I’ve been in enough workshops to not worry too hard about how my writing represents me… for the most part. This Saturday I’m taking part in a different kind of workshop as part of the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference’s Research Network. Three of us graduate students have been in contact with a rhetoric scholar for the past couple of months, and we’ve already been through one round of critiques. Last week, I submitted an updated draft based on some of their comments and we will be discussing those drafts in person at the conference.
And I can’t help feeling like I’m going to disappoint my group with my changes, mostly because I didn’t follow many of their suggestions. Their comments were primarily urging me towards further entrenching the theoretical portions of the essay, and when I sit down to write more on it, that’s just not the part I’m interested in. Which, ultimately, is a problem, given there’s not a whole lot of nonacademic venues for a piece that focuses on using Kenneth Burke for analysis. FORTUNATELY, rhetoric has some really awesome publications that are not quite as worried about the theoretics as traditional journals – Harlot is primarily what I’m thinking of, although both the KB Journal and Kairos are also significantly different in tone and expectations than somewhere like Rhetoric Society Quarterly. I love Harlot – the articles are so fun to read, but are also connected to the field in a meaningful way and illuminate something new with each piece. I plan on working hard and trying to make my piece work for Harlot, but I’m not sure if I can get the tone right. We’ll see.
Anyway, it’s hard not to feel bad about the whole thing. On a small note, I want to impress these people. The other students are PhD candidates, the professor is well-published and works for RSQ. More importantly, though, the comments I got from the first round of drafts were super excited about the possibilities of my paper and all the directions it could go in, and they offered examples of things for me to read and such. I did read them, but just wasn’t seeing it, and I know that’s okay. I’m also fairly sure that they’ll see I’ve done some work on it and still be excited for what I’m doing with it and respect my decisions and all that jazz, but … guilt.
No small part of the guilt is me feeling like I should already have read most of the stuff they were suggesting for me to connect my piece to, and the fact that the pieces I did read lead to me feeling like I needed to read even more, and so on, and so forth.
Also, being on the internet makes me more interested in how a master recording is translated to vibrations on a needle which carve grooves into lacquer. Bad for business.
If We Talked about Architecture like Writing… (My favorite – “This particular building really surprised me. I mean, I designed it, and I approved it, and I oversaw the construction of it, but it still really surprised me. My buildings are always surprising me.”)
And, finally, a note to graduate programs about job training (that could also easily carry over to undergrad programs that train primarily for grad school instead of jobs).
On a road trip this past weekend, I was catching up on my podcasts, when I happened to catch The New Yorker Out Loud‘s discussion about depictions of sex within film and television. If you listen to it, you might be tempted to cut it off about 10 minutes in as the panelists start trying to talk over each other (unusual for The New Yorker‘s podcasts) as I was, but push through. It’s worth it. It’s especially worth it to me, because although the primary topic of the podcast was Blue is the Warmest Color (which I have not seen yet), they ended up spending a decent amount of time discussing one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Chill.
My ears perked up even more than usual, though, because in a few short weeks I’ll be presenting a paper about The Big Chill at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque. The topic of my paper is that although The Big Chill has a lot of progressive ideals ingrained in its narrative (and is one of my favorite movies), the ultimate conclusion of the story is one that reinforces traditional gender roles. PS, I have a habit of doing this, of writing about negative stuff in my favorite works of art – a previous essay involved examining the misogyny in Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.
I’m not sure if the panelists in the podcast would disagree with the premise of my paper or not, but they gushed over two sex scenes in the movie – one explicit (Kevin Kline and Mary Kay Place) and one implied (William Hurt and Meg Tilly). I really liked their commentary – one of their criticisms of typical sex scenes in movies is that they are just signifying the fact that the characters are having a sexual relationship, that the sex scenes themselves don’t have any drama in them to add to the overall narrative arc. The Big Chill‘s scenes, they argue, are different because the Kline/Place one is unusually realistic, and their facial expressions/displayed emotions toward each other are important to the plot of the story, and the Hurt/Tilly one implies that two people can go to bed with one another even if they can’t have intercourse and that’s okay (another unusual narrative). I liked that analysis, and I especially like Richard Brody‘s observation that one of the things most important to seeing the full, dynamic picture of The Big Chill is, even more than the interactions between the people of the same generation, the interactions between that group and the younger (Meg Tilly’s character Chloe) and older (Don Galloway’s character Richard) generations.
