Teacher Spa: Writing for Rejuvenation

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This afternoon I presented a workshop along with two of my favorite colleagues and fellow teaching circle members, Pam McCombs and Cindy Guillean. When Bill asked us to put together something “rejuvenating” as an end of semester pick-me-up, I immediately thought about self-care and how important it is to give ourselves permission to consider and respond to our own needs – especially when, as teachers, we are so often responding to the needs of others: students, colleagues, administrators, and so on. Pam and Cindy and I immediately got to work, planning and dreaming and creating: we share a love for creativity – making things with our hands, playing with images, and using mixed media to connect with others. What we came up with was a workshop that invited participants to focus on themselves: their stories, their interests, their talents, completely outside of pedagogical responsibilities.

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We set up four stations with different activities: a meditation area where participants could sit on the floor with blankets, pillows, and notebooks and recall times when they experienced peace, love, harmony, balance, self-control, and human understanding; a table for making affirmation jars (these are small jars with positive sayings, quotes, or thoughts on small strips of paper that can be pulled out as needed); an area for sharing school stories and making PEOP’s or mini-zines; and an image/text area where participants could use cut out shapes to create an image or use mirrors or smartphones to take a selfie and then draw their iconic self or make three panel comics. We wanted everyone to have the chance to work in a medium they don’t typically use, and more importantly, we wanted them to think positive thoughts in a safe and supportive space. Hands down, the affirmation jars were a big hit:

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One of our participants drew this beautiful portrait – I’m not sure if it was for the iconic self activity or if it might become a PEOP:

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At our mid-point, Katie Livingston, a PhD Candidate from Michigan State University who I met at 4C14, came to speak about the importance of self-care and community care. She shared from her personal experience as a queer individual in need of support, and spoke about maintaining boundaries, about giving ourselves permission to acknowledge and respond to our own needs, about saying no (and saying yes), and then brought her own mini-zine that illustrated four ways to practice self-care (which is community care, too, because we are part of a community of teachers).

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Katie’s practical advice included 1) being in your own body: give yourself permission to feel what you feel and ugly cry if you have to, 2) logging off: scrolling through everybody else’s Facebook updates about their perfect lives is “hashtag unproductive”, 3) logging in: but sometimes access to a virtual community lets you bring “home” with you and check in as needed, and 4) practicing gratitude: step outside, soak in the sun, and be thankful that you have what you need to survive.

The workshop was so rewarding, even as a presenter: I loved to hear about individual self-care practices (like Erin’s weekly massages and Angela’s stained glass making, which Katie confirmed with excited comments like “yeah! I LOVE that!”), I loved to see the projects that our teachers made (someone made a beautiful cut paper piece of two hands clasped that I wasn’t able to photograph), and I loved the engagement our teachers had with each activity – they were so brave and inventive.

As a college writing teacher, being able to partner with local K-12 teachers (and pre-service teachers) is something I feel privileged to do: sometimes the divide between grade levels (especially high school to college) feels impassable and rather than collaborating, blame is passed down the line in search of a cause for the ill-preparedness of students. The Eastern Michigan Writing Project, through these Saturday seminars and our Summer Invitational Institute, seeks to foster dialogue across levels by focusing on positive language and shared resources: an initiative that I am proud to be involved with. I speak for all of us when I say thanks to all who came out today. Thank you for letting us share our ideas with you. We had a great time.

Blog Happenings/End Reflections

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1. My MA Project draft is nearly complete, and I’ve included a PDF of the slides from my presentation for the Graduate at the Podium Plenary taking place tomorrow morning under the “Current Projects” page, which I’ve added to the menu bar (note the new layout! go check it out!). The “Zine Resources” page is currently a work in progress and is sorely in need of an overhaul. It will happen, someday, when I am not using written? kitten! to help me get this project done!

2. That zine you see above is called “the good stuff,” and it is a collaborative zine edited by Cate Stolz that I contributed to. Very excited.

