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Dance

Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

The semester winds down, leaving behind papers, portfolios, blog posts, digital stories, conversations and memories. Students check out the weather, and hope their planes, trains and rides will take them safely home. or to vacation destinations. The work my students leave behind now sits conventionally in folders for me to grade and less conventionally on DVDs and on live class sites for me to evaluate. In the last few weeks of the semester, I fought desperately agains the urge to add new demands and assignments to my students’ overflowing plates.

At Middlebury, we call the last two weeks of the semester PPZ: the “Professorial Panic Zone” because we want to ADD MORE before the semester is over. Like parents sending children off to college (and I’ve done this twice), faculty want to give the final bits of wisdom, information, evaluation before the door closes and our children or students are gone. Of course, the end of the semester and the car ride to college are the worst times to impart wisdom. In both cases, tired, frightened minds are looking ahead–if they can look or think at all. BG speaks eloquently about the end of the semester burnout when she asks:

Isn’t there something odd about this? Shouldn’t they leave craving the next course, the next opportunity to hang around a bunch of motivated fellow thinkers and work through some relevant, interesting problems together? There’s got to be a better way to end a semester, a more creative, satisfying, rewarding way to move out of a course?

BG pulled a final assignment from her course in order to allow her students more time for reflection. I turned the final week of my course over to my students who gave Research-based oral presentations. They had finished reading the last novel of the course before Thanksgiving, and they wrote the first draft of their final papers two weeks before their final portfolios were due. By somewhat clearing the decks of new work, I hoped to give my students some time for reflection, and for each paper, each digital story, and each portfolio submitted, my students included reflected cover sheets through which they confronted the intentionality of their writing and intellectual choices.

In his “the making of” entry, earth wide moth considers the challenge of tracing narrative of intentionality in his own work;

I have been thinking quite a bit about how things get done, how scholarship gets made, what methodologists want, and where the methodical (as more typically associated with a researcher’s trail) blurs with writing. Furthermore, in light of the recent interchanges on WPA-l, I’m thinking about the limitations of any published monograph to reveal the subtleties of the research and writing that went into it. Yet a conventional model for knowing method~ologies is through inference. Read something likely to have been researched and, from the text, extrapolate. Another model: specific procedural explanations or how-tos (the way to ethnographize, the way to discourse analyze). So what else can we do with method~ology beyond the domesticated regimen (albeit a stabilizing and study-able force) of this is how you do x? What can we do with method~ology beyond the reverse-ordered and confounding in-through-the-exit of method read back through the monograph? Maybe a collection of “the making of” essays that looks back on the production of the project, attends to the special effects, and so on.

I love the “making of” metaphor, he employs here, and I’ve come to see my students’ reflective pieces in their portfolios as a “making of” the semester. The final questions I always ask students on their portfolio cover sheets are

What goals do you have for your writing in the future?
How do you plan to achieve those goals?

Intead of offering my students useless pearls of advice as the end of the semester, I push them in their natural inclination to look ahead and ask them to form their own goals and decide thier own ways to reach those goals. Sometimes I have the pleasure of seeing their goals come to fruition when they take another class with me, when I read their writing on a colleague’s class blog, or when six months later as I make my way across campus they stop me to say “It clicked! I get it!.” Once, when I had given up teaching at the high school level, a student stopped me two years later as I pushed my first-born in her stroller. I hadn’t been able to prevent his dropping out of school, and I’d chalked up my efforts with him as a failure. “Thanks for everything,” he told me. “I went back and finished high school. I just couldn’t do it then.” Remembering his words always helps get me though the PPZ at the end of the semester and gives me hope that even though the semester ends now, the dance of learning goes on.

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