(The basic premise of my piece is that the women in the film are all portrayed as strong and nuanced and independent, but by the end of the movie are slotted into more submissive roles. Meg has to put on a robe that sexualizes her for Harold to move into motherhood. Sarah allows her husband to sleep with another woman in part to make up for her infidelity. Chloe is only presented as a deep character after she sheds her sexually permissive aura. Also, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, in my opinion.)
God, I love this movie. I’ll admit, at a time when it’s an admission incompatible with the current zeitgeist iteration, that I don’t watch a lot of film or television, but that’s one that I watch at least 2-3 times every year. I worry often that doing the kind of analysis that’s required for an academic paper will make me no longer like the object that I’m analyzing, but so far (having now analyzed, at least in part, The Big Chill and Blood on Tracks for academic work and Kentucky Route Zero and a few novels for more nonacademic pieces) that hasn’t been the case. I know it has come up in some of my video game playing – the “artwork” of League of Legends, for example, bothers me every time I load that game. I still play it though.
Outside content: What, the New Yorker podcast above isn’t good enough for you? Writing this reminded me of writing this post for a class, which reminded me of this site – Fallen Princesses, which plays with the whole Disney Princess thing.
Book reviews! Last month I had one published in the fall issue of Texas Books in Review as well as in The Rumpus (the latter of which is viewable online here). Yesterday, for the first time, I received a review copy of a book in the mail directly from a publisher, and that was a good feeling. Very exciting. Brings me back to a topic I keep going on and on about in this blog – merging what you want to do with what you need to do for a career. Of course, I’m not getting paid for my reviews (except in books!) yet, but given that I read a lot and like to write brief reviews for Goodreads and friends anyway, writing a full formal review is only a tiny step beyond what I would be doing regardless. For me, this makes it an obvious choice for what to do with my extra time.
What has been a less than obvious choice is this year’s set of conferences. I’m definitely attending and presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference. It’s a national conference and the piece I had accepted is one I really like (David Foster Wallace and Kenneth Burke comparison), and it’s one I think will be publishable down the road. The conference is in San Antonio, which means low cost to me since it’s not far away. And, I’ve been accepted to participate in their Research Network program, where they group a few of us novices with an experienced mentor (Dr. Michelle Ballif, in my case) for a paper workshopping. It’s after I graduate so it’ll be out of pocket, but it’s a no-brainer. Now, I’m also planning on attending the International Society of Narrative conference and presenting part of my thesis there. It’s in Boston, which means it’ll be a reasonably high cost, but for that one grad school will cover all of it. Then there’s two regional conferences – one in Albuquerque, one in Houston. Both will have relatively low cost, but it’s still a cost that I have to consider. I have to think about what I’m achieving by presenting (a line on the CV plus a very small chance [I am not a charismatic person with people I don’t know] at possible networking or revision ideas for paper) and how much I’m paying for that achievement. It’s hard to know when it’s not worth it. How much are each of those CV lines worth when it comes time to apply for adjunct or community college positions? Impossible to say. I’ll do at least three this year, maybe four, and review the results next year, I suppose.
Last year I made a policy that I wouldn’t submit any proposals for papers I hadn’t written yet, and that I wouldn’t be on any panels without a strong leader (professor), thinking that would limit my choices and make it easy. It did not.
In unrelated news, I’m planning on doing quite a bit of work over the break beyond reading. I have a map of the real-life equivalents to locations within the video game Kentucky Route Zero. Mostly just doing that for fun – while I have some work on the game being considered for a publication and for a conference, this exercise is more of an excuse to drive around aimlessly and take pictures. I also have a list of some graveyards to take pictures of for my genealogy work. Again, more for fun than for work.
What are you reading? What are you writing? Speaking of Kentucky Route Zero, a new piece of its incomplete puzzle was just recently released. I haven’t checked it out yet, but based on this review – “The Entertainment, a southern gothic high school play for the Oculus Rift, seriously. It’s ostensively written in 1973 by Lem Doolittle, a clearly fictitious playwright, although you can purchase the transcript by way of Lulu for $4.50.”
Finally, since my next book to review is a translation, I will share with you this funny Wikipedia article about translating Harry Potter. In French, Voldemort’s middle name is Elvis.