3. My students are working with zines for Unit 3 and the Celebration of Student Writing: I’m taking a Shipka-esque approach to incorporating alternative media while still valuing the genres of the university by asking them to perform a rhetorical analysis and write a modified “Statement of Goals and Choices” to accompany their group zines. This has been a rough semester, but I think we will finish strong.

4. This isn’t a post entirely about zines: I’ve been using Google Drive this academic year with both of my classes, and I don’t think I will continue to use it. One of the primary reasons for this is privacy: while this specific issue has not been discussed in the program I currently teach for, I am concerned that when using personal email accounts (both my own and those of my students), there’s no way to ensure that it is actually the student (or me) who is accessing that account/that work/that grade. Moreover, if something breaks – I had one student get locked out of her account part way through the semester because she was using an old account associated with her high school – there’s nobody to call for help. I think EMU is transitioning to Google, and if that happens to include Google Drive access, I may feel better about this, but as of now I plan to discontinue electronic papers. I also noticed that students seem to take their work more seriously when they have printed copies – especially when we collect “Invention Portfolios.” It is difficult to recreate the materiality of a portfolio in a digital space – this might be due to my own bias, though: I like papers that I can touch. When I originally moved to Google Drive, it was primarily because the printers on campus are ridiculously unreliable and I wanted to eliminate “the printer wasn’t working” as an excuse. I also wanted to take advantage of the space for leaving feedback – it was much more efficient for me to type in-line responses in a comment box than to try and squeeze my notes in the margins and inbetween the lines of a printed page. However, I’ve learned that a) too much feedback is not a good thing, and b) instant feedback creates this idea that I am always accessible – which I am, within reason – but the ability students have to go in and make changes and ask for a new grade five minutes after I’ve posted my response has taught me that my own expectations in terms of revision need to be framed more explicitly.

5. Okay, this is a post that is mostly about zines. I got two zines in the mail from Franny Howes, PhD student at Virginia Tech and generally awesome person who you can find on Twitter here.

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Franny’s zine (the bottom one) made me think about teaching as the art of balance: just as we ask our students to take on the discourse of the university, so we too go through this identity shift (over and over again) as graduate students and as teachers. Right? This is critical literacy: I learn from you, you learn from me, we collaborate and make and create and communicate. And we play by the rules, or we subvert them, we resist, we find balance.

Composite/Recap

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this was the view from my hotel room in Indianapolis

This past week I attended (and presented!) at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Indianapolis – otherwise known as the 4C’s. My presentation was part of the Research Network Forum (RNF), a pre-conference full-day workshop in which works-in-progress are presented at roundtable discussions and then discussed. This was my first RNF, and I was overwhelmed by the validation and encouragement I experienced as a presenter – the event itself was so positive, which made for a safe space to introduce new ideas, trouble them, and collaborate with fellow graduate students working on a range of projects, as well as leaders in the field with expertise across the board. I brought with me a mini-zine that introduced my research (my MA Project that is currently haunting me in my dreams and stealing my sleep). What began as an innocent question // what happens when I bring zines into the classroom? // has evolved into a composite of genre theory, activity systems, collected stories to illustrate practical application, and multimodal assessment a la Jody Shipka (my she-ro!). The feedback I received was immensely helpful, and the smiles that danced on the faces of those who got to hold a zine and practice folding and unfolding it reminded me of exactly why zines matter: because how often do you associate the paper in your hand with the physical presence of the person who made it? How often do we get to play with our work? How often are we asked to think about the choices we make when we compose?

