Minneapolis Convention Center | April 9, 2015

Episode 106: How I Taught Then, How I Teach Now

(Matt Bell, Jennine Capo Crucet, Cathy Day, Derek Palacio, Joseph Scapellato) When experience forces us to challenge the assumptions that underpin our teaching philosophies, how do we sensibly revise our syllabi, course element by course element? In this panel, five teachers of writing share what they grew into knowing. They will describe how an active awareness of their changing assumptions changed their courses for the better. Practical before-and-after examples of course materials promise to make this panel useful for beginners and veterans alike.

Published Date: December 2, 2015


Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Matt Bell, Janine Capo CE Kathy Day, Derek Palacio, and Joseph Scott. You'll now hear Joseph Scott provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:33):

Hello everyone. Thanks so much for coming to this panel, which is called How I Taught Then How I Teach Now Pedagogy Panel. I'm lucky enough to be up here with four incredibly disciplined and skilled writers who also happen to be incredibly disciplined and skilled teachers. We're hoping that this panel can be pedagogically useful for you. We're just going to do it pretty simple. I'm going to read a bio for everyone. They're going to come up, they're going to read, so let's begin. We're going to begin with Matt Bell. Matt Bell is the author of the novel in the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, a Michigan notable book and an indie choice adult debut book of the year, honor recipient and the winner of the Paul Anderson book Award. He's also the author of two previous books, how They Were Found, and Cataclysm Baby and his next novel Scrapper will be published in fall 2015. He teaches creative writing in the M F A program at Arizona State University and in the low res M F A program at New England College. Everyone give it up for Matt Bell.

Speaker 3 (01:35):

Thank you.

Speaker 3 (01:40):

Almost forgot I had to get up after that. Thank you all so much for being here. I was just thinking maybe setting for a pedagogy panel. My first class I taught as a full-time creative writing professor was an undergrad workshop with 15 students and they put us in a room like this, which is very ill suited to that task, but it made everything really dramatic. We workshopped people on the stage and they loved it. It was really great. So I'm going to talk briefly for like eight minutes about creative writing workshop and how my experience as a student led to my first tries as a teacher and sort of how that's developed and changed. This was the typical creative writing workshop when I was an undergrad and in my M F A program with only one exception. Every workshop I was in was taught in a peer studio format with nothing but student work on the syllabus.

Speaker 3 (02:28):

Every class period we workshop several pieces of student work for increasingly long chunks of time, a half hour in an intro undergrad workshop, an hour in advanced one, then two hours per student story in grad school. During those workshop sessions, the writer whose work was up for review was expected to sit silently, perhaps taking notes while the rest of the class discussed his or her work. A typical workshop is divided into several parts, usually beginning with praise, then moving into a period of criticism. Sometimes you might catch students hungrily waiting for the turn so they could get out, dislike they were burning to release. You see that student right? Students would make suggestions for fixing the story's flaws supposedly tailored to that story's particular needs. By the end of the semester and maybe more dramatically by the end of an M F A program, it inevitably became clear that many of the critiques and suggestions often had less to do with the particular aesthetics and aims of the work in front of us and more to do with our own personal aesthetics and aims.

Speaker 3 (03:23):

The fiefdoms of fiction writing technique we had each carved out and we're now defending with our lives and so many of us left our own workshops feeling frustrated and ignored, feeling that our work had not been read on its own terms. Feeling discouraged about going forward with a story or style had so clearly not found its right audience. I vowed to create a different environment when I had my own workshops, which meant almost immediately starting to move away from that peer studio model. When we had done almost nothing but workshop, I added craft books and craft essays. Started teaching example stories out of anthologies. Out of course packs of stories I made myself. I Skyped in writers. We were studying for q and as. I signed research projects on lit mags and small presses, I made students give readings of the work. I lectured exhaustively, but in the end I still had to admit that this move away from the studio setup hadn't changed the nature of the workshops themselves.

Speaker 3 (04:13):

Students certainly had a better vocabulary and a shared set of reading experiences plus a certain sense of the contemporary literary landscape. But as soon as student work was on the table, we immediately fell into the same old pattern of praise and critique and often generic suggestions and too many discouraged hurt writers how to make things better. I've changed dramatically what I've done in workshop, but talk about a couple of those things in the interest of time. First, I decided that I wanted to get away from the cold read. So common in workshop classes, I don't mean the practice of reading at work for the first time allowed in class, but the practice of presenting student work was zero context in the real world. We never do this. A writer has reputation as a great storyteller or a fine sentence writer or an experimental writer. We have an idea of what genre we're reading when we pick up a book or a magazine.