The second week of classes ended today, and in a shocking twist of events, I’m learning a lot. Ultimately this looks like it’s going to be a front-loaded semester for me: both my internship and my thesis have a lot more things that need to be done before November than after. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on if I make it to November!
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from graduate school is how to channel what is holding my interest into what I am working on. As an example, I read a lot, and I’m currently interning for two publications that focus on Texas/Southwest literature. So, if I focus my reading list toward those topics, I have a good chance of using some of my pleasure reading to develop a publishable essay or book review. It might seem obvious, but for me at least, it’s sometimes very difficult to remember that my work and fun are NOT completely separate. Similar examples: My wife loves “Family Feud.” I grew up watching the show with Richard Dawson and Ray Combs hosting, and it’s very interesting to see the almost-20-years-later version with Steve Harvey hosting in comparison. Now, I’m taking a class about Cultural Rhetoric, and it would be very easy to imagine an essay that uses my knowledge from having watched the show extensively to build a comparison of the racial/sexual interactions on the show with Harvey as compared to the show with previous hosts. I did similar things with my love for the movie The Big Chill and the Bob Dylan album Blood on the Tracks last year, in the form of gender/feminist critiques of those works. All three of the aforementioned topics will work as proposals for the Southwestern Popular Culture Association conference, which it just so happens a deadline is approaching for! Additionally, I just received the good news that I’ll be presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America’s 2014 conference. My paper title is “A Supposedly Rhetorical Thing: David Foster Wallace, Burke’s Identification, and Television.” The first iteration of the paper was born out of thinking a lot about DFW while taking my first semester of Rhetoric classes.
Another one I’m still working on tying in is my work/interest on genealogy. There’s material for discussing why genealogy has experienced a resurgence in the digital world, and discussing how the same technology that is putting distance between us and our contemporaries via social networks is bringing us closer to our ancestors, but I haven’t wrapped my head around a solid topic yet. Soon! Potential title: “Disconnect, Reconnect: Digital Distance and the Reigniting of Genealogy.”
Other things I’ve learned or have had reinforced for me recently:
Trying to sort through submissions to a publication is almost as depressing as submitting to them. You know some good stuff is going to get cut, and some good stuff is not going to get the attention it deserves, but that’s just the nature of the beast.
Professors have wildly, shockingly different opinions on what the writing center’s role is / should be. Given that I’m going into my 4th academic year of working with writing centers, this should not be a surprise, but after meeting with a number of professors last week my mouth was hanging open a little.
Finding sources that have to do with methodology is hard. I have had no problems finding a wealth of sources about narratology, narrative inquiry, personal narrative, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve found articles about its role in the classroom, in research, in scholarship. However, finding articles that will help me decide and justify my research route for my thesis has been a challenge. Recommendations on tackling this would be welcome!
Outside content for today: A discussion about the Spanish Civil War, primarily by people from Spain. I recently read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and realized just how little I knew about this war, and how distorted the summaries of it in American history books were. I was curious to know how contemporary Spain treated the war, and thanks to Reddit/the internet, I was able to ask and get an accurate answer. I kind of sat in awe after reading all the responses, because it’s crazy to think how impossible finding this information out would’ve been twenty years ago. What would I have done, write letters to random people in Spain?
As promised from last entry, I plan on using this entry to go through some of the things I learned at this year’s Aspen Summer Words Festival workshop, and how those learnins’ have shone through in my recent edits. First, though, a quick brain dump on gifted stuff.
My article, “A Gifted Education,” was published last week by the Harvard Educational Review. That’s been a long, long process and I am so thankful for the person who suggested I send it to Harvard, as I never would’ve considered that venue without them. I have to say, the oddest part of the process (beyond the several rounds of serious edits) was reading this abstract written for an article database:
“A personal narrative is presented about the author’s experience in gifted education programs, focusing on his self-destructive behavior while in school, including substance abuse, and his psychological healing at summer camps run through Western Kentucky University’s Center for Gifted Students.”
No idea who wrote it, no idea if it’s someone I communicated with in the process. I know it’s not the first time, but it feels like the first time someone has read my writing for a reason other than being obliged to due to personal or educational connections. It’s fantastic.
