February 29, 2008

Disciplined Improvisation

A Few Weeks Off Topic ~
On the way home Public Radio International's radio program The World played a few songs from
Vinícius Cantuária's new solo album. Cantuaria reminds me of satura because he grew up in Rio (where bossa nova comes from), and he incorporates frevo, a wide range of musical styles from Northern Brazil, which is also associated with Brazilian Carnival ("frevo," Wikipedia). Now that Cantuaria lives in New York, there is ever more blending of sounds -- even his homepage picture whispers satura.

Another semi off-topic topic: The kids in this video are amazing lindy hoppers. At 3:45 (minutes:seconds) one of the couples does a remarkable flip.

Back to Sawyer: A General Overview
R. Keith Sawyer explores the differences between scripted instruction and disciplined improvisational instruction in his Educational Researcher article titled, "Creative Teaching: Collaborative Discussion as Disciplined Improvisation" (33: 2: 12-20). The resurgent teacher-proofing method requires that teachers essentially read their lesson from a predesigned lesson, one that does not account for students' individuality, which critics say "emphasizes lower-order skills" easily measured by standardized tests (12). Ugh. On the other hand, an improvisational performance method requires that the teacher work hard to retain students' attention with teacher-centered concentration and awareness.
At the bottom of page 12, Sawyer has a good point when he argues that "creative teaching is better conceived of as improvisational performance" because the performance metaphor alone "reduce[s] teaching to an individualistic focus on the teacher as an actor."

Sawyer In Practice:
As an undergrad at CSU Fullerton, a new PhD taught one of my literature survey classes. Before discussions, she presented biographical information on the author, the presentation of which was more scripted but not read as a script. Once we got into the discussion of the literary piece, she started us off with a question about the work, but she let us take the discussion in any direction we found interesting and pertinent. If we asked her a question that she did not know or made a statement that she was unfamiliar with, she either said, "I have not thought of it that way," or she said "I don't know the answer to that; let's research it for next time and see what we come up with." This professor, new though she was, held a great deal of skill in balancing the script with the performance, and she managed to maintain a fairly student-centered class. I think of her often when planning my classes.

As a graduate student at Humboldt State, I feel as though both Kathleen Doty and David Stacey give directional assignments, yet they allow the class to explore the ideas or passages which are most important to the students. I will not elaborate more than that other than to say I appreciate different styles of teaching that are still able to maintain a reasonably student-centered focus.

I have had the good fortune experience classrooms devoted to constructive and disciplined improvisation, presented by professors who understand the delicate balance between scripted instruction and improv-appropriate settings and guiding structures. I strive to emulate their skills.

February 24, 2008

Mystory: Nae He Spit

Interpretation as invention: Stephanie Danielle K**wel G**. Am I well-named? I used to hate my first name; it sounded *gasp* common and offended my three-year-old delicate auditory senses.

In the strict definition of obbligato, a part that must not be omitted (Jarrett 61), my physical signature is a necessary part of me as it reveals my values in communication. I want to say/write just enough to give the gist of my idea/name, but I do not want to spell it out (apparently literally) for my fellow communicant. In the altered definition of obbligato, my signature can be omitted if necessary. I have omitted the vowels in my name in favor of efficiency. Who wants to waste hours of their life carving two e's, two a's, two i's, and an n each time they sign their name?

My married name, Gai, has given me a new identity, which is particularly noticeable in telemarketing calls. Nick's family is Italian, so the name derives from Latin and has two general meanings: joy and chicken. Gai means chicken in some Asian languages as well, which is why one might see Lahb Gai or Gaeng Keow Wan Gai
on a Thai menu. Why telemarketing? Telemarketing companies have programs that assume the consumer's native language based on their last name. Since Gai is both Latin and Asian, 50% of the telemarketers who call our house only speak Chinese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, or another Asian language. One particularly brazen telemarketer accused me of being ashamed to speak my native language, one that he assumed was Asian because of my last name.

My Signature:
In person. Dramatism in the dramatic sense (not in the Burkean sense); proportional reactions are based on subjective perceptions.
In my mind. I am torn between thoroughness and efficiency. I like to thoroughly know things, but I also like my world to be efficient.
In writing (shown above). Somewhat illegible. Looks like St~pl~~ C__. I don't care to elaborate on the actual shapes of the letters, and wavy lines take the place of the smaller, rounder letters e, anie, and ai, respectively. My signature is an elliptical writing; like a reader of Faulkner, one must fill in the blanks. I make my readers work to understand the scrawl of my name.

A bank employee's full signature and initials become part of financial security and accountability measures.
Before graduate school I worked at a local bank, and during my employment my named changed due to holy matrimony. I had to devise a new full signature and a new quick initial signature. The change does not seem that difficult or meaningful, but I really enjoyed flowing from my hard-angled K into a squiggly mess. For my quick signature, my initials, I went from SK to SG. SK has never really flowed, so SG is much more fun. I created an S that flowed into the G (never picking up my pen), so that it looks like an 8G. Nick doesn't like it, but I do.