Speaker 3 (05:01):

Books come with Jack copy and author photo blurbs from other writers. Even editors and agents receive work with a query letter attached telling them what it is they're holding in their hands. So I asked my students to write a short cover letter for every workshop submission with these instructions, please introduce your manuscript with a letter to your classmates. What are we looking at? What were you attempting and where do you think it's at in the process? Is there anything we need to know going in? More importantly, tell us how you want us to read it. Are there certain questions we can help you answer but not questions like is it good that's the wrong line of thinking? In other words, how can we help you best? Remember, your goal is to get the inspiration, assistance, and enthusiasm you need to keep making progress with your manuscript and your writing in general.

Speaker 3 (05:45):

Similarly, I also decided I no longer wanted the writer to sit silently as they were so used to doing when being workshopped. Instead, the writer should be able to ask follow-up questions to steer traffic if things were getting off point to clarify some point that he or she could clear up with a single sentence of revision instead of allowing us to discuss it at length and the workshop was also expected and encouraged to ask the writer as many questions as it wanted. Often a little bit of authorial insight unlocked a stream of useful commentary that would otherwise have been lost. This made the writer being workshopped a participant and it also headed off any number of possible misunderstandings, including often those about sensitive matters of representation of gender and sexuality, ethnicity and class. Finally, and most importantly, I offered one guideline that rules over all my previous tactics, which has since become the cornerstone of my workshop philosophy, what I call the privilege of early access.

Speaker 3 (06:38):

The way I see it now, students in workshop are sharing their fiction with their classmates earlier than they really should. Certainly way earlier, the most professional writers share with even their most trusted readers to seek help. The also of the class can study the work in progress, which allows us to talk about process and how a story goes through drafting and revision something that's impossible to see in finished books, but that means that care is required to ensure that the writer isn't thrown off his or her task. But our discussion of the work's possibilities, it's challenges, it's early accomplishments. The standard we therefore have to hold ourselves to is this. We know we did a good job in workshop when the writer wakes up the next morning unable to resist the siren call of the writing desk flush with new ideas and new things to try.

Speaker 3 (07:21):

If we've instead built some resistance between the writer and his or her work or dampened the writer's enthusiasm, then we failed the writer. Obviously, we must be critical and honest, but our overriding goal should always be to return the writer to forward progress. Here's what I found. If repaying the writer for the privilege of early access becomes the explicit and measured task of the workshop, then the workshop soon defaults to an encouraging and collaborative space about taking risks about becoming the writers we want to be, and so the ones we think will please our peers and about supporting other people's projects and wanting them to succeed. Why is all of this necessary? I don't want to make any more broad generalizations on top of the ones I already have, so lemme share an anecdote. Last semester I moved to Arizona State University where I didn't teach the fall workshop, but where I did teach a grad class that had many of the same students and a part of the semester arrived as it too often does, where some students mentioned feeling the onset of imposter syndrome or feeling that they don't belong or that the work isn't good enough or that the workshop they were all in together wasn't receptive to them or the work they'd come to grad school to do.

Speaker 3 (08:29):

I wanted to address these worries and so in my grad class we had discussion about what workshop was, what it could be, what we want it to be. In that discussion, I eventually asked this question, how many of you hold back on subject matter or stylistic or formal choices you'd like to explore? Because in the past, students have been unreceptive or dismissive or hostile. Every single hand in the room went up everyone, an entire classroom of smart, intelligent, friendly, young writers and every single one of them was not doing the real work they wanted to do because of what they did together in workshop had discouraged them instead of encouraged them, literally, not literally. It broke my heart to see figuratively I'll be a better teacher than that. Figuratively, it broke my heart. I think it may have figuratively broke theirs. It confirmed for me that the usual models of critique don't always work as well as they're intended to.

Speaker 3 (09:18):

Despite their merits and despite the intentions of good professors and good students as a program, we had brought 15 fiction writers to our university to develop as writers and within a year or two within a single semester, for some students, they had instead taken to hiding some part of the real work away from their peers and their professors because to show it was to believe it would be discouraged and diminished or taken from in some way. Now all of this can be solved by mere chains or workshop philosophy, but this self suppression is still a symptom of the way. Workshop is generally run is a symptom of how forcing the writer to be silent while others judge their work robs them of agency and voice is a symptom of finding the flaw, encourages conformity instead of difference. How that pressure to be correct raises up the default and preserves the status quo instead of rewarding innovation instead of celebrating diverse voices the way that gender and sexuality and race and class and personal experience all lead us to different kinds of stories, different modes of art making better suited to the stories we need to tell.

Speaker 3 (10:18):

In the end, again, this is the workshop I want the only one I will now accept. We know we did a good job in workshop when the writer wakes up the next morning unable to resist the siren call of the writing desk flush with new ideas and new things to try. Everything I do in my classes must be geared toward this outcome. I want to ask my question again, the future and get a different answer. I want to hear how the deep critical encouragement of the workshop pushed students to go further, to do more, to push into the personal and strange territory of art. Each of the writers in my classes carries within them because I never want a writer in my charge to be stifled by the systems I have put in place If I can help it, the work is hard enough on its own without our adding to it. There are no guarantees that even the hardest working students will succeed as writers either artistically or critically or commercially. In the end, the writer will go to the desk and he or she will do their best work or not, and regardless of the rewards, the work they did will be there staring back. Everything we do in class should make it easier for the writer to face that challenge to do the great work they're capable of doing. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (11:27):

Our next speaker is Janine Capo Crue. Janine Capo Crue is the author of the Story Collection, how to Leave Halea, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the John Gardner book prize, the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award, and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Miami Herald and the Latin Dodd List. Her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers will be out this fall. She's an assistant professor at Florida State University and will be joining the faculty at of Nebraska Lincoln this fall. Everybody give a warm round of applause to Janine.