THAT SAID – Rereading the piece and talking to people about it has of course gotten me to go through recent news articles for gifted education, which includes the usual handful of articles about identification (New York, Miami), the laments over lack of funding/resources and cutbacks (Chicago, and separately Illinois). However, hidden among these are a few crumbs of good news, and one especially stood out – the Center for Gifted Studies, the organization which made my childhood orders of magnitude better through their programs, has a nice article about their hosting of the World Conference for the World Council of Gifted and Talented Children. Very exciting!
No seriously, this entry was going to be about revising. I made the title “Post-Process” for a reason!
So I’ve been involved in several writing workshops. For the uninitiated, there’s a few flavors of this type of gathering, with significant overlap between. Critique groups are groups of writers who meet together on a regular basis for an extended amount of time, and generally don’t have a leader. Some workshops (usually referred to as retreats or classes) are oriented toward inspiration, and do a variety of brainstorming exercises to start writing, and are less heavy on reviewing each others’ works. College workshops generally have a good amount of teaching between reviewing the students’ pieces. Most workshops, though, have a significant segment where the goal is to read one of the participants’ piece and go around the room talking about what it did well and what it didn’t do well. A common problem with more informal gatherings is that no one wants to give or receive negative opinions on pieces, but a good workshop leader will keep people focused on the writing and limit the interjections of the writer.
In the past year, I’ve been a part of three significantly different workshops. Two five-day sessions in Aspen, the 2012 one led by author William Loizeaux and the 2013 one led by David Lipsky. The third was a semester-long class at Texas State led by Tom Grimes. All three were focused on narrative/creative/memoir nonfiction.
Loizeaux is the teacher I want to be when I lead creative writing workshops. He obviously reads and rereads the pieces multiple times, and does a great job of having students show off their own writing by inviting them to open the session with their reading out loud. He differed from the other two workshop leaders in that he very, very rarely referred to outside sources–if he wanted to point to an example of something being done right, he used someone’s piece in the class. Most of his edits and suggestions were focused on taking the best parts of the piece and making them shine even stronger.
Grimes had a lot more time to work with, and he used it by having us read a wide selection of short nonfiction pieces, most culled from the Best American Essays collections. He referred to the essays often while leading the workshop of the students’ works. Most of his edits revolved around removing segments of the workshopped pieces that weren’t working or were tangential to the story – and he removed a lot. He was often concerned with the tension of the piece, with the motivating of readers to continue on. One of my favorite mini-lessons from him (which was also featured in his memoir Mentor) was the idea of setting a clock so your reader has a sense of where the story is going, when the story is going to end. He gave the examples of The Great Gatsby (early on we know it takes place over a summer), The Catcher in the Rye (Holden has ~3 days after being kicked out of school until the winter break begins and he has to go home), and Stop-Time (the opening scene is set in the same day that the book ends).
Lipsky was much much different than the other two in that he cared very little about big picture stuff. A common suggestion in workshops is to “go into scene more” meaning to show something happening instead of summarizing the event. Another very common suggestion is to do more dialogue, or less, or to move an event around to make the story have more tension. Lipsky did little to none of this, instead he was almost entirely concerned with the individual sentence-level stuff going on. He showed us the minute edits from a galley of David Foster Wallace’s essay “Shipping Out” which makes changes as small as flipping a noun from plural to singular in order to reduce the repetition of a sound. The majority of Lipsky’s technique involved reading sentences out loud multiple times and to trust the tongue to trip up (the alliteration I just wrote might be guilty of this problem, or might be an example of something working right) where there’s a problem. We had extended discussions on how different a dash, semi-colon, or parentheses can feel.
In the end, I feel very grateful to have been involved in these three very different experiences. I feel like I have a peanut gallery of voices to listen to in doing my own edits, and it’s obvious that each contributes to my changes.
Question for you: What workshop style experiences have worked best, in your experience?
Outside content: I just discovered how to access my highlighted text from my Kindle on my PC, so some quotes from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.
“—Go—says he, one day at dinner, to an over-grown one which had buzzed about his nose, and tormented him cruelly all dinner-time,—and which after infinite attempts, he had caught at last, as it flew by him;—I’ll not hurt thee, says my uncle Toby, rising from his chair, and going across the room, with the fly in his hand,—I’ll not hurt a hair of thy head:—Go, says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as he spoke, to let it escape;—go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt thee?—This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.”
“Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another?”
