Tracing Phronesis from Present to Past through Video Game Guides
Once upon a time, there was no Internet! Gasp! How did people manage to learn with no Internet? How did they look up any information ranging from random trivia to concerns of dire importance? Sometimes as a starting point, they looked to books and other written documents. Then, if they couldn't find writing on the subject they were looking for, or they couldn't read, they would ask others who they considered wiser or more experienced than themselves. It is this pre-Internet way of learning that fascinates me and serves as the catalyst for this project. For two popular introductions to this topic, see PlayStation Access's video "7 Ways We Used to Beat Games Before the Internet" (2019) and Kevin Garcia's Observation Deck article "How We Gamed: Playing Impossible Games Before the Internet" (2014)
People have been attracted to activities and pastimes that often need a bit of mentorship or experimentation when first starting out since the beginning of time. For example, many games, arts and crafts, sports, music, and other hobbies take time to initially understand and newcomers to these activities benefit from taking a playful and experimental stance toward the learning process. When it comes to games specifically, over time the way that new players/gamers/game players come to knowledge about their chosen activities has changed, particularly in recent years.
In the past, specifically before the advent of the Internet and its widespread use, gaming knowledge often involved a great deal of practical wisdom, called phronesis by the ancient Greeks, either passed down from mentors or learned through trial and error. Some necessary gaming minutia was documented in writing in guides for a newcomer to find own their own; however, much of the skills, secrets, and other practical knowledge (which I will use interchangeably with "practical wisdom" or "phronesis") had to be discovered and practiced.
This practical knowledge was once difficult to acquire without the help of a personal relationship with a more experienced game player, or without extensive experimentation (and often frequent failure and starting over); however, it is now readily available online in video tutorial format on websites like YouTube. Understanding this shift is useful because it could allow educators to see trends in how students choose to learn outside of the classroom or in informal settings, which may help educators better meet students where they are. If students gravitate toward certain ways of learning about what they enjoy, and teachers can start matching these ways of learning in the classroom, students would likely become more engaged and invested in their own learning in formal settings. In addition, it could help anyone interested in making educational materials and tutorials to better understand the skills and details learners are looking for, why they look for them (instead of just figuring them out through trial and error) why they want to learn about these hobbies in the first place.
As a child, I learned to game from my parents. I have rather clear memories of the first video games and card games my brother and I played with our parents. We played Mario games on the Super Nintendo (SNES), a few MS-DOS games, may games available for Windows 1998 and Go Fish and War with a deck of playing cards. My parents taught us these games and showed us how to overcome obstacles if we got stuck. To my brother and I, some of the best memories of these moments came when our father first showed us secrets that he had learned playing the original Mario Bros or when our mother finessed a seemingly perfect bridge when shuffling a deck of cards. One of the Mario Bros secrets our dad showed us was how to find the warp zones that lead to pipes to skip ahead from World 1-2 to World 4. The other secret was a way to collect almost-infinite lives by hitting a Koopa at the exact right moment as it descended the stairs from the flagpole so that Mario would keep landing on the the Koopa over and over, earning more lives. At the time (about age 5), these secrets and skills seemed like such mysteries; my brother and I had no idea how our parents figured them out, but we were so happy that they shared them with us, and we never forgot them.
The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research (2014) provides a reference definition of phronesis, accented as “phrónêsis.” The entry explains that sometimes it is translated as “prudence” but scholars more commonly call it practical wisdom or judgement. The entry tracks the “rediscovery” of the concept of phronesis (using that term) as happening in the 20th century (since it was originally coined by Aristotle in the mid-300s BC), mainly by Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. The entry also describes the use of phronesis as something deliberative, as a part of kairos (timeliness in rhetoric/argument-making), and as a part of ethos (ethics or credibility in rhetoric/argument-making) and other rhetorical uses, including what it is not (it is not just rhetoric overall and it is not syllogistic reasoning).
Professor emeritus of the University of Idaho, Nick Grier, also has a webpage called "Aristotle on the Intellectual Virtues" (2001) that summarizes Aristotle's concept of intellectual and moral virtues (including phronesis) and how they interplay. Grier relays that Aristotle believed that phronesis has no "authority over" sophia (theoretical wisdom or reasoning). He adds that for Aristotle, phronesis was a moral virtue (instead of an intellectual one) and was not learned (or at least not in the way the other moral and intellectual virtues were). When I first read that phronesis wasn't learned, I found myself confused by the idea. Why wouldn't a form of wisdom be learned? So, after more research, I found the article "The Socratic Phonesis Today” (2015) by Juliana González in the Journal of Philosophical Research.
