Delivering the Mass-age

I find it appropriately intriguing that the readings for Monday and the readings for Wednesday both cited Marshall McCluhan as a source when discussing writing in the digital age. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, McCluhan was very influential in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the midst of the youth movement. His most influential piece is called The Medium is the Massage (pronounced “mass-idge,” as a sort of beatnik pun combining the words “mass” and “message”). The book is a very short and easy read filled with pictures that communicate just as much as the words. It details the ways in which our thought processes have changed and continue to change due to the evolution of mass media. If I remember correctly, McLuhan talks about the printing press and how increased literacy turned Western culture into linear thinkers because the written word is a linear form. He moves to today and notes that because we are surrounded by media, we are learning to think in all new ways. We are immersed in media. We wear our messages in ways that we never did before. The book is definitely worth the read, and the images are beautiful. I highly recommend it not only as a supplement to this lesson but also for pure enjoyment and self-edification.

As far as the article goes, Trimbur made me think a lot about the issues of teaching pure writing in this era. We are now taught through social media, casual text messages, and emails to create short and concise messages that combine text with images, emojis (which function more like iconography than like photographs), videos, sounds, and other media that help us to express our points in clearer ways. Although I believe that the immediate nature of this multimedia experience can help communication become clearer, the trending change also makes me question the value of classical rhetoric in the classroom. While traditional methods have historical relevance, they are now becoming antiquated as a means of teaching students relevant life skills. As a result of the change in communication strategies, students often struggle to meet page-length requirements, and those who do manage to meet them often deliberately or accidentally fill their pages with fluff. I think that we should learn to adjust our page length expectations and the nature of our assignments to better accommodate the current student population. I think that assignments that integrate the use of photographs, icons, infographics, and other visual elements combined with shorter commentary on the relevance of these images to the point of the “essay” can function as one solution to the problems we face. I also like some of the assignments that we’ve looked at in class such as making infographics and analyzing differences between social networks and the ways in which profiles work. These kinds of assignments work with skills that students either have already or will need in the workplace and in personal life. They also increase student awareness of the ways in which the current world functions. This awareness ultimately will help the students to become better members of the global community by aiding in their interaction.

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Lesson Plans and Teacher Comments

Last week’s reading focused on getting students to start writing. This week’s first readings (excluding “Rigid Rules”) were more geared towards interactions with students. The introduction and first two chapters of Informed Choices focused on making constructive comments and building a good rapport. One rapport-building exercise that I found interesting was the development of a common language. Sommers mentions one teacher who used the term “spice” with his students. I think that this common language can be a fun and useful tool for developing a sense of group identity between students and their peers as well as the teachers. Coming up with a few simple words here and there to condense an idea gives a group a sort of iconography that makes learning more efficient and lessons more permanent.

Sommers also discusses the importance of making efficient comments that help students to advance without feeling discouraged. Too much red ink can overwhelm some students, and for most people, one discouraging remark can outweigh a million praises. What I like to do with students to keep them from feeling discouraged is to tell them how they can improve rather than what they did wrong. I tend to think that goal-oriented teaching keeps students moving forward while pointing out flaws tends to cause self-destructive obsession. That’s not to undermine the occasional necessity of “tough love,” but generally speaking, goals seem to keep people happier and more productive.

“Choices about Day-to-Day Planning” was more about scheduling, and I was not as interested in this article. I thought that it offered some great theoretical guidelines about class flow, but in my experience, nothing ever goes according to plan. Of course, it would be ridiculous to walk into every class and treat it like playing along with a jazz standard, but I’m also wary of over-composing. I further found this article difficult because I’m not teaching this semester and can’t think of practical applications. I’ll have to come back to it later and adapt the ideas that I like best during a semester when I’m actually teaching a course.

Finally, Rose’s “Rigid Rules” discusses writer’s block, the reasons this might occur, and how to help students who struggle with this problem. While reading this piece, I was reminded of a nonfiction course I took in my undergrad in which we had a guest lecturer who suggested that in order to overcome writer’s block, he would first divide a piece of paper into two columns. In one column, he would start writing. The next column was reserved for recording speed bumps. Every time he felt like he shouldn’t write something, he would write it anyway, and in the next column say why he felt like he shouldn’t write it. I may have tried this exercise once or twice myself, but hearing of the concept was enough for me to realize that I similarly have many “voices” in my head telling me what I can and cannot say or how I can or cannot say it. When these voices become stumbling blocks rather than aides, I think of that two-column sheet of paper and ask myself why they are trying to block me. If I can’t think of a good reason, I run them right over and move on. Like we learned when we contemplated “Ignoring Audience,” a paper can always be revised. The first priority is to record the thinking process.