“It is a great inconvenience to a man in a haste, that there are three distinct roads between Calais and Paris, in behalf of which there is so much to be said by the several deputies from the towns which lie along them, that half a day is easily lost in settling which you’ll take. First, the road by Lisle and Arras, which is the most about—but most interesting, and instructing. The second, that by Amiens, which you may go, if you would see Chantilly— And that by Beauvais, which you may go, if you will. For this reason a great many chuse to go by Beauvais.”
“—Every thing is good for something, quoth I.”
“That of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice throughout the known world, I am confident my own way of doing it is the best—I’m sure it is the most religious—for I begin with writing the first sentence—and trusting to Almighty God for the second.”
“It would so; said my uncle Toby. Why then, an’ please your honour, is a black wench to be used worse than a white one? I can give no reason, said my uncle Toby— —Only, cried the corporal, shaking his head, because she has no one to stand up for her— —’Tis that very thing, Trim, quoth my uncle Toby,—which recommends her to protection—and her brethren with her; ’tis the fortune of war which has put the whip into our hands now—where it may be hereafter, heaven knows!—but be it where it will, the brave, Trim! will not use it unkindly.”
“Rub your hands thrice across your foreheads—blow your noses—cleanse your emunctories—sneeze, my good people!—God bless you—”
Yes, you should read the rest.
I overdid the first half of this summer. In the past two months, I’ve traveled to Seattle, Venezuela, Aruba, Frostburg MD, and Aspen, as well as finished my first year of graduate school. Fortunately, that time is almost over–only one trip left for quite a while.
My trips to Frostburg and Aspen were both for “conferences.” The whole conference system is such a fascinating part of academia. In my experience/reading/conversations, they can be almost equal parts professional/social/vacational (I just made that word up, don’t worry). I’ve spoken to people who hate going to conferences, and see them largely as a necessary evil + time drain. In Aspen, several of us compared it to summer camp. The popular writers’ conference Bread Loaf apparently has the nickname “Bed Loaf,” after what goes on in the evenings.
Frostburg was a purely academic conference. I discussed it in my last entry – the conference was the 2013 Computers and Writing gathering. I presented on a panel about crowdfunding, and spent my time outside of that presentation listening to other people’s panels, eating the provided lunches in a gymnasium, checking out Frostburg’s local scenery, and attending a karaoke night targeted directly at the conference-goers. Two notes on that last one – 1) It had the highest average skill level of any karaoke night I’ve sat through and 2) Apparently we left right before a fist-fight between two conference attendees. Yes, I was very disappointed.
There’s so much going on with conferences that I have a hard time wrapping my head around all the little facets. Conference presentations often end up as a line on a student/professor’s resume/CV, even though for most entry-level academics hardly anyone shows up to your presentation and thus there is no metric whatsoever of quality. If you bomb, or even completely skip out on your presentation, there is nothing stopping you (outside of some rare circumstances) from listing it anyway. The only thing that gets reviewed (for my field, anyway) is an abstract proposal you submit months before you present or, in most cases, even begin creating your paper/talk.
Then there’s the economic/professional incentives of the conference organizers themselves. There’s a sense of competition between the hosts of various years when they’re at universities. The larger ones that are hosted at hotels and conference centers instead of universities receive bids from the hosting locations way in advance to convince them to head that way. The 4C‘s (composition’s largest conference), for example, will be in Indianapolis next year, and that’s not chosen at random.
Creative writing conferences have their overlaps with academic conferences, but there are a lot of differences as well. Since they’re not as much for professional development, and most people attending are not academics, there’s a greater sense of the participants wanting to be there. As I mentioned, several people compared the class to attending summer camps as a kid, in the sense that it’s a brief isolation from your normal life in a space that’s fast-paced, emotionally intense, and slightly uncomfortable. This analogy holds extra true for my two trips to Aspen: I stayed in a shared hostel room complete with bunk beds both years.
Both types of conferences are known for their social scene. I have yet to attend something like this that didn’t include an extensive discussion of where the evenings’ drinking would take place, or of hearing whispers of who was hooking up with whom. Networking of the more professional kind happens at both as well, and a little charisma goes a long, long way in the room.
I’m curious to hear from others on the topic. When it comes to academic conferences, I have yet to find someone who is more than lukewarm on them–the best thing I’ve heard on the subject is how excited they are to see their friends/ex-colleagues.