Speaker 4 (12:02):

Hi. Thanks to all of you for coming, Matt. That was awesome. I kind of need a minute, honestly, before it's like change everything about what I do and thanks Joe for inviting me to be on this panel. When you first contacted me about participating, I thought, well, this is my chance to save some poor soul for making the same mistake I've made and I actually took the panel topic pretty literally and then I'm going to talk specifically about an assignment that was well you'll hear. Okay. I was in my first semester of a tenure track job teaching an advanced undergraduate fiction workshop at a school that has creative writing. As a major, I've been warned our students could be a little more into football and partying than anything else that they could have perhaps decided on a creative writing major after perhaps failing out of another major like business or communications.

Speaker 4 (12:47):

I'd also been told both as a graduate student and as a new assistant professor that students sometimes had real trouble respecting younger female faculty. My response to this was to pack my syllabus with readings with hardcore page minimums for their own stories with weekly take home writing exercises. The crown jewel in my way too hard class was the craft presentation, an onerous intense craft talk. Not unlike the kind of thing job candidates are asked to prepare for an on-campus interview and some residual stress. I guess with that, I wanted my students to experience how challenging and rewarding dissecting a good story in front of their peers could be, but honestly I also wanted an assignment they would dread in the same way they dread a big lab writeup or a big exam. I wanted them to take creative writing seriously. Here's how part of that read in the syllabus, the description.

Speaker 4 (13:39):

In addition to weekly reading assignments, you will once during the semester present a published short story of your own choosing and relate it to the craft elements covered in class. The story cannot be from our anthology and in order to increase the depth of our course reading should be from before 1970. Submit along with the story three to five typed points of discussion or questions to guide your classmates' reading presentations should be 15 minutes long as an aid in organizing your presentation. You'll turn in on that day a two to three page paper, analyzing the story, et cetera, et cetera. It went on for too long. Here's how things started to go wrong. Immediately, my students did not have stories of their own choosing. Most had done little outside reading as there aren't any required texts in the creative writing major, so though I'd assumed they'd have some working body of stories to choose from, that wasn't the case for most of the class.

Speaker 4 (14:30):

Also, when it came to the pre 1970s requirement, they all thought that meant Edgar Allen Poe, so I ended up needing to suggest stories for them, which led to presentations that I kept hijacking when the student obviously not invested in the material, devolved into just reading passages from the piece and asking so what's going on there. Also, the other students never read the story being presented even though I provided copies for them a week in advance, I'd thought the idea of them having to present at some point would make them supportive of each other, but I was wrong. I tried term after term to address these problems with revamped versions of the assignment. I will save you from hearing the intermediate versions and go straight to my last ditch effort to save the craft presentation. Here's part of the description as it appeared on my syllabus the last time I used this assignment, you'll be required to present a story published in the Best American short stories 2012 anthology and relate it to the craft elements covered in class.

Speaker 4 (15:29):

You'll lead the discussion of the story and be graded among other things on how you engage your classmates. Presentations should be 15 minutes long and must address these three questions directly. Number one, aside from all elements of plot, what is the most remarkable characteristic of this story on a craft level? Meaning what techniques stand out as the most important and why do you think this particular story uses these particular devices? Number two, what are the sentences and paragraphs like in this story or if you were attempting to replicate the prose, how would you do it? Three, what techniques used by this writer can we take from this story and use in our own writing as an aid? In organizing your presentation, you'll turn in on that day a three page paper analyzing the story with reference to the three questions listed above. Do not waste time in the paper or during your presentation summarizing the plot of the story.

Speaker 4 (16:22):

We've read it, so get to the analysis and your original thoughts immediately. Do not talk about how confusing or hard the story is to understand. If you feel this after reading the story, read it again and then again until it is no longer confusing, you will need to read the story you're presenting at least twice to do it justice in your presentation, et cetera, et cetera. You can hear in this description the echoes of every kind of bad presentation I'd made us all sit through. It reads sort of like those ridiculous things you sometimes see in a lease for an apartment, no hot tubs in the unit, no breeding of any exotic animals. It's on there because someone did it and you never want it to happen again. I cannot convey to you how much my students disliked this assignment, both doing it and witnessing it.

