Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blogging and the Arts of the Contact Zone (or what I've been learning I didn't know this semester...)

Thanks to Luke for his post about blogging...
I find the student entries (see example below) in that article striking for their insight, incisiveness, and fluency in/facility with academic language/literacy. (And maybe there was a bit of cherry-picking in finding a blog post that mirrored the intention of the blog itself...)
"The use of blogs in the classroom has helped me to better articulate my ideas and interpretations of the text as well as to bond with my fellow classmates. The blog has served like a series of student journal entries, unifying our class in our quest for knowledge and understanding. The blog format has helped me to be more concise and get right to the point of what I'm trying to say. Also, the blog is significantly more informal than short essay assignments, allowing me to express my ideas in a raw form, then refine them later and make them suitable for a formal paper."
Most of my students this semester in my Intro to Language are not close to this combination of meta-awareness and academic language/literacy "fluency" (for lack of a better word).
To the community 2.0 folks: I'd be interested to know about your experiences and see samples of your students' writing. This semester I am teaching in the cluster (with Justin) and we've found that most of these students are right out of high school--and some of the poorest performing high schools in New York. They come with a sure deficit in critical thinking, reading, writing, and language skills--and this sure potential that has not been tapped and exercised in meaningful ways to make them proud and sure of their thoughts and opinions and how they shape and inform their knowledge. I've been backpedaling all semester to meet them at their point of need. But trying at the same time to locate their point of strength so they have something solid to build on. Naturally in this "community" the constellation of strengths and constellation of deficits will be just that--constellations--up close separate and burning--from far enough away--a contained shape within which we can work. It's taken a while to get a sense of that shape--of that space. Of what Mary Louise Pratt would call a contact zone.
Next semester I'm teaching an honors section of Intro to Language, so it will be a different demographic of LaGCC student. But not that different: I have still found in my honors sections students who  scramble to "paper over" their deficits. This semester has taught me that next semester I want to make the focus of the blog much more about language awareness. Not the "linguistics content" kind of awareness, but the actual process of languaging that happens while blogging, while reading and responding to each other's blogs, the language in which they choose to express themselves, and the relationship to knowledge-building they notice.
I guess I'm hoping for a much more authentic experience for them and for me and it will need to begin with the blog post prompts. This semester the prompts assumed a certain "acculturation" into academic culture. I'm thinking now about what Mary Louise Pratt, in "The Arts of the Contact Zone" calls transculturation, where, to begin with, it will be more transactional.
And I'm thinking about the blogs as spaces similar to her safehouses...
I guess I assumed they'd be safe houses, but in fact, I think we need to negotiate together much more fundamentally what these spaces are that we are building...
More on that later!


  1. Hey Maria-glad you found the article interesting. It's not easy for students to have these kinds of insights like the one you quoted from the article. But having them reflect on the experience is going to give you some of their own thinking on it, and you can also guide their reflection with particular questions to ask.

  2. Speaking as someone else in Maria's cluster, I do have to say that the level of skills and confidence in our students has definitely built up over time. I will give them an opportunity to reflect on the blog experience at the end of the semester, and we'll see how far their skills will have shifted while they write about just that!

    Also, anyone interested should check out their blogs about the cluster itself - on my Language and Human Rights coursepage on the 2.0 site, just look for "Blog 4".

  3. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the self-efficacy survey at the end of the semester!