I’m also planning on tackling the actual content of the creative writing conference classes I’ve taken in the near future.
Outside content: Really, really excited that my article’s abstract is up. Hoping a hard copy is in the mail soon. A second link since I don’t want to overload the self-promotion (ha-ha, a BLOG trying to limit self-promotion) – an interview between Charlie Rose and David Lipsky, the latter of which was my fantastic instructor in Aspen.
I’m writing this from a coffee shop in downtown Round Rock. Four feet away from me, taped on the wall next to the front door, is a piece of paper asking people to help send a bowling team to a national competition. Instead of a labeled jar for cash donations below it, there’s a link to one of the many crowdfunding websites at the bottom of the paper.
Kickstarter and its multiplying competitors are omnipresent in today’s culture. And, as soon as the concept became popular, so too did the debates surrounding it.
Connection to this blog’s topic: A colleague and I are presenting this weekend at the Computers and Writing 2013 conference (Note to self: Never again with the proposals for papers that haven’t been written). Our topic is “Prosumer Backers and Self-marketing Projects: The Rhetoric of Crowdfunding.” Basically, I think crowdfunding is going to see an explosion of research and scholarly analysis in the next few years. Our panel aims to set the stage for that, specific to the rhetoric and composition fields. A smattering of relevant questions (which might be relevant for their answers, or for an analysis of the debate around them): Does financial support constitute participation/production of content? What constitutes a project that’s seen as “appropriate” for crowdfunding by the online community (looking at both the purpose/product and the people behind it)? How does a project’s “marketing” differ when it’s being crowdfunded versus privately funded? What are the expectations of someone who participates in this process?
Relevant news items:
Penny Arcade crowdfunds the removal of advertisement and the expected backlash.
Zach Braff crowdfunds a new movie project, Ken Levine’s criticism of it, and a response to that line of criticism from a techdirt blog.
Veronica Mars movie crowdfunded.
Kickstarter’s word on the above two.
Relevant academic reading:
Pretty much anything by Henry Jenkins (his site, Wikipedia), but specifically his work on Participatory Culture (this book – full text PDF courtesy MacArthur Foundation) and Convergence Culture (this book).
“Owning Up: Exploring the Kickstarter Restaurant” – Kaitlyn Goalen, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 11(4) – Currently the only academic publication focused on crowdfunding I could find. Sorry for the JSTOR paywall.
Personally, I find the whole scene very interesting, which is why I ended up on a panel about it. I’ve only crowdfunded two projects: an album by a friend’s band, and a card game based on the book Moby Dick. Despite my lack of participation, I see huge value in the process, no matter who is using it. There are so many ventures out there that just don’t work in the current system. I am going to be using the example of My So-Called Life in my presentation, and I think it fits well. The show was basically cancelled despite having a big audience and good reviews because advertisers didn’t want to touch it. The current system failed that content and its consumers. Crowdfunding gives a way for it to happen. Obviously, it requires consumers (or producing consumers, prosumers, if you swing that way) to do more investigation in order to ensure they’re making a sound investment, but the trade-off is that they’re cutting a middle-person out of the process. That middle-person could be a stifling gatekeeper keeping projects from seeing the light of day, or it could be an entity soaking up part of the revenue that the producers of content want to cut out. Does it matter which it is?
I don’t know the answer. It reminds me of the constant debate in /r/cinemagraphs over what exactly a cinemagraph is. I have a hard time finding the motivation for being so heavily invested in the debate. Is there some sort of intrinsic need to try to protect other people from a perceived “incorrect” consumption? I think the more intriguing debate is over how quickly producers are forking over 8-10% of their project to Kickstarter and Amazon for the privilege of using their site, as well as some of the legal/tax obligations of the whole process. But I suppose that’s a little less emotional.
Background – As I mentioned in a previous entry, I recently interviewed the Texas Association for the Gifted‘s associate director, Tracy Weinberg. I loved my conversation with him and through it I learned about their annual conference, which took place in Dallas last weekend. I attended as an advocate, observer, and all-around interested party. A big thank you to the conference organizers, as they offer a significant student discount which made it easier for me to participate.
