Alright, we’ve beaten ourselves up over the last few weeks because our we’ve analyzed that a lot of components of our belief system have been questioned and battered. Now it’s time to pat ourselves on the back for a moment. Bruffee’s article was published 20 years ago, at the dawn of Collaborative Learning, and look how far we’ve come with it. Don’t we love ourselves profusely right about now!?
I’ve been a long-standing advocate of Collaborative Learning – not all the time, mind you, but it is a vital component in the arsenal of the 2011 English instructor. As soon as my Tech Writing students complete their professional portfolios, each student forwards an electronic copy to an assigned colleague, who will in turn evaluate numerous aspects of the work. Are all the components present? Have needs, values, and attitudes of audience been analyzed and addressed? Are the documents attractive? This is a grrrrrrrreat help to me, too, so that I can look at the original work alongside with the student’s critique in memo format. (Ironically, most often students are A LOT more severe in grading than I am.) We discuss in class why we do what we do for that metacognition ignition, too.
I enjoyed Oakeshott’s quote on page 548. My, we DO like to talk, don’t we? Our Maymesters are filled with rigorous academic discourse about courses to be taken, articles to write, research to conduct. It’s as though all of our minds are brewing in a very concentrated manner for two weeks. I converse with my colleagues to discuss new and exciting ways to educate the TAMUQ masses. Heck, my Indian colleague at Carnegie-Mellon Qatar (literally right next door to us), who I joke has the neurons to power a moderate-sized Tamil town, tells me all about the compelling corruption of Indira Ghandi. In all three scenarios, I drink up the knowledge.
Is writing nothing more than a documented monologue, as Bruffee suggests? Perhaps I’ve over-simplified, but it’s something I had never considered before. “If thought is internalized public and social talk, then writing is internalized conversation re-externalized.” I agree that our task is to engage students in conversation among themselves as often as possible, in both writing and reading processes. That’s how the real world works: We collaborate. As they examine their learning styles – what was learned and how it was learned – peers can discuss reading and writing processes that can beget better reading and writing.
It is my belief that the teacher doesn’t have to be a knows-all-sees-all entity. Heck, as I work through my own PhD journey, I feel more like, “the more I learn, the less I know.” My own classroom approach is more as mentor and coach. I try to guide my students along their journey to discover how to tackle classroom projects, how to manage the various tasks at hand in a streamlined manner so that they can apply what they’ve learned to their next class and eventually…to life outside of the university. “This is an arena,” I tell my students on the first day of class. “None of us knows all the answers, but it’s important to take risks…so why not practice now, while you’re in a safer environment, with peers and a mentor to help you along?”
Abnormal discourse IS necessary to learning. Where would we be without those kooks or revolutionaries who stir things up and gets our neurons firing, seeing a topic on a deeper level or in a clearer manner? “We must teach the use of these tools in such a way that students can set them aside, if only momentarily, for the purpose of generating new knowledge.” Why stick to one learning style when we can explore other untapped opportunities?