As you make plans for the MLA, be sure to add session 403, “Teaching as Theoretical Practice” to your calendar! Graduate students and professors from a range of institutions and disciplines will discuss how they integrate theory and teaching in the undergraduate classroom.
See the abstracts below, and join the conversation on Friday, 6 January, from 5:15-6:30 pm in Room 303 of the Philadelphia Marriott.
Hybrid Teaching, or the Performance of Comparative Theory
Germán Campos-Muñoz (Appalachian State U) and Mich Nyawalo (Shawnee State U)
The transcultural and methodological negotiations embedded in the discipline of Comparative Literature are coterminous to those of the teaching practice. As a virtual locus that attempts to relocate cultural background onto the foreground, the classroom coordinates comparatism of the most complex order–not only intellectual, but also social, institutional, professional, and political. The prestige of hybridity in our contemporary academic institutions, with its commitment to multiculturalism and multilingualism, further exacerbate the internal comparative structure of the classroom. What alternatives does this realization offer for a practice of Comparative Literature that seeks to disrupt the orthodox chasm between teaching and theory, or wishes to be pedagogical and theoretical at once?
Our presentation ventures an answer to these questions by assessing two distant cases of World Literature in which teaching is both thematized and performed: the 2nd-century Greek tale “Herakles,” by Syrian rhetorician Lucian of Samosata, and the novel The River Between, by contemporary Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In both works, experiences and social tensions stemming from intercultural exchanges and hybridity are articulated and tackled through pedagogical imperatives and classroom spaces. As a performative exercise of comparative theory and collaborative pedagogy, both presenters will work on texts belonging to his co-presenter’s fields of specialization, peer-review their findings, and compose conclusions emerging from the comparison of both cases.
From Practice to Theory: Collaboration in the Composition Classroom
Joanna Grim (Lehigh U) and Dana McClain (Lehigh U)
Collaboration represents a common practice in the composition classroom, including small group discussions and peer review, yet the extent to which it shapes the writing process, as well as classroom and community relationships, often remains unacknowledged. Building off of our interest in collaborative writing methodology, we co-designed a course in which students utilize collaboration to develop their own opinions and arguments and to explore and critique collaboration in different social contexts.
In our course, Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, we examine collaboration in different cultural contexts. Students analyze collaboration in settings such as the workplace, sports, music, the college campus, and the local community in order to understand how collaboration addresses and/or reproduces imbalances of power and authority. Through group assignments like a multi-modal project addressing a specific social justice issue, students practice collaboration and theorize how it can be used to dismantle unequal power structures and create a more just world. We hope the course will lead students to engage in future collaborative work, both in the classroom and beyond the university, with greater intention and thoughtfulness.
Teaching this course has also influenced our development as scholars. We are interested in how collaborative research and writing can challenge prevailing values in the academy, especially the emphasis on individual success, which can lead to isolation. We plan to teach future iterations of this course and to do further research into how collaboration among students and teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can encourage the creation of supportive academic communities and new opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.
Performance and the foreign language and culture curriculum: theory and practice
Anna Santucci (Brown U)
My work focuses on the exploration of language creation as performance and on theater-based pedagogy in relation to the of teaching of foreign languages and cultures. Paying attention to the crucial role played by bodies in the production of language and culture can help us answer more thoroughly the MLA call for a FL curriculum able to produce “educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence” (2007 “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World”, 3-4). In my research and teaching practice, I strongly advocate performance-based teaching of language and culture at all levels of the curriculum: from improvisational and culturally meaningful participatory activities for the beginner classroom to full-fledged theatrical productions for the advanced classroom. Research on theater and education in general, and in more recent years on performance and foreign language and culture teaching in particular, has been constantly growing; engagement with the theater and performing arts has repeatedly been praised for promoting active and embodied learning, facilitating the dissolution of cognitive barriers, fostering cooperation among students, stimulating critical thinking, and supporting the development of trans-cultural competence. My presentation will explain how my research informs my teaching and vice versa, providing examples from my developing dissertation and my teaching experience: my research based on performance theories, which investigates language as embodied cultural practice (from Aristotle’s mimesis, through Mauss’s habitus, to Carrie Noland’s kinesthetic production of culture), language-learning as liminal play (from Richard Schechner’s conception of play and Victor Turner’s notion of liminality), and the relations between theater proper and the FL and culture classroom (how issues of empathy/alienation and theories of participatory theater by practitioners like Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal relate to the inter-cultural encounter), significantly shapes the daily choices I make as a teacher, while my practical classroom interactions with my students help me anchor my theories and productively interrogate the tensions between qualitative and quantitative research in my field.
English Remix: Curating and Enacting a Posthuman Classroom
Sarah Shelton (U of Texas at Arlington)
This presentation looks at where posthuman pedagogy is now in order to imagine where it might take us that humanism and humanist education can’t. And at how such imaginings translated into praxis (and back into imaginings and into praxis again and again) in my own classroom this past semester.
In “Reuse, Remix, Rewrite,” a sophomore literature/special topics course, I purposefully approached classroom design and pedagogical praxis from a posthuman instead of humanist schema. This did not include digitizing my entire classroom and turning my students into cyborgs. Far from this misconception of what posthumanism is and what a posthuman approach can do for individual classrooms and for education in general, my approach relied heavily on the material turn and the excellent work that art education has already done in posthuman pedagogy. Focusing on Karen Barad’s theories of intra-action and onto-epistemology as well as Hillevi Lenz Taguchi’s application of those very theories to early childhood education, I sought to not design and implement (two separate stages), but to curate and enact (two intra-acting time-spaces) a posthuman English classroom that reframed reading and writing as ontological acts, not simply tools to make students better citizens or employees. This shift in my thinking/approach allowed for a fluid pedagogy that saw meaning not as waiting to be deposited or discovered, but as being made between all actors (from bodies to desks to texts to ideologies and beyond). Such a pedagogy necessitates a reframing of the classroom itself as a unique, unpredictable and not repeatable chronotope and presented several challenges as well as significant successes, including the Journal assignment this presentation focuses on.