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Frank Farmer, Jason Luther, and me

While at 4C’s I met with Jason Luther, Syracuse PhD student and zine rockstar who has taught DIY Publishing and Creative Nonfiction classes that worked with zines and special collections, and Frank Farmer, master of counterpublic intellectualism + zines and WPA from the University of Kansas. These two kindly allowed me to record our conversation over breakfast as an “interview” for my project. I also attended the following panels:

B.05 Opening Up, Opening Out: New Publics, New Futures for Composition’s Public Intellectuals
D.26 (Re)Opening the Ditto Device: DIY Publishing as Crafting Agency
F.14 Violence of Assessment: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
I.36 Opening Ourselves to Love: Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication in 21st Century Argument Culture

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a selfie with Cynthia Selfe, champion of the DALN and co-recipient of the 2014 CCCC Exemplar Award (with Gail Hawisher)

I also recorded my own literacy narrative with Cynthia Selfe for the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN), which I am completely thrilled about. I remember learning about the DALN at 4C’s in St Louis in 2012, and have since used it in my own classes. If you’re interested in working with the DALN in your classroom, here’s a useful resource: Five Ways to Read a Curated Archive of Literacy Narratives by David Bloome.

To be honest, I spent most of the conference working: piecing together the remaining pieces of my MA Project and planning the courses I’ll be teaching this Spring. I did make it to the Bedford Party at the Indiana State Museum, I had lunch at the Eiteljorg Museum, and on the way out of town ate my very first tamale (yum!). I was also able to reconnect with former colleagues who have gone on to PhD programs since graduating from my program at EMU, and I spent hours in conversation with current colleagues (which sounds so sterile, these teachers are my friends!), encouraged by the energy at C’s. And then Friday I left a day early because I was on sensory overload and eager to get home to my daughter.

There’s a conference backchannel worth looking through on Twitter with the hashtag #4C14 – I certainly have a long list of panels to look up in the NCTE Connected Community archive where presenters (hopefully) uploaded their materials, thanks to the tweets that went out – and I was posting throughout the conference as well:

 

ENGL515: NCTE Principles of Adolescent Literacy Reform

For ENGL515 this coming week, one of my classmates and I agreed to blog the shared policy brief we were given to read. We were asked to consider the following:

1. How does the report characterize adolescents (in other words, who are the adolescents they refer to?)

2. How does the report characterize literacy (through what lenses is literacy viewed?)

3. What suggestions does the report make about teaching adolescent literacy?

Jared and I are reading NCTE’s Principles of Adolescent Literacy Reform from April 2006. The report immediately begins with the alarming statistic that today’s students are reading at rates that are significantly below grade level. Reading rates, as far as I know, refer to the ability to decode words as well as content comprehension, and are measured by scores on standardized tests. This particular report mentions that 4th-12th graders are reading below grade level, and references a report by the ACT which claims that only half of today’s high school students can read complex texts. With the great emphasis placed on early literacy development in politics and public policy, this report recommends that further attention be given to middle and high school students, as the challenges that under-literate students face bear significant weight toward their future successes. What NCTE’s report offers is an outline of the specific problems with adolescent literacy as well as recommendations for reform.

This report, which addresses concerns specific to middle and high school students in an academic setting, finds that literacy encompasses a broad range of domains. Here are a few that they list: analyzing arguments, assembling furniture, taking doses of medicine correctly, determining when, where, and how to vote, and finding information online.

For adolescents, literacy is more than reading and writing. It involves purposeful social and cognitive processes. It helps individuals discover ideas and make meaning. It enables functions such as analysis, synthesis, organization, and evaluation. It fosters the expression of ideas and opinions and extends to understanding how texts are created and how meanings are conveyed by various media, brought together in productive ways.

The report establishes literacy as broad, media-rich, non-universal, and as an ongoing process of development. Challenges that adolescents face can be largely attributed to conflicts between their everyday literacy practices and the narrow affordances of academic literacies presented. This is not to say that all academic literacies are limiting, but that students need support in navigating the different literacies required for engaging in different disciplines or reading/writing situations.

I’d like to put this out there: it’s been a long time since I’ve taken the ACT (12 years?), but I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a student say that they actually liked or felt interested in the content they were asked to read on a standardized test. NCTE’s report  acknowledges that personal relevance matters in terms of engagement and motivation: students experience difficulty when the work they are tasked with does not explicitly connect with practical application. Part of this, I think, is due to perceived curricular requirements; however, this is a problem with an attainable solution. Explicit teaching, reflection and metacognitive awareness, diverse texts, and student choice in selecting those texts are a few that the report offers. In terms of critical thinking, the report also acknowledges the need to interpret and analyze, as well as the incorporation of technology as a vehicle for motivation and engagement.

