their community, and overcome the factors that work against their success. This Atlantic Monthly article goes into much more articulate depth on the necessity of creative writing than I will in this post, but suffice it to say that the power and the honesty that the LTAB kids brought to the stage inspired me to continue and even escalate my promotion of creative expression in our high schools.

Ultimately, for these students to allow me to be there, witnessing their testimonies to their lives and experiences, was such a profound reminder of the gravity and complexity of the teacher’s calling and vocation. We all, myself included, need to hear from students like the ones I interacted with at LTAB to remind us of our responsibilities as educators. In my own understanding, those responsibilities can be summed up in a single goal: to be our best for them. They deserve it and I don’t know that we live up to the challenge often enough. At least for my part, I can commit to saying that, if and when I fall short, it won’t be for lack of trying to be what they deserve.

 

4Cs: Collaboration and Conferencing in Texas

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I’m certainly planning on continuing with my series on using digital tools and activities in the classroom; however, as is my way in this blog, I plan to pause the series to discuss the very exciting conference I have recently returned from!

I’ve mentioned before how I feel about conferences and my feelings are pretty strong. I love them. The opportunity to get together with a group of your colleagues and share your research and enthusiasm is so encouraging and motivating! This is why my past trip to the National Council of Teachers of English‘s Conference on College Composition and Communication (4Cs) in Houston, TX, was one of the most exciting things to happen in my academic life most recently.

I, along with 3 of my very dedicated and very enthusiastic colleagues and fellow-bloggers, Kate Artz, Megan Grandmont, and Anne Mooney, traveled to Houston to present our research on digital collaboration tools. Most recently, in our work on an upcoming publication, we were faced with navigating the task of authoring a single, digital text with 10 individual authors. The webtext we wrote is, I think, profoundly interesting and creative; however, almost equally interesting is the process we ended up using to actually write the article! The task of collaborating with 10 different authors on a digital text required some pretty fancy footwork in terms of organizing and harmonizing ourselves, our thoughts, and our individual visions. Out of this process, our 4Cs presentation was born:

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Tales of a Webtext with 10 Authors: Pedagogical Affordances of Digital Collaboration Tools.

The format of our presentation was a digital poster, which, as an unfamiliar genre to us, required even further collaboration via digital tools. I’ve included an image of our finalized digital poster below, but you can also view the presentation here.

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The experience of collaborating on a digital product to summarize our process of collaborating on a different digital product was definitely a little convoluted in the best kind of way. But the process of working through those complications with my colleagues was, as it always is, extremely generative, prompting me to concretize some of my experiences in ways that I can now share and apply much more readily. At the end of the day, we were all extremely happy with our finished poster and our research seemed to be very well-received.

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Aside from our own presentation, we all were able to fully partake in the joys of the 4Cs conference itself, including panels by people whose names are cited in our own research, book vendors giving out free samples of anthologies, and the general thrill of being around a large body of people who are enthusiastic about the same things as us! If I die and heaven ends up being an endless circuit of conferences, I won’t be at all surprised.