González’ article juxtaposes the classical concept of phronesis and Socratres’ ideas about the brain and morality with today’s concepts of neuro-biology and neuro-ethics. The author writes that a standard interpretation of Socratic thought does not involve dualism; there is no mind-body problem, because the soul is wholly contained within a person and that is where their ethics come from, not from external religiously or politically-driven influences. A person’s ethics tie well to phronesis because phronesis is “knowledge translated into a way of life” (p. 63) and our personal ethics or moral compasses drive how we live. Phronesis has a goal of helping a person realize their authentic self and of allowing a person to know and understand the differences between good and bad. The article goes on to explain where these concepts (especially of morality being internal) match with current understandings of neuroscience, which helps me understand the idea of virtue not being learned that I read from Grier; although others may try to teach us about what is good and bad, about decision-making, about skills, or other important life lessons, ultimately our personal moral code (or lack thereof) comes from within because we will believe what we want to believe; any time we change our mind, master a new skill, or come to a deeper understanding of something, it will be because we decide to do so and then put our mind to it.
Still, I didn't feel fully satisfied with these definitions and hoped to find something more clear and easy for me to grasp that fully represented the ancients' ways of viewing phronesis. Luckily, I found Richard R. Halverson's dissertation Representing Phronesis: Supporting Instructional Leadership Practice in Schools (2002) which provides a convenient, comprehensive, and accessible list of the features of phronesis according to Aristotle:
Below is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (2019) definition of phronesis as well.
For the purposes of this geneology project, I would like to demonstrate how the concept of phronesis can be applied to learning gaming skills (digital or analog), tips and tricks, insider knowledge, or secrets. In additional, I will trace the ways in which new gamers develop practical knowledge has changed over time, but I will work backward, from present to past.
To understand the myriad of ways that scholars apply phronesis to learning and skills today, I first looked for scholarly academic articles about phronesis in general. I found articles that presented the applications of phronesis in the workplace and in the classroom.
One such article, "Phronesis: A Model for Pedagogical Reflection" (2004) by Carrie Birmingham (Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Pepperdine University) uses the concept of phronesis as a part of reflection for educators. Birmingham finds that often reflection is still used as an incomplete and abstract notion that needs to be better solidified in the field of education, and phronesis may be the way to solidify it. She wrote:
" ...phronesis is not the simple application of educational theory, for educational situations are much too complex, ambiguous, and unpredictable to comply with an algorithmic application of educational theory. The knowing and thinking that phronesis calls for is concerned foremost with the particulars of the situation. This quality of phronesis is echoed in Schön’s (1992) seminal work on reflection, in which he coins the terms knowing-in-action, reflection-in-action, and conversation with the situation to characterize the process of reflection." (p. 315)
I like these ideas of knowing- or reflecting-in-action that she is citing from Donald A. Schön's "The Theory of Inquiry: Dewey’s Legacy to Education". At first glance, I imagine them to be tied to notions of fostering a community of practice in and out of the classroom (learn more about communities of practice/practitioners via Christopher Hoadley's "What is a Community of Practice and How Can We Support It?"). In other words, reflection is not some private and abstract activity for diaries only; it's about making meaningful plans for improvement once we've reflected on what we've done well and what we could do better next time, which should be for the benefit of everyone in the community/classroom.
Birmingham also paralleled and elaborated upon the above definitions from SAGE and Grier when she stated:
"In an educational context, Kessels and Korthagen (1996) explain that phronesis has to do with “the understanding of specific concrete cases and complex or ambiguous situations” (p. 19). Phronesis is situated in the particulars of a specific time and place and is concerned with specific events and persons. Episteme, in the form of educational theory can inform phronesis, but phronesis is not the simple application of educational theory, for educational situations are much too complex, ambiguous, and unpredictable to comply with an algorithmic application of educational theory. The knowing and thinking that phronesis calls for is concerned foremost with the particulars of the situation." (p. 315)
For example, when SAGE described phronesis as being tied to kairos, we see from Brimingham that one of the ways that it is kairotic is through the necessity for educators to understand the specific time and place of educational concerns because of the complexity these concerns.