The report quickly and thoroughly establishes a holistic approach to literacy that includes both in and out of school practices. In all cases, reading and writing are either explicitly or implicitly connected with social interaction – students will practice activities together as well as independently, and those activities will connect to relevant life work. Moreover, the report suggests that strategies for reading comprehension as well as writing are essential – these strategies can be used to navigate both familiar and unfamiliar literacy events, including those that may be less engaging. The report also suggests that more literacy training needs to be made available for teachers in content areas – that the term “highly qualified” teacher doesn’t necessarily refer to literacy instruction, but rather content area expertise. Professional development should also, in line with the report’s stance on literacy, take into consideration that teacher learning happens over time as well, and should provide opportunities for teachers to engage in “deep learning,” or learning that occurs through experience and hands-on application rather than a single exposure, with fostering professional community as a core value. This will result in higher student achievement, as teachers will be collaborating across disciplines and working at the local level. The report also advises the use of literacy coaches to support teachers.

Adolescent literacy is necessarily interdisciplinary.

The report concludes with two major points: the first of these, which is more subtly included throughout, is that adolescent literacy is interdisciplinary – it is not a packet of skills to be applied in the same way no matter the situation. Secondly, professional development and support for teachers is essential in promoting literacy across the curriculum, thus resulting in higher achievements for students.

I think I’ve responded to those questions sufficiently. Here’s what I’m wondering: this report was published in 2006. I’d like to create a worknet, or a conceptual map of how this report has been cited and/or revised in later editions, especially given that 7 years have passed since its publication. What has changed? What report, if any, replaces this one? The public narrative has not changed much – just this past week, a report was released that claimed Michigan students have not made progress in reading ability over the last decade.

3 months have gone by.

It’s been nearly 3 months since I last posted, and both my professional and personal lives have seemed to fly by at the speed of light, the speed of sound, the speed of darkness. She writes,

My night awake
staring at the broad rough jewel
the copper roof across the way
thinking of the poet
yet unborn in this dark
who will be the throat of these hours.
No.        Of those hours.
Who will speak these days,
if not I,
if not you?

There are 55 days until graduation and 56 days until my last day of class as a graduate student in this program. There is one major paper to write (a project that involves a series of interviews with my father about his own literacy), one graduate course to teach (on out of school literacies, alongside two of my favorite high school teachers), too many composition assignments to write, to give, and to grade; one Celebration of Student Writing, 25 final portfolios (can I please choose multimedia presentations instead?), and one MA project to complete. There is one conference later this month, there is the waiting period between another conference proposal and its potential acceptance, there is the Graduate Plenary, there are zine classes to be taught to homeschoolers, there is a workshop at the Ann Arbor Library, there are two courses to be taught at my new home, my new school, beginning in May. There are EM-Journal issues to publish. There are books overdue at the library. There are books to read. There are mouths to kiss and words to write and friends to hug and share a glass of wine with.

If I have learned one thing this semester, and maybe in this entire program, it is that I am human. Beautifully, unashamedly, intensely human. I watched this video yesterday morning while curled up in bed (thank the universe for spring break and cancelled soccer clinics):