Speaker 4 (17:12):

I too was miserable. As I listened heartsick at my leading questions, the students' eyes frantic as that question essentially turned into a micro lecture that they'd punctuate with a yeah that, but they didn't ever ever mention the assignment on the evals, so I figured it's working. The same slogan that the miserable Rick Scott would come to use for his reelection campaign is Florida's governor a bad sign Still, despite the lack of complaints, I knew in my heart that the craft presentation missed the mark on what I really wanted to teach them, which was that good writing took courage and passion. While everything about the rest of our time in class pushed them to understand this. The craft presentation was a timeout from the enthusiasm and spirit of community we were trying to build. So what made me finally dump this assignment? I had a fellowship in Germany where I taught creative writing to real Germans.

Speaker 4 (18:03):

There are only a couple of creative writing programs housed in universities in Germany. Unlike in the us, creative writing isn't widely considered an academic discipline. My students were bright and talented, but they struggled with what I felt were simple questions. They'd asked me what their story should be about. They were excellent at analysis, but they were afraid to get personal on the page, afraid to get into what they really cared about, so I began making time in our workshop to learn more about their lives outside of the classroom. They were very frightened by this, but I was finally accepting and taking full advantage of what creative writing courses get to do that very few other disciplines allow. We were talking about who they were, about the things that moved or bewildered them. When I came back from Germany and went to revamp my syllabus for the new semester, I looked at that craft presentation and said, what the fuck is this doing here?

Speaker 4 (18:52):

I hate this part of the class. What is it? I want my students to leave my class not knowing but feeling when it comes to writing fiction? So I dumped the craft presentation. I didn't totally start from scratch as I still had the same goals for the assignment that it'd be challenging and that it reveals something about each student's mind worked. I thought back to my own favorite undergrad workshops and I remembered one aspect of a class with the writer Es. She had us talk about the things that mattered to us, our passions in a formal way on a weekly basis. I modeled this assignment after those discussions added some formal properties that maintained the sense of rigor I was after and the ation as it eventually came to be called, was born. Here's the description. Now it's three semesters into its evolution. Notice the difference in tone and approach.

Speaker 4 (19:37):

It takes right from the get-go. One of the most important things we must bring to our writing if we hope to be any good is passion, and one way to infuse our work with passion is to learn about the things we are passionate about outside of the classroom. To that end, once during the semester you will be required to share via a presentation or a demonstration, a passion of yours. Be forewarned. This is far from a simple show and tell. This is a 15 minute long treaties where you must convey your zeal for something specific. In particular in your presentation, you must evoke as many of the five senses as possible. You must have some sort of visual that doesn't rely on a computer, meaning no leaning on PowerPoint and the like. To get you through this, it must in some way engage your classmates directly, meaning it must be interactive and most importantly, you must choose to convey a passion that will surprise us, one, that no one else in class or maybe even on this campus could possibly have in common with you.

Speaker 4 (20:31):

You should be a little afraid of what you might reveal about yourself. The more commonplace your passion, the harder it'll be to present well, so think hard about what only you can convince us to love as much as you do as an aid in organizing your talk, you'll turn in on that day a one page outline of your presentation. Think of this as a script of what you will say and do to convey your passion to us. I initially worried that the presentation would be taken lightly seen as an easy part of the class, but it turns out that students panic and freak out about this assignment way more than they did the craft presentation asking a student to talk about something that they're passionate about that's not something they're used to having to do in a college class and the prospect terrifies them. Ray, almost every single one of them comes to office hours to discuss it with me in advance of their presentation date.

Speaker 4 (21:19):

That rarely happened with the craft presentation. I'm not passionate about anything they tell me. I tell them that I know they thought of something the moment the assignment was described on the first day and that they dismiss it as either too weird or too personal or too hard to talk about or too something. I then tell them that that thing they dismiss is exactly what they should do and they always know exactly what I'm talking about. Having them present on their passion serves as the spark that in turn ignites in them the passion needed to produce good work. It also provides me with insight into their character and allows me to tailor one-on-one instruction. It gives us the chance at a shared vocabulary that starts on their terms. That passion also helps students really get to know each other, which means they are more serious and careful with each other in workshop because they spend a little time each week being vulnerable to the whole group and because everyone knows their turn is coming, they're open and receptive to each other and they carry that respect and that receptiveness into the workshop itself.

Speaker 4 (22:16):

It has been the single most effective tool for creating a strong, supportive and honest workshop community. It took me a few semesters to learn that I was doing a disservice to what I could be doing to the classroom that like those students who'd been funneled into creative writing from their failed time as business majors, I too was inherently undervaluing the passion behind what I did. I was refusing to elevate passion to the importance and prominence it deserved because I didn't understand how vital it was to the discipline that it be valued, that it be honored and showcased in the classroom. The presentation takes full advantage of the best part of creative writing as a discipline that it is deeply and intrinsically personal for our students and for us. It gives each of them each week a chance to practice what it is we preach. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (23:09):

Our next presenter is Kathy Day. Kathy Day is the author of two books Comeback Season, a nonfiction novel free Press 2008 and the Circus in Winter, A Short Story Cycle, Harcourt 2004, the Circus in Winter was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award, the Story Prize and the G L C A New Writers Award. It's also being adapted into a musical. Her stories and essays have appeared recently in Pink the Millions and Inside Higher Education. She lives in Indiana and teaches at Ball State University. Everyone. Kathy Day.