To Birmingham, the value of reframing reflection as phronesis is four-fold:
She concludes with the following advice:
"Phronesis is not a moral panacea. It will not obliterate moral dilemmas, erase moral quandaries, or undo the damage that has been caused by immoral or incompetent decisions. However, the moral complexity of teaching requires phronesis to achieve moral goodness, promote excellence in teaching and learning, and advance human flourishing." (p. 321-322)
In addition, the previously mentioned dissertation from Halverson (2002) makes suggestions for teachers to use phronesis as a framework for creating educational materials for other local educators in leadership roles. For this project, he asked educators to create these materials with their practical wisdom in mind: what had they learned through trial and error, through play, or through observation that wasn't written anywhere else, especially when it came to problem-solving? Then he asked them to create instructional artifacts using multi-media and narrative for a series of low-stakes professional development gatherings called Breakfast Club. Through these gatherings, the educators realized that without the opportunity that Breakfast Club had provided, they had previously been too nervous to share their teaching strategies and advice with each other, and even though Breakfast Club took a long time to gain momentum, once it was in full swing the value of it to bring teachers together and help keep them up-to-date with current trends in pedagogical scholarship and with each other's practical knowledge was undeniable.
A third contemporary example of applying phronesis comes from Elizabeth A. Kinsella and Allan Pittman's Phronesis as Professional Knowledge: Practical Wisdom in the Professions (2012). These three works represent the current trend of practical wisdom being used for professional development purposes in the academy and in the workforce. There are many more works like these that I found, which take what I consider to be a more general (or perhaps mainstream or more predictable?) approach to applying phronesis. So, I also needed to start looking for how scholars are currently looking at phronesis in terms of games or play.
Phronesis and Gaming Today
From the scholarly sources I found that tied phronesis to gaming today, I noticed a few trends. Mostly, the applications were similar to that of phronesis in general (for professional development for those in the business of making games), but also for gamers coming to knowledge as well, which is the direction I wanted to focus on. I also noticed that the most recent of these that I was able to find via my university's library came from 2009.
What I thought might have been a ten-year lapse in any work regarding the subject was not so. Just last year in 2018, the Computer's and Writing conference took on the title of: Digital Phronesis: Code/Culture/Play and features what feels like countless works about the subject. The 100-page program demonstrates that scholars are continuing the work of tying phronesis to gaming and play and I am excited for the proceedings to become available!
Also, just two days ago, (April 20th), a popular source on YouTube called GameRanx posted a video titled "10 Things ONLY 2000s Gamers Will Understand" and the very first thing on their list is about how and where gamers learned about the games they were playing. The mention the shift from going to book stores to buy print game guides (they show an example of a Prima Game Guides, which is now going out of business) to utilizing websites like GameFAQS, and how these were the only options before the advent of YouTube, which now abounds with tutorials for everything imaginable and even some game tricks no one would ever imagine, except the one person who does it and posts it to YouTube for viral fame. To learn more about the scholarly work regarding how players now use YouTube to learn, see Aytar et al's "Playing Hard Exploration Games by Watching YouTube" (2018),
The following academic sources are the ones I found:
Andreas Jahn-Sudmann and Ralf Stockmann's Computer games as a sociocultural phenomenon: games without frontiers, war without tears (2008) traces game studies up until 2008, with a chapter dedicated to “Ethics and Morality” as well as gamers’ cultural identities, ideology, experimentation in game playing and game design (which is an important part of coming to practical knowledge/wisdom) and more. It includes perspectives from literary studies, game developers and the social sciences to demonstrate the growing importance of games in culture. Of particular interest in this anthology is the chapter "'Moral Management': Dealing with Moral Concerns to Maintain Enjoyment of Violent Video Games" by Klimmt, et al. Something the authors mention briefly in the introduction is that violent video games, especially war games, have become so authentic in recent years that the armed forces are now using these games as training tools, which they cite from America's Army (2002) and Full Spectrum Warrior (2004). This fact was not the sort of information I expected to come across in this research, but it does demonstrate the power of gaming and phronesis when the two come together. These war simulation games are teaching things that are perhaps otherwise unlearnable without being at war; they provide the opportunity for trial and error and decision-making practice without risking lives.
