Life is not a journey #SOL2022 25/31

We read and then I showed this video prompt for our quickwrite. We’ve been talking about metaphors, how we think about and explain life – students are creating life maps as visual representations, and writing memoirs or personal essays. Each lesson, each task, each discussion flows into the next while I look and listen for the clues.

They selected their favourite lines and annotated them.

After the video, I decided to write with them again today, because I can do both.

The journey metaphor has been so deeply ingrained in my work, is so deeply etched into the movement through each school year, that I wonder how I might walk a different path. Can I really change this chronological linear movement when the year begins at a particular point and ends with movement to another grade, a number that is next is the accumulation of time. Educators talk about our role as a reading and writing teachers in moving students from a point to another?

But, then, I realize a difference. Movement is necessary, life-giving, vital. Movement is not the problematic concept. Space is the problem. How does the educator or writer use the space?

My vision of education has radically changed. I’m no longer forcing students to read books that are deemed “important” or “literary” or the “canon”. Instead, I’ve followed the lead of many other English teachers and instead promoting book love.

And, my vision has moved for writing in the classroom, too. Last night, I had the great pleasure of participating in a podcast with Angela Stockman – an “Instructional Designer and adjunct faculty member at Daemen College in Amherst, New York” (whose new book on multimodal composition is already preordered – woo hoo). We talked about the essay and the need to change how we teach and think about this strict rigid unforgiving form.

It’s clear that we care about essays – we loves writing and reading essay. But not the five paragraph ones. Instead, we love essays because they are hopeful attempts – as Amanda Potts says, they help us “straighten out our thinking.” The essay is a try, an attempt. Yet, if we are to try, then we must also fail. The willingness to struggle matters. I’ve got to show that very struggle to my students (I’m doing this now, in front of them and they may believe it is easy, but it’s not; I’m self-conscious, aware that they might scoff at what I have to say.) Nonetheless, the essay gives us a place to work out ideas and essays in the “real world” are not five paragraphs.

Essays in the wild are just that – free to be wild with a purpose and structure suited to the message, free from rigid structures, free to use audio, video, and visual forms to communicate complex messages. Multimodal essays require that students think deeply about a topic and reach for original ideas remixing old forms into something new. This freedom from form is what I love about Alicia Elliott’s “Dark Matter” in A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. In this stunning work, she points out that,

“Racism, for many people, seems to occupy space in very much the same way as dark matter: it forms the skeleton of our world, yet remains ultimately invisible, undetectable.”

A circular pattern emerges, and it seems to me now that life is space.

2 thoughts on “Life is not a journey #SOL2022 25/31

  1. This whole post is interesting to me, but the thing I want to comment on is how you wrote this in front of your students (always, always vulnerable) and then went on to publish it here. There’s power in that, too – in thinking in front of others and showing them (or at least us) that this type of writing has merit. And wow was that podcast fascinating last night. I’m planning to listen to it again this weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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