Speaker 5 (23:46):

Hi everybody. Thank you very much for coming. I've been teaching creative writing in higher education for 22 years. It makes me very tired. To put this in context, when I first started teaching, there was no email. Students couldn't email you. I mean that's how long it's been, but one thing has remained constant during that entire 22 years and that is that I think that students take creative writing classes because they want an answer to these questions. Am I a writer? Does the fact that I love reading and movies and games, the fact that I love getting lost in narrative for a while, does that mean that I'm supposed to be a writer? Does the fact that I like to make up stories in my head and or write them down, does that mean that I'm a writer? Does the fact that I'm a huge fan of blank, does that mean that I'm a writer?

Speaker 5 (24:41):

Of course, we cannot answer that question for them. They have to decide for themselves, but I believe, and I do this more now than I used to put them into learning situations that will increase the likelihood that they will find those answers. These are not situations that would've been available to me when I was an apprentice writer and they are exercises that I think that my mentors who were the people who taught me were like the first generation of writers in academia, people who are now retired, but who founded most of the creative writing programs, the first ones across this country, and I think that that is part of coming into your own as a teacher, which I think you can hear in the voices of all the people you've heard so far. When you come into your own as a teacher and as we come into our own as an academic discipline, we need to start thinking about casting aside the conventional wisdom that's been sort of passed down generation after generation and the pedagogies that maybe were useful once but are now outdated.

Speaker 5 (25:38):

What worked for me in 1989 and for my students in 1995 is not necessarily going to work for my students in 2015. An example of this, to give you a sense of it, there's a guy named John Sealey Brown who's like a researcher in learning and he has this theory that he says in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries there'd be this straight line and then there'd be a technological innovation and then things would really change, but then it would even out for another 50 years and then there'd be another one and he calls it the Scur like this. He said, what we're in now is what he calls the big shift, which is that every 18 months everything changes. We are in a period of exponential growth with no end in sight and I think that that really has changed. Reading him has really helped me think about the way that I teach and also help me think about what he says that we used to think that there was an explicit knowledge that you could convey in an educational situation, but now everything is what he calls tacit knowledge, like stuff that goes unspoken and I think that teaching someone how to be a writer these days is mostly tacit.

Speaker 5 (26:51):

Everything we do. You remember the day that somebody took you aside and said, I really want to tell you the truth about this. I'm going to let you in on the secret. That's the day one of the days that you really feel like you're a writer. Creative writing has historically withheld tacit knowledge from the classroom. It's something that we do in office hours. It's something that we do at a place like this at a w p, but we don't put it into the classroom, but I think why should we limit the transmission of tacit knowledge to office hours? Why can't we share it with an entire class so that students feel motivated, engaged and part of something larger than themselves? The other thing that I keep trying to remember is that they are a networked generation. I did not grow up in a networked world.

Speaker 5 (27:34):

I think that the most firmly entrenched pedagogical assumption of creative writing is that the only way to really mentor writers is to give them craft skills basically to try to make them writers from what I call the inside out, whereas I think we live in a time when it's also possible to help them from the outside. In these days, I'm less interested in teaching students to write, then I am in that plus helping them to have a chance to know what it feels like to be a real writer, and to me that means helping them to do two things, helping them to form an identity as a writer while they're in school and also sometimes that means that they're like, yes, this is it, and sometimes they're like, yeah, no, and that's good. You love to know that answer to that question as soon as possible, and if the answer is no, then what can you do with the next step that you need to take in your life?

Speaker 5 (28:33):

Brief story about how that happened to me. It happened actually here in Minnesota. My first teaching job was at Minnesota State University, Mankato and Rick Robbins, who some of you might know, wonderful man was mentoring me and he was showing me how to do my taxes. I was so young and he said, well, you can file a Schedule C. It's profit or loss from a business, and I'm like, what business? He goes, well, you're writing business, and it was like this flash like, oh yeah, I'm like a small business owner. I'm like the owner of the business called being Kathy Day, the writer, and that really was putting that on my taxes really was like most of those moments have come at the desk where I felt like a real writer, but that was a moment that came from the outside and I think that we can provide some of those kind of moments for our students in the classroom, so here are some of the ways that I do that.

Speaker 5 (29:24):

I have a list, so write quickly. One of the best ways, especially because they're a network generation, is to help them join a community of writers and readers in real life. Definitely at the institute if you teach somewhere how to create that kind of community in real life, but I think that just changing what you see if you use social media when you look at Facebook and Twitter every day, just getting them to change what they're seeing when they look at that is one good way. I teach a intermediate fiction writing class at Ball State and I call the group on Facebook and it's just a really easy way for them to get to know each other outside of class to really start bonding and they also get to bond with all the students that have taken the class before because a lot of them will just stay in the group and continue to communicate.