Marcus Schulzke's “Moral Decision-Making in Fallout” (2009) pairs well with the above anthology, especially the article from Klimmt et al., because it shows how even games that are based on war, but are not intended to be realistic, still heavily rely on moral decision-making. Schulzke explains that although many games ask players to make moral decisions, few games make these decisions affect the rest of the game’s story/world in a significant way; however, he argues that the Fallout series of games (and he mentions Fallout 3 especially) does moral decision-making right through the use of what the game calls a Karma scale in which player decisions affect their karma with all other factions throughout the game. He writes:
"Games like Fallout cultivate what Aristotle called "phronesis" - the practical wisdom of knowing how to act morally in particular situations ... Practical wisdom ... is the skill that allows one to recognize when to apply a particular rule. By situating players in a virtual world in which they can test their phronesis and improve it without suffering from the adverse consequences actions real world, video games serve as an invaluable educational tool." (para. 4)
This quoted passage demonstrates the other side of the trend today: close/deep readings of individual games or game genres and how they encourage phronesis in-game. This "invaluable educational tool" as Schulzke puts it, might also be what Jane McGonigal calls "fiero" (the Italian word for pride) and it involves both pride at our gaming victories, but also a sense of accomplishment that makes us feel able to succeed in the real world as well. I think "fiero" is integral to experiences of developing phronesis. With trial and error, it is the hope for eventual success after the errors that leads us to keep trying. Then, the development of a working practical wisdom comes from those eventual successes. For me, ideally, the "fiero" we feel should also encourage us to share our wisdom with others so they can feel success too.
In Miguel Sicart's The Ethics of Computer Games (2009) he not only sees phronesis as a type of knowledge/wisdom or a way of coming to knowledge/wisdom, but also as a way of coming to be a gamer and a way of interacting with other gamers. He writes:
"Players use phronesis as a practical ability for the configuration of their being in the game. This moral wisdom is applied both to the experience of the game and to the other agents that are immersed in it. Other players’ well-being has to prevail in order to enjoy a successful game experience; also, the game experience’s well-being has to be respected for the experience of the game to take place. Winning is not always the most rational choice. This might be derived from the fact that players are moral beings who care for other players, acting with moral judgment when creating the game experience." (p.103)
This idea that practical wisdom is an inherent part of the gamer identity fascinates me, and at the same time makes perfect sense. My brother and I were enjoying our first video games at a time when we weren't yet readers and at a time when the Internet was not ubiquitous in homes or even schools or libraries. If it weren't for our parents, we wouldn't have learned the skills we needed to fully enjoy the games, so we may have gotten frustrated and given up for good. To learn about a gamer who didn't start playing until they were an adult and didn't get the sort of guidance I got as a child, see Roqayah Chamseddine's "Playing Games for the First Time as an Adult is Harder Than You Think" (2017) on Polygon.
Zackariasson, P., Styhre, A., & Wilson, T. L. (2006). “Phronesis and creativity: Knowledge work in video game development.” Creativity & Innovation Management, 15(4), 419–429. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8691.2006.00400.x
Although this article is more about developing games than playing them, the case study addressed found that dedicated gamers made for better people to hire to develop games. The study, which followed the hiring, first-day meeting and training, and subsequent work environment at a Swedish video game development studio, found that interaction and sharing of knowledge was key for the company’s operation, with innovation in gaming as their shared goal. To achieve innovation, “new computer development work unfolds as a process of continuous negotiation and testing of what works and what does not” (426), which is exactly the sort of playfulness and experimentation I’d like to address in my work. Thus, it appears that although gamers don’t have to use/develop phronesis to play in a way that they used to, phronesis has not left the world of gaming today because game developers are hiring gamers as their employees, and looking for gamers with practical wisdom or “street smarts” to make games utilizing experimentation.
Phronesis and Gaming (or Playfulness) of the Past
At the advice of my professor, to find out how scholars were looking at phronesis in the past, and how to tie it to gaming before video games, I looked to the broader concept of play or playfulness and also to analog games. In particular, he suggested that rhetoric textbooks of the past might be useful, and as usual, he was absolutely right.