Stephy K
Kiwi (from Kiewel pronounced Key-well)

Common words and Anagrams:
Sounds like: Step on me
Backwards: Iag Leweik Einahpets
Stephanie, is that you? "nae he spit," "penis hate," "he panties." Yes it's me.
Stephanie Kiewel Gai becomes "A teenage kiwi, he lisp" and "wine leakage, she tipi"

The Economy of a Name: 13.45 years of education
In their book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner explore the art of naming a baby. In collecting data, they noticed a trend -- so-called high-end names become mainstream names over the course of about ten years. On page 203 they hypothesize the most popular names of 2015 by looking at the high-end names of today, and it doesn't stop there. Levitt and Dubner recognize a trend in what determines a high-end name: Education. They have noticed that baby names correspond to the number of years of the mother's education. It has been a while since I've read the book, so I cannot attest to truth of the matter, but my name appears on page 228, with an average (or median, I can't remember) number of years of my mother's education -- 13.45. This is only .45 years off in the case of my mother (she attended one year of college in order to impress and secure her relationship with my father).

Definitions and Etymology:

Stephan is Greek in origin, but the French added the "ie" at the end of the feminine version.
Stephanos "Crown"
Stephane is related to "crown" and is defined as a diadem or coronet worn by military commanders and deities in statue form.
Stephanome is a device that measures angular dimensions of fog-bows and halos; the root is "crown" in the sense of "corona," which is the disc of light that occasionally appears around the sun or moon.
According to Wikipedia, Stephanie means "the crowned one."

Danielle is the feminine version of Daniel, which is Hebrew for "God is my judge." My middle name does not really feel a part of me the same way that my first, maiden, and married names do.

Kiewel is supposedly a German surname, but I can't find the meaning. There is a German personality, Andrea Kiewel, who shows up in Google searches, but who knows if there is a familial connection there. Since Kiewel has an odd spelling and pronunciation for English speakers, I am pretty sure it was not altered when my ancestors arrived at Ellis Island, but I looked up possible alternatives (such as Kievel) on ancestry.com anyway. Only one alternative, a far-fetched one, Kiel, produced a definitions and etymologies. Kiel is "
probably a habitational name from the city of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein, but more likely a topographic name for someone living by a long narrow bay or area of sheltered water." The same word, Kiel, can be "applied as a nickname to denote a crude person." That's a comforting thought. Recently, however, I have noticed two different Polish names with "kiew" in the middle; perhaps these names are related somehow.

And now for my new last name: Gai. Gai is Latin for gay meaning happy, joy, mirth, but most of the surname websites only cite the French history. Since my husband's family is from Northern Italy and is rumored to have received their surname from their position as servants of Gaius Julius Ceasar, the French history does not apply. Matli side from Baceno, Gai side from Asti.

All of the above makes up my signature, me, mystory. What does my signature mean in terms of teaching writing, and what does it suggest as a resolution to the problem of improvisation? Hermeneutics into heuristics? I surmise that my signature, while necessary in defining my identity, is only a suggestion of where I will go and what I will invent from here.

February 15, 2008

The Legend of Deterioration

As a society that strives to be the best, we obsessively measure everything -- success, power, speed, knowledge, literacy, size, phalli -- but are the measurements accurate and do the results truly tell us what we think they tell us, or do we hear only what we want to hear?

What does the Legend of Deterioration say to us as composition instructors? I think The Legend reminds us that students continue to grow and learn in the ways that they and their experiences deem necessary. As composition teachers who juggle the balance between teaching students to write and making sure students pass the portfolio review, we find that there is little time to stop and remember that academic composition is not the only useful genre.

Perhaps if we -- and our obsessive society -- can see the results for what they are and not what we think they are, we will be able to recognize our students' ability and give them credit for maturing into competent writers even if they defy composition textbook rules.

February 10, 2008

Tales of Development

I'm having a hard time getting into Jarrett's second chapter, "Satura: File (under) Gumbo," so I'll concentrate on Richard Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing: Tales of Development and Interpretation.

Evidence of growth is measured "by how long they keep changing afterward" (20). This idea struck me as I read Haswell's first chapter, "Growing." I reflected on my own writing progress and began to wonder whether I continued to change after my first-year or upper-division composition classes. Hmm. As a literature major, I tailored my writing to fit the literature requirements, but when I arrived at graduate school, those writing practices no longer fulfilled my requirements. What does that mean? Did I regress? Did I fail to grow?

I will venture to say that my ability grew to suit my needs at that time. I practiced writing the kinds of papers that professors required of me at that time, but it does not mean that I became stagnant or failed to grow. Now, in the MA in Teaching Writing program, I will practice writing the genres required of Master's students and FYC instructors. Through growth and learning, these genres will become second nature.

Students should continue to grow at each interval of life and academia. Is it possible for someone to not grow in at least one area or another?