Our destiny is written in the hand. I’ve been reading about zines and how the self is constructed alongside the text-object (Poletti). I’m not sure this applies to all writing, but it is certainly applicable to my own. I write to see my thoughts and ideas read back to me: I write my own reflection into being. This is why craft theory matters so much to me: I knit, and I know I’ve written about this before here. I work with yarn, and thus I need to know the fibers, I need to know where they come from and how they are processed, I need to know how to handle them, I need to know not to wash wool in hot water, I need to know that acrylic yarn isn’t nearly as warm, I need to know that bamboo knitting needles will become dull, I need to know that it’s worth spending more money on circular needles in order to have a cord that is more flexible, I need to know how to switch colors, I need to know if the person I’m making something for has allergies, I need to know if the hat will fit, I need to know that I can buy yarn from a local yarn store or from a big box craft store, I need to know that there are fiber mills in Michigan that make excellent yarn, I need to know that sock yarn is for socks and not for scarves. It is the same for writing: I need to know how language works, I need to know how to put together words, I need to realize the sociocultural significance of certain genres, I need to know how texts function, I need to understand the personal and political implications of certain definitions of literacy, I need to recognize that, like there are patterns for knitting, there are instructions for writing cover letters and resumes and research papers but that those instructions are always relative. I need to understand that I have power and control over the way I choose to articulate my thoughts and ideas, like I have power and control over the way my hands move with the yarn and needles; I need to know that power and control comes, though, with knowing my materials. Words and language exist outside of us but also within us. This is also why I like James Gee’s work on discourse and identity kits: he says that much of what we know is not explicitly taught, but rather acquired…and that what can be taught is meta-knowledge, or awareness of the discourses we possess: to be able to recognize the choices we make in composing, in speaking, in doing or making as part of a system rather than as a universal way of being. This is awareness, this is consciousness, this is intentional practice: this is what I want my students to do, and what I want to work on in my teaching.

Here are some updates, and a few things on my mind:
  • I’m teaching as an adjunct at Monroe County Community College beginning in May!
  • Close reading is bullshit. Making claims about why a writer, especially a zine-writer, arranged things a particular way and how that reflects their identity without explicitly asking the writer is problematic. Moreover, most of the scholarship involving zines (especially that which engages in close reading) is inaccessible to those who make zines. Not all zinesters are reading, nor have access to, academic journals. Check out this book on Amazon which, according to the reviews, uses information from zines without permission from the authors (which is complicated, because zines also use material without permission…)
  • I haven’t read anything non-school and non-MA project related, other than the books I’ve been reading with Grace, since Christmas break. I started Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and it’s taken me two months to read 50 pages. This might be because it’s not YA Lit…but it might also be because I’m tired.
  • I’ve also started watching Doctor Who. I love it so much.
  • I’ve updated the layout of my blog and posted my Teaching Philosophy and a current CV. Always a work in progress.
  • I’m teaching a zine class to homeschoolers starting in April, and will be doing a zine workshop at the Ann Arbor District Library in June.
  • Skylanders. Video games in bed. Probably also why I haven’t been reading.
  • I am participating in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project this coming weekend and am thrilled and proud to contribute to a project that seeks to normalize the postpartum female body. Recently I helped out in Grace’s first grade classroom at lunch and the kids were watching a cartoon that showed a female character in a bathing suit and all the kids shouted “EWWWWWW,” which led to a long conversation that evening and a commitment to talking about our bodies in positive ways.
  • I’ve been contributing photos to Read, Mama, Read: Images of Mothers in Academia.
  • I’m also doing a 30 day vlog challenge as part of a Facebook group called (V)logging to Learn: the goal is to spend 30 days exploring and vlogging about something (anything), and I’m using this as a means of holding myself accountable for my MA project (and to make sure that I’m still enjoying myself along the way). This morning, I made my video while sitting in my car in the parking lot at school. I’m making time for myself, though, which is exactly what I need to be doing.

I apologize for the three month hiatus. Every time I opened the blank white box to post, I had so much to say and the words did not come. My friend Sara made this post recently and it reminded me that I needed to me more kind to myself: I need(ed) to pause and think about what was good, not just what was difficult. I needed to not be lost in this last semester, I needed to come out of the dark. So here I am. I hope it won’t be so long next time.