This year, the conference marked TAGT’s 35th anniversary. The theme for this year was “Building Connections”, and the conference’s purpose is to bring together parents, educators, administrators, advocates, and vendors for training and networking. You can see the official page for it here. Although I have attended academic and writing conferences, this was my first experience partaking in an event like this one. Due to the scope of the conference, my experience represents a very small subset of the sessions that took place, and I was only there for two of the three days.
General Notes – I was amazed at the size of the event. At the most heavily attended session I was around for, Thursday morning’s keynote speech, I’d estimate there were 800+ people in the audience. Given TAGT is headquartered out of a five person office, the sheer amount of work provided by those five people and volunteers is breathtakingly impressive.
Planning in general just seemed to be stellar. Of all the sessions I went to, none were big enough to run out of chairs, yet none were uncomfortably under-attended either. Each time-period for choosing particular sections had a great variety. Only minor technology snafus, etc.
The Dallas Sheraton was a mixed-bag for location. On one hand, it’s very conveniently located, and while it’s relatively expensive for my budget, it was easy to find a nice, cheaper alternative within walking distance. On the other hand, the lack of free wi-fi really hurt, given how big a role Twitter is beginning to play in this part of the conference. I know providing wi-fi to 800 people is no easy matter, but $25 for a day worth of wi-fi is awful. I guess with cell-phone technology progressing the way it is, it’s a moot point. More devastatingly, their coffeeshop was not good!
Speakers – While every speaker I observed was a skilled orator, there was definitely a difference in how appropriate their talks were for educators. Some appeared to be aimed at people with no previous interactions with gifted education, while others delved very deeply into the theoretical and felt very removed from the issues the teachers in the audience might face. Overall though, I learned a great deal and didn’t find my mind wandering, which is a big step up from the academic conferences I’ve been privy to.
Dr. Jeff Turner, Coppell ISD Superintendent, TAGT Friend of the Gifted Award Recipient – Turner started his speech by “blaming” his success on being lucky enough to be surrounded by good teachers, smart move in front of an audience of teachers! Used his time for a very energetic, impassioned argument against standardized testing and for differentiation, although I particularly appreciated him noting that it’s hard to take differentiation seriously with 35 student classrooms. He’s involved with an effort to significantly move Texas Education away from standardized testing through the organization Transform Texas. He has proposed a really cool idea – allowing five schools to stop requiring standardized testing and see how they perform on other metrics instead. The idea being that they will beat the other schools within a few years, due to not needing to teach the tests.
Nakia Douglas and Dalton Sherman, Keynote – Principal and student of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas. Sherman, 14, is a ball of charismatic energy, and he gave an emotional, inspirational speech that felt very appropriate for motivating a day of sessions on gifted education. Douglas was not quite as engaging as his younger counterpart, but his content was much more grounded and applicable, showing how the Academy he represents has made some small but significant changes to their approach to educating and has achieved significant results. Two biggest takeaways: Have higher expectations and you will get higher results. Being more holistic is very realistic, the Academy has a longer school day and school year that includes required extracurricular activities, community service, and academic counseling.
Dr. Todd Kettler, UNT Educational Psychology, “Gifted Program Options at Middle and High School” – I chose this session for two reasons: 1) Gifted education failed for me personally starting in middle school and I wanted to hear about some of the ways it could succeed instead, and 2) I wanted to hear about the Texas Academy of Math and Science at UNT. Kettler received an award for being TAGT’s 2012 State Advocate for the Gifted, and it’s not hard to understand why. He quickly lays out a no-nonsense presentation of which gifted services have been proven to work, which haven’t, and demonstrates how our education system regularly hampers the ones that work. He hammers on acceleration, bringing up the fact that because of weighted GPA, students are essentially punished for testing out of classes. Biggest thing is flexibility, learning through independent study or summer programming or correspondence should be viable and accepted, not penalized. He decried differentiation, saying basically that it might be effective but that no teachers actually do it. Favorite comment, paraphrased – “If you ever want to know how good a high school’s gifted education program is, ask them how many people asked to test into it last year. Most of the time the answer will be zero. Think about what that means.” He ended by saying he doesn’t think there’s such a thing as a gifted strategy, because everything he discussed really applies to all students. This becomes a common theme throughout the talks I attended. Kettler was by far my favorite content talk.