I began searching through the ULS Digital Collections via the University of Pittsburgh, which includes schoolbooks of the 1700s and 1800s (eighteenth and nineteenth century). This digital collection is an excellent resource for tracing genealogies of pegagy because researchers can search through the entire collection using keywords and a variety of filters. My search for "phronesis" didn't come back with any results, but "wisdom" and "practice" and "prudence" came back with plenty of results geared toward writing instruction (see the image of The Girl's Reading-Book for an example). In The Girl's Reading-Book (1838), a story teaches the readers of the importance of "Learning in the Field" (also the name of the chapter), of making observations and listening carefully in order to learn from nature (which she has been tasked with by a wise old man). The wisdom the author is imparting here is that of the importance of playfulness to come to knowledge, in this text called prudence. Even the text itself takes on a whimsical and playful tone/mood as the author describes the lives of dogs and hawks and snails and chickens and bees and many other creatures (and what we can learn from watching them), with the author concluding with the following:
"I thanked [the old man] for his tenderness and wisdom. And I took his precepts into my heart, that I might weigh them and find if they were true. And though I was then young, and now am old, I have never had reason to doubt these lessons of the fields were good..." (p. 39)
Even without naming phronesis as a concept, the idea of practical wisdom, and even of its ties to virtue, are clearly here in this book directed toward school-aged girls.
Another historic textbook, The Institute Reader and Normal Class-Book (1870) by W.H. Cole comes up when using the search term "practical wisdom". Interestingly enough, this text shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I know this is a cliche, but it seems that this phrase in particular became cliche because it held some truth. Finding the familiar in the the distant (or not-so-distant) past is really enjoyable for me. This text books is a teacher's textbook that provides suggestions for classroom management and many other teacher needs. It even has example worksheets with pictures! I imagine it to be much like the artifacts created by the teachers in Halverson's Breakfast Club and much of the advice seems like the sort of practical wisdom one teacher (or several) would pass down from experience to future teachers. Although the text doesn't seem to take the route of suggesting play, it does indicate the importance of practice (which I will impose the connotation of playfulness on, for the sake of this project).
A third, Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses: For Use in the Kindergarten, School, and Home by J. R. Murray (1887) is chiefly a songbook (especially of hymns), but also includes hints and other instructions for the music teacher, including movements for the children to accompany their singing and the suggestion to consider including whistles or bells to enhance the music. I find these suggestions to be incredibly playful and practical; none of them are expensive or extravagant (or otherwise impractical), but can make the experience all the more enjoyable for the children and anyone watching them perform. It may be useful to note that I've never seen a children's song book like this one before, with suggestions like these, so to see it makes me very happy!
Each of these textbooks (and others that I will add here later) stood out to me because they were different than many of the other textbooks that will come up in those search results. Many of the others represent the scientific (empirical? industrial?) turn that occurred in the 1800s in the West. The scientific method was in. Rule books (that should be strictly followed) were in. The idea of play, perhaps, didn't align with the authority scholars were trying to impart with their work, but these works don't seem too concerned.
The history of playing cards : with anecdotes of their use in conjuring, fortune-telling, and card-sharping / Edited by Ed. S. Taylor, and others (1973)
Playthings in early modernity : party games, word games, mind games / edited by Allison Levy (1968)
Phronesis and Gaming...in the Future?
Although I personally have no idea how we might learn gaming (or learn through gaming) differently in the future, some folks are already looking ahead to try to find out. For example, see "The Future of Gaming: A Panel Dicussion" (2014) (strange how we are already five years in the future since this work) video hosted by Reason Magazine's Matt Welch who is interviewing the director of the Gaming Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Professor Tracy Fullerton. Also, I'll be keeping an eye out on the works at the International Journal of Game-Based Learning to see the future as it unfolds!
I don’t think we went over Project 1 assignment very well with students. Either we didn’t spend enough time on it, or they just didn’t pay attention because students really don’t seem to be getting it. Either that or they are way too shy to speak up. They seem to be struggling, but not wanting to ask questions. Maybe I am expecting that they will be more proactive about asking questions or coming to office hours since not many of them are first year students, yet, that might be expecting too much. No one has come to office hours or emailed me since I last wrote.
I think this experience makes me want to make the “Introduce Project #” portion of class to be more engaged some how, maybe some kind of activity. I will be thinking about ideas.
2201 with Emily was nice so far! We have our second class today.
Even though Emily very clearly reviewed her email policy on the first day, I got an email last night from a student asking where to locate the readings, with no info about what class the student was in. Luckily, I only had to rosters of ~25 students to looks through to find her. I can’t imagine looking through 100+ students across multiple classes. I think she was confused by the difference between BB (Building Bridges) and Bb (Blackboard).
I think my only expectation for the class before going in was that Emily would probably have a very active icebreaker, more like an activity, but instead she had some really interesting questions from Brandon. I guess I was trying to go into the first day completely open. It was interesting to see that she used the full time since it’s a 1 hour and 15 minutes class. She gave them time to start their sample writing, which I liked.
