[I started composing this post before Thanksgiving, but never got around to finishing it until now–my apologies]
As you all know, this has been the most hectic semester for me. While I probably did not have the time to attend a conference, I knew I had to attend the Louisiana Association for College Composition conference for several reasons:
1. It was being held in New Orleans, my hometown
2. Its theme was re•NEW•al, the overarching subject of my dissertation
3. It was hosted by Xavier University of Louisiana, where I was an Instructor for three years before starting my PhD
4. I had attended two of these conferences before when I was teaching at Xavier, and I’ve always appreciated its close community and small number of panels. When you’re faced with the immense program books of national conferences, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here I only had to choose between two sessions each hour!
Needless to say, every trip I’ve made to NOLA since Katrina has been an emotional one and this would be no different, especially because I got to see my friend, Sarah, who recently had a stroke. I also had the chance to see my undergrad university’s ballet program, something I don’t think I have ever done as an audience member! I know watching the show was hard for Sarah to do, especially since some of the choreography was originally chosen for her to perform, but she was a trooper. Just last week she returned to a ballet and a character dance class, which is more than I think I’d ever do only 12 weeks after a stroke. She’s got amazing will power, and I’m so proud of her for never giving up!
Another off-putting feeling I had was checking into a hotel for this visit. Typically, we stay with my parents or friends, but because of the conference, I thought it easier to stay in the conference hotel than rent a car or rely on friends to drive me around. [Just the week before, though, the St. Charles streetcar began running again, so I could have had an alternative mode of transport]. Anyway, I felt weird being a tourist in my hometown, but got over it pretty quickly when I was reminded of all the fun things to do nearby. Walking St. Charles is something I’ve done every Mardi Gras so I just pretended there was a parade to get to and I was fine 🙂
But how about the conference?! Friday morning I attended a great session on Literature and Writing, and while it was noted that the second composition course requirement is moving away from using literature, I was reminded how much I enjoyed teaching the genres and creating unique paper assignments that asked for reader responses and new historical/social commentary. Perhaps my interest was piqued by the emphasis on regional literature and how students can supplement, in this case their reading and scholarly research of A Lesson Before Dying, with newspaper archival work and oral histories. The presenter, Elizabeth M. Beard’s, goal was to share how she helped make literature meaningful for her students, and I appreciated her strategies since this projects really pushes students to become critics and creators of cultural narratives. A text she referenced that I want to check out is a 2006 NCTE edited collection, Bergmann and Baker’s Composition and/or Literature: The End(s) of Education.
The Keynote Speaker at LACC was Dr. Jacqueline Jones Royster who shared 5 wonderful goals for all teachers, particularly those who Katrina has left traumatized, to consider:
context matters–specific circumstances have a way of changing our world view so what can we learn from these circumstances, what teachable moments are out there? How can be on guard to patterns of action?
vision–who are we as teachers and what it is we’re trying to enable our students to do?
courage–a motivating force; be upfront with students about the limitations of language b/c when they leave the cocoon of the classroom, they may be shocked at the lack of response
compassion to act responsibly–Q: why should we care about others? Who is included in “our circle”? A: Draw larger circles of caring–connect to others around the planet
conscious of our global realities–have the fortitude and commitment to be consistently “fired up.” Link lives and stories to those of others in humanity.
Her hope for those of us in the field of writing studies is for more opportunities to stand back and think about what we do and what we must do–>professional integrity. Most applicable to my work with trauma theory and the connection between the body and mind [writing to heal] is that we should pay attention to the whole body experience when writing, not just the “writing about.”
On Saturday I had the pleasure of chairing the panel on Civic Rhetoric and presenting along with Lei Lani Michel and Clancy Ratliff. Because I was chair and didn’t have a lot of time to take notes, but I did record my fellow panelists’ talks with my new i-pod attachment. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the recording, so for now I will share the memorable names and phrases from each.
Clancy’s presentation proposed “Opportunities and Ideas for Teaching Civic Literacy in Louisiana” and used Donald Lazere’s definition of civic literacy, which includes having a store of knowledge of history, civics, political movements and theorists. Obviously many of our students lack this specific background but if we localize the experience to issues specific to Louisiana–Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA trailer standards [or lack thereof], the Jena 6 case, etc., perhaps our students will thrive at vocalizing their opinions and grounding them in research/history.
Lei Lani’s presentation focused on “findability” and a course exercise she conducted with her students in order to emphasize writing for both people and search engines. Reminding us all that technology is unfixed and we all have the chance to be part of its change, a part of the information[‘s] culture, it became clear that those of us who aim to teach technological literacy that we should also model “finding” for our students. One unique way she suggested we could do this is to ask students to do a rhetorical analysis of a search engine beyond Google and Yahoo, e.g. Kartoo.com, IceRocket.com, Like.com, and MsDewey.com. I’ve never heard of any of these and am fascinated by their emphasis on visual design [although I’m kind of scared of Ms. Dewey!], so I’m eager to explore these further and try this exercise out next semester!
More blogging to come over the next 2 weeks!