Speaker 5 (30:12):

You can also use hashtags on Twitter if your students like to use that. The most important thing is that many of them still see the work that they do for us as homework and they have this very strict division between school and their personal life, and really what this is about is trying to bring those together and it's actually really hard. Many of the classes which I do these things, I get sometimes bad evaluations. The students are angry with me. No, but I'm trying to get them to think. If you're really a writer that is part of your personal identity. It is not just something that you do for school. Another thing that I think that really helps them is showing them how to buy their domain name and start a blog. WordPress, Tumblr, it doesn't really matter what, because there's something about becoming Googleable that is important to identity and a networked age.

Speaker 5 (31:05):

Use Google Docs in your classes instead of Blackboard. Blackboard is school. Google Docs is sort of more real life. Require them to create a professional email address like kathyDay@gmail.com and don't let them use their edu address because that's their school stuff address. Make them create that first real one and get rid of the Colts Fan 2 5 7 at Yahoo or One Direction forever or whatever. Get rid of that one and then make them sign up for your Google Docs folder with that new address and then they'll keep it and that's their first real life email address and also if they sign up for Twitter, get them to use that address stuff. Dedicate one of your classes, whether it be an intro, intermediate or advanced to helping students develop a regular writing regimen. I think that this is probably one of the most important things that we can do to make students feel like real writers while they're still in school.

Speaker 5 (32:05):

There's a guy named Grant Wiggins who had this idea called Backwards Design. He said, you have to decide what is it that you want, what's the outcome that you want in a class, and then design the course to bring about that outcome rather than kind of putting everything at the beginning. An example of this is that most of us put the most points for a class in the portfolio at the end, which means that students are going to revise and revise and revise to try to get the most points. What I do in my advanced class, it's the only class where I do this in my advanced class. I give them a bunch of points each week to just write two to 3000 words. If you do it, you get your points. If you don't do it, you don't get the points, but the bulk of the class, the points is that writing every week and what many of them find is that because they've been writing every week, they know how to continue and they know how freaking good it feels to be writing regularly because most of them have really never had that experience.

Speaker 5 (32:58):

Another thing that I think you can do, I mean most of us, many people will have their class submit to a literary magazine as a exercise at the end of the semester. Well, why don't we also show students what the process is of not just publishing a story or a poem? I find it interesting that we give them no indication at all usually, certainly at the undergraduate level and sometimes not even at the graduate level about how do you publish a book. We don't really, that's the tacit knowledge that we really don't talk about at all, and so one of the things that I've done is I create this cross class assignment that's really funny. The writing class, the novel class, they learn how to do a jacket copy and a log line for their book and what a partial is like 10 to 20 pages of their story that they've been working on, and then I make another class be faux agents and they study agent profiles.

Speaker 5 (33:51):

They look at what agents are looking for, they kind of look at that and then they create a fake picture and a fake bio and say what kind of stories they're looking for, and then my other class, the writing class looks at those and submits to them anonymously and then they look at them and vet them and say, yes, I want to see more. No, I don't, and it goes back and forth this mail and they get this mail and somebody is saying, yes, this is really good idea and I don't even know who you are. It just really kind of emboldens them I think. So I have more to say. Maybe it can come up in the q and a, but I hope that some of these might be useful to you. Thank you very much.

Speaker 2 (34:32):

Our next presenter is Derek Palacio. Derek Palacio is the author of How to Shake the Other Man from Novella Books. His first novel is forthcoming from Tim Duggan books, everyone, Derek,

Speaker 6 (34:49):

So when I was in the sixth grade at Sacred Heart Middle School, I had Mrs. Walker for language arts, which is what we called English back then. Mrs. Walker was an excellent teacher for many reasons, but what I remember most from her class are two things. First, whenever she pointed to something on the board, she used her middle finger

Speaker 6 (35:09):

Like thus, this I believe was an ingenious tactic to get me and whoever else noticed to pay attention during grammar lessons and for an 11 year old boy who was afraid to say a curse word alone in his bedroom, I worried that doing so would, as Sister Bernadette had told me, make Jesus's heart bleed. It was impossible not to watch. The other thing I remembered most about Mrs. Walker was how she went about getting us to read in the fifth grade. This of course was the era of book it. Where should you and your peers read extra books outside of class? You could earn a party. This was an error of getting students addicted to stories. The prize being a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hutt, i e a down payment on a heart attack 20 years into the future now as a current Biblio file as well as a recovering fat kid.