We did have one weird experience, which I mentioned in our meeting. A student tried to get up and leave when we were starting the writing time because he didn’t bring his laptop/other device. He wasn’t willing to write on paper and then have to retype, but Emily very politely explained that class wasn’t dismissed. It was probably 20 minutes early!
The semester is coming to an end! We had our last meeting yesterday and it felt like it had been forever since I’d been and seen everyone together because the previous week was Thanksgiving break and before then I was sick.
I have learned so much from Abby and the other GTAs this semester. I felt like every week a question was asked that I had wondered about at one time or another, like handling daily participation. Dr. Morse suggested starting with a grade of “100” and detracting for lack of participation instead of trying to tally points up each day. There are so many more of those little tips to help the grading and classroom process go more smoothly that I’ve picked up over the semester.
A few things that I learned that I would change in my classroom compared to what Abby and I did. I don't think we did them "wrong", but I want to make sure to try all options to see what works best.
I am not really sure if my teaching philosophy has changed, so much as grown or become refined and I’m sure I’ll be able to pinpoint that better when I really start teaching. I’m eager to get into the ENGL 2201 classroom in the Spring and hope I’ll be placed with another instructor (other than Abby) so that I can learn from them too. Abby and I got along so well, but the more perspectives the merrier!
I hate pneumonia!
My last day in the classroom was the 31st and I didn’t make it back until Wednesday. It feels like that gap was even bigger than it was. The library day on the 31st was a success. We worked in the North Carolina room, which worked out well. Everything we needed was within arm’s reach. I was surprised that some students did not know what to do once they located a hardcopy book that seemed useful in the online catalog. They didn’t know what the call numbers were or how to use them. That was eye-opening for me. I realized I wasn’t even understanding their questions when they were trying to get me to explain how to get the book. I was basically like...”you...go get it off the shelf???” and I didn’t know they weren’t even at that step yet. If there was anything else significant about that day, I can’t remember it!
I have asked Abby if I can guide students through the upcoming iWebFolio process, so I’m looking forward to that. It can be difficult to get all the little steps right, so I feel pretty good that I’ve learned them and can help students too.
I am happy to say that I’ve connected with two students who had never come to my office before recently (the first came for project 2 and the second came for project 3). Found out that we have a lot in common and share research interests/what we want to do when we grow up.
While talking to the first student, we talked about computers and video games and my brother’s work in Engineering. While talking to the second student, we got to talk about video games, Star Wars, YouTube, writing, and lots of other great stuff. I can really see now how getting to know students just a little more makes me all the more invested in their success in the future. I just want to take them both under my wing, but I know that’s not appropriate. Maybe they’ll stick around and become grad students here, then I can. :)
I also cried yesterday because Cody, who works with me in the UWC and is a new grad student here in the English department, says he wants to be just like me when he grows up. I was actually able to stop myself from self-degradation and just accepted that amazing compliment. So, I did cry in public, but at least I didn’t tell him he was wrong for looking up to me, which probably wouldn’t have been possible just a few months ago. I must prove myself worthy!!!
It was also shocking that my classmates and coworkers have all said they missed me while I was gone. It is hard to imagine that people think so positively of me and acknowledge me as an important human in their lives (even when I am not around). They don’t have to do that. I don’t even do that.
Next week, I'll be leading students on our library research day. I am currently finding out if we can reserve a special collections research room. Abby requires students to check out an actual hard copy of a book for project 3 and hadn't planned on reserving a space. She was basically going to let them free roam in the library, but I thought it might be better to have a central location they should come back to. So, I am in touch with one of the directors of Special Collections. If those wonderful spaces aren't available, we'll check out a regular instruction room. I think I will also like to conference with students at that time while they research.
Update: I heard back from the person I’ve been in touch with! We’ll have a room! Yay! I don’t know if it will be one of the main research rooms for the special collections, but either way I reached out and got us a room all on my own. The reason it wasn’t a simple matter of following the usual procedure is because we’ve already had a library instruction day and we didn’t want another one, we just wanted a space that was close to the resources students may want to use and Abby and I both wanted to introduce students to that unique collection without going through the touring/instruction process so students could maximize their time to work.
