Eloise Lynch: Bringing it Back 2016

Nov 23rd, 2016 | By | Category: Fall 2016

Return to “Bringing it Back: BLTN Teachers Reflect on Summer Learning

Eloise Lynch: Bringing it Back 2016

This might have been my favorite Bread Loaf summer so far. My classes, as always, were amazing—inspiring, rigorous, intimate, productive.

David Huddle’s class, Multi Genre Writing, reintroduced me to writing. The class alternated between reviewing published samples of poetry, short fiction, and essays and creating and workshopping poetry, short fiction, and essays. The experience pushed me to generate several pieces that moved me deeply while I wrote them and that brought me great satisfaction when they were finished and shared. In fact, a handful of the pieces I produced became so meaningful to me personally and so accessible/emotive to others that I pulled from them in the delivery of my solo performances for my other class with Doug Jones. I believe it was the constant, fluid shifting among genres and among the roles of reader, writer, editor that allowed each of us students to become so suddenly prolific. The rigor—the movement—of the class also fast-tracked the development of our class community, allowing for intimate and eager discussions. So successful was the course that I plan to pull its blitzkrieg-multigenre-structure-and-sequence for use at the beginning of my AP Literature course for the upcoming school year.

I also plan to pull from Solo Performance Theory and Practices. Teaching is solo performance. When I consider various successes I’ve experienced in the classroom—delivery of content, facilitation of skill development, classroom management—I am able to link each instance/facet directly back to my commitment and ability as a performer. For example, I use humor (comedic timing, wit, delivery) to frame topics and instruction in interesting ways, to keep students engaged, as well as to develop positive and meaningful personal dynamics and classroom climates; I often perform roles that aren’t natural components of my identity—the hard-ass disciplinarian (when really I’m trying not to laugh because that impression of my principal was hilarious), the continually-sympathetic mother figure (when really I want to tell this blubbering teenage girl about my lesson plan), the ruthlessly enthusiastic academic (when really I, too, don’t care about comma rules), the despot demanding order at all times (when my desk is a disaster area); certainly, every challenge from a student seems to come with its own spotlight—center stage—audience members on the edge of their seats—“What are you gonna do, teach? Yell? Smile sweetly? Drop a laugh line? What body language and expression should you adopt?”

My teaching solo performance will surely be improved by the solo performance theory and practice work we engaged in this summer. Certainly, I’ve expanded my experience in the strategic use of space, physical presence, and voice—body-level knowledge gained via performance practice and via watching my peers perform. We’ve experimented with the inherently confrontational and intimate nature of solo performance, demanding the audience’s unflinching focus and stimulation by invading their space and denying them the foliage of plot and other focal points; in teaching, I’m thinking about how to use space to establish that main-line connection between teacher and student, performer and audience. We’ve investigated the use of gestus (repeated gestures) to develop meaning over time; as a teacher, I’m thinking of potential gestures that might, for example, signal to my students my interest in the content and their lives. We’ve played with ways to use voice to maximize desired emotional impacts or to impart meaning; as a teacher, I’m thinking about how I should “let thoughts land” (quoting Doug here) before racing on, about how I might use volume and pacing to indicate importance or my own involvement, about how silence is an excellent tool for creating useful uncomfortable pauses—ones that snap audience members to attention, for instance.

Our forays into theory will improve my performance, too. Harry Elam got me thinking about the many layers of performer roles and audience perceptions at work in a single performance with his discussion of The Esape, “The Black Performer and the Performance of Blackness.” I will begin the school year far more conscious of how I’m being read in different ways by different students and how to manipulate such readings to best serve class goals. For example, how might I use the growing image of me as a quirky, artsy, overenthusiastic poetry fiend? I’m probably going to try lean into that perception/role as a way of validating and hopefully inspiring enthusiasm for content. How might I use the perception of me as a snobby intellectual who uses hundred dollar words and such? I’m probably going to try to maintain yet explode that one—perhaps use elevated diction along with slang?—as a means of validating multiple styles and uses of language and reducing student anxiety.

Speaking of explosions, as I head into the new year, I also pledge to be mindful of Rebecca Schneider’s discussion of exploding/collapsing binaries. As we teachers are performers, we are empowered and obligated to be mindful of harmful binaries operating in society and our students’ psyches and to do our best to collapse them. Schneider has me thinking about possibly binaries I might strive to visibly collapse via my “performance” (mother/professional, for example), as well as authors/texts that may be similarly useful.

Certainly, solo performance practice and theory impacts my pedagogy and instructional decisions. However, I think engaging my students in solo performance will bear by far the most valuable contributions. I teach AP Literature, a course that demands intense understanding of diverse and challenging literary texts—dramas, short stories, novels, poetry. Certainly, asking students to perform such texts will be helpful in facilitating close reading, analysis, and understanding. How better to enable a student to perceive nuanced shades of character, tone, mood, etc., than to make her responsible for their creation/delivery via performance? I’m envisioning student performances of excerpts of Macbeth and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You been?” and poems like “Out, Out.”

As I look forward to the year ahead, I’m thinking not only about potential instructional and pedagogical permutations inspired by my Bread Loaf classes, but also about potential exchanges with other BLTN-ers. I’d like to expand on a collaboration Mitch and I worked on at the end of last year. We had students from our schools (George Rogers Clark High School in rural Winchester, KY and South High School in urban Columbus, OH) either produce original poetry or find local poetry that spoke to local identity/issues. Then, students posted such poetry and related work (explication, art work, annotation, reflection) on our exchange website, view posted materials from students from the other high school (and very other walk of life) and then TALK via comments. We found this collaboration to be a great way to interest students organically in poetry, to get students to explore their own identities, and to invite students to reach out to others in search of commonalities and shared experiences. To view the exchange, please visit homeplaceanthologyexchange.wordpress.com.

This year, I want to do something similar but hopefully bigger and braver. I’d like to keep the local literature exchange component. Perhaps a school in a different country could read Clay’s Quilt or one of the Lexington Poetry Month Anthologies of poetry and we could read a text that supposedly represents their culture/homeplace. Then, I’d like to bring the students from both locales together somehow—perhaps a SKYPE portal—to discuss to what extent each text authentically represents their identities and to what extent it fails to do so. ANY TAKERS?

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