Towards a Professional Self

I’ve drafted several posts since coming back from NCTE two weeks ago. On one hand, the conference made me feel as if I was stuck between two worlds, neither of which felt like home: I found myself apprehensive about identifying as a college writing teacher amongst thousands of elementary and secondary teachers who, in my mind, put in countless hours compared to the one section I’ve been teaching per semester – many of whom have also balanced graduate coursework on top of their long days in the classroom. To be quite frank, I went to the conference with a deep curiosity about what teaching secondary ed was like, and was questioning my choice to teach at the college level simply because so much of what I’ve done in my English Ed courses has appealed to me in ways that the work of my Written Communication courses has not. At one point this semester, I had considered completing my Master’s degree only to return to school for secondary ed certification. I wanted so badly to reconcile these two worlds that I felt unable to fully embrace. And I wonder if anyone else has felt this split, or if it’s a matter of circumstance: my English Ed courses have been my daily bread, so to speak, and my interests in craft and materiality, identity and practice, ideologies around what “counts” as composing – developed toward the end of my undergraduate program as I became more involved with composition studies – were shelved in favor of literacy development, education policy, and a shameless obsession with young adult literature.

As I’ve worked through my major projects over the last few weeks, however, I’ve found myself returning home. I’m staying up late, drinking bad coffee, connecting with old friends, grappling with concepts that are far too big for final projects (if I were superhuman, I would have written 5 dissertations by now), discovering new talents (I can draw and I like video games!) and re-emerging with a much stronger sense of professional identity that places me in the field that I love for the same reasons that made me fall in love with this work a few years ago: craft, materiality, available and unavailable designs, multimodality, spaces and places of composing, rhetorical situations (real and constructed), the narratives of our students and their experiences in and out of school, the embodied knowledge they bring to the classroom, the stories behind research questions, the generative power of juxtaposition.

To quote Kathleen Blake Yancey, we have a moment. And in this moment, as I am polishing my curriculum vitae (I have one of those!) and finally coming out of the fog that consumed me beginning in the weeks before NCTE and carrying on through the last 24 hours, this is kairos, this is my moment to speak.

For the plethora of graduate students who were required to blog about their assigned readings, thank you. Your work on the internet, likely forgotten as most of it was posted in 2008-2011, has helped me to think about my own work in new ways.

For James Paul Gee, whose work on video games, learning, and literacy development has made it apparent that had I grown up with video games, I’d probably be a gamer. Thank you for reminding me that it’s not too late.

For Jody Shipka whose multimodal reprise has become the rhythm and sound that keeps me going, thank you for posting student work on your website.

For Linda Adler-Kassner who is my teacher crush: through her, I learned the term “pragmatic” and embraced it as my own. Thank you for reinforcing my commitment to advocacy and resourcefulness.

For Derek Mueller who first planted the notion of “craft” and “materiality” in my head: my family describes me as intense and over-analytical, and craft work helped me to channel that energy in an ongoing, generative (albeit messy) way. Thank you for remembering these interests even when I seem to forget them.

And for Aylen who spends hours every day, it seems, talking with me via Facebook messenger about teaching practices, lesson plans, identity(ies), challenges, and victories, you were my mentor for a reason.

This feels so thank-you-speech-y, but I wasn’t sure how else to say it.

Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

As I wrap up my work this semester, I’m realizing that there is so much I’ve done that simply doesn’t fit within the limitations of a project or a blog or a CV. I’m turning in a final project tonight that is by no means complete: I haven’t yet discussed Yancey’s work as it pertains to out of school literacy, I didn’t get to browse the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, I could have devoted an entire section to the materiality of literacy practices building on Wysocki’s work. I didn’t address perhaps one of the most significant issues: while out of school literacies make their way into the classroom, in school literacy practices – ways of thinking, being, doing, and knowing – also make their way outside of the classroom, and realistically do not originate in the classroom though are sometimes awakened in that space. I also know that I left an important piece out of my CV, and there’s nothing I can do about it as it’s already been received at the university I applied to, and that’s okay. I’ve asked my students to take stock of this in their final portfolios as well, asking them what they’ve learned that isn’t necessarily reflected by the outcomes for our program and inviting the to evaluate the outcomes as they pertain to their own, individual, embodied experiences, and I use this space as an opportunity to do the same: nowhere in my CV is there room to talk about the struggles or the difficulties; instead, I present myself as polished, as professional, as composed. But the process is messy, right? And I am transparent. I use language to think, I use writing to process, I use words for play. And the last 24 hours have reminded me of where I started and why I am here: why I read, why I write, why I teach. I stand at the edge of an opening, but I know that I am part of something bigger, and those threads help me find my way back home.