Speaker 6 (35:54):

I can tell you the program was a tremendous success, at least for me. Admittedly, I already love books to a great degree, especially for those of you can remember The Goosebumps series by r l Stein, which came out once a month really. Then I didn't need an extra slice of pizza to get me to read, though I was more than happy to cash in on the pies nonetheless, but the same wasn't necessarily true for my peers. What seemed like a really easy way to get a delicious greasy half pound of fried dough covered in cheese and meat for doing something I was going to do anyway wasn't so easy for others. I had plenty of friends who no matter how much time they had, and no matter how many other friends were going to Pizza Hutt that week, never felt the need to make the extra effort and looking back on this phenomenon now, I think this had to do with the unwavering standards of the book at program.

Speaker 6 (36:40):

I forget the actual numbers, but to earn a personal pizza required something like 10 books to have been read by the end of the term and for to get a party, everybody had to read their 10. Logically, these standards stayed the same for the entirety of the program. You always knew exactly how many books were needed to get something for yourself and doing the math for you to get the party as a class. Consequently, what I think annoyed the friends of mine who never got to 10 was the idea that you could read up to nine books and get absolutely nothing in return. Not even their crappy breadsticks sticks, but we're talking pizza here, so unless you got to 10, forget about it. You might as well have read zero. I will say that the book at program very smartly did not tell students which books they had to read, and this was also something Mrs.

Speaker 6 (37:22):

Walker believed in. The goal she and the program Vol shared was maximum exposure to literature. Just read, knowing no one was going to critique what you read doing. It was the point. Mrs. Walker, however, did want to offer something to those students for whom reading wasn't entirely addictive. Her system then worked like this. If you read a thousand plus pages in a term, something like five to eight books, you earned an A. If you read 950 plus pages, you earned a name minus 900 b plus and so on and so forth. What I loved about this program is that you got credit for whatever you actually did. There were standards for excellence, but reading 750 pages a term was no small feat and that was a really well earned c plus to prove you read the books. You said you did have to fill out read reports, but these could involve anything, your thoughts on the chapters you read, plot summaries, character sketches, even descriptions of the setting, anything and everything that could be used as evidence of reading comprehension.

Speaker 6 (38:16):

In the end, it was up to you. What Mrs. Walker had really given us then was freedom in our reading, not just in choice, but also in the manner in which we could demonstrate our competency, and that I think is why some folks loved book it and some folks did not. You could read whatever you wanted, but there was only one path to pizza. Now, I've been teaching creative writing for only a very short time, less than five years, but I've already had to adjust my style and approach to better serve my students, and one of the arenas in which this has been most true has been with the course readings. I've taught fiction writing at three different universities, two private liberal arts colleges, one a religious school and a large state university at all institutions. I have encountered the same dilemma. I enter a classroom with 15 to 25 students.

Speaker 6 (38:59):

I introduce our topics for the day. I ask that we begin discussing the first two short stories, and if I am lucky, one or two hands go up on the best of days. Half the class raises its hand. The discussion starts, we get about five minutes in and then everything stalls. What becomes clear are the three categories of students I have that day, those who read the story well, those who skimm the story and those who never picked it up. Often when I've asked my students why this is the case, they cite things like lack of time or The story wasn't that great or You should have scheduled the quiz and that would've made me read the story. These are all smart students and some of them even want desperately to be writers, but only one or two of them, sometimes three, really and truly read every story I assign and come to class wanting to talk about it.

Speaker 6 (39:44):

I'm sure this situation is familiar to many of you. I know I'm not alone and wondering why students so reluctant to read, especially when they sign up for classes that require a great deal of it, especially when students want to become the creators of things other peoples are someday forced to read for a while. Then I did respond with reading quizzes. I also assigned shorter and fewer stories. I sought out narratives that were about college students or drinking or partying or being young and in love. Still the same results. The ostensible goal, of course, was for the students to analyze the readings closely and then apply the craft moves they saw in other works to their own stories to learn from these stories and start to see themselves engaging in a literary tradition. What I realized ultimately was that I was deciding necessarily so what traditions they should be engaging with.

Speaker 6 (40:29):

I was like, many of you I'm sure, drawing from a variety of literary schools and the diverse bodies of writers, Kincaid, O'Connor, Diaz, Hemmingway, Maria, Simon Monroe, Morrison Walker, et cetera. But even so, the guiding force was my taste and what I was getting out of those stories, and that did and still does make a lot of sense. It meant I could easily speak to those texts and show students exactly what was so wonderful about them. It meant I could lecture without much prep on the crafts moves of those writers, good for me and great for brief lectures, but rarely did those lectures transform into lively conversations, and if the goal was for these readings to inspire and drive student work, then I was failing miserably. Eventually, I returned to Mrs. Walker's way of thinking. I realized that the buy-in for reading was not actually the future writing students would get from it.