Abby is going to send me copies of all the students’ proposals (after approval) so that I won’t have to keep asking students to remind me what their topic is, and I’ll be able to help answer questions more quickly
I see that I’m really behind on this journal! I sort of feel like this is because the past few weeks haven’t felt eventful, but that’s not because they weren’t; it’s because I’m so tired!
In the time since my last post I did have the above Frankenstein lesson, Abby had to go to the ER, students got their Project 1 grade back and a chance to revise, and group presentations began.
I didn’t make the Frankenstein analysis as formal as I intended because while waiting for class to start, I was hearing a lot of stress about Project 2 and about the group presentations, so I gave students the option to relax a little and do the Frankenstein assignment less formally (mostly chatting and drawing together instead of Prezi and turning it in) and the other students could choose to work on their presentations or paper. For the students who chose the latter two options, I walked around class and checked in with them periodically.
As the semester progresses, I have been thinking more and more about what things I like that Abby and other GTAs do (from hearing about ideas in the weekly meetings) and what things I would change in a classroom where I’m instructor of record. I’ll start articulating some of those ideas soon.
Over the weekend, I had what I hope is a brilliant rhetorical analysis activity idea! I haven’t heard back from Abby about it, so I don’t know if we’ll actually do it in 1100 or not. She did add an extra day to practice rhetorical analysis after seeing the initial responses from the activity she started on Friday for them to complete at home, so there may be a chance! I might just have to check in because she just might not have seen the email.
The activity is:
We would have some kind of creative, collaborative way of displaying the analysis. I was originally thinking we would use constructions paper, markers, hole punches, scissors and pipe cleaners (as the “stitches”) to write out the parts of our analysis and put together as Frankenstein monsters, but I think a more legible, cost effective, and long-lasting option would be to do something similar using Prezi.
If I made a group Prezi with each group being assigned a blank/coloring page/silhouette of Frankenstein, then they can zoom in as much as they like to designate which parts of the monster match the parts of their analysis. I would ask them to choose what goes where and explain why. I want to do this to help them understand that all the parts are tied together and that different students might see the relationship between the parts differently, which is okay as long as they see that the parts work together as a whole, just like Frankenstein’s monster!
The blank space on the right of the second page is where I would give the instructions for this creative display method. I've modeled an APA citation at the bottom of the second page and would explain the reason for including the useful facts on the first page (the importance of doing research about the topic beyond the text itself to understand the full context, which I think was discussed as an important part of the analysis process in BR chapter 2).
Today Abby and I took turns again, but it was a more even division than on Wednesday. On Wednesday, she started us off by introducing Project 2 and then the remainder of the class was my time. Today it was more even because we alternated with doing rhetorical analysis practice activities.
Almost all the students were well engaged. I sat in a chair in front of them and read the practice article along with them. I think demonstrating/talking through it together as a group worked for them.
They also responded well to me asking new people who haven’t talked yet today or at all this semester to give answers. Only one group was not paying attention much, especially as the activity went on. I had to repeat the instructions/explanations to them multiple times during each round of the activity. Then when asking them to give us the last answer for the day, because they hadn’t contributed yet, they repeated the answer just given and had no idea. I told them they had given the answer just given and Abby reminded them they would have known that if they had been paying attention. I don’t know if that got through to them or not.
All the students in that group are in the STEPP program and their writing mentor finally showed up for the first time Wednesday. I just hope she knows which students in the class work with her and noticed the behavior today and the resulting comment Abby had to make.
Yesterday was my first teaching day since the school remained closed after the hurricane through Monday. Abby and I had to adapt our plan because we missed a lot of time and had to really condense our material. I think I did okay for having to rush through the lesson that I wanted to span two days, but I don’t know if I explained things well enough. I feel like I blanked sometimes on how to elaborate on what I meant. I hope Friday (a practice/activity day) will show me if they really got it or not. Whenever I asked if everything made sense, they all nodded, so that at least makes me hopeful. Sometimes students won’t even nod or shake their heads!
The students were at least respectful and receptive to how I did the lecture. I didn’t want one long day full of lecture; I wanted to break the lecture up with more active learning activities dispersed in between. I also didn’t want to cover so much material at once because I didn’t want to overwhelm them. I wanted to cover one topic per day and spend approximately half the class period engaging with students in practice where we went through some examples together and then I let them pair up to try on their own before bringing the whole group back together in the end to wrap up.
Anyway, I hope my actual abilities and actual joy of doing this will come through more on Friday.
I'm just your average fictional creature, living in a swampland by the sea.