MA Project Plans

I’ve got a big project in the works that I am really, really excited about: zines. Zines as part of a rich and complex activity system, zines as an act of literacy, zines as an artifact from the “counterpublic” (Farmer) which is a term (like Gere’s “extracurriculum”) that is so, so important to our research as writing teachers, especially since the turn toward public writing and academic literacies as one literacy, one way of knowing and doing and making and sharing among many others inevitably still promotes a dominant or mainstream idea of knowledge. Zines as a resource for understanding learning and literacy, zines as a genre working within a system that, among many others (video games [Gee], Wikipedia, Pokémon, social media, hip hop), makes  profound and necessary contributions to society and culture while also creating, caring for, and supporting identity negotiation. I’m aiming for a definitive study that explores zines and the activity system(s) they belong to (looked at also through Gee’s perspective on affinity spaces), connecting the genre to social and cultural representations as an artifact and also as a means of making and sharing knowledge, specifically as zines are authored by who Duncombe labels as “losers,” or those on the fringe of society whose voices aren’t always represented in the dominant discourse. That’s a long sentence. From there, I want to explore bigger picture concepts like literacy development, alternative discourses, and how to crash the academy (I’m only being a little bit sarcastic here, and it’s ironic because in the end, I’m still writing this project as part of my graduate program requirements). Slightly more realistic, I’m curious as to if/when what’s “outside” academic/professional walls might come in, and how: will it be by invitation? Will it be through a sort of colonialism that extracts the genre from its context and repurposes it for an academic agenda? Will it be done ethically? Will the fringe take over, Hunger Games or Divergent style?

here's what I just pulled from the library shelves

here’s what I just pulled from the library shelves

I hope that makes sense. It’s probably a bit repetitive. The more times I write through it, the more it begins to make sense to me, so there’s that.

And because it’s that time of the semester when grad students begin courting faculty for project advising (something we like to refer to as prom), I have a few words of advice to share:

  • This project is a beginning. It is a beginning (not the beginning, as there are many points of entry) of your professional identity, something that you will build on and work from either in doctoral work or in your teaching career.
  • If you think your subject matters, then it does. If someone (especially those already established) responds to you with indifference or criticism, it’s probably because they don’t understand where you’re coming from. In that case, you might need to do a better job of explaining it…
  • …and that’s a matter of taking concepts and working them into practice. As in, the part of your project (or thesis) that links theory and research to pragmatic concerns: what do we do with it? Help your readers see what you see.
  • Don’t read all the books. You can’t. It’s not possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to contact scholars/authors/people with experience in your area of interest. I just emailed with faculty from the University of Kansas who heard I was interested in zines, and he’s written a great book that is probably going to be one of my strongest pieces of evidence in creating this project and supporting my ideas…and it’s a bit surreal to be sitting here in the library with his book open in front of me, knowing he’s a real person that I can talk to about my work. Put yourself out there, and see what you can find. By making a few contacts and sharing my ideas (both formally and casually), I have amassed a ridiculous amount of research, connections, and opportunities in a very short time.
  • Create annotated bibliographies by topic/concept/parts of your project. Putting them all into one document is too much.
  • Taxonomies are your new best friend.
  • I’m not an outliner, but I did create a bullet point list of main ideas, or sections, that I wanted to cover in my project. That helped immensely.
  • I mentioned already that this project is a beginning, but I feel the need to rephrase it here: this project is not the end. It isn’t meant to be complete, exhaustive, or even that amazing. It should, however, be something you can be proud of. It should also be manageable (if you’re anything like me, you know that this is a challenge). Save the dissertation (the process, length, and expectations) for it’s appropriate time.

So I’m excited. I already said that. I’ll be saying it many more times. What are you working on? Any advice you’d like to add for graduate students beginning their culminating projects?