Dr. Richard Courtright, Gifted Education Research Specialist for Duke Talent Identification Program, “Pulling it All Together: A Synthesis Model for Differentiated Curriculum for the Gifted” – As a child, I was a “member” of TIP, but I don’t remember this doing anything for me other than going to an awards ceremony, so I wanted to hear more about the organization and thought that hearing a pro-differentiation talk would be an interesting counterpoint to the first talk I attended. However, Courtright’s talk was slightly disappointing. It was very big picture about gifted education as a whole, and very theoretical. It felt like it would have been much better aimed at education students, not educators. He did have some good soundbytes though (some taken from other sources) – “Reading isn’t anymore of a hobby than breathing,” “We’re doing a great job of preparing our students for the 20th century,” and “Differentiation – ‘Find out what they don’t know and don’t teach it.” Most of his recommendations for differentiation were systemic, not things the educators in the audience could do in their classroom. Again, his strategies could have applied to any student, not just gifted, but if they were applied gifted would benefit since currently not being taught to at all.
Dr. James Webb, Great Potential Press, “Motivation and Underachievement” – Right off the bat, you could tell Webb’s talk was going to be good. His talk was the highest attended breakout session I saw. His first few minutes were used to a) Plug SENG, a great organization (Quick note here, of all the big name organizations I’m familiar with, the Davidson Institute was the only one I didn’t see/hear. Not familiar enough with the politics of gifted ed organizations to comment on this.) and b) State that the problem of gifted motivation is imaginary, instead the problem is gifted students being motivated in different directions from where schools/teachers want to be. Webb is the best presenter I saw, and while his content was mostly stuff that I would hope was repetitive for the audience, he had some strong gems about using strengths to supplement weaknesses (example – interest in spiders leads to writing professional letter to scientist) and about watching for dietary/health contributions to problems in classroom. Said he used to be anti-homeschooling, now very for it, because the social argument against it doesn’t make sense – gifted students’ friends are often outside their age group anyway. Great, pragmatic connections between Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities and classroom management.
Lisa Conrad, TAGT, “Why You Should #gtchat on Twitter” – I was sad that this talk wasn’t well attended, because I think Twitter could be a great tool for providing some of the same networking and resource sharing that conferences like this provide, but 24/7 and for free. I was also concerned about being able to articulate why Twitter is good for educators in a presentation, but Conrad did a great job of giving tangible examples of the benefits, as well as showing the connections to other social media sites. She also did a good job of showing how professional networking can carry over into personal or hobbyist networking, which is a valuable motivator for this kind of work. Additional note here, this was the first conference I’ve been at where I followed along on Twitter, and it was definitely cool to get a sense of some of the sessions I wasn’t able to attend in real-time, as well as be able to comment and discuss the talks as they were progressing.
Dr. Patricia Gatto-Walden, Psychologist Specializing in the Gifted, Keynote, “The Heart of the Matter” – While I felt this went on a little long and was a little specific for a big audience keynote speech, I do think it was a good choice for the day focused on gifted parents. Talk does a good job of laying out how emotional needs of gifted can be unmet by their academic structure. Favorite part was discussing how gifted children often only have their intellectual selves valued, and other aspects of their being are ignored. Was not a fan of how binary she presents giftedness, instead of presenting it as the huge range that it is. Definitely a talented speaker, great job of using visual metaphors to drive points.
Dr. Michael Sayler, UNT Education Department, “Gifted and Thriving: A Deeper Understanding of the Meaning of G/T” – Good, philosophy challenging introduction discussing what we expect out of “achievement”. Gives examples of highly gifted going into rodeo work or becoming a stay at home parent and that still being success. This talk provided a good balance to the keynote speech, showed very practically why expectations can alter emotional well-being. Lots of good stuff on the research of happiness and its connection to gifted education. Toward the end, as he moved away from research and into his own musings on the dangers of gaming and the need for spirituality, he started to lose me.
Conclusion – Definitely glad I attended, gave me yet another fresh perspective on my work, and provided me with ideas for future research on organizations and individual people. The biggest takeaway is how much of this stuff is connected to our education system as a whole and to all students, which makes articulating the specific needs of the gifted more difficult, but raises the value of meeting those needs.
For your outside content perusal, a thread from Reddit discussing men in education. I was thinking about this theme a lot at the conference, where the M:F ratio was maybe 1:30. Warning, the thread is from Reddit, so it probably has awful language and opinions somewhere in there.