Speaker 6 (41:14):

That was a marvelous symptom if they read well, but the joy of digging into content you found fascinating or the thrill of reading the writing of an author you loved. This meant greater freedom and impre independence for my students since. Of course, the traditions I loved might not be the ones they loved. This meant I had to devise a plan them to read outside of class and prove it, but like Mrs. Walker do so in a way that any reader would find it possible to engage in a semester long reading assignment. Practically speaking, then this first meant scaling back on in-class discussion time. I still lectured, but rather than moving into a conversation, I began asking my students to complete writing exercises that imitated the reading instead of talking about it nicely. Then I didn't care anymore if they hadn't done the reading. They had another large reading project that they were going to get a grade on anyways, and having not read the piece meant my lecture wouldn't really help them at all, so they'd wasted their time.

Speaker 6 (42:06):

I very much enjoyed sort of the innate value of that. It also meant they would know less how to analyze stories for the separate reading project if they hadn't read the story, they had missed a chance for learning, so the penalty was innate and I could dispense with tedious high school style reading quizzes. It was up to them for all this to work. However, required a functional and productive reading project. This is what I've come up with over the course of a 14 week semester, students have to independently read 10 short stories out of class that they hadn't read before. They also had to read deliberately, meaning they would move from story to story based on some logic of their own making. For instance, if they read Tim O'Brien's the things they carried, they might then try out redeployment by Phil Cly to see how another writer structures war narratives, or if they loved Alice Walker's 1955, they might then read Juno Diaz's, the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wow to see how another writer employs pop cultures craft.

Speaker 6 (43:00):

The kicker was that they had to chart these moves and decisions throughout the semester using Prezi software, which is free for students online. I've got copies to show afterwards if folks are interested. For those who haven't used Prezi though, it's sort of like PowerPoint instead of several slides, you just have sort of one giant bulletin board, and on the bulletin board you can sort of tack little bubbles and put texts inside the bubbles and you can zoom out and move across the board from bubble to bubble to bubble, and so then the awesome thing about this is that the students could then put their books or the stories they had read into each bubble, talk about what they'd read in that story or what they saw in that story, and then they had to articulate using little lines why they had chosen to read the next story and move in that direction along that path.

Speaker 6 (43:42):

The nice thing about this was at the end of the semester, my students shared those bulletin boards online with me and I could very quickly and efficiently see what they read, how well they read it, and to what degree they explicated these works for craft considerations. So from a professor standpoint, the response time, it was much quicker for me and I wasn't sort of getting bogged down in a hundred quizzes every time we met nicely. Also gave them the whole semester and I did a midterm check-in with them, but I didn't ask them to. I didn't grade them anywhere along the way, so if they had one weekend with a lot of free time, they could burn through half their stories. If they didn't get to it to the end of the semester, that was fine if they did it so they had more time, it wasn't if they had missed the reading for a particular class, they had lost the opportunity to gain something from that.

Speaker 6 (44:24):

Do they understand these stories perfectly though? No. Fully no. Do they always discuss only craft and avoid literary criticism? No, but this was a reading project, one like Mrs. Walker's, that means increased exposure and to help them form a certain kind of habit. Reading deliberately with your future writing in mind, but certainly not the immediate goal so far. The project for me is doing just that for my least engaged students, it is just enough pressure that I know at the end of the semester they've had to read 10 stories, and even if they're cheating and rereading old stories, they're still rereading because you can't fill out these bubbles without having knowing what's gone on in the story. But really as I hope most of my projects are, this task is designed for the best and the most engaged of my students and for those students, it has been really, really helpful.

Speaker 6 (45:06):

Not only have I seen the writing in their work improve immediately, but they also come to class with their own traditions to draw from, meaning the discussions we do end up having are much, much better during conversation. We can not only now talk about the story we've read the night before, but students can compare it to stories that they're reading on their own, or if they don't quite understand a technique in one story that we're talking as a class, they can reference another story that they've encountered by the end of the workshop, which for me takes the place at the end of the semesters. They're also better talkers and better critics because they've had all these extra readings under their belt. This project's not perfect, and plenty of students who try to claim things like technical difficulties or they run out of time, all the same excuses are there, but I will say for my best writers, it's a way to give them a chance to sort of direct their reading and find some independence and they come out of it having a better sense of what they want to be doing on the page, which I think is always the point, so thank you very much.

Speaker 2 (46:06):

I am the next presenter. I'll just speak in third person because it's the convention. Why not? Joseph Scapula's Fiction appears in Kenyon Review online post road, Hayden Ferry Review, unsaid and other places. He teaches creative writing at Bucknell University.

Speaker 2 (46:25):

The essay that I'm going to read is it's about respect. I guess that's the title, how I Taught Then I was 22. I was excitement and fear and big hope and a ponytail that made me look like maybe I would sell you drugs. I was in an M F A program. I had a teaching fellowship and an English 1 0 1 composition class with 28 students in it who would be addressing me as professor. I had never taught. I said to myself, they will find out that you are a fake. I reminded myself that I was related to a teacher, my father who taught for 39 years in Chicago public schools at K through eights on the south side. He taught gym and sometimes afterschool math, and he'd coach basketball and volleyball and chess club and in the bar he's a regular at a pl

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