September 13, 2004

Tim's Literacy Autobiography Freewrite

I've posted below my own focused freewriting (written this morning) on the topic of my literacy autobiography. Tim

The first things that come to mind: Coming home from grade school every day for lunch. Grandma made lunch, Mom came home from work. I’d sit at the table, reading Peanuts cartoons out of the many Peanuts books I’d collected. Must have been 4th, 5th grade. Mom and grandma would comment on my lack of conversation as I read an re-read those cartoons. Now my kids read those same books (now yellowing and falling apart), although at not at the table. But my son’s real obsession is Calvin and Hobbes, the 80’s era comic strip that left the scene much too soon, while my daughter’s was, of course, the Harry Potter series....


First grade: Mom has picture of me from the Moline Daily Dispatch. The paper sent a photographer to Irving Elementary School for a shot to publicize a reading program. I remember the photographer asking me to sit at one of the old desks in ancient (1888) Irving School. He posed me with some sort of circus book open and upright in front of me. Then he asked me to look not at the book, but over the top of it at him. As a result, I also raised my eyebrows. The caption began something like “Although he may look skeptical, Tim Gustafson …”

I didn’t wonder at the time, but I have since: Why was I pulled from the class for this photo op? Not because I was the most photogenic one around (the picture is evidence of this)—but apparently because my teacher considered me a “good reader,” If my mom hadn’t kept the clipping, I probably would have forgotten it—instead, I’ve carried with me for nearly forty years a very early validation of my literacy skills. I would hope that everyone in my class got some sort of memorable validation, but I’m not sure that they did.

Fifth Grade: With my buddies Mike Wolfe, David McCarthy, and Jeff Rosenberg, we produced a weekly newspaper, named (by Mike) The Weekly-Wash-Up. We didn’t know the term “parody” at the time, but that’s what we produced. Looking back at a few of the four-page, faded purple mimeograph editions, I see that we were mocking those Scholastic Weekly Readers. The idea was mostly Mike’s but each of us added Jokes, phony news stories, cartoons, and fake movie reviews. As I remember it, we approached our teacher, Miss Wright, with the idea. She gave us a venue for in-class publication long before it was common to do so, and didn’t squash our 11-year old senses of humor. It was validation through publication.

Posted by tgus at 11:53 AM

September 9, 2004

Indeterminate Expository Writing

As I began planning for this course, I found myself calling it Indeterminate Expository Writing, because I wasn't sure what "Intermediate" meant. In the currculum it means that it's somewhere between Freshman Composition, and Advanced Expository Writing. But precisely how that vast intermediate area might be defined, I wasn't sure.

I realized that any definition depended on who the students were who would enroll in the class, and that until I met them, I wouldn't have a very clear idea of the ways in which they were intermediate expository writers--so I would want to get some....

...information from them about their writing experience right way.

Of the three words in the course title, "Intermediate" might seem the least problematic. "Expository" is certainly the most arcane--it's pretty much relegated to writing courses and textbooks. But its simple definition, "explanatory," is clear, if insufficient to describe the range of writing we'll do.

As for writing, we all know it when we see it--but it's the doing of writing that's complicated. And writing, as a phenomenon, poses philosophical problems (for example, epistemology: how does writing affect knowing?; and representation: in what sense do these arbitrary marks on paper or a computer screen "stand for" sounds or things?). Writing also raises many questions in fields from cognitive psychology to the history of technology. And as David Schwalm, of Arizona State University, once wrote in an e-mail posting:

"Writing is not writing. It is a broad and deep territory of nearly infinite expanse. Individual writers may operate with ease and comfort at some levels and in some parts of this territory and yet appear nearly illiterate as they move into unfamiliar territory where, in a very real sense, they “don’t know the language.” Everything comes apart. In the college environment, students are constantly moving into new and strange territories with every course they take, and every one of these courses challenges their writing skills in new and different ways. That is, each new course forces them beyond the comfort zone, the level and area of writing possibilities in which they appear to have mastery. A student who seems to “write poorly” on an academic paper in a first psychology course may have legitimately looked quite competent in completing a writing task in the comfort zone. "

Posted by tgus at 8:40 AM