Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Glees, Eels, and Creatures from Another Planet

Yesterday was quite a mix of duties at work. For part of the day, I worked on assessment stuff: administering a test (like an exit exam but it doesn't affect graduation) to some graduating students to see how much of the knowledge that my department tries to teach them they retain and then revising the departmental assessment document.

It's an interesting revision problem. The document was written originally by someone else, and the requirements for the document have shifted. I've had to add to it, while trying to decide which of the earlier stuff to keep in the evolving document and which to abandon (and of course, I keep all the earlier drafts--you never know when the vision will change again, and you'll need that older material). Once upon a time we wanted narrative, and now we want charts.

And of course, the charts don't always import the way one would like, and I'm still not good at manipulating borders/spacing/columns and making them behave.

In between those chores, I went to observe classes. It's one of my joys as an administrator. I'm lucky in that I don't have any problem faculty, so I don't end up with that sinking feeling that I have to discipline/train/improve anyone that I'm observing.

The biggest treat happened at the end of the night, when I got to participate in a creativity activity. Like the retreat activity I described a few days ago, I wonder how this one would work in any variety of groups.

We had three pieces of white paper. The instructor slowly read a description of a creature, then read it again, and we had about 30 seconds left to draw the creature. The first two readings that described the Glee and the Eel had a Shel Silverstein quality (one creature had a tail like a cat and lots of hair and flat feet, for example). The last reading had us being part of a space ship that was in a different galaxy discovering life on a planet--draw the life form. For the last creature, we got to assign ourselves points, and we got points if we gave the creature more than or less than two legs, more than or less than one nose, more than or less than two arms--in other words, if the creature was less like an Earth form. How creative could we be if not confined by the physical laws of our own planet (and the limitations of our imaginations?).

What fun! It made me wonder if we could do something similar in words. I can imagine in a unit that covers narrative reading a chunk of narrative and saying "What happens next?" And then having students write quickly. I have a vision of a series of pictures and asking people to write a poem quickly. Or perhaps: "Here's a picture, now tell me what it's a symbol of."

I've done something similar, but with objects, not pictures. I bring in pieces of washed up beach stuff (shells, corals, drift wood, beach glass) and ask students to describe in a variety of ways. My favorite way: "What you hold in your hand is actually a religious artifact from another planet or a distant culture. Describe its use in the religion." I also ask my student poets to look at these inanimate objects in front of them (or to choose their own inanimate object) and to give those objects the power of thought and perception.

I love to use Jane Hirshfield's "The Button" (from Given Sugar, Given Salt: no online publication, thus no link, but the whole volume is worth the time). It's a poem that imagines what the button perceives; think of that the next time you button your shirt, that you're bringing those buttons the joy of your caress. At the end of the poem, the button imagines its earlier life because it is "a button made of horn," and as part of an animal horn, it had a whole different life.

I've never tried any variation of these exercises with a Composition class, but I think I'll try it this week. Fun!


Steve Finnell said...
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Sandy Longhorn said...

First, I love your description of writing the assessment report. For two years I was assigned this delicious task and you describe it perfectly.

Second, love this creative activity. That's two that I've printed out to use in future classes. THANKS!

Dale said...